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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.

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    Bringing the heavens into the schoolhouse

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    In the five years since Microsoft Research initially launched the WorldWide Telescope (WWT), the product’s many features have been put to a variety of uses. Today in Chongqing, China, we saw yet another first for WorldWide Telescope: the unveiling of the first WWT-driven planetarium in China. The 8-meter dome installation is at the Shixinlu primary school and is powered by six high-resolution projectors. This installation enables students not only to see and study the stars and the universe in an immersive planetarium setting, but it also allows them to create their own tours of the heavens and have them displayed on the dome.

    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing.
    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing on October 23.

    I represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the grand unveiling of the dome, and as I did so, I was struck by the impact our small research project has had around the world. Even more so, I was in awe of the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who saw the potential of teaching and inspiring students via a planetarium placed directly in the school and who collaborated with Microsoft Research Asia to implement this vision via WorldWide Telescope. Dr. Cui and Mrs. Kailiang Song, the director of the school, worked tirelessly to get the installation built and running in six months and to provide a great environment for WWT. And above all, it is great to see the potential for many more students to gain a better understanding of astronomy by being immersed in the stars.

    Dan Fay represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling.
    Representing the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling, Fay was awed by the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who recognized the educational potential of WorldWide Telescope.

    The ability to use WorldWide Telescope in a multi-machine and multi-projector setup to display on planetarium domes is one of the features included in the Windows desktop client. The WWT client is freely available at www.worldwidetelescope.org.

    Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment; Microsoft Research Connections

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    Workshop Explores Opportunities in Verified Software

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    Building verifiably reliable and trustworthy software is one of the ultimate objectives of software engineering. With this goal in mind, academics, scientists, and researchers gathered in Shanghai, China, for the second Verified Software Workshop and Summer School. The event, which took place from August 23 to 31, 2012, attracted approximately 250 faculty and student attendees from more than 70 universities and research institutes and nearly a dozen countries across the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

    World-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—provided the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools.
    World-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—provided the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools.

    Co-sponsored by Microsoft Research Asia and East China Normal University, the event explored new directions and emerging opportunities in verified software research, with 21 keynote presentations by world-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—providing the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools. Especially notable among the prominent presenters were the workshop co-chairs: Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, who gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming”; and Professor Jifeng He of East China Normal University and a member of the of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who delivered a keynote on “A Clock-Based Framework for Modeling Hybrid Systems.”

    The event began with a two-day workshop at East China Normal University that included inspiring lectures from technical and academic leaders. A broad and comprehensive workshop, it featured in-depth talks on such topics as detection of concurrency bugs, safe programming of asynchronous interaction, pervasive model checking, analysis and verification of multiple programs, automation of program verification, concurrent software verification, software analytics and its application, and modeling and verification of hybrid systems.

    A five-day summer school of intense training followed the workshop. Students were treated to lectures focusing on the theoretical nature of concurrency and separation logic. One particular highlight was the hybrid systems session, which taught the KeYmaera logical analysis approach in a single day’s time. In addition, a step-by-step tool session provided attendees with valuable hands-on practice and an in-depth learning experience.

    The event was popular with both students and presenters. Summing up the benefits of the event, one student said, “I acquired cutting-edge research and tools in [the] verification software field, and also had the opportunity to exchange my ideas with innovative peers and academic leads from across the world.”

    Capturing the perspective of the experienced researcher, co-chair Tony Hoare praised the event and laid out his goals for such venues, saying, “We hope to expand the opportunities for industrial application of mature academic research, and to encourage the next generation of advanced researchers to continue the pursuit of deep and interesting questions in areas of the software industry.”

    Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming."
    Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming."

    Co-chair Jifeng He added, “We have achieved a lot in [the] verified software field with everyone’s great effort, but there is always more work to do. With this event, we hoped to not only inspire our young talent but also provide researchers and faculties worldwide with the advantage of exchanging ideas.”

    Lolan Song, the senior director of Microsoft Research Asia, spoke of the company’s objectives in sponsoring such events, observing that “We hold this event in order to advance the state of the art in software and present a great opportunity for academics, researchers, and students in this area to share and exchange ideas. Also, we hope to identify and cultivate worldwide top talent in verified software areas and build up cadres of experienced users to support eventual use of the tools in the industry.” She also expressed the gratitude of Microsoft Research Asia for the assistance and participation of colleagues from Microsoft Research Cambridge, Microsoft Research Redmond, and Microsoft Research India.

    —Kangping Liu, University Relations Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia

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    SEIF Project Crystal Receives ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award

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    Each year, Microsoft Research awards competitive grants to computer science academics through the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF). In the first grant round, conducted in 2010, Professor David Notkin and his colleagues at the University of Washington were the recipients of one of the 12 awards for their proposal, “Speculation and Continuous Validation for Software Development,” which resulted in the project, “Crystal: Precise and Unobtrusive Conflict Warnings.” I’m pleased to announce that the achievements of Notkin and his colleagues are being recognized this month with an ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award. The award will be presented at the European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (ESEC/FSE) in Szeged, Hungary (September 5–9, 2011). I’d like to share some of this exceptional research with you today.

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    About the Crystal Project

    Collaborative development of large software projects can be hampered when conflicts arise because developers have created inconsistent copies of a shared file, Notkin explains. The Crystal approach is designed to help developers identify and resolve inconsistencies early, before those conflicts become severe—and before relevant changes fade from the developers’ memories. The Crystal paper presents three outcomes of the project:

    • By studying open-source systems, the project team determined that inconsistencies or conflicts between copies of a shared file are frequent, persistent, and appear not only as overlapping textual edits, but also as subsequent build and test failures.
    • They classified conflicts by using the novel technique of speculative analysis over version-control operations.
    • They designed Crystal, a publicly available tool that uses speculative analysis to present concrete advice unobtrusively to developers, thereby helping them identify, manage, and prevent file version conflicts.

    Notkin’s study spans nine open-source systems totaling 3.4 million lines of code. The conflict data is derived from 550,000 development versions of the system. The complete paper, which goes into great detail on all three points, plus other research that was conducted as part of the project, is available to read online.

    Continuing Excellence

    The SEIF grants are just one way through which we continue to strengthen our support for outstanding university software engineering programs. These grants are intended to stimulate research in all aspects of software engineering, with an aim to cultivate interest in Microsoft Research tools and technologies. They also strengthen our ties to the university community.

    In fact, one of the postgraduate students who worked on Notkin’s Crystal project, Kıvanç Muşlu, came to work for us as an intern. He was jointly mentored by Christian Bird and Tom Zimmermann of the Research in Software Engineering group (RiSE) and me. During his internship, Muşlu explored how Crystal’s principles could be expanded for use in a full industrial context. The testbed was the full Bing development history. The result of his work, a new tool called Beacon, will be deployed to Microsoft product groups in the near future. Like Crystal, Beacon can alert developers when code they are writing will conflict with changes to another branch of the code. By using Microsoft Lync, it can quickly put the developers of the two sections of code in touch so that they can resolve the conflict. The challenge was to make the system work in real time with the enormous number of files and developers involved in a system like Bing. We look forward to seeing more from Muşlu in the future.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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