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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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    EPA Cooperative R&D: Technology for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration

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    “Despite its size, Puget Sound is ecologically delicate; and while its symptoms of trouble are not easily visible, they are undeniable and getting worse.”
    —The Puget Sound Partnership

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10 sign the agreement.We at Microsoft Research Connections have begun work on a cooperative research and development (R&D) project with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that centers on the restoration of large aquatic ecosystems, particularly Puget Sound. On Friday, November 30, we got together and put our respective imprimaturs on the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), the formal agreement for this partnership. Now all that remains is to do the actual work! Here are some details about the project, which was created under the auspices of the Federal Technology Transfer Act, and why it is so exciting for us.

    As you may know, we have a history—under the leadership of Vice President Tony Hey—of collaborating with researchers outside of Microsoft. Often, we collaborate with academicians doing research in computer science or—in my case—using technology to cope with environmental and geoscience data. We’re also very interested in how science registers in the public domain. For example: land-use policy can benefit from scientific insight, and we think that if technology can help scientists do data-intensive research, it should also help us manage resources, find better ways to preserve habitat, and better share this information with farmers, tribes, municipalities, and the general public. Taking an active role in the stewardship of our shared environment is what the EPA is about, so we began talking with them about working together.

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.
    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.

    It can be difficult to comprehend how big our environment is and yet how tiny its essential elements are. Viewing Puget Sound from 40,000 feet above, it is a vast, beautiful expanse of waterways, inlets, islands, and peninsulas that are crisscrossed with the indelible stamp of cities, roads, and ferry boats supporting the lives of a few million people. Drop your perspective to the shoreline of Fir Island (Washington), and you find green strands of eelgrass washed up on the beach; under a microscope, these strands explode into millions of nodules of chlorophyll, the stuff that converts sunlight into sugar and powers the entire food web all the way up through the salmon. My point is that we inhabit the land and we depend on the health of our natural environment: from the great waterways we use for shipping to the smallest microbes and molecules. As the Puget Sound Partnership has stated, we have work to do to restore and protect the ecological health of Puget Sound, but where to begin?

    The idea of this new cooperative R&D project with the EPA is to explore how available data and technology might be fused to help us better understand and meet the needs of the restoration community, including the kinds of cooperative relationships the community members want to build between the public, the land-holders, the decision makers at the county and city level, and so on. From this learning perspective, we are confident that we can imagine and build proof-of-concept solutions that would be openly available for further development and adoption. For example, we imagine (from preliminary work) applying PhotoSynth technology to the challenge of creating a more robust depiction of the shoreline. Human-built structures like sea walls are distributed throughout Puget Sound and can impact habitat, particularly for grazing fish that spawn in shallow water. More broadly, we see similar efforts at organizations like the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) that aim to assemble and disseminate data about sea conditions, tides, and weather to help commercial fishing operations become more efficient.

    What more can be done? The opportunities are boundless! What is really exciting is that our colleagues at EPA and in the broader Puget Sound community share a passion for this work; we feel very fortunate to be a part of it and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute.

    Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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