Skype account unlocked with the help of the registration timestamp in the client database

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about trying to get my Skype account unlocked and the arcane questions I was being asked by Skype Customer Support. I’d been meaning to write that post for a while… and I’m glad I finally got around to it because John Buston (a former colleague from my days at Fujitsu) pointed me at some advice in the Skype Community that proved to be very useful indeed

The Skype client (which I still had access to on one of my PCs) uses an SQL database called main.db, found in %appdata%\Skype.  The SQLite browser can be used to view the contents of this database and locate the registration_timestamp in the Accounts table.

Registration timestamp inside the Skype client database (main.db)

Take the number from the registration timestamp, multiply it by 60 and you’ll have the Unix time (the number of seconds since 1 Jan 1970, UTC) from when you registered for Skype. Put that number into a converter (like this one) and you’ll have the exact time when you registered for your Skype account.

Armed with that information (and some more that I could guess, like the email address I used to register for Skype; plus some more that I knew, like my personal details and some names from my Skype contact list) and I was finally able to get my account unlocked.

Thanks again John!

Unable to boot from USB flash drive on a Lenovo PC (to install Windows 10)

Yesterday, I wrote about not having to wait for Windows 10 to be advertised to my PCs and downloading the software directly instead. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out to be quite that simple.

Overnight, both the Windows 8.1 PCs in our house decided that Windows 10 was ready (I clearly need to be more patient) but my 10 year-old son wanted to perform the upgrade (he’s a trainee geek) so, I waited for him to come home tonight before we tried it out. Because I’d already downloaded the media I thought I could skip bringing almost 3GB down over my ADSL line and boot from USB but we had a little trouble along the way…

I’d prepared a USB flash drive from the Windows 10 .ISO file using Rufus but our family PC (a Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 15) didn’t want to boot from it.

First of all, I had to work out the boot menu key combination (F12) but, even then, the boot menu only wanted to boot from the network, or from the local hard drive. I checked the BIOS (F1 at boot) and USB boot was enabled. Following Lenovo support article HT076906 (How to enter Setup Utility (F1) or Boot Menu (F12) on a Microsoft Windows 8/8.1 preloaded PC), I tried various combinations to reboot the machine (including Shift+Shutdown for a full shutdown and Shift+Restart for Windows boot options) but nothing was helping to boot from USB.

I tried recreating my media using different partition schemes for UEFI but that didn’t work either. So I followed Lenovo support article HT078684 (Cannot Boot From a USB Key – Idea Notebooks/Desktops) to:

  1. Run cmd.exe with Administrator privileges.
  2. Insert the target USB boot media device into an available USB port.
  3. Type:
    list disk (and make note of the disk number of the target USB drive)
    select disk n (where n is the target USB drive noted earlier)
    create partition primary
    format fs=fat32 quick
    list volume
  4. Copy the entire contents of the Windows ISO onto the newly created UEFI boot media.

After this, I successfully restarted the PC, using F12 to access the boot menu and could boot from USB (i.e. the flash drive was available in the menu).

Unfortunately, after all that effort, Windows 10 wanted a product key to install (which I didn’t think I had on a PC that came with Windows pre-installed), so I went back to an in-place upgrade using Windows Update.

Installing Windows 10 via Windows Update

It’s been a few years since I regularly built PCs and it seems my desktop skills are a little rusty… since then, I’ve discovered a number of utilities for reading the product key of my Windows installation (which is also stored in the BIOS) – the tool I used is Windows Product Key Finder, available for download from CodePlex.

Office Remote for Windows Phone

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be attending a “presentation masterclass”.  My last formal training in this area was twenty years ago, as a graduate trainee at ICL, so I’m hoping things will have moved on considerably since then in terms of the techniques and advice on offer!

Anyway, attending the course reminded me to blog about something I was introduced to last year by my colleague, Warren Jenkins.  Those of us with Windows or Android phones can use the Office Remote app to control PowerPoint – no need for a “clicker” – just a phone (running Windows Phone 8.x with the Office Remote app – or  Android 4.0.3 or later with the Office Remote for Android app) and a Bluetooth connection to a Windows PC (Windows 7 or 8.x), with the Office Remote PC plug-in for Office 2013.

Once Office Remote PC is installed, and the PC is connected to the phone, open the Office file that you would like to present and, on the Office Remote tab, select Office Remote > Turn On.

Then, go to the phone and make sure it’s running the Office Remote app and, if all is working well, you’ll see a list of open Office files and you can pick the one to present.  For example, in PowerPoint you can see speaker notes and control the presentation, with options to view in slide sorter mode or to use a virtual laser pointer to highlight points on the slide. You can also control other Office applications (e.g. interacting with data and switching between worksheets in Excel, or jumping around between headings or up/down a document in Word), but I’ve only used it in anger with PowerPoint.

More details are available on the online help page.

Plantronics Voyager Legend not connecting with PC (but fine with phones) – re-pairing required

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of Lync accessories I use every day – including my Plantronics Voyager Legend (BT300M). Since then, I’ve successfully paired the headset with both Windows and iOS phones (so presumably Android will work too) using their native stacks, although I use the supplied Bluetooth dongle on my company-supplied Windows 7 laptop.  I’m still impressed with the headset and the battery life is great too as it automatically goes into standby when I forget to turn it off (although it’s often sitting on its charging stand).

Unfortunately, I did find one day that my headset had “fallen out with” my laptop and whilst it would happily connect to the phones I couldn’t use it for Lync (VoIP) or CUCILync (VoIP breakout to our Cisco phone system and beyond to the PSTN). After some frustration of taking out and re-inserting the dongle in various USB ports, etc. I found an article on the Plantronics Sounding Board that gave the answer:

“Try pairing the headset to the dongle. Typically you would turn your phone(s) off to make sure they don’t  interfere in the process. Then press the call button on the headset until you go into pairing mode and insert the dongle in the PC, it should pair.”

Interestingly, the article also referred to a tool I’ve not come across before called DriveCleanup which can remove orphaned registry items related to non-present USB devices (forcing the dongle to set up the stack again on insertion). I didn’t need this but it could be a useful tool (there are several others on the page too).

Incidentally, at a Lync event at Microsoft last week, I tried out the Plantronics Backbeat PRO wireless noise cancelling headphones with microphone and they will be great for listening to music in a shared office but still being contactable for calls. Having upgraded my phone this week, I need to do some saving before I can buy more gadgets, but these could be on the list…

Short takes: Shrinking Outlook OSTs; locating and removing “stale” Yammer users; editing GPS tracks

Some more snippets of blog posts…

Reducing the size of your Outlook offline store

Tim Anderson commented recently that he’d noticed how recreating his Outlook offline store (.OST) file was more effective than compressing it.  I decided to give mine a go (especially as my recently shrunken Inbox means there wouldn’t be much to re-sync).

Unfortunately, my IT admins appear to have locked down my configuration via group policy so I couldn’t disable/re-enable cached mode. @p3rfact came up with a suggestion that worked though:

As it happens, my file was not that large – although recreating it did reduce the size by around 25%.

Clearing out users from Yammer

Yammer  networks can be synchronised with Active Directory using Yammer Directory Sync but ours is not (for various reasons). There is a pretty simple workaround though for clearing out users from Yammer who have left the company (credit due to @AlanPurchase for working this one out):

  1. From the Network Admin view in Yammer, export a .CSV file with all the users in the network.
  2. Open the .CSV file in Excel and filter on the state field to show active users and on the email field to include domains that you are interested in (for example, I only wanted those in our UK organisation).
  3. Cut and paste email addresses into a new email in Outlook, then use Ctrl+K to resolve the names against the Global Address List. Anyone that isn’t in the GAL will not have their email address resolved.
  4. In Yammer, remove each of the users that are no longer in the organisation – you have the option to remove their posts or leave their posts and remove the account (more details in Microsoft knowledge base article 2820235).

GPS Track Editing

I’ve blogged before about how I log all of my bike rides, runs, etc. – it’s sad, but I like to see where I went on a map – and to know how I performed. Every once on a while, things go wrong though – like one time last summer when my Garmin suddenly decided I was several miles away and the route I was following became nonsense. The only answer was to reset the thing and start tracking again (breaking my ride into multiple tracks).

I found a free GPS Track Editor that helped me to merge/edit tracks (directly editing the XML in GPX files is a chore) and create something that at least represented the route I was on (although it does have one section that is a dead straight line “joining the gap” between my two usable tracks – it should actually follow the road via Whittlebury)!

Short takes: hosts files; C#; Azure VMs; sleuthing around Exchange; closing Windows 8 apps; and managing tabs in Google Chrome

Another dump of my open browser tabs to the web…

Unable to edit hosts file in Windows

One of the tools (read Excel and lots of macros) that I use for financial forecasting said it couldn’t find a server.  Of course the network’s never broken – it must be the end users’s fault – so, faced with the prospect of telling an angry admin that there is a DNS mis-configuration, I decided to hack my hosts file instead…

Windows doesn’t make that easy (even as a local administrator) – so I ran Notepad as Administrator instead… being an old skool kind of command line guy it was an elevated cmd prompt  from Start, cmd, then shift and click (which dumps me into C:\Windows\System32), followed by the cd drivers/etc and notepad hosts commands.

What versions of C# are out there?

One thing I wanted to know whilst teaching myself to write in C# a few months back (i.e. to select a course that was up-to-date!) was which versions of C# are out there. Of course, Stack Overflow has the answer.

And, one day, I really must have a play with CShell, the open source C# read-eval-print-loop (REPL) IDE

What Microsoft server software is supported in an Azure VM?

Ever wondered what can be run up (and supported) in a Microsoft Azure VM? Quite a lot, but also some big omissions (Exchange, obviously) and some caveats (like no DHCP).  The formal list is in Microsoft knowledge base article 2721672.

Finding the Exchange Server that actually hosts my email

Exchange AutoDiscover means that, most of the time, end users don’t need to know where their email is – just the single address that lets the email client find the server – but several times recently I’ve found myself needing to know which server hosts my email.  One time I was diagnosing intermittent issues with out of office replies and access to colleagues’ calendars.  Another time I wanted to use PowerShell to list members of a distribution group programmatically (and later to rename a distribution group after the IT department said it wasn’t possible). Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to run PowerShell commands against our servers (but that’s probably a good thing)!

Anyway, it seems that the details I needed were available via Outlook Web Access:

  1. Logon to OWA
  2. Click options
  3. Click About
  4. And find the line that reads “Client access server name” – that’s your connection point.  There’s also a line for “Mailbox server name”.

I tested this with Exchange 2007.  It may vary for other releases and I haven’t checked.

By the way, a couple of links that looked hopeful for my distribution group issues (the ones I had to find another way to resolve):

Closing applications in Windows 8

Our family PC runs Windows 8.1 but, as my work PC runs Windows 7, I have to admit sometimes there are things I haven’t got used to.  One of those is closing full-screen apps.  I usually resort to Alt-F4 but if the kids have left the computer in touch format, then it seems that a simple top to bottom drag is what I need (there should also be a close button if I touch the top of the screen).

Managing tabs in Google Chrome

As I go through my work, I often come across things I’d like to go back to later, or leave side projects part-done, blog posts half-researched (and half-written), etc. Over time, they build up to hundreds of tabs and I my bookmarks folder is a plethora of In Progress yyyymmdd folders (another job to sort out one day).  It also means that, every now and again, my PC slows right down and I need to reboot because Google Chrome is using 14 gazillion GBs of RAM and a Flash plugin (probably serving ads on a website) has gone haywire again. Add Symantec EndPoint Prevention and BeCrypt DiskPrevent into the mix and a reboot could be a half-hour inconvenience.

Last night, I spent hours working through the various open tabs, closing some, pasting some to blog posts (this one… and others still work in progress) and I happened to post a little tweetette, to which Garry Martin (@GarryMartin) happened to respond:

Awesome indeed. Less than 5 seconds to install and the remaining handful of tabs are now under control.

Short takes: text editing; Windows Phone; and recovering deleted images…

More snippets from the life of a geek playing at being a manager in the IT industry…

Replacing text with a carriage return/line feed in Windows Notepad

It’s a long story but I needed to find out how many people are in our department, at a level above me.  My manager is on holiday, so I couldn’t ask him. Instead, I drafted an email to the whole department, expanded the distribution list and then counted the names…

Of course I didn’t quite do it like that… I pasted the list into a text file (which I thought I’d import to Excel as a CSV and then count the number of rows). That didn’t work out (I got 111 columns instead and I lost count shortly after AA, AB, AC, etc.) so I tried replacing the “; ” with line feeds in Notepad. Notepad can’t do that, but Word canCtrl+H will open the find and replace dialogue and using ^p as the string for the replacement will insert a new paragraph mark. 111 replacements were made (hence 111 names).

Changing the voicemail number on my Windows Phone

One of the issues with my iPhone is that I can’t change the voicemail number from 901 (O2 – the network my phone thinks it’s on) to 443 (Giffgaff – the MVNO that my account is actually with).  I’ve jailbroken and hacked around with config files but it doesn’t work on iOS 7.0.4.

Thankfully, my Nokia Lumia 625 (running Windows Phone 8) is a little more flexible.  When new, it asked me what the voicemail number I needed was.  In the absence of any information from my service provider (EE), I googled and found information that suggested it was +447953222222. My IT department later suggested I should use +447973100123 and changing it is as simple as hitting the ... in the phone app and entering settings, then changing the voicemail number.  As my messages are still intact, I guess that both numbers actually end up in the same location…

Turning off Twitter’s lock screen updates on Windows Phone

Talking of Windows Phone, when I installed the Twitter app it asked if I wanted to see selected tweets on my lock screen.  It seemed like a good idea at first, until I realised I couldn’t actually click on them.  Turning off the Twitter lock screen updates was difficult to hunt down – it’s not set via the Twitter app settings but in the lock screen settings, as Jamie Thomson (@jamiet) and Craig Hawker (@craighawker) highlighted to me.  Thanks guys.

Recovering deleted images from a camera flash drive

Of course, any of us who work in IT know that we automatically get to provide a family IT support service.  I shouldn’t complain because, after my parents in-law paid for someone to do some work on their PC I was horrified to see that he had removed Microsoft Security Essentials and added AVG (which I had removed because it kept nagging to upgrade to a paid version), installed a load of unnecessary software (Defraggler, Firefox, etc.).  My “keep it simple, stupid” approach to septuagenarian IT had been destroyed by someone who wanted to inflict his way of computing on others.

Anyway, back to the point…

…My Mother in-law was disappointed to find she was missing some images on her digital camera.  She swears the camera did it by itself (I suggest it was user error) but, critically, no new pictures had been taken since.  Following advice from PC Advisor, I used a free application called Recuva to restore the deleted files on the memory card (ironically, from the same software company that creates Defraggler, the tool I said was unnecessary a little earlier).  It was beautifully simple, although I was unable to get Windows to recognise the camera as a drive (it does depend on the camera) and had to mess around with card readers instead.

Keeping my low-power server cool

6.30am, sometime over the Christmas holidays and, after being woken by one of our sons, my wife informs me that there’s a strange noise coming from one of the computers in the office… bleary-eyed, I stumble to my desk and shut down the machine, before returning to my slumber.

Thankfully, it was just a noisy fan, not (yet) another hard disk failure but it did require attention, which involved me learning a little bit more than I should need to about the innards of a PC… so I’m blogging the key points for future reference.

Hardcore gamers need serious cooling for their PCs. Thankfully mine is the “low-power server” that I built a few years ago and the requirements are a lot lower – indeed this machine only has two 40mm fans – one on the case and one on the main board.

I initially swapped the case fan for one I picked up from Maplin (I could get cheaper online, but not once I’d taken into account shipping for such a small item) but found it was the one on the Intel D945GCLF2 board that was making most of the noise.  So I put the Maplin unit there instead (it’s not the CPU that needs cooling, but the inefficient Northbridge/GPU that accounts for most of the power consumption on this board – the Atom 330 is only using about 8W and is passively cooled.

Unfortunately the screws that fixed the OEM fan to the heatsink wouldn’t fit the replacement, so I used a piece of plastic-coated wire instead to poke through the holes and twist tight – it’s functional at least.

With the case fan also making a racket now, I found that it only did so when sucking air into the case (the fan seems to brush on the case when attached).  I’d assumed that a fan on the bottom of a case should bring in cold air and with hot air rising to the holes on the top of the case. So I flipped the fan over (I’m not sure which way it was originally pointed) so it’s now blowing air out of the bottom (it’s the only place to fix a fan). Fingers crossed, it’s doing something… monitoring with Open Hardware Monitor tells me my CPU is fine but SpeedFan suggests something else is running a little warm!


Useful links: October 2012

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

  • Bike Hike – Web mapping tool, including ability to create and view .GPX files.
  • AutoHotkey – Scriptable desktop automation with hotkeys (via Garry Martin).
  • Parental control app – For iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch (via Bill Minton)
  • Jailbreak Stats – Handy tool for information about jailbreak compatibility with various releases of iOS and devices (see also this Lifehacker post)

Searching for the right Windows Twitter client

Last week, my company-owned PC was rebuilt after a hard disk failure. Whilst my IT department got me back to a point where I had all of the standard apps installed, there are many others that I use that are not part of the standard build. Some of these are company sanctioned (e.g. I use Office 2010 rather than the company standard of 2007, as well as Cisco WebEx productivity tools and CUCILync softphone); others are not “official” but are an important part of my workflow (e.g. Google Chrome browser). One of the apps in this second category is a Twitter client.

In the past, I’ve tended to use TweetDeck. Unfortunately, after Twitter bought TweetDeck, they wrecked it. In common with many other people, I’ve been running the old, unsupported, Adobe AIR version of the app but I really didn’t want to have to install more Adobe middleware on my PC (it’s bad enough having Adobe Reader and various browser plugins for Flash, etc.).

I started to look around for alternatives but it seems that Windows client apps for Twitter are a bit thin on the ground (unlike for mobile operating systems, where they are two-a-penny).

  • There’s MetroTwit but it only has single account support, unless I pay for the professional version, and I’m not sure how long it will be before Twitter kills off client apps (paid or otherwise) as part of it’s apparent desire to self-destruct (I’ve since been told that it’s possible to run multiple instances of MetroTwit).
  • Some people recommend Seesmic, but they have been swallowed up by Hootsuite.
  • Hootsuite is another option, but I’m not paying a tenner a month. The free version would probably serve my needs but it only seems to have apps for mobile platforms – and I really do want a desktop app, not another tab to be lost in the melee in Chrome.

So, TweetDeck it is, Adobe Air or not.  It’s still a decent app, if a little resource hungry, and it integrates with my Bitly.Pro account for custom URL shortening. If you are looking to track down “old” (yellow) TweetDeck because hate the new (blue) version, then there are a couple of posts that might help from David Amador and Jon Choo.