Feb 02 2016

Changing Windows account passwords and enabling the local Windows admin account

Recently, I needed to get into a client’s computer (running Windows 8) in order to fix a few problems. Having forgotten to ask for a most obvious piece of needed information (the account password), I just decided to get around it. The account that he was using on a daily basis was tied to a Microsoft Live account instead of being local to the machine. So, instead of changing that account password, I chose to activate the local Windows administrator account and change the password for it. This method was tested on Windows 7 and Windows 8, but it should work on all modern versions of Windows (including XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10).

Before jumping into the procedure, you’ll want to grab a copy of a Linux live CD. You can really use any distribution, but I prefer the SystemRescueCD, because it is simple, lightweight, and based on Gentoo (my preferred distribution). There are instructions on that site for burning SysRescCD to a CD, or installing it on a USB drive. It would also be helpful for you to know the basics of the Linux CLI, but in case you don’t, I’ve tried to use exact commands as much as possible. Now that you’re ready, here are the steps:

  • Boot the System Rescue CD (or any Linux live CD of your choice)
  • Find the disk partition that contains the Windows installation (probably on the primary disk, which is /dev/sda:
    • fdisk -l /dev/sda
    • Look for the partition has a type of “Microsoft basic data,” or “HPFS/NTFS/exFAT”, OR it is likely that it is largest partition (probably a few hundred GB or more) on the drive
    • For the sake of ease, we’re going to say that’s /dev/sda5, but anywhere you see that code in the following steps, replace it with the partition that you actually found with fdisk
  • Make a temporary directory for Windows, fix the Windows hibernation problem, and mount the partition:
    • mkdir -p /mnt/win/
      ntfsfix /dev/sda5
      ntfs-3g -o remove_hiberfile /dev/sda5 /mnt/win/
    • NOTE: Don’t run the ntfsfix command or use the -o remove_hiberfile option unless you are unable to mount the partition due to an error like:

      The disk contains an unclean file system (0, 0).
      Metadata kept in Windows cache, refused to mount.
      Failed to mount ‘/dev/sda5’: Operation not permitted
      The NTFS partition is in an unsafe state. Please resume and shutdown
      Windows fully (no hibernation or fast restarting), or mount the volume
      read-only with the ‘ro’ mount option.

      Otherwise, the Microsoft filesystem check may run when you boot back into Windows (which isn’t usually a big deal, but will take some time to run).

  • Go into the Windows system folder, swap some executable files, and get out of there:
    • cd /mnt/win/Windows/System32/
      mv cmd.exe cmdREAL.exe && mv sethc.exe sethcREAL.exe
      cp -v cmdREAL.exe sethc.exe
      cd ~ && sync && umount /mnt/win/
      init 0
  • The last command shuts down the system. Now, remove the CD or USB drive from the system, so that you can boot into Windows.
  • In the lower-left corner, click on the “Ease of Access” icon, which looks like this:
    • Windows Ease of Access icon
  • Turn on the “Sticky keys” option
  • Press the Shift key five times, and that will bring up the command prompt
  • At this point you have two options. If there is a local account you want to change, follow option 1. If there are only Microsoft Live (remote) accounts, you can enable the local Administrator account by following option 2.
  • 1. Changing the password for a local user:
    • Type net user to see a list of available user accounts
    • Type net user $USERNAME * (replacing $USERNAME with the desired username), and follow the prompts to set the password for that local user
    • NOTE: You can just hit the enter key if you want an empty password.
  • 2. Enabling the local Administrator account, and setting the password
    • Type net user administrator /active:yes to activate the local Administrator account
    • Type net user administrator * and follow the prompts to set the password for the local Administrator
    • NOTE: You can just hit the enter key if you want an empty password.
  • Now that you’ve taken care of the password, reboot the computer back into the System Rescue CD
  • Make a temporary directory for Windows, fix the Windows hibernation problem, and mount the partition:
    • mkdir -p /mnt/win/
      ntfsfix /dev/sda5
      ntfs-3g -o remove_hiberfile /dev/sda5 /mnt/win/
  • Undo the sethc.exe and cmd.exe changes:
    • cd /mnt/win/Windows/System32/
      rm -fv sethc.exe && mv cmdREAL.exe cmd.exe && mv sethcREAL.exe sethc.exe
      cd ~ && sync && umount /mnt/win
      init 0

Now when you power on the computer again (back into Windows), your new password(s) will be in place. If you followed option 2 from above, you’ll also have the local Windows ‘Administrator’ account active.

Hope the information helps!

Cheers,
Zach

Jan 12 2016

Sling TV streaming: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Sling TV logoI’m not much of a television watcher, but recently I thought that I would check out Sling TV for streaming live television stations. Seeing as I also have an Amazon FireTV, the choice seemed to be an easy one, and since they were offering a 7-day free trial, I had nothing to lose. After my free trial, though, I decided that Sling is not quite ready for the prime time (at least in my opinion). Here are some bullet points about my overall experience (some good, some not-so-good, and some downright ugly). I hope that these points will give you a quick overview of Sling so that you can decide if it is right for you. After the list of points, I will discuss some of the more important concerns in greater detail.

  • The Good:
  • The Bad:
    • Quality is not as high as watching over regular co-ax cable or satellite
    • Customer service was not very helpful in any regard
    • Pausing/fast-forwarding/rewinding doesn’t work well, or on many channels. It doesn’t work at all on 3-day replay streams.
    • No Linux support for the Sling App
    • The Windows app doesn’t work in anything below Windows 7, and then won’t uninstall
    • Video quality is forced to a VERY low level inside a virtual machine
    • In a Windows 7 VM (running inside VirtualBox), the app uncleanly closes every time
    • 3-day replay streams don’t ever start in the Windows app
  • The Ugly:
    • Limited to one concurrent stream per account
    • No in-browser streaming

Now that there’s a list of some of my bigger points, I’d like to go into further detail about some of the key factors that determined my stance on the current state of Sling (e.g. it not yet being ready for prime time). All of the good points are self-explanatory, and more information can be found on Sling’s website.

For some of the bad aspects, the quality really wasn’t as good as standard cable or satellite. I found the picture to be very soft by comparison, and the sound quality was lacking, especially on a nicer 5.x audio system. I also experienced several glitches in the video streams, and popping sounds in the audio streams (despite a fibre internet connection). When I emailed customer service about my concerns, I only received canned responses that weren’t very helpful. Further, they would close the ticket immediately, which gives the impression that they don’t care about keeping my business, but rather just want to close support cases as quickly as possible.

With regard to the applications that can be used on Windows and Mac, I didn’t have much luck. As a Linux user, I had no option except to try to install the Windows app inside of a Windows virtual machine (VM). I firstly tried it in an old Windows XP VM. Though it installed, it didn’t actually run, and then refused to fully uninstall. I put it in a Windows 7 VM, and at least it ran. However, any time I would start a stream (live or 3-day replay), an error message popped up stating that the “quality was reduced to a minimum” because my “video card was not supported,” and to “update my video drivers or upgrade my video card.” Basically, it seemed like the application didn’t function much at all inside of a VM.

Now for the ugly parts. :( Though I can deal with the lack of streaming within an internet browser, it is still a huge oversight on Sling’s part. In-browser streaming works on most platforms these days (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, et cetera). If Sling provided in-browser streaming, it would eliminate the problem with the apps only being available for Windows and Mac. It would also negate the issues that I had with the Windows app inside a virtual machine.

The biggest problem with Sling is the limitation of one stream per account. To put that in perspective, let’s say that you have a few televisions in your home, and a couple tablets (iPads or Android-based). If you wanted to watch a particular TV channel via Sling on the TV in your bedroom, and one of your kids wanted to watch his favourite show on his tablet or phone in his room, you would need two separate Sling accounts in order to do that. With only one Sling account, your stream would stop when he started streaming his show. This is a complete deal-breaker for many people, and by today’s standards, it’s really unacceptable from a service provider. I can understand that they don’t want people pirating out the service, but what about checking for the connections coming from the same external IP? That wouldn’t be ideal either, considering you could be out of the home and using your mobile device, but at least it would allow for all devices in the same home (and tied to the same network) to stream concurrently.

Overall, I think Sling is a great idea in that it will allow people like me to have television service. I think that they currently fall short in several areas, though, and for those reasons, I won’t continue to subscribe. Hopefully in the months and years to come, they will rectify these problems (especially the ones in the “ugly” category). If they do, it would be a service that I could stand behind.

Cheers,
Zach

Nov 09 2015

Babies or tiny drunks?

Recently I found this great thread on Reddit about two toddlers being like drunk girls. Though the animated GIF was entertaining, one particular comment in the thread was pure gold:

Babies are born blackout drunk and slowly sober as they age.

They form no permanent memories for several years, have no hand-eye coordination, and are either crying or sleeping. Slowly they regain the ability to crawl around on all fours, then to stumble drunkenly across the room before falling on their faces.

Eventually they become sober enough to start speaking slurred, broken sentences. But their emotions are still totally out of control, and they’ll fly into a rage, a sobbing fit, or uncontrollable giggles at the slightest provocation.

Puberty is the hangover.

You can see the comment and context here.

Too funny… and accurate.

Cheers,
Zach

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