Building global connectivity, making music visual and sharing achievements in research — Weekend Reading, May 27 edition

 |   Tracy Ith

From grants to help spread the power of digital technology to a band that’s turning live music into a vivid visual experience, this week brought some interesting and uplifting news around Microsoft. Check out some of the highlights in this latest edition of Weekend Reading.

Microsoft announced 12 winners of the Affordable Access Initiative grants that will receive seed funding and a range of resources to bring digital technology and affordable Internet access to underserved places around the world.

Technology can connect expectant mothers with faraway doctors, help rural farmers access financial services or allow children in remote places to take online courses from top schools. Yet for more than half the world, wrote Peggy Johnson, Microsoft executive vice president of Business Development, these benefits remain out of reach.

With these grants, Microsoft is “partnering with local entrepreneurs across five continents, each of whom deeply understand the unique needs of their own communities, and are already delivering hardware, applications, connectivity and power solutions to solve them,” Johnson wrote.

This week on the Microsoft Facebook and Instagram channels, we met Bension Maina of Mawingu Networks. From a converted shipping container in rural Kenya, Benson provides his community with affordable Internet by tapping the broadcast power of unused television channels or “white spaces.”

YouTube Video

Just in time for the summer music festival season, the artists of Big Grams have evolved their performances way beyond music to captivate audiences with boundary-pushing live visual experiences. The group — a collaboration of former Outkast member Big Boi, and Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter — partnered with V Squared Labs and are using Kinect technology to generate a striking visual display based on the artists’ movements onstage.

“We want the viewer, listener, fans that are there in the room to feel like they’re going on a trip,” says Big Boi. “If the music got them there sonically… then visually we’re aiming to put them in a trance.”

Big Grams artists perform in front of a light show on stage.

Microsoft researchers are exploring ways to better secure cutting-edge consumer technologies as well as more traditional tools that we rely on for everyday activities like accessing bank records and identifying ourselves at work. They’ll present four papers at the annual IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy that begins Monday in San Jose, Calif.

The Microsoft Research Blog shares the highlights of their work, which includes creating mechanisms that would prevent certain types of vulnerabilities such as Freak and Logjam, as well as developing a software system that limits the amount of information a person’s keycard discloses about them.

Cedric Fournet, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge.
Cedric Fournet, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Great news for news junkies came out of the Microsoft Garage: The latest release of News Pro, where you can find news articles on hot topics and issues that are relevant to you, now gives you a way to share and comment on articles with your colleagues and others.

The new version also offers a News Pro bot that’ll help find information on the latest developments in your industry or field and even discuss it with you.

“Reading news, especially work-related news, can sometimes be a bit dry. A bot that can have some basic conversation with you could make news reading more fun,” says Yumao Lu, a principal development manager whose team works on Bing news products. “News Pro bot is your news agent at your beck and call.”

News Pro screen shots show a variety of news articles.

Exciting news also came this week for the young people who will have access to computer science training through a partnership between Microsoft and the Real Madrid Foundation: The collaboration has been renewed for another three years.

More than 6,000 at-risk children have already benefited from the training and digital literacy activities designed by both organizations to unlock new opportunities for young people at Real Madrid’s social-sport academies in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

The Real Madrid Foundation and Microsoft now plan to extend their reach, with a particular emphasis on at-risk young people in Spain and five other countries from Latin America. Microsoft will supply the software, cloud services, training content and funding to implement the activities designed by the foundation.

Orlando Ayala, chairman of Emerging Markets at Microsoft, left, with Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid Foundation president, in Spain.
Orlando Ayala, chairman of Emerging Markets at Microsoft, and Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid Foundation president, in Spain.

This week also brought big news in apps and games. For starters, “Battle,” the first mini game for “Minecraft” on Xbox 360, Xbox One and other consoles, will be available in June for an unbeatable price: It’s free. “Battle” allows you to set up a competitive multiplayer fight for survival in which speed, strategy — and sometimes just pure luck — will make you the winner.

And now’s the time to take advantage of the discounts available in the Ready, Set, Summer Collection, which is packed with more than 100 popular games, music, TV shows and apps. The promotion is now live in the Windows Store and runs through June 6.

If you’re looking to settle in this weekend with some fun games, get started building your dungeon and embarking on light-fingered escapades with 30-percent-off Special Starter Packs for “King of Thieves,” where the goal is to steal gold and precious gems from other players.  Or give “LUDO Blitz!” a try; it updates the classic board game in this fast-paced, hi-res version with 3-D movements and actions.

Show your kids a magical playground of colorful fun in “Crayola Bubbles,” where they can explore a world of pathways, sandboxes and slides teeming with 3D bubbles that they can combine to create new colors as they go.

A special lineup of other games is headed your way as Games with Gold celebrates its third anniversary. These free games include “Goat Simulator,” “The Crew” and more; check out the dates and details on Xbox Wire.

Blocky bridges, buildings and other structures in Minecraft.

You’re now caught up on this week’s top news around Microsoft. Check back each Friday for our weekly round-up in the latest edition of Weekend Reading.

And if you’re in the U.S., we hope you enjoy your long Memorial Day weekend!

Posted by Tracy Ith
Microsoft News Center Staff

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