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Stepwise Success

Computer Scheduling

Published May 23, 2014 6:07 AM by Scott Warner

Artificial intelligence is everywhere. Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Singularity is Near, has commented that we don’t realize it because it just becomes something mundane that computers do. We expect a virtual analog of ourselves like HAL in 2001, while computers everywhere analyze, filter, translate, decide on, feed us information, and otherwise do smart things.

Scheduling employees is a good example of something artificial intelligence can do. Software can make a schedule from scratch using a genetic algorithm, for example, by making “generations” that survive or mutate in a pseudo-Darwinian model. I did something far simpler, but my program SCHEDULE still generates monthly schedules up to a year ahead.

It’s a neat trick but like magic isn’t mysterious once revealed. That’s Kurzweil’s point.

Here’ s how I did it in (hopefully) plain English:

  • Rotations are stored in an ordinary text file in a format of {employee}={rotation}.
  • SCHEDULE opens the text file and reads the first line. Since the program can’t know where in the rotation or year you want to start, the first line in the file tells it where the closest month starts e.g. feb=32.
  • February is adjusted for a leap year, depending on whether it falls on this year or next.
  • Your “year” begins at whatever month you want, so all subsequent months have a beginning tallied from that point on, adding the days in the month. These are then further offset by the start position in the rotation. Now you know where months start in the rotations.
  • After selecting a month to print, the program reads an employee rotation, appends the rotation to itself until it is at least 735 characters long, and prints from the where that month starts to its end. It skips a line, prints the next employee, and repeats until all employees are printed.

This works for any number of employees or rotation lengths. Techs can print their schedules, plan for vacations, swap weekends, and benefit from the computer doing something we don’t have to.

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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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