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December, 2013

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, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators

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    Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year's resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

    Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.

     

    The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

    I'd like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

     

    Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

    The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

    The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

    Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

    The winning projects were:

    ¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

    Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

    Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

    Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

    Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

    Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University

     

    Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women's Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year's event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women's Hackathon 2014.

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    Our top 10 blogs of 2013

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    Top 10 Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2013

    I love my job, as I have the privilege of highlighting Microsoft Research Connections’ collaborations with some of the brightest minds at universities and research institutions around the world. And with so many inspiring projects, it’s difficult to pick my favorites—which is why I’m glad that your clicks can let us know which blogs most sparked your interest. So, here are the best of the best as selected by you: the 10 most widely read Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2013.

    Number 10: New cloud computing training for researchers worldwide

    Today’s data-intensive scientific research requires vast computing power—just what cloud computing provides. So no wonder a blog that announces free training on using Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, got a lot of attention. Did you miss this one? Well, it not too late to take advantage of the two-day training programs we offer at sites around the world. Read more...

    Number 9: Preserving Latin America’s Wildlife

    The future is a little brighter for species that are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction and climate change in Latin America. This blog highlights LiveANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species), a new tool that enables wildlife biologists, government officials, and citizen scientists to collect, house, and analyze data about Latin America’s wildlife. Read more...
     
    Number 8: Computerworld Honors Microsoft Research for Breakthroughs in Pneumonia and HIV

    Although it is gratifying to receive honors for using technology to promote positive social change, it’s not nearly as rewarding as knowing our research contributes to the fight against two scourges that affect millions around the world. This blog recounts our collaborative efforts towards improving the efficacy of pneumonia vaccinations and perfecting an effective vaccine against HIV infection. Read more...

    Number 7: Encouraging the next generation of women in computing

    It’s a sad fact that women students are woefully underrepresented among computer science majors, today comprising only 13 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in the field. While we recognize that no single person—or even single organization—can solve this problem, readers of this blog learned that programs like she++, a grassroots community that encourages women’s involvement in computing, just might. Read more...
     
    Number 6: Microsoft Research gives promising computer science faculty a boost

    This might strike a personal chord with many readers: how challenging it is for university faculty to get funding for innovative research—particularly in the early stages of their career. This blog describes how Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships provide support that helps early-career academics in the field of computer science pursue their vision and make an impact. Read more...

    Number 5: Windows Azure for Research

    Remember the cloud computing training covered in our tenth most popular blog? Well, that training is just one part of an extensive initiative to empower researchers to use “cloud power” to tackle Big Data. This blog lays out the entire program, which includes grants, technical resources, and community engagements, as well as the aforementioned training events. Read more...

    Number 4: Confronting Global Grand Challenges

    Who can resist a blog whose title promises so much? Granted, it doesn’t promise to solve these challenges (now that would be a blog!), but this post frames the issues and highlights the efforts of a group of talented students to crack six of these grand trials. Plus, it offers wisdom from one of The Black Eyed Peas! Read more...

    Number 3: Join us in exploring the future of computing—virtually!

    Another intriguing title, underpinned by an irresistible invitation: to view and even engage in live online interviews with some the world’s foremost academic researchers during the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. Add the appeal of hearing Bill Gates field questions from the audience about the role of computing in solving global problems, and you’ve got a must-view event promoted in a must-read blog. Read more...

    Number 2: Kinect Fusion Boosts Kinect for Windows SDK Update

    Ever since its release, the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK) has stimulated researchers’ imaginations and given rise to some outstanding advances in natural user interface (NUI) applications. So it’s no surprise that this blog, which provides information on the latest updates to the SDK, ranked number two on our top-10 list. Read more...

    Number 1: Try F#—Data Console to Big and Broad Data

    And here it is: the most widely read Microsoft Research Connections blog of 2013, a crowd pleaser that alerted readers to the latest release of resources that teach users to write F# code in their browser. The popularity of this blog implies that perhaps you should give Try F# a whirl if you haven’t already—and why not? It’s free. Read more...

    There you are—our top-10 list for 2013. I hope you’ve enjoyed our blogs over the past year, and I invite you to stay in touch in 2014 by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Microsoft Research Connections, or by subscribing to our RSS feed.

    Happy New Year from your friends at Microsoft Research Connections!

    —Lisa Clawson, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon

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    In a blog last week, I alluded to an important upcoming announcement. Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!

    Women in computing matters—International Women's Hackathon

    We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.

    The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.

    As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:

    • Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
    • There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
    • They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.

    This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:

    Leads:

    • Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
    • Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
    • Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School

    Committee members:

    • Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
    • Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
    • Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
    • Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
    • Kylie Moden, Trinity University
    • Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
    • Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology

    The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.
    The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.

    We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.

    I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.

    I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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