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On April 19 and 20, the Microsoft Biology Initiative welcomed a small, focused group to the Microsoft Biology Foundation Workshop 2011, held at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The workshop was a clinic in the use of the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF), an open-source Microsoft .NET library and application-programming interface for bioinformatics research.
Attendees included representatives from BASF Plant Science, SRA International, and the University of North Carolina. The two-day workshop covered the basics of MBF, as well as more advanced topics, such as scalability and the new features in the beta 1 release of MBF version 2.0. (The full release of version 2.0 is planned for this summer.)
Mark Smith, our workshop instructor, did a great job of presenting the material and engaging the audience, which included participants with a variety of programming backgrounds. Attendees loved the code-along sessions, as well as the great introduction to Microsoft .NET Framework programming! Not surprisingly, there was considerable interest in the launch of our MBF coding contest, where one lucky winner will receive an Xbox 360 with Kinect. Workshop samples, including slides and hands-on labs, are available on the Microsoft Biology Training page.
Participant input will help us make future MBF workshops more valuable. Here’s a sampling of participants’ feedback:
What did you enjoy most about the workshop?
What would you suggest we change/improve?
How are you using MBF or planning to use MBF?
We will host a two-day MBF Workshop in Cartagena, Colombia, May 16 and 17, 2011. We are also planning a workshop in Brisbane, Australia, July 7 and 8, during the 2011 Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology; I will post details once they’ve been finalized. Additional workshops are in the planning stage; we will announce the dates and sites when they are finalized.
In the meantime, we encourage you to get involved in the MBF project. You can join the project and download source code from the Microsoft Biology Foundation CodePlex site. If you discover a problem, please report it under the Issue Tracker tab; if you have a question or suggestion, use the Discussions tab.
—Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing Microsoft Research Connections
There is a saying dating back to the days of punched cards that "the software is in the holes"—and therefore invisible. At the recent Microsoft Research Software Summit in Paris, software was anything but invisible. It was all around us and manifest in the smartphones, gadgets, and light tables, and on the huge screens that circled the beautiful foyer of Microsoft France's Le Campus conference facility.
The first change that struck us was the availability of the conference schedule on our Windows 7 smartphones, courtesy of Thomas Zimmermann and Christian Bird from Microsoft's Research in Software Engineering group, RiSE. With the touch of the phone screen, attendees could see what was next, in what room, as well as all the abstracts, bios, and pictures of the speakers. While not the first conference app developed for smartphones, it certainly had a touch of class and showed off the speed and ease of use of the Windows Phone 7 user interface.
Nikolaj Bjorner, Chris Bird, and Thomas Zimmermann show off the Windows Phone 7.
While looking at their phones, attendees were drawn to the other apps that were ready for download, as featured on the post-summit website. One of these, TouchStudio, was featured in a keynote address by Wolfram Schulte. In a slick demo, Nikolai Tillmann showed how his team had overcome “the tyranny of the fingertip” by shifting the process of programming on a smartphone from typing programs letter-for-letter to choosing from options by tapping on the screen—once again using the layout and design of Windows Phone 7 to the fullest. On Friday afternoon, there was a workshop on mobile computing where we were all encouraged to write programs in TouchStudio. Because it was so easy and short, I am taking the unusual step of including my first TouchStudio program in this blog.
TouchStudio code example
Taking a photo is actually a very complex operation and would take several pages of C# code to get right. Here we have it in one line. The endless possibilities for scientists, hobbyists, students, and children to access the power of the phone through TouchStudio were not lost on us seasoned academics in the audience.
Another very visible piece of software was on display in .NET Gadgeteer, a unique mix of programming and a kit of hardware modules. Gadgeteer enables users to quickly assemble useful, fun gadgets that have the ability to display images, play back sounds, take pictures, sense the environment, and communicate with other devices. It was great fun to watch computer scientists, designers, and even psychologists furiously and enthusiastically building gadgets.
Of course, a summit is not all about coding and listening to talks. The 230 academics, industrialists, and researchers thoroughly enjoyed the long breaks over delicious French food, discussing the demos on display and the sessions they had attended.
One of the sessions that attracted a standing-room-only crowd focused on Verified Software. There, Cambridge lab researchers, including Tony Hoare, teamed up with Thomas Santen from the European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC) and industry representative from nearby Europe and far-away Australia. Together, they presented the latest results in software verification for the all-important embedded software industry. We got a rare glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes before software is put into devices in cars, trains, and planes.
There was so much more, but fortunately, we have the websites to go back to and can review the program and download the software. All the talks and slides will also soon be posted, and what a feast that will be for those who attended and those who could not.
—Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections
There are clouds on the horizon in Brussels, and European technology leaders couldn't be happier. On March 22, Microsoft inaugurated its new Cloud and Interoperability Center (CIC) in the Belgian capital—the heart of the European Union's (EU) institutions—underscoring Microsoft's and the EU's commitment to the potential of cloud-computing innovation and growth across Europe. With a mission of promoting interoperability and collaboration to make the most of information technology, the CIC will showcase the latest cloud solutions in such areas as education, health, and e-government; it will also foster advanced research projects on cloud computing and interoperability. The CIC will provide much needed support for public-sector organizations and small and midsized businesses as they explore and adopt cloud technology and create their own innovative solutions.
Uli Pinsdorf, program manager in the security team, Microsoft Research, with Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission
By offering a platform to experience cloud technology and share resources and knowledge, the CIC will act as both an incubator and catalyst for cloud computing in Europe. The CIC will host up to 15 cloud-based solutions, such as the Fire Risk Prevention system (previously called the Virtual Fire system) demo. Fire Risk Prevention demonstrates a cloud-based tool that uses analyses of metrological data, vegetation, and topographic models to predict wildfire risks anywhere on the Greek island of Lesvos. This application was initiated by the University of Aegean in cooperation with Microsoft Research Connections Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and further developed by the European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC). Fire Risk Prevention is supported by VENUS-C, a collaboration that was established by Microsoft Research Connections EMEA and co-funded by the European Commission that involves scientific and technical partners across Europe. We anticipate that several other applications soon will be demonstrated on the VENUS-C platform, resulting from the conclusion of an open call that elicited more than 60 proposals.
Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission that is responsible for the EU Digital Agenda, gave the keynote speech at the CIC opening. Her address discussed the European Cloud Computing Strategy and the importance of such ventures as the CIC. She also showed a series of interactive demos, including the impressive Fire Risk Prevention system.
During a transatlantic videoconference, Kroes congratulated Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on the opening of the CIC and welcomed the focus on interoperability and standards. "This gives me confidence that Microsoft and other cloud providers and users will contribute constructively to my work on a European cloud-computing strategy. All together we can tackle the challenges we face today and get the most out of this technology," observed Kroes.
Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, also spoke at the CIC opening. Courtois stressed Microsoft's belief "that there's never been a more important time to invest in accelerating cloud adoption," and highlighted the investment in the opening of the Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) in Brussels. He spoke about the value of cloud computing for small and midsized businesses, including startups, where it can provide enterprise-level computing power without prohibitive infrastructure investments. In the same vein, Courtois noted how cloud computing can drive productivity improvements and cost savings that will help budget-constrained governments address such societal challenges as health, education, research, and the environment.
All in all, it was a grand celebration of a bright day—incongruously brought on by clouds!
—Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA
—Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA