By Kevin Slimp
I first met Mike Mathes in 2012 when he invited me to visit the North Woods of Wisconsin to speak during an annual retreat for newspaper publishers.
Mathes is president of Delta Publications, a group that includes two free publications, Tempo and Verve, and one paid newspaper, Tri-County News, in Eastern Wisconsin.
Having worked with Mathes in the past, I wasn’t entirely surprised when I got an email from him about assisting with a couple of technical challenges.
The first was simple enough. Like many newspapers, Delta’s publications go through the hands of multiple editors and designers before they go to press. And like in many production offices, fonts were an issue.
Even though each of the computers had the same fonts on each computer, InDesign would pop up the dreaded “Font not loaded” message on a regular basis when a file created on one computer was opened on another.
The second challenge was a bit more interesting.
Mathes said producing their publications would be much more efficient if he, along with others who sometimes worked away from the office, could connect to the office network from remote locations.
But he went a little further than that. Not only did they want to connect to their servers, they wanted to be able to work from home or wherever exactly the same way they did at the office. This meant if a staff member worked on a desktop at the office, they would have the exact same experience when working from at home.
He had tried with limited success – OK, not much success at all – to use tools like LogMeIn and Dropbox to accomplish the task. But those, while good products, don’t allow what Mathes and his staff wanted.
They didn’t want to take control of a computer at the office or simply transfer files back and forth. They wanted the freedom to be able to work at home or on the road with no limitations.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like something I could accomplished remotely, without making a trip to Wisconsin.
I recruited my friend John McNair, an IT guru at the University of Tennessee, to help. Three weeks later, we met at my home and began the work of creating a remote office for the Delta staff.
Delta staffer Klaudia Schnell worked with us from the company’s office in Wisconsin while we worked in Tennessee.
Creating the remote office involved a four-step process.
First, we used LogMeIn to get access to each of the computers and the server at the Delta offices. While inside the server, we noted information that would be needed to create a DNS entry, which would allow Mathes and others to access the server remotely.
DNS, or Domain Name System, is the component of the Internet that converts human-readable domain names (kevinslimp.com) into computer-readable IP addresses (18.104.22.168). It does this according to DNS zone files that reside on servers and tie domain names to IP addresses.
Next, we used a service to create a DNS entry for an Apple Mac Mini server.
Once we had a DNS entry, we took control of the router at Delta and opened up a port (geek note: AFP uses port 548). A port allows a remote user to “forward” from the router to the server if they have the necessary credentials.
After some trial and error on the number for port forwarding, we finally entered the magic number and – BOOM – we were connected.
McNair and I high-fived on the spot. Our four hours of work had been a complete success.
After a break for lunch, I met with Schnell online, and we discussed a couple of possibilities for fixing the font issues.
She had been experimenting with moving entire font lists from computer to computer to eliminate the issue.
We looked at a quicker solution involving moving particular fonts to the InDesign Fonts folder.
We took turns, her in the Delta office and me at my home via LogMeIn, moving files back and forth until we were both confident that the process would work. She continued the process after we finished our conversation.
I heard from Mathes via email after our work was finished:
“As a follow up to last week’s work, I am producing my Tri-County News layouts this morning from home, accessing our server with ease from the remote location. I will also confirm that we have the font issue solved!
“If I didn’t love my co-workers so much, I might never have to report to the office again!”
Many of the folks who read this column are of the small, community breed of newspapers who often think technological advances are beyond their scope or budget.
I’ve worked with papers as small as two employees – including the publisher – with staff who felt chained to their desks because they needed to be there late at night, getting stories written and pages designed.
This project – completed from start to finish in one day, without the expense of flying in a consultant – allows Delta Publications to have a lot more flexibility.
At least when they’re working late at night they can be at home in their pj’s.
Kevin Slimp works as a newspaper industry trainer, speaker, writer and consultant.