Tech Corner 2nd Qtr 2023

May 25, 2023

Sometimes it feels like every program you open on your computer prompts you with the message: “A newer version is available. Want to upgrade?” Ack! NO. I’m trying to get something done! Often I skip this offer. Not that I don’t ultimately want the latest and greatest, but nothing interrupts my concentration more than these annoying prompts. The best programs offer to update once you quit. I need to get my work done. Now!

There are, however, a number of upgrades you might consider for password security, for communication with Pro Tools from Media Composer, and in sound library searching. 

LASTPASS: UPGRADE TO SOMETHING, ANYTHING ELSE

In August of 2022 a ‘threat actor’ breached the servers of LastPass. Stolen from the servers were ‘vaults,’ encrypted files, where users’ passwords are stored. According to the company’s press release, the thieves were able to “copy a backup of customer vault data.” And as best I understand, it is everyone’s LastPass vault.

Uh oh: LastPass is the password manager I use. That’s where I record all my passwords for everything, including my banks! How serious is this? The good news is without the master password, the stolen backup copy of my vault can’t be opened. Unless the hackers use computer brute force methods of guessing my password. (Hmm … maybe I should have a better  master password than “password”?)

But there is more bad news: There were two breaches. The first wasn’t disclosed by the company until late December 2022. The second breach, also in August and not disclosed until March 2023, was through an employee’s home computer, by learning their master password. Keylogger software was secretly installed, which revealed everything the engineer typed. The hackers were able to wade through secure LastPass cloud storage, source code and other sensitive data. A way more serious event.

The question is what to do? Somebody now has all my most sensitive data. One should always presume that anything you store online is not private. But a password manager these days is essential. I have around six hundred items stored in my LastPass vault.

Therein lies the weakness of password managers. It allows one to have access to all web passwords and credit card numbers on  every device. Yet, the only real protection is the single password that locks the vault. The users’ master passwords, which are not stored unencrypted in the cloud, were not stolen in these breaches.

The first thing to do is to change one’s master password. But remember, the older stolen vault is vulnerable to brute force cracking, so you’d better change all your passwords. And, of course, wait for the ex-spouse/kids to complain they can’t get into Netflix anymore.

There is no perfect system for creating a memorable master password. You have to make it complex, yet memorable. And if you’re like certain members of my family who can never remember their master password, changing it every time you want to log in is not a good answer.

Passwords themselves are a plague. They secure your private information to some extent, but not well. There are developments with Google, Apple and Microsoft to come up with a better system (FIDO). Many sites require a second factor (2FA) to authenticate when you enter a site. You might get texted a several digit code to type in. Microsoft sends you a message through their authentication app on your phone to verify. Bitwarden sends a verificatio code through the app Authy.

Then there is Amazon. They now send me a code and prompt to enter an “OTP” – or ‘one time password.” But if you’re sending me a password to my phone, why do I even need to remember a password for the site? Aggg!

Then, of course, don’t lose your phone. Like certain members of my family. The next thing to do, as recommended by several tech writers and online magazines, is find a different password manager. LastPass no longer deserves my trust. After having a major breach, they concealed it and its severity for months, which gave hackers a head start trying to open my vault. The employee’s hack “enabled remote code execution capability and allowed the
threat actor to implant keylogger malware.” (Forbes, http://bit. ly/3nJoXEj). Ugh.

After reading several reviews, I settled on Bitwarden. There are several well reviewed managers, like 1Password, Dashland, Keeper, LogMeOnce or even Apple’s built in Keychain. I’ve always looked for an alternate to the top brand, just to see if they offered anything more unique or interesting. So far, the experiment has been fine. As with LastPass, it has a browser plugin that makes passwords easily available on a desktop computer, and mobile devices. Hopefully, they will be more secure than LastPass.

In addition, turn on 2FA whenever possible. And if you are still using LastPass, a recommendation from the site ghacks.net (bit.ly/3GunpF4) is to turn up Password Iterations in Settings to 600,000. Your data is ‘hashed’ before it is stored in the cloud, a concept I neither understand nor could explain. Except ‘more is better.’ This will re-encrypt your vault. Bitwarden can also up the number of password iterations.

AVID MEDIA COMPOSER (AMC) RELEASES 2023.3

One of the most interesting new features from the AMC 2023 release is the ability to export to a Pro Tools session. Previously, exports for Pro Tools involved several steps to create a video export and an .aaf file with the necessary audio. This export creates a Pro Tools session file, it can export a video mixdown with several different options, and export the audio in three different ways: link, copy all and consolidate.

Interestingly, the audio transferred is AMC’s .mxf file type, rather than the usual .wav file. But Pro Tools plays them perfectly. When you export again with a different edit, you can have AMC look at previously exported sessions and only export audio that hasn’t been previously exported. This can include looking at several sequences to find the differences.

My current series outputs each episode to the Composer multiple times during the director/producer/studio cuts, so this new method will be tested often (I finally got this show to move past AMC 2018!).

As for other changes, on shared media systems, one can now lock a bin. That will keep anyone, including you, from making any changes to that bin. The bin can be closed on your system and remain locked to everyone.

To attract Adobe users, but not a feature I was waiting for, the option to have workspaces fashioned like Premiere’s is available. Oddly, you have to create a New User and choose the Adobe workspaces option. Then you have access to workspaces similar to Adobe’s. Yippee … I guess.

SOUNDMINER 6

The best sound searching software (in my opinion) recently released version 6. Soundminer (SM) has not released a major upgrade since June 2019. The latest release consolidates several of their previous products into the current version 6. It now has four levels of features: Basic, Plus, Pro and Server.

Soundminer allows the user to create a database for sound effects or music. You add to it by dropping your library of sounds/ folders onto the program. One then has an easily searchable list of all the available sound assets at hand. More importantly, you can add and alter information and embed that into the sound’s metadata. That new information is permanently carried with that sound for every time you move to another system. I like to add
ratings to the different sound effects libraries I own, to help find the better quality effects.

As with a lot of legacy software, this release brings SM from a 32-bit to 64-bit program, meaning it can take advantage of a lot more computer memory, and should thus be much faster. It is also optimized for the new Apple M series processors. It has many new color presets (see image), besides the previous default shades of grey. It now has tabs for the search window. You can search for a sound, then open a new tab and search for something else,
retaining the previous search/tab. And those tabs can be saved and restored on a future session.

Another interesting new feature is an FX module where you can apply EQ, compression, phaser, reverb, etc., then export the modified sound. Sounds can be spotted into a Pro Tools session, but not to a Media Composer timeline. Sending to AMC is by drag-n-drop, one or many sound files, or by a complicated method involving .aaf files.

The sound files cannot, unfortunately, be the .mxf file type as used by Media Composer. Most standard audio file types are ac- ceptable, such as .wav and .aif. That just means when I’m looking for sounds, I have those files as .wavs on an external drive where I search. Once located, I can either grab that sound previously imported into AMC, or drag/drop it into a bin for editing.

I’m still learning all the new program’s ins and outs, but Soundminer is the essential sound editing/searching tool for my editing workflow. For a very reasonable cost]

AVID/PREMIERE OVER ZOOM

A couple of web articles (frame.io, SofiMarshall.com) and the frustration of finding the right hardware/software combination to have edit sessions over Zoom or FaceTime led me to experimenting with playing my Media Composer output as a window in Zoom. And it works! With no hardware besides my Avid’s computer. I discovered by downloading NDI Tools (ndi.tv/ tools), and running NDI Virtual Input and NDI Video Monitor, then activating the NDI output on the Media Composer timeline (see image), I am creating a streaming output from AMC.

Much like for Evercast or PacPost Live. NDI stands for Network Device Interface, and is key to sending video/audio out from Media Composer to another program. Most often it is used to feed the program OBS/EBS, which then feeds Evercast and/or PacPost Live for live editing sessions.

In this case it feeds the NDI Monitor. That in turn can be configured to be the camera to a Zoom call from yourworkstation. Thus, the Avid output can be  played over Zoom for a real-time edit session. Zoom, however, heavily processes sound to eliminate background noise, so you need to set the Zoom Audio Profile to ‘Original sound for musicians,’ Otherwise, everything but dialogue is processed out of the signal.

But be warned: Clear this sharing method with your producers. Zoom isn’t especially secure, and sharing without permission is likely to get you into trouble. Sofi Marshall in her blog (SofiMarshall.com) expanded on this idea and wrote a very smart, detailed article on making it work. She includes Premiere Pro and Final Cut X as sources, and shows how to integrate Loopback audio software in the output chain.

Happy Upgrading!

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