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September, 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.

September, 2011

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    Latin American Workshop Explores Research Challenges and Collaboration Opportunities

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    Fifty Latin American researchers and former Microsoft Research interns and Fellows gathered at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in July to participate in the LATAM Workshop. The goals of this research workshop: share research challenges and results and seek opportunities to work together across the Latin American region.

    Fifty Latin American researchers and former Microsoft Research interns and Fellows gathered at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in July to participate in the LATAM Workshop.

    The event included presentations from representatives from the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research in São Paulo, Brazil, and the Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research (LACCIR) Federation. Representatives from Microsoft Research also participated in discussions and delivered presentations about advances in computing that can be applied to research challenges. The topics of this year’s event focused on how the computer sciences can be applied to micro-economies, health and wellbeing, climate change, bioenergy, biodiversity, and tropical ecosystems.

    “The Latin American Workshop played a significant role in sharing our research findings and perspectives with each other; not only with researchers from our region but also with colleagues from Microsoft Research,” said Domingo Mery, a professor from Catholic University of Chile and conference presenter. “This is an excellent way to nurture collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many thanks for this opportunity!”

    While all of the presentations were impressive, we have chosen two to highlight here today: “The Brazilian Biodiversity Database and Information System (SinBiota),” presented by Tiago Egger Moellwald Duque Estrada, Instituto Virtual da Biodiversidade, Programa Biota/FAPESP; and “Live Andes (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species): A New Tool for Wildlife Conservation,” presented by Cristian Bonacic, associate professor, Ecosystems and Environment Department, Catholic University of Chile, Chile.

    Session Highlight: The Brazilian Biodiversity Database and Information System: SinBiota

    The BIOTA/FAPESP program (São Paulo’s State Foundation for Research Funding) was created 10 years ago to provide support for the São Paulo State Government to achieve the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the essential components of the BIOTA/FAPESP program is the information system called SinBiota. This is a new version (currently prototype) of the first SinBiota system. It runs on Microsoft Silverlight, and uses Bing maps to provide environmental data visualization.

    The system has not been significantly upgraded in its first 10 years. With the renovation of the Biota/FAPESP program, a new system is needed to fulfill the demands of researchers, educators, NGOs, and governmental agencies.
    “The workshop was an invaluable opportunity for researchers from São Paulo and their students to interact with colleagues from LACCIR and scientists from Microsoft Research,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director, FAPESP. “We expect that high-impact scientific collaboration will follow.”

    Session Highlight: Live ANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species): A New Tool for Wildlife Conservation
    South America is home to some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. However, many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in these ecosystems are in danger of extinction. Additionally, vast areas of land have been minimally explored by scientists to assess the population status of various species and to identify unknown species. Scientists and conservationists can greatly improve their understanding of endangered species through access to reports about the local wildlife from residents of these regions.

    ICT tools that citizens can use in natural areas could provide conservation scientists with vital information to help them protect wildlife. The Live ANDES platform, which is a citizen science project, is helping to create a global conservation community in South America. Citizens can upload and share wildlife data (such as notes, videos, and audio of endangered species) with scientists. This project enables local residents to contribute to biodiversity conservation by providing scientists with much-needed wildlife data.

    This platform is currently available in beta version and enables users to share information online. The platform was built on the Microsoft .NET Framework and the web solution uses technologies such as ASP.NET MVC, Bing Map Services, Windows Communication Foundation data services, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, the ADO.NET Entity Framework, and LINQ. The mobile solution is based on the .NET Compact Framework for Windows Phone 7.

    In a second version of Live ANDES, the project team will focus on data sharing among academics and policy makers, which requires more advanced tools for assessing quality data and for data analysis, as well as user profiles that provide more details.

    Graduate Student Participation

    The response to these and other sessions was overwhelmingly positive. A key factor contributing to the workshop’s success was the participation of 20 graduate students who have worked as interns or Fellows at Microsoft Research. Some were Microsoft Research alumni and others are currently working with Microsoft Research. All were actively involved in research and the workshop exchanges.

    This workshop was a wonderful opportunity for these students. Attending the workshop will help them with their research, and it will also help broaden their understanding of a wide range of technologies and approaches that will, in turn, support the advancement of their careers. The workshop also gave alumni a chance to reconnect and catch up with their Microsoft Research mentors.


    Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager; Harold Javid, Director, Americas/ANZ Regional Programs; and Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and Caribbean

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    SEIF Project Crystal Receives ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award

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    Each year, Microsoft Research awards competitive grants to computer science academics through the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF). In the first grant round, conducted in 2010, Professor David Notkin and his colleagues at the University of Washington were the recipients of one of the 12 awards for their proposal, “Speculation and Continuous Validation for Software Development,” which resulted in the project, “Crystal: Precise and Unobtrusive Conflict Warnings.” I’m pleased to announce that the achievements of Notkin and his colleagues are being recognized this month with an ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award. The award will be presented at the European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (ESEC/FSE) in Szeged, Hungary (September 5–9, 2011). I’d like to share some of this exceptional research with you today.

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    About the Crystal Project

    Collaborative development of large software projects can be hampered when conflicts arise because developers have created inconsistent copies of a shared file, Notkin explains. The Crystal approach is designed to help developers identify and resolve inconsistencies early, before those conflicts become severe—and before relevant changes fade from the developers’ memories. The Crystal paper presents three outcomes of the project:

    • By studying open-source systems, the project team determined that inconsistencies or conflicts between copies of a shared file are frequent, persistent, and appear not only as overlapping textual edits, but also as subsequent build and test failures.
    • They classified conflicts by using the novel technique of speculative analysis over version-control operations.
    • They designed Crystal, a publicly available tool that uses speculative analysis to present concrete advice unobtrusively to developers, thereby helping them identify, manage, and prevent file version conflicts.

    Notkin’s study spans nine open-source systems totaling 3.4 million lines of code. The conflict data is derived from 550,000 development versions of the system. The complete paper, which goes into great detail on all three points, plus other research that was conducted as part of the project, is available to read online.

    Continuing Excellence

    The SEIF grants are just one way through which we continue to strengthen our support for outstanding university software engineering programs. These grants are intended to stimulate research in all aspects of software engineering, with an aim to cultivate interest in Microsoft Research tools and technologies. They also strengthen our ties to the university community.

    In fact, one of the postgraduate students who worked on Notkin’s Crystal project, Kıvanç Muşlu, came to work for us as an intern. He was jointly mentored by Christian Bird and Tom Zimmermann of the Research in Software Engineering group (RiSE) and me. During his internship, Muşlu explored how Crystal’s principles could be expanded for use in a full industrial context. The testbed was the full Bing development history. The result of his work, a new tool called Beacon, will be deployed to Microsoft product groups in the near future. Like Crystal, Beacon can alert developers when code they are writing will conflict with changes to another branch of the code. By using Microsoft Lync, it can quickly put the developers of the two sections of code in touch so that they can resolve the conflict. The challenge was to make the system work in real time with the enormous number of files and developers involved in a system like Bing. We look forward to seeing more from Muşlu in the future.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Project Hawaii XAPFest 2011 Awards Hawaiian Trip to Windows Phone App Contest Winner

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    Working as an intern at Microsoft has many benefits, but a vacation in Hawaii is not usually one of them. This year, summer interns had an opportunity to work on exciting new mobile technologies, while competing with their peers for an all-expenses paid trip to one of the Hawaiian islands. Microsoft Research Connections—in partnership with Microsoft Research’s Mobile Computing Research Center and Windows Phone—hosted a first-of-its-kind intern competition: Hawaii XAPFest. The competition was open to all U.S.-based Microsoft interns. The challenge: develop Windows Phone apps by using Project Hawaii services and that make use of new consumer features coming in the next version of Windows Phone, code-named “Mango.”

    All participants were trained in the key Windows Phone development areas to provide them with necessary background to complete the challenge. The training included a series of lectures about relevant Microsoft technologies, such as Microsoft Silverlight, XNA, Project Hawaii services, and Windows Azure. Armed with this knowledge, each participating intern developed a Windows Phone app for submission to the evaluation committee comprised of researchers and developers from Microsoft Research and Windows Phone.

    The final round of XAPfest judging took place on August 9, when finalists presented their projects to a panel of judges comprised of Microsoft executives. Each finalist was required to present their project to the judging panel and provide a live demonstration of their app. The judges selected the top four projects based on their creativity, presentation, use of Project Hawaii, and use of features in the next version of Windows Phone.

    Top Award Winners

    The grand-prize winner was Julia Schwartz, a second-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and an intern with the Microsoft Research Human Computer Interface (HCI) group. Julia’s app, “Headshot,” uses facial detection and audio feedback to make it simpler to get the perfect self-portrait every time. Julia’s prize for this victory is a trip for two to Hawaii. Congratulations, Julia!

    The top three runners up were:

    • Marvin Cheng, a senior at the University of Washington and intern working in the Windows Phone division. Marvin presented the “Optical Search” app, which uses the Project Hawaii Optical Character Recognition service to recognize words in documents and enables users to search for those words on the Internet. The app also has built-in definition look-up functionality.
    • Gary Roumanis, a student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Gary showed “8 Tracks,” a handcrafted Internet radio service app that offers a simple way for people to share and discover music and playlists.
    • Ian Christopher, a first-year graduate student at Stanford University, and Roberto Sonnino, an undergraduate at the University of São Paulo. The duo, who are both interns in the Microsoft Visual Studio Graphics team, collaborated to create an app, “Hands Free Cook,” that uses speech recognition and synthesis to provide cooking tips while keeping the phone a safe distance away from the stove and sink.

    All of the presentations we saw this year were very impressive, which made it tough to pick a final winner. The quality of work we saw from our participants demonstrates the innovation we continue to see with Windows Phone. I’m pleased to say I received overwhelmingly positive comments from contestants, who shared that they had a great time participating in this unique, exciting competition. Of course, the most excited of all is Julia, who started out working with Project Hawaii, and is now set to take off and see the “real” Hawaii!

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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