June, 2011

  • Joining Forces to Increase Job Opportunities for Military Spouses

    By: Chris Cortez - MajGen, USMC (Ret.), General Manager, Microsoft Strategic Operations, Americas and Asia Pacific

    Cross posted from the FutureFed Blog

    Today, I was proud to represent both my country and my employer, Microsoft, by standing in support of military families at “Joining Forces: Launching the Military Spouse Employment Partnership” which took place at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Joining Forces is a program First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden launched in April to support the “force behind the forces.” A key focus is improving job opportunities for military spouses.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes initiative hosts Dr. Jill Biden – co-chair of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative – and the Department of Defense to launch the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) with Deborah Mullen and Kevin Schmiegel. (Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

    Today’s event was a powerful and meaningful display of commitment. We heard Dr. Biden and Dr. Clifford Stanley, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, reinforce the significance of supporting military spouses.

    The Defense Department acknowledges that finding employment is a huge challenge for many military spouses. Currently, military spouses face an unemployment rate of 28 percent – nearly three times the national average. What’s worse, they earn an average of 25 percent less than civilian spouses. The President’s Strengthening Our Military Families (PSD-9) report, signed last January, identified increasing opportunities for private-sector and Federal careers for military spouses as an important national goal.

    As her husband, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watched from the audience, Debbie Mullen noted to a packed room of military and business leaders that of all the causes on which the First and Second Ladies of this country could focus, they have chosen military families. That alone brings together critical backing for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) Program launched today.

    MSEP will directly connect military spouses with organizations specifically looking to hire them. The program expands the Army Spouse Employment Partnership (ASEP), which had 57 corporate partners, to all the branches of the military, adding 15 new corporate partners today. Microsoft is proud to stand as one of these partners to build on the success that ASEP has had in hiring more than 100,000 military spouses since its 2003 launch.

    Our participation in this partnership underscores Microsoft’s commitment to veterans and their families. Our Military2Microsoft program assists U.S. veterans and those serving in the National Guard and Reserve to transition and find job opportunities within Microsoft. This program incorporates a variety of resources online to help make the job search experience easier for military talent. Last year, we launched Microsoft Elevate America Veterans initiative, to provide U.S. veterans and their spouses with the skills and resources they need to successfully find civilian employment.

    As we showcased this past Memorial Day on the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Blog, veterans are successfully participating in the program to advance their careers and improve their quality of life. It’s stories like these that remind us how essential this support is, and it’s why in 2010, we committed to providing $2 million in cash and up to $6 million in software and training to organizations working directly with veterans in local communities across the country over the following two years. Microsoft’s participation in MSEP continues this tradition.

    For photos from today’s event, visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “Hiring Our Heroes” Flickr page.

    For more information on MSEP and how to get involved, please visit :

    Military One Source: http://www.militaryonesource.com/MOS.aspx

    News on the Initiative: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=64438

  • Kodu Cup Winners Announced

    Today we are announcing the winners of the first U.S. Kodu Cup. It’s a competition that challenged kids across the United States (from the age of 9 to 17) to use Kodu – a free game development tool from Microsoft – to create their own video game for the chance to win great prizes and the chance to attend the Imagine Cup World finals in New York City in July.

    Kodu was created by FUSE labs in Microsoft Research to help children learn how to use computers while developing useful skills such as problem solving, creative thinking and planning in a fun and engaging  way. Kodu is proving to be a great tool for fostering children’s interest in exploring a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

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    The U.S. Kodu Cup surprised us. As Brad Gibson, a senior program manager with Microsoft Research observed:

    “These kids, frankly, did things in Kodu that I hadn’t thought of before. Kids had zombies and fantasy worlds, monsters and infective diseases, mythical heroes – there was just this incredible variety. On one hand you say, ‘Hey, they’re kids, you expect a lot of imagination.’ But when you see the depth of gameplay and the richness of the stories they created, I think many of these kids could be on their way to being world-class game designers.”

    So without any further ado, onto the winners.

    Grand Prize Winner (9-12 year olds category) - Hannah Wyman

    Hannah is 10 years old and lives in Leominster, Massachusetts. Her game is called Toxic, and players collect coins and hearts while solving puzzles to help save the environment. In Hannah’s own words: “My game is about how the environment is getting polluted, and we need to help shut the factories down and cause less pollution.

     

    Hannah Wyman’s winning Kodu Cup game: Toxic

     

    First Prize Winner (13-17 year olds category) - Jacen Sherman

    Jacen is 15 years old and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. His game is called The Vortex. It’s a beautiful looking game which opens with the world under nuclear attack. While humanity has found a way to “upload” itself to a virtual world and launch into space to avoid extinction, one of the creators of this virtual world wasn’t able to make it into the virtual world on time. Out of anger, she unleashed a virus – Vira X – which the player must defeat. Jacen was inspired both by the programming experience, and by the movie Tron.

     

    Jacen Sherman’s winning Kodu Cup game: The Vortex

     

    First Prize Winner (9-12 year olds category) - David Gardiner

    David is 9 years old and lives in Leominster, Massachusetts - clearly a future hotbed of games development! David, draws comics about aliens and he took part in the competition following encouragement from his teacher. His game is called Alien Attack where the Galactaliens are trying to take over the world and you have to stop them.  It is a delightfully whimsical world with fish swimming in a bowl-less pond, flowers growing in strange places and enemies, and submarines bobbing in what looks like a floating island of lava.

    David Gardiner’s winning Kodu Cup game: Alien Attack

    The grand prize winner receives $5,000 for themselves and their respective school, as well as a trip to the Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in New York. The Imagine Cup is a global technology competition for students in over 100 countries. The grand prize winner also wins a Toshiba Windows laptop, Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and an Xbox 360 console with a Kinect sensor.

    The first prize winners receive a Toshiba Windows laptop with Microsoft Office Home & Student.

    Kodu Judging

    The consensus among the members of our judging committee was that the creativity demonstrated by all the entries in this first U.S. Kodu Cup competition was outstanding. When you combine that creativity with the hard work and dedication evidenced in all the submitted games, choosing the winners was a very difficult process.

    On behalf of all the judges we’d like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate everyone who took part in the competition. Well done!

    You can read more about the winners on the Microsoft News Center.

     

    More information on Kodu and STEM education

     

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    A note on sensible, safer gaming.

    Microsoft is committed to helping families enjoy video games and online media in ways that are safer, healthier and more balanced. As part of this commitment we have created Get Game Smart.

    GetGameSmart.com brings the most current parental controls tools, expert tips and resources together online, including the latest information on updated Xbox 360 Family Settings. This website offers a variety of resources in one place where parents and caregivers can find valuable information to make educated decisions about balanced media use. The site helps parents and kids to work together on fun activities and quizzes that will improve their knowledge about gaming and online safety, and help them create household agreements for media use ...along with easy ways to enforce them! GetGameSmart.com also provides tips and information from the nation's leading experts and organizations, and features its own blog to provide families with up-to-date information on the latest video game and Internet safety topics. The Get Game Smart program is a new approach to helping parents and their children get on the same page about making smart media choices.

    Microsoft is proud to have led the effort to create and build in safety measures that enable parents to choose the right games, content and online access settings for their families. Xbox was the first video game and entertainment system on the market with built-in parental control systems. Virtually all of Microsoft's consumer products- Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE, Windows 7, Zune and MSN/Windows Live - feature family safety features.

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  • Out of Isolation: How technology is supporting refugees

    Guest post by Sajjad Malik, Chief Operational Solutions and Transition Section, UNHCR

    UNHCR_Microsoft

    Editor’s note: There are currently 43 million people displaced by war, conflict and human rights abuses around the world. The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR – was established 60 years ago and currently deals with 36.4 million people of concern. Technology has enabled UNHCR to make progress in critical areas of communication, mapping and tracking, data collection, education and capacity building.

    Sajjad Malik talks about his experiences working for UNHCR and the impact technology has had on his day to day work.

    COMMUNICATION

    I started working for UNHCR 23 years ago when I was fresh out of civil engineering school. After working in Pakistan I headed to Somalia for what I thought would be a short assignment. It was a time when fax machines were the height of innovation. In DoloOdo at the border of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia we used to use a hand held loud speaker to make announcements. It was a 3 day drive just to get to the embassy to drop off or pick up a letter that had been delivered by diplomatic pouch!

    Today, we use mobile phones to notify refugees about food distribution, and help them reconnect with their families. With support from companies like Microsoft and HP we set up Community Technology Access (CTA) centers that build skills and capacity and enable refugees to communicate with family back home. Last year Skype created a low-bandwidth version of their product for UNHCR to use for its staff in remote field locations.

    1 Sherkole refugee settlement Uduk refugee

    MAPPING AND TRACKING

    In the 16 years I spent in the deep field I also oversaw the physical planning of numerous camps throughout East Africa and the Great Lakes region. We often set up camps a safe distance from the boarder to make it easier for those fleeing to find us, and for us to find them. But in some cases we didn’t know the exact boundaries of natural reserves or wildlife migration routes. Accurate mapping could truly mean life or death.

    Nowadays, UNHCR employs satellite imagery and GIS to plan, build, and manage camps, roads, water, healthcare and schools. We use GPS to track our distribution trucks and the spread of disease and health information systems, and use crowd sourced maps to engage the community of emergency responders.

    DATA COLLECTION

    Back in 1994, during the Rwandan genocide, UNHCR was using ad hoc refugee registration systems. We used wristbands and tokens to help determine population numbers, and paper-based forms to gather family names and needs. Imagine using this for camps experiencing an influx of more than 200 thousand people!

    Then Kosovo happened. In 1999 Microsoft helped us build, a mobile refugee registration system to respond to this crisis. Microsoft introduced us to the concept of a registration kit in-a-box, with a laptop, printer, and a fan to cool it. Now, we are working on solutions that collect data using mobile devices, and store information centrally in the cloud. Cloud-based solutions are key for an organization that needs to cost-effectively manage data across many locations around the world.

    CAPACITY BUILDING AND LIVELIHOODS

    I oversee teams that manage emergency shelter response, as well as long-term solutions. As displacement becomes prolonged, we try to serve the population’s long-term needs. We help people to be productive citizens, so their human development does not stop. The CTA Program provides refugees with access to technology to help them stay connected to the world, to learn skills and become self-sufficient.

    I can confidently say that we would not have been able to achieve much of what we have without innovative technology. June 20 is World Refugee Day. I’ve seen first-hand the look of desperation and fear on the faces of so many men, women, and children when they arrive in a camp; and tear-filled joy when they are told they can go back home. Technology has allowed us to do a better job, to allow those we work for to connect to the 21st century, to learn about the world and develop new skills. We now have the means to tell the story of those almost 43 million individuals who currently do not have a home to go to. You can be part of this year’s World Refugee Day. Please do 1 thing to help refugees and go to www.unhcr.org/do1thing or simply follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

    1 family forced to flee is too many.

    -------------------------------------------

    SajjadMalik_highresSajjad is responsible for overseeing UNHCR’s Operational Solutions and Transition Section at its Headquarters, including emergency shelter, livelihoods, environment, peace-building and reintegration in post-conflict situations, and innovative technology solutions Community Technology Access (CTA) Program for refugees and other displaced persons. During his 23 years with UNHCR, he served in the field in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan and covered emergencies in the Great Lakes region, West Africa and Kosovo. In 2005-2008, he led the complex repatriation and reintegration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from camps in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Egypt, involving multiple land and air routes to remote and war ravaged areas of southern Sudan.

    For more information, please visit http://unhcr.org/microsoft/ 

    and for more stories on the UNHCR’s work with Microsoft please see our Local Impact Map stories such as UNHCR Council of Business Leaders Mission to Southern Africa Helps Refugees.

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  • Touching Children’s Lives with Microsoft Surface Technology

    By William Jansen, CSS Community Program Manager, EMEA, Microsoft

    clip_image002

    In 2008, Freena Eijffinger’s brother was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, a form of autism. It had taken more than seven years for the doctors to diagnose him, and that left Freena curious as to why it had taken so long. She did a bit of research and discovered that all diagnostics were still being carried out manually and without any computerization. This was mainly because regular vertical monitors interfere with direct communication, and the limited motor skills of Asperger sufferers make the computer mouse a poor tool for any diagnostic activities. When she first became acquainted with the Surface technology, which requires neither a monitor nor a mouse, she knew exactly what she had to do—raise funds to develop software on the Surface platform to change the lives of children with autism worldwide.

    Her Surface activities soon got the attention of Microsoft Netherlands, who named her a “Surface-evangelist.” Freena has since been a frequently invited speaker at conferences such as DevDays, TechEd EMEA, DotNed, HealthValley, TEDxWomen, and CodeCamp as well as at other industry-specific healthcare and educational conventions. Together with Dennis Vroegop she taught Surface development at a university college in the Netherlands.

    In early 2010 Freena entered a program for entrepreneurs sponsored by the Dutch government and TNO – The leading independent research organization in the Netherlands, known as SBIR (Small Business Innovation & Research). She was awarded €25,000 to do an attainability analysis and to develop four demo-applications that could be used to prove the value of her project to the autism branch of healthcare. When the Microsoft Surface team heard about her project, they donated a Surface developer unit. Following a review of the results from Freena’s research, TNO invested an additional €300,000 in her and her company Autitouch to develop applications to support diagnostics and treatment of autism worldwide.

    clip_image004In 2009, Dennis Vroegop, a Microsoft Surface Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and DotNed chairman, learned of Freena’s progress with Surface as well as her thoughts on its possible applications, and he asked to lend a hand.

    “Developing for Surface is just like any other piece of software,” according to Dennis. “You have to have a design, skilled developers and designers, and of course a lot of passion.” Building on Freena’s design, Dennis drew up the functional specifications for the Surface applications. “When that was done, we set up a Team Foundation Server to hold all the project resources and then started working on the actual software,” Dennis added. (Pictured above left: Dennis Vroegop, Surface MVP from the Netherlands, and Freena Eiffinger, CEO of Autitouch)

    The actual development has been completed in about 150 hoursand the applications will be released later this month, then a six-month scientific research project will begin in collaboration with the psychology department of the VU University Amsterdam for validation. A group of 60 kids – 30 diagnosed with autism and 30 without autism – will be tested using the applications. The goal is to show that with the help of the Autitouch applications, pre-diagnostics can be made possible, which will considerably shorten the diagnosis time for children with disorders such as autism. Other benefits will be improved and faster data mining and reporting, better quality observation and increased objectivity on the part of the diagnosing professional. All data will be unlocked through Microsoft’s Azure platform and Microsoft HealthVault, enabling autism experts around the world to gain better insight into autism as a disorder.

    During the validation phase, experts will start to test the systems functionality and ease of use. So far the trial runs have gone extremely well-the patients have responded very well to the system.

    We are extremely positive about the rest of the project. When the validation is done and we are ready to deliver to the actual intended users we won't sit back and relax: there is so much more to be done in this field and we're looking forward to the next phases!

    For more information on Autitouch – visit www.autitouch.com

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  • Bringing local impact to life

    Jean-Philippe Courtois, President, Microsoft International

    Storytelling is a time-honored tradition in communities and cultures around the globe. However in today’s world, getting the best stories to break through the “noise” can sometimes be a challenge, considering all the digital means we now have to share information.

    In my job, I come across great stories all the time as I travel to roughly 40 countries a year and meet our customers, partners and all the people whose lives are impacted by our technology. I am always very encouraged to see the positive impact technology is having in these communities, and am constantly looking for ways to spread the word on these great stories.

    That is one of the reasons I am very proud to blog about our Local Impact Map.  It’s an online application that brings these stories to life, and shows how technology is making a difference in communities everywhere.  It uses the latest Bing Maps technology to enable you to navigate the globe in seconds and find local stories that might be of interest to you. We now have catalogued 1,400 stories from more than 100 countries on the map. To celebrate the launch of the new version of the Local Impact Map, I would like to share three great stories with you: 

    LIM_story1_pic

    Story #1: A program in Africa helps young women gain IT skills through mentoring and local community support to complete their educational journey. In partnership with Microsoft, the Global Give Back Circle implemented IT Labs to assist these girls with valuable programming, web design, and productivity tools such as Office. Read more about this inspiring program.

    LIM_Story2

    Story #2: Parents want their children to use computers for all of the amazing learning opportunities that technology can enable, but want to ensure that their kids stay safe online. In Japan, we worked with a nonprofit organization to host an after-school club for the youth in the community, and help them learn about computer safety through games. Check out the story.

    LIM_story3

    Story #3: In Russia, our employees came together to volunteer their time and provide assistance for a local boarding school for blind children. The team provided new hardware for a computer lab and training for the teachers. This is one of the many examples showcasing our employees giving back to our neighbors around the world.

    As you explore the Local Impact Map, what is your favorite story and what inspires you?

    Please share with us below in the comments, on Twitter, or post it on our Facebook wall. We look forward to hearing how you tell the story. 

     Jean-Philippe Courtois leads global sales, marketing and services for Microsoft International, a territory that spans over 100 subsidiaries operating in over 240 countries outside the United States and Canada. As president of Microsoft International, Courtois drives strategic planning, global operations and key growth initiatives in developed and emerging markets. Outside of Microsoft, Courtois is administrator for PlaNet Finance and Microsoft's official representative at the Institut Montaigne. He has served as co-chairman of the World Economic Forum's Global Digital Divide Initiative Task Force and on the European Commission Information and Communication Technology task force. In 2009, he also served as an EU Ambassador for the Year of Creativity and Innovation, and in 2011 he was named as one of "Tech's Top 25" by The Wall Street Journal Europe. A French national, Courtois obtained his diplôme des études commerciales supérieures (DECS) from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce, Nice (CERAM/Skema).

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