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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

    Concurrency and Parallelism in the Venice of the North

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    The warm, sunny days of late August in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s “northern capital,” were made even brighter by the 2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School. An annual Microsoft Research event, the Russian Summer School is intended for doctoral and master’s students, as well as young scientists. This year, the program focused on concurrency and parallelism in software, and featured lectures from eight of the world’s foremost experts in this field. The school was co-chaired by Judith Bishop, the director of computer science at Microsoft Research, and Bertrand Meyer, professor of software engineering at ETH Zurich and St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics (ITMO).
     

    2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School participants
    2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School participants

    This year’s Russian Summer School follows the highly successful past schools: Computer Vision School 2011, MIDAS 2010, and HPC 2009. It represents another of the many collaborative efforts between Microsoft Research Connections and the world’s top research professionals and institutions.

    The school provided the participating students with a unique opportunity to learn from top scientists in the field of concurrency and parallelism. Lectures covered the fundamentals of the field and explored the latest research topics. The school also provided a great venue for interpersonal networking, enabling the students to establish connections with one another and with the school lecturers. Students had Sunday free to explore the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg—referred to as “Venice of the North” because of its picturesque canals—and carry on individual work.

    Competition for admission to the school was particularly intense. The number of registrations on the school website exceeded 600, and the overall acceptance rate was fewer than 10 percent. Most of the applicants were exceptionally strong, which made the decision process extremely difficult. The 60 admitted students came from 27 cities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and represented 47 academic institutions and companies. We are happy to report the continuing growth in the number of female students; women comprised more than 20 percent of this year’s class.

    Students were excited in their praise of the school’s program, which they found professionally stimulating and personally rewarding. They, and we, are looking forward to the 2013 Russian Summer School in Moscow!

    Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa)

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    Users Attract New Users to WorldWide Telescope

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    I’ve done numerous public presentations of WorldWide Telescope (WWT) since 2008, but last month’s demos at the International Astronomical Union’s 2012 General Assembly (IAU2012) in Beijing were by far the most satisfying. Why? Because they were conducted primarily by student volunteers, eager to showcase the capabilities of WWT to potential users.

    The exhibition at IAU2012 lasted two weeks, from August 20 to 31. Most of that time, our booth was staffed by four future scientists: Qing Wang of China Central Normal University, Hope Chen and Chris Faesi of Harvard University, and Bing Bai of Chongqing University. These student volunteers impressed visitors with their knowledge and poise, and “wowed” them with their WWT demos.

    Student volunteers (left to right): Hope Chen, Bing Bai, Qing Wang, and Christopher Faesi
    Student volunteers (left to right): Hope Chen, Bing Bai, Qing Wang, and Christopher Faesi

    Chris summed up the visitors’ reactions nicely: “The most frequent comment I heard was some variation of ‘Wow—this is really free? That's amazing!’ I am quite certain that we raised awareness of WWT and generated a great impression of Microsoft.”
     
    Indeed, WWT is one of the best data and information visualization technologies from Microsoft Research, and, yes, it is free for academic use. Since its public release in early 2008, WWT has been adopted by a growing legion of astronomical researchers and science educators. The success of WWT at IAU2012, and the way we made it successful, marks a milestone of WWT outreach: the users are attracting more users. And that’s how we can grow a user community exponentially.

    Want to see what all the excitement is about? Then download WWT—like the IAU visitors said, it’s amazing. And free!
     
    My special thanks go to Professor Alyssa Goodman of Harvard University for recommending Hope Chen and Chris Faesi, to Professor Cuilan Qiao of China Central Normal University and Dr. Chenzhou Cui of the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for recommending Qing Wang and Bing Bai—and for providing guidance and support at the booth, and to Professor Jing Yang of Beijing Normal University and Ms. Haoyi Wan of the Beijing Planetarium for their support at the booth. 
     
    Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections 

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    Microsoft Interns in the Clouds

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    Well, not literally, but many of our interns did spend a lot of their own time probing the stratosphere over the last 12 weeks, building cloud-based apps for the Windows Phone. These interns were participants in Project Hawaii Intern XAPFest 2012, a contest for building the coolest, most useful apps for the Windows Phone. And for eight contestant teams, August 14 was judgment day. These lucky few were the finalists, vying to place among the top three finishers and take home a cash prize.

    Of course, we didn’t just throw down this challenge without providing some assistance. Our interns are sharp, but even the best and brightest need some support. So throughout the summer, we held a series of workshops and hackathons, each attended by more than 100 interns. Topics ranged from programming with Microsoft Silverlight, to working with Project Hawaii services, to optimizing Windows Phone applications. Developers from the across the company volunteered their time and knowledge to help the interns getting started.

    Finally, the big day arrived. The eight finalists presented their ingenious projects to a panel of three distinguished judges. The judges had some difficult decisions to make, given the high quality of the contesting projects, but our steely-eyed jurists were equal to the task.

    And the winners are…

    Pictured from left to right: Nishant Shukla (LyncUp), Kevin Mehlhaff (Vocab Stacks), and Matt Oates (Speak)
    Pictured from left to right: Nishant Shukla (LyncUp), Kevin Mehlhaff (Vocab Stacks), and Matt Oates (Speak)

    • Grand Prize to Jasdev Singh and Nishant Shukla for LyncUp: Doesn't it seem like you and your friends always want to hang out, but no one can decide where to go? With LyncUp, you and your posse can find mutual meet-up spots based on your GPS locations. What’s more, LyncUp will track everyone's arrival status in real time!
    • Second Prize to Matt Oates and Duncan Horn for Speak: Ever wonder how to pronounce Où est la bibliothèque? Or maybe Una cervaza, por favor? Well, that’s why you need Speak, an application that helps you say common phrases in different languages. With Speak, you can hear how the phrase is supposed to sound, and then attempt to say it yourself. Glückwünsche, Matt and Duncan.
    • Third Prize to Kevin Mehlhaff for Vocab Stacks: Hey, sometimes you need help with words even in your native tongue. In that case, it’s Vocab Stacks to the rescue. You simply type or speak a word into your Windows Phone to look up its definition. If the app can't find a definition for a particular word, you ask one of your erudite friends to enter a custom definition so that the phone will know next time.

    Congratulations to the finalists and winners, and to all who entered Hawaii Intern XAPFest 2012.

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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