Music, a medical breakthrough and employee generosity – Weekend Reading: Feb. 12 edition

WR, StaffPad, Surface, music

Eleven-year-old composer Garrett Weyenberg, right, and StaffPad creator David William Hearn. Photo by David Palmer.

There was a lot to love this week at Microsoft, timely with Valentine’s Day on Sunday. We watched an amazing 11-year-old composer from McKinney, Texas, who now has an easier way to notate his award-winning creations, thanks to an app especially designed for Surface. We learned that Sir Paul McCartney created an exclusive set of love-inspired musical creations for Mojis on Skype. We saw how Kinect is being used to help quantify whether multiple sclerosis patients’ symptoms are stabilizing or getting worse. And we met some of the generous Microsoft employees who raised a record-setting amount of money last year for nonprofits around the globe.

Garrett Weyenberg was 2 when he started coming up with his own songs and compositions. At 10, he created an eight-minute piece called “Sonatina in G Major,” which won a regional composition contest. It was just one work in a vast collection of original music by the boy with bright blue eyes. But Garrett had no easy way to write his musical thoughts, no practical means for saving his music and sharing it with others to play. That all changed when Garrett turned 11, got a Surface Pro 3 for his birthday and started using StaffPad, a notation app designed for Surface that lets users handwrite music and save it for editing, playback and sharing. “He is composing music in his mind daily,” says Garrett’s mother, Stephanie Weyenberg. “StaffPad truly has been the game changer for him.”

Here, there and everywhere with Skype Mojis: Another composer, one we all know and love, Sir Paul McCartney, partnered with Skype to create the music for a new, exclusive set of love-inspired Mojis. Mojis, which are free, are unique to Skype and feature sound as well as video, giving your chats a whole new personality – and now, even more ways to express your love to friends and family around the world.

Kinect is being used to help multiple sclerosis patients. For years, healthcare company Novartis has been trying to find more consistent ways to quantify whether the treatments it is developing for MS are working. In conjunction with Microsoft researchers and use of Kinect, researchers at Novartis say they can get a more consistent reading of how a patient performs on each of the tests, bringing a new level of uniformity that will help doctors better assess the progress of the disease. That, in turn, could speed up the process of getting the right treatments to patients.

Microsoft employees raised a record $125 million last year for nonprofits around the globe, it was announced Wednesday. It was the greatest year-over-year increase ever – and the fifth year in a row that Microsoft employees raised more than $100 million. The participation rate hit an all-time high, at 71 percent, as employees donated more time, talent and money to help address local and global causes they care about most. In addition, Microsoft doubles the impact of every donation employees make to the causes of their choice, matching each gift. It also contributes $25 dollars for every hour employees volunteer their time.

employee giving, 2016

ArtsFund President and CEO Mari Horita stands with David Jones, a Microsoft employee who helped update the nonprofit’s technology, at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington. (Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

New Microsoft Garage app, Fetch!, uses artificial intelligence to name that breed. Dog lovers will definitely want to play Fetch! Using your iPhone camera or photo library, the app can identify and classify dogs by breeds and tell you what kind of human personality fits best with specific breeds. And just for fun, the app will even take an informed guess on what kind of dog you or your friends might be. The app demonstrates the potential for Microsoft researchers’ continued advances in artificial intelligence, which have already appeared in other playful ways through Microsoft Project Oxford-powered experiences such as HowOld.net, TwinsOrNot.net, MyMoustache.net and Mimicker Alarm.

Fetch! app, Microsoft Garage, iOS

Not ready for Valentine’s Day? Not to worry. There’s plenty of time to connect with apps and experiences in Windows 10 and Cortana that will help set the mood, along with romantic movies and music from the Windows Store. If you want to create the perfect playlist, Pandora, Microsoft Groove and Shazam can help. You might want to try Music for Lovers, which has 30 songs all queued up for you. You can also head over to the Movies & TV section of the Windows Store for the Love is in the Air collection of titles. Find a great spot to eat with OpenTable, or use Cortana in Microsoft Edge to get restaurant reviews, help you book your table, and even remind you when it’s time to go.

Five new military bases are being added to Microsoft’s career transition program. The Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) helps service members who are preparing to transition to civilian careers in technology. Hundreds have graduated from the academy, which will be offered at five additional Army installations this year and next. Those installations are: Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Fort Bliss, Texas.

This week on the Microsoft Instagram channel, we caught up with Kyle Schwaneke, a talented young developer on the Xbox team, who also has Asperger’s. Kyle was one of the first employees in Microsoft’s program to hire people with autism, and now he’s thriving as a mentor to the newest group of candidates.

Kyle Schwaneke, autism, engineer, Xbox

Kyle Schwaneke. Photo by Brian Smale.

Yes, there was a lot to love about this week. Let’s keep it goin’! And happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Posted by Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff