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That editorial I wrote

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Friday, October 3, 2008
Okay, so the feedback is starting to come in regarding my editorial in the October paper. In it, I sort of tepidly endorse Barack Obama. You can read the editorial for my reasoning, so I won't go into it here, but the central gist of it is that while his tax policies are likely to be worse for business owners than John McCain's, I think Obama's long-run vision for energy is a game-changer. I think energy is the single most important issue of our time, and I find McCain/Palin to be covering their eyes and pretending the problem isn't there. They'd be the sort of captains who advocate more bailing (or maybe drilling) as everyone else is jumping on the life rafts. If you disagree with me, I'm okay with that. And we've gotten both positive and negative feedback that's created some cool dialogues. What I won't tolerate, however, are the cowards who've called our offices, refusing to identify themselves, and yelled into the phone that they're canceling their subscription, blah, blah, and then hung up. What purpose does that serve? I'm sorry if you've come to expect so little from your industry publications that an editorial made you angry and you didn't know what to do about it, so you lashed out in the only pathetic power grab you could think of. But, you know what, I disagree with editorials, on issues big and small, in all kinds of papers I respect (the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, among them), and I rarely spite myself by denying myself their content in the future. I love to hear people disagreeing with me. Arguing is one of my favorite past-times. And maybe I do stir the pot on purpose sometimes. But I won't engage with people throwing around ad hominem attacks and setting up strawmen to knock down. So, fire away, but keep your discourse civil and intelligent. And please acknowledge that people can hold opinions opposite to yours without being "ignorant" or "biased." Because that's what opinions are: biases.

Off to Essen

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Friday, October 3, 2008
Hey all, I'll be in transit to Essen for the next couple of days, so I won't be around to moderate comments much. Still, if you comment, I'll get to them as fast as I can. If you'll be at the show, drop me a line via Twitter and we'll hook up.

The Switzerland of standards

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Thursday, October 2, 2008
The folks at Milestone today pointed me to a blog entry by John Blem, their CTO, regarding this whole standards issue that's been getting a lot of attention (from me, anyway), with the PSIA, SIA, and ONVIF (Sony-Axis-Bosch) initiatives. I'm going to ignore for a moment that he's linking to John Honovich's standards post and not one of mine (look how big a person I am (actually, you all know how petty I am. Who am I kidding?)) to get things started, and point out a few interesting things Blem has to say about the whole situation. Why do we care what Milestone thinks? Well, without throwing my weight behind anyone (and I'm pretty skinny, anyway), I have to say that I hear more often about Milestone's "openness" than anyone else's. That's just a fact. So, here goes: Almost daily, I get questions with regard to standards being set on the camera or hardware side. Specifically, asking me why Milestone as an open platform company is not leading the charge for one of these standardizations. My answer is always the same: As an open platform software provider, we will adopt any standards emerging, but obviously we do not want to take sides when we plan to support everything. It is more important for us to follow all these standards instead of creating them. But, jeez, doesn't that cost Milestone an awful lot of money, having to constantly adapt to all of the new ways of sending information about? Wouldn't the company be well-served if there was one universal way of communicating? And I guess there's another implicit argument here as well: That there is a need to take sides. Theoretically, there could be one universal standards body that everyone got behind and there wouldn't be a need to take sides. And, also theoretically, if Milestone was active in that one universal body, wouldn't that help provide it validation? Couldn't taking sides also end the sides-taking? I'm not sure about the answers to those questions. Then John goes into a well-reasoned discussion of who benefits from standards and why. I agree with about 99 percent of it so I won't reproduce it here. Just go read it. Done with that? Okay, back to the blogging: On the analytics side, you see standards being driven as well. I cannot be sure of the motivation, but the stance that Milestone takes on this is that you cannot standardize something that has not been invented yet. What I mean by this is that the sheer speed of innovation on that particular side is moving so rapidly that it is impossible to standardize everything at this point. Eventually, I think we will see a polarized market in both the analytic and camera side where we have value-driven products versus price-driven products. This will ultimately lead to a subsequent shakeout in the market. I agree with a lot of this, but I think this is where the standards talk often gets confusing for integrators and end users and I think there's a point to be made here. Sure, analytics are still very young and I agree that you can't standardize before the largest part of the innovation happens, but I don't think using standards (here being equated with price-driven) and having differentiating features (value-driven) are diametrically opposed. I've had it explained to me a couple of times that, for example, you can use standard H.264 encoding that could be played back on any Qucktime viewer, but that doesn't limit you from having all kinds of cool features that appear in your playback and not in other people's playbacks. So, you're using a standard way of communicating, but you have better stuff to say than other people. We're standardized on the English language, in general, but some people are better talkers/writers than others, right? I don't think that's as bad an analogy as it might initially seem. One could wonder, however, why companies claiming to seek a global standard do not join an already established standards committee instead of launching a competing one. To me, it seems contradictory to have several standards driven at the same time when the overall message is that there should be a common standard. Maybe it is more important to be in the driver seat instead of trying to get as many companies as possible represented under one common standard committee? Well, I think maybe John has Bingo here, but it's also still very early in this process. It's not impossible that these competing (and only we observers say they're competing - it's not necessarily true they're working at cross purposes) entities will eventually come together to work out the best standard for the industry as a whole. That's kind of where I have my hopes pinned. I'll be seeing ONVIF's news at Essen next week, so stay posted.

Time to go faux?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Picking up on my blog of a few days ago about homeowners putting security systems signs in front of their house when they don't have a security system, here's another story along the same lines. It's from the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune and it says that you can get Brink's and ADT signs on eBay. It also gives information and assessments of other faux security measures such as fake cameras and an interesting product that simulates the light of a TV in a room. (Did you know that many burglars are afraid of TVs?) I couldn't find any ADT or Brink's signs for sale on eBay, but I did find one for an APX sign Here's a posting for a "Security home camera warning signs 4 ADT'L stickers—but that's not ADT, that's an abbreviation for "additional." Here's my advice. If you want to go faux, you should do it right. And I've got good news for you. You can purchase the very same fake security stickers we had the Entwistle house when I was growing up. Click here to "buy it now!" There are 20 available and they're only $2 a piece. Attractive too!

Time to go faux?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Picking up on my blog of a few days ago about homeowners putting security systems signs in front of their house when they don't have a security system, here's another story along the same lines. It's from the Minneapolis-St. Paul StarTribune and it says that you can get Brink's and ADT signs on eBay. It also gives information and assessments of other faux security measures such as fake cameras and an interesting product that simulates the light of a TV in a room. (Did you know that many burglars are afraid of TVs?) I couldn't find any ADT or Brink's signs for sale on eBay, but I did find one for an APX sign Here's a posting for a "Security home camera warning signs 4 ADT'L stickers—but that's not ADT, that's an abbreviation for "additional." Here's my advice. If you want to go faux, you should do it right. And I've got good news for you. You can purchase the very same fake security stickers we had the Entwistle house when I was growing up. Click here to "buy it now!" There are 20 available and they're only $2 a piece. Attractive too!

WSJ hearts Vumii

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Night-vision manufacturer Vumii picked up a nice accolade today when the Wall Street Journal tabbed the company for its 2008 Technology Innovation Awards. Basically, the WSJ employs a panel of judges, mostly entrepreneur and inventor types, to evaluate new technology entries in a bunch of different categories, and picks a "winner" in each of those categories, physical security being one. Of all the new stuff out there in physical security - easy-to-configure analytics, browser-based control of alarms systems, video fire detection, wide-reaching PSIM software - Vumii took the prize. Of course, there's no way to know who entered or even knew about the contest (and I generally don't go in for these kinds of awards), but the WSJ certainly has no stake in the physical security market, you know the award wasn't paid for, and it's interesting insight into what non-industry observers think is valuable in our market. Here's what they had to say: Vumii Inc. was selected in this category for developing a night-vision camera technology that uses a near-infrared laser to illuminate an area. Most long-distance night-vision cameras "see" in the dark by capturing thermal infrared rays. But these cameras can't read writing or recognize faces, and they can't see through glass. Atlanta-based Vumii's Discoverii technology gets its illumination from an invisible laser beam that produces a high-resolution image that can be captured by standard video equipment. Introduced in 2006, the equipment is being used to monitor a nuclear power plant in Japan and a water system in Pennsylvania, among other uses. You'll remember I was pretty geeked about this technology back at ISC West. Still, I don't actually think the Discoverii part of Vumii is the coolest. The software the company offers, Sensorii, which offers a panoramic view of the scene you're watching and places what you're looking at, or allows you to create automated night-vision video tours, is what really makes the technology somewhat practical. Good for WSJ for making an interesting choice. If anyone would have picked something else, I'd like to hear what you would have picked. Obviously, another night vision company, NoblePeak, has been winning lots of show awards within the industry. Wonder if they entered this contest.

Apx employees help hurricane victims

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Monday, September 29, 2008
Tired of all the depressing economic news? Here's some feel-good news about an alarm company volunteering to help out victims of Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas. Apx COO Alex Dunn said: "Our employees expressed a desire to help the hurricane victims, and so we set up a plan to make it happen. While many are concentrating on the financial headlines that are dominating the news, there are people affected by Hurricane Ike who don't have the most basic things: power, phone, or a safe place to live. We came to discover that making a small difference is how you make a big difference. We hope that other people will remember the victims as well."

Security and the election

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Monday, September 29, 2008
I'm going to try to look at the presidential election fairly often over the next month for clues about how each candidate will perform for the security industry. There is, on one hand, the simple fact of how they'll perform for the economy in general, and small businesses especially, since the vast majority of security companies are simply small businesses trying to get by in what are increasingly uncertain economic times. But what of the candidates' views on actually keeping people safe? Sure, from terrorism and the like, but also from crime in general. I think this article from the Arizona Republic raises some interesting points about how security has been pushed to the side as the economy dominates presidential discussion. The candidates hardly discussed national and domestic security in Friday's debate. Why? Recent polls suggest that voters have relegated terrorism to a secondary concern, though it remains a major unresolved issue for the next president. Congressional and non-partisan reports lay out a list of 9/11 Commission mandates that remain unfinished, such as tighter transit security to better efforts to interdict weapons of mass destruction. The two candidates have staked out similar positions on bolstering border security, hunting Osama Bin Laden and closing Guantanamo Bay prison. But in the dozen times the two senators cast votes together on homeland-security bills, they agreed only twice. So how are voters supposed to figure out where they really differ? Well, you can try the candidates' web sites. For McCain, go here, here, here, and here. I'm not 100 percent sure what the difference between "National Security" and "Homeland Security" is, but maybe you can figure it out. For Obama, go here, here, and here. It looks like "Defense" is for fighting overseas and "Homeland Security" is more defending the borders, but there's some bleed. Also, Iraq is separated out for Obama. But if you read all of that, you'll see scant mention of the private security industry. I think this is a well-made point: Domestically, "we are obsessing about securing the border, but there are lots of other things out there to be concerned about: protecting the food supply, water supply, nuclear plants, natural-gas supplies and so on," said Courtney Banks, chief executive officer of National Security Analysis Worldwide. Is anyone reaching out to the security industry? The NBFAA, especially, has a presence on Capitol Hill, but despite their lobbying efforts, there's never much of a mention at all of the private security industry in the public discourse. Everyone's just talking about military and government efforts, but there's no way publicly funded efforts can keep everything safe. It's up to private water companies to protect their water supplies, up to private food manufacturers to make sure their products aren't tainted, up to private natural-gas facilities to make sure their plants aren't attacked and destroyed. CFATS and other government regulations dictate how some of these places must secure themselves, but they are largely unfunded mandates and it's up to the private security industry to figure out how to solve the problems as efficiently as possible. Has anyone suggested tax breaks for private businesses who invest in security? Has any candidate suggested a nationwide private information gathering service, a linking of IP-based surveillance systems? I haven't heard it if they have. Please send anything you see along and I'll take a look and make it widely available.

ASIS, day 3

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Saturday, September 27, 2008
Much of today's discussion was dominated by standards, especially video standards and the seemingly competing PSIA and Sony-Axis-Bosch video standards groups. I say seemingly because there's a lot that can be misconstrued in the "standards" discussion. First and foremost, it's not even standards we're talking about. As has been noted often today, anything either group releases will really just be a specification. Without the verification of a standards body like SIA or ANSI, they don't quite reach the level of "standards," even if people talk about the specifications they hope to release in that way. Second, there's the perception on the show floor that the two groups are competing, and that both groups are competing with SIA in some way, but most conversations I've had with the interested players have seemed to indicate that everyone would ideally like to play together. As evidence, SIA treasurer Rob Hile was named PSIA chairman today, and as for creating a good relationship with SIA, he said today, "I'm personally going to take that on my shoulders." Are standards a big deal anyway? The are and they aren't. On one hand, just about every major camera company works with every major video management software company, so what's the big deal? Well, both David Bunzel, an originator of the PSIA, and Fredrik Nilsson, general manager at Axis, made the point that software makers like Milestone, Genetec, OnSSI, etc., spend way too much time and energy integrating cameras. What if they never had to spend that money again? Wouldn't that allow those companies to spend much more time and energy on improving functionality and adding features? Seems like a no brainer. So, no, the industry isn't being dragged down by a lack of standards, but, yes, the industry could be made much more efficient with a solid group of interoperability standards. I'll have more on this in the next paper.

Fake security signs in vogue, again

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Friday, September 26, 2008
Apparently, faux security signs are back in vogue. A news outlet near Norfolk, Va., randomly checked seven homes that had security signs, and found out that four of the homes didn't have the security system to go along with the sign. One woman said she got the sign from her brother 15 years before. At least—judging by the photo in the story anyway—her sign is for an authentic security company (the one and only ADT). Faux security signs were fashionable at my house when I was growing up way back in the 1970s, but we didn't have a sign from a real security company. Here's what happened: Our house was broken into and the thief stole a TV or two, and not much else. (We were away, and I think there was about a week's worth of Boston Globes piled up on the front walk, no lights on in the house, and other tell-tale signs announcing that the Entwistles were on vacation.) To increase security, my thrifty father sent away for these little green stickers that had lightening rod decorations and proclaimed: "Warning! This home protected by Electronic Automatic Alarm System." I think he thought they looked pretty fake, but we put them on all of our doors and a bunch of windows. There were other new security measures implemented as well after the break-in: For added protection when we went away, my father used to cover up the TV in our family room—which was plainly visible through sliding glass doors— with newspapers. (This prompted one of my brothers to put a sign on the newspaper-covered television set--also visible from the glass doors-- that said ,"This is not a TV!") The newspapers and accompanying sign became a security tradition in my family when we went away. Maybe the stickers and newspapers deterred criminal activity; Maybe thieves just never showed up again. At any rate: We were never broken into again.

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