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I am pleased to announce the release of Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) 2.0 beta 1, an open-source Microsoft .NET library and application programming interface for bioinformatics research. This beta provides the first significant update since MBF 1.0. Notable improvements include:
MBF 2.0 beta 1 has parity with all MBF 1.0 tools and features plus updated documentation.
Your feedback on MBF 1.0 was extremely supportive and is helping us develop MBF 2.0. We are asking you once again to download the beta and send us your feedback. Just download and try the MBF 2.0 beta 1. Send us your feedback or report bugs through our discussion forum or issue tracker.
To make it a little more interesting, we're giving away an Xbox 360 4GB console with Kinect bundle to one talented developer in our Microsoft Biology Foundation Coding Contest.
To Enter the Contest
The winning entry will be selected by a panel of judges.
—Rick Benge, Community Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
It may seem like an unlikely way to celebrate Earth Day, but this year, students at the University of Washington (UW) can mark the occasion with an exhilarating virtual trip away from our small blue planet, thanks to a unique collaboration between Microsoft Research Redmond and the UW Planetarium.
By incorporating digital images streamed from Microsoft's Worldwide Telescope (WWT), a computer program that brings together imagery from the world's best ground- and space-based telescopes, the UW Planetarium has gone beyond the typical static display of the heavens. WWT provides students with detailed views of the night sky through an incredible 3-D experience.
In the past, the UW Planetarium used a star-ball to project an image of the night sky on the building's domed ceiling. This is the tried-and-true method of showing the constellations and brighter stars, but it lacks the ability of zooming into details of objects like nebulae and seeing the birth of new stars. Couple that with the excitement of 3-D—a feeling that you're actually flying through the solar system—and you take student engagement to a whole new level.
The new projection system was a result of a two-year collaboration and cost approximately US$30,000—a bargain compared to equipping a planetarium with standard digital technology, which involves the installation of dedicated digital projection systems and can run half a million dollars or more. This low-cost system—created jointly by the UW Department of Astronomy and Microsoft researchers (especially WWT developer Jonathan Fay)—uses six modified home-theater projectors, each of which projects a portion of the digital image onto the dome. Software enables the perfect alignment of the six images and a resolution of 8 million pixels.
The UW planetarium also allows attendees to see the Terapixel image—the largest and clearest image of the night sky ever produced—in all its glory. Not only is the UW's digital planetarium a boon to students, it also serves as a model for inexpensive digitization of planetariums around the world. While you're waiting for digital projection to reach an institution near you, you can fire up your PC and go to the WorldWide Telescope site. There you can zoom among the stars, albeit on a much smaller (and flatter) screen. Or, if you happen to be in Seattle, check out the UW Planetarium shows that are open to the general public and get lost in the stars.
—Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment at Microsoft Research Connections
Time to celebrate: we are releasing the Hawaii OCR (optical character recognition) service this week! This OCR service is the next step in the evolution of Project Hawaii, the Microsoft Research project that is exploring how to take full advantage of the cloud to enhance the use of smartphones. With Hawaii OCR, you can use your smartphone's camera to take a picture of an object that contains text (in Roman characters), send the image to the cloud, and in return receive a Unicode string of the text. This text string can be used in a number of interesting scenarios, such as translation of street signs or restaurant menus.
Adding OCR to the computational, mapping, and identification services in Project Hawaii is another step in our journey to create a set of cloud-enabled mobile applications and support services. Our current platform consists of a Windows Phone 7 smartphone and several cloud services, including Relay, Rendezvous, Speech to Text, and Windows Azure for computation and data storage.
Team Dynovader visits the Microsoft Research, Redmond lab. Pictured left to right: Evie Gillie (teaching assistant), Vignan Pattamatta, Mike Ortiz, Arjmand Samuel (Microsoft Research), Naran Bayanbat, Forrest Lin, Lu Li
In related news, we welcomed a group of Project Hawaii collaborators from Stanford University to our Redmond, Washington, lab in late March. Our guests were students in Jay Borenstein's Computer Science 210 (CS210) course, which provides students the opportunity to collaborate on a real-world project with a corporate partner. This semester, Microsoft Research is sponsoring a CS210 cadre on Project Hawaii. The student group, named Team Dynovader, is working on a citizen science project called myScience, enabling scientists to crowdsource data collection for their research projects at the click of a button. No coding is required by the scientists. It allows Windows Phone 7 users to contribute data to various citizen science projects that use the same mobile app.
Here's how it works: scientists will go to the myScience website and launch a citizen science project. It is then automatically deployed to users who download myScience from the Windows Phone Marketplace. Users can browse through a catalog of projects and contribute to those they find interesting. The data is then stored in the cloud, and made available to scientists via our website.
Team Dynovader believes that myScience will transform the way observational research is conducted in the future. Imagine a network of thousands of mobile phones—each with a camera, microphone, GPS, and accelerometer—conducting observations and pushing the data to a central repository.
To quote Scott R. Loarie, a scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at Carnegie Institution, Stanford University, "Mobile phones coordinated through citizen-science projects are emerging as a powerful new tool for data collection. They rival distributed sensors, such as satellites, in their ability to scale and complement these systems, because boots on the ground brandishing cellphones can detect many things that fixed sensors cannot."
Team Dynovader presents myScience project to Microsoft Researchers
We are looking forward to the release of myScience and its adoption by scientists. Good luck Team Dynovader!
—Arjmand Samuel, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections