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Stealing blues

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Monday, August 18, 2008
You hear more and more about metal thefts due to the increasing price of scrap, but what about the increasing cost of food leading to more crop thefts? Here in Maine blueberry season is at its peak and according to this local article, blueberry-thieving is too. I'm guessing most of you are unaware how blueberries are harvested, but it involves using this short-handled upside-down rake tool that scoops up the berries. In short, it's back-breaking work, but apparently well worth the effort (from the farmer's perspective maybe not from the laborers). Blueberries are yielding about $1 per pound so we're talking pretty big money for farmers, according to this article. David Bell, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, said blueberry thefts total an estimated $100,000 annually. “It’s definitely a six-figure problem,” he said. “Any pound of berries that is stolen is pure profit to the person who stole them, so it’s a very serious concern to growers.” ... “It’s hard to catch someone blue-handed, so to speak, but with berries moving in transit that’s another opportunity to catch the thieves,” said Bell of the blueberry commission. First of all, I love that there is a Wild Blueberry Commission at all and secondly, it's priceless that he used the phrase "blue handed." Who couldn't love Maine? Anyway, to counter thefts, farmers have begun hiring security guards to patrol their fields, some of which are really out in the middle of Nowheresville, Maine. Apparently the thieves are coming in on four-wheelers and illegally harvesting the crop. Local police have also ramped up efforts to monitor vehicles transporting the precious fruit (you're only allowed to have 25 pounds without a permit) and are also targeting buyers of illegal blues. But, with all the tourist traffic here in Maine, apparently police can't dedicate the manpower needed to protect one of Maine's precious commodities. I guess nothing is safe in this economy.

When security and commerce collide

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Monday, August 18, 2008
I'm almost completely enraptured by the Olympics so forgive me if that's where I'm pulling all my source material lately. I just think it's an event of unparalleled world interest (maybe the World Cup rivals it, but I don't think there's nearly the universal interest coming from the U.S., particularly, and from women the world over), and as such fascinating, as much for the sporting achievements as for the human drama. Did anyone else see Chinese gymnast Cheng Fei just completely choke and still manage to beat out Alicia Sacramone on the women's vault last night? The woman was so nerved up she actually let out a loud scream before she started her second vault (something commentator Tim Daggett said he'd never seen a gymnast do before), then totally shanked her vault, landing on her knees. But by the vagaries of gymnastic scoring, the difficulty of the vault she attempted made up for the suck of her performance. That, plus the fact that a 33-year-old woman who moved from Russia to Germany to get better health care for her cancer-stricken son won the silver medal, made for some serious human drama. How can you not get into something like that? And what is security if not the attempt to avoid human drama at all costs, I suppose. It's always interesting to see just how highly people value security (or not). Check out this story about about the Olympic sponsors being peeved that security is keeping people from seeing their ads. I guess I don't blame them. If you're paying $67 million to be a sponsor, I guess you might want people to see your ads. But when does that become just a little selfish? How much sponsorship money is worth how much increased threat and risk? And how's this for objectivity: The excessive security, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had boasted about being its top priority, has made access to the advertising pavilions in the Olympic Green almost completely closed off to the public. So it's excessive, is it? Says who? Being in this industry, I've grown to have a real appreciation for security practitioners. If something bad happens, the security wasn't good enough. If nothing happens, the security was excessive. There's no way to win there.

What's the meaning of Security Wednesday?

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
According to a story in yesterday's Washington Post the line-up of speakers for the Aug. 25-28 Democratic Convention gives some clues about who Barack Obama will choose for a running mate. The story says the choice of ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner as a keynote speaker means that former Virginia governor Tim Kaine will likely not be the chosen as Obama's running mate. Those in the know say back-to-back speaking roles for Virginians would be unlikely. (Unless of course you think that might help you win Virginia in November.) There are more clues too. From the story: "Obama's decision to make security the theme on the night his running mate speaks [Wednesday, Aug. 27] is regarded by party observers as a subtle hint that Kaine and other governors without foreign policy credentials might be less likely choices." Veep short listers Sens. Joe Biden and Evan Bayh are both slated to speak on Security Wednesday, however. Who do you think Obama will choose?

Raefield has his work cut out

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Thursday, August 14, 2008
Mace released its 2Q financials today, and it's clear that incoming CEO Dennis Raefield has his work cut out for him. The top line number looks good, actually, with the company bringing in $15.1 million in the second quarter of 2008, up from $9.0 million in 2007, gross profit as a percentage of revenues at 30% for the second quarter of 2008, compared to 22.1% for the second quarter of 2007. But other numbers look less good: Operating loss for the second quarter of 2008 was $3.9 million, compared to $2.1 million in the second quarter of 2007. The increase in the operating loss was principally the result of the increase in SG&A expenses and the recording of asset impairment charges of $2.6 million, partially offset by our overall increase in sales and gross profit. In the second quarter of 2008, in accordance with Statement of Financial Accounting Standards ("SFAS") 144, Accounting for the Impairment or Disposal of Long-Lived Assets, the Company recorded an impairment charge of approximately $1.4 million representing the write-off of the net book value of certain impaired customer relationships within our Digital Media Marketing Segment, as well as the impairment of assets related to two full service car washes in Arlington, Texas of approximately $1.2 million. Net loss for the second quarter of 2008 was approximately $4.0 million, or $(0.24) per share, compared to a loss of $1.3 million, or $(0.08) per share, for the second quarter of 2007. Net loss being more than 25% of revenues just doesn't seem good. Most relevantly, The increase in total revenues was offset by a slight decline in revenues of approximately $70,000 in Mace's Security Segment, resulting in Security Segment revenues of $5.56 million in the second quarter of 2008, compared to $5.63 million in the same period in 2007. Mace's Security Segment revenues during the second quarter of 2008 as compared to 2007 included an increase in revenues in its personal defense business, offset by a decline in revenues in the Company's consumer direct surveillance and machine vision camera operations. Revenue from the Company's professional surveillance product operation remained constant in the second quarter of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. In a supposedly growing security systems market, stagnant revenues are a bad sign. Raefield is going to need to come in and do more than streamline things. He's going to have to kick-start their dealer program and get the professional surveillance operation rolling.

Clear story is cloudy

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I've been following this Registered Traveler initiative fairly closely, if only because I travel all the time and would love to get through security a tad quicker. I think $99 a year is a steal if the service is at most airports. I've lost hope that it would ever come to Portland, but I can always dream. So this story out of San Francisco International Airport has piqued my interest. Apparently, a laptop containing information on 33,000 registered travelers in the Clear/Verified Identity Pass program was stolen - or maybe it wasn't. The Washington Times has most of the story. Here's the nut: "We know that the laptop was stolen, and then it reappeared, so it just wasn't simply misplaced. This wasn't a magic act," said San Mateo County Sheriff's Lt. Ray Lunny. "So a criminal investigation is being conducted by the sheriff's office." I guess my question would be: How do you know it was stolen in the first place? My five-year-old daughter (an accusing alligator) often tells me her little brother has stolen her shoes, toys, favorite book, only to find later that she forgot she put it under her bed so that she wouldn't lose it. This woman sounds a little like my daughter: "We don't know what happened," said Allison Beer, VIP spokeswoman. "It is a suspected theft, but the investigation is ongoing." ... Asked whether any data in the computer had been accessed, Ms. Beer said, "none, there is no indication that it happened, but the TSA investigation is ongoing." Huh? So how come the Sheriff is sure the laptop was stolen (barring magical intervention), but the people who own the laptop are less sure? And how can we be sure that no information was accessed? Couldn't someone just have copied all the files onto a flash drive and returned the laptop? Or is there a way to tell a file has been copied? That's possible, I suppose. There's also this part: The computer went missing on July 26, but VIP failed to notify the TSA until Aug. 3, and the government suspended further registration into the program, which now numbers 180,000. That seems like a bad decision on somebody's part. Anyway, the information was apparently encrypted (although, these guys aren't exactly swimming in credibility at this point), and didn't contain credit card or biometric information, so I'm not sure what value it would have. Maybe a giant list of spammable email addresses would be valuable to someone. Maybe they'll all start getting naked pictures of Angelina Jolie?

The most basic security rule

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008
As we've seen time and again, the most basic rule of security is to remember that people are really gullible and numb. My favorite and latest case in point? People open spam if promised naked Angelina Jolie photos. How is an IT security guy supposed to combat that? Sure, you can filter lots of stuff out, and Postini-type services seem to work, but if one slips through the cracks, it's pretty clear that some jamoke is going to open that email. Is it really possible that someone you don't know would just randomly send you naked photos of some celebrity for your perusal? No. It's really not. Are you going to open it anyway, pathetic cube dweller? Yes. Yes you are. If it makes you males feel any better, the ninth most effective spam subject line promises naked pics of Brad. So women are gullible and desperate, too. So, it may seem stupid, but it's probably a good idea for security guys to post messages around the office like, "Hey, if you get an email promising naked photos of a celebrity, don't open it. Or you'll be fired." Why be subtle, right?

Another exec on the move

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I thought this bit of people news was interesting: Ray Palomaa has left IQinVision to join Iveda Solutions as sales director. Iveda is a young company and this seems like a good play to grab someone with a lot of IP and security experience. Looks like Iveda is going to start trying to make some noise in the market: Established in 2005, this emerging-growth company is launching a major marketing campaign. The company is gearing up for this launch by beefing up its infrastructure and personnel. Ray’s mandate is to grow and manage the company’s direct sales and reseller distribution channel.

Bringing Olympic security back home

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Monday, August 11, 2008
A great story in the Chicago Tribune today about how Olympic organizers in that city, hoping to bring the 2016 Summer Games to the States, are taking notes on what's going on in Beijing. Notably, it's alarming any number of people that with all the security present, it was still impossible to prevent the stabbing of the Bachmans, who have close ties to U.S. Olympic volleyball. First, note that I linked to an Australian take on the stabbing tragedy and read that closely. For people who haven't traveled abroad much, this is the reality: The attack on Saturday prompted Australian Olympic boss John Coates to order Australian athletes to wear their team uniform whenever they leave the Olympic Green so they are not mistaken for Americans. "Australians are very popular in China," Mr Coates said. "I don't know if the US are felt about the same way." English-speaking people the world over are at pains to make it known they are not Americans. Whatever your political views, that can't be a great thing. Anyway, the Chicago article makes the obvious point that all the security in the world can't hope to prevent one rogue crazy person from performing one rogue crazy act. It can simply minimize the chances of such a thing happening and quickly catch that crazy person and restore public confidence. I think it behooves the security industry in general to agree with this point. No security system is going to prevent every possible violent act, and if you go promising that it will, you're going to have egg on your face at some point. Of particular note in the Chicago article, too, is this paragraph: And a Chicago plan would include several layers of intelligence activities, with officers looking for so called “DLRs,” or folks who “don’t look right,” such as a person wearing an overcoat in the summer time. Does that remind anyone of many of the lessons I learned over in Israel? That Americans have come up with a term, DLR, for what is essentially profiling is an indication of our PC society, but it's no matter. What's important is that U.S. security is beginning to be more discriminating (in a good way) in the way it performs its work.

More on that J.M. Allain interview

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Friday, August 8, 2008
So, I've got a little bit of guilt creeping in about my post below about that J.M. Allain email interview (go ahead and read it if you haven't already (find it here if you're reading via a feed that doesn't show my whole blog)). My intent wasn't to slam J.M. in any way, and in my mind I don't come across critical of him, per se, but am rather expounding on how journalism actually gets done nowadays. The email interview is something that I think does a real disservice to the readers, and this was an opportunity to talk about that on my blog. Plain and simple. All of the lead up at the beginning is not meant to be about this email exchange in particular, but rather about email interviews in general. I am not accusing J.M. of engaging in gobbeldy-gook. Well, maybe a little. But I'm not faulting him for that. It's the way things are done. Messaging and marketing are important to success in any industry, and I'm not trying to criticize anyone for using whatever language and terminology they think is important for their own success. I'm just saying, as a reader and as a journalist, that it's not any fun. And who needs fun, right? Well, everyone does. If you're a reader at all - of the Wall Street Journal or Discover or ESPN the Magazine or whatever - you know that you want a little sizzle with your steak, right? Because, like with anything, business and sports and science are about people above all else and we want to feel like we know them a little bit after reading about them. It's why Manny Ramirez can be so equally loved and hated. Why Warren Buffett isn't just a rich guy. Why people the world over love Einstein even though they can't understand a dang thing he discovered. We've come to know them as more than just athletes and businessmen and scientists. Why shouldn't we feel like we know security professionals a little bit? That's why you've seen me champion on more than one occasion Cris Carter's presence in the industry. Because he has presence! Do you want the security industry to always be a largely overlooked, in-the-shadows marketplace where the top executives are never on CNN and the media only talks about it when something goes wrong? Or do you want the security industry to be seen as a place where things are happening, where people are getting excited, where new technology is making things possible that previously only appeared in episodes of the Jetsons? I like the latter, personally. The major point I was trying to get across in the blog post about the Allain interview is that it could have been so much better. That was my fault as much as anyone's and I thought I made that clear. Why didn't I follow up with further questions? Because I had a deadline to hit (maybe it was artificially imposed - really that interview could have run next week, I suppose) and the answers had just come in and I didn't feel like there was time, and anyway I felt like the extra effort on both of our parts would have only made the piece negligibly better, since it was an email interview anyway. To further my point, read these interviews, also done via email: Here's one with Peter Botelho, executive VP at Speco. Here's another with Uri Englehard, CEO at Mate. Both I think are stilted and relatively uninspiring, largely because of the medium. Now read these interviews that were done in person or over the phone (and I'm sort of just grabbing them at random): Here's one with Dieter Kondek, then being interviewed as new CEO of Aspectus, an analytics maker now known as Agent VI. See how we get lines like "several new algorithm guys" and "We don't want to have an overly large partner network. We're looking for the top players in the verticals"? Right out of the gate, you know Kondek is comfortable with his R&D team (they're his "algorithm guys") and he's a straight-shooter ("we're looking for the top players"). This sort of directness generally only happens in inter-personal conversation. Here's one with Dean Seavers, head honcho at GE Security, done right after he took over. This is great quote: "I start with the end user and I quickly go to our channel partners, emphasizing installability and functionality in the design of products that are easy to service and easy on our partners. But I start at the end and then work my way back." Would anybody ever use "installability" in a written communication? No. Because it would come up on spell check and they'd think it wasn't a good word. But it's a great word. It says all you need to know about Seavers' integrator background. What does he worry about with a product? What's it's installability? That makes sense on a very basic and gut level and is the type of thing that could only come through an interview. And what about this interview with David McDonald, former CEO of Pelco? This was one of my first interviews in the market and I didn't really know what I was talking about, to tell the honest truth. I was just asking your basic interviewing 101 questions: What's your vision for the company? What do you feel you do really well? What not so well? Etc. And Mr. McDonald (that's what everyone called him there at Pelco) was clearly pretty bored with me. But then I asked him about customer service and it was like a light went on: That's why you listen in rapt attention to the story of Vickie Garcia, the first EWS manager, who found herself one day, after a couple of power outages and faulty computer messages, with a package in her hands that hadn't been shipped by its allotted day, and all the shipping carriers gone. So she called up the customer and, despite his insistence that he really didn't need the part that badly, drove his multiplexer through the night to meet him at his place of business in Sacramento, just before the clock struck midnight. "We had to create a carrier in our computer system," McDonald chuckles, "for Vickie. That's the only way management knew what she had done." This didn't come up until 20 minutes into the interview, long after he would have been done with answering any emailed questions (actually, I doubt McDonald could be bothered with an email interview, but that's another thing entirely). And it didn't say as much about Pelco as it did about McDonald. I could tell he loved that story because he really loved his people. And I think that came across in the story. He was a guy you really wanted to work for and it made a lot of the rest of the Pelco story make sense. So, for people who might have thought I was picking on J.M., I hope you see where I'm coming from here. This blog is a way to pull back the curtain for readers and show them how this whole news-generating thing works and I thought I'd give them a peek. I wish nothing but good things for Allain and Panasonic, and I'm serious when I think they made a good choice in bringing in someone with so much IT and integration background. If they can get closer to the customer and the channel, that's nothing but a good thing. Just as I try to always get closer to the reader, my customer.

That J.M. Allain interview

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Thursday, August 7, 2008
So, I have to admit that the J.M. Allain (you know, the new head cheese at Panasonic security) interview is not my best work. Go ahead and read it here before we go forward. What's that you say? It's pretty dang boring? Well, yeah. I'm not totally at fault, though. Panasonic just doesn't do over-the-phone interviews (or in-person interviews either, really). So you've got to submit questions and then hope you get something useful back. Sometimes, the responses are fairly interesting. Sometimes not so much. But let me tell you: It's pretty hard to make an email interview - where you don't even go back and forth, just submit questions and get responses - at all interesting. For one thing, no one's personality shines through particularly well through the written word unless they're actually a professional writer, or someone who enjoys writing. If you're just someone who writes for business purposes, your written copy is likely to be pretty bland and straight to the point, even if you're a fairly entertaining person normally. Secondly, you know the person is going to be hyper-attentive to making sure the answers mesh with whatever "messaging" the PR office deems important, so you're going to get a bunch of gobbeldy-gook that no one cares about. Third, I'm actually pretty good at interviewing someone, and I think anybody who's done it often knows that they can get people to think about things they wouldn't normally have thought about and actually get someone to come to conclusions they've never come to before. A good interview is a win-win-win: The interviewer gets good copy. The reader learns something. The interviewee learns something about himself, and is able to broadcast his/her intelligence and personality out to the readership at large. Let's just say that didn't really happen with the Q&A with Allain. Should I go through it? I think I should: SSN: How has your most recent position at Duos, or other work in the industry, prepared you for running a much larger operation with Panasonic? Do you feel your integration background, also including your time at NetVersant and Adesta, will give you a unique perspective for a manufacturer? See how my first question is overly wordy? I had to kind of show him that I'd done some research and knew where he'd been. Nothing but Duos was in the release about his hire. Also, it's kind of suck-uppy, I think. J.M. Allain: It is not coincidental that Panasonic Corporation of North America sought integration industry expertise when evaluating candidates for the new President of Panasonic System Solutions Company (of America) - PSSA. And right off the bat, we get a bunch of ridiculousness that doesn't sound like anyone would talk. Sure, this is accurate and all, but who wants to read that? I'm bored after the first sentence. Panasonic has a broad and deep product portfolio that spans many different applications for business products. PSSA's ability to tie them together is a considerable advantage we offer across numerous business categories that allows us to be more competitive in the overall marketplace. In addition to traditional video surveillance system solutions, PSSA is in a unique position to provide customer-driven business solutions and services that add value above and beyond what traditional security industry-centric manufacturers have to offer. My personal experience with systems integrators in the security industry as well as the IT and telecom industries, provides the basis for an enhanced business model for PSSA. My vision is to capitalize on Panasonic's proven reputation for technology innovation as a manufacturer by offering enhanced integrated solutions and services that cross-cultivate our core areas of expertise. By working more closely with current and new channel partners and end-users alike, we plan to further expand our presence in the market. So, nothing about that "much-larger" part? Alrighty. SSN: What do you feel an integrator wants most from a manufacturing partner and how do you hope to help Panasonic deliver that? Allain: As technologies continue to converge and the demand for truly integrated systems increases, PSSA's goal is to provide top tier integrators with solutions that meet end user requirements while delivering improved ROI and lower total cost of ownership. Consistent and open communications with integrators is one of the most important criterion to reach this goal. We must continuously listen to them and end-users to determine their collective needs. And since communications is a two-way street, systems integrators need to understand that it is beneficial for them to work closely with us to ensure that PSSA's product and technology roadmap will help them build their businesses. PSSA has the ability to offer more than best-in-breed systems products--we can offer comprehensive solutions. So, integrators want "solutions that meet end user requirements while delivering improved ROI and lower total cost of ownership"? What about training, technical support, input into the product roadmap, etc.? That's what I would have followed up with if we had actually been talking. I guess it's true that I could have followed up with that via email and gotten another response back, but I'm a journalist, and, you know, kind of lazy. SSN: At Duos you worked with a number of IT-focused partners, from Microsoft to Cisco, and you have a background in the IT industry with Alcatel. Panasonic has recently invested heavily in IP-based products. What impact will IT and IP continue to have on the security marketplace and how will Panasonic work to take advantage of that? Allain: This is really my second involvement with an IP evolution. During the mid-'90s the data and telecom industries converged on a network platform resulting in integrated IP voice, video and data services. Given the inherent benefits that digital networks provide versus legacy analog systems, these integrated systems quickly became a business infrastructure mainstay. The same analog-to-network migration path will continue to transform the security industry for all the same reasons. Networked systems have proven to reduce overall costs while improving functionality. One of the attributes that attracted me to PSSA is the company's clear commitment to IP-based solutions, which is evident in our leading lines of i-Pro network video surveillance products, point of sale solutions and digital signage solutions - all of which deliver the best in performance whether deployed as standalone systems or when integrated on the enterprise level. However, we cannot overlook the billions of dollars invested in existing analog-based systems and infrastructure--specifically in the security industry. Panasonic Security Systems continues to service legacy system customers with new products and technologies that improve the performance of their existing systems yet provide a migration path to a networked platform. These technologies will co-exist for many years, and PSSA is well-positioned to fulfill the needs of customers on both IP and analog technology platforms, and any hybrid configuration they elect to build upon. This is a good answer, but I think you'd be more likely to get to the end of it if he was actually talking because he would have been much more to the point. SSN: How should Panasonic partners expect your personality or business philosophy to manifest itself on the company over the coming years? Allain: The new business philosophy of providing solutions versus products will drive Panasonic System Solutions Company forward. Our management team has brought together our internal business groups with the common goal of being more than simply a manufacturer, but rather a provider of customer-driven integrated solutions. From a personal perspective, I believe the success of PSSA's enhanced business model requires a great deal of cooperation and communications involving our entire staff, reseller partners and end-users. It is a collaborative team effort that all involved parties will benefit from. I plan to personally spend a great amount of time with our reseller partners and our customers to help further secure these relationships. The first paragraph of the answer is pretty clearly totally irrelevant to the question. Could I have just cut it? I guess so. But that seems like a dick move. I think the message here is that Allain is going to be more personally involved and hands-on than the industry has come to expect from Panasonic. That's a good message to get out there. An anecdote here would follow that up nicely, and he probably would have told one in person. At this point, I've belabored this whole post and it's gotten a little out of hand and long, but I think you get my point. CEOs and presidents are more than just business managers. They're the faces of their organizations, and their personalities. Customers and the rest of the channel look to them for a clue as to where a company is going. Dynamic leaders are people that gain followers just through their charisma and talent, not because of their well articulated business plans. I wish more companies would let those leaders shine through, whether through our paper or elsewhere. Frank DeFina used to have a blog. It's now been taken down. Maybe Allain and other company heads will start more often communicating directly with the outside world in such a way. I can't see how it would hurt.

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