Sunday, 26 August 2012

What can I say?

I’ve reviewed software that allows you to talk to your computer before. In fact I talked about Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 9 in this blog back in January 2007. By then I’d gone from completely unimpressed to saying it’s worth a look. But I’ve just got my hands on Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 12 from Nuance and I am very impressed!

I had to do a little bit of training in order for the software to recognize my voice and create my own personal profile – and that went fairly smoothly. But what was most impressive was the fact that it actually wrote what I said! In the past, I’ve played a game with my children where I’d say a few sentences, then they’d read what the software thought I’d said, and we’d repeat the process until gales of laughter overtook us reading the strange interpretations of our speech appearing on screen. But now my children are grown up, and so is this software. I found the accuracy of the product very good. I didn’t need to separate each word as I spoke – in fact, it recommended that I spoke in phrases. And it pretty much wrote on screen what I was saying.

The hard part for me was the controlling commands because I was unfamiliar with them, and to begin with I found myself wanting to just get my hands on the keyboard and make the correction quickly myself. To be fair, the people at Nuance understand this user frustration and they have put the Dragon Sidebar onscreen the whole time the software is in use. That makes it very easy to see the commands I need to use – for example saying: “delete ‘whatever’”, or “go to end of line”. I found that I was quite quickly remembering the commands that I used regularly and not needing to look them up. In addition, the software comes up with suggestions for what you might have said if you’re correcting and you can easily choose one of those alternatives. You simply say “correct ‘whatever’”, and then say “choose one” (or two or three – whichever is the better alternative).

As well as using the software with Word, it’s very easy to use it with Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, and Twitter. You simply say: “post to Facebook” or “post to Twitter”. You can launch Word by saying: “Open Microsoft Word”. You can italicize, embolden, capitalize, insert lists, etc etc.

My version of the software came with a headset and microphone that I plugged into my laptop and which I used for most of this review. You can also download the Dragon Remote Microphone app for your phone. I used the Android version and there is a iPhone version. From the Profile menu, I selected “Add dictation source to current User Profile”. I selected “Dragon Remote Mic”. The laptop software then created a QR code that the software on my phone could scan. After that, I was connected. The only thing I needed to do was a little bit more voice recognition training. Once the training’s done, I can wander round my office talking to my phone and letting the words appear on my computer screen. As long as we’re on the same wifi network, it all works.

It’s very easy to tell the microphone to start listening and to stop – so that it doesn’t try to write down the whole of a telephone conversation that interrupts a session!

My conclusion this time is that the software is very easy to use and very accurate. It would make life very easy for someone who had problems using a keyboard and would not lead to the frustration experienced with much older voice recognition products. For able-bodied people, I think it makes a useful alternative input source, and the ability to walk around and talk – and then correct any errors later – makes it really useful for people, like me, who blog and write articles and often need to get a whole lot of ideas out of our heads onto paper (the screen) quickly.

Version 12 of Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking is definitely worth a 9 out of 10 score. And definitely worth seeing whether there’s a place for it in your organization or your home.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Why is everyone talking about Hadoop?

Hadoop is an Apache project, which means it’s open source software, and it’s written in Java. What it does is support data-intensive distributed applications. It comes from work Google were doing and allows applications to use thousands of independent computers and petabytes of data.

Yahoo has been a big contributor to the project. The Yahoo Search Webmap is a Hadoop application that is used in every Yahoo search. Facebook claims to have the largest Hadoop cluster in the world. Other users include Amazon, eBay, LinkedIn, and Twitter. But now, there’s talk of IBM taking more than a passing interest.

According to IBM: “Apache Hadoop has two main subprojects:
  • MapReduce – The framework that understands and assigns work to the nodes in a cluster.
  • HDFS – A file system that spans all the nodes in a Hadoop cluster for data storage. It links together the file systems on many local nodes to make them into one big file system. HDFS assumes nodes will fail, so it achieves reliability by replicating data across multiple nodes.”

It goes on to say: “Hadoop changes the economics and the dynamics of large-scale computing. Its impact can be boiled down to four salient characteristics. Hadoop enables a computing solution that is:
  • Scalable – New nodes can be added as needed, and added without needing to change data formats, how data is loaded, how jobs are written, or the applications on top.
  • Cost effective – Hadoop brings massively parallel computing to commodity servers. The result is a sizeable decrease in the cost per terabyte of storage, which in turn makes it affordable to model all your data.
  • Flexible – Hadoop is schema-less, and can absorb any type of data, structured or not, from any number of sources. Data from multiple sources can be joined and aggregated in arbitrary ways enabling deeper analyses than any one system can provide.
  • Fault tolerant – When you lose a node, the system redirects work to another location of the data and continues processing without missing a beat.”

According to Alan Radding writing in IBM Systems Magazine ( IBM “is taking a federated approach to the big data challenge by blending traditional data management technologies with what it sees as complementary new technologies, like Hadoop, that address speed and flexibility, and are ideal for data exploration, discovery and unstructured analysis.”

Hadoop could run on any mainframe already running Java or Linux. Radding lists tools to make life easier like:
  • SQOOP – imports data from relational databases into Hadoop.
  • Hive – enables data to be queried using an SQL-like language called HiveQL.
  • Apache Pig – a high-level platform for creating the MapReduce programs used with Hadoop.

There’s also ZooKeeper, which provides a centralized infrastructure and services that enable synchronization across a cluster.

Harry Battan, data serving manager for System z, suggests that 2,000 instances of Hadoop could run on Linux on the System z, which would make a fairly large Hadoop configuration.

Hadoop still needs to be certified for mainframe use, but sites with newer hybrid machines (z114 or z196) could have Hadoop today by putting it on their x86 blades, for which Hadoop is already certified, and it could then process data from DB2 on the mainframe. But you can see why customers might be looking to get it on their mainframes because it gives them a way to get more information out of the masses of data they already possess. And data analysis is often seen as the key to continuing business success for larger organizations.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


There was a time when getting out your BlackBerry was synonymous with being a cool young executive. You can remember people who had phones that beeped every time they received an e-mail, and they would act like they were the Fonz. But then a different fruit became king of the hill – Apple. You weren’t anyone without an iPhone. And now it’s probably Android for the really cool kids because you can control it – without needing to jail break it!

BlackBerry had a second wind. Lots of youngsters used BlackBerries because of the messaging facility. They could chat to their friends – using BBM – for free.

Research In Motion (RIM) – the company that makes BlackBerry phones – is based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In January this year, Thorsten Heins took charge as CEO. He must be wondering what he can do to re-invigorate the firm. But there’s more to RIM than just the BlackBerry phone. There’s meant to be a new BlackBerry 10 operating system coming out next year, but, perhaps more importantly, RIM has a BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) unit, which operates a network of secure servers used to support BlackBerry devices.

The rumour mill suggests that this is what IBM has its eye on. And this is the reason that RIM stock jumped up by 9 percent. Although, at this stage, it is only a rumour. Both companies are saying the usual thing about not commenting on rumours – instead of looking blankly at the questioner and going, “what!!”.

Were IBM to buy the whole of RIM, that would be a very bold decision. As I said, the BlackBerry 10 operating system doesn’t come out until early next year. It might be possible to licence the OS to third parties, or they could sell off RIM’s Network Operations Centre (NOC). The NOC transmits all BlackBerry data for both enterprise and consumers. If IBM were to keep the handset division, they would need to encourage developers to write apps for them. At the moment there are apps for iPhones, Android, and, when the new Surface tablet comes out with Windows 8, there’s likely to be a lot of development enthusiasm there. But I’m not sure there’s any real excitement to develop apps for the BlackBerry.

So, it’s more likely that IBM has its sights set on the enterprise services unit, which has pretty good security software that it uses to give IT departments control over corporate information. The encryption algorithms its uses make it very difficult for anyone to intercept e-mails or instant messages (BBM). This makes it very popular with people in banking and other financial services. According to RIM, there are 250,000 BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) servers installed worldwide.

However, if IBM doesn’t buy the NOC part of the business, they’ll need to come to some sort of working agreement with RIM (or whoever owns that part) over who has control over IBM’s customers’ traffic using it.

From a BlackBerry customer perspective, knowing IBM was looking after enterprise services would seem like a good thing. From IBM’s perspective, they would get access to a way of transmitting secure data from a platform that they don’t currently include in their portfolio – mobile computing. And IBM could add the software into (probably) WebSphere.

But whether IBM should do it or not depends on how much it’s going to cost them. RIM may well claim that they are making pots of money from the fees they charge mobile carriers for subscriber access to their network. They may say that the new operating system will see a resurgence of their popularity. If that were the case, then I would advise IBM to walk away now. If, on the other hand, IBM can get access to the security algorithms and the servers in use at financial institutions for a reasonable sum, then why not? Or if IBM thinks Oracle might be interested – then perhaps they should snap it up.

But, who knows? After all, it’s only a rumour!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Keeping it short

I was looking at my e-mail signature this week and thinking about what it needs to say. I then discovered that some of the hyperlinks in that signature were incredibly long – much longer than they needed to be. And I thought that perhaps other people might benefit from similarly shorter hyperlinks in their signatures.

So let’s have look at my old signature:

Trevor Eddolls CEO iTech-Ed Ltd
IBM Champion
P. 01249 443256 | M. 07901 505 609 | E-mail | Web site |
Blog | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Arcati Yearbook | Virtual IMS user group | Virtual CICS user group

The top line stays the same – it’s good to tell people who you are, your job title, and the name of the company in your signature!

I wanted to keep “IBM Champion” – I’ve been an IBM Champion since 2009.

And the phone numbers haven’t changed since 2004, although the devices I use have. I disconnected the fax a few years ago and finally threw it out last year!

It was that bottom list that caused the issues. My company has a (fan) page on Facebook, and that originally had a URL like Since then, we’ve set up a username for it, so the address I wanted to publish was – which is obviously so much shorter. If you haven’t got a short name for your business page, you enter on the address line of your browser. Provided you have more than 25 likes on your page, Facebook will tell you whether you can have a short name for the page and whether your choice is available. The rule is that you only get one chance – so make sure you choose a good, memorable, and appropriate name.

I also wanted to add my Google plus address. The URL for that is You can get a much shorter name by going to I got a short name from there. So, now, my Google plus address is

With LinkedIn, I managed to change the address for my personal profile from to, which makes more sense, but then requires a second click to get to the profile page. You can do much the same.

The Web site addresses I couldn’t really shorten without them losing a sense of where the link would end up. Just using bitly or tiny url wouldn’t have provided any sense of security to an e-mail recipient about where clicking on that link would actually end up.

What I decided to do with the look of my signature was to group social media on one line and other Web sites on a second line. This prevents that line of links sbeing too long itself!

The easiest way to actually create the signature in the first place is to use Word. You can write the text and format it. The clever bit is to take a word – like Facebook – and put in the link. You simply select the word, press ctrl and k at the same time, and put the information you want in the pop-up box (see below).

Select “Existing File or Web Page” from the “Link to:” column on the left side of the box. Across the bottom of the box, it asks for the Address. This is the URL you want your word to hyperlink to. There’s one other clever thing you can do here. Where it says ScreenTip…”, you can enters some information that you want to appear when a person mouses over that part of your signature. So, for example, you might put “Find us on Facebook”, or “Follow us on Twitter” if it had been a link to your Twitter account. Click “OK” to save your changes – obviously! You can do that with each part of your signature. The ScreenTip acts in much the same way as adding a title tag to your html link.

So, not much of a change superficially, but some of those links are now shorter. Which means that my new-look corporate signature looks like:

Trevor Eddolls CEO iTech-Ed Ltd
IBM Champion
P. 01249 443256 | M. 07901 505 609 | E-mail | Web site |
Blog | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | G+ |
Arcati Yearbook | Virtual IMS user group | Virtual CICS user group

You may not be too bothered about the appearance of my signature, but you might like to shorten some of the URLs hidden away in your signatures too.