Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Homework Assignment

George Dantzig, who, as an advisor to the U.S. Defense Department in 1947, introduced the "simplex method" of optimizing linear programming, initially in dealing with logistical issues but ultimately in the creation of computer programs, was born on this day in 1914 in Portland, Oregon.

Dantzig's entry into the academic field of mathematics was the subject of an oft-told anecdote, here related by Dantzig himself:

During my first year at Berkeley I arrived late one day to one of Neyman's classes. On the blackboard were two problems which I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework -- the problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual. I asked him if he still wanted the work. He told me to throw it on his desk. I did so reluctantly because his desk was covered with such a heap of papers that I feared my homework would be lost there forever. About six weeks later, one Sunday morning about eight o'clock, Anne and I were awakened by someone banging on our front door. It was Neyman. He rushed in with papers in hand, all excited: "I've just written an introduction to one of your papers. Read it so I can send it out right away for publication." For a minute I had no idea what he was talking about. To make a long story short, the problems on the blackboard which I had solved thinking they were homework were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics. That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them.

Dantzig died on May 13, 2005 in Palo Alto, California.

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