Statement from Microsoft President Brad Smith on Supreme Court decision to hear DACA cases

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in three consolidated cases concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. One of those is a suit brought by Princeton University, one of its undergraduate students and Microsoft that the federal government’s decision to rescind DACA was unlawful. Microsoft joined the lawsuit based on concern about the decision’s business and humanitarian impacts, including on its employees who are DACA registrants.

 

“Dreamers make our country, community, and company stronger, and their protection is both a humanitarian obligation and an economic imperative. Today’s decision means the clock is now running, with even more reason for Congress to act,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.

 

Read more via the Princeton website.

 

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PyDev of the Week: Geir Arne Hjelle|The Mouse vs The Python

PyDev of the Week: Geir Arne Hjelle|The Mouse vs The Python

This week we welcome Geir Arne Hjelle (@gahjelle) as our PyDev of the Week! Geir is a regular contributor to Real Python. You can also find some of his work over on Github. Let’s take a few moments to get to know Geir now!

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

 

Sure. I grew up in a beautiful village on an island in the north of Norway. My family has since moved south, but I still go north and visit friends and enjoy the nature regularly. I’ve always enjoyed playing with numbers, so I quite naturally ended up studying mathematics at the University. I did both a Master’s and a PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. During the PhD, I also got to spend about a year in my favorite big city: Barcelona. To this day, I spend a week or two in Barcelona every year.

 

After my studies, I lived three years in St. Louis, Missouri doing a Post.Doc at Washington University. Then I moved back to Norway, and I’m currently living in Oslo working with data science, mostly using Python.

 

I spend a fair bit of my free time with programming as well. I write tutorials for Real Python and helping teach kids how to code. I enjoy being outdoors. In Norway there are great opportunities for going skiing in the winter, and hiking in the summer. At this very moment, I’m actually basking in the sun in a hammock in the forest just outside of Oslo. Finally, I should note that I love getting together with friends for a board game session.

 

Why did you start using Python?

 

Interestingly, it actually took me quite a while to get warmed up to Python. I have done some kind of coding almost my entire life. I got started with BASIC on the Commodore 64 back in the 80’s, where I think one of my proudest achievements was figuring out that GOTO was evil. I also remember hacking one of my games with the magic line IF PLAYER="Geir Arne" THEN SCORE=SCORE+100, which in a small way exemplified the power of knowing some basic programming (and the responsibilities that come along).

 

My first encounter with Python was at a summer internship, where I was working alongside someone who was quite involved with Python at the time. This was Python 1.6, and it already seemed quite powerful. At the time I was dealing with Java, C, and C++, and ironically the simplicity of Python confused me. How did it work without a `main()` method? And what really happens at imports? In the end, I went back to my braceful code.

 

I finally picked up Python again around 2012. At the time I was working with Matlab as a modeling tool. Matlab is great for doing what Matlab is great at, but I also started to feel some of its limitations. At an internal hackathon, a colleague and I wanted to create a tool to automate the generation of some reports, and we decided to try Python for the project. This time it clicked much better. I was really impressed by how easily and fast we could create the tool. At the next hackathon, we did a proof-of-concept showing how to integrate Python into the Matlab model pipeline. While we got some support from the higher-ups, this unfortunately ended at the PoC stage.

 

As a kind of New Year’s resolution for 2014 I challenged myself to learn Python more properly. Luckily, several things came together that year. I started a new job where I could use Python as my main language. I was also able to attend a few conferences, and got to learn more about both the community and the eco-system surrounding Python. The more I’ve learned, the more impressed I’ve become with the language design. The core of the language is quite simple and consistent, while being very flexible. At the same time, the supporting tools and packages have really matured the last couple of years. I see a big improvement, just in the relatively few years I’ve been using Python.

 

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

 

At this point Python is clearly my favorite, and the language I reach for when I need to be productive. However, there are some other languages that I have very fond memories of. During my studies, I first started using Linux and came across Awk. I picked up O’Reilly’s classic Sed & Awk book—mainly because of the weird animals on the cover—and became an instant fan. Awk worked very seamlessly with the whole Unix philosophy of piping small specialized tools together. In the end, I used Awk to create several small tools, including a small language for creating fractals that I used for my Master’s thesis.

 

I’m also very impressed with Scratch. While it may have the appearance of a toy language, it supports all the “serious” programming concepts. I’ve been involved in teaching programming to kids for some years now, and Scratch is an amazing platform for this. The kids are usually up and coding on their own within 5 minutes of opening the web page. Within one hour they have created their very own game. I have actually done a few semi-serious projects with Scratch as well. However, the main limitation I find is that proper data structures are not really well supported (and I still do prefer the keyboard for coding).

 

Finally, I hope to one day have the time to learn a pure functional language more properly. I guess the philosophy really intrigues the mathematical part of my brain. There is a fun project called Coconut, which adds functional programming syntax right on top of Python. Another platform I hope to have time learn more about at some time is Erlang and its modern cousin, Elixir. The scalability and concurrency features look really great.

 

Thanks for doing the interview, Geir!

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Helping refugees and displaced persons by shifting the approach to how we help nonprofits

Teenage girl with arm around another girl
Photo credit: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Every year on June 20, World Refugee Day, the world focuses its attention on the growing crisis of human displacement; a mounting global tragedy, as there are more refugees today than any time seen since World War II.

A few months ago, I was humbled by my first visit to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, a United Nations camp that opened in 1992 following the arrival of the 23,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan.” The camp was designed to provide capacity for approximately 70,000 residents and now has nearly 190,000 refugees from more than 20 countries. I was awestruck by the vastness of the camp and inspired by the stories of the refugees and the amazing efforts of humanitarian organizations to create opportunities for them.

International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband
International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband. Photo credit: Kellie Ryan/IRC

Seeing the Kakuma camp opened my eyes to the scale and graveness of today’s refugee crisis. It also reaffirmed my conviction that the world needs to do more to respond.  As International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband writes in his book “Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time ,” “Refugees and displaced people have lost everything. But the refugee crisis is also about ‘us’ – what we, living in far greater comfort, stand for, and how we see our place in the world. It is a test of our character. Pass the test and rescue not just refugees but ourselves.” The challenge is immense with over 70 million refugees and internally displaced people.  At Microsoft we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we do know that in order to do more, we also must shift our lens from a traditional approach of corporate social responsibility, to an approach of total social impact to better support the crucial work of nonprofits.

Our response starts with the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations. These are benchmarks that paint the vision that the global community wants to see and what we aspire to, across the government, nonprofit and private sectors. But the world needs more than the goals; it needs the resources to achieve them, and according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group there is a $2.5 trillion dollar annual funding gap across the SDGs. Well-resourced organizations around the world – public and private – will need to do more to make up this gap. Beyond the foundational moral imperative of doing more, there is a strong long-term business case. A recent analysis shows that by meeting the SDG goals, we will unleash an estimated $12 trillion of market opportunities and create 380 million new jobs by 2030.

At Microsoft, we are working to better address this opportunity through our core philanthropic initiatives focused on equipping underserved communities around the world with the digital skills they need to effectively participate in the 21st century economy.  We are also working to amplify the impact of our employee engagement and giving.  However, we are going beyond traditional philanthropic models and creating a social business focused on helping nonprofits access deeper levels of innovation to address social challenges – using our technology and expertise to help humanitarian organizations scale the impact of the workers on front lines, manage and allocate aid, and help populations who need it most. All incremental profits generated from this affordable social business model are then reinvested into philanthropy and innovation for the nonprofit sector. This creates a self-reinforcing flywheel that fuels more impact. By integrating philanthropy with affordably designed social business models we create a total social impact plan that has the ability to scale innovation and impact beyond more traditional approaches.

Outlined below are two examples of how we are leveraging this model to invest in solutions to better support refugees, displaced people, and the communities that host them:

Artificial intelligence to support refugees and displaced people: Last year at the UN General Assembly, Microsoft built on its longstanding support to humanitarian organizations with AI for Humanitarian Action, a $40 million, five-year program. Through AI for Humanitarian Action, we are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the lives of over 70 million displaced people in the world, nearly 26 million of whom are refugees.

As a part of this work, today we are announcing AI for Humanitarian Action projects with two nonprofit organizations, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and KIND, to help combat wrongful deportation of asylum seekers in the United States. Both organizations provide legal assistance to asylum seekers and governments’ current processes are challenging while the cases are time sensitive. ASAP works with approximately 3,000 asylum seekers on any given day connecting them with the tools they need to take control of their legal cases and advocate for their families. Using Microsoft speech-to-text artificial intelligence and an Azure-based database, ASAP and KIND are partnering with volunteers and other legal aid organizations to assist families fleeing persecution in their home countries. The AI tool helps their respective staffs efficiently track changing court dates and prioritize cases most in need of emergency legal services.

Digital skills to empower refugees and displaced people: Refugees and displaced people live lives that are disrupted, often forced from the information and basic resources we sometimes take for granted. Yet, they have tremendous energy and are a force for positive change in the world. That’s why we must use the power of technology to route information, skills and knowledge in better ways to displaced people, using technology channels to provide access to education, and help them pursue a new future. Microsoft is working with a number of organizations providing digital skills, including:

  • International Rescue Committee (IRC) to create sustainable programming for refugees and displaced populations around the world, and increasing the efficiency and efficacy of the IRC staff who serve them. This includes “Digital Skills for New Americans in the U.S.,” and “Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis” in Jordan. These programs are designed to be contextually relevant for refugees and the job markets in these countries to find new ways to empower refugees, including women and girls. Through this partnership with Microsoft, IRC aims to create a foundation for career development programming that will be delivered to 45,000 IRC clients over the next five years in the U.S., and to eventually expand trainings for refugee and displaced clients across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These programs build on deep investments by Microsoft in IRC programs that help IRC provide humanitarian aid and digital skills to crisis-effected communities.
  • Norwegian Refugee Council to deliver education services and solutions to help 400,000 displaced people with digital skills enabling new opportunities.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reach over 25,000 refugee young women and men in Kakuma by 2020 with access to accredited, quality and relevant digital learning and market-oriented training opportunities. The partnership will include training and knowledge sharing with UNHCR international teams and local partners, who will help deliver the content. It’s the first stage of a project we intend to scale across multiple countries.
  • UNICEF to ensure that displaced children and young people have access to the education skills they need, are better prepared to reach their potential and are enabled to be the future leaders our world will need. UNICEF and Microsoft, together with the University of Cambridge, are partnering to develop a digital platform, “The Learning Passport,” that will facilitate learning opportunities for displaced young people within and across borders.

As I reflect on my Kakuma visit, it is a vivid memory for me that lives are at stake. I encourage us all to continue working to think how your organization can make an impact. We must push the boundaries of our traditional philanthropic and business models so that our social impact is proportionate to the power and resources we command. We have an obligation and an opportunity to advance a future for everyone. Together, we can do more.

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PyDev of the Week: Meredydd Luff | The Mouse vs The Python

PyDev of the Week: Meredydd Luff | The Mouse vs The Python

 

This week we welcome Meredydd Luff (@meredydd) as our PyDev of the Week! Meredydd is the co-founder of Anvil and a core developer for the Skulpt package. You can learn more about Meredydd on his website. Let’s take a few moments to get to know him better!

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

 

I’ve loved programming since I was first introduced to BASIC at the age of 7. I come from Cambridge (the old one in the UK, not the relatively-new one near Boston), and I studied here too. I actually started out as a biologist, but then switched to computer science for my PhD.

 

I think programming is the closest thing to magic we have, and I love watching and helping people get their hands on this power. My PhD research was about building usable parallel programming systems, and now I work on Anvil, a tool to make web programming faster and easier for everyone (with Python!).

 

When I’m not programming, I fly light aeroplanes, which I guess is what happens when your inner six-year-old makes your life decisions. I used to dance competitively (including a few years on England’s top Latin formation team), but it turns out international competitions and startups don’t play well together, so the startup won.

 

Why did you start using Python?

 

I’d dabbled in Python a bit, but I only really started using it in earnest when we started creating Anvil. We wanted to make web development easier, by replacing the mess of five(!) different programming languages with one language and a sensible visual designer. Python was the obvious choice – it’s accessible, it’s predictable, and it has a huge and powerful ecosystem.

 

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

 

I’m a big fan of Clojure. It’s sort of the diametrical opposite of Python. Python is simple, concrete and predictable – it’s really a programming language designed for people. By contrast, Lisps like Clojure turn the abstraction up to 11, and make the person program like the compiler thinks.

 

I also have to tip my hat to C – if I’m using C, I must be having an adventure close to the hardware 🙂

 

Thanks for doing the interview, Meredydd!

 

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Microsoft’s #InsiderUp isn’t just about being nice — here’s the big picture a certified Warditorial

courtesy of Jason Ward, Windows Central

Looking deeper into Microsoft’s ambitious #InsiderUp program’s goal to make everyone, everywhere a programmer.

 

What you need to know

 

  • Microsoft’s #InsiderUp program is positioned to make everyone a programmer for an increasingly tech-centric world.
  • Due to embedded tech all around us Microsoft’s “Tech Intensity” perspective views all companies as tech companies.
  • Microsoft wants to make all companies part of its ambitious global cloud computing platform.
  • Microsoft’s #InsiderUp is about creating a global human resource to support Microsofts global cloud computing goals.

 

Microsoft’s recently revealed #InsiderUp program utilizes the company’s vast human resource of enthusiastic Insiders combined with a diversity of programs to connect with and train regular people from various walks of life, all over the world, in the art of coding. Microsoft wants to tear down perceived and actual barriers and make everyone (who wants to be) a programmer.

 

Still, Microsoft is a business, with a goal to make its Azure Cloud platform the computing platform for every person and business around the world. Teaching everyone on the planet to code is to ensure individuals that are part of companies that Microsoft is incorporating (or trying to assimilate) into its global cloud platform, will have the necessary skills to fit into Microsoft’s big cloud picture…

 

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PyDev of the Week: Valentin Haenel | The Mouse vs The Python

PyDev of the Week: Valentin Haenel | The Mouse vs The Python

This week we welcome Valentin Haenel (@esc___) as our PyDev of the Week! Valentin is a core developer of Numba and several other packages that you can see either on his website or on Github. He has also given several talks at various conferences in Europe. Let’s spend some time getting to know Valentin better!

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

 

I went to the University of Edinburgh to get a bachelor in computer science and to the Bernstein Center in Berlin to get a master in computational neuroscience. I tend to favour more traditional computer science topics these days such as compression algorithms and compilers. In my spare time, I spend time with my lovely wife Gloria, fly quad-line sports kites and ride longboards through Berlin. I’ve been doing Python and open-source on Github for about 10 years.

 

Why did you start using Python?

 

I first started using Python as part of my Masters program. Python was—and still is—quite popular in computational neuroscience, both for doing machine learning on sensor data such as EEG and fMRI and also for simulating neural models and networks of neurons. I had been using Java before and it took some getting used to the dynamic (duck) typing style. As part of the academic work I came in touch with the early scientific stack, which at the time consisted mostly of Numpy, Scipy, Matplotlib and the command-line IPython shell. Some of my earliest Python work from that time still survives. A project I did to simulate spiking neurons using a specific type of model:

 

https://github.com/esc/molif — this was my first github repo ever.

Also from that time is the first of my packages to make it into Debian, a Python interface to a specific type of hardware photometer. In fact, I just checked on this Ubuntu machine (Mar 2019), the package is still available:

 

$ apt search pyoptical
  Sorting... Done
  Full Text Search... Done
  python-pyoptical/bionic,bionic 0.4-1.1 all
    python interface to the CRS 'OptiCAL' photometer
 
  :)

 

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

 

I know a little C, shell, go and Java, but Python is by far my favorite though. A friend of mine is working on a secret programming language project called ‘@’, which aims to be… well… runtime only — very intriguing.

 

 

Thanks for doing the interview, Valentin!

 

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Medicaid Expansion May Close Racial Health Disparities, Care Gaps

Courtesy of Health Payer Intelligence

Attention North Carolina General Assembly

For the past few years, you have refused nearly free money to expand Medicaid. If you or your staff were to read this, thinking twice about that political stance could be enlightening.

New data from Yale Cancer Center suggests that Medicaid expansion may have closed racial health disparities, connecting more patients with timely care access across racial lines.

 

Source: Medicaid Expansion May Close Racial Health Disparities, Care Gaps