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When distributors get funny

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
I'm a little bit frightened. ScanSource is trying to get all viral with its promotion of its ImpactNow event, coming Nov. 10 to Orlando, and the videos are actually kind of funny. Find the latest one here. I'd embed it, but I can't figure out how at the moment. So go watch it. ... Done yet? Okay, good. I wanted to think it was inane and unfunny, because I like my security companies like I like my music - no funny involved - but I was sort of smirking despite myself. The whole "punch you in the mustache" riff isn't bad and might even be improvised, which I like more. It's pretty clear ScanSource actually hired professional actors and stuff. This is a scary level of media sophistication for a security industry where many manufacturers still snail mail press releases. Well done by ScanSource on at least one level. However (maybe I should have written "HOWEVER," since this is a big however), is it really true that ScanSource believes the target candidates for its ImpactNow event are jamokes who sit on their couch together, calling one another "dude" and "bro," playing Wii and obsessing over Danica Patrick? I understand they're going for ironic, but isn't this the exact image of the industry many people are trying to dispel? Hey, high-level IT guys, come work in the security industry, where we all have southern accents, wear ballcaps, and obsess about meeting mildly attractive female racecar drivers! Cuz we're all guys! And guys play video games and objectify women! Ha! Are the guys on that couch the same guys who are coming to ImpactNow to see ex-Apple exec Steve Wozniak this year, or the ones who were impressed by this presentation from Jack Welch last year? It seems unlikely. The ImpactNow events have real content that's worthwhile. Why not have nerdy computer type obsession about seeing their idol, Wozniak, who invented their favorite all-time operating system or something? For those people trying to professionalize the industry, appeals like, "win this car," or "come see this babe," are simply counterproductive. When you go to journalism conferences, I can assure you there aren't any appeals along the lines of, "learn how to write an effective lede after you get an autograph from hottie softballer Jennie Finch!" When my wife evaluates audiology conferences (as female-dominated an industry as I've ever witnessed), she isn't enticed to attend with, "fit hearing aids the way Tom Brady fits into his Levi Jeans." So, good for ScanSource being creative and entertaining, but let's not forget we're trying to elevate our game here a little.

Huh?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
What in the name of Charlton Heston are they smoking in Harrold, Texas? Did you hear about the new "security measures" they're taking in this Texas burg to protect students? Teachers are allowed to carry guns. Here's the story There are these restrictions, though: (from a separate AP story) "In order for teachers and staff to carry a pistol, they must have a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun; must be authorized to carry by the district; must receive training in crisis management and hostile situations and have to use ammunition that is designed to minimize the risk of ricochet in school halls."

Newest Atlanta celebrity

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
So in a few weeks I'll be heading down to Atlanta to attend ASIS International. I had a great time in Atlanta when I went for a preview visit in February (partially because there wasn't four feet of snow on the ground like there was here in Maine). One of the highlights was the Georgia Aquarium, which is an awesome venue (minus the hoards of children) with its three beluga whales, massive whale sharks and many intriguing exhibits. I read an article today from CNN about the latest addition to the Georgia Aquarium in the form of a 450-pound manta ray named Nandi. She has a nine-foot wingspan and made her debut in the acquarium just yesterday. I hope that someone out there is having some sort of event in the aquarium (it has an awesome conference room that has a window into the beluga whale tank) and, more importantly, will send along an invite to yours truly. If not, Nandi sounds like a great reason to get off the show floor.

Axis grabs Steve Surfaro

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
If you've been to an industry show in the past 10 years, you likely know Steve Surfaro, Panasonic's long-time technical liaison, who has led countless training spots and seminars, all of them informative and entertaining. The guy's got a smile three feet wide. So, good for Axis in grabbing him to be their new strategic channel manager and security industry liaison. I don't have a link, but here's the press release: Axis Communications Names Steve Surfaro Strategic Channel Manager and Security Industry Liaison High-Profile Former Panasonic Exec Brings More Than 20 Years of Industry Experience An excellent start. No all-capped headline. Those Swedes are so reserved. CHELMSFORD, Mass. – August 26, 2008 – Axis Communications, the global leader in the network video market, today announced that it has named Steve Surfaro as strategic channel manager and security industry liaison. Surfaro will work with industry organizations such as ASIS, BICSI and SIA, as well as Axis’ software and hardware partners to raise the awareness of network video solutions in the industry. He will also work to expand Axis’ technology partnership program to ensure the availability of best-of-breed network video solutions. He will report to Dr. Jumbi Edulbehram, director, strategic channel. Sounds like he'll basically be in that same evangelist role he had at Panasonic. It suits him. If you can't get excited about a topic after talking it over with Surfaro, you're probably a dead person. Surfaro has more than 20 years of security industry experience. Prior to Axis, Surfaro served for 12 years at Panasonic as group manager, strategic technical liaison. In that role, he served as the public face of the company to the security industry. Before that, he was an account manager for Wells Fargo Alarm Services. He is a member of the ASIS Physical Security Council, chairman of that council's education subcommittee and is responsible for consistent workshop content. Surfaro is regular contributor to BICSI as well as SIA's Digital Video Standards. He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from The Cooper Union. “Steve brings tremendous knowledge and energy to Axis, and is a well respected educator and speaker in the security industry,” said Fredrik Nilsson, general manager of Axis Communications, Inc. “We are very excited to have Steve join Axis and look forward to his important upcoming work with industry organizations as well as partners and customers.” I think sometimes people still think of Axis as a small company. That Surfaro would take essentially the same job at Axis that he had at Panasonic is an indication of just how big people think Axis might get.

Fraternizing between pollworkers and voting machines banned

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Monday, August 25, 2008
I've had this one sitting on my desk top for a few days: Did you know that sleepovers involving poll workers and voting machines have been banned in Ohio? Here's an AP story on the ban It seems that 24 of the 88 counties in this state—remember the one with the questionable results in the past couple presidential elections?—have allowed its pollworkers to take voting machines home for a sleepover the night before the election. This practice makes it easier, they say, to get the machines to the polling place in a timely manner. Not this year. The practice has been deemed an unacceptable security risk. Here's a quote from the Globe story: "We want Ohio's voters and the rest of the nation to see that we have prepared a transparent process of transporting voting equipment, ballots, and supplies," said Brunner, a Democrat elected in 2006 with a promise to reform a system criticized for scattered problems of long lines and poorly trained poll workers. Here, here. Seems sensible to me. And there may even be an upside for my fire friends. Yes. One pollworker's banned sleepover may be another fire installer's business opportunity. The voting machines will be delivered to polling places the election eve, provided the polling place has adequate security and fire protection in place.

"Surveillance Society"

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Monday, August 25, 2008
A nice article in am New York over the weekend, looking at the growing number of cameras in New York City. It's a well balanced piece and raises a number of points of discussion, including some great commentary from Desmond Smyth, president of SecureWatch 24. First, the issue: They're everywhere and they're watching. New York has become Camera City as our every coming and going is recorded. Dropping off at the dry cleaners? Getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks? Crossing the street? Smile, for better or worse you're on someone's security camera, whether it's the city's, shopkeepers' or some nutjob's. A single busy block in Manhattan can contain hundreds. "You don't know who's watching you," said Nicole Labruto, 24, of Woodside, Queens. "You don't even know if there's a tape in there. It's creepy." For other New Yorkers it's added security. "Unless you're doing something wrong, you shouldn't worry," said Tracy Sugalski, 28, who lives near Union Square. "It sounds like a lot, but in New York City aren't we always being watched?" I think it's unfortunate that they lead with the idea that New York has become "Camera City," and that's "creepy," then get around to the rejoinder, but I guess that's to be expected. I mean, New York also has more cabs than anywhere else. Is it "cab city"? If you're going to do a thought piece, which isn't actually generated by a news event, I think you should start off a little more neutral and philosophical. Especially considering the results of their poll, which showed when I voted that just 20 percent of respondents were made "nervous" by the video surveillance. Anyway, they get on to some meatier stuff: Placement of cameras is governed by the reasonable expectation of privacy, which does not extend far beyond one's home, hotel rooms, bathrooms, gyms, and changing rooms. Streets, stores, and the workplace are not private. For security and surveillance experts, the real question privacy starts after the images are taken. "I go into hotels all the time, I see digital video recorders with burners in there," said Desmond Smyth, president of SecureWatch 24, a Manhattan-based security company with some 11,000 cameras. "It's just amazing to me. That's where their liability is. Who's to say these guys aren't just watching pretty girls?" This, for me - and I've written about it before - is the real issue with video surveillance: We do not yet have appropriate legislation governing the use of recorded video. Who gets to view it? How long is it kept for? How is it stored? How is it compressed? I think it's definitely shady that a hotel could theoretically record you falling down in their lobby and then post it to YouTube as a gag video. How would I ever know it was there? I've got to agree with the NYCLU on this point: The NYPD's recently released plan to protect the city by installing some 3,000 additional cameras in the city raised concern at the NYCLU because it takes a new step in surveillance by creating a database of license plates and people's movements. The police said the images, including license plate captures, would be erased after 30 days. The NYCLU's concern is they have not seen any written policy that described how the images would be protected and if they would be shared with other agencies. It's not about the surveillance, it's about how the surveillance is used, and it's about avoiding ambiguity. As long as everyone sees the policies, they can either agree or disagree, and use our democratic process to do something about something they disagree with. But if there's no written policy, it creates suspicion and skepticism and makes thoughtful people uneasy. What if it was up to the police officer how much to fine you for speeding, sometimes docking you $10, sometimes $500? You'd flip out. Well, what if sometimes the video of you walking down the street was erased in one day, and sometimes it was posted online to make fun of your outfit? Or, less hyperbolically, what if it was passed around the police station internally, commenting on your physical assets? Don't think that doesn't happen.

Power over wireless?

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Friday, August 22, 2008
I know at least a couple industry smarty-pantses who use power-over-wireless as a joke, seeing if they can find a sucker. Well, who's a sucker now? This is real, this is cool, and this is definitely a game-changer if the technology is made widely available. Except maybe it's still a ways off? It's hard to tell from the article. At one point, they're talking about how they're wirelessly powering a lamp right in front of the audience, and then we get this part, which is very exciting: "Initially it eliminates chargers and eventually it eliminates batteries all together," analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said of Intel's wireless power system. "That is potentially a world changing event. This is the closest we've had to something being commercially available in this class." Sign me up! But wait. Smith says Intel's wireless power system is still in an early stage of development and much research remains before it can be brought to market. Rattner spoke of technological transformations he expects by the year 2050. Huh? 2050? I'll be really old by then. Aren't we supposed to have flying cars that run on hydrogen by then, and nuclear batteries that run forever? That's what Isaac Asimov promised me. But maybe the article is just poorly written, and the transformations the writer is referring to are different than this wireless power stuff. I'll keep you posted.

Guiliani keynotes ISC East and elsewhere

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
So I was wondering this week, when Reed Exhibitions announced that former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Guiliani would deliver the keynote address at this year's (Oct. 29-30) ISC East, which personality Guiliani would be sporting: his super conservative primary personality which we saw during his spectacularly disastrous bid for the Republican nomination? or, since we'll be in Manhattan, the more socially liberal personality we saw during his tenure as mayor of New York? My guess, of course, given the security audience at this event, would be the former. Either way, Reed made a good choice, and I think people will be interested to hear and see Guiliani at ISC East. This morning I saw that we'll get a pre-ISC East view of the mayor speechifying at this year's Republican National Convention in Minnesota. It was announced this morning that he'll be keynoting there as well. Here's a CBS story with a Q & A with Guiliani about the presidential race and his RNC keynote.

Clear scores $44.4 Million in funding

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
Well, I guess the money people aren't too upset about that laptop snafu: Clear announced today $44.4 Million in venture funding. Apparently, some rich people think this Registered Traveler thing has legs. I'm not totally sure I agree, after having covered many of the baby steps the various contenders have taken. This is the part that's supposed to convince me it all makes sense: Clear's annual membership fee is $128. The Clear concierge service alone has made Clear lanes 30 percent faster than regular security lanes and Clear plans to improve that even more through enhanced technology which, once approved by the US Government, could allow cardholders not to have to remove shoes, outer garments or laptops as they pass through the security checkpoint. Clear was recently featured in a Conde Nast Traveler story which reported that there are an estimated 8 million fliers who take at least two trips per month and who are Clear's target market. Okay, let's do a little math, then. Say there are 8 million people who might be interested (I sort of doubt it, actually, since 8 million is almost 3 percent of the entire U.S. population, and that seems high to me). I would count myself among them, even though I don't travel quite that often. However, I doubt I will be joining Clear anytime soon because I find it highly unlikely my home airport, Portland, Maine, is going to get a Clear lane anytime soon. Maybe I'm wrong. Either way, Clear is going to have to up its amount of airports with lanes in a major way. They say it takes about $1 million per lane, per airport. So, to get a large percentage of those 8 million people interested, they're probably going to blow all of that venture funding on 50 or so new lanes, not to mention all the registration stations with iris technology, etc., they need to buy, which will probably run them another $1 million per airport. So, say, ballpark, they need about $100 million to get to the point where they've got great U.S. coverage (but still probably not at Portland or Hilton Head airport, or very many regional airports at all). Now, what's the cash flow? $128 per member, per year? Say a quarter of that 8 million people make the plunge (that would be a huge amount to do it - people are cheap, and security really isn't that bad). And say 60 percent of that half go with Clear and not the FLO Alliance (who are doing some interesting things with non-airport security access). That would leave you with 1.2 million buyers of a $128 membership each year, in the best-case scenario. So that's a pot of about $150 million. And what's the net margin on a membership, after you've paid people to man the lanes and staff the registration stations and made the cards and done the paperwork and advertised, etc.? In a perfect world, maybe 20 percent? So, you're bringing in about $30 million in net income each year in the very best case scenario, which couldn't possibly be realized for about two years (and that would be very quick)? And you've got to pay back $44 million in investment, so say $60 million minimum, at some not too distant date? And you've got to make $100 million in investments to even get to that $30 million in net income? I don't know. Back of the envelope, it just doesn't make that much sense to me. Maybe there are a bunch of sponsorships they could sell - advertising in the lanes and partnerships with hotels and car rental joints, etc. But I think the average security experience is going to get better, not worse, as fewer people will fly now that it's more expensive and those fewer people flying will be more experienced. Plus, the laptop and shoes and jacket things will go away fairly soon for most people as technology is developed. So I'm not even sure they would ever get a quarter of their target market to sign up. Maybe I'm wrong. Steven Brill is a smart guy, and the investors aren't dummies, but it seems like irrational exuberance to me.

The weight of responsibility

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
This article is a tragic reminder that the security business is often a matter of life and death and that mistakes, even small ones, can have serious consequences. The widow of a firefighter killed in a house fire is suing two security companies, Pinnacle Security of Utah and Security Associates International of Illinois, alleging that the companies mishandled a fire alarm signal that led to the deaths of not only the widow's husband, but another firefighter and the two occupants of the house. Mistakes by an alarm company representative led to a nearly 10-minute delay from the moment the homeowners' fire alarm alerted her to when the first firefighter was dispatched, according to the lawsuit and a 122-page report by the Contra Costa Fire District, reported the Contra Costa Times. Here is more from the Contra Costa story: On the night of the fire, homeowner Grace Moore told a Pinnacle alarm company representative that there was an active fire in the their house over a two-way intercom system. The alarm representative called the Contra Costa fire nonemergency dispatch line and told an operator there was a fire alarm report instead of relaying that she had spoken to the homeowner and was told a fire was burning. The wrong terminology and incorrect phone line sent the call plummeting down the priority list. It's a sad situation all around. From that article it does seem like the operator mishandled the dispatch and highlights a point I made in an earlier blog about the importance of knowing local information as well as having well-trained operators who understand the severity of their job. I will be curious to see how this plays out in court and there could be a potential precedent set determining exactly how liable security companies are for their actions (or mis-actions, I guess).

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