I possess an accent which seems to fox most voice recognition systems.  I suppose the closest that it comes to that most non-British people will have heard is that of the Arctic Monkeys, since Sheffield is only about 15 miles away from where I grew up.  Generally voice recognition systems are optimized for American voices, so I am at a disadvantage right off the bat.  That said, my accent, diction, intonation and whatever other elements combine to entice such systems into the creation of ridiculous transcriptions, far in excess of my other countrymen.

The main source of these transcriptions is the Microsoft voicemail system, powered by Exchange / Office Communicator.  I often need to contact people at Microsoft, whether in terms of product team members in relation to Monarch and Monarch Data Pump and it’s interaction with Office, or on the interoperability side, in my work within ISO/IEC/JTC1 SC34 Working Group 4.

A couple of years back, I was sent the transcription of one of my voicemails by a contact at Microsoft, as he found it amusing.  This has continued as a tradition with more contacts there, over the years.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the actual content of these voicemails, but rest assured, it bears no resemblance to the voicemail transcription system’s version of events.

It seems to have settled on a food related theme here, for no apparent reason.

“Hey ****** it’s Gareth just love let you know that some track who cherry. Job begin from the I’m consoles console kidney stones Julie Weiss seafood see walnuts the community they’ll be. Doing any case full you try and hook up with my sequel on. You non Jerry fish and and should not very seems like he’s out the offices about it so I will give you a heads up. That. Hey we call it a. He mentioned I tried that section. Well please correct. Anyway. I’ll speak to you soon bye bye.”

“I got your inspection yourself I think this is so I can. Thank you — only so another chat about the recent my seafood see what we — and — hey Ryan Montoya from the columns like something on your cell phone — for the Y7 check your good weekend. Speak to you soon bye bye.”

What’s with the seafood? Who is “Ryan Montoya from the columns”? Is that like ‘the projects’ ?

It also seems to think that I call under assumed names every time, which I most certainly do not.

“Hey ******* it’s John Anderson calling just ringing to let you know. Alright I’ll speak to you later bye bye.”

“Hey ******* it’s Scott Smith. Give me a call I’m at 8 to 9 tonight chat — I have sounds and I will talk to you later — but I just wanted to check if there’s any YAM — issue than anything on called full sign now maybe I’m sure — I’ve talked for — at talk access the full Doc acts so. Anyway I’ll try and get you like 10 or 12 logic tomorrow on then bye bye.”

“Hi ******* it’s Doug I just thought give you a call on the off John this is a I’d be very soon seems to me a call I can phone bye bye. Hi me like cellular the busy day had and interest in CD it’s Davidson — the funny going over all I — need to be chief. A lot and I’ll speak to you soon bye bye.”

“Hey ******* it’s Just. Not — hi this is all give me a call 90 because I’m stuck in traffic minutes 10:15 PM and a bomb any other big blocks and right on 30 and I think I’m probably gonna I’m on the status bar now — anyway — just so I’m a little chat but — now that I need sing Allen so I’ll speak to you like and you can always full with me the — note that absolutely fascinating transcription but — zero.”

Er, no bomb.  Hope the NSA wasn’t listening. Spooky that it noticed when I criticized it’s “absolutely fascinating transcription”.

“Hey ******** you got this so I’d better give usable last with the voice mail transcription.– Interesting regarding the sudden all the Columbia look into this that would be blocking I called up laws — with message something to a — haven’t replace — I’d come see you go I saw — a lot — anyway that was about to go so I just now — it just an email from strolled these seems a lot of problems he without things about that. Anyway I’ll speak to you soon bye bye.”

Again, it comes out of it’s fug when being talked about.  Not sure how Columbia got in there.  The NSA almost certainly has a file on me by now, if their voice recognition software is anything like this.

“Hey ******* sister it’s joint get in touch with them. Actually see the from I got hold of an experienced a Angeline Love — anyway we’ll have a chat that’s it and reinstall anyway — good evening not in school. Hundred bye bye.”

I would like to clarify in no uncertain terms that I have never got hold of an experienced Angeline Love. Nor do I refer to senior Microsoft staff as “sister”.  Especially when they are male.

“Hey ******** it’s got the phone because message off.  — So I — will probably try again — tomorrow — shopping — yeah I’m not sure that you — are shipping didn on home trapeze — or not many more experienced you recall I appreciate troubles. So anyway that’s about it.”

I’m pretty sure you can’t get a home trapeze, even on those American shopping channels.  Maybe I can get Microsoft to pay me to talk into the system all day long and see what other interesting business ideas come out of it.

“My name is Gareth. Telling the boys and shopper internal costing unsure I guess we’re playing right next one — that you sent debriefing from ****** — extension two three oh should be self so I’m I’m trying to get on your cell moment rolling I’m — bye bye. Hello.”

Got the name right, but I’m pretty sure my contact knew my name after a couple of years. Plus, I don’t usually end voicemails with “hello”.

“Thanks ******** a Scott but this is all give me a call at about 40 years.So I’m just getting a chance — together and tax money like you probably not tonight I’m I got your message — you know your voice mail sit back inside along the venturing stuff — I’ll try you like to delete chop chop.  Parking lot bye bye.”

I distinctly recall never asking anyone to give me a call in 40 years.

“Hi ******** hopefully as laughter events it’s and IK series new package explorer which is a pretty know likes.– Just a wishing you could look for next week probably going out to a demo to be very silly so — could look in the lines done and I don’t have a good weekend anyway. I’ll speak to you soon bye bye.”

At last! “new package explorer” is actually accurate and refers to Wouter Van Vugt’s Package Explorer utility. My days of “going out to a demo to be very silly” are but a fond and distant memory.

“Hey ******** it’s Gareth. Chad discuss about — what full day — digital cool of calling technically awful stuff — dot com and run some — probably — some of them thanks and so. Anyway I’ll speak to you bye bye bye.”

This is actually a recent one, so I am 100% sure that I didn’t say this.  One wonders whether it has been added to some kind of Exchange voice recognition dictionary as a high frequency phrase within Microsoft. 

By the way, technicallyawfulstuff.com is still available.


Following an exchange with some BI folks on Twitter, in addition to the various articles on spreadmarts and compliance issues with Excel usage by those pesky ‘users’ there is definitely an element of the old ‘high priest’ model in all of this. However, it is most likely economics that calls the tune.

In essence, when something new is introduced, whether that be technology, or religion, there is always a period of control by the early adopters (and indeed charlatans), who are naturally keen to implement a hierarchy to benefit themselves.  They become the required intermediaries in order for the masses to get what they want.  In the IT world, I don’t necessary claim it’s full of charlatans, or the hierarchy is there for job security, but the traditional model is what it is.

Quakers, for example, broke away from this and decided to cut out the middle men. 

In their case, it was more a theological gap, but with BI, the gap is the one between supply and demand.

In real world BI today, this is reflected by the use of familiar and available tools, primarily Excel, to bridge requirement/delivery gaps.   To an extent, Microsoft have historically recognized this and provided plenty of rope for users to hang themselves with.

To backtract a little and revisit what I consider to be BI – some folks associate BI solely with the more complex (and/or esoteric) analysis found with data mining and heavy statistics on massive data sets, for example the (sadly untrue) beer and nappies (diapers) story. I am a little more catholic than that. 

To lift an idea from Michael Gentle, here’s Karl Marx on complex BI:

“A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”

BI is all that, but covers much more of the mundane as well.  If you cannot easily find out how many of a certain widget you sell in the week before a holiday, or even how much of a certain widget you sell in a given geographic area, then when you eventually get your hands on this information, it’s business intelligence, or decision support, depending on your vintage.

Marx again:

“From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need”

Therein lies the rub.

The maths just doesnt add up in the arms race of IT vs information workers. IT’s ability is completely swamped by the needs of users.  Nothing new here, I would contend that this is accepted wisdom.

To give you an example.  Of 50 finance users, every week, 5 will require new custom information.  Sounds reasonable.  However, I am talking about a real world example here.  So, each piece of new information information could come come directly, or from a combination of 20 different systems.  In addition, some systems are not in-house, so a short specification has to be written, sent to the provider, a quote comes back, is examined, eventually approved and implemented. So we are talking about 250 requests per year, but as you can see, these requests can be pretty costly and/or difficult to fulfill. <potential_product_plug_warning>I know about this stuff, as our product is often used in a guerilla-style way to sidestep these issues</potential_product_plug_warning>.

The planned economy just don’t work here my friends, we’re going to have to consult Adam Smith.

Information needs come from many sources, many levels of seniority and also have different profiles in terms of how time-critical they are.  The internal market for information, when in a planned economy scenario (i.e. IT-centric) is often dictated by how important the information requestor is and how easy the request is to fulfill – to meet internal SLAs and so forth.

“The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked, by never fully supplying the effectual demand, sell their commodities much above the natural price.”

When the market is opened up to users, who generally know their data and exactly what to do with it – look – there’s the benevolent figure of Adam Smith again!

“The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity and judgement with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour”

And the users rejoice (whilst mangling a Smith quote):

“The natural effort of every individual to do their own analysis  … is so powerful, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of IT too often encumbers its operations.

However, much as users would rejoice in having these freedoms, there is a downside.

“The property which every man has in his own labour; as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable… To hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property.”

The downside is the small matter of the injury to his neighbour, which in this case is probably a whole street of neighbours – Database Team(s), Apps Team(s), Data Quality folks, Internal Audit/Compliance etc etc.

So how do you resolve the conundrum of creativity/productivity vs control/compliance?

Microsoft’s stab at this is Gemini, using an analogy of the twin aspects of IT control, with ETL processes feeding into SQL/DatAllegro/Analysis Services and the user empowerment of the ubiquitous, familiar Excel client plus the “social” aspect of sharing their creative works through SharePoint. 

I have only limited information on Gemini at the moment, so my summary is probably sketchy, although I hope, still accurate.

The hope is, as I see it, to prevent the users from poisoning the well, but still allowing them to drink deeply with the paternalistic arms of IT around them.  Kind of like socialism, rather than rabid, laissez-faire capitalism.


Hat tips & further reading

Sean O’Grady (Control vs Creativity)

Michael Gentle (Good guy/Bad guy)

Nigel Pendse (Gemini Comment & Review)

Brent Ozar

Doug Henschen

Watch MS BI Conference Keynotes (Mosha Pasumansky)

Andrew Brust