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