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Vote!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Anyone who's worked on a political campaign will tell you that, win or lose, you spend the immediate post-campaign days swearing you'll never do it again--it's way too much work and it's all-consuming. And you really mean it, until the next election season when you get sucked into another campaign. The last time I worked full time on a campaign was a lot of years ago, just before kids. (Literally...my daughter was due on election day, but arrived early on Halloween.) The days of working full time on a campaign are over for me, but there's one day I always miss being right there in the middle of the action...today. Election day. We've all heard what the pundits and pollsters have to say about what's going to happen today, but the cliche is true: There's only one poll that counts. Make sure you get to your polling place and vote!

All you ever needed to know about voting, you learned well before kindergarten

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Monday, November 3, 2008
Think you've made a rational, well thought-out decision on how to vote in tomorrow's Presidential election? According to this story in yesterday's Boston Globe, we have less control over our political preferences than we may think. The story's about a study in a journal called Science, which shows that our political preferences are the result of our reactions to different stimuli, and are therefore pretty much pre-programmed at birth. From the story: Science, found that our immediate, unconscious reaction to threat - how much we startle at frightening images and noises - determines our political views on specific issues like gun control, national defense, the Iraq war, [In case you were wondering, here's the security-related part of this story] domestic surveillance, the torture of political prisoners, and even immigration.

HID drinks some Nectar

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Monday, November 3, 2008
HID Global announced an acquisition just now, and it's slightly over my head, so I'll let the press release give you the details: HID Global Acquires .NET-based Nectar Smart Card Technology IRVINE, Calif., November 3, 2008 – HID Global, the trusted leader in providing solutions for the delivery of secure identity, today announced that it has acquired Nectarsmart card .NET technology, based on Microsoft.NET, from StepNexus and Hive Minded. I'm thinking that "Nectarsmart" is supposed to be two words there, but with these tech-heavy announcements, and all the wacky names things are given lately, it's hard to tell. And are StepNexus and Hive Minded the names of companies? Is one a division of the other? Did they both have a co-patent on the technology or something? I'll see what I can find out. Nectar is a commercial and licensable reference implementation of a .NET virtual machine for embedded systems with a smart card dedicated operating system. The acquisition is consistent with HID Global’s offering of a full range of smart cards and embedded products with high security and leading edge operating systems, supporting the company’s development initiatives in a number of ways: In fast-moving vertical markets such as transportation, financial transactions and physical access control, there is an increasing need to have the ability to define and program custom applications in HID Global’s extensive range of high security embedded systems. The ability to provide a .NET environment and development tool chain will reduce time-to-market and support costs while meeting the market’s requirement for flexible, extendable and programmable systems. New HID Global software platforms associated with the issuance of secure identity are being implemented on the Microsoft .NET platform. These include naviGO™, Asure ID®6.0, and iDIRECTOR™. Multi-technology smart cards support HID’s installed base of physical access control cards while reinforcing the global move to a single cross-platform card used for multiple applications. HID supplies and supports multiple smart card platforms and operating systems which are highly optimized to customer needs as well as the intended market application. This diversity and flexibility will be further enhanced and strengthened with the .NET platform. (Nodding my head to imply, "Of course I what all of that means and I know why that stuff is important!") “As a leading supplier in the delivery of secure identity, this acquisition reflects yet another positive step in HID’s growth in the support of multiple platforms and languages for smart cards,” said Denis Hébert, president and CEO of HID Global. “The ability to license the .NET reference implementation to third-parties supports our objective of expanding the HID offering into a variety of vertical markets that rely on secure identity to achieve compliance, security and convenience.” The Nectar virtual machine is a Microsoft .NET-compatible implementation of the standardized ECMA335/ISO 23271 Common Language Infrastructure. Nectar enables smart cards to integrate seamlessly with .NET execution environments through its use of standard Microsoft® tools and Windows® communication protocols. Nectar integration is performed using Microsoft’s Visual Studio tools to provide seamless support for multiple programming languages (including Visual Basic, C#, J#, and C++), allowing developers and solution providers to capitalize on existing skills and code as well as reducing time-to-market and support costs. I would have put this last paragraph higher. This made the most sense in terms of the: Why'd you buy it, exactly? Anyway, I'll set up some calls and figure out what this means for your average security installer. Edit: For those of you who are fairly sophisticated, here's a paper on writing for .NET-enabled smart cards. It's over my head, but might not be over yours.

Diebold's doing just fine, thank you

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Friday, October 31, 2008
Since Diebold's finances have drawn a lot of attention over the past year, what with the UTC bid, etc., I thought I'd post a link to their earnings report. Things look pretty good: Diebold, Incorporated today reported 2008 third quarter revenue of $890.3 million, an increase of 20.2 percent from the third quarter of 2007. The company also reported net income of $46.5 million during the third quarter of 2008, compared to net income of $28.1 million in the comparable period in 2007, an increase of 65.2 percent. Earnings for the third quarter of 2008 were $.70 per share, compared to $.42 per share in the third quarter of 2007, an increase of 66.7 percent. I guess the recession hasn't hit Diebold too hard. A net margin of 5 percent is solid, if not completely world-beating, but a 20 percent increase in revenue year over year, without a significant acquisition is better than most. Unfortunately, security is not exactly the engine of his growth: Total revenue for the 2008 third quarter was up 20.2 percent. Financial self-service products and services revenue increased 18.3 percent over the prior period, while total security revenue decreased 6.4 percent. During the quarter, election systems revenue in Brazil was $58.6 million, representing more than 85 percent of the increase in total election systems revenue. Of the 20.2 percent increase in total revenue, the net positive currency impact was 3.4 percentage points.

Video surveillance: Totally a Halloween vandalism deterrent (or not)

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Friday, October 31, 2008
It's halloween. If your office is anything like my office, there is a great deal of time-squandering going on with costume discussion and silliness, so you're not looking for anything particularly substantive, I'm sure. So, here, are some fun Halloween stories. First up, a solid police blotter from Minny-St. Paul: OCT. 3 Theft. Halloween decorations were stolen from a deck of a home on the 1200 block of Trailwood N. The homeowner said she heard kids on her deck at approximately 10:30 p.m. She had posted a sign stating that there was video surveillance and heard the kids reading the sign aloud and then they left. So, the kids read the sign out loud, then stole the decorations anyway? And was there actually video surveillance or not? And why would anyone want to steal Halloween decorations? I thought kids just generally stomped and ruined Halloween decorations. This is a piece on "boneyards" (I wasn't the first to make the Halloween connection), which look like an interesting new market for video surveillance: Each yard is 7,240 square feet. The yards will be secure from the outside, with walls topped with razor wire. Tenants will have the option of video surveillance as well. On the inside, yards will be separated by chain link fence, which can be removed if a tenant wants to lease two yards. There's a common employee parking area west of the yards. Basically, it's a spot for contractors to store their stuff, out in the middle of the desert. Sounds like a good application for solar. Here's a story on video cameras catching pumpkin stealers who wanted to be pumpkin rollers: Three Chagrin Falls teens were arrested for allegedly stealing six pumpkins Oct. 14 from a home on Everton Avenue in Solon. The teens -- an 18-year-old woman, a 17-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl -- said they planned on using the pumpkins in the annual Chagrin Falls pumpkin roll. Solon police learned of the theft Oct. 20. That was when the homeowner, who caught the teens on a security video camera, palyed the video for Chagrin Falls school administrators, who then identified the teens. Ironically, the same teens were also caught stealing pumpkins in Chagrin Falls and were arrested by Chagrin Falls officers. The trio was charged with theft. This pumpkin roll event sounds pretty fun, though I've got to agree with the commenter below the story that it's somewhat curious that the police are providing protection for the rollers. I'm torn here, really. On one hand, I can imagine myself being 17 and thinking that was a pretty damn fun event. On the other hand, I would never want my daughter to attend such a thing and wind up like the "18-year-old woman" who wound up in the clink thanks to pumpkin theft. Also, please note the incorrect use of the word "ironically" in the above quote. A: Ironically is an adverb and should only be used to modify a verb in a construction such as "he curtsied ironically"; B: It would not be ironic that teens caught stealing pumpkins once would be caught again. Clearly, they are serial pumpkin stealers! And, finally, a story on selecting the proper equipment for ghost hunting. Maybe some of your can make a buck or two selling IR illuminators to ghost hunters. Hey, you're always talking about finding additional revenue streams. Happy Halloween.

Security embraces the YouTube generation

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I've often embedded videos here relating to security, whether it be a copper theft illustration, or silly surveillance captures, or product pitches. Generally, those videos have been posted to YouTube, which then provides an "embed" code, which I slap into the blog and, voila, you get to watch the video without actually having to leave my page. Of course, YouTube is only the best known of on the online video sites. You can post video just about anywhere now, and you can find videos all over the place on the Web. (Soon, you'll find many more videos on our home page, but that's for another day.) Now, the major manufacturers are starting to post video sites. They're mostly used to pitch their own products (obviously), but that doesn't mean they're totally without value. Right now, the best is Honeywell's (and I'm not just saying that because they sponsor our newswire). Not only do they have a bunch of product videos on their Security Channel, and an RSS Video feed, which is cool, but they've created an online video series, called Security Stories, that's professionally done in a Bob Villa kind of way, with a guy named Tony Martin traveling to visit different Honeywell dealers around the country and going out on jobs with them. I wouldn't hesitate to say the episodes are actually fairly entertaining. But, here, I'll post one for you and you can be the judge: See the production value on that? That doesn't come cheap. Bosch has another big video site, which you can find here. It's a little clunky in both Safari and Firefox, but it's pretty new, so I'm sure they're still working out some kinks. I get a lot of file errors, saying the videos won't load, and when I went to the RSS feed, I got an error message and a bunch of code. So there's that. But there are also a large amount of videos up there, and they're easily categorized so you can find the stuff you might be looking for. Basically, it's all product demos and training videos, but I could see how they'd be useful for new hires, especially, who need as much info as possible on what the products can do and how you install them. Here, for example, is a simple video showing what anti-loitering analytics can do (you'd see it here, but I can't get their embed code to work in blogger). I know, it's not exactly scintillating stuff, but if you're trying to add demonstration videos to your own web site, this is a quick and easy way to do it. Or you can just call this up when you're on a customer visit, showing some of the potential solutions in real time. I'm sure they'll work out some of the kinks in short order. I'm actually really surprised that more video manufacturers don't post videos on their sites. I mean, why am I reading a pdf case study about the great video solution you've created for this retail chain when I could be watching a video that shows me all the great benefits? You are a video company, right? Well, where are the videos? Speco Technologies has some decent educational videos on their site, but they're not that easy to find, and you can't link directly to them. Look for the STTV box in the upper right hand corner of the home page. They do offer both Quicktime and Windows Media versions, which is nice for us Mac users, but it's not the most elegant interface. Panasonic has some pretty cool live demos you can watch, basically streaming video on demand of cameras set up at intersections and in parking lots and what not. Of course, I didn't actually watch them because you had to download some stuff in order to make it work and I didn't feel like going through all that. Also, they've got some great stuff, like the new very cool SDIII, but look at the product description. It just seems silly that they're using tiny little jpegs that you can click on and blow up instead of actual video showing me the image stabilization, etc. It's not that hard to upload a clip to YouTube and then embed it on the page if you don't feel like actually serving the video yourself. Napco's new web site has some decent live demos, as well, and you don't have to download anything. Check this out. The video quality isn't exactly top-drawer, and there's not much going on in the parking lot they show you, and the feeds kind of cut out from time to time, but you can at least show a quick demo to a potential client, and there's some cool functionality, like being able to watch four cameras at once (not that I actually got that to work, but it seemed like it might work sometimes). Anyway, I could go on, but if you've seen some good security video sites, send them my way. And if you have some good security video, send it along. Or, better yet, post it on YouTube so I can just embed it and show people what you're doing.

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.

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