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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Research Plays Matchmaker this February

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    social search

    Two major computing conferences take place this month in the Seattle area: the ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM 2012), which runs February 8–12 in Seattle and focuses on how to improve web search algorithms, and the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2012), which runs February 11–15 in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and centers on how collaboration can be better supported through technological and design advances. These overlapping symposia mean that the Puget Sound region will be home to even more computer brain power than normal in mid-February.

    Recognizing the unique opportunity afforded by these simultaneous conferences, Microsoft Research is sponsoring a Social Search Social, an event that will zero in on the common research interests of these two communities. On February 11, approximately 100 researchers and thought leaders from both conferences will meet at Microsoft Research, where their combined expertise in algorithms, interfaces, information retrieval, and collaborative systems design will, we are certain, establish a network from which the next generation of innovations can arise. Participants will include Microsoft employees, professors, and students from the United States and abroad, and researchers from other corporations.

    Researchers will have ample opportunity to mingle and share ideas by participating in several structured and unstructured networking events. Participants can present a single slide about their current research in a fast-paced “madness” session. And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, who can resist a “research speed dating” event, which will pair up attendees of the CSCW and WSDM conferences for brief conversations. There will also be plenty of free time for conversation while enjoying a bite to eat—always an excellent way to ignite ideas and collaborations.

    This upcoming event has inspired us to create an email distribution list that will allow us to collect and share information for possible collaborations in social search. We invite you to contribute by submitting your research interests and suggestions for collaborative projects. To participate, send an empty email message to Join Social Search to subscribe to the distribution list. Once you have subscribed, you can start sending your ideas to the Social Search Distribution List. It is our hope that this distribution list will provide the start of a framework for community interactions across social search research efforts.

    Meredith Ringel Morris, Microsoft Research, Researcher, Natural Interaction group; and Evelyne Viegas, Microsoft Research Connections, Director of Semantic Computing

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    On Helium and Chocolate

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    Powerful Research Tools Shared at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting

    We love our jobs at Microsoft Research, and a big part of that is about how much we love physics and technology. And chocolate. Consider: if you place helium in a (well-made) bag and let it go, there is nothing to prevent it from ascending to the very edge of outer space; a free ride for a small payload using nothing more exotic than a canister of helium available for $39.95 at your local party supply store. The payload in our case is a GPS and a radio built on .NET Gadgeteer (more on this below), the purpose is atmospheric research, and the underlying technology is from Microsoft. This blog is about sharing our technology and tools with Earth scientists at their annual convention in early December in San Francisco.

    Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer display at the Microsoft Research exhibit booth
    Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer display at the Microsoft Research exhibit booth

    We set up our booth at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting exhibit hall in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The exhibit hall is an enormous space where universities, specialized companies, non-profits, and government agencies (such as NASA) were displaying their own exhibits in parallel with the massive intellectual swap meet going on in the poster and lecture rooms—and in the hallways in between. The underlying subject: how does the Earth work and where is our ecosystem headed? This is serious business, and we at Microsoft Research are trying to help get answers by providing support on the technology front.

    Exhibits at major scientific meetings are a great way to show scientists some of the powerful tools that are available from Microsoft Research, and so that is what we did, mostly one conversation at a time. One of my favorite aspects of working in an exhibit booth is the look on people’s faces after I’ve shown them some technology we provide for open use and then tell them it’s free: a scientist’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment is a great reward for years spent building these tools.

    Steven Johnston chats with visitors to the Microsoft Research booth as the weather balloon hovers above.“But where do the helium and the chocolate come in?” you might ask, a fair question. We spent a lot of time prior to the AGU Fall Meeting pondering, “What do people respond to?” because we wanted them to have a positive experience at our exhibit. Well, for me, chocolate and toys are good, and happily, our .NET Gadgeteer team sent their lead technologist and jack-of-all-trades Steven Johnston to join us from Great Britain. .NET Gadgeteer is a whole passel of rapid prototyping technology “toys” [think computer plus sensors plus radio—all modular] supported by a free software development toolkit. Steven's backpack was packed with .NET Gadgeteer devices plus a weather balloon; one quick stop at Ghirardelli and another at the local party supply store and we had chocolate for the booth visitors and helium to inflate the weather balloon. We were ready for business. (The balloon stayed safely tethered, though Steven regularly releases them into the atmosphere back home.)

    The AGU Fall Meeting ran December 3–7 with more than 22,000 attendees. Our (welcoming!) booth ran four of those days, during which we collected surveys on data challenges, handed out a metric ton of chocolate, and engaged countless stoppers-by with our ensemble of technologies. This growing ensemble today includes .NET Gadgeteer, Layerscape for data visualization, CLEO, DataUp, Bing Maps, FetchClimate, and more. On a whim, we also brought in an ersatz campfire to conjure up fireside chats, and, to our delight, these were a huge success, thanks to our scientist collaborators (and Kris Tolle’s inspiration). Of particular note: Matthew Smith from the Microsoft Research Cambridge Computational Ecology group presented his research on improving Earth models via data integration—work that is vital to understanding and improving how our predictive models show where we are headed in coming decades.

    Fireside chats at the Microsoft Research booth were a huge success, thanks to our scientist collaborators.
    Fireside chats at the Microsoft Research booth were a huge success,
    thanks to our scientist collaborators.

    To cap off the event, Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, gave a session talk on who we are and how we can help academic researchers. Tony’s presentation brought in lots of additional visitors, almost all of whom came away with a deepened appreciation of Microsoft’s collaborative work with the academic community. To get a sense of some of what we talked about, check out Getting Started with Layerscape and its many links.

    Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Research at Imagine Cup 2011

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    In nine years, the Imagine Cup has become one of the pre-eminent youth technology competitions in the world. This year, more than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete.

    Beginning last Friday evening and running through to Wednesday this week, more than 400 of the brightest young minds from more than 70 countries will be competing in the finals hosted in New York City, United States. These are the winners from all of the local, national, and regional competitions around the world over this past year.

    The students develop solutions for an enormous range of socially-relevant applications, including environmental issues, medical diagnosis, disaster relief, and technology access for the disabled. They mix and match Microsoft and other technologies to reach those solutions.

    More than 350,000 young people from 183 countries and regions around the globe signed up to compete in Imagine Cup 2011.

    Imagine Cup 2011 Video: Students Create a Better World Video 

    Microsoft Research has long been a collaborator with the event and this year is no exception. Notable this year has been the prominence of the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta, released less than a month ago. In common with so many enthusiasts around the world, the amazing Microsoft Kinect sensor and its powerful software, now officially available to developers on Windows 7 PCs with the SDK, has captured the imaginations of many of the student teams, some of which have already been using the SDK in their projects—an extraordinary effort in so short a time.

    In response to this enormous interest, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who opened the event with a keynote presentation, announced that all of the student finalists would receive Kinects as gifts to help inspire further innovation in natural user interfaces and beyond!

    To further help the students understand the capabilities of the device and its SDK, including access to the raw data streams, and the audio and visual processing (which includes skeletal tracking), Stewart Tansley presented a training class with Clint Rutkas from Channel 9’s Coding4Fun. The class generated a lot of interest from the students—who were eager to learn more about the Kinect for Windows SDK beta.

    Representing the culmination of decades of computer science research in audio and vision processing, the prominence of Kinect and the SDK at the event has been an inspiring testament to the practical influence of research on today’s emerging computer scientists.

    Furthering this message, Microsoft Research Connections corporate vice president Tony Hey presented a special session to the students entitled, “What it takes to be a researcher.”

    Tony recalled that Albert Einstein once said, “If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be research.” Tony addressed specifically those students who are considering graduate school and the potential rewards of a research career, but are unsure about the specific paths and options that are available to them. He shared from his extensive experience as a researcher and academic both in the United Kingdom and United States.

    Panel at the Women Innovators

    Panel at the Women Innovators (not in order): Jane Prey, senior program manager,
    Microsoft Research Connections; Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared
    Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and
    deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed
    by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress;
    and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing
    Research at AT&T Labs.

    Last but not least, Jane Prey represented Microsoft Research on a stellar panel at the Women Innovators dinner. The other panelists included: Earl Newsome, vice president Global Shared Services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency, Meryl Frank, former ambassador and deputy U.S. representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (appointed by Barack Obama); Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress; and Dr. Mary Fernandez, executive director of Dependable Distributed Computing Research at AT&T Labs. The panel focused on how to help get more women involved in technology and encouraging the student women innovators attending to continue on their technical initiatives. Learn more about this special highlight.

    As we write this blog the day before the final winners of Imagine Cup 2011 are to be announced, we wish all competitors the best of luck for the competition and in their future careers, whether as researchers, entrepreneurs, or other champions of computer science!

    —Stewart Tansley, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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