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September, 2012

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.

September, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Tools for Researchers Amp Up the Power of Visual Studio

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    Easy to use. Visual. Powerful.As a researcher, I know the value of having the right tools for the job. The right tool makes working easier and more efficient—well, that’s the definition of a tool, isn’t it? So if you’re like me, always looking for programming tools that help bring your research to life, you’ll want to check out this set of Microsoft Visual Studio research tools and services from Microsoft Research. These versatile tools range from games to help you get started in a new programming language to analysis engines that enhance the power and usability of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s premier development environment.

    What I especially like about this collection is its range. There’s something there to help researchers at every level—from professional computer scientists to eager students. As our marketing mavens like to say, these tools are powerful, helping to amplify your coding productivity; visual, bringing your code to life; and easy-to-use, providing you with a nearly painless way to get familiar with the many programming languages supported by Visual Studio.

    These are tools made by researchers for researchers, designed specifically to meet the needs by people who share their needs. For example, the Social for Team Foundation Server (Social for TFS) tool recognizes that much successful research is collaborative and needs software support. Created by the Collaborative Development Group at the University of Bari, Italy, Social for TFS is an extension of Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server. The tool aggregates team members’ content from multiple social media sites in order to facilitate interpersonal connections and increase the ability to connect successfully.

    We also know that code visualizations are one of the best ways to help programmers discover and repair errors as well as find and enhance efficiencies, so we’ve included a tool for this, too: Debugger Canvas, which brings together code in a single pan-and-zoom display of code bubbles. Debugger Canvas is based on a long collaboration with Brown University. It keeps the size of the visualizations meaningful and manageable, so you can make corrections easily and quickly. What’s more, you can use Debugger Canvas with large touch screens that really make the code “pop,” especially in a team code review. As John Robbins, co-founder of Wintellect in Seattle says: "Debugger Canvas demonstrates the possibilities of debugging of the future and will help break us out of this rut we are in with our debugging tools. My view is that Debugger Canvas is the start of twenty-first century debugging."

    And then we have tools like Try F#, which help you explore this powerful functional language via your browser on any operating system. Try F# can help you start using Visual Studio, quickly and easily, and it’s loaded with online tutorials and tools for creating and sharing code. It lowers the barrier to learning and utilization and has proven tremendously popular. As Try F# develops as a language, our tools are expanding, so do return to our page to look for future updates.

    Anxious to test out these tools, or just learn more? You can find them and more at Visual Studio Research Tools.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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    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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