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.