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Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach 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 Outreach Blog

    Users Attract New Users to WorldWide Telescope


    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 Research Outreach Blog

    Microsoft Interns in the Clouds


    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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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Lee Dirks, Remembered


    This blog post is one I would never wish to write. As many of you know, in late August, my friend and colleague, Lee Dirks, and his wife Judy were killed in an automobile accident while vacationing in Peru. They leave behind two young daughters and broken hearts throughout Microsoft Research and beyond.

    Lee joined Microsoft some sixteen years ago, after many years in the library world, first at Columbia University, then at OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). For 10 years, he worked at Microsoft in many areas, including the corporate archives and library. He was one of the first people I hired after taking over the leadership of Microsoft Research Connections six years ago.

    I met Lee at a library event at the University of Washington. We hit it off immediately, in part because of our shared conviction that scholarly communications were going to change radically over the next five years, with profound implications for university libraries and academic publishers, and in part because Lee was just such a larger-than-life personality, with an infectious sense of humor and an obvious zest for living.

    Lee joined my leadership team at Microsoft Research Connections—a bit of an outlier, as a librarian in a group of computer scientists, but as an important and influential member as there ever was. You see, Lee had a clear vision of where scholarly publishing and library science were headed—even when others did not. He understood that the Internet was changing everything, pushing the existing publishing models towards obsolescence and fundamentally altering the academic library’s traditional role, which I’ve described as being the place where students went to meet friends, drink coffee, and read some arcane journals—all of which they can do today at any coffee shop.

    Lee, more than anyone I know, championed the shift in librarianship; a shift that has seen many top library schools recreate themselves as information schools, or iSchools, for short, where the emphasis has turned to teaching the skills of information retrieval and evaluation. He used his vast connections in the library world to promote the iSchool paradigm. When confronted by old-school reactionaries, he loved to quote U.S. General Eric Shinseki: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

    Lee was a powerful voice for change in the publishing world, too, pushing for the new model of interconnectedness, in which not only journal articles are available online, but so are the underlying data sets for review and commentary. It’s a world where information is rapidly and inexpensively disseminated and where collegial interactions are fostered. Lee also championed the DOCX format, recognizing the power of surrounding the text with meta-data links to the underlying data and related research.

    Here in Microsoft Research Connections, Lee assembled a great team of experts in education and scholarly communications and used his network in that community to create the Scholarly Communications section of The Fourth Paradigm, the book that expounds on the late Jim Gray’s vision of data-intensive science. In this and so many other endeavors, Lee’s connections in the library and publishing worlds nicely complemented mine in the science community. Lee made many other contributions to our organization. He shaped Microsoft Academic Search into an extremely useful tool for the research community. He was a passionate advocate for education research and championed alternate approaches, such as Just Press Play. He recognized the potential for machine translation to be used to preserve indigenous languages around the world. He strongly believed and supported the ChronoZoom project, which will bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences and bring knowledge of the history of the universe to all. These are just a few of the dozens of efforts, large and small, that he worked tirelessly to champion and make manifest.

    Another side of Lee stands out for me as I recall a trip to Harvard. He invited me to join him for a beer. As we sat in the bar, I received a call from my wife, asking me what I was doing sitting around having beer when I was supposed to be on business. You see, unbeknownst to me, Lee had posted the news of our pub crawl to his Facebook site, where it was seen by my wife, a fellow librarian who was one of Lee’s many Facebook friends. Lee and my better half had a good laugh over that.

    And laughter and compassion is how I will best remember Lee. He was a great man with a wonderful sense of humor, and an incredible heart. Unfailingly kind and considerate, he treated everyone as an equal. Just the other day, a writer that works for us told me how sad he was to learn of Lee’s untimely death and told me, “Lee always treated me as equal. He made me feel that my work was just as important as that of the PhDs all around me.” Of course he did. That was Lee. He saw value in everyone and what they were working on.

    And now he’s gone, he and his lovely wife, leaving us all poorer for his absence and the richer for having known him. Farewell, my friend and colleague, you’ve left us far too soon.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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