Data-palooza with new Power BI features and SandDance, plus a teacher making a difference with Skype — Weekend Reading: March 25 edition

Welcome to Weekend Reading. It was a big week for data news: Several new Power BI features were announced at the Microsoft Insights Data Summit, and SandDance, a Microsoft Garage project that helps you visually explore data sets to find stories and extract insight, was released. We also met one of the many teachers who, with their students, are using Skype to help make the world a better place.

At the Microsoft Data Insights Summit March 22-23, several new Power BI features were introduced that boost enterprise readiness, deepen integration with Excel and enhance intelligent data exploration. Over the past year, Power BI’s community of users has been with us on “every step of our journey,” says James Phillips, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s business applications, platform and intelligence organization. Over the past year, he says, their feedback and input has led to adding more than 265 features to Power BI, which now has more than 5 million subscribers.

Data is more than just numbers; oh the stories it can tell. SandDance, a new Microsoft Garage project from Microsoft Research, helps unlock those stories. It uses a free Web and touch-based interface to help users dynamically navigate through complex data they upload into the tool. While data science experts will find that SandDance is a powerful tool, its ease of use can also give people who aren’t experts in data science or programming the ability to analyze information – and present it – in a way that is accessible to a wider audience.

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Big help from a small town. Pennsylvania educator and Skype Master Teacher Michael Soskil was honored as one of 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize for his contributions to global citizenship. Through a Skype call with a sister school in a small Kenyan village in Africa, Soskil’s students learned of the village’s unsanitary water conditions that prevented students from going to school. Soskil’s class partnered with students in Kansas and Greece over Skype to help solve the problem and find solutions to provide clean drinking water, not only for the school, but also for many of the families in the village.

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Computational thinking, 10 years later: In 2006, Jeannette M. Wing, a corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft’s core research labs, published a viewpoint entitled “Computational Thinking,” in which “I argued that the use of computational concepts, methods and tools would transform the very conduct of every discipline, profession and sector,” she wrote this week on the Microsoft Research Blog. Ten years later, Wing reflects on how much progress has been made in achieving that vision: “Computational thinking will be a fundamental skill used by everyone in the world by the middle of the 21st century,” she says. “By fundamental, I mean as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic.”

Jeannette Wing, Microsoft Research
Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeannette Wing (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)

Windows Store Spring Sale, which continues through Monday, March 28, brings you big savings on hit games, music, popular TV shows and favorite movies. Among them is “Oxenfree,” available at 25 percent off for $14.99. A fun night with friends exploring a decommissioned military island unleashes an unexpected mystery. You’ll also find “Straight Outta Compton” at 33 percent off and a collection of No Doubt and Gwen Stefani albums for $6.99 or less. Also, be sure to check out the Windows Store Indie Game Spotlight, which showcases some of the most innovative titles coming from independent developers. Some favorites in this month’s set includes guild wars, World War I dogfights and Chuck the chimp.

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This week on the Microsoft Instagram channel, we met Ada Lovelace, writer of the first machine algorithm and, to many, the world’s first computer programmer. As we continue this month’s celebration of women inventors, we highlight how they’ve changed the world, and continue to inspire future generations to #MakeWhatsNext.

Here’s the last piece of data from this edition of Weekend Reading: Thank you for reading! We look forward to seeing you next Friday; same time, same place.

Posted by Suzanne Choney
Microsoft News Center Staff