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Access Control Source Book/ISC East

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Hey, if you're a manufacturer of products that can be used for access control, you can get in our upcoming access control source book by going here. Also, if you're going to ISC East and you've got a new product to push, go here. That's all the housekeeping for today.

Hold your hosses!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Nervous about this Wall Street bailout? Me too. On today’s Times op-ed page, columnist Bob Herbert said we should seek a second opinion on treasury secretary Henry Paulson’s bailout recommendation. (Herbert is hardly alone, plenty of pundits of all political stripes, economists, not to mention plain old taxpayers—agree.) Something needs to be done, and soon, but we’re talking about $700 billion. Read that slowly: seven hundred billion dollars. That’s a staggering amount of money, and this bailout’s got to work, the first time. As Herbert says, it just makes sense to take a couple days to explore “the weak points, the loopholes, the potential unintended consequences of a bailout of this magnitude.” Herbert points out “Lobbyists, bankers and Wall Street types are already hopping up and down like over-excited children, ready to burst into the government’s $700 billion piñata. This widespread eagerness is itself an indication that there is something too sweet about the Paulson plan.” He notes a very important point--that the bailout is not supposed to be a good deal for business, and quotes economist Dean Baker: “The idea is that you’re coming here because you would be going bankrupt otherwise,” said Mr. Baker. “You’re coming here because you have no alternative. You’re getting a bad deal, but it’s better than going out of business. That’s how it should be structured.” So, how should it be structured? I'm not sure, but let's at least talk about it a little. There's an interesting story In the Times business section about an successful early 90’s bailout in Sweden, which had managed to get itself into big problems because of "imprudent regulation, short-sighted economic policy and the end of its property boom." From the story: Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government. That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well. “If I go into a bank,” said Bo Lundgren, who was Sweden’s finance minister at the time, “I’d rather get equity so that there is some upside for the taxpayer.” So what happened? According to this story, Sweden spent 4 percent of its GDP to rescue the banks. (The $700 billion bailout represents roughly 5 percent of the American GDP, the story says.) The final cost to Sweden, the story says, was 2 percent of GDP (though some say it was closer to zero) and Sweden seems to have survived very well thank you since that time. When my five brothers and sisters and I were kids, things from time to time got a little crazy in my house. When it was time to slow down and take a breather, my mother used to say (ok she used to yell) , "Hold your hosses!" (That's horses, for those of you who didn't grow up near Boston.) That's what Congress needs to do. This is a big deal. Let's get it right. We've got time to debate these issues. We don't have time to get it wrong.

What can we learn from IT standards processes?

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I found an interesting article in today's Times about IBM throwing a bit of a hissy fit because a standards discussion was not going its way. Essentially, IBM is threatening to bail out of certain standards bodies unless they change the way they go about their business. For example, Microsoft submitted OOXML to the ISO under a so-called Fast Track process, which some opponents believed was too rushed and resulted in a poor-quality standard. Many countries and technical experts questioned the need for another standard document format. Similarly, people are labeling the PSIA (no, not the Professional Ski Instructors of America; the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance. Geez) the "Cisco Group," and expressing similar concerns, because the essentials of its first recommended specification (I'm going to get to the difference between a specification and a standard) came from a document supplied by Cisco. And this is why this standards discussion can get so murky. First, the difference between standards and specifications: A specification is a way of doing something issued by an industry group or manufacturer that's kind of like a recommendation or a theory on the best way of doing things. That specification only becomes a standard when an accredited body, like an IEEE or ANSI, vets that specification, puts it through its paces, and then issues it as an accredited standard. Second, the murkiness: Say you're a big manufacturer who'd like to get on this whole "open standards" wave, but would still like to retain its dominance in the marketplace, which was attained through a semi-proprietary way of doing things. Wouldn't you submit your specification for a way of doing things to a standards body and try to fast-track it through, so your way of doing things became the standard and all of your competitors had to play catch-up? And if your competitor did that, wouldn't you, like IBM, cry foul and threaten to take your ball and go home? So, here are some of the questions: Is Cisco using the PSIA as a puppet, knowing that it's done so much heavy lifting on creating the specification for device discovery that the PSIA member companies would be unlikely to change much and just generally be happy with it? Is the Sony-Axis-Bosch alliance (sorry, I mean the ONVIF) similar to IBM's fuss-making, or are they really the more "open" discussion? Here's the essence of the IBM position: IBM's guidelines are based on its belief that open standards increase the range of software products that are interchangeable. Standards prevent one software vendor from capturing a large part of a market by locking users into a proprietary format and limiting their ability to easily switch to another product. Microsoft has long been accused of dominating the market for office productivity programs due to its use of closed file formats. Microsoft changed course, however, and submitted its OOXML format to become an international standard, which means other vendors could implement OOXML in their products. But OOXML was criticized for being unnecessarily complex. Also, Microsoft was accused of pressuring countries to support the standard, which left companies such as IBM fuming. IBM is a long-time backer of ODF. The analogy to security is less than perfect, since the standards are much more developed in IT and security is really just beginning to iron things out, but the potential political situation seems kind of similar to me. Long-time backers of standards are going to resent new positions by old vanguards that, no, really, we're totally into this open standards thing. But that doesn't mean that the old vanguards don't have an ability to write good specifications that would actually be of benefit to the industry. What's going to be important is that people actually look at the documents being created by the PSIA and Sony-Axis-Bosch (and hopefully it won't come to the point where they're issuing competing specs for device discovery, because that would just seem wasteful) and actually figure out which makes more sense for the security community, and not just side with whomever they're friendliest. That would simply be counter-productive in the long run. We've talked here not too long ago about the benefits of standards, and they seem legion, but no one said the process was enjoyable.

Okay, I'm on Twitter now

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Monday, September 22, 2008
I can't imagine how often I'm going to use this yet, but I am now on Twitter if you want to be my Twitter follower (I believe that's the right terminology) or want me to follow you: http://twitter.com/Sam_Pfeifle. I've also got a LinkedIn page, which you can find in the sidebar on the lower right, and a Facebook page, which I'm keeping for personal stuff right now, and a Myspace page, which is for my band, the Grassholes. Plus, I've got online identities in half a dozen online forums. All of this is getting time consuming...

Have you seen my lawnmower?

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Monday, September 22, 2008
It's been a while since I've blown up some local television station's "security" story, so I'm going to indulge myself today. It's Monday, I'm eating lunch, and I can't help myself. Today's insanity is provided by NBC 12, out of Richmond, Va. It's titled "Break-in reminds homeowners of the risk of property crime." I'm entertained by the premise alone of this story. Essentially, homeowners in tony neighborhoods need to be reminded that they can be victims, too. It's not just in the ghettos that crime happens, you know. I mean, We did a search over the past three months, to see what other kinds are reported here. During that time, we saw three cases of theft, two cases of vandalism, and one report of burglary. Holy smokes. So three times, the housekeeper stole Ma's jewelry; twice, a couple of brat kids egged someone's house; and once, there was a burglary. In three months. In all of Colonial Place, a large part of Richmond, Va., which is a pretty big city. I'm floored by that. I'm shocked the National Guard hasn't been called in. Luckily, however, neighbor Todd Flowers is coming to the rescue: A recent shed break-in prompted a Richmond man to make a quick fix to his home security. And his ideas may help cut down on other area crimes. Excellent. Can't wait to hear what those ideas are. I'm all ears. This happened near Malvern and Stuart Avenues. Sweet. "The minute I saw the doors wide open I knew that they broke in," said homeowner Todd Flowers. Flowers did everything you're supposed to do. It just didn't matter. "And I had it latched right here," he said. "They just came with bolt cutters and snapped the lock right off." Everything you're supposed to do=put a lock on it. Good to know. Somewhere there's a book with a paragraph on what you're supposed to do to keep your gardening shed safe. That paragraph reads like this: Put a lock on the door. But the lock turned out to be the least of his worries, on a recent morning. The lawnmower was the first thing they grabbed. It's unclear how they've established the chronology of the crime. I'm assuming CSI guys were brought in to establish the timeline. "It was sitting right here," he said. "They stole the gas, but left me with the gas cans." I find this incredibly entertaining. So the thieves stole a lawnmower (virtually worthless - what are they going to do, put it on eBay?), but didn't want to carry the gas cans, so transferred said gas into another container? That makes zero sense. But, whatever. Not only that, but the thieves stole hundreds of dollars worth of other yard supplies, which all have to be replaced. "My blood pressure shot up and it was disappointing to see all my lawn toys stolen," he said. "You just feel violated." I know I feel violated. Anyway, weren't there going to be some new ideas on home (gardening shed, really) security here. I haven't found them yet. I'll skip ahead and look for them. Hmm. This might be them: "I think that people just need to be aware and do what they can to deter this kind of thing," he said. "Stay in communication with your neighbors, install lights." New ideas="be aware"; "do what they can"; "stay in communication with your neighbors"; "install lights." Do you think Todd can patent those? I'm guessing those ideas would be valuable in this whole anti-crime campaign the nation has embarked upon. Maybe he could get some signs made up. Or a web site. Todd's now taking his own advice. "So it's not a whole lot of light but its enough so you can see if there's anyone back here," he said. And hopes others do, too. Light pollution comes to Colonial Place, as gardening sheds everywhere are bathed in light. Odds are, those thieves won't be getting inside his shed again, anytime soon. "They, essentially have to rip the doors off," he said. Everything you're supposed to do now=get a bigger lock than you thought you needed. Also, this television station has no qualms about putting commas between subjects and their verbs. None whatsoever. They're grammar lawless, I tell you. Unfortunately, you can't be 100% safe from anything. So you do what you can to deter crime, but it happens all over the community so be aware. I think I saw that on a coffee mug once. Or maybe it was a bumper sticker. It's just so true. There might have been more commas on the bumper sticker, though. It's hard to remember. I've seen so many.

More fun at NFPA 2009

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tomorrow, Sept. 19, is the deadline for proposals for presentations for the 2009 NFPA Conference and Expo, which is going to take place in Chicago June 8-11. Here's more info on the call for presentations. I'm looking forward to the event, as I always do, 'cause I get to see my fire people, and because I love Chicago. Read on for another reason: I was talking to NFPA's Cheryl Pozner-Green last week. Cheryl put together the behind-the-scenes tour of the fire systems of the Beatles' LOVE Cirque du Soliel show for the 2008 NFPA show, and she did a great job. I always learn more when I can see the systems they're talking about. Plus, I felt like a daring adventurer up in the rafters of the Cirque set, 70 feet above the stage. So, the good news is that Cheryl and her group are trying to pull together another fire tour in Chicago. They've got some great ideas about locales, but nothing's nailed down yet. I'll let you know when I hear more.

Some light reading for the plane

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
I think everybody's more than a little curious how the financial crisis is going to affect the security industry. Just so we have a baseline for what's going on, I'd suggest reading this great analysis of what caused the crisis, from the WSJ. Very well done.

Quiet in Maine; Apx goes green

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
So, I'm holding down the fort here in Yarmouth while all my colleagues are running around the show floor, and apparently up and down lots of escalators at the ASIS show in Atlanta. I hear that there's lots of fire news coming out of ASIS this year--check Sam's blog, (there are links to it on nearly every Web page on this site) for more details. I'll have more on any of the really good stuff for you next week. In the meantime, it's very, very quiet here. Phones are not ringing, and people are not returning my calls. Guess they're in Atlanta, duh. I did see one interesting tidbit on line about ApxAlarm's new campus that they're building on 17 acres in Provo, Utah: They're actually thinking about the design of the buildings and they're going to be careful to use green design. Now isn't that cool? It should be way more commonplace than it is in our industry. Here's my original story and here's their press release.

Honeywell's coolest thing here

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I forgot to mention how cool this new spec-writing tool is from Honeywell. I got a demonstration from Michael Linebarger yesterday and it was very impressive. Basically, it asks you questions about the system you'd like to install, you do some pointing and clicking (it even talks to you if you want it to) and the end result is a furnished parts list, CAD drawing, and even a Microsoft Word document that's professionally written and will serve as your complete A&E proposal. Coming from someone who knows his way around Word, I've got to say that's some seriously nerdy stuff put together by Linebarger and Dave Combes. Big hat tip to them. And after you've got all that, you can also download a PowerPoint presentation to go along with it so you can turn your brand-new sales engineer into someone who looks like a 20-year veteran. Sure, it's all Honeywell products, so it's obviously a little self-serving on their part, but there are plenty of dealers who don't do anything buy Honeywell and this has got to be a huge leg up for them. It's up right now, but they'll start pushing it in November. In my opinion, this is where the smart manufacturers will separate themselves: By making it really easy for integrators/installers to sell their new technology.

ASIS, day 2

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Finished off by the very good Stanley party at STATS, where you could pour your own beers from taps in the tables and smoke cigars on the top floor, I've got to say today was pretty productive. I learned more than a few things, and though today just didn't seem to have the verve yesterday did in my meetings, there were clearly more people walking the floor today and exhibitors weren't quite so cranky. Alas, I missed our booth wine and cheese party, but I'll get to that. Anyway, things started very well, with our TechSec Advisory Board breakfast, always a highlight of the ASIS show. We got great turnout and great feedback (hell, everything's great tonight!) about our 2009 educational program. We're working now on a keynote speaker to fill the bill. If you've got any suggestions, lay them on me. After that, a meeting with Dean Seavers at GE Security went very well, with continued talk about focusing on solutions rather than products. It's clearly the way to go, but there are still a number of people who slander GE just about any chance they get. I'm not sure if they have unrealistic expectations of what is still a relatively new security operation or if they just know something I don't from having worked with them. All indications to me are that Seavers and company have really revamped the security operation and they're easy to work with. Who knows. Did I mention that SimplexGrinnell went with an Irish pub theme for their booth? Oh yeah, there ware plenty of darts being thrown. I have to ask, though: Do Irish pub employees really wear berets? Maybe they do. I've only seen the Dublin airport. No berets there, though. It all somehow supports SimplexGrinnell's message for the show, "Powering an Evolution in Emergency Communications underscores the reliability, survivability and vision of using voice-enabled Simplex fire alarm systems to drive emergency communications solutions." They had some other announcement about Microsoft certification, too, that you'll probably see Martha write about. Other than Stanley's sports bar, there weren't many other themed booths. I'm not sure whether to lament or celebrate that. Other notable things from the show: 1. Pivot3's serverless computing stuff is real-deal interesting. If you're doing more than 4 terabytes of storage on a job, why wouldn't you work with a company that can make your server investment - money and power - quite simply go away? If this doesn't take the industry by storm, the industry isn't paying enough attention. 2. I also really like Smartvue's stuff. I know they've kind of come and gone and come again in this industry, but their wireless installation and NVR options really look nice and make sense for a progressive integrator with good ideas. 3. Xtralis is more than fire. The Australian company has launched new access and video lines. Now it's up to you to hop on board that train. 4. If you want a good product lesson, check out Sielox. They've made some major changes to their controller, and you're going to like most all of them: SD storage on the board, with the ability to leave service notes and access manuals; much faster, with a native Ethernet connection, taking database downloads from potential hours to minutes; a new system architecture that's going to allow them to future-proof in a big way. 5. Did I mention Johnson Controls isn't messing around? I met with them more formally today and they talked my ear off about partnering and acquiring. Now's a good time to cash out, no doubt. 6. The Apple/videoNext event was a major let down. The speakers were solid, and there was a good conversation, but not only did Apple not speak on the panel at all (so it's hard to see how they co-hosted), they wouldn't even talk to me after the event. They were apparently scared I would use some quote against their will, when all I was really trying to do was make small talk. What's Apple going to do in this market? I guess just sell a lot of servers. They didn't make any other plans clear, but there were a number of the 100 people in the audience who were just there to show off their iPhone apps. Many were cool, like the one that allows touch-screen PTZ control on the iPhone from Lextech Labs. This makes me kind of salty because the event was very much "what video can do now" and not so much the intent, "The Future of Video Surveillance." I don't think you should still be feeling the need to promote IP over analog, but that may be a skewed view on my part because I've seen so many presentations about IPs benefits at TechSec for the past four years and I get so many new product demonstrations and haven't seen anything analog in two years. Also, I went to this instead of our own booth party, which was just your basic wine and cheese thing, but had a lot of interesting end users in attendance and some old industry contacts. Plus, it took forever to get to the videoNext thing and back because of the crappy convention center layout, whereby meeting rooms are literally more than a mile away. That sounds wine-y, I'm sure, but everybody else was complaining about it, so I will, too. 7. If you're looking for a fully integrated banking solution, you could do worse than calling Pacom. More news coming tomorrow.

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