ON WORKING FROM HOME
Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic situation, I've been given a unique opportunity to chronical the process of building a new portable digital audio workstation and taking it home to continue my wirk there to accomplish "social distancing." For fun I started blogging about the experience and I've transferred those entries to this page.
The coronavirus thing has hit home here. I work at a 1000+ person media/missions company with offices, news reporters, and producers all over the world. I work in audio recording and post production for video and film. Last week my boss dropped into the studio and casually said, "I need for you to submit a list of gear for a remote post-production system, please." I had him a list in about a half-hour. Soon after, a corporate meeting and video conference was called with the CEO and the whole company where he laid out our strategy. He's calling in all the headquarters-based personnel and closing down air travel. Nevertheless, we've got several daily TV shows that must go on and you can imagine that there is a pretty big "machine" required to create each of them. If that weren't enough, one of the movies I've working on goes into theaters next week.*
The corporate strategy is a combination of compassion and self-preservation. To start off with, every employee has been credited with 120 additional hours of sick time since the moment a case of coronavirus was confirmed in our region. Secondly, everyone is begged to stay home if they are sick and take advantage of the additional sick time to get better and prevent spread. Since it is possible to develop symptoms again, there will be accommodation. Thirdly, the company has brought in an environmental consulting/disinfecting company who are on the job disinfecting key locations daily. Fourthly, hospital disinfectant wipes have been provided to allow all shared equipment (keyboards, etc.) to be wiped down between shifts. And fifthly, means are being developed to send as many persons home as possible as the virus spreads.
And that's where my boss' request comes in. Friday, a stack of boxes landed on my desk. I've begun configuring a mobile DAW for home. There's a Microsoft Surface Laptop, a Focusrite 2i2 Gen3 audio interface, a portable hard drive, a powered USB hub, a mouse, and a keyboard. I'll abscond with a video monitor from work as well. The plan is to use a German program called Teamviewer, a remote-control desktop software to control my main DAW at work from home and access the ten-plus production servers I use every day. I will then FTP the files I need to the home DAW where I can do the editing, sound design, and mixing. Finally I'll FTP things back to the mothership and wrap-up the job remotely on the work DAW. I've done some trial runs and successful controlled the work system from home. To move my work home I'll just move the dongles containing the elicenses for all the software from the studio at work to my rig at home. Thank goodness that I purchased a pair of UREI 811c monitors at a studio fire sale a few years ago. They are the little brothers of the main monitors at work (813b/c), so I won't be too far off in my monitoring situation.
This week I've spent every spare moment installing Steinberg Nuendo, a suite of Waves and iZotope plugs, Steinberg Wave Lab for mastering, and other software, on the new computer. I've got the timeline working, my configurations loaded, and sound coming out the monitors. There were, of course, a couple of hiccups with the Waves installation so I'm still working on that. I think that is traditional. On the office software side of things, the whole company shifted from local installations to Microsoft Office 365 in the Cloud a short while ago so communications and so forth will be no problem.
Ironically, my prep work has come to a halt today because I am home with a suspected case of pink eye, which is highly contagious. I leave for the doc soon to confirm. To bad that the new gear is all still at work or I'd spend today happily configuring and possibly trying out a project. Back on the subject of gearing up, my boss just emailed that we are upgrading to Waves 11, so that should help with the installation when I get back.
I'm back at work today. The conjuntivitis was confirmed and treated and it is now past the contagious stage. I got the remote computer completely working today. The snag was Waves. I'd been running it on the mothership DAW with authorization located on a dongle. Meanwhile, Waves had discontinued authorization via dongle. They'd replaced it with depositing your authentication on a thumb drive or on your hard drive. As a courtesy, they didn't stop your dongled installation from working so this could creep up on you. Hilariously, at the same time, iLOK has upgraded to a new generation of dongle. Current users could continue on with their old dongles until they tried to move to another computer. Between the two issues I chased my tail for a good while before one of the other engineers who had been through building a new DAW mentioned that he was doing his authorization via a thumb drive. Eureka! I went through the process, moving the authorizations onto a thumb drive, and both success and joy were accomplished. Oh, and by the way, Waves 11 is a pretty cool upgrade. For example, they've added audio analyzers into the EQ plugs!
Meanwhile, back at the plant, all the producers and writers and as many of the support staff as possible have been sent home, leaving only the studio and post production staff (such as myself) in the building. The campus police check your temperature with a forehead thermometer as you enter the building. Ch-ch-ch-changes, but the shows must go on.
I spent a good part of Wednesday at work, copying the pertinent parts of our sound effects libraries onto a portable hard drive to go home. There are hundreds of gigabytes worth of SFX so it took a while. Once everything was loaded, I collected up the computer and peripherals and trudged on home. I assembled the rig and got the audio workstation working with my home audio monitors. Using the family's large-screen LCD monitor I have two video screens over which I spread the video, processor plug-ins and the timeline and Dorrough meters.
Yesterday morning I did my first "proof of concept" project, acquiring the files from the servers at work via the mothership DAW, making a small video copy to transfer home, and then bringing the audio and a small video copy home via our FTP site. Once the files are home, I edit and mix the project here. I then send the mixes back to the mothership where I remotely controlled the studio DAW and marry the video and audio back together to form the final product. Finally, I deliver the product to the production servers, ready to play out onto the air on the live show. Success!!!
John Milton famously wrote in Sonnet 19 from his 1673 Poems, "They also serve who only stand and wait." Every morning I am up in time to "report to work" at 6:45am, just as I was before, in order to support the operations of our shows. Because a majority of our ancillary work has ramped down, at that time of day there isn't a lot of work to be had, but am there if they need me. Meanwhile my wife has developed a fever. She was seen by our doctor via a "virtual office visit" and then asked to drive down to the office's parking lot, where she was met by the doctor in full contagion protective gear. She was swabbed for a Coronavirus test. The results will be back in a week. Meanwhile we are in quarantine for the duration. Better safe than sorry.
I've been at it for seventeen days at this point. The first two weeks were taken up by working at home, taking care of my sick wife, foraging for toilet paper, managing the household, and chasing one of my dogs around for three days cleaning up behind her as she puked everywhere. She showed a decided preference for carpets, for some reason. We put together a batch of chicken and rice and that stabilized her. The technical challenges of working with video and and audio have kept me busy. Life has developed one of its temporary routines but next week I'll be returning to the studio for a couple of days for some music sessions in support of a new cartoon.
My wife's test came back negative and I'm back at work for a couple of days. I think a natty face shield would complete the ensemble nicely, don't you?
As we've gone along in this work-from-home sojourn we've been developing ways to speed my process. While I was in on 04/08 my engineer helped me set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) between my home DAW and my work DAW. This allows two things: via Micosoft Remote desktop, a much better desktop connection, with graphics equal to my local desktop graphics and greater speed. It is so good, in fact that it forced a change in my deskop. I had copied the picture I used on the work desktop onto my home desktop in order to add familiarity but the quality of the remote desktop was so good that the identical desktops made it hard to tell which desktop I was in. I changed the local desktop to another pic so I always know which one I am in. The other thing the VPN allows me to do it mount shortcuts to my various work servers right on my local desktop. So, for the majority of my work I don't even need to load the remote desktop - I stay local and reach out to the servers in regular directory windows.
Another change we've made is to move video operations to the local machine. When working remotely over TeamViewer we were limited in our ability to verify sync between video and audio. Bringing it back local takes a little more file transfer time but we have a tight lock on sync that allows use to make sure there aren't any problems. Acquiring the programs needed was quite easy. My company has gone to using Adobe in the cloud. I just logged onto Adobe in the Cloud and got the products I needed from there.
* The movie premier has been put off until the health crisis passes.