Sunday, 15 December 2013

Death of the green screen

As classic mainframe subsystems, such as IMS and CICS, start planning what to do for their 50th birthdays, it comes as a bit of a surprise to not only find that so many green screens are still in use within organizations, but, perhaps even more surprisingly as I found at a recent technical conference, so many sysprogs were saying that they felt happier using green screens. For them, anything else was just a fancy add on. They liked working close to the bare metal (as it were). Well, I have some bad news for them. I predict the death of the green screen in 2014!

Ignoring the fact that many mainframe experts have a 5 or a 6 as the first digit in their age, ignoring the fact that they are completely familiar with the green screens they use, and they have been using them for the greater part of their working life. I believe that mainframe display screens will start to look modern – as though they were designed in 2014 and not 1964 – because that’s what most people will want.

Think about your life style for the moment. You expect to get online and do banking at any time – that’s using a mainframe. You expect to be able to book a flight whenever you want – that’s another mainframe. You simply expect to be able to work at any time that suits you on any device that’s to hand – a laptop, tablet, smartphone. And large organizations want to be able to continue enjoying the benefits of their mainframe. So let’s put those together.

For many people, they simply want to use their browser to ‘see’ what’s going on inside the mainframe. And that browser could be on any of a number of platforms. People just want it to work. It’s got to be platform agnostic, and it would be really be useful if the display took into account the screen size of the device being used to run the browser software.

One way to do that is for the mainframe application to use JSON to send information to an HTML server (also on the mainframe) that then sends out pages to the browser. Using, for example, knockout.js it’s possible to take JSON data and format it with sophisticated client-side interactivity. In other words, it makes it look very modern – and is very useful.

Another solution is to create mobile apps. Software AG has webMethods, which offers, they claim, secure, high-performance communication infrastructure that combines message-queueing capabilities with built-in support for synchronous request/reply and conversational communication. It provides wrapping technology and programming interfaces that can turn existing application functions into business services. Business logic and security functions can be applied to information before it is supplied to a mobile app and before information from the mobile app is applied to the target (core) database.

Software AG suggests that this approach is ideal for managing interactions for tightly-coupled, time-critical user applications. Their examples are a sales representative wanting to check a buyer’s credit or a consumer looking for an insurance quote for their car. Any activity that requires the mobile user to enter information that is sent back to the core application for processing and which then returns a result would benefit from this approach.

Of course, once you go down the app route, you need an app for Android, and app for Windows 8, and app for Blackberry, an app for Apple IOS, etc.

The other reason that I predict the death of green screens is the growth of younger developers who expect a graphical interface. They want programming to be a drag-and-drop activity. It shouldn’t be any harder to use a mainframe than it is to use a games console, or a tablet device, or anything else. It should be intuitive. The software should ‘nudge’ you towards doing whatever task you appear to be doing. That’s where skeuomorphism comes in – making on-screen icons look like real world devices, so using them is more intuitive. And the software should display results in a way that makes drilling down for more information quick and intuitive. And it may be that the software is designed for touch screens.

There’s a very old Star Trek film (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) where Scotty sits down in front of a current computer (it was 1986) and talks to it – nothing happens. Someone gives him the mouse to use, and Scotty speaks into the mouse! We’re used to Siri and other voice interfaces. Maybe soon things like Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking will be available for everyone to use. But, for the moment, I’m simply predicting coloured screens everywhere (and the green screens will be gone).

If you do celebrate Christmas – have a great one. And if you don’t, have a great time anyway!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

What’s all the fuss about Bitcoins?

Bitcoins have been hailed as everything between a new international currency and a bubble waiting to burst. You can earn these virtual coins and you can use them to buy real-life items such as cars. But where did they come from? How are they being used? Do you want them? Let’s see whether we can answer any of these questions.

Bitcoins originated in 2009 following a 2008 concept paper that was published on the Internet by a person or persons calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto. Nothing is really known about this person. Bitcoins address the issue of a third party needing to validate online payments. If I purchase an item from company X using my credit card, bank Y has to validate the security of the exchange and manage any conflicts or irregularities. With Bitcoins, security is entrusted to a global cloud of networked computers that use very sophisticated cryptography – so no third party is involved. This leads to another advantage of Bitcoins – that they are cheaper to transact because there is a much lower cost overhead.

So how do you get Bitcoins? Well, you ‘mine’ them. And that involves solving complex algorithms across an open source network. These algorithms are based on ‘proof of work’ – that means a computer will have to do a lot of work to actually solve the algorithm – it has a 64-digit solution. Tucked away on the Internet are ‘blocks’ that can be ‘mined’ (or in reality, solved) to release their ‘bounty’. Bitcoins come in different units from a Bitcoin itself (1BTC) down to milli-Bitcoins (0.00000001BTC). They are usually stored in a digital wallet, but they can be printed! The printed version comes in two parts – a QR code and a 51 alphanumeric digit private key that begins with a 5. A wallet is a collection of addresses and their associated private keys. It’s been estimated that there are about 3,600 new Bitcoins mined every day and there are currently about 12 million Bitcoins in existence.

How do you spend your Bitcoins? You find a vendor who sets the price for an item in Bitcoins. You would then send the price of the item in Bitcoins through an online wallet to the retailer’s Bitcoin address. (This is a 27-34 alphanumeric string of characters beginning with 1 or 3.) Since there is no registry of these addresses, people can use them to protect their anonymity when making transactions. The addresses are stored in Bitcoin wallets, which are used to manage savings. So, if the data is lost, so are the Bitcoins owned – and that’s what happened to one unlucky individual who threw away a hard drive containing his data a couple of weeks ago!

Recently China has banned its banks from handling transactions involving Bitcoins. Bitcoins were a “virtual good”, had no legal status, and should not be used as a currency, said the People's Bank of China (PBOC). It is also planning to step up its efforts to curb the use of Bitcoins to launder cash. It seems that individuals are still free to trade in Bitcoins, but should be aware of the risks involved, warned the PBOC, adding that it planned to formalize the regulation of exchanges that dealt in digital cash. It’s believed that some Chinese nationals were heavily involved in trading Bitcoins, because it helps them avoid controls on trade in the yuan.

There’s better news from Lamborghini, which has added itself to that list of companies accepting Bitcoins. A Tesla Model S starts from £49,900 in the UK, which is around 81 Bitcoins. So, on that calculation, a Bitcoin would be worth about US$1007 or UK£616. Other sources suggest that Bitcoins reached $1,240, but following the news from China dropped to around $870. Other things you can buy with Bitcoins range from T-shirts to apartments.

One issue for crime prevention and detection agencies is that Bitcoin exchanges are completely private. And so they are the ideal currency for buying drugs and hiring hit men and just about any other criminal activity. Apparently, the FBI has recently closed down a Web site called the Silk Road that was used for such criminal actions. And they seized tens of millions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoins. Using TOR (The Onion Relay) criminals were able to relay messages through at least three different servers – and make it very difficult to track a user’s identity.

Clearly bankers don’t like Bitcoins because they are completely out of their control. This has led various banks to condemn Bitcoins and prophesy that they are like a bubble and the bubble will burst – so anyone buying into Bitcoins will lose all their money. Law enforcement officers don’t like Bitcoins because it’s hard to track transactions and identify the bad guys. But for ordinary people across the globe it’s perhaps the same bet as keeping some notes under the mattress. Most currencies have experienced a run against them at some stage in their life. A Google search will show people asking to be paid in Bitcoins or doing all their Christmas shopping with Bitcoins. It’s a shame we know so little about Satoshi Nakamoto amd the originators of the currency. I imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more about Bitcoins in 2014.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Push technology

Since the beginning of the Web, what you see in your browser window depended on what you clicked on on or entered. It’s all been end-user driven – although the choices of what they can click on are predefined by the Web site designer. This is what they call ‘pull’ technology because the information on the screen is pulled from a Web server. But there are times when it would be useful to have push technology – particularly to mobile phones.

Push technology could keep you informed about the latest football scores and results. It could give you the latest news from international sport events. It could give you stock prices, and highlight rising or plummeting shares. It could tell you when a Web site you follow is updated. There are lots of potential reasons for organizations to want to use push technology.

You may have thought that AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) made the Web seem a bit more responsive – but it was still client initiated. Another technique that’s sometimes used is called ‘long-polling’. A client requests information from the server, but if the server does not have anything to send when the poll is received, it holds the request open and waits for response information to become available (instead of sending an empty response). The server then sends an HTTP/S response. Of course, each HTTP request means that headers and cookie data are transferred to the server. If large amount of data are sent, this can lead to increased latency.

Another technique is called streaming, which uses a persistent HTTP connection between the server and client. The browser remains in ‘loading’ mode after the initial page load. Then, from time-to-time, the server sends small bits of JavaScript to update the page. There can be problems with browsers timing out with this technique.

What if it were possible to have a full-duplex communication channel that operates through a single socket over the Web? That’s where HTML5 WebSockets comes in – it makes it possible to have real-time, full-duplex, bidirectional, event-driven Web applications.

How it works is that during their initial handshake, the client and server upgrade from the standard HTTP protocol to the WebSockets protocol. Once established, WebSocket data frames (text and binary frames) can be sent in both directions between the client and the server in full-duplex mode. The data has a two-byte frame. Text frames start with a 0x00 byte, end with a 0xFF byte, and contain UTF-8 data in between. They also use a terminator. Binary frames use a length prefix. There is no polling involved.

Enthusiasts say that WebSockets can make your applications run faster, be more efficient, and more scalable. WebSockets started life as a feature of the HTML5 spec known as TCPConnection. Currently, WebSockets are specified in two places: the Web Sockets API is maintained by HTML5 editor Ian Hickson, while the Web Socket protocol is edited by Ian Fette.

So, if it’s so great, why isn’t it everywhere, why don’t we come across it being used all over the place? Well, it works with Firefox; it works with Chrome; it works with Safari and Opera; and it works with Internet Explorer 10 and above. And that’s pretty much the hold up. Many organizations are still running older version of Explorer – Version 8 in many cases. And figures suggest that just under a quarter of users use Internet Explorer (, so why would any company cut itself off from a quarter of its potential clients?

The very fact that there have been workarounds, shows that there is a business need for push technology. WebSockets provides a solution to the problem of how to implement push technology. The fly-in-ointment at the moment is that a popular browser (from a well-known manufacturer of games consoles) doesn’t support it. As more-and-more companies upgrade to IE10 and above, the likelihood is that we will see much more push technology in use, and WebSockets will be the way to implement it.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Vivat mainframe

“Vivat Rex” is what the populace was meant to shout when a new king of England was crowned. It means “long live the king”. I think that we’ve been able to shout, “long live the mainframe” for a long time now, and recent announcements mean that we can continue to do so.

Mainframes, and I don’t need to tell you this, have been around for a long time now and have faced and overcome all the technical and business challenges that have been thrown at them in that time. And older mainframers can seem somewhat jaundiced when their younger colleagues get over-enthusiastic about some new technology.

We’ve looked at client-server technology and thought how similar it is to dumb terminals logging onto a mainframe. We’ve looked at cloud computing and thought how similar that is to terminals connecting to a mainframe in a different part of the world. But there’s much more to the mainframe than a simple ‘seen it, done it’ attitude. The mainframe is also able to absorb new technologies and make them its own.

We’ve looked recently at Hadoop – there are distributions from Hortonworks, Cloudera, Apache, and IBM (and many others). But you can run Big Data on your mainframe, and a number of mainframe software vendors have recently produced software that connects to Big Data from z/OS. It’s becoming integrated. So long live the mainframe with Big Data.

We’ve also, in this blog, looked at ways that BYOD – personal devices – can be used to access mainframe data, usually through browsers. And many of IBM’s younger presenters at GSE recently were talking about more Windows-like interfaces to mainframe information. Think of it – it’s like 1970 all over again – mainframes in the hands of 20-year-olds! So long live the mainframe with youthful staff and modern-looking interfaces.

We know there are other computing platforms out there, and IBM over the past few years has produced hybrid hardware that contains a mainframe and blades for running these other platforms. This summer’s zBC12 (Business Class) followed last year’s announcement of the zEC12 (Enterprise Class). And 2011 saw the z114, and 2010 gave us the z196. So long live the mainframe and its ability to embrace other platforms. (And I haven’t even mentioned how successfully you can run Linux on a mainframe.)

And thinking about mainframes embracing other technologies, CA has just announced the general availability of technology designed, they say, to help customers drive down the cost of storing data processed on IBM System z by backing up the data and archiving it to the cloud.

What that means is by using CA Cloud Storage for System z and the Riverbed Whitewater appliance, customers can back up System z storage data to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), a storage infrastructure designed for mission-critical and primary data storage, or to Amazon Glacier, an extremely low-cost storage service for which retrieval times of several hours are suitable. Both services are highly secure and scalable and designed to be durable. In addition, disaster recovery readiness is improved and AWS cloud storage is accessed without changing the existing back-up infrastructure.
So, yet again, we can say, long live the mainframe for the way it’s embracing cloud computing.

As a side note: Amazon has Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR), which uses Hadoop to provide Web services.

IBM has taken over StoredIQ, Star Analytics, and The Now Factory for Big Data Analytics or Business Analytics. And it took over SoftLayer Technologies for its cloud computing infrastructure. It’s making sure it has its hands on the tools and the people who are developing these newer technologies.

My conclusion is that there are new problems that need to be solved. And there are new technologies available to solve them. But so often those exciting new things are very similar to things that we mainframers have dealt with before. And where they seem different, mainframe environments are able to work with them and bring them into the fold.

There’s really no danger that mainframes are going away anytime soon. So, we’re very safe in saying, “vivat mainframe”.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

IOD - what you missed!

Well, that’s it – the exhibition stands have been taken down, the speakers have flown out, the attendees are all back home with their families, and the organizers have packed away their banners. #IBMIOD has come to an end for another year – but what an event it was!

Those people lucky enough to attend were able to find out the latest thinking from IBM and partners in terms of DB2, IMS, Big Data and Analytics, Tools and Utilities for DB2 and IMS, and Cross Platform sessions. In addition, there were client-led session, hands-on labs and workshops, expert panel sessions, and birds of a feather sessions. And there were even more relaxing sessions, such as the “Rock the Mainframe” System z reception.

This year’s theme for the event that ran from Sunday 3 November to Thursday 7 November was “Think Big. Deliver Big. WIN BIG” – and that was reflected in a number of the announcements from IBM that were made during the conference. Looking for correlations or anomalies in your Big Data – then you need IBM SmartCloud Analytics Predictive Insights. Looking to find the optimum place to put your data – in terms of speed versus cost – then you need IBM SmartCloud Virtual Storage Center. Want the fastest Hadoop appliance around – then it’s the IBM PureData System for Hadoop that you need. Need to anonymize or mask data from various sources – try InfoSphere Data Privacy for Hadoop. Like to see what’s going on with your big data sets – then look out for InfoSphere Governance Dashboard.

8:15 Wednesday morning in “The Next Generation of Innovation” session, delegates were treated to tennis star Serena Williams as a featured speaker. There were also some very interesting keynote sessions with IBM executives sharing their thinking about Business Analytics, Enterprise Content Management, Information Management, and Business Leadership. Plenty of food for thought there for delegates to take back to their organizations.

The EXPO was a great place to visit to talk to all sorts of vendors and get a feel for what they thought was important and how their products and services might make a difference at individual sites. With so many vendors attending, it was the ideal place to really compare and contrast what was on offer.

And, of course, if you weren’t able to make the conference, there was Livestream, which broadcast some of the sessions, such as Monday’s opening general session, Win Big in the New Era of Computing. And there were a host of other sessions over the four days. Similarly, the Video Library allowed people to watch replays from general sessions, keynotes, selected elective sessions and sponsor interviews directly from the Livestream library. There was also an online photo gallery allowing non-attendees and attendees to see “the action each day”.

Let’s not forget the buzz about the conference in the Twittersphere. In a week that saw shares in Twitter not only go on sale but pretty much double in price, it was interesting to see how people were using Twitter to tell others what they were enjoying at the conference. And the IOD Web site kept everyone up-to-date with the #IBMIOD tweets.

So with tired delegates, speakers, vendors, and organizers having made their way home, and those people who followed events at Madalay Bay, Las Vegas from a distance, they can all be confident that Information On Demand 2013 was a hugely useful event to have attended in person or virtually. And the organizers are going to have to work amazingly hard to top this event next year.

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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Guide Share Europe 2013

The Guide Share Europe Conference at Whittlebury Manor was as excellent this year as in previous years. I was only able to make Day 1 on 5 November, but I had a great day. Apart from the 5 star presentations, it’s always fun to catch up with old friends and people I’ve spoken to at webinars, but never actually seen. Plus there’s an opportunity to catch up with a number of vendors and find out what’s happening with them and business in general.

The day started with a couple of keynotes from Tesco’s Tomas Kadlec talking about Technology the retailers battlefield – zSeries reports for duty!”, and the University of Bedfordshire’s Dr Herbert Daly talking about “Re-framing the mainframe: new generations and regenerations on System z”.

I chair the Virtual IMS user group and the Virtual CICS user group, so my time is always split between the CICS and IMS sessions. This year, I started with IBM’s Kyle Milner’s “z/OS Explorer and CICS Explorer (5.1.1)”. Kyle started by saying that z/OS Explorer is really called IBM Explorer for z/OS, and V2.1 is separate from CICS Explorer, which integrates with it. Z/OS Explorer is a desktop tool that integrates with MQ Explore, Data Studio, Rational tools (RTC), Rational Developer for z (RDz), IMS Enterprise Suite Explorer, and other tools. It allows users to view, delete, and create files on z/OS and Linux; work on SPOOL files; and much more. It’s installed using Installation Manager in a process that’s much like getting apps from the apps store. CICS Explorer lets users create new program definitions, clone resources, and other life-cycle operations. It’s built on the Eclipse framework V4.2.2.

IBM’s Greg Vance spoke about “GDPS Active-Active and IMS replication”. He described how recovery involved two concepts: the Recovery Point Objective and the Recovery Time Objective. He looked at how recovery had evolved to the point where people wanted almost immediate recovery with almost no lost data. Active-Active replication involves stopping sending transactions to one database, waiting for the last transaction to replicate across, and then sending transactions to the second database. The transactions caught before the switch over just appear a bit slow to the user. For this to work with IMS, you need InfoSphere Data Replication for IMS for z/OS V1.11. Because it uses asynchronous replication, there are no restrictions on the distance between databases. There’s low latency because of the use of parallelism. And there’s transaction consistency.

Back at the CICS stream, I saw IBM’s David Harris talk about “Eliminating the batch window with modern batch”. David starting by explaining that batch jobs often had to run when online services were down because they needed exclusive access to resources. However, there are many drivers to keep the online system available the whole time leaving little or no time for traditional batch applications to run. The solution he proposed involved running batch at the same time as the online system – and this batch system relied on Java. It comes with a big plus in that it can run in a zAAP coprocessor. Using the Batch Data Stream Framework (BDSF), it allows checkpointing, and business objects can be re-used. The batch container is a long-running CICS job, and WebSphere Application Server (WAS) is used to schedule the jobs into CICS.

Informatica’s John Boyle spoke about “IMS test data management”. He explained that we needed only a subset of data to work on in testing, and we need to hide sensitive data – particularly in light of data privacy legislation and to reduce the risk of sensitive data loss. John also stressed the need for the test data to be kept current and internally consistent. Data masking is the technique that hides personal data and it must be consistent across the data. Test software must allow policies to be applied and maintain referential integrity. It first has to establish what to mask and how to mask.

IBM’s Paul Fletcher spoke about “IMS 13 Native SQL for COBOL”. A pre-req for this COBOL V5.1, which has only just been released. COBOL programs supply SQL keywords and support static and dynamic SQL. At the moment, IMS supports only dynamic SQL. Users need to declare tables, define an SQL Communication Area (SQLCA), which is like a PCB, possibly define an SQL Descriptor Area (SQLDA), declare data items for passing data between IMS and host languages, code SQL statements to access IMS, check the SQLCA to verify the execution of the SQL statements, and handle any SQL error codes. Paul told the group that there are three types of dynamic SQL. Firstly, where the whole SQL is known when the program is written. Secondly, where the SQL is known but the value can vary. And, thirdly, where none of the SQL is known – it’s read from a file. Users need to fully qualify all tables and columns; use a WHERE clause for key fields; and use PREPARE.

The exhibition hall was packed and lively, giving people a chance to find out about various products and services. An excellent day of learning and networking was rounded off by fireworks and a barbecue dinner. I’m sorry I couldn’t make the second day. If you didn’t make GSE this year, I recommend that you go next year.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

When worlds collide

We know that mainframes are rock solid workhorses that ensure the banks and insurance companies and airlines and pretty much every other large organization get their work done correctly and swiftly. And we know that access to mainframes has been extended outside the world of green screens to anyone on a browser with proper authorization. And we also know that there’s little distinction between the world of cloud computing and distributed mainframe computing. But the latest big thing is Big Data – and that seems like a different world.

Big Data is used to refer to huge amounts (exabytes) of data, often unstructured, that can originate from a variety of sources – such as cameras, weather satellites, credit card machines, barcode readers, the Internet of Things, anything! This Big Data usually sits on Linux or Windows boxes and some of the early developers were Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The data is stored in HBase, a non-relational, distributed database, written in Java. And the file system is what’s called a Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). At runtime, a process maps the data and reduces it – that’s called MapReduce.

So how do these two worlds come together? For a start a lot of the things you need for Big Data are Open Source and come from the Apache Foundation. IBM is a member of the foundation and has a number of products that extend Big Data’s functionality. IBM provides InfoSphere BigInsights, Data Stage, Streams, and Guardium. There’s Big SQL with Big Insights V2.1, and the spreadsheet-like Big Sheets.

If you want to run Big Data – Hadoop – on your mainframe, you’ll need to do it in a Linux partition (Linux on System z). But IBM isn’t the only mainframe software vendor that’s getting in on the act. We’ve recently heard from BMC, Syncsort, Compuware, and Informatica about their products.

BMC has extended its Control-M automated mainframe job scheduler with Control-M for Hadoop. The product enables the creation and management of Hadoop workflows in an automated environment and is aimed at Hadoop application developers and enterprise IT administrators who are using Hadoop as part of their production workload.

Syncsort has Hadoop Connectivity, which prevents Hadoop becoming another silo within an enterprise. The product makes it easy to get data in and out of Hadoop. The product provides: native connectivity to all major data sources and targets; native mainframe connectivity and support for EBCDIC/ASCII, VSAM, Packed decimal, Comp-3, and more; heterogeneous database access on Hadoop; direct I/O access for faster data transfers; and high-performance compression.

Compuware has extended its Application Performance Management (APM) software with Compuware APM for Big Data. This, they claim, allows organizations to tame Big Data applications to eliminate inefficiencies and rapidly identify and resolve problems. Using PurePath Technology, it provides visibility into Hadoop and NoSQL applications. Organizations, they say, use Compuware APM for Big Data to reduce costs, analyse issues, and ensure optimal efficiency from their Big Data investments.

Informatica PowerExchange for Hadoop provides native high-performance connectivity to the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). It enables organizations to take advantage of Hadoop’s storage and processing power using their existing IT infrastructure and resources. PowerExchange for Hadoop can bring any and all enterprise data into Hadoop for data integration and processing. Fully integrated with Informatica PowerCenter, it moves data into and out of Hadoop in batch or real time using universal connectivity to all data, including mainframe, databases, and applications, both on-premises and in the cloud. Informatica PowerCenter Big Data Edition is, they claim, highly scalable, high-performance enterprise data integration software that works with both Hadoop and traditional data management infrastructures.

Clearly, these two different worlds have more than collided – we are beginning to see the integration of these previously quite separate worlds with software from a number of vendors helping users with the integration process. And as users, we get the best of both worlds!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Speakwrite technology today

The novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was written in 1948 by a then very ill George Orwell. The novel has given us “Big Brother”, “Room 101”, “thoughtcrime”, and other frequently quoted names and ideas. One that hasn’t caught on is the speakwrite machine that Winston Smith and others use to enter text rather than typing. Although software that understands human speech is available, there seems a reluctance to use it. Nuance, the people who produce Dragon NaturallySpeaking, have recently addressed some of these ‘myths’.

The first myth they address is people saying: “I don’t like talking to myself”. Their response is to suggest that when voicemail was introduced, people used to comment that they disliked using the system. This was reflected in the brief messages they left. As they got more familiar with voicemail and more relaxed using it, they accepted it as a useful and natural extension to the phone service. This pattern of acceptance was also reflected with the emergence of mobile phones. In the early days, when used in a public or confined space like a train, the mobile user often spoke quietly and terminated the call promptly. Today, with the ubiquity of the mobile phone, users are more relaxed, and often chat at length – sometimes using a Bluetooth headset – with their conversation forming a natural part of our environment and surroundings. Similarly, with desktop speech, you’re not talking to yourself; you’re writing a report, story, invoice, or inventory list, booking a table, dictating a memo or a text. In short, you’re getting on with your daily life using the most natural interface available – your voice!

The second myth they address is: “Speech recognition doesn’t work with my accent”. They answer that by saying that regions are often distinguished by their local accents as much as by their geography. To allow for that, speech recognition is engineered to understand speech even delivered with a heavy regional accent. Desktop speech recognition offers users the option to select the accent type that most accurately matches their own to ensure consistent transcription accuracy when a user is speaking fluidly. Speech solutions from Nuance recognise and understand regional accents and its applications can be optimised for a particular region to improve their accuracy. It programmes its solutions to identify multiple pronunciations of certain words to improve understanding – for example, the Irish accent sometimes pronounces the word “three” as “tree”. Nuance currently recognises 52 different pronunciations of the word “Heathrow” for British Airways to cater for those whose first language isn’t English. Nuance also takes into account that languages and the meanings of words develop over time – while the word “cool” refers to a temperature, it is also a synonym for “yes” – the solutions need to be updated to accommodate the changes. This means the power of desktop speech recognition can be enjoyed across the country, both now and in the future.

Their third myth is from people saying: “I don’t feel comfortable with a headset on”. Nuance suggests that no-one likes to feel like they’re trapped at their desk, whether at home or work. Aesthetically, some people associate cables with clutter, a blight in an otherwise tidy environment. That’s why Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate for Mac are available with a wireless headset. This helps users unleash their creativity because they can wander around the office, home, or garden and lose no time capturing the creative thoughts that have been encouraged by their mobility. Not being tethered to the PC also means that anyone who suffers discomfort from sitting too long, can stand or move around and exercise without interrupting what they were doing, or losing their chain of thought or ideas. To extend this convenience and flexibility further still, they even provide the option to use your iPhone or Android-based phone as an input device to Dragon.

The fourth myth is one about taking too long to correct. Nuance proudly tells us that Dragon has accuracy rates of up to 99%, which many first time users achieve close to after a brief training process. The longer you use Dragon, the more accurate it becomes, by learning how you speak and optimising its recognition to match your pronunciation. Therefore, you won’t be correcting as many errors compared to when typing. Simple commands like ‘scratch that’ or ‘forget that’, or correct a specified text, makes editing quick and easy for the few times you’ll need it. Furthermore, Dragon will also read a document out loud, to help you further ensure it reads just as you intended.

And the final myth they try to dispel is from people who say: “I tried it a long time ago and I don’t think I need it today”. Nuance responds to this by suggesting that how we live and work has changed, so there’s a greater need for the speed and convenience delivered by speech recognition. Whether multitasking at work or at home, we’re all trying to cram in more of the things we need to do. Dragon frees you up to do these and the things you want to do. It gives students more time to study and research because it takes away the erroneous task of writing lengthy pieces of study or coursework. Busy parents can create essential to-do or shopping lists quickly, leaving them with more family time. For senior users, it opens up a door to all the information, entertainment, and communication capabilities of the Internet-connected PC, without reliance on the keyboard. In the modern competitive workplace, where speed and information exchange are essential, it gives users a powerful way to stay ahead!

I’m not suggesting that you rush out and buy Nuance products for one moment – but we’re getting used to automated telephone systems that recognize what we’re saying, so it might be interesting to revisit using voice to input data to a computer, whether that’s just jotting down some notes as you think of them or writing a full-blown report.

Maybe George Orwell’s speakwrite machine will become more of a reality in 2014.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Looking forward to IOD 2013

This year’s Information On Demand conference takes place on November 3-7 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Last year they said “Think Big”. This year it’s “Think Big. Win Big” – with the obvious theme of how Big Data and Analytics is changing the world.

This year, you can build yourself an agenda online by choosing from Business Analytics, Business Leadership, Business partner Summit, Conference General Sessions, Expo Theater, Enterprise Content Management, and Information Management. Let’s suppose you chose Information Management, then you could choose from Data Warehousing and Analytics, Database Servers and Tools, Emerging Big Data Technologies, Information Integration and Governance, and Information Solution Architecture. And just suppose you picked Information Integration and Governance, you could then pick from Data Integration and Quality, Data Lifecycle Management, Data Quality Management, Data Security and Privacy, Information Governance, and Master Data Management. Once you click on the search button, a number of sessions meeting your criteria are displayed.

In fact, you can also find a session by searching by Topic, by Level (Advanced, Intermediate, and Introductory), by Audience, by Keyword, by Activity Type, or by Date/Time. There are also roadmaps. A roadmap is a series of sessions focused on a particular area or topic of interest. There are Roadmap links in the Session Preview Tool so you can see a list of available roadmaps. By clicking on a roadmap, you can see a list of recommended sessions. There are three types of roadmap – Topic roadmaps, Role roadmaps, and Product roadmaps. This makes it easy to maximize the information you can get from your time at IOD.

There are a number of forums to help attendees to get the most important information they need for their business. This year’s forums are Business Analytics, Enterprise Content Management, Information Management, and Business Leadership. My own choice would most likely take me to the Information Management forum, which contains Emerging Big Data Technologies, Database Servers and Tools, Data Warehousing and Analytics, Information Integration and Governance, and Information Solution Architecture. I guess we’re all interested in Big Data at the moment and how we can maximize the benefits of using it with the business-as-usual work of the mainframe. The Database Servers and Tools session includes offerings such as DB2 with BLU Acceleration, DB2 11 for z/OS, IMS 13, DB2 Analytics Accelerator 4, Informix 12.1 and more. I chair the Virtual IMS user group, so this is close to home for me.

Each day (Monday to Wednesday) starts with a general session hosted by Jake Porway. There are keynote speakers for the four forum groups. An Expo (which opens on the Sunday night) boasting the IBM Subscription and Support Hub, Client Reference Lounges for Business Analytics and Information Management, ECM Client Connections Lounge, Demo Rooms and Lounges, Presentation Theaters, a Take 5 Lounge, and a Business Partner Café. There are over 350 organizations exhibiting, and each day there are drop-in labs, hands-on labs, elective sessions, and birds of a feather lunches

And don’t forget the IODHub ( Here you can get the latest updates by forum, tune into the IOD buzz around the Web, and find links to online resources. There are also links to blogs, videos, and RSS feeds.

There’s even an infographic from Tara Dunn, Social Business Manager, showing the top five reasons to attend IOD 2013. You can find that at

All-in-all, I’m definitely looking forward to Information On Demand 2013.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Guide Share Europe annual conference 2013

The Guide Share Europe (GSE) UK Annual Conference is taking place on 5-6 November at its regular home in Whittlebury Hall, Whittlebury, Near Towcester, Northamptonshire NN12 8QH, UK.

Sponsors this year include IBM, Computacenter, EMC2, Attachmate Suse, PKWARE, Blenheim Software International Ltd, BMC Software, CA Technologies, Compuware, IntelliMagic, Optica, Oracle, RSM Partners, and Sett. And there will be over 30 vendors in the associated exhibition.

There’s the usual amazing range of streams – and, to be honest, there are a number of occasions when I would like to be in two or more places at once over the two days. The streams are: CICS, IMS, DB2, Enterprise Security, Large Systems Working Group, Network Management Working Group, zLinux, Storage Management, TWS (Tivoli Workload Automation), Automation & Monitoring, New Technologies, 101, Application Development, MQ, Workshop: IBM z/OS Explorer, UKCMG, and Workshop: Linux Installation.

There are also keynotes from Tesco’s Tomas Kadlec talking about “Technology the retailers battlefield - z series reports for duty!”, Dr Herbert Daly (Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Bedfordshire) talking about “Re-framing the Mainframe: New Generations and Regenerations on System z”, and Trident Service’s Bob Rogers talking about “A Perspective on System z Capacity Delivery - Past and Future”.

At this year’s conference there will be well over 160 hours of education covering most aspects of mainframe technology – more than last year. This year, there will be 17 streams, many with 11 sessions, plus three keynotes.

There is still time to register, and the organizers are expecting the daily total of delegates to exceed 300 – as it did last year.

The popular 101 sessions give newcomers and those unfamiliar with parts of the mainframe infrastructure a basic understanding of that mainframe technology and how it works.

You can find out more details about the conference at

If you’re still debating whether to go, let me recommend it to you. The quality of presentations is always excellent. And the networking opportunities are brilliant. If you are going, I look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2014

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook has been the de facto reference work for IT professionals working with z/OS (and its forerunner) systems since 2005. The Yearbook includes an annual user survey, an up-to-date directory of vendors and consultants, a media guide, a strategy section with papers on mainframe trends and directions, a glossary of terminology, and a technical specification section. Each year, the Yearbook is downloaded by around 20,000 mainframe professionals. The current issue is still available at

Very shortly, many mainframe professionals will receive an e-mail telling them that Mark Lillycrop and I have started work on the 2014 edition of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. If you don’t hear from us, then e-mail and I will add you to our mailing list.

As in previous years, we’re inviting mainframe professionals to complete the annual user survey, which will shortly be up and running at The more users who complete the survey, the more accurate and therefore useful the survey report will be. All respondents before Friday 6 December will receive a free PDF copy of the survey results on publication. The identity and company information of all respondents is treated in confidence and will never be divulged to third parties. And any comments made by respondents will be anonymized before publication. If you go to user group meetings, IOD, GSE Europe, etc, or just hang out with mainframers from other sites, please pass on the word about this survey. We’re hoping that this year’s user survey will be the most comprehensive survey ever. Current estimates suggest that there are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 mainframes in use worldwide.

Anyone reading this who works for a vendor, consultant, or service provider, can ensure their company gets a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form, which will be at This form can also be used to amend last year’s entry.

Also, as in previous years, there is an opportunity for organizations to sponsor the Yearbook or take out a half-page advertisement. Half-page adverts (5.5in x 8.5in max landscape) cost $810 (UK£500). Sponsors get a full-page advert (11in x 8.5in) in the Yearbook; inclusion of a corporate paper in the Mainframe Strategy section of the Yearbook; a logo/link on the Yearbook download page on the Arcati Web site; and a brief text ad in the Yearbook publicity e-mails sent to users. All this for just $2300 (UK£1400).

To put that cost into perspective: for every dollar you spend on an advert, you reach around 25 mainframe professionals.

The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2014 will be freely available for download early in January next year.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

BMC Software’s mainframe user survey

BMC Software, which recently lost a $13 million tax dispute with the US Internal Revenue Service, and which has recently ended its privatization process, has just published the results of its mainframe user survey.

On 25 September, BMC Software released the findings of its 8th Annual Worldwide Survey of Mainframe Users, which revealed that even though Cloud technology is on the march, a majority of companies are planted firmly on the ground with the mainframe.

The survey of nearly 1,300 mainframe users found that that mainframe technology will continue to play a critical role in delivering crucial computing power and take on an increasingly important role in today’s enterprise IT environments. So, that’s got to be good news and the kind of thing that mainframe users like to hear.

Other highlights were:
  • 93 percent of respondents consider the mainframe to be a long-term business solution, although just half of all respondents thought it will attract new workloads.
  • 85 percent said that keeping IT costs down is their top priority, which is an increase from 69 percent in 2012.
  • 76 percent of large shops expect MIPS capacity to grow as they modernize and add applications to address business needs. BMC suggests that this highlights the need for software that exploits specialty engines. I wonder whether they had any products in mind!
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, 75 percent of respondents are concerned about the shortage of skilled mainframe staff. Again, BMC concludes that this makes the need for automated, self-learning software greater than ever. If only there were products out there that could do that!
  • 46 percent of mainframe budgets are spent on software.
  • 66 percent of respondents said availability is a top priority, but 40 percent reported unplanned outage.
  • 66 percent said that mainframe will be incorporated into their Big Data or Cloud strategies.

Jonathan Adams, general manager of data management at BMC Software said: “The unprecedented pace of technology evolution and the consumerization trend only solidify the need for a platform with superior availability, security, and performance capabilities.”
The full results of BMC Software’s Mainframe Survey can be found at:

Just for completeness, the private investor group is collectively known as the Investor Group, and is led by Bain Capital and Golden Gate Capital together with Insight Venture Partners, GIC Special Investments, and Elliott Management.

And that US Tax Court decision stems from 2004’s corporate income tax repatriation holiday. The Court said BMC owes taxes on a portion of its foreign profits brought into the United States under the 2004 tax break, which allowed multinational US companies to bring foreign profits into the US at a 5.25 percent tax rate, rather than the then current 35 percent rate.

Going back to surveys – if you want to have your say about what’s happening on your mainframe, I have some good news. The Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2014 will be inviting mainframe users to complete its survey towards the end of October.

For vendors, as usual, there will be opportunities to advertise or sponsor the Yearbook. More information will be coming soon.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Tips on giving a presentation - part 2

Last time we were looking at why some presentations and speeches can leave you feeling sad or proud or ready to right some injustice, and other speeches just leave you cold – we were looking at what the Greeks called rhetoric. We looked at those musketeers: logos, pathos, and ethos. And we looked at the components of a successful speech: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. And we even looked at the six parts of arrangement: introduction, narrative, partition, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion.

This time I want to look more at ‘figures of speech’, the ‘tropes’ and ‘schemes’. I want to examine the verbal tricks you can use to have an audience eating out of your hand (or to watch out for if you think someone is using these dark arts against you). It’s amazing that they all have names! Here are a few examples to begin with:

Anthimeria – using a different part of speech to act as another, such as a verb for a noun, or a noun for a verb, or an adjective as a verb, etc, eg “I should cocoa”.

Aporia – talking about not being able to talk about something, eg “I can't tell you how often writers use aporia”.
Aposiopesis – breaking off as if unable to continue, eg “it was so awful, I can’t go on”.
Apostrophe (not the punctuation mark) – this is addressing someone or something that is not physically present, eg “Einstein, you’d be proud of my discovery”.
Catachresis – a completely impossible figure of speech, eg “Nick will have kittens when he sees this”.
Erotema – asking a rhetorical question to the reader, eg “Why should you read this?”.
Hyperbole – over exaggeration, eg “I’ve told you a million times”.
Meiosis – understatement (the opposite of exaggeration), eg “I was a tad concerned when I saw the psychopath advancing with a chainsaw”. Litotes (my favourite) – a type of meiosis which uses a statement in the negative to create the effect, eg “Newton wasn’t bad at physics”,
Metaphor –saying one thing is another thing, eg “my daughter’s room is a disaster area”.
Metonymy – using a physical object to embody a more general idea, eg “the PEN is mightier than the SWORD”.
Onomatapoeia – words that sound like the thing they represent, eg “buzzing of innumerable bees”.
Oxymoron – using a contradiction in a manner that oddly makes sense, eg military intelligence.
Personification – giving human qualities to inanimate objects, eg “the brown lawn begged for water”. It’s used a lot in poetry. For real geeks, look out for prosopopoeia. This is a form of personification in which inanimate objects speak! Ecologists might describe things from the point of view of the Amazon rain forest.
Puns – a pun twists the meaning of words, eg “the violinist was as fit as a fiddle”.
Simile – saying something is like something else, eg “her skin was as cold as ice”.
Synaesthesia – this is mixing one type of sensory input with another in an impossible way, such as how a colour sounds, or how a smell looks.
Synecdoche – using a part of a physical object to represent the whole object, eg “have you seen his new wheels”, meaning his new car.
Zeugma – one verb with different objects, eg “I blew my nose and the fuse”.

There’s full list of these (schemes and tropes) on Wikipedia at

You may like to know, in passing, that all these figures of speech can be grouped into four fundamental operations or categories of change, and they are: addition, omission, transposition, and permutation. 

So, if you have to give a talk or a presentation, or you want to persuade just one person, this is the stuff for you. It’s what media gurus teach their clients – business people and TV execs and politicians. Now you know about it, keep your eyes peeled for it in speeches and adverts and when you buy a second-hand car. But make sure you use it when you give a presentation.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Tips on giving a presentation

Ever wondered why some speeches can leaving you feeling sad or proud or ready to right some injustice, and other speeches just leave you cold – you either give up listening or start to hate the speaker? What’s going on?

Well, the answer is verbal trickery – or, to give it its Greek name, rhetoric. Since the time of the Greeks, people have spent ages studying why some talks persuade you to take action and some leave you completely indifferent. They have even named these tricks – and there are lots of them – and some of those names we use every day without thinking about it (like paraphrase and parenthesis, like analogy and anecdote, like hyperbole and innuendo).

We talk about ‘figures of speech’, and, although we don’t say ‘tropes’, which is Greek for ‘turn’, we do say ‘turn of phrase’ and ‘twists in the plot’. The third member of this family of tricksters is called schemes. It’s not a forgotten art, it’s something that we all do quite naturally – almost without noticing it. But if you’re hoping to persuade someone, or a group of people, of something, it’s worth using some of these techniques. Or, if you’re listening to a political speech or an advert or someone else’s presentation, you might want to spot the techniques they are using to cynically manipulate us.

Rhetoric has nothing (necessarily) to do with the truth. There’s nothing for Mr Spock in rhetoric. It’s all about how the speaker can make us feel – it’s an emotional response. If you can get the rhetoric right, you can make a crowd of people (I nearly said mob) feel that any action is the ‘right’ one to take. Powerful stuff eh?

Let’s take an historical perspective for a moment. Medieval universities taught three subjects (called the trivium), and they were grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This study prepared students for the quadrivium – geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. No media studies in those days. And it was Aristotle who identified three ways of appealing to an audience, which he called logos, pathos, and ethos (and which everyone thinks must be the names of the three musketeers!). You’ll notice, yet again, that the word ‘truth’ doesn’t appear in the list.

Ethos is where you show the audience how qualified you are to give your opinion on the matter. Think of Troy McClure in the Simpsons, who started every advert by saying: “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films/TV shows/etc as…” This, although done for humorous effect – and bad rhetoric is painfully funny – illustrates an appeal to a higher authority.

Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of your audience. You talk about kittens, puppies, very young children having dreadful things done to them – surely we can’t let that happen? And you use the language of the people – you’re one of them – make them empathize.

Logos is the snake in the grass because you think this must be the logical reasoned argument. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the ‘nine out of ten doctors agree that’ approach. You had to search far and wide to find those ‘nine’. I’m not saying it’s untrue – I’m just saying that logos allows facts to be spun, whichever way you want, to make your argument seem truthful and logical. Remember Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal? He had his own special definition of what was meant by the word ‘sex’. That’s the use of logos.

By the time of the Romans, the design for a successful speech or PowerPoint presentation had been set out. There are five components and they’re called: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (although they were given Latin names at the time!).

Invention is finding arguments that support your case and arguments to knock down your opponents. Arrangement is pretty much how you would have been taught to write an essay at school – although they may not have used the names. This comes in six parts: introduction, narrative, partition, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion. We’ll come back to these.

Style is how you use words, structure your sentences, and what figures of speech you use (going the extra mile, moving the goal posts, etc). You need to choose between the plain style for instructing an audience, the middle style for moving an audience, and the high style for pleasing an audience. And you can dodge around a bit during your speech to include all three.

Memory includes tricks to help you remember what you plan to say. Nowadays our PowerPoint slides do the work for us. Delivery refers to the management of the voice and the gestures we use. It’s the theatrical part, and it really is the most important part. Great speakers need to have great delivery or else everything else is pretty much a waste of time. Appropriate jokes are good. If someone is laughing with you, you’ve got them on your side. This is the part that many presenters (you know who you are!) need to work on. And remember, audiences read your body language too.

For those of you still awake at the back, let’s pick up on those six parts of arrangement. The introduction (exordium) should draw in listeners and introduce the topic. The narrative provides background information. The partition tells the audience which parts from the narrative will be discussed further. The confirmation gives reasons to agree with the speaker. The refutation shows why you shouldn’t disagree with the speaker. And the conclusion (peroration) pulls all these arguments together. If it’s done properly, you not only agree with the speaker, you want to do something about it!

Next time we’ll have a look at some of those tricks that can be used to wow your audience, get them on your side, and get them to agree to whatever you’re proposing!!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

How are you?

In the past, if someone asked, “how are you?”, you would politely reply that you were fine and ask them how they were. The conversation would then move on. But now, there are apps for your phone and tablet that can actually tell you how are and can make suggestions about how you could be better! Let’s have a look at what’s available.

Apps like Instant Heart Rate from Azumio Inc let you place the tip of your index finger on your phone’s camera and in a couple of seconds your heart rate is displayed. A real-time chart shows your every heartbeat. It uses your phones built-in camera to track colour changes on the fingertip that are directly linked to your pulse. This is the same technique that medical pulse oximeters use.

iPad apps, such as Cardiio (from Medgadget) and What’s My Heart Rate (from ViTrox Technologies), measure your heart rate by detecting the micro colour changes in your face caused by your heartbeat. The increase in blood volume as the blood vessels in the face expand with every heartbeat causes more light to be absorbed, resulting in a decrease in the amount of light reflected from the face. The iPad’s camera can pick up these changes, thereby allowing the app to calculate a person’s heart rate.

There are also apps like Blood Pressure from Klimaszewski Szymon that allows you to keep a record of your blood pressure readings. You can record and describe your readings, view them on interactive graphs, study generated statistics and trends, or filter selected data.

Similarly, apps like Monitor Your Weight from Husain Al-Bustan allow you to enter your weight on a regular basis and monitor it using statistics and graphs. It allows multiple users to be monitored. The app also suggests your ideal weight and, for slimmers, recommends the amount of time needed to reach a target weight, based on your current weight, height, body frame, gender, and age.

Other slimming apps available include Weight Watchers Mobile (from Weight Watchers International Inc), which has an extensive library of over 30,000 foods, includes restaurant meals, and gives a WeightWatchers point value for each entry, as well as calculating your daily point allowance and how many points you have remaining; My Diet Coach (from InspiredApps (A.L) Ltd), which acts more like a supportive friend than a calorie counter; Nutrino (from ComoComo Ltd), which builds a personalized menu for you, taking into consideration how many calories you should be eating each day to reach your goal; and MyFitnessPal (from MyFitnessPal LLC), which works out how many calories you can consume each day to hit your slimming target in the timeframe you specify. You might also like Superfoods (from Chourishi Systems) and Low Fat Recipes (from App Cookies).

Of course, you probably want to start doing some exercise. Your first choice of app might be something like MapMyWalk GPS Walking from MapMyFitness Inc. This allows users to track the route, time, distance, speed, pace, and calories in real-time for their fitness activities using GPS. And soon you might be upgrading to running apps such as MapMyRun GPS Running, which helps runners, joggers, and walkers easily track pace, distance, calories, and time, with audio alerts and much more. Other similar apps include RunKeeper - GPS Track Run Walk from FitnessKeeper Inc, My Tracks from Google Inc, Nike+ Running from Nike Inc, and Sports Tracker from Sports Tracking Technologies Ltd. And once you can run, you may want to go out on your bike. There are apps for that too – Strava Cycling - GPS Riding from Strava Inc, MapMyRide GPS Cycling Riding from MapMyFitness Inc, and Runtastic Road Bike from Runtastic.

There are also lots of daily workout apps available such as Fitness Buddy: 300+ Exercises from Azumio Inc, 7 Minute Workout from mphan, or VirtuaGym Fitness Home & Gym from VirtuaGym. Or you might prefer Daily Yoga (All-in-One) from IMOBLIFE Co Ltd.

How you’re sleeping has a huge impact on how you’re feeling, so you might be interested in SleepBot - Sleep Cycle Alarm from SleepBot. It includes a smart cycle alarm, movement tracker, sound recorder, sleep debt log, data analysis, trend graphs, sleep help, auto-Wifi/silence/aeroplane modes, export, and sync to Other sleep apps are available, of course.

If you want to check your eyesight, you could try Vision Test 2.0 from 3 SIDED CUBE or Specsavers Sight Check from Specsavers.

If you want to relax, you might look at iZen – Art of Zen Meditation (from IMOBLIFE Inc) or even Buddhist Meditation Trainer from Spacebug. iZen works by providing Zen music to help the mind achieve tranquillity and peace. The app has a timer for how long you want to meditate. Calming Music to Tranquilize (from IMOBLIFE Inc) gives you several choices of tranquil sound tracks. Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson (from HiveBrain Software) gives you guided meditation, designed to relax and clear your mind to get you to sleep. Relax Melodies (from iLBSoft) lets you mix your favourite sounds to create and save tracks. It comes with 41 ambient sounds.

Hypnosis – (Free) Relaxation from Nimue uses guided meditation with a voice that speaks throughout the session. It claims to help relax the mind with the use of voice audio and music tracks. Relax Completely from Hypnotherapist Direct Ltd provides a hypnosis meditation session for deep relaxation. Self-Hypnosis for Meditation (from IMOBLIFE Inc) provides sound tracks designed to help the mind find its way to different states of meditation and relaxation. Metaphors and suggestions are also used by the app

And obviously there are lots more apps that you can use to monitor how you are at the moment and help you to take steps to become who you want to be. So when someone asks how you are, you’ll now be able to give them a statistical answer!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Augmented reality

One of the areas that I’m quite interested in is augmented reality – where computer-generated images and information are superimposed on, well, what’s real! You see it a lot in sci fi movies where information about weapons appears on a heads-up display. But there is much more to it than that, nowadays, augmented reality can be found in aviation and tactical displays, in lots of gaming and video devices, and in training and simulation tools – which means it can be used for business and for leisure.

For example, suppose you were standing in an unfamiliar town centre and wanted to find an Italian restaurant. An augmented reality display could not only show you in which direction the restaurants were and how far away, it could also show you the menu and prices, and also reviews. I thought it would be interesting to see what was in the news about augmented reality – just to get a feel for how things are progressing.

Well, the first thing that I saw at was that Google has bought a portfolio of Head Mounted Display (HMD) patents from Foxconn’s Hon Hai Precision Industry for its Google Glass project. Google Glass is a wearable device with a head-mounted display.

There’s another Google Glass story at showing how Google Glass can be used as an automated tour guide. You need to use an app, called Field Trip, which is made by Google-owned Niantic Labs. The app tracks a user’s whereabouts and automatically delivers alerts and informational snapshots about nearby historical landmarks, tourist attractions, restaurants, and local shops. Apps for Google Glass are apparently called “Glassware”.

Meanwhile over at is a story about German research institute Fraunhofer MEVIS, which has “created an app that lets surgeons use the iPad as a real-time viewfinder during surgeries. Not only does the app let doctors better plan their operations, but it also gives them digital overlays of key blood vessels.” This helps surgeons not cut through blood vessels – although holding an iPad and performing surgery would be quite a skill!

Even IKEA is launching an augmented reality app, which enables shoppers to preview furniture in their own home from their own home using a smartphone or tablet. Customers look through the printed catalogue, and when they come to a plus symbol on a page, they hover their phone or tablet over it until a screen pops up asking them to scan the images on the page. At that point users will see the bonus features, which could be a 360-degree view of a room, videos, additional product information, or the option to place a piece of furniture in their room – according to

At, we find out about an augmented reality app for visualizing construction job sites called SmartReality. JB Knowledge Technologies, who developed it, says the iOS app is the combination of AR and construction technology. Users focus on a given design or plan file with the camera on their iPad

The article also mentions Maptek Pty Ltd, who have an app (PerfectDig) for the mining industry, allowing operators to use handheld devices to compare laser scanned surface data during excavation against 3D mine plan designs for conformance in the field.

And can you believe that Häagen-Dazs, the ice cream-maker, has launched an augmented reality application called “Concerto Timer”, which provides consumers with a virtual violin concerto while they wait for their ice cream to reach an ideal temperature and consistency. The virtual melody lasts for two minutes. You can read more at

And in the “me too” world of technology, you’re probably not surprised to find that Microsoft may be working on a pair of augmented reality glasses for Xbox gaming, according to a patent application published last week. There are more details at

According to a market research report of the “Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Market” at, the market could be worth $1.06 Billion by 2018. So it’s no wonder lots of companies are getting involved.

If you haven’t come across Augmented Reality (AR) yet, it looks like you very soon will.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Optimum performance from CICS

The July meeting of the Virtual CICS user group included a presentation entitled, “Extracting optimum performance out of CICS”, and was presented by Satish Tanna, IBM’s CICS and CICS Tools Technical Specialist. The session was introduced by Ted Caffarelli, CICS Tools Product Line Manager with IBM.

Satish told the user group that he would be talking about using CICS Tools to help with CICS Threadsafe and consolidation projects.

Being threadsafe modernizes CICS applications and reduces TCB switching and CPU usage. It also increases the number of simultaneous CICS tasks that can run in a single CICS region, which reduces the need for vast numbers of CICS systems, and saves on the cost of administering those systems and other overheads. It also better exploits modern z-Series hardware.

Each TCB switch is approximately 2000 instructions. CICS TS V5.1, non-threadsafe DB2, MQ, and IMS transactions switch TCBs for each SQL statement or MQ command. So reducing instruction path length reduces costs and saves money for an organization.

CICS Tools can help to create threadsafe applications. Satish Tanna suggested that there are four stages in creating a threadsafe application. Step 1 is to identify applications that have a high number of TCB switches and identify programs in those transactions that are good threadsafe candidates.

Step 2 is to analyse programs to ensure the logic is threadsafe. Step 3 is to implement threadsafe programs. And the final step is to measure the results. CICS PA can be used for steps 1 and 4. CICS IA can be used for step 2. And CICS CM can be used for step 3.

CICS Performance Analyzer (PA) can analyse your CICS applications to determine which ones are good candidates for threadsafe. It looks at how many switches occurred, how much CPU time was used, delays, and how much they cost.

CICS Interdependency Analyzer (IA) can be used to determine the cause of a high number of Change TCB modes. It looks at what commands are issued by the transaction, how many commands are threadsafe, whether there are any DB2, MQ, or IMS commands, whether there are any Dynamic COBOL commands, whether there are any inhibiting commands, and which commands cause a TCB swap and where they are in the sequence of events.

Sites can also use CICS IA to verify that program logic is threadsafe. It looks for serialization techniques when accessing shared resources, enqueue and dequeue, compare and swap, reviews usage of ADDRESS CWA, EXTRACT EXIT, and GETMAIN SHARED. CICS will provide threadsafe access to its resources, eg files and queues.

CICS Configuration Manager (CM) Packaging, Transformation, and Migration facilities can be used to manage programs.

CICS PA can then be used to compare the results using the CICS PA Transaction Profile Report. This can quickly show a comparison between before and after the threadsafe project.

When it comes to consolidation, Satish Tanna told the user group that using CICS TS V5.1 scalability can consolidate CICS systems to simplify management. New and improved capabilities in CICS TS V5.1 provide greater single region scalability by doubling the MAXTASK limit to 2000. There’s greater usage of 64-bit storage and reduced usage of 24-bit storage. There’s greater application parallelism through threadsafe API and SPI extensions. There’s greater system parallelism through optimized TCB usage. There are Java performance improvements from 64-bit Java 7 support. And there’s greater access to 64-bit application storage when using Assembler programs.

CICS Deployment Assistant (DA) can discover CICS and CICSPlex system topology. CICS IA can analyse application resources and interdependencies. CICS CM can implement region consolidation, including CSD and CPSM BAS resources. CICS PA can measure performance.

CICS DA will discover Sysplex, CICS assets, and other address spaces. It can visualize assets and interconnections graphically. And it can export discovery data for reporting.

More information about the Virtual CICS user group can be found at

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Facebook and your business

Your organization can only stay in business if it sells products or services. And you can only sell stuff if people know what it is you have for sale. One way of achieving this is to use Facebook as a way of communicating with the public, and letting them communicate with you.

The first thing to do is to create a Facebook Page for your organization or product on Facebook – and you probably already have one.

One thing that Facebook introduced recently is the “Boost Post” button at the bottom of a post:

If you click on “Boost Post”, you’ll see:

Boosted posts are seen by existing fans and their friends. There is a facility for targeting by location, age, gender, and language, but not by interests or category. The posts are visible in news feeds on laptops and smartphones. Of course, you may not want to pay to get your message to people who have already liked your Page.

The advantage of using this technique is that you don’t need to understand how to create adverts, and you can set your own budget, whereas, if you’re advertising, you pay per click.

You can set a price limit for a boost – as long as it’s over $5. It’s possible to reach lots of people for a small amount of money. And you may find that other posts on your Page are being read by those friends of friends.

The alternative is to try Page Post Ads. Page Post Ads allow you to promote a post that you made on your Facebook Page, and they come in two types – there’s simple Page Post Ads, and Page Post Sponsored Stories. You have to use the ads create tool. The first thing to decide is whether you want to advertise a Page, event, app, or Web site. Facebook now provides image customization for Page Post link ads.

Before you start boosting posts or advertising, you’ll want to know how many people are actually looking at your Page. And you may be a little confused by some of the technical terms used by Facebook, when you look at the admin panel for your Page. Page ‘Likes’ is fairly obvious – the number of people who’ve liked your Page. But what about ‘Reach’? According to Facebook, Reach measures the number of people who received impressions of a Page post. The reach number might be less than the impressions number since one person can see multiple impressions. OK, you say, so what’s an ‘impression’? Again, Facebook tells us: Impressions measure the number of times a post from your Page is displayed, whether the post is clicked on or not. People may see multiple impressions of the same post. For example, a fan might see a Page update in News Feed once, and then a second time if their friend shares it.

At the bottom of a post you’ll see:

‘Like’ allows people to say they like the post. ‘Comment’ obviously allows people to comment, and ‘Share’ allows people to share the post with their friends. And these numbers are shown on the Admin panel.

‘People Talking About This’ is defined by Facebook as the number of people who have created a story from your Page post. They add that stories include: Sharing, liking or commenting on your post; Answering a question; Responding to an event; and Claiming an offer. Finally, ‘Engaged Users’ is the number of people who have clicked anywhere on your post.

As well as looking at the ‘Reach’ figure, you can look at the bottom of each post to see how many people have seen a post. If you move your mouse over this, you’ll see a pop-up window showing how many ‘Organic’ and ‘Viral’ views there have been.

Organic is the number of people who saw a Facebook Page post through their News Feed, Ticker, or on the Facebook Page itself. It’s usually the highest number.

Viral counts the number of people who’ve accessed a Page post from one of their Facebook friends. Cute animals and ‘uplifting’ phrases are often shared by people, and so the viral number can increase.
Paid Reach is the number of people who saw a post in an ad or sponsored story.  All three types added together give the total reach for a post.

And how do you get people to visit your Page and like it? Here are some suggestions:
•    Post frequently – at least once a day
•    Post pictures – they’re more likely to be commented on and shared
•    Post short comments rather than longer ones
•    Post questions – so people will answer them
•    Ask people to like, share, or comment on posts
•    Run contests to get more likes
•    Try to be entertaining and educational.

Whatever you do, you want people to come to your Page and you want them to return regularly, and, most importantly, you want them to buy your product or service.

And while we’re talking Facebook, click on the link and Like the iTech-Ed page at

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Do I need an app?

This is the question I hear from many organizations these days. Whether they’re selling a product or whether they’re offering a service or even just as a way of getting ahead of the competition, they all ask whether they need an app for smartphones and tablet users. And although, at first glance, the answer would seem to be yes – it is 2013 after all – it’s important to drill down to find out exactly what each organization really wants.

So, let’s think about what question having an app is the answer to. For some organizations, it’s simply ticking the box saying people can download our app. But that begs the question about what are they going to use the app for, and, perhaps more importantly, will they ever use the app? We’ve all got apps that we excitedly downloaded and just sit there unused on our smartphones and tablets! And that isn’t good PR.

For other organizations, an app is a way of saving money. Think about it, if a client comes into your office and speaks to someone, let’s say that interaction costs £15. If they phone up, let’s say that costs £7.50, but if they do everything online, that costs, say £1. So an organization that moves its customers and potential customers online will save huge amounts of money. Having an app allows people to buy an item, book a visit, or whatever from their phone as easily as from a laptop.

For many people, online banking, online shopping, booking something, Facebooking, Tweeting, texting, etc are very familiar and, these days, second nature. People who aren’t quite so mobile-savvy are more likely to pick up a phone and ring than they are to use other alternatives such as choosing from a menu on their TV and trying to type a message using the TV remote control.

The next question for organizations to ask is whether they want to develop an app and continue with their Web site, or whether they want just a mobile Web site. People familiar with CS6 Dreamweaver will know that the software allows ‘fluid’ design, so users can create a style sheet that applies to smartphones, tablets, and standard Web pages. The same text appears on all three devices, but the layout adjusts – depending on how the designer wants it to look. One thing to bear in mind at this stage is that whether you choose an app or mobile Web site, users will expect a very high standard. And if their transaction doesn’t work first time, they will probably not bother trying again. So whatever a company chooses, they need to get it right.

If you do choose the app route, then your organization will need at least two of them – one for Android and one for Apple devices. And then you may want a Windows app, and a Blackberry app, and who knows how many other variants may be required.

Although an app designed for a device will probably be easier to use, using a mobile Web site means the look-and-feel will be the same on every device and will be available on every device (even the more obscure ones) immediately. This is called being platform agnostic. Another advantage of an app is that data could be browsed offline. But with the prevalence of wifi hot spots these days, that’s not such a big deal. Of course, regular users might be happy with an app, but a casual browser may not want to download an organization’s app for a single use. For the organization, they can push out information using the app, which they can’t with a Web site – unless people sign up for the e-newsletter.

A simple compromise is to build an app that takes people to a useful landing page on your mobile Web site. And make sure it works

Sunday, 28 July 2013

New Business Class baby

Anyone who’s been on holiday this week would probably have been holidaying on Mars to have missed Tuesday’s excited announcement from IBM of its new zBC12 mainframe computer! The zBC12 follows last year’s announcement of the zEC12 (Enterprise Class), 2011 saw the z114, and 2010 gave us the z196. So what’s special about the new baby?

Well, the zEnterprise BC12 (zBC12) features a 4.2GHz processor, and, for cloud computing, it can consolidate up to 40 virtual servers per core or up to 520 in a single footprint. It offers similar capabilities to the IBM zEC12, including specialty processors. There’s the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) engine for running Linux applications, and the System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) and System z Integrated Information Process (zIIP) for off-core workload processing. The big difference is that the zBC12 has a maximum memory of 496GB compared to the zEC12’s maximum of 3TB, and it has more limited connectivity options.

If you need to ask the price, as they say, you can’t afford it, but a new zBC12 starts at $75,000, which is a very good price tag. IBM also claims that it can help customers save up to 55% over their x86 distributed environments.

One big difference with this year’s announcement is that IBM is also launching a Linux-only based version of the zBC12, which it’s calling the Enterprise Linux Server (ELS). This is aimed at first-time zEnterprise users. The deal is that the product includes hardware, hypervisor, and three-years of maintenance service, plus, it can be upgraded to analytics and cloud mainframe products. I think that’s called upselling!

IBM also released Version 6.3 of z/VM, which supports up to 1TB of real memory, enabling support for more virtual servers than any other platform in a single footprint. It’s also enabled for OpenStack for advanced enterprise-wide service management. In addition, there’s z/OS Version 2.1, which, among all its other features, is very good at securing private cloud workloads.

IBM claims that when integrated with DB2 Analytics Accelerator, the zBC12 can perform business analytics workloads with response times up to nine times faster, with 10 times better price performance, and 14 percent lower total cost of acquisition than the closest competitor. I wonder who they mean by that??

For cloud computing, IBM has enhanced its OMEGAMON for z/OS family to better detect performance problems in the cloud and minimize impact to the business and increase analytics visibility.

The new z/OS 2.1 operating system (mentioned earlier) enables the latest zEnterprise hardware features, including zEDC (Enterprise Data Compression) and SMC-R (Shared Memory Communications over RDMA – and that one stands for Remote Direct Memory Access). The so-called ‘Crypto as a Service’ enables Linux on System z applications to use z/OS services to encrypt data, thereby providing more secure encryption. Additionally, enhancements to z/OS Management Facility improve start up times and provides services for automating workflow, further reducing costs.

Of course, you may have missed IBM’s baby announcement because the news was swamped with Kate and William’s baby prince!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Disappointing figures all round?

It seems that now might not be a good time to invest in IT firms with both IBM and Intel reporting drops – Intel saw second quarter profits down 29% from last year at $2bn, and IBM’s earnings fell by 17% to $3.23bn.

When you look at revenues, you’ll see Intel’s fell by 5% and IBM’s by 3%. You’ll remember that last quarter IBM cut a large number of jobs (over 3,000) and started to make a big deal of its Big Data strategy and cloud computing. Intel is really being hit because of the drop in PC sales as people migrate to smart phones and tablets – and around 95% of those use ARM chips.

IBM’s sales were down 3.3 per cent to $24.92bn, and IBM reported adjusted second-quarter earnings of $32.91 a share. It also raised its guidance for the year and said it expects at least $16.90 a share in adjusted earnings. IBM saw zero revenue growth in its “growth markets”, the so-called emerging markets. Its earnings per share were reasonable and that was due to the earlier cost-cutting measures. IBM announced $1 billion write-off for downsizing. Services sales dropped by 5%, hardware sales dropped by 12%, but software revenue went up by 4%. Intel’s shares fell 3.7% to $23.23 after the company cut its forecast for the year.

It was also bad news for eBay, whose shares fell 6.4% to $53.70 after announcing their second-quarter results.

SAP AG, one of the biggest makers of business-management software, experienced its first software-sales decline in more than three years. Software licences fell around 3% to 982 million euros. Its software sales in Asia dropped by 9%.

Back in May, PC vendor, Dell, reported a 79% drop in net profit, which they attributed to a crash in PC sales as consumers migrate to smartphones and tablets. Dell’s net profit fell to $130m on revenue down 2% to $14bn. Michael Dell is still waiting for a vote on his proposal to buy out the company. He plans to transform the company from a PC vendor to one pushing higher-margin software and services to enterprises. He’s apparently got a $2bn loan from Microsoft.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, doing well is Sandisk, who reported a 43% jump in second-quarter revenue. Yahoo! posted an attributable net income of $331.15m for the second-quarter, which is an increase of 46%, which it attributes to its investment in Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and product overhauls. However, its revenues declined by 7% to $1.13bn and that was attributed to a decrease in advertising revenues and Web traffic.

Interestingly, in the USA, tech advertising has increased by 30% with Microsoft, now being the biggest spender. Its spending on advertising has gone up 200% in an attempt to drum up business for Windows 8 and its Surface tablet. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the company’s bottom line.

So, the picture isn’t all bad for IT companies, and some companies are trying to do something about it, and perhaps dividends are OK, but, taken together, the figures don’t make the happiest of reading for the IT industry as a whole.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Mainframe apps

Who doesn’t have a smart phone these days? Or who goes to meetings without a tablet device? I thought it would be interesting to look at the mainframe apps available for Android devices – and there are quite a few.

The Mainframe IBM Interview QA app provides a wide range of questions that can be asked during an interview. The application answers the most commonly asked interview questions and they’ve been grouped into categories for ease.

Test Your Mainframe Skills!!! claims it will help you to assess your mainframe skills as well as develop them. It’s aimed at people who are looking for a new job and want to hone their technical skills. This app is designed so that you can go through different technical tests, assess your skills, and, simultaneously, hints are provided for each question to help you to understand and learn the information in better way!

Similarly, Mainframe interview questions provides over a 100 interview questions for assistance in getting your next mainframe-related job.

Mainframe Translator costs $1.99, and makes it easier to translate mainframe error codes and even machine instructions without having to always look them up in a manual. It also allows you to view the messages and codes on your device without having to minimize your source code or error screen. You can choose a specific code to translate or choose a translation type and scroll through all of the codes. The current translation options are: ASCII, EBCDIC, Machine Instruction, COBOL File Status, CICS EIBRESP, CICS EIBFN, DB2 SQL Errors, and FTP Codes. It also functions as a calculator performing decimal, hexadecimal, and binary maths. The dual pane feature in landscape mode allows for calculator and translation codes to be seen on the same screen. Users can customize colours and default settings.

Mainframe Guides explains how to code mainframe applications. It includes all the topics that are needed to learn about mainframes with a basic programing knowledge. Currently this app plays tutorials in high quality video.

Emulator Access 3270 cost $5.99, and allows users to easily access their employer’s Web-based emulator and mainframe with this utility. BNSF users get automatic login and their username and password are saved. It’s compatible with all Open Connect / 3270 emulator systems common in transportation, government, manufacturing, and financial industries.

TN3270, costing $16.72,  is a client for connecting to mainframes with the telnet 3270 protocol. Features include: connecting to standard 3270 mainframes; text size configuration through buttons; and keyboard configuration.

Mocha TN3270 for Android provides TN3270 emulation for IBM mainframe terminal access. The paid version includes keys f1-f24.

Julian Date Conv Calendar is a simple calendar that displays a whole month of both standard (Gregorian) and Julian days together in the same display for easy conversion between the two. It’s useful for those who work with Julian dates, eg mainframe programmers and schedulers.

I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that leaped out at me when I searched for mainframe apps. I thought it was interesting to see what was currently available.