SimuTrans Lab for Economic Strategy and Business Operations Simulation

KESL Lab 1: Learning the Skills for Tomorrow with the Open Source Technologies of Today.

Jeff Elpern

Table of Contents



This book is dedicated to my grandson Andrew Geist who showed me how to educate the high tech generation.

One December evening I was trying to learn the simulation game Rail Road Tycoon III that my 7 year old grandson seemed to be enjoying on his new Mac computer. The outcome was one of those breakthrough moments of clarity.

Andrew walked up. "Let me see," he said. "Oh, you are not making any money. Let me see your stock (this is a graph of price over time). Let me see that guy's stock. That guy is doing better. We should sell yours and buy his. Why haven't you build track to Chicago. Why haven't you ..."

In a few minutes this 7 year old exhibited an understanding of business strategy, operation, economic returns, and investment. All without reading a single text book.

At this moment the future best path for educating our youth became clear to me. They learn by doing and computer games provide a rich environment for this type of learning. Specifically, games that provide complex simulations of real-world challenges - manage a city, build a railroad, run a manufacturing plant, etc. - build mental mapping and strategy skills.

This moment with my grandson consolidated a number of my long-held beliefs, across a broad range of experiences, into a coherent vision.

First, I had been a "gamer" for over 30 years. Having been exposed to business simulations at the University of Nevada as an undergraduate, I chose Carnegie Mellon business school for my graduate work mainly because of the world class business game that was integrated into the curriculum. I was not disappointed. I found it the highlight of the two years at CMU. Our team spent many hours in the computer lab constructing quantitative marketing models to understand consumer behavior in the game. Interestingly, this is exactly what I did a few year later for the clients of the largest advertising agency at that time. Thus, by personal experience, I know that simulations provide rich learning experiences.

My second bias came from playing competitive chess as a young adult. While others see kids wasting time with games, I see many of the same things I used to win chess games. Good gamers have an extensive mental map of the game and a storehouse of past experience. Just like a chess play can tell you the strategic outcome five or six moves into any major opening, games can tell you what will happen many levels into the game if you pursue a specific strategy. Just as chess players can remember every move from games played years ago, games can tell you what happened at a specific decision point a gamer played months ago. Both chess players and gamers build extensive databases of knowledge over time, both use this to build a mental map of the challenges they face, and both use these tool to craft winning strategies.

This is why I always find it interesting when educators complain about the attention span and learning skill of today's youth. The mental skills and the laser-like focus exhibited by gamers show this generation to be the equal of any. The generation that has fallen behind is ours, the adults. We are using 18th century teaching strategies on 21st century kids. We, the adults, have to get better.

Core Principles

This book is driven by the core principles of the KESL project and SQI microPublishing.

KESL Principles

The Knowledge and Economics Simulation Engine (KESL) project promotes these core values:

  • You learn by doing. You learn most efficiently by involved participation and least effectively be being lectured to or reading thousands of page. A dull economics book is inefficient in transferring knowledge about how risk and return works in a capitalist system when compared to the game Rail Road Tycoon. No supply / demand graphs, just the feedback of success and failure as the kids try different strategies. And, as opposed to dreading the next chapter in the economics book, they can't wait to get another try.

    The KESL project is committed to providing an ecosystem for learning about economics and the value of knowledge through simulations.

  • Model real world scenarios. The simulation must be based on real work situations. These "back stories" are well researched and documented. This provides the basis to ask the two fundamental simulation questions: 1) how do the actors, resources, and other forces in this scenario work, and 2) how can I model those interactions.

    Modeling real scenarios in detail provides richer game themes and creates player knowledge that directly transfers to the real world.

  • Technology accessible by everyone. The founders of SQI and the KESL project are deeply disturbed by the "digital divide" in our society and by the hi-tech community's indifference to this issue. The KESL project addresses this by a commitment to Open Source.

    Every technology in the KESL simulation tool chain is Open Source and cross platform. This means access to the technology is free and will run on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

  • Path to Knowledge. Experience --> Learning --> Concept

    A view of acquiring knowledge by a process of interaction with the world that leads to learning how it responds. The final step is to place this into a concept that crafts a framework of across the broad range of stimulus / response.

    It is our core belief that simulations can be used to provide efficient and effect processes for the stimulus / response feedback.

SQI Principles

Commitment to Instant PublishingThis book is a working example of the SQI microPublishing philosophy of instant publishing. It is a work-in-progress. Much of the material is in draft form. Some of the sections are a rough first draft. Some sections have notes that need to be expanded to full text at some point in the future. However, all of the material fulfills the SQI microPublishing concept that any insight or new knowledge has value and needs to be quickly shared into the community of interest.

The SQI DocBook System combines the power of our Knowledge Base technology - direct input from content authors, continuous improvement, instant publishing, and extensive search - with the power of DocBook technology - extensive specialized markup for technical publication and multichannel publishing. The result is an on-demand environment where content experts can update material at any time, these enhancements are instantly published, updated material is instantly re-indexed, and html for the Web and PDF for printed output are simultaneously produced.

Why Read This Book

First, you don't. This is not a book you read. This is a guild to a fantastic simulation lab. The goal is to learn by doing and understanding what we learn by framing the results in business theory and terminology.

SimuTrans as an Economic Strategy and Business Operations Simulation Lab is a guide and working companion for kids, young adults, and learning facilitators interested in acquiring skills in economics, strategy and business operations.

Participants and Facilitators

  • Participant. Those involved in active knowledge acquisition.

  • Facilitators. Those enabling the participants by providing infrastructure, presenting the vision, and being a problem solving resource.

How to Use This Book

This book is a working guide for learning strategic concepts and business operation concepts though hands-on learning. This book presents a framework for the process, the main part of the process is theParticipant running their company. Use this book to briefly introduce the concepts or assign lab tasks. Do not let the material become a lecture.

[Note]Customization ToDo

The role="bolditalic" in bullet point above only produces bold in the PDF output. The fo xlm transforms need to be extended to handle the bolditalic attribute.


SimuTrans Cookbook. SimuTrans is a sophisticated simulation program. As such it requires a level of knowledge and skill to operate. The detailed processes and commands can be overwhelming at first. The SimuTrans Cookbook provides recipes and know-how for accomplishing many of the standard tasks. The on-line and PDF versions are at ?????.

This places all the discussion about constructing a simulation, modeling behaviors and knowledge acquisition in this book. Helpful insights into programming are provided in the tutorial.

Staying Current

The most current version of this book is available at current version SimuTrans as an Economic Strategy and Business Operations Simulation Lab in both web view and PDF print ready. And, we do mean the most current as every author's edit to a chapter immediately produces an updated web page of the chapter, an updated PDF for the chapter, and an updated PDF for the book. We referr to this immediate publication in various formats an microPublishing.

Temporary Authoring Matters

Outline for book development

  • Prototype

  • Benchmarking

  • Map Geometry

    • paid by time

    • think in trips-per-month

    • hills extend time

  • Supply Chain

    • Concept

      • What upstream firms are you dependent upon

    • Vertical Integration

      • Controlling every link in the chain

      • Simple: buses feed airport

      • Complex: coal and iron to steel, steel to goods, goods to market

        • Risk of downturn in one link - say coal mine peters out - impacting all the other infrastructure investment

  • Return on Investment

    • Buy and operate a vehicle

    • Analysis over time

    • Opportunity Costs

    • As part of a larger strategy (More of an unknown )

  • Drive On

    • Start with just Trucks and Buses

    • the mechanics

    • the "cost" side

    • Economics - understanding potential returns

      • Costs

        • Initial investment

        • Operating costs

    • sec 4 - Operation Management

      • how differ from strategy

      • how to get good

      • ways to leverage (Routes)

    • Investment Alternatives

      • IRR vs Payback

      • focus on cash flow

Authoring Mechanics

[Note]Authors Add

The document structure is here: Document Settings

KESL/stLab1 (last edited 2015-04-22 20:19:46 by localhost)