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Surreal Friday

Friday, June 12, 2009
Maybe this will be a recurring item (like Twitter's Follow Friday or something): Surreal Friday. Today's surreality involves someone who spent $214 and a great deal of ingenuity involving a motion-detecting network cameras in getting his cat to stop jumping up on the counter. It's called the Blender Defender. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Seriously, I think this guy deserves a job offer from Convergint or something. Big thanks to Ling-Mei at A&S International for turning me on to this. It's genius.

Day 2 NFPA, and just say no to round eyeglasses

Thursday, June 11, 2009
The second day at NFPA was considerably more crowded, which was welcomed by the exhibitors I spoke with. I got a chance to catch up with Jeff Moore at Fike, the fire company that just acquired Video Smoke Detection company axonX. Look for more activity from Fike in the next few months, Moore said. I said a quick hello to SimplexGrinnell president Jim Spicer, who promised he'd tell me more about their video smoke detection solution, which SG was showing in its booth. Stopped by UL, FM and ETL, but my contacts there were all walking the showfloor themselves or maybe in committee meetings. Speaking of committee meetings, I ran into Shane Clary of Bay Alarm, who is normally in committee meetings. Shane is my go-to code guy--he's like a human encyclopedia of fire code knowledge and history. He told me that the new code to watch is NFPA 3, which has to do with the commissioning of security and fire systems. Commissioning is, as Honeywell's Isaac Papier said, "what you need to do before you turn the switch on." If Shane says it's the code to watch, it's the code to watch. I'll be eager to hear the post-convention opinions of attendees. Even though the travel day home on Tuesday was a 12-hour nightmare, it was nice to go to a show in Chicago. I had a chance to walk around the city a bit on Sunday and Monday night. It's a great town. I did notice one disconcerting thing as I was walked around downtown Chicago. It's something I think you'll find disconcerting as well. I saw a few otherwise stylish people wearing round eyeglasses. I didn't think about it much until I read in the New York Times today that round specs are the trendiest new fashion. Here's the story Round eyeglasses, yuck. Fortunately, I didn't see a soul in round glasses at the (definitely fashion-forward) NFPA show, so I guess I can safely stick with my square shades.

Bummer for IBM

Thursday, June 11, 2009
IBM's work on the Navy Pier in Chicago gets a big article in the Sun Times, but there's no mention of who did the design and installation. I tend to think that IBM overhypes its installations (yesterday's release called the Chicago installation "one of the world's most advanced, integrated network video monitoring systems"), but that doesn't mean a reporter shouldn't note the name of the company that designed the sweet surveillance system that she/he's so impressed with. Really, would that be so hard? You know she/he's writing about the installation because of the press release that IBM put out - the installation happened back in February, as the reporter notes, but I suppose it could just be coincidence that he/she writes the story the day after IBM sends the release - so why not throw IBM a bone? (Maybe Fran's just kind of dim: In the span of four paragraphs he/she twice mentions "cameras so sophisticated, they can pick up a face in a crowd six blocks away." What does "pick up" mean? Is he/she impressed that the camera can see a face from six blocks away? Most consumer megapixel cameras can do that nowadays. Does he/she think the facial recognition can pick a person out of a crowd and identify that person from six blocks away? If so, she/he seems to be avoiding actually saying that. And, technically, the cameras aren't what's sophisticated, it's the software that's processing the images being collected that's sophisticated - and, actually, I kind of don't think the facial recognition software can identify faces from six blocks away very consistently, but maybe I'm wrong.) I'm also a big fan of this finish (as you might guess from having read yesterday's blog):
And what about Navy Pier and lakefront patrons who are not comfortable being watched? "Walt Disney [World] has probably been doing this for years," said Ray Orozco, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
A: They're being watched anyway! Why does no one get this point about cameras in public places? If you are on the Navy Pier, there are all kinds of people (you know, other people on the Pier) who are watching you. There are police wandering around watching you. The cameras are the LAST thing you should be worried about if you're worried about being watched. No one's actually sitting there watching what's going on over 200 cameras. It's not really even possible. I don't care if the reporter isn't a security expert or anything - just think about what you would need for a force to watch 200 cameras simultaneously for two seconds and you realize it's idiocy. B. "Walt Disney [World] has probably been doing this for years"? That's the response you give to that question? Come on! That's not only a flippant and terrible answer, but, um, hey, you're executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, guy. Don't you think you could provide an answer more like: "Well, everyone on the Navy Pier is being watched all the time by our crack on-foot police force and, of course, by their fellow citizens. The cameras are more of a forensic tool in large part and our monitoring center would only really pay attention to cameras that indicated someone was in a restricted area or if a crowd massed in a strange location. People who are just going about their business aren't going to be watched by these cameras in any way, actually." To just toss off some stupid comment about Disney World is irresponsible. But, of course, there's the very real possibility that he said exactly the right thing but the reporter only quoted the Disney World part. I guess that's more than possible. I'd go with likely.

Please, make it stop...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I'm not sure why I do it to myself, but I can never help reading the local pieces on our "surveillance society" that inevitably find their way into my inbox. I don't even really have to read them - they all are carbon copies of one another: Hey, did you notice there's lots of cameras around? Doesn't that, like, hurt your privacy and stuff? Big brother!!! The cops say it's good for fighting crime. There are some statistics that say maybe that's not true. Most people don't give a crap about it. A couple of ACLU people do. There's a professor who has some thoughts about it, but doesn't really know what he's talking about. The end. Here's a great one I came across today. Let's start with the lede:
WILMINGTON -- If you are planning a day trip to downtown Wilmington, surveillance cameras will likely monitor you when you park, walk down the street and even when you eat in a restaurant. Paranoid yet?
Yes. You've sent chills right up and down my spine. I won't leave my house for a week. EVEN WHEN I EAT IN A RESTAURANT?!? But that's where I get naked and murder people! I'm so paranoid. Don't go on. I can't stand it.
"You feel like Big Brother's watching," said Kim Gold, 48, of Wilmington. "I just hope he is. Wilmington is just not as safe as it used to be, so anything they can do to deter crime is great."
I like this Kim Gold. She sounds sensible and like most people I know. However, she managed to work Big Brother into your story within the first five paragraphs, so I hate her just a little bit. (A little reporting note here: Um, is Wilmington actually more or less safe than "it used to be"? Do we have any crime statistics we could supply? Or is it just that the media is hyper-aware of everything now and all crime is much more noticeable? Also, how long ago is "used to be"? Are we talking two years ago before the recession started, or 1970 when Kim was 10 and rode her bike on the sidewalk and ate lots of lollipops?)
Webster said in addition to acting as a deterrent, the cameras have helped police spot drug deals and radio the information into patrol units that can make an arrest. But the cameras are also recording the activities of civilians on a daily basis. It's that trade-off that has always made privacy advocates and civil libertarians uneasy.
Could we supply some of these people to talk about why they don't want cameras at the dump? I don't think they really exist anymore. You're just setting up a strawman here. Cheap reporting. Cheap. Sorry. I was really wasting time there when I should have lead with my favorite part:
Now, though, the next wave of video surveillance technology is poised to connect all those electronic eyes into a seamless network and pair it with such advances as facial-recognition software. Police could be more effective at catching criminals, but businesses could also become more efficient at identifying customers and their buying habits and preferences. "Right now, all those cameras are disparate systems," said Stephen Henderson, who teaches criminal law and procedure at Widener University School of Law. "What happens when all those are put together? That's the critical question, and it's beginning to happen."
Ah, yes, the giant seamless network of all the cameras in the world, operated by Hal 2000 and ready to catch you every time you pick your nose. I am very intimidated by that possibility. Also, the possibility that "businesses could also become more efficient at identifying customers and their buying habits and preferences." This is very terrifying. What would happen - I ask you - what would happen if you walked into the grocery store and you didn't even have to go to the sushi counter like you do every day, and instead, they identified you when you walked in the store and just kind of came up and handed the sushi to you? What would you do then?!? Wouldn't you freak out?!? Also, here's a bulletin: Were this technology to become more widely used, you might actually get better service in the retail environment! How would you like those apples? You'd have nothing to complain about! Also, is there anyone who knows more about the future of surveillance technology than Stephen Henderson, who teaches criminal law and procedure at Widener University School of Law? I think not. I bet that guy knows the crap out of surveillance technology. Pelco - get him on the phone, goddamn it! Try to follow Henderson's logic here:
As a practical matter, though, there are a limited number of police officers, so they focus their efforts on people suspected of crimes. Public cameras remove that limitation, especially as they become smaller, cheaper and more widespread, he said. "Then you have the worst of all possible worlds: You have no resource constraint and no legal constraint," Henderson said. "And that creates the danger of a surveillance society."
What? The supposition here is that you should be able to commit crimes in public and get away with it. And that you can't get away with it is "the worst of all possible worlds." Two problems with that: 1. You're in public. You should always expect that someone is watching you, not on a camera, but with their eyes. If you commit a crime of some sort, one would hope that, if it was egregious, a citizen would report that crime. Would that be part of this horrible surveillance society Dr. Hendu imagines? Should we all walk about with blinders on so that we don't see each other at all, doing anything? 2. Henderson doesn't have much of an imagination. If he thinks that's the worst of all possible worlds, let me introduce him to a place where the only band you can listen to is Nickelback, the only show you can watch is Grey's Anatomy, and the only author you can read is Nicholas Sparks. THAT is the worst of all possible worlds. Slightly better, but also really bad, is a world where you have to coach T-Ball every single minute of your waking life. In terms of ranking the worst possible worlds, I would put "a place where there are cameras in public places" at about number 1,398,008,321,996. And, for the record, this reporter could not find one single actual citizen who is concerned about these possibilities. Instead, he found sensible people like this person:
For people such as 29-year-old Waikeem Clemmons of Wilmington, the cameras just aren't that big of a concern, even if a government agency wants to expand their use. "They don't creep me out," Clemmons said. "You shouldn't be having sex, scratching your butt or picking your nose in public anyway."
So, this story was written why? Can someone please make stories like this stop?

NBFAA helps out PD, FD families

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I got this release from the NBFAA recently, and was impressed with the altruistic nature of their actions. According to the release, the NBFAA has awarded more than $45,000 in scholarships through the Youth Scholarship Program. Currently, a dozen state chapters participate in the national program. These states conduct local and state programs and their top student competes for the national NBFAA scholarships. The state programs generally award $1,000 or more to their winners. The NBFAA is the nation's oldest non profit trade association dedicated to representing, promoting, and supporting the electronic life-safety and security industry.

NFPA expo Day 1

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The first day of the NFPA Expo was yesterday from 3:30 to 7:30, and all the usual suspects were there. Traffic appeared light compared to last year in Vegas, but as one person pointed out to me, the center aisle was huge. Even if it was packed, traffic would appear slow with that veritable freeway of an aisle. So I spoke to Lorraine Carli, NFPA director of communications about their Twitter experience, and she said, "the verdict is out." They're giving it a whirl she said, to see if it has value as a business tool. She runs a smart communications operation at NFPA that's focused on news, so it makes sense that they're trying it out--(and that she's skeptical.) She said they had 445 followers, and they use it to drive traffic back to their Web site where they have further information on events, studies, statistics. (We've done some experimenting with Twitter here at United Publications. Not me but Sam and Rhianna. I'd say the verdict is still out for us as well.) So it was mass notification a-go-go at NFPA yesterday--at all the Honeywell Fire Group, Seimens, GE Security, and Simplex Grinnell. Interestingly, SimplexGrinnell was launching a new VSD--video smoke detection, you know like axonX and DTec, in its booth. They're working with a Chinese company called WizMart and the product will be available in North America within 60 days, according to SG's David Brooks. UL and FM had booths on either end of the front row of the show, while ETL, a relative newcomer to the market, was a little further back. Both Fike and Bosch told me last month that they want to take their place among the top four fire providers in the industry within the next 4-5 years. The four dominant players now are: Tyco, Siemens, Honeywell & GE. Fike, which acquired axonX recently, had a big booth a couple rows back from the front, but Bosch had a big honkin' booth in the front row. I saw some familiar faces in a different place yesterday. Former Silent Knight guys, Jeff Hendrickson, Karl Eiden, Hugh Blair and Dave Kosciuk are now working for Potter. Bernie Lears has hired some pros. I have lots more info, but no time. Had hoped for a run along the lake --what a great place to run!--this morning, but work's getting in the way. Gotta check out of the hotel and get to the show for a couple hours before I head back to Maine.

Security by the three rivers

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Just got word that ESX 2010 will be in Pittsburgh, which isn't nearly as bad as it might initially sound. Pittsburgh gets a bad rap, I think. People think steel-town, gritty, boring, but it's actually got a lot going on for it. The Andy Warhol Museum rocks, for example. They've got Carnegie Mellon, where a bunch of technology has originated that you're using in the industry today. And the South Side is a great place to party. Start pre-gaming here. Maybe the best thing about this new show on the schedule is that it's taking us to places we don't go all that often on the show circuit. Baltimore this year is kind of boring, sure, but Nashville last year was kick ass and Pittsburgh will be a blast. My votes for upcoming years (knowing that it's not going to be West of the Mississippi for a while) include Savannah and Memphis. NFPA's choices of Chicago and Boston lately have been spot-on, too, I guess, but I don't go to the fire events. That's what Martha does.

NFPA show opens today

Monday, June 8, 2009
I'm here in Chicago, getting ready to head down to McCormick Place convention center, which I hear is the largest in the country, for the opening of the National Fire Protection Association Conference and Expo. I'm staying a little north of the convention center. Wanted to check out the fire protection system at the Chicago Art Institutes' new modern wing, which just opened a couple weeks ago. The NFPA show opens today at 3:30, but NFPA events have been ongoing for a couple days. In particular, there were a couple of behind-the-scenes tours on Saturday, one at the Fermi Lab and one at UL. I wasn't in town for those events, but here's some great coverage from the NFPA press staffHere's their blog You've got to check it out--fun entries and LOTS OF COOL PICTURES of the tours. [Sam calls writing in all capital letters "yelling in print." United Publications techies: can you hear me? SURE WISH I COULD POST PHOTOS.] You know, the NFPA press staff has gotten frightfully hip in the last year. In addition to their blog, they're also twittering (I think the verb is tweeting) from the event. I can't wait to get [NFPA's director of communications] Lorraine Carli's take on this twitter thing. I'm trying to keep an open mind on Twitter, but it's not easy. What's next? Flapping, Yammering, Blathering? What do you think about Twitter? About NFPA 2009? Stop by the Security Systems Booth at NFPA (Number 1337) to let me know.

The remaking of Pelco continues

Monday, June 8, 2009
Considering they were purchased by the Europe-based Schneider Electric, and that they just announced a restructuring for their global sales efforts, it should come as no surprise that their leader of EMEA sales has a new job, but all of this change has to have some kind of effect on Pelco, no? The new news is that IndigoVision, IP video manufacturer, has appointed Ivo Drent as senior vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Before joining IndigoVision, Ivo headed up EMEA for Pelco the last 10 years, "during which time he led their growth from nothing to $100m sales." Now, I have no way of knowing whether the quoted statement is true, or whether that $100m number is actually underperforming considering Pelco's products, name recognition, and the amount of investment they made in EMEA, but I do know you hate to have a former head of your sales organization, anywhere, selling against you. It's not like Ivo's going to start slandering Pelco six ways from Sunday, as that would undermine any trust he'd built with customers over the years, but he certainly knows who's due for an upgrade, or who really likes to get a fruitbasket at Christmas time, or what Pelco's product weaknesses are. And IndigoVision is going to go right after that. Good hire for IndigoVision, I'd say.

Fire sprinklers to get day on Hill?

Friday, June 5, 2009
Here's an opinion piece which is mostly about House Ways and Means Chair Charlie Rangel, but also talks about the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. This guy complains that the National Fire Sprinkler Association is lining Rep. Rangel's pockets (nicely, to to tune of $20,000) and will be rewarded with a legislative hearing, finally, on this pet project of theirs, the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. Here's the piece This guy notes that the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act is not a bad piece of legislation. Indeed, as the name suggests, it gives tax breaks to businesses (and in some cases, homeowners,) that install fire sprinklers.
But the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act is no boondoggle for the industry. It's a fairly modest tinker to tax law. Currently, if a building owner--residential or commercial -- installs automated fire sprinklers, he cannot claim the entire cost as a tax deduction that same year, but he has to spread that deduction over about 30 years, taking a deduction on the annual "depreciation" of the sprinkler system rather than the actual cost. Many long-term capital investments are treated the same way. NFSA wants to speed that depreciation up to five years, thus increasing the tax savings for sprinkler buyers, and thus spurring their purchase. The makers and installers of fire sprinklers -- NFSA's members -- clearly benefit. Landlords and developers benefit. Public safety benefits if more buildings have these sprinklers.
His complaint is really more with Rangel than with the fire industry--although he does say that "this obscure industry"--that's you, fire people--will benefit from the bill if passed. He also makes this statement:
The loser is the federal Treasury, because revenue would decrease in the short term.
Which, as my middle school kiddos would say, is a lame claim, in my book. Yes guy, be worried about revenues and the Treasury, but don't worry about the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, for heaven's sake. Someone should direct him to the NFPA's recent fire sprinkler demos which I referenced in my most recent blog. It's convincing stuff. Here it is again in case you missed it.