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July, 2011

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

July, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Testing Tools at a Conference Week in Zurich

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    The beautiful interior of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule’s (ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) main building in Zurich is always abuzz with conferences at the end of June, including TOOLS—and this year was no exception. Now in its forty-ninth iteration, TOOLS was a week-long event that brought together four major conferences, eight workshops, and a tutorial on the subject of programming languages, models, components, and proofs.

    ETH is a world-famous institute for science and technology; it has produced 21 Nobel Prize winners since its inception in 1855—with seven since 1975—a top score among European universities. Perhaps ETH is more widely known as the place where Albert Einstein began his studies. The chair of Software Engineering is held by Bertrand Meyer, who started the TOOLS Conference Series in 1989 with conferences held in different continents: TOOLS Europe, TOOLS USA, TOOLS Pacific, and TOOLS China.  Eight people from Microsoft were right at the center of the event this year.

    With program committees spread across the world, holding a program committee meeting to discuss the selection of the papers for the conference is a challenge—but one that TOOLS has always met. This year, I had the honor of serving as program co-chair of one of the conferences, and Ethan Jackson was program co-chair of another. The collected papers from TOOLS are available as a volume entitled Objects, Components, Models, Patterns in the prestigious Lecture Notes in Computer Science series, published by Springer.

    The program committee meeting for 2011 was held in Zurich in March with 16 members present and 16 listening in from various regions ranging from India to the United States’ west coast. With very careful planning, papers were scheduled for discussion according to the time zone in their reviewers’ regions. Thus, Aditya Nori from Microsoft Research India was brought in first, and Nikolai Tillmann from Microsoft Research Redmond, Washington, had to rise very early to discuss his papers at the end of the meeting.

    Other Microsoft researchers who participated in the conference week included Yuri Gurevich, the conference co-chair of TAP (Tests and Proofs), and program committee members of the various conferences: Nikolaj Bjorner, Clemens Syzperski, Margus Veanes, and Madhu Sudan. (I should note that Nikolaj Bjorner and his team are well known for having popularized the use of testers through RiSE4fun, which enables the tools to be run in browsers.)

    Patrice Godefroid presented the keynote address for one of the conferences: TAP 2011. He discussed his work with the SAGE tool for white-box testing technology. Test generation has recently become the largest application of SMT solvers as measured by computational usage. Satisfiability Modulo Theories (SMT) are concerned with checking the satisfiability of logical formulas over one or more theories. At Microsoft, the Z3 SMT solver has solved more than 2 billion constraints in the past two years as a sub-component of SAGE, the first white-box fuzzer. Fuzz testing is an effective technique for finding security vulnerabilities in software. Traditionally, fuzz-testing tools apply random mutations to well-formed inputs of a program and test the resulting values.

    Patrice Godefroid - Automated Whitebox Fuzz Testing with SAGE

    Since 2009, SAGE has been running non-stop on more than 100 (on average) machines, automatically “fuzzing” hundreds of applications in a dedicated lab that is owned by the Windows security test team. In the process, SAGE found many new expensive security vulnerabilities (which were missed by black box testing and static program analysis).

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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    The Imagine Cup 2011 Winners Are…

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    The Imagine Cup 2011 winners are revealed!The Imagine Cup 2011 winners are revealed! The winning projects hail from Bangladesh, Brazil, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Korea, Poland, Romania, and Taiwan. At the awards ceremony, Microsoft announced a new US$3 million grant program to help recipients realize their vision.

    Congratulations to all the winners and every participant in this amazing competition! For more information, read the Research at Imagine Cup 2011 blog.

    —Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Research at Imagine Cup 2011

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    In nine years, the Imagine Cup has become one of the pre-eminent youth technology competitions in the world. This year, more than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete.

    Beginning last Friday evening and running through to Wednesday this week, more than 400 of the brightest young minds from more than 70 countries will be competing in the finals hosted in New York City, United States. These are the winners from all of the local, national, and regional competitions around the world over this past year.

    The students develop solutions for an enormous range of socially-relevant applications, including environmental issues, medical diagnosis, disaster relief, and technology access for the disabled. They mix and match Microsoft and other technologies to reach those solutions.

    More than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete in Imagine Cup 2011.

    Imagine Cup 2011 Video: Students Create a Better World Video 

    Microsoft Research has long been a collaborator with the event and this year is no exception. Notable this year has been the prominence of the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta, released less than a month ago. In common with so many enthusiasts around the world, the amazing Microsoft Kinect sensor and its powerful software, now officially available to developers on Windows 7 PCs with the SDK, has captured the imaginations of many of the student teams, some of which have already been using the SDK in their projects—an extraordinary effort in so short a time.

    In response to this enormous interest, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who opened the event with a keynote presentation, announced that all of the student finalists would receive Kinects as gifts to help inspire further innovation in natural user interfaces and beyond!

    To further help the students understand the capabilities of the device and its SDK, including access to the raw data streams, and the audio and visual processing (which includes skeletal tracking), Stewart Tansley presented a training class with Clint Rutkas from Channel 9’s Coding4Fun. The class generated a lot of interest from the students—who were eager to learn more about the Kinect for Windows SDK beta.

    Representing the culmination of decades of computer science research in audio and vision processing, the prominence of Kinect and the SDK at the event has been an inspiring testament to the practical influence of research on today’s emerging computer scientists.

    Furthering this message, Microsoft Research Connections corporate vice president Tony Hey presented a special session to the students entitled, “What it takes to be a researcher.”

    Tony recalled that Albert Einstein once said, “If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be research.” Tony addressed specifically those students who are considering graduate school and the potential rewards of a research career, but are unsure about the specific paths and options that are available to them. He shared from his extensive experience as a researcher and academic both in the United Kingdom and United States.

    Panel at the Women Innovators

    Panel at the Women Innovators (not in order): Jane Prey, senior program manager,
    Microsoft Research Connections; Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared
    Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and
    deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed
    by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress;
    and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing
    Research at AT&T Labs.

    Last but not least, Jane Prey represented Microsoft Research on a stellar panel at the Women Innovators dinner. The other panelists included: Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress; and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing Research at AT&T Labs. The panel focused on how to help get more women involved in technology and encouraging the student women innovators attending to continue on their technical initiatives. Learn more about this special highlight.

    As we write this blog the day before the final winners of Imagine Cup 2011 are to be announced, we wish all competitors the best of luck for the competition and in their future careers, whether as researchers, entrepreneurs, or other champions of computer science!

    —Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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