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Assa Abloy's Innovation Corridor

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Normally, I'm pretty loathe to travel to Connecticut - there are more cars on the 10-mile stretch of the Mass Turnpike I have to cover than there are in the whole state of Maine - but I spent a day earlier this month at the Sargent manufacturing facilities to see the new Assa Abloy Innovation Corridor, built under the direction of Stacey Callahan, who heads up marketing for the Door Security Solutions division and is working to bring together all of the many Assa Abloy brands: Sargent, Securitron, Yale, McKinney, HES, Adams Rite, etc. They've put together a nice facility. At the open, you get a demonstration of their evacuation products, like Beacon, which combines strobes, white noise, spoken instructions and lasers to get you to the door pretty quickly. There's also a comparison of photoluminescent vs. electroluminescent technology, which becomes quite interesting when the smoke machines get going and you can't really see a dang thing. Then you move into the electrical access control section, and they've got a nice demonstration area for their locksets with keypads and RFID, etc. This is where the special sauce is, too, that I'm not allowed to talk about. But trust me they've got some interesting stuff to bring out in about a year. Finally, you get the door area, which isn't the most interesting thing you've ever seen, but does at least make you think about what your doors are made from. Then you move into a training area. Seems Assa Abloy's forays into electronic access control has led them to develop a certified dealer program, and soon training will be required before installation of its products. Looks like they've spent a few bucks to make that run smoothly. Maybe the best thing about the tour through the corridor was the obvious pride Assa takes in its products, and the seriousness with which it takes life-safety and security. Too many manufacturers seem to be commoditizing and commercializing security and safety and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Not so, here.

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In other news, the United States bans apple pie

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Monday, June 9, 2008
As security measures increase for the upcoming Olympic games in China (why are they being held there again? To reward China for their great gains in granting basic human rights? No, that's not it? Something about their giant economy or something? Oh, it's just totally unclear? Swell), there comes this notice about China banning fireworks in and around Beijing. Now, banning fireworks in Maine is one thing. We're not the brightest bunch and we can barely be trusted with sparklers. But the Chinese kind of invented fireworks and take a national pride in them: A Chinese monk named Li Tian, who lived near the city of Liu Yang in Hunan Province, is credited with the invention of firecrackers about 1,000 years ago. The Chinese people celebrate the invention of the firecracker every April 18 by offering sacrifices to Li Tian. During the Song Dynasty, the local people established a temple to worship Li Tian. [tangent]Anybody else send away for M-80s when they were kids and then stick them inside lego-built cars and light the wicks just as you rolled the cars off the roof so that the cars blew up into a thousand lego shards in mid-air?[/tangent] So, in the name of security, the Chinese government are taking away the equivalent of, like, jazz music (the only enjoyable thing I can think of right now that we Americans invented). If they're really worried about keeping people safe, maybe they should stop executing 1,000 people a year.

Sensormatic, Tyco

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Friday, June 6, 2008
When Tyco buys a company for $90 million, it's generally a good story for us anyway, but this bit about Tyco buying the last remaining bit of Sensormatic is pretty interesting. I'm still looking into it, but this Winner Security company seems to have done pretty well for itself. Check out this court decision from 2005 (warning: that link goes to a pdf). Basically, it bought a Sensormatic franchise in 1977 for $66,000, then leased it back to Sensormatic for more than $6 million over 20 years, then didn't allow Sensormatic to buy the franchise back when the 20 years was up because Sensormatic missed the 90-day notice deadline by 47 days, and now finally has sold the franchise back to Tyco (which bought Sensormatic in 2001) for $90 million. I've got to think Mr. James Winner has his face on a dart board somewhere in the Sensormatic/Tyco offices.

Brink's Home Security name going away

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Thursday, June 5, 2008
Industy analyst extraordinaire Jeff Kessler's got a great new blog that I know I'll find very handy and I thought you might too. Jeff found a couple of nuggets in BHS's May 30 SEC filing that totally escaped me. Apparently Brink's Home Security will not be able to use the Brink's name three years after it spins off to become its own entity. In addition, BHS has apparently been paying royalties (more than $30 million in 2007, according to Kessler) to use the name. More on this later.

Survey says: Cellular!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008
ABI Research just released a new study reporting that the market for digital cellular transmission of alarm signals to central stations is expected to increase to 7.5 million in 2013. In 2007 digital cellular communication was at fewer than 2.5 million. That's three hundred percent growth in six years. Wow, integrators and manufacturers better be paying attention. The report cites the Feb. 18, 2008 AMPS sunset deadline as a significant driving force for the adoption of digital cellular communication (which, if you're reading this you certainly remember as the date that the FCC allowed cellular providers to discontinue the analog portion of their service). I think the adoption of cellular transmission is a given in this day and age, but that's just because I'm of the Millennium Generation and have owned a cell phone for a large part of my adult life. However, I realize there's a lot of hesitation and concern from security providers about the reliability of cellular networks, especially as primary communication methods. There's been more than one occasion when I've received the network-is-currently-busy-or-unavailable message from my cell phone carrier, so I think security providers are rightfully insecure. However, there isn't a lot of doubt in my mind that cellular communication will not only improve but will be largely accepted by the monitoring industry. That said, it's not always the cellular provider that lies the problem. During the whole AMPS scramble, I heard a lot of complaints (off the record, of course) directed toward manufacturers who were not releasing products in time to provide installers with a solution to replace AMPS units. But, I'm sure they're paying attention now.

Museum heist update

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Thursday, June 5, 2008
Remember those crack security guys who ignored alarms while invaluable national treasures were being thieved from the University of British Columbia's Anthropology Museum? Well, it wasn't their fault. Someone called up and told them to ignore the alarms. Clearly, this was heist impossible to prevent. Four hours before the break-in on May 23, two or three key surveillance cameras at the Museum of Anthropology mysteriously went off-line. Around the same time, a caller claiming to be from the alarm company phoned campus security, telling them there was a problem with the system and to ignore any alarms that might go off. Campus security fell for the ruse and ignored an automated computer alert sent to them, police sources told CBC News. Meanwhile surveillance cameras that were still operating captured poor pictures of what was going on inside the museum because of a policy to turn the lights off at night. Wow. That's really all I've got. Wow.

I'm not sure if this is funny or sad

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008
It's happened again. A burglar was dumb enough to break into a security company's showroom and offices. Ha, ha. The company, HomeLogic, manufactures IP monitoring software for all manner of home control items, including security and cameras that record on motion. So, it's not surprising they caught a bunch of video of the intruder, who kicked in the door at 3 a.m. and stole "a package that is used by the company to demonstrate the key features of their products to potential customers." Bet that was a good score, right? Later, this arch criminal was found sleeping by the side of the road and arrested. This would be funny (and still is, kind of) if it made any sense. What manner of desperation must this guy have been going through, at age 21, to kick in the door of some random business at 3 a.m. and steal something/anything that might have been of some value? What drugs was he on? Is he homeless? How? It's one thing if you catch someone who's, like, a professional burglar or something, or some organized retail theft types, but it's hard to cheer when some kid is going to the clink when he can't even find the wherewithal to get a roof over his head. Sorry to be a downer. Here's the video, which at least proves HomeLogic's stuff works. Okay, actually, it's pretty funny how long it takes him to knock the door down...

Location, location, location

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Now I'm not sure if it can be seen from space, but Underwriters Laboratory is making quite a splash on the Vegas strip for this week's National Fire Protection Association World Safety Conference and Exposition with the enormous banner it placed on the front of The Luxor Hotel in Vegas. See the photo above. The banner says: "UL is Safety. Find the Mark on 21 billion products worldwide." In case you don't know Vegas as well as trade reporters like me, who are required to spend an inordinate amount of time in that town, the Luxor Hotel is the one that's shaped like a pyramid. It's got that light that shoots out of the peak of the pyramid that can supposedly be seen from space. It's right next to Mandalay Bay, where the NFPA conference is taking place. Here's a nighttime and daytime shot of the Luxor. I was at the opening of day of the show yesterday and had a brief visit with Rob Toch, my contact at UL and did a drive-by visit of UL's sizeable booth on the back center of the showfloor. I did notice that FM (one of the other testing labs, a competitor in some ways to UL), while it's booth was smaller, had scored some prime show floor real estate, stage right, near the entrance.

Don't it look like the dark?

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I'm guessing exactly none of you loyal readers got the Magnolia Electric Co. reference in the title here, but the recent beautiful star-filled skies we've had up here in Maine have reminded me to give people a heads up about this release from Extreme CCTV. Essentially, its IR illuminators have been approved by the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit group that's trying to curb light pollution, something I'm all in favor of. There's nothing (well maybe a few things) that drives me crazier than the giant blaring lights used by a restaurant a few hundred yards away from my house to illuminate their parking lot, making our rural area in the middle of nowhere have roughly the same light pollution as Fenway Park. I never really thought about light pollution much until this New York article, which is really great. It's a long article, so I don't feel bad about pulling a big quote. For some reason, I find this part fascinating and depressing: Amateur astronomers sometimes classify nighttime darkness on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, which is based on a number of criteria, among them “limiting magnitude,” or the brightness of the faintest celestial objects that are visible without magnification. The scale, composed of nine points, was devised in 2001 by John E. Bortle, a retired Westchester County fire chief and a monthly columnist for Sky & Telescope. “One of the problems I was addressing was that younger amateur astronomers, especially east of the Mississippi, had never seen a dark sky at all,” he told me recently. “People will sometimes come up from the city and call me and say, ‘John, I’ve found this fabulous dark site, it’s totally black, you can’t imagine how good it is.’ So I’ll go and have a look, but it’s always poor. They have no comparison to work against.” In Galileo’s time, nighttime skies all over the world would have merited the darkest Bortle ranking, Class 1. Today, the sky above New York City is Class 9, at the other extreme of the scale, and American suburban skies are typically Class 5, 6, or 7. The very darkest places in the continental United States today are almost never darker than Class 2, and are increasingly threatened. For someone standing on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on a moonless night, the brightest feature of the sky is not the Milky Way but the glow of Las Vegas, a hundred and seventy-five miles away. To see skies truly comparable to those which Galileo knew, you would have to travel to such places as the Australian outback and the mountains of Peru. So, another reason to dislike Las Vegas (not that I need one), but also something else to think about when designing security systems. I'm working on a story for July's upcoming IP White Paper focusing on low-light performance, so I asked Bob Grossman, head of his own R Grossman and Associates consulting firm, about what he does for low-light cameras. His answer: "The number one way to keep the bad guy out is to put more lighting in the area, or put IR illuminators in the area." What about a spot where light pollution is limited? "I haven’t run across a place where there’s a challenge. I haven’t run into an area where lighting wasn’t allowed. But the level that a camera will work well is fairly low lighting. You don’t need – with frame integration and other technologies - you don’t need a whole lot of light." That may be true, but I feel like this idea of "add light, make safe" is pretty universally adopted. And it makes sense. Criminals are unlikely to do bad things to people in well illuminated areas when they have an option of a dark corner, but I wonder if correct, minimal-polluting lighting is always used. The New Yorker article makes the point that many residences use an omnidirectional lamp in the front yard that doesn't do much more than blind everyone in the yard, ruin night vision and shoot a bunch of light into the sky. Of course, IR illuminators aren't going to make for safe places, but they can certainly cut down on light pollution in places where people are unlikely to travel - unless they're the wrong kind of people. So here's my plea to check out that International Dark Sky Association Web site and try to use approved lighting devices whenever possible. The stars above are one of the true wonders of our world and it would be a shame if future generations never got to truly appreciate them.

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Rockin LOVE tour

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Monday, June 2, 2008
Today is the first official day of the exposition part of the National Fire Protection Association's World Safety Conference and Exposition, though educational sessions and other events have been ongoing here at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas all weekend. On Saturday afternoon I was surprised to see several packed conference rooms late in the afternoon. Yesterday, I went to the Behind the Scenes Tour and Technical Presentation of the The Beatles LOVE Cirque Du Soleil show The theater-in-the-round at the Mirage presented all kinds of problems to the folks charged with protecting it—and the audience and the performers—from fire. The result is a remarkably complex, multi-layered, adaptable fire system. Very impressive. And the tour was a production in itself. Doug Evans of the Clark County and his team of engineers and the Cirque people did a great job explaining the system and coordinating moving 75 visitors to key points in and around the theater. We were down in the bowels of the theater where the mechanical lifts move parts of the stage, in the main control room and way up on the grid, which is 55 feet above the main stage, and yes, you can see through the floor. Among the visitors was a group from A-Tech Systems, a fire and security integrator out of Hacienda Heights,Calif. Dereck Rascon, a consultant and designer for A-Tech is also chief engineer for the famous Wiltern Center theater in Los Angelos. He told me the Cirque system was far more complex than anything he'd seen before. I had a chance to talk to Tom Wahl from SAFE Electronics, the Vegas company that designed and installed the fire system and did the controls for the suppression system. He's got a team of people dedicated to managing the fire system who work at the theater 40 hours a week and are on call all the time. Asked about the maintenance involved, he said, "We do maintenance on it daily." I also had a chance to meet the fire suppression contractor Lyle Norris of Desert Fire Protection here in Vegas. He told me about he collaboration involved in designing this system. "It was fun. This theater is unlike any other in the world and I've been doing this kind of work for 25 years. It was an authentic team effort. We sat in a room and figured out what to do because there's nothing in the codes that are going to tell us. The intent of the code is there, but how to make it work in this building is not there." See the July issue for more on this story

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