Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 3 Number 8, Sep. 2004
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:email@example.com
All I Know About Operations Research
"I've always maintained that you can't just coast, if you
do, you go backwards. It's just a slow way of liquidating...
Let's do anything to get some action, you see?"
-- Walt Disney, quoted in an email from SaveDisney.com
( savedisney.com )
"Stafford Beer has stressed this essentially cybernetic
concept; that industry is an organism... It either evolves
-- Gordon Pask, "Industrial Cybernetics"
quoted in "Cybernetics of Cybernetics" (1974)
edited by Heinz von Foerster
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0964704412/hip-20 )
I literally grew up with Disney. Disneyland opened when I was not
quite 2 years old. At the time I was living with my family in
Florida, which seemed a long way from the Disney empire (!). But
I do remember when we got our first TV. (Time may have added some
magic to this memory, I confess.) Our dad brought it in and fussed
with the antenna for a while, and then managed to tune in the Mickey
Mouse Club. Yay! We watched the roll-call, some skits, and then the
Mees-ka, Moss-ka, Mouse-cartoon. It was a Donald Duck cartoon about
Donald bringing home a TV for his three nephews. After fussing with
the antenna for a while he managed to tune in the Mickey Mouse Club.
"Wow!" I thought. "This gizmo is really something!" You see, I
thought a television showed cartoon characters doing the same things
In 1959 my family moved to the San Diego area. Though we would be
leaving behind all of our friends and family, my sister and I were
sold on the idea because we would be close to Disneyland. We knew
about the "Magic Kingdom" from watching the TV show "Disneyland"
every Sunday night on ABC. Six months after the move we were finally
able to make our first pilgrimage to the "Happiest Place On Earth" (TM).
Our grandparents came to town and came along on an overnight trip
to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. (Knotts was pretty undeveloped
at the time -- the high point in my recollection was a chicken that
played the piano when you put a nickel in a slot. Our family never
went back to Knotts, but we made annual visits to Disneyland after that.)
The "Disneyland" show later became "Walt Disney Presents" and then
"Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" on NBC, the network with
a peacock to show off its new color broadcasts. I still remember the
day our dad brought home our first color set. One of the first shows
we watched was Walt's.
A few years ago the Disney Channel showed a bunch of the old
Disney TV shows in the dead of night under the title "Vault Disney."
I taped many of them, and ended up posting my tape listings on the
web as an off-site backup. Google found them, and I have received
more email requests for copies of those tapes than all others in my
collection combined. If the Walt Disney Company would ever re-release
them I'm sure they'd find an eager audience.
( www.well.com/~abs/MediaDoc/VHS/disney_tv.html )
An excellent guide to these shows is in in the book "The Wonderful World
of Disney Television: A Complete History" (1997) by Bill Cotter.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786863595/hip-20 )
( www.billcotter.com/tvbook )
He has made the appendix listing all the shows and their air dates
available on-line (bless him).
( www.billcotter.com/tvbook/appendix-b.htm )
* * * * * * * *
I don't remember when I first heard the term "operations
research." It was probably when I was in college, and reading
all the Whole Earth Catalogs I could find for Stewart Brand's
insights on cybernetics, and he made mention of the work of
Stafford Beer (more on that later).
I first became aware of the existence of "efficiency experts"
from watching television. They were usually portrayed as villains
wielding stopwatches and forcing people to work fast, or replacing
them with robots. For example, the character played by Richard
Deacon (later "Mel" on the "Dick Van Dyke Show") in the "Twilight
Zone" episode "The Brain Center at Whipple's" (1959).
( www.spookytoms.com/Richard_Deacon_2.html )
This episode is now available on DVD in the collection "The Twilight
Zone Vol. 40."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000055ZCV/hip-20 )
A more positive portrayal of the "efficiency expert" was in the
character of Frank Gilbreth in the movie "Cheaper by the Dozen"
(1950) starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00013RCAM/hip-20 )
based on the book "Cheaper by the Dozen" (1948) by Frank B. Gilbreth
and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/006008460X/hip-20 )
I never actually read the book, or saw the whole movie, but I
gathered that Frank Gilbreth was an efficiency expert who applied
industrial engineering principles to the task of raising 12 kids.
In researching this e-Zine, I found that Frank's wife Lillian
was also an industrial engineer, frequently collaborating with
her husband, and she finished the child-raising task alone
after he died. There is a biography of her, "Making Time:
Lillian Moller Gilbreth, A Life Beyond Cheaper by the Dozen"
by Jane Lancaster.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1555536123/hip-20 )
There is also a web site, greatwomen.org, with biographical
and bibliographical information.
( www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=65 )
Her books include:
* "As I Remember: An Autobiography" by Lillian Gilbreth.
Institute for Industrial Engineers, 1941.
* With Frank Gilbreth, Lillian's husband. "Motion Study"
Easton, Pennsylvania: Hive Pub. Co., 1911.
* With Frank Gilbreth her husband. "Fatigue Study"
Easton, Pennsylvania: Hive Pub. Co., 1917.
* With Frank Gilbreth, her husband. "Applied Motion Study"
Easton, Pennsylvania: Hive Pub. Co., 1917
Notice the dates on the technical works: 1911 and 1917! This
motion study stuff has some historical roots. In fact, it dates
back to 1877 and the work of Eadweard Muybridge. A web site called
"The 20th Century Museum" by Rick Jones summarizes the story.
( www.dover-web.co.uk/20thcentury/1911-hollywood.asp )
Under the entry for "The Birth of Hollywood" it says:
Amazingly, it all began with an argument between two friends.
They were arguing over whether all four of a horses feet left
the ground whilst running. One claimed that the horse always
had at least one foot on the ground; the other said that the
horse becomes air-borne whilst running. To settle the argument,
they each placed a bet and approached Eadweard Muybridge, a
professional photographer who was born in England in 1830.
In 1852, Muybridge went to the USA to develop his career,
and in 1877 the two arguing friends arrived in his studio and
commissioned an ingenious set of photographs. To solve the
problem, Muybridge set up a line of twelve cameras, each one
with a trip-wire attached to it. Then, a horse was made to
run past the line of cameras. Each time it passed a camera,
it activated the trip-wire and a photograph was taken. The
result of this was a series of still photographs of the horse
in motion, literally the world's first "motion pictures".
Muybridge developed his work further and developed the
"zoopraxiscope", a precursor of cinematography, in which he
printed the images of the running horse onto a rotating
glass disk, and he spent the rest of his career studying
human and animal movement with his pioneering invention.
Of course the "zoopraxiscope" was the forerunner to the modern
( www.kingston.ac.uk/Muybridge/img0014.jpg )
(By the way, he proved horses do at times lift all four feet
off the ground.) An entertaining and informative dramatization
of the use of the zoopraxiscope is found in an episode of the
old "Disneyland" TV show entitled "The Story of the Animated
Drawing." It has been re-released on DVD in the collection
"Walt Disney Treasures - Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006II6P/hip-20 )
The write-up on Amazon includes:
"The Story of the Animated Drawing" traces the history of the
medium, including re-creations of Emil Reynaud's Theatre Optique
(1892-1900) and Windsor McCay's vaudeville routine with his landmark
film Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).
This is the first of many overlaps between the life's work of
Walt Disney and the development of Operations Research.
* * * * * * * *
"Walt Disney -- inventor of clan totem symbols ... hardware
architect of the new realities about to be neurologized."
-- Timothy Leary, 1979
"The Game of Life (Future history series)"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0915238306/hip-20 )
I was about nine years old when the magic of Disneyland began to
stop working on me. I began to see how the illusions were done.
This ushered in a new era for me, in which my fascination with
Disneyland shifted from the mythological to the technological.
About this time I was also devouring books on stage magic, histories
of magicians like Robert-Houdin, and various optical illusions.
By the time I was 12 I chuckled when people claimed there were
holograms in the Haunted Mansion ride. I knew most of the
illusions were done with mirrors (partially silvered) using
a technique dating from the 18th century called "Pepper's Ghost."
( www.dafe.org/misc/peppers/peppers.htm )
I was fascinated by the technology of Audio-Animatronics --
even the name (and the name "Imagineer" for the folks who made
it work). The first and most primitive achievement in this new
field was "walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room tech" in which a
room full of robotic birds moved with compressed air were
controlled by signals on a 14-track magnetic tape one inch
wide, borrowing technology from the aerospace industry.
( members.tripod.com/labyrnth/animatronics/history/animatronics101-102/aa.html )
Some of you will recall that in C3M Volume 2 Number 11, Nov. 2003,
"War Games, Money Games, New Games and Meta Games" I wrote:
In 1976 I worked for ten weeks as an employee at Walt Disney World;
I like to say I took the job to get the employee training program,
which is not available any other way. Also, on the day after the
stockmarket crash of 1987 I bought one share of Disney stock, which
has since split twice to become four shares. In this case I like
to say I bought the stock to get a lifetime subscription to the
The employee training program at WDW included a tour of the Digital
Animation Control System (DACS), a single minicomputer that
controlled all of the rides and animatrons at once. We reached
it by passing through the "steam tunnels" underneath the Magic
Kingdom. Later, when EPCOT opened, a new DACS was built in the
"CommuniCore" complex and visitors were able to see a show which
explained some of the computers' functions using the ubiquitous
"Pepper's Ghost" illusion to make translucent characters appear
to dance between the machinery.
( home.cfl.rr.com/omniluxe/cmcr.htm )
While working at "the world" (as employees called it) I had
an epiphany: you can never get to be Walt by working your way up
from busboy (my job) at Walt Disney World. I realized this after
talking to one of the portrait artists, who showed me his secret
portfolio of Disney character drawings (such as Donald and Snow
White) after making me promise not to tell anyone what I'd seen.
He explained that he could be fired and sued if he was caught
making unauthorized character drawings, even for his own education.
I created a mental shorthand for this realization:
"Where Bambi goes nothing grows."
(This is a line from an old comedy routine, "Ajax Liquor Store"
by LA radio personalities Hudson and Landry, from their 1970s album
"Hanging In There." It was rereleased in the 1996 collection
"The Best of Hudson and Landry.")
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000004QD/hip-20 )
Long after I left the employ of the mouse I continued to research
the company, absorbing every annual report they sent me and also
buying and devouring virtually every book about Walt and his empire.
One unauthorized book was "Window on Main Street: 35 Years of
Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park" (1991) by Van Arsdale France,
who ran Disney's employee training program for many years.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0941613178/hip-20 )
He describes joining the Disneyland team while it was still
under construction in 1954, working for a former aerospace
manager from Consolidated Vultee Aircraft (later Convair --
where my dad worked!) by the name of C. V. Wood, who everyone
called "Wood" or "Woody." Walt hired Woody away from the
Stanford Research Institute (SRI), where he worked on the
study that recommended that Disneyland be built in Anaheim
near the unfinished I-5 freeway, where the center of population
for the LA basin was projected to move. Van France describes
another early Disneyland manager thusly:
Despite the confusion, Wood took the time to introduce me to
Fred Schumacher, another pioneer who would guide me through
the mysteries of my new life... He was one of Wood's aircraft
associates and an industrial engineer by profession...
Fred always had an industrial engineer's most valued implement,
a stopwatch, in his desk drawer. It reminded him he could
always get a job if he quit or got fired.
Inspired by this passage, I bought an old-style 2-button
analog stopwatch on eBay. (As I recall it was an overstocked
Ukrainian knock-off of an American design.) In my last dot-com
job the manager of Quality Assurance (QA) was always borrowing it to
time user interface components.
Another amazing and absorbing book I read was "Designing Disney's
Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance" (1997) edited by Karal
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/2080136399/hip-20 )
It was based on an art show at the Canadian Centre for Architecture
in Montreal, culled from the archives of Imagineering concept and
design art in the Disney Art Library. The curators were given
unrestricted access to the material to use however they saw fit,
and the resulting show and book offered a deep and multifaceted
look at "theme park art" and its context in Western Civilization.
From this book I learned that the architecture at Disney theme
parks, though it may look like castles, chateaus, log cabins,
spaceports and tiki huts, is fundamentally based on aircraft hangars.
Like the dozens of aerospace facilities that sprang up around
the Los Angeles basin during and after World War II, Disneyland
and its sequels are made of large, strong steel superstructures
originally designed for building and fixing airplanes.
Ironically, Disney's newest theme park in Anaheim -- California
Adventure -- has a "land" called "Condor Flats" inspired by the
high desert flight test facilities (such as Edwards Air Force
Base near Mojave, California) with a restaurant called the "Taste
Pilots' Grill" built to look like a hangar.
( www.dcacentral.com/dca/gallery/large/construction/sept99_const_003l.jpg )
But of course it really is a hangar, making it perhaps the most
honest building in a Disney park.
( www.intercotwest.com/gallery/photos/large/09000/200/9237.jpg )
In 1993 a new land called "Toontown" opened at Disneyland.
Shortly afterwards the Imagineers opened their facility in Glendale
to the public for what was probably the first and last time ever,
for a meeting of the local Los Angeles chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH
(Special Interest Group on GRAPHics).
( la.siggraph.org )
I was there. I actually just went digging through boxes in my
garage and managed to find my notes from that meeting. But the
one piece of information I was after, the exact date, was missing
from a corner chewed off by a rat. How symbolic. (This is
why I switched from cardboard bankers boxes to plastic sealed
crates a few years ago.) Still, the notes triggered some
useful memories. One of the speakers told us that when Walt
wanted engineers with experience with "man-rated" systems
for ride design, he recruited them from aerospace, where
the designers of military aircraft had just such experience.
The Imagineers showed us slides of the construction of Toontown
at various stages, which was very interesting. But the biggest
impression made on me was a "before" picture of the empty lot
just after it was graded by bulldozers and before any construction
began. It looked like a plot of muddy dirt. To this day when
I see a plot of muddy dirt I wonder what fantasic environment
could spring up there.
In addition to readings and meetings, I have also learned
about the Disney company's ways through direct observation.
The Imagineers have become so expert at crowd control that
they make it look effortless. For example, the Hall of
Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
seats 700 people, and they all exit at once at the end of
each 23 minute show. This could create a huge lump of people,
but the wide exit corridors split into three areas: a gift
shop (the "Heritage House"), a snack stand ("Sleepy Hollow")
and an route which opens out to to Liberty Square, with
several vendors and carts nearby, including the open-air
Square Portrait Gallery, Silhouette Cart and the Umbrella Cart.
I have sat and watched with fascination (well, with interest
anyway) as the crowds melted into these three areas and dispersed
quite naturally, with nobody getting separated from their party
and nobody seeming crushed or rushed.
In contrast, I have been present at two separate theme park
"meltdowns" when crowd control mechanisms failed dangerously.
Once it was at Universal Studios Hollywood and once it was
at Knotts Berry Farm. Both parks suffer from a current layout
that resulted from poorly-planned growth and ad hoc additions.
In both cases people were pouring into an area with insufficient
exits, and then unable to get back out even as more people
poured in. In each case I felt lives were endangered by
the situation; luckily the crowds stayed calm, but any kind of
panic would've resulted in a stampede that could have trampled
Certainly the most ambitious logistical undertaking of Walt
Disney's was one that was never actually undertaken. A few
weeks before his death he made a promotional film, never
intended to be shown to the public (it was for politicians
and real estate developers to see) called "the EPCOT film,"
in which he laid out his plans for an Experimental Prototype
Community (or City) of Tomorrow. I'm not talking about the
theme park -- sort of a permanent world's fair -- that was
ultimately built, but his original dream of a city of the
future. Fan sites now document the contents of this film,
( www.waltopia.com/florida_film.html )
( perso.wanadoo.fr/sebastien.barthe/lastfilm.htm )
and it has been released in the DVD collection "Walt Disney
Treasures - Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond" (2003).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000BWVAI/hip-20 )
Though Walt's future city was never built (some argue that
the Disney-made town of Celebration has taken its place)
he -- and those who came after him -- did put into place the
government infrastructure to accomplish that dream, in the
form of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). If you don't
know what that is, I suggest you rush out and read "Married
to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando" (2001) by Richard
E. Foglesong at your earliest convenience.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0300098286/hip-20 )
If you're not that curious, you can read the review at Amazon.com,`
(copyright 2001 by Cahners Business Information, Inc.) which
includes this stunning revelation:
Disney World, in its agreement with the city of Orlando and the
state of Florida, actually negotiated the right to construct
and use a nuclear power plant at the amusement park. True, it
has never built one, but according to this well-researched,
cogently argued and eye-opening account of the complicated
relationship between the Disney Company and the city of
Orlando, it's a sign of the high price that Orlando has
paid to become the home of "the most popular tourist
destination in the world." A privately held corporation,
Disney has created what amounts to an independently
governed country "a sort of Vatican with mouse ears"
within Orlando, says Foglesong, professor of politics
at Rollins College.
And/or you can read the heavily hyperlinked article at
( encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Reedy%20Creek%20Improvement%20District )
which includes this explanation:
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a public corporation
of the state of Florida created in 1967 by an act of the
Florida legislature. Its primary purpose is to allow The Walt
Disney Company [to] exercise powers normally reserved for municipal
governments (including taxing and zoning authority) over the
land that constitutes Walt Disney World.
The district has its seat in Lake Buena Vista and its executive
organs (serving primarily the WDW parks and resorts) include a
building inspectorate, a fire brigade with an ambulance service,
a planning division, and a comprehensive utilities service
covering trash collection, energy, and all in-ground systems
except telephony and broadband.
In his book, "Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and
Orlando," Richard Foglesong argues that the Florida legislature
created the RCID under the belief that Disney would create an
actual community in the area as part of its EPCOT project.
However, once the Disney Company was granted governmental
powers, it did not follow through on its promise of permanent
residents in order to maintain control over the RCID.
Managing their own government is certainly a big logistical
challenge for Disney, but nothing compared to what managing
their own city would've been.
* * * * * * * *
...quite paradoxically, "Cybernetics" has been tainted from
both sides by seeming at once too "establishment" and too
"counter-culture." Its roots in "Operations Research" reminds
me of the old saying, "You can kill more men with a pencil in
Whitehall than with a rifle in Flanders," or whatever it is.
It was probably the application of the principles of Operations
Research in World War Two that lead to the allied fire-bombing
of the civilian city of Dresden, to draw German fighters away
from military targets. Later, defense secretary Robert McNamara
under Lyndon Johnson was a big fan of a systems approach to waging
the Viet Nam War. His attempts to maximize enemy body count lead
to soldiers digging up graves and shooting water buffalos and
putting it all in body bags to count as dead Viet Cong.
-- "What Ever Happened to Cybernetics?"
Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M)
Volume 2 Number 4, Apr. 2003
Though "Industrial Engineering" began in the 19th century, the
field of "Operations Research" (OR) was an outgrowth of World War II.
Scientists in England and the US were asked to help in the war
effort. One obvious example of this was the Manhattan Project
which developed the atomic bomb. My mentor, Gregory Bateson,
was an anthropologist, and so was put to work writing propaganda
leaflets to drop on Japanese-occupied islands in the Pacific.
But in addition to these ad hoc projects, there was a systematic
attempt to apply scientific method and quantitative analysis to
various logistical problems of war.
( www.mors.org/history/history.htm )
The story I have heard most often is that a group of scientists
in England analyzed the problem of how closely clustered bomber
groups should fly. If they were too far apart they suffered more
damage from flack, but if they were too close together they
collided too often. The scientists found that they should fly
closer together. Pilots had been resisting this for psychological
reasons -- they felt worse about casualties they'd caused themselves
due to bad piloting -- but the tighter clusters reduced overall
There seems to be a paradox in this story. On the one hand
the scientists accomplished their goal: reducing casualties.
But on the other hand they also had the unintended side-effect
of reducing morale. Hmmm.
After the war a number of people took the principles of OR
developed for military use and adapted them to businesses,
especially large businesses with major logistical challenges.
A major contributor to this effort was Stafford Beer, who
made a career of writing books, speaking and consulting on
OR, which later came to be called "Management Science."
What kind of problems does OR solve? An on-line curriculum of OR
( www.brunel.ac.uk/depts/ma/research/jeb/or/contents.html )
lists topics which include:
* Data envelopment analysis
* Facility layout
* Facility location
* Graph theory
* Integer programming
o Integer programming formulation examples
o LP relaxation
o Structured problems
* Inventory control
* Linear programming
o sensitivity analysis
* Master production schedule
* Materials requirements planning
* Network analysis - activity on arc
* Network analysis - activity on node
* Network analysis - linear programming
* Network flow
* Nonlinear programming
* Soft OR
* Vehicle routing
* Decision trees
* Markov processes
* Quality control
* Queueing theory
* Stochastic programming
When I actually worked in aerospace, at Rockwell International
(which I discussed at length last month), I would go down
to the well-stocked technical library and browse, and I noticed
there was about 20 feet of shelf space just devoted to books
on "linear programming." I had no idea what that was, but I
was pretty sure it didn't have to do directly with computers.
(I was right about that.) Finally, in spring of 2001, I
decided it was time to learn what linear programming was.
I got a few books from the library and educated myself.
It's a mathematical technique, one of the first to be
applied in OR, in the class of what are called "optimization
problems." Here is an example problem, paraphrased from
an on-line tutorial on linear programming.
( fisher.osu.edu/~croxton_4/tutorial )
The problem statement is as follows:
We are producing three products, p1, p2, and p3, and they
sell for $2, $3, and $8 respectively. Our goal is to
maximize our revenues. Each product has a per unit
production cost of $1, $2, and $5, respectively, and we
have a budget of $300. We have demand for the products
that requires that we produce a combination of at least
50 units of p1 and p2. Also we have exactly 400 hours of
available production time and each unit requires 2, 4, and
5 hours of production time, respectively.
Also, as common sense would dictate, the numbers produced of
p1, p2 and p3 must all be greater than or equal to zero.
The way this problem is formulated, all of the equations
are linear, i.e., do not contain powers, trig functions,
or anything more complicated that sums of products, such as
ax + by + cz. In this simple case the optimal solution is:
p1=100, p2=0, and p3=40 which has a value of $520
This problem could be solved with just a little algebraic
manipulation, but in general these types of problems --
usually with very large numbers of variables -- are solved
with an algorithm called the simplex method. This method
uses a few interesting facts about linear programming problems:
1) The constraints limit the solution to a "region
of feasibility." In the 2D case (having only two
variables, oversimplified for example's sake) this
region is either a rectangle, or a rectangle with
the corners cut off, which leaves new corners that
may also be cut off, and so on. Constraints like
"p1 + p2 >= 50" in the example above are what cut
the corners off.
( fisher.osu.edu/~croxton_4/tutorial/graphics/graph1-5.gif )
In the 3D case (with three variables) the region of
feasibility is like a rectangular solid -- a hunk of
cheese if you will -- with its corners cut off with a
straight slice, which leaves new corners that may also be
cut off, and so on.
( fisher.osu.edu/~croxton_4/tutorial/graphics/graph-3d-3.gif )
2) The solution is always at one of the corners, not in the
interior or along an edge or other boundary of the
region of feasibility. (This may seem amazing at
first thought, but since the problem is linear
it just means that all the "knobs" must be set
at their highest or lowest possible settings to
achieve the optimum which maximizes profit.)
3) The problem is always jiggered so that the origin (all
variables equal zero) is one of the corners, a valid
(but probably not optimum) solution. Another
seemingly amazing fact about these problems is that
you can find the solution by starting on any corner
(the origin is used since it's always a solution)
and then move to the adjacent corner which increases
profit the most, recursively doing this over and over
until you reach a corner whose neighbors all yield
less profit -- that's the solution!
The simplex method is a "hill climbing" algorithm, which
works like climbing a hill by always going up in the steepest
direction until you can't go up any more -- you must be at the top!
The simplex method is one of a family of algorithms called optimal
solvers. Since its development solvers have been devised for
non-linear problems, and a whole software industry has emerged
selling (usually high-priced) solvers to large institutions.
By an interesting coincidence, a month after I researched
linear programming I got a consulting gig in which I was
able to use the knowledge: I produced a video on the new
machine learning technique knows as "Support Vector Machines" (SVM),
( www.well.com/~abs/Biowulf/biowulf_screenplay.html )
and it turned out the advanced algorithm was based on optimum
solvers, including linear programming. The mathematicians
I worked with usually used the built-in solver in the popular
MatLab program for scientists and engineers, from MathWorks.
( www.mathworks.com )
You can find more information about OR, linear programming
and optimum solvers at the web site "The Mathematical Atlas"
under the listing for "Operations research, mathematical programming."
( www.math.niu.edu/~rusin/known-math/index/90-XX.html )
* * * * * * * *
"Remember, it all started with a mouse"
-- Walt Disney
( www.wordiq.com/definition/Walt_Disney )
"MOUSE MUNCHES MIRARMAX"
-- headline in "Daily Variety" May 1993
( www.variety.com )
Most of my life I've had dreams about Disneyland. But it hasn't
been the actual theme park in Anaheim. My "dream Disneyland"
is actually a blend of Disney's magic Kingdom and the neighborhood
where I grew up in La Mesa, CA. The main street is a kind of "morph"
of my old street, Meadow Crest Drive,
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/MeadowCrest.jpg )
and the actual Main Street in Disneyland.
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/MainStreet.jpg )
One of the features is a "Tower of Missed Rendezvous" where you go
to meet your friends and they don't show up. I must tell you
I had a spine-shivering "deja vu" a few years ago when I saw a picture
of the old "Tower of the Four Winds" which Disney erected at the 1964
World's Fair at the entrance to the "Small World" ride.
( naid.sppsr.ucla.edu/ny64fair/map-docs/pepsicola.htm )
(The ride was later moved to Disneyland but the tower was not.)
It was identical to my dream tower! I realized I must have seen
it before as a kid on the old "Disneyland" TV show, in the episode
"Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair" (air date 5/17/64). So
this was NOT a coincidence, but a buried memory which showed up
in my dreams.
In the mid-1990s I was working for Steve Jobs' computer company
"NeXT" and the Walt Disney Company was one of our customers. I
got finally go "on the lot" and see the old "Dopey Drive" and
"Mickey Avenue" from Walt's days,
( www.mouseplanet.com/sue/wdsstrsg.jpg )
as well as the new administration building designed by Michael
Graves for Michael Eisner to work in.
( www.mouseplanet.com/sue/wdstdb.jpg )
(See Sue Kruse's Disneyland Diary at Mouse Planet for a tour
of the studio.)
( www.mouseplanet.com/sue/nov2000.htm )
I found that these visits to the company's headquarters
had an effect on my dreams. Instead of dreaming of Disneyland,
I began instead to dream of a place I knew to be "meta-Disneyland,"
the place where Disneylands come from. It was an infinitely-high
skyscraper, sort of like a downtown Marriott Hotel from the 1980s
in the "brutalist" style just before post-modernism became vogue,
and each floor was a theme park. A mathematician might call it
"the set of all possible theme parks." In one dream I took my
family to a Kenya-themed park on the zillionth floor.
Outside of my dreams, visiting "the lot" had other perks.
One day a customer took me to the employee store, and let me
use his employee discount to buy a book I'd wanted for a long
time, "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation" (1981) by Ollie
Johnston and Frank Thomas.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786860707/hip-20 )
I got this $60 treasure for about $40. This textbook for
animators, by two of the "Nine Old Men" of classic Disney
animation, had several interesting revelations:
* Some fine artists became Disney animators just
to use the color palette of projected animation,
which has more different visible colors than any
other visual medium.
* Walt didn't pay his animators much, but he did let
them shoot as much expensive film as they wanted of
animation "pencil tests." The only catch was that
everybody in the animation department got to watch
the results, including Walt, in the un-air-conditioned
screening room they called the "sweat box." He felt
that only by seeing how their drawings looked moving
on the big screen could his animators learn.
* Typically the first assignment a new animator was given
was to draw a bouncing ball. It sounded deceptively
simple, but turned out to harder than they thought.
To look "real" not only does the ball have to squish
when it hits the floor, it has to anticipate the collision
squishing before it hits! Animation turns out to
be about character, and even a ball needs a personality
to be successfully animated.
Well, this was all fascinating to me, but before I found this
gem I actually ended up buying the wrong book! In some little
bookstore in my travels I found a slim paperback called
"Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation" (1991) by Alan
Cholodenko, et. al.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0909952183/hip-20 )
I began reading it and it didn't take me long to realize
it wasn't the book I'd been seeking (recommended by a
computer animator at Pacific Data Images speaking at an
LA SIGGRAPH meeting) but instead was a set of papers presented
at a conference in Australia on the "scholarly" implications
of animated cartoons. Except for a hilarious talk by Chuck
Jones (of Bugs Bunny & Roadrunner fame) it was all very
deconstructionist and convoluted, and closed with an incomprehensible
essay on Borges which seemed to have nothing to do with the
topic at hand. But it began with an essay that pointed out that
the dictionary definitions of "animate" say it means both "to give
motion to" (like a puppet) and "to give life to" (like a zombie).
It went on to point out:
In terms of scholarship, animation is the least theorized
area of film. In neglecting animation, film theorists --
when they have thought about it at all --- have regarded
animation as either the 'step-child' of cinema or as not
belonging to cinema at all, belonging rather to the graphic
If one may think of animation as a form of film, its neglect
would be both extraordinary and predictable. It would be
extraordinary insofar as a claim can be made that animation
film not only preceded the advent of cinema but engendered it;
that the development of all those nineteenth century technologies
-- optical toys, studies in persistence of vision, the projector,
the celluloid strip, etc. --- BUT FOR PHOTOGRAPHY was to result
in their combination/synthesizing in the animatic apparatus of
Emile Reynaud's Theatre Optique of 1892; that, inverting the
conventional wisdom, cinema might then be thought of as
Aha! Of course! Animation is a SUPERSET of cinema! This
was so in the very beginning, and it is becoming even more so
in the world of computer effects, with George Lucas striving to
make "Star Wars" episode III shot on high-def video and digitally
projected, so that it is untouched by film. In the animated/live
action hybrid movie "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" (2000),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00003CXJA/hip-20 )
our heroes from Frostbite Falls are given a ray gun that only
destroys cartoons. At one point Rocky uses it to disintegrate
what appears to be a live-action helicopter, explaining
afterwards that it was a "CGI element" (Computer Generated Image).
The first biography of Walt Disney I ever read, "The Disney
Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney"
(1968) by Richard Schickel,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1566631580/hip-20 )
explained something I really already understood, that the entire
economic engine of the Walt Disney empire was powered by the
feature length cartoons. They originated the lovable characters
that created demand for the TV shows, plush toys and theme parks.
Without them, the whole enterprise fails.
This is why it seems so ironic to me that Disney CEO Michael
Eisner has announced the end of 2D hand-drawn cartoons at Disney.
Perhaps this is a repetition of the cycle in which the last
management team was booted out at Disney. Company yes-man
Card Walker and Disney son-in-law Ron Miller announced the
effective end of 2D hand-drawn animation in the early 1980s,
and Roy Disney and Stanley Gold forced them out and brought
in Eisner in 1984. This story is told in "Storming the Magic
Kingdom: How Corporate Raiders Forced a Revolution at Disney"
(1987) by John Taylor.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/5551880427/hip-20 )
Now Roy and Stan have a website devoted to throwing out Eisner.
( savedisney.com )
* * * * * * * *
"There is a certain charm to seeing someone happily advocate
a triangular wheel because it has one less bump per revolution
than a square wheel does."
-- Chuck Swiger
In late spring of this year I again wanted to learn more
about Operations Research. I discovered a couple of years
ago that OR is taught locally (to me) at the University of
California at San Diego (UCSD) as part of the Management
Science major offered by the Economics department. According
to the on-line catalog,
( www.econ.ucsd.edu/ugradprog/majdiff.htm )
a Bachelor of Science in Management Science has these characteristics:
* applied economics with a micro/management focus (no macro)
* covers some functional fields of business
* highly quantitative
and can be used in these careers:
Business, finance, government, law, public policy, etc.
The course listing
( www.ucsd.edu/catalog/EconCour.html )
describes the three-semester class thusly:
172A-B-C. Introduction to Operations Research (4-4-4)
Linear, nonlinear, and integer programming. Elements
of game theory. Deterministic and stochastic dynamic programming.
Lacking the time or money to enroll at UCSD just to take this
class, I made a visit to the campus bookstore and discovered
the text used is "Introduction to Operations Research" (1967-2001)
by Hillier & Lieberman.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0071181636/hip-20 )
It cost $150. I looked on the web and found a copy for $75,
which I bought. I've been slowly working my way through
it. Some of the things I've learned:
* The main emphasis is still on linear programming,
only now there are lots more ways to reformulate
a problem into linear form. Tales abound
of eager young graduates saving big corporations
millions by applying OR techniques to resource
scheduling problems. (I couldn't help
but think about the havoc this could cause
* Microsoft's ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet actually
contains a linear programming solver, which I never
knew. You can solve the example problem I gave
above by formulating it correctly in Excel and then
selecting "Solver" in the Tools menu.
( www.economics.ltsn.ac.uk/cheer/ch9_3/ch9_3p07.htm )
There are also more robust solvers that can be purchased
and added to Excel to solve more complex problems.
* In actual practice, to use linear programming on
an ongoing basis in a corporate environment, the
optimizing solver has to be integrated with the
Management Information System (MIS) infrastructure,
to avoid having to constantly re-key data. This
turns out to be more of a headache than the math part.
* There is an increased emphasis on network theory,
especially as applied to transportation and communication
By an interesting coincidence, a month after I began this
study I got a consulting gig in which I was
able to use the knowledge: I did some research involving
network theory as applied to finding terrorists; this story
is told in C3M Volume 3 Number 5, Jun. 2004, "Six Degrees
of Buddy Hackett" (see the archives below).
As a mental exercise, I have thought about applying linear
programming to theme park operations. It is quite easy to
compute the costs of running various rides and attractions
in terms of personnel and other resources. What is extremely
difficult is to compute the effect on the bottom line of NOT
running them. It is easy to fall into thinking that X number
of people are going to show up every day and pay their $50
plus each whether or not a specific ride is running. But
applying this thinking across the board leads to the
* close all the rides and send all the ride operators home
* close all the shows and send the performers and support
* take out the drinking fountains and raise the prices of
This may sound absurd, and yet it is not far from the behavior
of the managers of Disneyland, especially under the leadership
of the now departed Paul Pressler and Cynthia Harriss at
Team Disney Anaheim (TDA).
( www.mouseplanet.com/shame )
( www.mouseplanet.com/david/dk031204.htm )
The SaveDisney.com web site has a before and after photo-essay
on Disneyland's Tomorrowland that shows how badly that land has
been allowed to atrophy.
( savedisney.com/news/disneyland/tl/tl_ss061104.1.asp )
It also makes the case that Tomorrowland is a metaphor for the
future and long-term vision of the Walt Disney Company.
There is now a book which talks about the application of OR
techniques to theme parks, "Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers"
(2003) by Harrison "Buzz" Price.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1893951065/hip-20 )
Like C. V. "Woody" Wood, "Buzz" worked at Stanford Research
Institute (SRI) on the original siting study for Disneyland.
(And as I write these words it occurs to me for the first
time that the names of the two main characters in "Toy Story"
may have come from these two men.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000059XUT/hip-20 )
Buzz's book includes an analysis of the relationship between
capital investment and gate receipts in theme parks, in which
he finds no obvious correlation. A form of this article
was on the web for a while, and I snagged it.
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/Brave5.pdf )
It has occurred to me that it might be very interesting to add
every known variable (instead of just the two used) and turn a
Support Vector Machine loose on the data to find the relevant
factors in boosting gate receipts.
* * * * * * * *
"If Disney loses Miramax all they'll have left is a muppet
and a water park."
-- Robin Williams at the 2004 Oscars
It seems like every day brings new revelations on the downfall
of Michael Eisner.
( www.savedisney.com/red_message.asp )
The situation has been brewing a long time, starting about
the time of Frank Wells' death, and continuing through the
Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz fiascos, all of which is
documented in "Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner
and the Fall of Everybody Else" (2001) by Kim Masters.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0066621097/hip-20 )
My personal favorite choice for the job is Apple cofounder
and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs. The problem with bean counters is
they don't know where beans come from. Jobs knows.
Unlike Michael Eisner, Walt Disney created new media:
sound cartoons ("Steamboat Willy"), color cartoons ("Flowers and
Trees"), feature-length cartoons ("Snow White"), abstract
animation ("Fantasia"), theme parks ("Disneyland") and Audio-
Animatronics ("Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room"). True,
Walt didn't do it alone; many of "his" innovations came from an
unsung genius named Ub Iwerks: Mickey Mouse ("Plane Crazy"),
the multiplane camera ("The Old Mill"), Circlevision 360 ("America
the Beautiful"), the sodium prism matte ("The Parent Trap"), and
the projection on sculpture technique "(The Haunted Mansion").
His story is told "The Hand Behind the Mouse: An Intimate
Biography of Ub Iwerks" (2001) by John Kenworthy.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786853204/hip-20 )
But Walt gets credit for this too -- he could attract and retain
creative talent, like Jobs, and unlike Eisner. Jobs and his
teams have also created new media: the color PC ("Apple II"),
the Windows/Icons/Mouse/Pointer (WIMP) computer interface
("Macintosh"), the designer computer ("iMac"), the portable
digital music player ("iPod"), and the 3D computer-generated
cartoon ("Red's Dream"). For those purists among you, yes,
I know about Doug Engelbart at SRI inventing the mouse,
and the Rio portable digital music player, and "Breaking the Ice"
from Symbolics. Walt didn't invent Technicolor either.
But Disney and Jobs each deserve credit for creating new
markets for new media, and what is a medium without a market?
For the Walt Disney Company to become vital again it must get
back into the business of creating new markets for new media.
* * * * * * * *
"I don't make pictures just to make money.
I make money to make more pictures."
-- Walt Disney
Since the early days of Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask, there
has been a marriage of Cybernetics and Management. Managers
are among the true generalists in our society, needing a
generalists education, now more than ever in this high-tech
millennium. Many of my readers have told me they are interested
in this. One of my subscribers recommended "The E-Myth Revisited:
Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It"
(1995) by Michael E. Gerber.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0887307280/hip-20 )
(If this was you, I lost your contact info. Please email me again!)
Another very good book I have found on systems theory for managers
is "Dealing With Complexity: An Introduction to the Theory and
Application of Systems Science" (1988) by Robert L. Flood & Ewart
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/030644299X/hip-20 )
Working on this issue of the e-Zine has given me the idea
to work up -- at some point -- "A New Curriculum for Operations
Research." I'm not sure what all I'd put in it, but I do know it
would have more anecdotes from real business problems, more chaos
theory, and especially more examples from the Walt Disney Company.
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Copyright 2004 by Alan B. Scrivener
I Learned from the Walt Disney Company