• Kodu Update Lets Kids Explore Mars

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Kodu: Mars Edition rover

    On Nov. 26, 2011, the Mars rover Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral, a trip that will have taken more than eight months before Curiosity lands on the surface of the Red Planet.

    With excitement peaking in the days before the landing, Microsoft and NASA are using the event as an opportunity to enable youngsters to learn computational skills and explore the Martian terrain by using Kodu: Mars Edition.

    Developed in cooperation with NASA’s Mars Public Engagement Program, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs, Kodu: Mars Edition lets children create games for the PC or Xbox using a simple, visual programming language. The aim of the collaboration is to create compelling learning experiences that develop students’ competency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), along with 21st-century skills.

  • Fighting Back Against Click-Spam

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Graph clustering used in fingerprinting click-spam

    Remember that time, a decade or so ago, when spam was the scourge of the Internet, when the sheer volume of junk email threatened to engulf legitimate correspondence and short-circuit the promise of the digital revolution?

    Those concerns are a bit distant these days. Spam is no longer Public Enemy No. 1 among the digerati. People have devised ways to combat it effectively. Our attentions have shifted to other, more recent problems—such as click-spam.

    Click-spam is defined as fraudulent or invalid clicks on online ads where the user has no actual interest in the advertiser’s site, but don’t be misled into thinking this is merely some sort of Internet mischief. Click-spam has the potential to see millions of dollars of ad revenue misappropriated by nefarious means.

    The scope of the challenge is made clear in Measuring and Fingerprinting Click-Spam in Ad Networks, written by Vacha Dave, Yin Zhang, and Saikat Guha. The first two are from The University of Texas at Austin, and Dave is spending the summer as an intern at Microsoft Research India, working alongside Guha, a researcher at that lab.

  • CORFU: Clusters of Raw Flash Units

    Posted by John Davis, researcher at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley

    CORFU logo

    Storage in the data center has been dominated by expensive, aggregated systems that provide consistency but not fault tolerance, or by cheaper, partitioned designs that provide performance but not consistency. Leveraging the properties of NAND flash, CORFU provides strong consistency and high performance, both in terms of throughput and low latency, in a fault-tolerant, distributed storage system.

    CORFU creates new opportunities in the data center, enabling designs that are impractical on hard disk or too expensive on RAM. CORFU achieves these goals by exposing a global shared log, where hundreds of client machines append to the tail of a single log and read from its body concurrently.

    A shared log is a powerful, versatile primitive for ensuring strong consistency in the presence of failures and asynchrony. It can play many roles in a distributed system: a consensus engine for consistent replication; a transaction arbitrator for isolation and atomicity; an execution history for replica creation, consistent snapshots, and geo-distribution; and even a primary data store that leverages fast appends on underlying media. Flash is an ideal medium for implementing a scalable shared log, supporting fast, contention-free random reads to the body of the log and fast sequential writes to its tail.

  • KinÊtre: Animation + Whimsy

    Posted by Rob Knies

    SIGGRAPH 2012 logo

    First, there was Kinect. You’ve probably heard of that one. Next, it was KinectFusion, which uses live data from Kinect for Windows to create high-quality, 3-D models of a room and its contents. KinectFusion made a splash in 2011 during the 38th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH).

    Now, it’s time for KinÊtre, the latest Microsoft Research project that uses a Kinect depth camera to provide novel functionality: Among other animations, it can make chairs dance.

    No, your eyes didn’t deceive: dancing chairs. If that sounds like fun, you’ve come to the right place.

    KinÊtre, which can animate all sorts of inanimate objects, will be presented as a talk by Jiawen Chen during SIGGRAPH 2012, being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from Aug. 5 to 9.

  • SIGIR Paper Aims to Understand Use of the Web for Diagnosis

    Posted by Rob Knies

    Distribution of medical queries per concern type

    A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 80 percent of adults in the United States have searched for medical information online. Such a figure underscores the fundamental importance that humans place on their health and wellbeing—and their reliance on the web for health information.

    Microsoft researchers, however, have studied challenges with the use of the web for performing diagnosis and have pursued an understanding about why searches about common symptoms can escalate quickly into users focusing their attention on rare, serious conditions.

    It’s called cyberchondria—making the leap from prosaic symptoms that could be explained in a multitude of ways to potential ailments more worrisome or debilitating.