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December, 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.

December, 2011

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    Readers’ Choice: Top 10 Blogs of 2011

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    Microsoft Research Connections: Top 10 Blogs of 2011Recaps of the top 10 news stories of the year—it’s a New Year’s tradition that rivals Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” show. So who are we to buck convention? Therefore, without further ado, here are the top 10 Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2011, as chosen by your clicks.


    Number 10:
    Kinect for Windows SDK Beta Refresh Available 

    Who can resist building apps for the latest and greatest Kinect sensor? Apparently not the developers who are avid readers of our blog. So let’s raise a cup of cheer, or eggnog, to the intrepid innovators who are using the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) to push the boundaries of natural user interface applications.

    Number 9: Night at the Museum—sans Ben Stiller

    A planetarium show plus a demonstration of the new earth-sciences applications of Microsoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) took center stage at the California Academy of Sciences. If you thought turning your computer into a world-class telescope was cool, you’ll be blown away by WWT’s ability to create earth-science narratives.

    Number 8: Introducing Chemistry Add-in for Word

    The ancient Egyptians had nothing on us: using chemistry symbols in digital documents can be every bit as cumbersome as carving hieroglyphics into stone. And then came Chemistry Add-in for Word, which makes it easier for students, chemists, and researchers to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas, and 2-D depictions, from within Microsoft Word.

    Number 7: Digital Research Libraries Get a Boost with Latest Zentity Release

    Research archivists, librarians, and others who have grappled with organizing and accessing voluminous research collections asked for it—and Microsoft Research Connections delivered: the 2.1 release of Zentity. A repository platform designed to manage research objects—such as journal articles, reports, datasets, projects, and people—as well as the relationships among them, Zentity supports arbitrary data models and provides semantically rich functionality that enables users to find and visually explore interesting relationships between elements.

    Number 6: Parallel Processing Software Gets a Boost in Barcelona

    Today, it seems that everything—from smart phones and tablets to PCs and supercomputers—is sprouting extra cores so users can do more. Can Microsoft Research Connections help create parallel code to make the most efficient use of these ubiquitous multi-core processors? Need you ask? A joint venture of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Microsoft Research Centre (BSCMSRC) is bringing together the expertise of hardware and software researchers to do just that.

    Number 5: Building a .NET Quality Control Tool for Next-Generation Sequencing Technologies

    Quality control—it’s vital in food inspections and DNA sequencing. Unfortunately, not all sequencing technologies produce reliable and accurate results, and experimental data will always contain varying rates of error. That’s where Sequence Quality Control Studio (SeQCoS) can help. A Microsoft .NET software suite designed to perform an array of QC evaluations and post-QC manipulation of sequencing data, SeQCoS generates a series of standard plots that illustrate the quality of the input data.

    Number 4: Women in Technology Hop to It in Portland

    Every year, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. This past year was no exception, as some 2,000 attendees descended on Portland, Oregon, to hear about the latest research and explore the roles of women in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering. Microsoft Research Connections was there, too, offering support and free epiphytes (really)!

    Number 3: Chinese University Students Push the Boundaries of Kinect for Windows

    Chinese university students took the Kinect for Windows SDK and pushed it hard, applying the sensor’s depth sensing, voice and object recognition, and human motion tracking capabilities to diverse topics: from education to commerce to culture and history. Their creative and elegant applications far surpass traditional games, demonstrating Kinect’s potential in diverse areas.

    Number 2: Microsoft Research and the Kinect Effect

    Our blog readers are very interested in Kinect! And why not? Thanks to contributions from Microsoft Research, Kinect has state-of-the-art audio, skeletal-tracking, and facial-recognition capabilities. Microsoft built Kinect to revolutionize the way you play games and how you experience entertainment. But along the way, people started applying the “Kinect Effect” in ways we never imagined—from helping children with autism to assisting doctors in the operating room.

    Number 1: Unlocking Academic Success with Frame Games for Learning

    Drumroll please: the top-ranked Microsoft Research Connections blog explored—what else?—a game. But, surprisingly, it isn’t Kinect based! Instead, it’s a learning game that was developed in collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology. Called Just Press Play, the game helps students earn a digital reward for the ultimate achievement: collegiate success. Just Press Play encourages students to venture out of their comfort zone and get involved in all aspects of school—including (gasp) interactions with school faculty and staff.

    So there they are: 2011’s most-read Microsoft Research Connections blogs. Why Robots Invade Upstate New York didn’t make the list is beyond us. Go figure. Happy New Year from your friends at Microsoft Research Connections!

    —Lisa Clawson, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Coping with Data Deluge

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    Overwhelmed by data? You’re not alone.

    Data mining has become one of the most critical research processes in this era of data-intensive science. There are, however, many areas of science where the usefulness of data mining is limited by the massive nature of the datasets. Consequently, scientists are desperately looking for new tools that can dig into the data faster and deeper. In the rapidly developing field of synoptic sky surveys, for example, transient signals from a variety of interesting astrophysical phenomena must be detected and characterized in (near) real-time. The resulting wealth of data is invaluable to researchers seeking new discoveries, but they need better computational methods to help them manage and analyze so much data.

    Coping with Data Deluge

    It was in response to such needs that Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies sponsored a workshop, Digging Faster and Deeper:  Algorithms for Computationally Limited Problems in Time-Domain Astronomy, from December 12 to 13. Bringing together more than 50 distinguished participants, the workshop focused on some of the unresolved data mining issues for future studies in time-domain astronomy and related fields.

    I was privileged to give two talks during day two of the workshop. In “Discovery of Hidden Patterns in Data through Interactive Search,” I presented the Environmental Informatics Framework (EIF), a strategy and technology platform that the Microsoft Research Connections Earth, Energy, and Environment group developed to help advance data exploration in environmental research. I demonstrated Microsoft PivotViewer, a faceted search technology included in EIF that enables users to visually and interactively search and discover hidden patterns in massive data or image sets.

    I was pleased to receive positive feedback from attendees about the work that Microsoft Research is doing for data-intensive sciences. As one participant noted to me in email, “I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of the work that Microsoft Research was doing, but I was very impressed with what I saw yesterday. The work you’ve been doing on data visualization can only be described as stunning!”

    In “Building a Better Scientist,” my second talk of the day, I discussed how the fourth paradigm for data-intensive scientific discovery is changing the way scientists conduct research, and is, therefore, creating a need for a new generation of scientists with advanced computational mindsets. The presentation stimulated passionate discussions, and, as event chair George Djorgovski pointed out, it is a topic closely related to how fast and deep we can go with our data.

    Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    No CS Student Left Behind

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    Students try out TouchDevelopComputer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), which took place this year from December 4 to 10 in the United States, is a celebration of computer science education. And while it’s a great idea to devote a week to recognizing the importance of this field, it’s a topic that demands year-round attention all over the world. That’s why we at Microsoft Research Connections have partnered with the Kent (Washington) School District to provide ongoing support for students and teachers at the district’s tech academies.

    Together, we are working to generate enthusiasm among Kent students for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). We chose the Friday before the beginning of CSEdWeek to kick off the partnership with a daylong event designed to reach every seventh- through twelfth-grader at Kent’s two tech academy campuses. Microsoft Research participants included an expert on interaction, media, and visualization browsing; an earth systems scientist (and former NASA employee); as well as a software engineer, a mechanical engineer, and the author of books about quantum mechanics and relativity. These dedicated researchers spent the day teaching how to use Microsoft technology tools (including TouchDevelop and WorldWide Telescope), tutoring on math and science topics, and presenting information about careers in research. Our overarching goal was to help students understand that many of the most difficult problems in the world can be solved by computer science and to excite them about the great career opportunities in STEM.

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    We strongly encouraged the students to continue their computer science education when they attend college. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that between 2008 and 2018, 1.4 million computing jobs will have opened in the United States. If current graduation rates continue, only 61 percent of these jobs could be filled by U.S. computing degree-earners—a figure that drops to 29 percent when only computing bachelor’s degrees are included (source: NCWIT). This is why CSEdWeek is important on a national level in the United States.

    At the personal level, CSEdWeek and projects like our partnership with the Kent Technology Academy expose students to critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to success in the digital age. Through our efforts to reach K-12 students, we are striving to generate enthusiasm for computing careers, which are not only exciting, plentiful, and financially rewarding, but most importantly, provide an opportunity to tackle some of the world's greatest challenges.

    The classroom visits on December 2 were just the beginning of our partnership with the Kent School District, the fourth largest and one of the most diverse in the state of Washington. Throughout the year, various team members from Microsoft Research will conduct presentations to help the students better understand careers in research and technology. And this spring, the academy’s seventh- and ninth-graders will visit Microsoft Research to see the researchers in their “native habitat.” Additionally, some students will work on using TouchDevelop to create applications for the Windows Phone 7, while others will learn about game programming via a visual object-oriented programming tool called Kodu.

    We look forward to celebrating computer science education year round!

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science at Microsoft Research Connections, and Rane Johnson, Director of Education and Scholarly Communication at Microsoft Research Connections

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