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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    WorldWide Telescope: Exploring globally, learning locally

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    Thanks to a productive collaboration among members of the global research community, the WorldWide Telescope is in the process of becoming more worldwide in its reach and impact. By adding support for new languages, a process that is well underway, the WorldWide Telescope is becoming a more useful resource for more people in more places.

     

    In nearly all aspects, the WorldWide Telescope is the result of collaboration among Microsoft External Research and a number of academic and governmental agencies. The WorldWide Telescope transforms the process of peering into the planets into one that’s similar to using a technologically enhanced encyclopedia. Put more simply, the WorldWide Telescope is Internet-izing astronomy.  It does this by providing the ability to seamlessly pan and zoom across the sky, blending terabytes of images, data and stories from multiple sources, which are accessed over the Internet and packaged into a media-rich, immersive experience.  Finding relevant information with the WorldWide Telescope is easy: users just right click on the object they’re interested in – Neptune, for example – to open a window that includes links to resources, such as published articles or Web sites, specific to Neptune.

     

    To enhance the discovery that can result from such a collaborative effort, Microsoft External Research has made the WorldWide Telescope available, free of charge, to the astronomy and educational communities. The goal is that it will continue to expand the ways it inspires and empowers people around the world to use their exploration to deepen the global knowledge of the universe.

     

    And to further that goal, and in recognition of the technology’s truly universal appeal, support for new languages is being added.

     

    Localization of the WorldWide Telescope is occurring in two phases. The first, which commenced in November 2008, is the translation of the user interface, which is then professionally validated by local astronomers, all of whom have volunteered their time and expertise in support of the effort. Today, localized user interfaces are available in simplified Chinese, German and a Latin American version of Spanish. Localizations in Hindi, Japanese, Russian and Turkish are nearly complete and should be available this month.

     

    The second and more complex phase of localizing the WorldWide Telescope will cover the translation of its vast volume of topically relevant resources available to those who use the technology. In addition to being more complex, this phase will also take more time to complete. I’m often asked when I expect the translation of resources to be complete, and my answer is fairly simple: it depends upon how old the country is for which the translation is being performed. That’s because the more years a country has existed, the longer its astronomers and other explorers have had to name what they see in the sky. And the more that’s been named, the more data we have to translate.

     

    The evolution of the WorldWide Telescope, like the universe to which it offers us access, is ongoing. To make sure your voice is included in the process, please use this blog to share your insight and suggestions.

     

    For more information on the WorldWide Telescope, you may read an essay by Alyssa A. Goodman and Curtis G. Wong from the The Fourth Paradigm.


    Yan Xu, senior research program manager, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Dryad and DryadLINQ: Academic Accelerators for Parallel Data Analysis

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    Releases such as the academic accelerators code named Dryad and DryadLINQ, currently available for free download, are great examples of what can be achieved when members of the global research community collaborate to develop technology. The result is availability of relevant tools that enhance discovery and tackle challenges. Working together, Dryad and DryadLINQ support quick and efficient parallel data analysis, a critical capability in today’s accelerated, data-driven research environment.

     

    Geoffrey Fox, professor of informatics at Indiana University, is using the releases in his quest to leverage data gathered via radar. His goal: to learn more about the earth’s past and its present in order to make more informed, potentially life-saving predictions about its future. Using Dryad and DryadLINQ, Fox is currently analyzing radar data focused on glaciers in Greenland, where the ice sheets are melting more quickly than they have previously. “There is a hurry-up effort to gather data and make reliable predictions of the future of ice sheets, which have an impact on global climate,” he says. “The melting of the ice caps is established, but what isn’t established is how the melting correlates with the overall environmental situation, one part of which is the ice sheets.” For Fox, that’s where technology like Dryad and DryadLINQ come into play: they make it possible and relatively easy for researchers to conduct analysis that is separate but parallel, making it possible to fit various pieces of the puzzle together more quickly, efficiently and accurately than before.

     

    Fox says he is confident that Dryad and DryadLINQ will prove themselves applicable to all kinds of discoveries, ranging from genetic research to developing a deeper understanding of fault lines. He is currently involved in discussions about undertaking research in response to last month’s crippling earthquake in Haiti, a region on which very little historical data has been captured, preserved or analyzed.  “Radar data can be used to measure the stress on the earth, which in various ways, including predicting aftershocks,” he says. While he doesn’t foresee predicting actual earthquakes in the near future, the ability to do so could very well lie in the data that catalogs smaller movements along fault lines over time. And being able to analyze that data is an undertaking made less daunting by technology such as Dryad and DryadLINQ. “We have now high-performance ways to analyze data,” he says. “Software helps us do this in an efficient way, and the advances in computing make it cost effective, so while we’re doing lots of science, some of it has a social impact.”

     

    For more information, including downloads, please visit http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/tools/dryad.aspx To take advantage of Dryad and DryadLINQ, you must use Windows HPC Server 2008, available at http://www.microsoft.com/hpc

     

    Derick Campbell, Microsoft External Research

     

     

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Living in The Fourth Paradigm

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    Jim Gray’s untimely death in 2007 marked a profound loss for the global research community.  Jim’s passionate approach to research drove him to explore and test his vision rigorously, to question assumptions at every turn, to relentlessly push the limits of possibility regardless of what was in vogue, or not.  Thankfully, the publication of The Fourth Paradigm, a collection of essays about the increasingly intimate connection between science and computing technology, provides a starting point for ensuring that Jim’s legacy lives on. And every member of the global research community has a role to play in the stewardship of that legacy.

     

    Jim, a Turing Award-winning computer scientist, believed that the computer-aided exploration of scientific data represents the next – and fourth – phase in the evolution of scientific discovery, following the empirical, theoretical and computational phases.  Jim was an expert in databases, the more massive the better. He was also interested in astronomy.  So long before it was a popular pursuit, Jim, a world-renowned database expert, started working with an astronomer to explore how to do new things with data. The result: the creation of a virtual telescope, which you can learn more about at http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/Home.aspx, a key element of which was the bringing together of massive and previously disparate data sets.

     

    That was just the beginning.

     

    As The Fourth Paradigm http://research.microsoft.com/fourthparadigm reveals, data-driven science is a reality in realms that extend beyond exploring the heavens.  As the book also reveals, it is no longer possible to practice scientific research without encountering a lot of data. In fact, data-intensive science is now driving discovery. After his extensive work with scientists in a wide array of specialties, Jim realized their problems centered around data as much as they did computation. Therefore, he concluded, new skills were needed to effectively manipulate, visualize and manage large, often cumbersome amounts of scientific data.

     

    That’s where the challenge for all of us in the research community lies: even though data-driven science has become the norm, there is still a long way to go in terms of ensuring a commonality of easy to use tools and methods that will bring data sets together in order to build a foundation for providing the kinds of insights that lead to discovery and breakthroughs.

     

    And this blog is a place where the global research community can begin building that foundation. Given that we’re only in the earliest years of data-driven discovery, the foundation all of us build together is critical. True to Jim’s insistence upon always looking to the future, The Fourth Paradigm outlines a number of next steps the entire research community can take, the primary one being a call to continue forging solid and meaningful connections between science and computing technology.  How are computing innovations contributing to your research? Are there computing innovations that have yet to be made that could enhance your efforts? If so, what are they? How has interdisciplinary collaboration supported your research? If you develop technology, how do you envision that technology supporting scientific discovery?


    This blog is for all members of the global research community, including you. Please make sure your voice is heard.

    Tony Hey, Stewart Tansley and Kristin Tolle
    Editors, The Fourth Paradigm

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