Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lili Cheng: Creativity, Learning, and Social Software (GHC12)

Who knew a past in physical architecture would suit a career in technology research so well! Lili Cheng — general manager of Microsoft Research's FUSE labs — did! And she told us all about it in her talk at Grace Hopper today.


Lili had started her career in irrigation, worked on Canary Wharf in London, and was involved with tree-like designs for buildings in Tokyo.  She learned that your past stays with you and continues to inform you. The combination of natural and machine-made systems are unpredictable, human, and evolve over time; this idea applies to architecture and social media.

Lili gave us a whirlwind tour of the projects her group has done, including Kodu and Montage.

Kodu was inspired by the fact that kids don't make enough on PC's, but they do play a lot of games.  The group wanted to know whether they could make creating a game simple enough for five-year-olds to do it.  The kids who use the graphical, event-driven language don't learn programming per se, but they do learn logic and programming concepts.

I've known about Kodu for some time now, but never had the chance to try it.  Now that I realize it's free on the PC, I'm inspired to have another look.  Perhaps it would be a good alternative to GameMaker for my mini-course.  It seems that it's used a lot in K-12, but for some reason I don't heard about it in a concrete way very often around me.  I'm not sure what that means; either other options are more suitable or I'm just not listening to the right people to hear about it.

Montage was a neat project that I hadn't heard about before.  It works by typing in a search term, and getting back a newspaper-like collection of items about that topic.  The neat thing is that the whole thing is editable; you can change the layout and the content.  The collection includes articles, images, and Tweets found online.  You can save and share your creation with others via the So.Cl (pronounced social) site, which is technically a different project that happens to allow you to create montages in a more social way.

My first thought on Montage was that it reminded me of Paper.li, right down to the silly name and URL.  I wouldn't ever have known what Paper.li was if it weren't for the fact that others had included Tweets I'd made in their daily newspapers.  I still don't know if they curate the content manually or automatically.  I wonder if Montage is intended to be used the same way, and whether it has any similar mechanisms for allowing people whose content is included to discover the site.  If nothing else, it does look like a fun way to search and share interesting content in a Pinterest sort of way.

Hearing Lili talk about all the amazing things she and her team has done was really inspiring.  It got Andrew and I talking about putting together a five year plan that might allow us to do more interesting things in the future.  It also really encouraged me to consider trying for an internship with Microsoft Research once the baby gets older.  Maybe my varied interests will come in handy like Lili's past career did for her!

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