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A security system that calls you, but has no monthly fee?! Read on...

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Monday, October 27, 2008
this press release on prlog.org this morning, and since I'm the new monitoring maven here at SSN, I had to read on. The press release advertises a security system that seems to promise the same sort of live protection offered by a system monitored by a central station, but with no monthly fee. Here is an excerpt: Is It Possible To Have A Home Security System with NO MONTHLY FEE that Calls YOU? Yes! Instead of a costly monitoring company calling the police, the person receiving the call is notified immediately and can call the police. Practical and highly effective security -- what a novel concept. Maybe it's just me, but first of all, it's not the fee that calls you... (curses upon the dangling modifier! I will always be an English Major at heart) I would rather have professionals whose job it is to watch my property watching my property and making the distinction of real versus false alarm. That would be better than to have a motion detection/intrusion system call my cell/work phone every time something trips the system. "The person receiving the call is notified immediately and can call the police." What does that mean? Isn't that like saying the system calls the person who is called and then they can call the police? One of this system's selling points is that instead of professionals monitoring the situation and making the determination of whether or not to notify police (a real, verified intrusion), the proud owner of the system gets to make that determination themselves since "they can listen in to [the] house directly through the Protector Plus Voice Dialer." So let me understand this... another of the system's selling points is the 85db siren screaming as part of the intrusion alert. I'm supposed to be trained enough to listen in over a control panel based microphone and discern, through 85 decibels of siren, the sounds of a potential criminal in my home? Aren't criminals, by their nature, kind of sneaky and silent. I should certainly think that the 85 decibels of sound coming from my alarm system would mask any ambient sound I might be able to hear that would tell me "Yup, that's a prowler!" as opposed to "Nope, that's just the cat." The problem is that in most communities, due to the... pardon my pun... alarming number of false alarms security systems can send out, police are now requiring verification of alarms before responding. That means that the police probably will not go to your home when you call them and say "I don't know what's going on. My alarm system called me and I listened in for an intruder through my Protector Plus Voice Dialer system... No, I couldn't see anything ... No I couldn't hear anything other than the siren..." So what that means is that rather than a professional company with alarm monitors trained to make the false versus verified determination and contact the authorities, you could be stuck getting a whole lot of 85db siren calls while you're at work. Oh, and if you get sick of answering that blaring call every time the cat knocks something over, the system also has a call list of three other people who are called automatically every time an alarm is triggered. So you can share that love with others like your parents, or your neighbors or your spouse or someone else who will have just as little idea as you as to whether it is a false alarm or a real intrusion. Don't get me wrong, an alarm system is an alarm system and is better than no system at all. But to market this system as one which calls you, and therefore liken it to a monitored system, is somewhat misleading. Caveat emptor, I guess.

Apx challenger? Platinum has sizzling summer season

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Monday, October 27, 2008
Look out Apx Alarm. Summer model upstart Platinum Protection announced on Friday that it sold an impressive 55,000 accounts this summer. Here's their press release. Here's an interview I did with Chance Allred, one of Platinum's principals, about their '07 season, where they sold 30,000 accounts. Platinum's young executive staff are veterans of other summer model alarm companies, ApxAlarm and Pinnacle. From my interview with Allred: Allred said the principals have taken what they've learned in terms of training and management and structuring a pay scale elsewhere and improved on it when they founded Platinum Protection. They've also integrated the IT systems with Monitronics' billing and payroll system.

Why can't people do math?

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Monday, October 27, 2008
this story for today because I wanted to make a point about statistics and their misuse, but along the way of making fun of this, I kind of got interested, so it's not as funny as I intended it to be, but maybe it actually has some value. Anyhoo, the first part certainly makes me wonder: Why can't people do math? First, the set-up: Burglary Surge Prompting Homeowners To Turn To Security Systems Homeowners Looking For Motion-Triggered, Infrared Cameras So, you can see why my interest has been piqued. Not only is there a burglary surge going on that might be a business opportunity for you, the readers, but also this surge is causing homeowners to invest in surveillance, not just burg alarms, and that means more margin. Very interesting. So, let's see what it's all about. INDIANAPOLIS -- With home burglaries on the rise in Indianapolis, police said more Hoosiers are turning to surveillance systems to keep a watchful eye when they aren't able to. Indianapolis police report more than 10,000 home burglaries so far this year; 300 more than the same period last year. The department launched a specialized burglary task force this week in an effort to combat the rising numbers around the city. Does anyone else see a problem with the math here? Initially, you're like, "Whoah, 10,000 home burglaries in Indy?!? That's a surge, alright!" But then you get the piece of information with the "300 more" and maybe you start to do a little math and you're like, "Um, that's three percent more than last year. Three percent is not statistically relevant and certainly does not constitute a 'surge.'" Has anyone done any math to see what those "300 more" mean? Because, first of all, there aren't exactly 10,000, nor exactly 300 more. That's impossible. So it's probably more like 10,127 and 289 or something, which makes that three percent look even less interesting, and then there's this fact: Over the period of 10 months, that's 1,000 per month, and 30 more per month, which means they have roughly 33 burglaries per day, and now one more! The difference between 33 and 34 burglaries a day is negligible. Did anyone ask the police department if there was something more than this "surge" that led to the creation of this brand-new task force? Seemingly not. But, anyway, on with the story, which is where some interesting stuff comes in. "We're going to spend some days, maybe up to a week, in various districts, but depending on what our recent intelligence tells us," said task force member Lt. Marshall DePew. "So if somebody gives us a good lead, if we've got a good hot spot to look at, we could be just about anywhere." Okay, well, that's not very interesting, actually. I mean, is WRTV intentionally making this guy look stupid? This does not explain anything. This is saying, "If someone tells us there are crimes happening somewhere, we'll go check it out." I'm assuming that's what they would do anyway. Police might get some help from proactive homeowners who've already taken steps to protect their property with surveillance systems, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported. The demand for surveillance systems has increased significantly in the last year, Sentinel Alarm Systems spokeswoman Kristine Graham told Rinehart. "We've got a lot of cameras where the price point keeps coming down so it gets more and more affordable," she said. "People are more concerned about protecting themselves, their families and their homes." This is a small point, but really, I think this is something that needs consideration: Is it the demand that's changed, or the supply? People have always been demanding cheap cameras with which to watch their homes and keep their families safe, right? Crime is actually down nationwide compared to historical averages, and I can't imagine there was a time in the recent past where people were like, "Eh, I don't really worry too much about protecting myself, my family, and my home." But, previously, inexpensive and effective cameras didn't really exist. Now they do. The demand's always been the same, but the supply finally exists to fulfill the demand. Why does that matter? Well, meeting a rising demand and finding a product that satisfies an existing demand are two really different things and offer two different opportunities. The iPod didn't become widely popular because people started demanding MP3 players way more. Rather, it became widely popular because it satisfied an existing demand that people had for taking their entire music collections around with them and making it really easy to access that music collection anytime they wanted to. When the iPod found the supply to meet the demand, they could start printing money. So, that's the question. Have video surveillance makers and installers finally found a supply that could meet an existing demand that's nearly universal? If so, I'll believe the explosion is about to happen. If it's instead true that people who were already concerned about safety are just demanding more security than their existing burg alarms can offer, then that's a much smaller potential market and I think the growth is more of a general uptick than a hockey stick. Graham said homeowners are most likely to invest in motion-triggered systems, infrared cameras that can see in the dark and systems that are accessible online. Remember SightMind CTO Steve Weller telling us IP video is in its infancy? I'm thinking this is all the proof you need that he's pessimistic in his estimation. When the mainstream media is reporting that your common homeowner is interested in IP surveillance systems for their homes, we're definitely beyond infancy. I think this is a really good sign for the industry, actually. Police said privately-owned security system can help them catch criminals. "We always like pictures; those are worth a thousand words, in more respects than one," said police crime watch coordinator Shirley Purvitis. "But also you have to look at the rest of it too. The video cameras are not the catch all. You have to do the rest that goes with it." Ah, the rest of it. Don't forget the rest of it. That's important. Also, good to know that pictures are worth more than 1,000 words in more than one way. I can't really think of the second way, but I'm going to take Purvitis' word for it. The new burglary task force will be given free reign for 60 days. After that, the members' progress will be evaluated by the department. If they started this whole task force because of a three percent rise in burglaries, are they going to praise its operations when 60 days produces a three percent cut (i.e., 60 fewer burglaries in two months)? If there is a 10 percent rise (200 more burglaries), is it a total failure, or just the result of a tanking economy? And what factor does this increasing amount of home surveillance play? Are burglars less likely to hit homes with video cameras prominently displayed? Are homes without cameras increasingly targets? I'm curious as to this task force's findings. Hopefully, I can get a report in 60 days or so.

Controlling PTZs with your iPhone

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Thursday, October 23, 2008
Remember after ASIS how I told you about that iPhone app from Lextech Labs that would allow you to control PTZs with your finger, etc.? Well, here you go, the iRa: I just talked with Alex Bratton, Lextech CEO, and he says, right now, you can't make a margin on selling the app, but you can certainly charge for the time it would take you to guide an end user through the implementation of this app, integrating it with their cameras and software. Plus, he's working with Apple on an enterprise-licensing model. Right now, end users just download it from the iTunes app store (I can't figure out a way to link to it, so just go to the iTunes store, search Lextech, and it's the only thing that comes up), where you can find it right now for $899.99. Is that the most expensive iTunes app? It's by far the most expensive I've seen, and I sorted all of the browseable apps by price and could only find something at $449.99, which was some kind of financial software application. If you're browsing, iRa comes up as most expensive under "Utilities." Anyhoo, think of the way this also just helps you sell IP video systems in general. If end users can use this functionality for viewing and controlling the system, just think of how much more attractive the system becomes. I find this to be very, very cool.

Who are you calling a fairy?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008
I'm caught up with some work on our new vertical search engine and some other housekeeping today, so, of course, I'm squandering time blogging. In case you're looking for some way to kill time instead of do all of the things you're supposed to be doing, go over to YouTube and engage in one of my favorite new time-killing activities: Looking through all of the fairies, space aliens, and ghosts that have been "caught" on security cameras. Here's my new favorite: Isn't that so obviously a real fairy? I mean, it's purple, and it's got wings, and it looks like it's flying. I'm also a big fan of this video, taken from some wacky TV show hosted by the guy who used to be the second in command on Star Trek: Next Generation: I love it when the guy who just got abducted pukes and then staggers around. Because isn't that totally what would happen if you'd just been abducted by aliens? I think so. There's also this one, purportedly showing a "ghost dog." For some reason, the poster has disabled embedding, so I can't show it to you here. But, seriously, if you can figure out where the ghost dog is, let me know. I've played it five times and can't even see the ghost. Which is sort of a bummer. But for decent creepiness, check out this video of a ghost walking through a wall in a Japanese video. Make sure you have the sound on, because the Japanese narrator's voice and the synthesized strings at the end will give you chills. Ok, back to work. Seriously. Don't even think about going over to YouTube to find more of these.

American Alarm acquire in N.H.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Wells Sampson's Arlington, Mass.-based alarm company (that's Wells above) has acquired a N.H. company called Reil's. Here's what the Boston Globe had to say in yesterday's paper. I've got a call into American Alarm and will post a newswire story with the relevant details tomorrow.

American Alarm acquire in N.H.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Wells Sampson's Arlington, Mass.-based alarm company (that's Wells above) has acquired a N.H. company called Reil's. Here's what the Boston Globe had to say in yesterday's paper. I've got a call into American Alarm and will post a newswire story with the relevant details tomorrow.

TLAs and a history of the industry

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Hello to all. I'm the new associate editor here at SSN, taking over the monitoring beat from my predecessor, Leischen Stelter. While I've had lots of experience in journalism, in general, I am fairly new to the security systems industry and have been enjoying the opportunity employment here has given me to learn new things. Like acronyms. You guys have lots and lots of acronyms. I like a good TLA as much as the next guy, but you guys have the CSAA, the NBFAA, the SIA, the NAAA, and the MAMA as well as all kinds of AHJs who frequent the meetings of the IACP, the NACP, the IAFC, and the NASFM. Thank you Celia for your index of security industry acronyms. It has saved me more than a few times! Recently, while doing some research and making some calls to introduce myself and discover any newsy developments at various central stations, I came across this story about what can only be described as some half-hearted attempts at ecoterrorism in Dawson Creek (no, not Dawson's Creek), British Columbia. Don't get me wrong, when I say "half-hearted," I'm not suggesting that the terrorists in question should try better next time. I'm saying that if you've got a complaint with something going on in your community, go to the town meeting and leave the homemade bombs alone. In my mind, any act of violence that purports to champion a cause only creates from the resulting turmoil many more critics of said cause than there were in the first place. The story mentioned that Murphy Oil Company, Ltd., "is drilling wells and building a gas plant about 30 kilometers southwest of Dawson Creek." I called Murphy Oil Co.'s vice president of business development Cal Buchanan, who in the story said that Murphy may "hire a security company to monitor the remote areas." Buchanan told me that so far all Murphy Oil was doing was checking with locals to see if anyone could, in an unofficial capacity, be hired to drive by operation areas regularly. Well... wasn't it most likely a local who perpetrated the bombings in the first place? As I said in the first graph above, I'm no expert... Another interesting thing I came across during my cold calls and emails was this section of Wayne Alarm's site. I called up Wayne Alarm's central station manager Annie Roderick who was nice enough to talk to me a bit about the industry and about Wayne Alarm's Antique Corner, a veritable museum of all things security industry. Wayne Alarm is based in Lynn, Mass. Any city with the tag line "Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin... You never come out the way you went in" has earned the right to be a mecca for industry history buffs, I guess. Wayne Alarm will be hosting CSAA's Fall Operations Management Seminar, taking place in Peabody, Mass. at the Boston Marriot Peabody Nov. 9-11. Annie assured me that anyone in the area for the event wishing to stop by for a tour of the Antique Corner will be more than welcome. Please feel free to drop me a line any time with any comments or suggestions or exciting goings on in the world of security.

There's a new blogger in town

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Steve Weller, the CIO of SightMind, sent me over a link to his new blog. Thus far, it's only got the one post, which is just about as aggressive as you'd expect from a company that thinks it will soon have 60 percent or so of the IP video installation market share. Basically, it posits that the IP video market is in its infancy and therefore ripe for the plucking and dominating, with six reasons: 1. Nobody Is Doing It Need water? Call a plumber. Need power? Call an electrician. Need phones? Call a phone company. Need a network of cameras installed with networking, storage, server, internet connection, and sophisticated software that has to to work reliably 24/7 for five years in any weather? It sounds like an IT job, but they don't know about cameras or video surveillance software. The people who can pull the wires and climb the ladders would do a good job, but they don't understand networking. And the security companies are still trying to sell me analog CCTV as part of a packaged solution. This is the mantra that's been pushed on me ever since I entered the industry about three years ago, but no one seems to acknowledge that it's less and less true every day. Yes, there are still a number of traditional alarm companies who aren't interested in IP systems - because they never did CCTV in the first place. They're alarm guys. If you want a home alarm, you call an alarm guy. But, if you call Diebold (a pretty dang big company with a recognizable brand) or Stanley (same) or Convergint or Adesta or Navco or just about any PSA member or a host of other pretty large national integrators, I think you can get the system you're looking for, no sweat. Are there still issues with IP cameras outdoors and in low-light? Sure, some. But why is it verboten that you put a decent analog PTZ camera outside and put an encoder on the back end as part of your networked system? Just because it's an IP system doesn't mean every camera needs to be an IP camera. If you're telling yourself right now that all traditional security integrators suck at IP, I think you're going to be surprised when you don't get the market dominance you're looking for. 2. Everybody Is Doing It Search the internet and you'll find security and alarm, networking systems integrators, communication specialists, access control installers, electricians and structured wiring, analog CCTV product companies, even the spy gear stores and HVAC contractors. They're all selling IPVS solutions as extensions to their existing business because they have a truck and a ladder and customers are asking for it. Good luck with that. Yep. Because IP's so hard no one can do it. 3. Nobody Has Heard of Them With such a diverse selection of installers, none gets a consistent or wide enough reputation to carry much weight. Plumbers and electricians are pretty interchangeable because they all do most things, but that's not the case with IP video surveillance installation. Even if I do find the right installer (and they happen to be close enough) there's a good chance that my job will be too big, too expensive, too technical, or won't get finished. Where's the nation-wide brand with a fleet of installers and a five-year warranty? I guess there's some truth to this, but ADT might beg to differ. They're a pretty ubiquitous brand. I think they might have advertised at the Super Bowl. Still, the market hasn't developed to the point that there are two or three totally dominant players yet, I'd agree. But with Stanley, especially, making such a hard push, I'd guess they're doing national mainstream advertising for security pretty soon, and Brink's might not be far behind, now that they've spun off and are talking about their commercial focus. 4. No Industry Standards Will this work with that? When I need more cameras will they work with what I have? If I spend more, will I get a better picture? How long will that work reliably? How many of those lights do I need to get a picture like this? They said that it would record ten days of video, but if I do the footage is too grainy to see anything. Snow? Of course we get snow. Is that why it's fogged up? Wrong bracket? Again? No we don't stock those, they have to be special-ordered. Again, I'd say five years ago this was a major problem. Today, not nearly as much. 5. Way Too Many Products There are 6000 companies making IPVS products. Can anyone really be making a decent profit with that level of competition? With only so many surveillance situations that need to be addressed it should take several hundred market-leading, high volume, low cost products from just a few manufacturers to cover 80% of the market, but instead there's a dizzying array. I completely agree with this. A bunch of IP video companies are going to go out of business. That market isn't mature, but that doesn't mean it's in its infancy. 6. Form Still Follows Function At a certain stage in its evolution, all technology becomes fashion. IP video surveillance technology isn't anywhere close yet -- not even a choice of colors. It will take high manufacturing volumes and commoditization before manufacturers seek new ways to differentiate their products and we enter this phase. Eh. TVs are still pretty ugly, if you ask me. Stereo components are still all black and ugly. Only the iPhone is at all styley, and that's still pretty plain. You should see how ugly the phone on my desk is and landline phone technology has been around for quite a while. Smartvue and ioimage make some good-looking cameras. I don't think this argument holds any water at all. I guess this is all semantics anyway, and I'm not sure why I spent so much time on this, but you get my drift. I think there are a lot of negative nancies out there, many of them with IT backgrounds, who want to slag the security industry with a broad brush of dinosaurism (how's that for some mixing of metaphors). In my experience, there are plenty of forward-thinking and intelligent integrators who are doing just fine, thank you, in the new era of IP surveillance. Is it in its infancy? No. That implies an industry that simply can't do anything (I've had infants pretty recently - they're just about worthless except to look at). I think the IP video industry is solidly in kindergarten and maybe even in the second grade or so, and I think that's worth acknowledging, rather than engage in hyperbole. Still, good to have someone like Steve around now to stir things up a bit. That's always a positive, in my book. Plus, he pointed out some bugs in my blog that will make everyone's experience better. Thanks, Steve.

Another email exchange about the election

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Here's another good email exchange resulting from my (tepid) Obama endorsement. It's a good one, I think: On 10/21/08 9:57 AM, "Michael Boyle" wrote: Sir I read your editorial today endorsing Barrack Obama for president. What I fail to understand is your premise that because we are spending billions in Iraq, we should vote for someone who will get us out of there post haste for political reasons, not international relations or logical reasons. I have no quarrel with you that we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, nor should we stay any longer then absolutely necessary, but to choose a candidate because he wasn’t the one who put us there is somewhat like jumping off a cliff because you don’t like the view. The Obama administration is under the mistaken impression that people like me (small business, 3M per year revenues) are rich fat cats that don’t pay their fair share. 45% for estate taxes? How about the fact that those estate monies represent monies for which taxes have already been paid? Mr. Obama will repeat the often past practices of every politician. He will chant all of the things that make everybody happy and then go on some alternative agenda. Mr. Bush did this to our detriment, why do you think Mr. Obama is so special he won’t do exactly the same? At least John McCain offers some straight talk in a political arena known for deceit. Michael William Boyle Investigative Consultants International Westfield, New Jersey 07090 www.icinj.com From: Sam Pfeifle [mailto:spfeifle@securitysystemsnews.com] Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 10:48 AM To: mboyle@icinj.com Subject: Re: Obama for President? Hi Michael, Well, you and I agree on the tax issue, and I put that up front in the editorial, so I’ll just address your point about the war spending and political motivations. We didn’t get into the Iraq War by mistake, regardless of whether they really believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I believe that the Bush-Cheney-Rove American Exceptionalism doctrine – essentially, we have the right to interfere in foreign countries because we are the world’s superpower - is what got us into the Iraq war, and I am concerned it will get us into a war with Iran as well. As Obama fundamentally disagrees with that doctrine, and McCain agrees, I think they have a fundamentally different approach to foreign policy. I don’t think it’s just political posturing on Obama’s part that he will get our troops home faster, and will be less likely to engage our military overseas and therefore spend far less on foreign engagements. I understand your cynicism about politics, believe me. I find myself disbelieving just about everything that comes out of a candidate’s mouth. One emailer told me I was naïve to think I could even endorse on the basis of what the candidates laid out in their platforms and positions. I was better off voting on “character” and “experience,” he told me. Well, if we’re ever to return accountability to politics, I think we have to start taking candidates at their word and then holding them accountable to those words. Why is McCain offering straight talk, but you implicitly believe Obama is lying? McCain has vastly changed his opinions since the start of the campaign, whether it’s with taxing medical benefits or offshore drilling. Candidates try to get elected by telling different constituencies what they want to hear. I can’t say that McCain is any different than any other recent candidate in that regard. If Obama fails to deliver on his promises, we can vote him out in four years. How in the world we gave George Bush another four years after his performance is beyond me. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your feedback. Sam On 10/21/08 11:06 AM, "Michael Boyle" wrote:  Sam At no time did I mean to infer that Barrack Obama was lying. I think both candidates bend the facts and their stances as you suggest. I also agree that we lack what I refer to as “statesmen.” People who have a genuine policy outlook that is beneficial to the integrity and continuation of the American dream. Frankly, I think good people don’t run anymore, because they don’t want to get involved in the double dealing and duplicity that goes on every day in Washington (I apply this to both sides of the aisle.) I appreciate your note back. I think what is remarkable is not where we disagree, but where we agree that no present candidates address what this country really needs. Some fiscal responsibility mixed in with some global appreciation for the world we live in………….. Best regards. Michael William Boyle From: Sam Pfeifle [mailto:spfeifle@securitysystemsnews.com] Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 11:14 AM To: mboyle@icinj.com Subject: Re: Obama for President? Michael, On that we can certainly agree. We don’t have a great choice before us. By the way, I’ve been posting some of these back and forths I’ve been having via email to my blog. Would you agree to have this back and forth posted? I think it’s a good one. Cheers, Sam On 10/21/08 11:06 AM, "Michael Boyle" wrote: Absolutely, post as you see fit. Michael William Boyle

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