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Inside Story: Oh, what a night!

Oh, what a relief it was to spend five days at an event where fact-based, data-driven decisions are the norm rather than the exception. An event where “fake news” masquerading as “real news” is exposed for what it is, and “real news” is given the attention it deserves. Just for fun, toss in a heaping helping of the national pastime showcased on its grandest stage – the World Series – and you’ve got my version of heaven on Earth.

That seemingly mystical nexus did exist, at least for five days, at the recent 2017 INFORMS Annual Meeting in Houston, where nearly 6,000 attendees – an INFORMS conference record number – gathered to share their latest research in, applications of and opportunities for operations research and analytics.

That the conference even took place in Houston was a minor miracle, given that the area was pounded just two months earlier by Hurricane Harvey, resulting in more than 60 deaths and causing an estimated $70 billion in damages according to Wikipedia. As it turns out, the downtown Houston area where the conference was held, including the convention center and surrounding hotels, escaped largely unscathed and looked positively pristine.

When I arrived at my hotel a block from Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros), the “never-give-up” spirit that had served the Houston area’s residents so well during Harvey was about to be displayed in that night’s American League Series deciding game against the New York Yankees. After watching the Astros beat the Yankees with hundreds of my new, best Astros friends in “Biggio’s,” an upscale sports bar that carries the name of Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, I couldn’t help but head for the streets and soak up the unmitigated joy of the fans pouring out of the stadium.

The very next day, in a case of perfect timing, Mike Trick of Carnegie Mellon University, whose company has devised Major League Baseball’s schedule for many years, gave a fascinating plenary on, surprise, MLB scheduling. And two days after that, in another case of perfect timing, INFORMS held its long-ago planned general reception at, you guessed it, the club level of Minute Maid Park, where we all watched the first game of the World Series between the Astros and Dodgers in L.A. on a high-def, 54-feet by 124-feet video display in center field, along with about 20,000 Astros fans in the field-level seats below.

Oh, what a night, what a conference, what a ball game and what a needed break from fake reality.

– Peter Horner, editor
peter.horner@mail.informs.org

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