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Two new IP video "books," two ways of doing things

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Two new "books" about IP-based video surveillance have been recently published, and they offer an interesting insight into the future of communication and information sharing. On the one hand, you have Intelligent Network Video: Understanding Modern Video Surveillance Systems, written by Axis Americas GM Fredrik Nilsson and published by CRC Press. It's got a hard cover, is nearly 400 pages, has a thorough index and comes with a CD that's both Mac- and PC-compatible and offers network video design tools. Plus, it's got lots of pretty pictures. You can currently buy it here for $57.56. (Of course, my copy is signed by the author so is going to be worth gazillions on eBay someday. But don't be jealous.) On the other hand, you have Security Manager's Guide to Video Surveillance, written by John Honovich, proprietor of www.ipvideomarket.info and a former product development head at 3VR and general manager of Sensormatic Hawaii. It's "published" by www.ipvideomarket.info, runs about 120 pages, does not have an index (but doesn't need one - and I'll get to why), and is about as bare bones as you can imagine, without any pictures, or, really much of a change of fonts or anything that might pretty things up a bit. But here's the kicker: It's available for free here. And when you download the pdf, it's completely searchable (hence, no need for an index), cut-and-pastable, etc., and, better yet, it's a living document. Honovich has plans to update it two or three times a year (this is actually version 2.0), and it's "open source," meaning you can do with it what you will (as long as you give John some credit), and you can contribute to it, asking questions or suggesting new topics that John will address in future additions. I've got to say, I'm getting to like this Honovich guy. While Nilsson's book is incredibly thorough and well done (and I'm not going to get into a full review of both books right now), think about what it is: A completely static tome that's being introduced to help you understand modern video surveillance systems, when the very idea of a modern video surveillance system is constantly changing. Sure, CRC Press could publish an update next year, and every year after that, but who's going to spend the $50 multiple times? And how many trees are we going to kill in the process? Doesn't it make sense to have an online document, like a Wikipedia page, for instance, that offers all of this information on IP video in a way that can be easily updated and is, theoretically, always up to date with current thinking and technology? Of course, these two books are aimed at different audiences (Nilsson's is for the integrator, Honovich's more for the end user), but much of the content overlaps, despite the completely different approach the books take. Honovich's is much more casual and is presented in a question-and-answer format. Nilsson's is more formal and is presented like the textbooks you had in college. In terms of content right this second, you'd have to go with Nilsson's for total value, but you'd also have to pay $50 for it, and it could be completely out of date in two years. There's a whole lot of value in free, and in getting another free book in six months. Some people still like the look and feel of a hardcover book, and that does have an attraction. And we obviously struggle with this very issue in house - as in, why publish a "newspaper" every month, when we could put the same content online and have it be fully updatable with new information and not kill any trees? Yeah, well, we're working on that. People still like the look and feel of a physical paper, and advertisers, our life blood, still really like to pay money for print ads while they expect online ads to be much cheaper while at the same time delivering the name, email, and color photo of every single person who sees them (that's a slight exaggeration). When we all have great portable digital newspaper and book readers, print will completely die. Until that day, we've got a hybrid system with benefits on both sides. Where do you come down?

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.

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.

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