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My INFORMS 2017 Presentations

Sunday, 8:00-9:30am, SA37, Linking Delay Announcements, Abandonment, and Staffing: A Behavioral Perspective, Room 352B

Monday, 8:00-9:30am, MA04, Mind The Gap: Coordinating Energy Efficiency and Demand Response, Room 320A

Tuesday, 4:35-6:05pm, TE04, Utility Ownership of Decentralized Combined Heat and Power, Room 320A

The two energy papers of my dissertation were invited. The call center paper was scheduled for presentation with the other finalists in the in the Service Section Best Student Paper Competition.

Book Review – Machines of Loving Grace

Thanks to Professor Kyle Cattani for the guest book review!

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Robots
By John Markoff, 2015

A couple of years back, Eric reviewed The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014) and asked the (rhetorical) question of whether computers/robots are coming for your job. John Markoff, in “Machines of Loving Grace,” seems less interested in “whether” they will, but rather how they will behave once they get there. In particular, will we humans control these systems, or will they control us?

The Computer Science community has apparently had two long-standing approaches towards automation and robotics that not only were different but passionately opposed in a way seemingly possible only in academics. The first approach, called Artificial Intelligence (or AI), assumed that humans were superfluous and desired to create systems that operated independent of human overlords. A self-driving car with no steering wheel or brake pedals (that could show up at work to pick you up) exemplifies an ultimate application of this approach. The contrarian idea, deemed “intelligence augmentation” (or IA) sought to work with humans to amplify their abilities. A computer mouse makes it easier for a human to interact and use a computer and thus qualifies as IA. Most automobile technologies such as cruise control (and now adaptable cruise), lane assist, and emergency braking, fall into IA.

For years (decades even) the IA approach seemed to make more progress, but the two approaches now appear to be converging. Markoff argues that we are closing in on a “singularity” where robots become more powerful than humans and this raises the concern of whether they will remain well behaved—or whether they will ultimately rule us.

Markoff has been a technology and science reporter at the New York Times since 1988 but appears to have a (literally) Silicon-Valley-Centric view of the world focusing on the Stanford community and Silicon Valley companies. Perhaps that is because so many advances in the field come from this community, but it felt a bit provincial in a way that made me suspicious (even though I am a Stanford grad). Machines of Loving Grace talks lovingly about self-driving cars, robots, and Siri (and its ilk) and I liked those chapters the most. Perhaps it is just me, but the rest of the book felt like a litany of dozens of people I couldn’t keep track of.

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The four main trends affecting the electric industry. I would include the decoupling of total electricity demand and utility revenue.

GM to bring 20 all-electric cars to market by 2023. Note that “to market” may indicate different countries. Don’t expect the cars released in China to be the same as those in the US.

Shell Executive Describes Inevitable Transition to Carbon-Free Energy. “Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden recently said that with the right mix of policy and innovation, he sees global demand for oil peaking in the early 2030s or sooner — and that his next car will be electric.”

Book Review – The Zookeeper’s Wife

Thanks to Telesilla Kotsi for the guest book review!

The Zookeeper’s Wife
by Diane Ackerman, 2007

The Zookeeper’s wife is another book about WWII by Diane Ackerman. The difference between this and other books concerning the Holocaust is that it is given from the perspective of a Polish person that helped Jews escape from the Nazis. Moreover, although Jan, the zookeeper, is the one who decides to hide and help Jews, eventually all the responsibility to make sure they don’t get arrested falls on the shoulders of his wife, Antonina. In this sense, the book depicts Antonina as a woman who has a gift to communicate and connect with animals. This gift was the reason why Antonina escaped arrest many times; an interesting parallelism between Germans and beasts that the author makes obvious in various parts of the book. However, it is also clear that Antonina is not a heroine who takes her life and the life of her guests in her own hands. She is a wife who always tried her best to please her husband instead.

My feelings are really mixed about the book. I think it had the potential to say a great story, a story that almost any country under the German occupation can connect with. But, the plot falls short in describing some of the main characters, i.e. Jan who leaves every day and we only get to know him through his interactions with Antonina, and Rys, the son of the couple, whose main task is to take food to their guests and play with a chicken and a bunny that remain in the zoo. Even the life and actions of Antonina seem hidden in parts where the attention is drawn to the destruction of Warsaw and the general devastation of Poland. I believe that this is a very good first novel for a teenager who knows no historical details about the WWII and needs to be introduced to the topic smoothly.

The Zookeper’s Wife became a movie this year (2017). Although the movie doesn’t do justice to all the historical research and the verbose writing of Ackerman, it is highly recommended for anyone who wants to spend an hour to understand how a couple succeeded in hiding 300 Jews in 6 years under the nose of Nazis.

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Will it clean the streets as it drives?

Power production costs on a decreasing trend. Cheaper natural gas, more renewables.

For Corporations Acquiring Renewables, It’s Not All About Price. That’s reasonable. This is not: “Energy and utility companies were the least likely industry to say their company would be more assertive in acquiring renewables in the next two years. Only 37.5 percent of those companies said they wanted to become more aggressive in purchasing renewable energy.”

Marginal health costs of microscopic particulate matter may be decreasing in their density in the air. This is opposite of what you probably expect. It means that the greatest health benefits (per person) may be had by decreasing PM2.5 in areas where it is already low. Taking into account the fact that populations are highest in Indian and China, where PM2.5 is high, it may still be most worthwhile to decrease levels there.