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December, 2012

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, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Our Top 10 Blogs of 2012

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    Once again, you’ve voted with your clicks and we’ve tallied the results. So…drumroll, please…here are the top 10 Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2012.

    Our Top 10 Blogs of 2012

    Number 10: Try Try F#

    Who can resist such a redundantly titled post—especially when it offers information on how to get a browser-based tool for learning and exploring the power of F# 3.0? If you missed this one, we encourage you to “try try” it now.

    Number 9: Data Visualization Reaches New Heights with Layerscape

    Take a page from Jules Verne and journey to the center of the Earth with Layerscape, a free set of tools that gives researchers new ways of looking at lots and lots of data, both above and below the Earth’s surface. The author of this blog, Rob Fatland, was very excited about Layerscape. Apparently, our readers thought it was pretty cool, too.

    Number 8: Innovation in Software Research Recognized in 2012 SEIF Awards

    The Academy Awards put on a great show, but they’ve got nothing on the SEIF Awards in terms of impact. Just ask the many followers who avidly read about the SEIF 2012 winners and their groundbreaking applications of software engineering to mobile and cloud computing.

    Number 7: New Research Grants Aim at Combating Human Trafficking

    One of the greatest tragedies today is the burgeoning trade in human beings: human trafficking is now the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Small wonder, then, that our readers were eager to learn about research into combatting this form of modern-day slavery.

    Number 6: Addressing the Need for More Women in Computer Science Programs

    Last year, women accounted for only 14 percent of computer science college graduates in the United States. This popular post explored the incongruous fact that half the nation’s population is so badly under-represented in computer science studies, especially in light of the bountiful job opportunities in computing.

    Number 5: No Language Left Behind

    Can you appreciate the debilitating effects of being linguistically cast adrift from the Internet? You will, after you join the readers who perused this blog post and learned how the Microsoft Translator Hub helps preserve lesser known ancestral languages and makes it easier for linguistically isolated people to communicate with the rest of the world. 

    Number 4: Inspiring Computer Science Students in Our Backyard

    It gets discouraging to read about the dismal numbers of students who pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This post gave readers a refreshing tonic to those gloomy statistics, as it profiles three programs that are taking action to get students excited about career opportunities in these fields.

    Number 3: From Smartphone to Smart Home: Automating the Modern Home

    The computer-controlled home is a reality—but until recently, only for the tech-savvy or wealthy. Here’s a blog post for the rest of us, explaining how Microsoft Research’s HomeOS is advancing the development of smartphone apps that put the smart home in reach of the general public.

    Number 2: Presenting the History of Everything

    Yes, it sounds like the title of a Mel Brooks movie, but this incredibly popular blog post offers provocative ideas instead of laughs. What if we had a tool that brought together all the disparate collections of historical information, cutting across temporal, geographic, and discipline boundaries? ChronoZoom promises to do just that. Skeptical? Then read about—and try—it for yourself.

    Number 1: TouchDevelop in Your Browser

    So, what tops the wish list for our readers? It's TouchDevelop, a browser-based development environment that not only lets you create apps directly on your smartphone, but now also on your tablet. We were pretty sure that Santa’s elves weren’t working on this, so we were delighted to learn that Microsoft Research’s TouchDevelop Web App fills the bill.

    And there you have it, the 10 most widely read Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2012. We hope you’ll be back to read 2013’s posts, which we hope will be equally, if not more, inspiring! Happy New Year from your friends at Microsoft Research Connections!

    —Lisa Clawson, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

     

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    New Tools Simplify Data Mining

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    In this era of big data, researchers are relying more and more on data mining to help them with their research. Researchers from nearly every field (not to mention businesses from almost every sector) are slicing, dicing, and sifting an exponentially growing mass of data, looking for patterns, trends, and insights. This is powerful stuff, and the essence of the data-intensive “fourth paradigm” of scientific inquiry. 

    Powerful, yes, but also complex. Data mining requires numerous steps: data understanding, data cleaning, model creation, and model comparison. Fortunately, there are new tools for Microsoft Excel that make each step simpler and combine them more seamlessly. 

    New add-ins for Microsoft Excel that simplify data mining are available to download.
    New add-ins for Microsoft Excel that simplify data mining are available to download.

    These tools, collectively known as the Microsoft SQL Server 2012 SP1 Data Mining Add-ins for Office (just rolls off the tongue, yes?) are the product of a joint effort between the Data Mining SQL team and the Microsoft Research Machine Learning and Applied Statistics group.  The tools are available for download.

    Microsoft Data Mining Add-ins help you take advantage of SQL Server predictive analytics in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Visio. The download includes the following components:

    • Table Analysis Tools for Excel: This add-in provides easy-to-use tasks within Excel that utilize SQL Server 2012 data mining models to deliver quick insights on your spreadsheet data. With just a few clicks, you can analyze key influencers for a given outcome, highlight exceptions, automatically detect groups, fill in missing data, make time series forecasts, or do market basket analysis.
    • Data Mining Client for Excel: By using this add-in, you can create, test, explore, and manage data mining models within Excel, by using either your spreadsheet data or external data that is accessible through your SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services instance.
    • Data Mining Templates for Visio: This add-in enables you to render and share your mining models as annotatable Visio drawings.

    This integrated, comprehensive set of tools should make life simpler for anyone with big data to mine.

    David Heckerman, Distinguished Scientist, Microsoft Research 
    Raman Iyer, Principal Group Manager (Development), SQL Server Business Intelligence, Microsoft Corporation

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    Computer Science Students Aid Ecological Field Work

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    Plant biologists in Brazil are working to develop a better understanding of tropical ecosystems—how they work and how they impact climate change, not only in the region, but worldwide. These researchers are dedicated and disciplined. They’re in the field from dawn to dusk, working through rain, wind, heat, and cold, applying all of their energy to understanding these complex ecosystems. This is intense observational work: they take copious notes and then, after grueling hours in the field, they return to their labs and flesh out their field notes in detail, striving to fully capture and make sense of what they observed. It all adds up to a long day that can take a toll on even the most committed researchers.

    At the University of Campinas (better known as UNICAMP), computer science professors Ricardo Torres and Cecilia Baranauskas are exploring solutions that might help these overworked field researchers. The professors’ computer science students are creating environmental data-management apps that allow plant biologists to go to the field, observe the ecosystem, take notes by using digital devices, and then push that data to the cloud. (This work is an outgrowth of a project in e-phenology, which is supported by the Microsoft Research–FAPESP Institute for IT Research.)

    Environmental data-management app for recording and sharing field observations
    Environmental data-management app for recording and sharing field observations

    The environmental data-management apps should increase the precision and accuracy of the recorded data, eliminating the errors that often creep in during the transcription of handwritten notes. The ready availability of previously entered data will enable researchers in the field to easily compare new observations to past ones and to enter new information by updating a few spreadsheet cells. Moreover, by pushing the data to the cloud, it will be available to colleagues no matter where they are, enabling real-time collaboration between the researcher in the field and the team back in the lab.

    With the goal of generating a variety of application ideas, the professors have split their computer science classes into multiple groups, each of which proposes a solution. Then they iterate. They talk with the plant biologists and accompany them to the field, in order to understand their needs. If all goes as planned, these students will devise applications that enable biologists to more fully record their observations in real time and preserve the record quickly, safely, and accessibly in the cloud. And what a nice convergence of high-tech computer science and shoe-leather biology that will be!

    —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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