How to Upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro Using a Cheap OEM Key

I just bought a Lenovo Yoga 720-13ikb laptop to replace a broken laptop that wasn’t worth fixing. It’s a great machine, but it came with Windows 10 Home edition. That’s fine for most people, but as a Windows nerd, I need Hyper-V support, the Group Policy editor, the packaged app controls, etc. What to do?

Instead of paying Microsoft’s war price of $99 for the upgrade, I headed on over to Kinguin.net and bought a Windows 10 Pro OEM Key (with buyer protection) for $35. (Note: I was leery of Kinguin.net for years because the prices were too good to be true, but I have since bought four OEM keys from them in the last year and they all worked just fine. Kinguin just exploits the fact that Microsoft sells OEM keys in other countries dirt cheap and it is legal to activate said keys anywhere in the world.)

With this new machine, I did have a problem using this cheap OEM key, but it turns out it wasn’t the key but rather how Microsoft handles upgrades from an OEM version of Windows 10 Home (in this case from Lenovo) to a generic OEM Windows 10 Pro key. When I went to Settings > Activation > Change Product Key, the key simply wouldn’t work and I got error code 0xC004F050 which was no help at all.

After a lot of Googling, I figured out what to do to get my cheap Windows 10 Pro OEM key to work:

  1. Go to Settings > Activation > Change Product Key
  2. Enter the following generic Windows 10 Pro key: VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T
    Note:
    that there is nothing nefarious or illegal about this product key and it IS NOT any sort of piracy to use it. This key is what is known as a Release to Manufacturing (RTM) key and is used to install Windows 10 Pro for a trial period. Very importantly (and I’m not responsible if you don’t heed this caveat), this key DOES NOT and WILL NOT activate Windows 10 Pro, it will merely allow you to a) install Windows 10 Pro from scratch for testing purposes or b) allow you to force Windows 10 Home to upgrade to Pro (and then supply your own key when the upgrade is complete).
  3. After entering the key and clicking Accept, Windows will spring into action and do the upgrade process. (Basically, it just enables a bunch of features that are disabled in the install.) My new machine took less than 5 minutes to upgrade, but every machine is different.
  4. After Windows restarts, Windows 10 Pro is installed but not activated. To activate it, once again go to Settings > Activation > Change Product Key. This time, enter your valid Windows 10 Pro OEM code (from Kinguin or elsewhere), and click Activate Windows.
  5. Enjoy all the enhanced nerdy goodness at a very discounted price.

Bonus Tip: For anyone who wants to build a computer from scratch, these cheap OEM keys can also be used for totally fresh installs of Windows 10 (i.e. they’re not just for upgrades).

What is Ransomware?

There’s a scary threat sweeping the computing world known as ransomware. Ransomware is a type of harmful software that makes your data unreadable unless you pay the creator money to make it readable again. And, unlike the threats of yesteryear (i.e. viruses, Trojans, rootkits, etc.), it is extremely unlikely that any antivirus software can help you recover your data because it is encrypted in such a way that even a supercomputer can’t easily descramble it. Even worse, most users don’t do anything wrong to get infected. Clever hackers have figured out how to infect machines by infecting perfectly reputable websites with malware that installs the ransomware just from visiting.

When users are infected with ransomware, they are normally greeted with a sort of virtual ransom note  that explains how much it will cost to get their data back, how long they have to pay up, and where to send the money. If you don’t pay, the bad guys delete the key and your data is lost forever because the key is nearly impossible to guess. If you’re wondering why law enforcement can’t just trace the accounts where the ransom money gets deposited, it’s because payment must be made in Bitcoin, which is an odd currency born on the Internet that gets traded and exchanged for actual monies on some of the darkest corners of the Internet. This ensures there is no paper trail to follow. Most ransomware makers will decrypt your files if you pay as instructed, but there’s absolutely no guarantee your infector will follow through.

The only thing you can do to protect yourself is back up your important files often onto something that can’t be changed by ransomware if it finds its way onto your computer. Flash drives are great because you can make the backup and disconnect it from the machine. Even better is the old-school method of burning your important files to a CD or DVD because the ransomware can’t change the data because optical discs are read-only once burned. Hopefully, the antivirus makers will figure out how to neutralize ransomware, but for now, backup often or literally pay for it later.

Reset Your LimeSurvey Password

Let’s say you forget your LimeSurvey admin password and, very importantly, the server it’s running on cannot send email. Since the normal method for resetting a forgotten password involves email you will need to update the password via the underlying MySQL database.The password is stored as a SHA256 hash, so you need to use the MySQL function SH2() to complete the update. The actual query looks like this:

UPDATE `tblpr_users`
SET PASSWORD = sha2('newPassword*',256)
WHERE uid = 1

Keep in mind that the table name (in this case tblpr_users) should be adjusted to whatever your table prefix is. Also, the password string (the first parameter in the SHA2 function) needs to be changed to whatever your password is.

Disable Wi-Fi Assist on Your iPhone to Avoid Excess Data Charges!

In iOS 9, Apple added a feature called Wifi-Assist that the description says “Automatically use cellular data when Wi-Fi connectivity is poor.” Oh boy! New features! Don’t be so enthused. With the decision to default to having this feature turned on, I’m pretty sure Apple has received a big payoff from wireless carriers. Why? Well, because this “feature” can run your cellphone bill up in a big way (as if you don’t pay enough). Wi-Fi is normally “use as much bandwidth as you want,” whereas cellular data is “pay for each gigabyte you use.”

Here’s a likely scenario a lot of unsuspecting users fall prey to. Let’s say you’re streaming your favorite show from Netflix while you’re connected to wi-fi at your house. You need to go the basement for something, carrying your happily streaming phone with you. The iPhone detects that your wi-fi signal has suddenly dropped to one bar because your router is upstairs on the other side of the house. To keep you from missing precious seconds of your show, it switches from wi-fi to cellular data without giving you any notice. Since you probably don’t have unlimited cellular data, you end up paying big data overage fees, especially if this scenario happens a few times a month (or worse, a few times a day).

My suggestion to most people is to turn this “feature” off. Here’s how:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Cellular
  3. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list (because the carriers don’t want you to turn this off)
  4. Toggle the Wi-Fi Assist slider to the off position
  5. Use your iPhone without unknowingly running up a huge data bill :)

 

 

How to Fix PreSonus Audiobox USB Electrical Noise (Hissing, Popping, and Clicking) Problem

The short answer that fixed the electrical noise problem: Plug a powered USB hub into a USB port on your machine. Then plug the Audiobox USB into that. From what I can tell, if your USB port isn’t putting out enough power, you will get hissing and/or electrical wave noise. (I used a cheap, powered USB power squid hub I’ve had forever.)

The long answer with details: Back in April, I bought a PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2 audio interface so I could use a Shure SM-58 microphone to record instructional videos. I’ve tried many other mics, including a Blue Yeti USB, and while several sounded good, I could never get the level of noise rejection that I wanted. My mouse and keyboard clicks were always too loud and I have a noisy heat pump. No matter what I did with gain, levels, and pop filters, there was always too much unwanted background noise. The SM-58 has excellent noise rejection and had a nice rich sound for spoken-word content like I would be producing.

I got the unit home and setup the latest driver from PreSonus prior to plugging the unit in as instructed. I plugged up the unit and it installed fine. I opened Audacity and recorded several test tracks to get my levels set properly. The problem was when I set my levels in the butter zone between too quiet and clipping, there was always some form of electrical noise. Sometimes, it was a hiss, sometimes it was a sine wave pattern, sometimes it was a “click click click.” It was totally unacceptable. Here’s all the stuff I tried that DID NOT work:

  1. I unplugged and plugged back in the unit in the same USB port.
  2. I unplugged and plugged back in different USB ports, including ones integrated on my motherboard and others on a Silverstone PCI-E USB 3.0 card hooked to the machine. No difference.
  3. I rebooted many times in different configurations.
  4. I made sure all peripherals plugged into my machine were on the same AC circuit (to make sure it wasn’t a ground-loop problem).
  5. I bought a new gold-plated, shielded USB cable from Monoprice. This helped actually helped a little, but not enough.
  6. I rerouted every cable going into my machine such that the Audiobox USB cable had no other cables within 6″ of it. Additionally, I made sure the monitor headphones and mic cables were straight and not crossing one another in any way.

I was fed up and tempted to order a more expensive unit from a different company. In a last ditch effort, I plugged in a cheap USB powered power squid hub into one of the integrated USB ports on my motherboard, then plugged the Audiobox One into that. To my sheer amazement and delight, that worked like a charm! Even with the gain all the way up on my mic channel, no noise whatsoever. And playback through the unit into the monitor headphones is crisp and clear. None of the aforementioned electrical noise! My only guess is that the unit doesn’t do well if there isn’t enough power coming from the USB port. Instead of not working at all, it makes due and produces a terrible signal.

I didn’t try a powered USB hub sooner because back in the day, the conventional wisdom was that any USB audio gear should be plugged directly into the motherboard. It’s 2015, so I guess that isn’t always the case anymore. For what it’s worth, I’m not going to plug anything else into the powered hub for fear that it may mess up the sweet perfection of my current audio signal!

Wifi Signal Map at My Place

Today I used the free Ekahau HeatMapper on Windows to map out the wifi signal strengths here at the house. I took the resulting map into Photoshop and made, what I consider, a fairly nice map. (Note that it is not perfectly to scale, because I don’t have an actual floor plan to use as the map.)

wifi signal map at my house

Here’s the wifi signal map taken at my house on June 26, 2015.

HeatMapper seems pretty accurate since the indicated wifi signal strengths match what my devices usually tell me. The program could definitely help to troubleshoot slow wifi in a crowded neighborhood as it provides channel information for all detected hotspots. I have no crowding here: There are only two other routers I can see and the signal is so low they couldn’t interfere with a gnat.

What I Did When HeatMapper Found No Signals

One thing I ran into before being able to complete this fun-waste-of-an-afternoon project is that your wifi chipset has to support monitor mode (or promiscuous mode, as it was called back in the day :). If a chipset doesn’t support it, HeatMapper just sits there waiting for signals and nothing shows up. Not surprisingly, the Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 chipset in my laptop doesn’t support monitor mode. I remembered that I bought a Netgear N300 Wi-Fi USB Adapter last year to help with a project I worked on (which had been buried in the back of the Jeep, long-forgotten). I plugged it in an HeatMapper immediately started picking up signals.

(Special thanks to Patrick Norton of TekThing for introducing me to HeatMapper! I’m super excited to see him still on the air. You should support his show at https://www.patreon.com/TekThing)

Dual-boot Windows Technical Preview (aka Windows 10) on a UEFI-Enable Computer

I’m really excited about the Windows Technical Preview (aka Windows 10) that was released today. I decided to forgo a virtual machine and dual-boot it on my laptop running Windows 8.1. My laptop is an Asus G55VW and the existing Windows 8.1 installation being setup in UEFI (with the requisite GPT partition scheme).

I downloaded the image and made a flash drive using the Windows 7 USB Download Tool, but when I booted from the drive and tried to install, I got an error message: “Windows cannot be installed to this disk. The selected disk is not of the GPT partition style” when I clicked on the empty partition I wanted to install to.

I realized the flash drive was booting the MBR installer, but I needed UEFI. I realized I needed a USB flash drive setup to boot the Windows Technical Preview installer in UEFI mode. Here’s what I had to do to create the bootable flash drive that does just that:

  1. Plug a flash drive into a USB port on your machine.
  2. Download the Windows Technical Preview 64 bit ISO at http://preview.windows.com (you’ll have to join the free Windows Insider program and click through a few screens to get to the download link)
  3. Download Rufus. Rufus is a small utility that will put the ISO files on a flash drive you can use to boot from and install Windows. While there are other utilities that do this, Rufus allows you to specifically setup the flash drive as a GPT boot device. This will allow you to install Windows Technical Preview on a GPT drive, side-by-side with Windows 7/8/8.1.
  4. Launch Rufus.
    1. Set the Device dropdown to the flash drive you want to turn into a technical preview installer.
    2. Set the Partition scheme and target system type dropdown to GPT partition scheme for UEFI computer.
    3. Click the little disc icon next to the ISO image drop down and point to the Technical Preview ISO you downloaded in step 1.
    4. Click Start and wait until the status says DONE.
Setup Rufus as shown

Setup Rufus as shown, using the Windows Technical Preview ISO as the source image

You should now be able to boot from the USB drive and install the 64 bit Technical Preview in dual boot on most machines that boot using UEFI and have a hard disk with GPT. I’ll leave it to you to find out how to create a empty partition to use for the installation, but at least now you will have a UEFI flash drive installer.

Appalachia 2050

I just had the pleasure of finishing a documentary by Prestonsburg native Ralph B. Davis entitled Appalachia 2050. Davis interviews several influential and educated people in Eastern KY, asking them what needs to be done so that the region will have overcome the issues still present after nearly fifty years of LBJ’s War on Poverty.

The consensus seems to be that the War on Poverty has indeed improved the well-being of most of Eastern KY’s poor, however, we are far from where the program hoped we would be compared to the current national averages in areas such as education, health, job opportunities, and economic growth. Nearly all participants believe that cooperation within the region is the number one key to helping the area thrive by 2050.

I encourage anyone who is interested in the future of Eastern KY to watch this documentary. I also encourage Mr. Davis to keep giving us these thought-provoking pieces because they create useful conduits for dialog. I cannot wait to see his next project, whatever that may be.

A Fix for Windows Installer Error 3728

If you ever get a Windows Installer Error Code 3728, I found a really easy fix that might work for you. ( I say might because I’ve had many problems with MSI installers over the years and it has normally been a lot of trial-and-error to fix them.) As with any fix I post, follow these steps at your own risk. There’s no way I can know every single configuration out there and your mileage may vary.

  1. Click Start, type regedit.exe, and press enter (Give the ok for Administrator privileges if you have UAC enabled).
  2. Right-click on the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive and choose Find…
  3. Type (or copy and paste) this key into the find box: {B54F3741-5B07-11cf-A4B0-00AA004A55E8}
  4. If this key is found anywhere in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive, right-click and Delete it. Very, very important: Do not delete this key from any hive other than HKEY_CURRENT_USER. Doing so may seriously mess up your system.
  5. Re-run whatever you were trying to install that was failing. If the install goes through, you’re good to go. If not, keep Googling because that’s all the medicine I’ve got for Error Code 3728 :)

As far as why this error occurs, it has something to do with the TrustedInstaller account permissions. The various sources I read to help me fix this issue had a lot of conflicting information and I managed to piece this fix together from bits and pieces of a few of them. I hope this helps!