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Every December I get together with 20,000 like-minded researchers in San Francisco to discuss how to preserve the habitat of Homo sapiens. I concede it’s a self-serving goal, but I’m okay with standing to benefit. Our conversation invariably burrows into subtopics of how the Earth works as a complex system because scientists agree: you can’t preserve a habitat until you understand it, and we need to make some progress on that front.
Enter Tony Hey, brandishing the Fourth Paradigm, a guidebook for working effectively in the burgeoning field of data-intensive science. I like to paraphrase the main premise of this new paradigm as follows: “Good for you, scientists, you’ve figured out how to get vast quantities of new data to help you better understand the Earth; but alas, you still need to build the analysis engines to actually make sense of the data!” Cue Microsoft Research and its contributions at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco from December 10 to 13. That’s the get-together I mentioned above.
What will we—Microsoft Research—be doing on the trade show floor of San Francisco’s Moscone Center? Two things. First, we’ll be finding out what scientists are working on and what technical challenges they face in their work. Second, we’ll be offering them technology tools and resources to help them meet some of those challenges. In that pool of technologies, one of our best contributions this year comes via the Windows Azure for Research project, a grant program that presents researchers with a year of free cloud-computing resources. Windows Azure, the Microsoft public cloud platform, offers scalability, immense computational power needed to analyze big data, redundancy, freedom from IT maintenance tasks, many virtual machine options including categories of Linux, and quick-install website templates to help them share out results. At AGU, we will also present:
We will also be explaining how we help teachers and scientists use and develop world-changing technologies through grants, fellowships, and internships. As always, we’ll be happy to share our ideas on data-system confederation, data publication, and data sharing. We will also provide short talks on selected geoscience topics such as estimating snowpack water storage in the Hindu Kush by using computers and remote sensing, and how to get your code running on a Linux Virtual Machine in the Microsoft cloud. So that’s where we’ll be, from December 10 to 13, asking questions, explaining our tools and resources, and helping scientists make technology really work for them. And we love it. Nothing compares to the feeling of finding a scientist who needs something that we have and, even better, surprising him or her by explaining it’s available at little to no cost, aside from their time investment to learn the ropes. If you plan to attend the AGU Fall Meeting, please stop by our booth. But even if you aren’t going to be in San Francisco, you can find an overview of the tools and technologies described above on the AGU events page on the Microsoft Research website. And while you’re checking out these resources, you might be tempted to ask (as curious scientists do), “What’s in this for Microsoft?” That’s the easiest question of all, because when it comes to trying to preserve the habitat of Homo sapiens, the benefits of success are self-evident.—Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
I feel especially fortunate to be here in Melbourne, Australia, to participate in the launch of the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces. This is a joint research center between the University of Melbourne and Microsoft Research, in partnership with the state government of Victoria and Microsoft Australia. The center will explore applications of natural user interfaces—better known as NUI—in social situations. It will be the world’s first joint research center dedicated to studying and perfecting the social applications of NUI.
As regular readers of this blog know, NUI enables us to interact with technology by using natural human capabilities for communication and manipulation of the physical world. The best-known examples come from the gaming world, where, for instance, Kinect for Xbox 360 uses natural gestures, voice commands, and body movements to slay villains or sink a putt. And ever since the release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit in 2011, developers have been finding novel applications of NUI beyond the universe of Halo 3: for example, to view medical images during surgery. The Social NUI Centre will promote interdisciplinary research that spurs the development of applications to facilitate communication, collaboration, and social interaction in the home and workplace; in public spaces such as museums and events; in formal and informal educational setting, including classrooms and online courses; and in the delivery of healthcare. I am looking forward to the Social NUI Centre opening the floodgates to new innovative social uses of NUI. The potential is limited only by our imagination.As the world’s first joint research center devoted to social NUI in Australia, this initiative stands as a testament to the University of Melbourne’s academic prowess and the government of Victoria’s commitment to high quality IT research. We expect the Social NUI Centre to create new social NUI applications and to serve as a testing ground for NUI technologies developed by Microsoft Research, as well as to provide internships for University of Melbourne doctoral students and extend Microsoft Research’s collaboration with University of Melbourne faculty and students. —Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
Researchers often ask us, “What’s the easiest way to get started with cloud computing?” Cloud computing can seem daunting, but Windows Azure makes it easier than ever to analyze and manage large datasets in the cloud. Want to know more? Then please join us tomorrow (December 4 or December 5, depending on your time zone) for the next installment in our webinar series that explains what, why, and how of the cloud can free you from limited computing resources and the expense of hardware procurement. One of the best ways to get going is to use one of the pre-configured “science-in-a-box” Linux virtual machines. These great little packages bring together all of the tools you need, so that you can deploy them in the cloud with just a few mouse clicks. You can grab these from our VM Depot, where there are dozens to choose from, including BioLinux and a Data Science VM with IPython, as well as big data tools such as Kafka and STORM. In tomorrow’s webinar, we’ll walk you through how to create Linux and Windows VMs for scientific applications, both from VM Depot and from scratch, so you can build your own VM tuned for your research. Once you’ve built your VM, you can literally spin up hundreds of them to run those big calculations needed to meet your publication deadline—that’s the power of the cloud in action.
Windows Azure virtual machines deployed from VM Depot: Science-in-a-Box
We’re delighted to present the webinar twice, at 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time (that’s 4:00 P.M. GMT December 4, morning for Western Hemisphere researchers and late afternoon for those in Europe and Africa), and at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time (2:00 A.M. GMT December 5, and after breakfast in Asia). Wherever you are on the globe, we hope you join us online for this informative session. To complement the webinars, we’ve created some getting started guides at the Windows Azure for Research site to provide a deeper dive. So please join us for the webinar series and dig deeper with our technical papers to liberate your research by reaching for the cloud.—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEALearn more