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Many of you have heard me talk passionately about ChronoZoom over the past year, especially about our goal to bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities through this amazing open-source tool, which strives to capture the history of everything. I love the amazing breadth of these ambitions.
Another thing I love about ChronoZoom is how it was created by the academic community, with assistance from Microsoft through Microsoft Research Connections. The academic part of the ChronoZoom team has had a very busy summer, delivering two releases independently, without any coaching from the Microsoft engineering team. I urge you to check out the new features and download the source code on Codeplex.
I had a fabulous time working with our community leader, Roland Saekow of the University of California, Berkeley, as we presented ChronoZoom at the International Big History Association Conference at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. I’d like to hand this blog over to Roland, to tell you about a great tribute the team received this summer!
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
Three years ago, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), taking a course on the history of everything. The course was titled “Big History: Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity.” Taught by Professor Walter Alvarez, it covered everything from the Big Bang to modern man. One of the most challenging aspects of a Big History course is grasping the timescales– all 13.7 billion years. To meet this challenge, Professor Alvarez and I set out to create a dynamic, zoomable timeline. Three years later, after much hard work by incredible teams of people, ChronoZoom received the seventeenth annual Digital Education Achievement Award.
Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Director, e.Republic Inc. (center). Image courtesy of the Center for Digital Education
This award, which is presented by the Center for Digital Education (a division of e.Republic), recognizes the results of countless hours of planning, discussion, prototyping, and development—the collaborative efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals from all over the world. Our team includes software engineers, program managers, and project leaders at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington, and students and professors at Moscow State University in Russia and at UC Berkeley. This dispersed team developed cutting-edge HTML5 code and implemented services on Windows Azure to create a rich, visual database full of historical events and timelines.
One aspect of the ChronoZoom project I find fascinating is that students—undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs—wrote nearly 80 percent of the code in today’s beta release. This award recognizes the successful collaboration between experienced veterans of the computer science world and students who have been inspired and mentored with great care and passion to do outstanding work. Work on ChronoZoom began as a dream—a hopeful vision into the future. Not only did the right people have to come together at the same moment, but they also had to learn to work together in near perfect synchronization to transform our dream into a reality. I am very proud of everyone on the team, and I look forward to our continued success. As an open-source project, we continue to grow our team, and take with us the experience in collaboration that Microsoft Research fostered. We invite you to join us on this journey to bring history to life. —Roland Saekow, ChronoZoom Community Lead, University of California, Berkeley
The long tail: sure, it’s a well-known concept in business and marketing, but there’s a very important “hidden” long tail in the sciences, too. So, what is this hidden long tail of science? It consists of the millions of datasets that are not stored in a databank and therefore are not available for use by other scientists. Every day, researchers throughout the world are observing, calculating, and compiling data, recording it all on their local machines within their labs—often not even as a shared resource to their institutions. Regrettably, much of this data never gets deposited in larger web-accessible data repositories where it could be reused by other investigators around the globe.
As a researcher myself and working with other researchers from around the globe, I am acutely aware of scientific data pain points; after all, those of us in the research community understand better than anyone that data preservation, curation, and sharing are critical for the advancement of scientific discovery. We want to share our data beyond our immediate groups, but many times we find ourselves hindered by a lack of tools and services designed to promote data curation and sharing.
Enter DataUp, an open-source tool that helps us document, manage, and archive our tabular data. The DataUp project was born out of this need for seamless integration of data management into the researchers’ current workflows. The University of California Curation Center (UC3) at the California Digital Library (CDL), with sponsorship from Microsoft Research and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF), focused on creating a tool that could be used by researchers in the environmental sciences. They recognized that this field epitomizes the problems of data management and curation; in particular, the storage of data locally without data description (metadata)—such as where it was collected, by whom, and when—that would make it more usable by others.
By conducting surveys at ecological and environmental science events, CDL found that the majority of these scientists use spreadsheets to collect and organize their data, so rather than make them learn a new program, UC3 recognized a need for a tool that works with a program most scientists already know: Microsoft Excel.
From the results of further surveys, it was determined that about half of the scientists preferred a tool that would be installed on their laptop, while the other half wanted a web-based tool that they could use on any device. Well, we sponsors and the UC3 team were not about to let this divided preference thwart the creation of a much-needed tool, so, together, we decided that there needed to be two versions of the tool: an open-source add-in (extension) for Microsoft Excel, and an open-source web application.
To achieve the project goals of facilitating data management, sharing, and archiving, both the add-in and the web application accomplish four main tasks:
The California Digital Library established the initial repository, the ONEShare. Researchers will be able to find tools from the DataUp project as part of the Investigator Toolkit for DataONE.
I want to thank Carly Strasser, Trisha Cruse, John Kunze, and Stephen Abrams from UC3 for their passion and commitment to bring DataUp to life. I also want to thank Chris Mentzel from GBMF for co-funding the project with Microsoft Research Connections.
Now, get out there and DataUp!
—Kristin Tolle, Director, Microsoft Research Connections
Are you a student looking to win a little extra spending money? Or maybe just get some props for your coding chops? If so, you’ll want to enter your Windows Phone or Windows 8 app in the Project Hawaii Mobile Code Jam Challenge. But you’d better act quickly—you’ll need to register your project by October 30.
The Code Jam is being featured as an integral part of the upcoming IEEE Consumer Communications & Networking Conference (CCNC 2013), where three winners will be selected. The first-place winner will receive US$1,500; the second-place winner, $1,000; and the third-place winner, $700. Not bad, especially since you’ll get recognized in front of your peers at CCNC. And you can win some money to blow in Vegas.
Your project must be an app that runs on Windows Phone (version 7.5) or Windows 8, and it must use one or more of the Project Hawaii services. Oh, and it has to be available for use, free of charge, in academic and research settings. Visit the Mobile Code Jam site for full contest details.
So, you ask, what are the Project Hawaii services? Well, with Project Hawaii, you can develop cloud-enhanced Windows Phone apps that access a set of cloud services, which includes Social Mobile Sharing Service (SMASH), Path Prediction, Key Value, Translator, Optical Character Recognition, Speech to Text, Relay, and Rendezvous. Learn more.
While prizes and recognition are certainly nice, the main goal of the contest is to encourage researchers and, especially, students to advance the field of mobile apps and services. You can dream up any scenario you want: maybe an app that solves a societal problem, or one that uses mobile technology to help the elderly or infirm. Or maybe something to beat the odds at pai gow. You’re bound only by your creativity and imagination.
As noted above, you’ll need to register your project by October 30. The other key date is December 14, which is the deadline for submitting your overview paper describing your entry. You’re encouraged to prepare as much documentation as possible, including examples of how the app might be used and screenshots or other displays showing the software in action. Entries will be peer-reviewed and finalists will be invited to demonstrate their software to a panel of judges during the conference program.
Remember, if you want to kick out the jams at IEEE CCNC, you’ll need to register your project by October 30. If the trick-or-treaters show up and you’re still pondering your entry, you’re out of luck, so get jammin’.
—Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections