Skype randomly zooming during video calls

First, a little background. I was on a Skype call a short time ago and noticed that Skype would randomly zoom in and zoom out during the call. It seemed to happen at random, and I couldn’t figure out why, nor could I find any way of controlling it.

My Asus T100’s camera does have a user-controllable zoom, but it is zoomed all the way out when this is happening. It does not have face-following, a feature commonly blamed for this issue in Skype.

Here’s a shot of the Video Settings dialog in Skype, for anyone interested.


After some digging around the web, I’ve found a logical chain of forum posts that seem to indicate what the issue is, and point to a potential fix.

First, this blog post from another user who had the same issue, and he worked around it by installing and using ManyCam. This did work to resolve the issue, but requires ManyCam be running and adds the extra resources that it requires. If you decide to go this route, I strongly recommend areful reading during the ManyCam installer. It’s full of add-ons.

Second, this thread on yCombinator suggests a few things: 1) That lack of bandwidth is causing Skype to switch the camera to a lower resolution, resulting in the zoom; and that 2) lack of movement in portions of the cameras image is causing it to zoom. Theory 1 seems more plausible.

Third, this post on the Skype forums suggests that Skype’s video resolution can be forced by editing an xml file. Quoted with edits:

It’s impossible to change either the capture or stream video resolution in the Skype GUI. But the capture resolution can be changed by adding for example this:


directly under the <Lib> tag in %AppData%\Skype\shared.xml. The other supported resolutions also work. Check that it works from Call -> Call Technical Info.

Of course, make sure that you are forcing a resolution that your camera supports, that your PC has enough processing power to support, and that you have sufficient bandwidth for. Otherwise, you will experience undesirable effects. 640×480 is a good choice for many. 1280×720 would require a webcam capable of 720p HD capture. A 1.2 MP camera could give a resolution of 1280×960.

I used 1280×960 above as my camera is 1.2 megapixel. However, in my Call Technical Info, my camera is capturing at 1280×720, and zoom is correct. In one instance the camera zoomed in, and the Call Technical Info showed that it was capturing at 240×360. The zoom is definitely connected to the capture resolution, but changing the xml settings does not guarantee that Skype will force the resolution under all (or any) circumstances.

I’m also going to add that this is directly targeted at Skype for Desktop, not the Windows 8 app. If you are able to try this, please let me know your results. 

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How to save browser link URLs to disk

(I realize this is far from being a new thing, but I also know that some people don’t know how to do this, so I’m going to explain this for today’s lucky 10,000.)

I have a lot of very useful bookmarks, as I’m sure many of you readers do as well. I also tend to use more than one web browser. It’s a huge pain to constantly export/import bookmarks across browsers, back up favorites before re-installing an OS, etc. What if you could just have your favorites saved to disk, and use them however and whenever you wanted? That would be great.

Firefox and Chrome both have features where you can sync your bookmarks to their cloud services, but that only works with that one browser.

So, actually, you can save them to disk. And I’m not talking about saving the page to disk (via file > save). No. Not that. That saves the whole page and all of the content to your disk. No. I’m talking about saving just the link. Not in a text file, but in a simple file you can double-click to open in your web browser.

Sounds awesome, right? It is.

So here’s how you do it. In your favorite web browser, just locate the page favicon (that’s what that little icon next to the web address is called. It’s a favicon.) and drag it to your desktop, or other such folder. Screenshots below for Internet Explorer and Chrome:

Now you can save those files anywhere you want, even such places such as Dropbox, OneCloud, etc. Even a USB stick.

OneDrive users: If your link does something unexpected when you double-click on it (like trying to print), make sure it’s an Offline file. Right-click your link and select Make available offline. You can select multiple files and do this to many at once, or even an entire folder.

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XBox 360 popping crackling sounds over HDMI solved

If you have an XBox 360 hooked up to your TV over HDMI, you very well may experience popping, crackling, or static sounds while playing games.

It took me a bit of Googling to find the solution to this problem. Most people think it’s bad HDMI ports, cables, interference, or other. When in fact, I found the simplest solution (and the correct one) was to go into the console settings, under sound, and notice that the XBox by default is configured for Dolby 5.1 surround sound. On a 2-speaker system, this is not correct and will result in distorted sound. Change this setting to digital stereo and that will solve the issue.

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How to do a full system bare-metal backup in Windows 8

The Windows “Backup and Restore” utility that was present in the control panel in Windows 7 could easily do full-system bare-metal backup and restore. Unfortunately, this tool was removed from the control panel in Windows 8.

However, it looks like that tool is still present on the hard drive and can be used. Here’s how to find it.

Click Start, and in the search box, type SDCLT.EXE . Right-click the and click Run As Administrator.

As always, a test restore is good practice.

Comments are welcomed below!

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Manually uninstalling Echolink from Windows 8

If you are running Windows 8, and installed the Echolink software using it’s incompatible installer, and then subsequently uninstall it, you will break your start screen (as shown here). You will then have to do a System Restore to get your start screen restored, but that will re-install the software.

If you manually uninstall Echolink using the method below, you can then extract and run Echolink using the method described in this post.

Here’s the steps to remove all traces of the Echolink software from your PC:

  1. You might want to create a system restore point from Control Panel > System > System Protection > Create... before proceeding, just in case.
  2. Delete the desktop icon.
  3. Done! (Just kidding)
  4. Right-click on the Start screen icon and select “Unpin from Start” (NOT uninstall. Seriously.)
  5. Run regedit.exe (Caution: Editing the registry is risky. Pay close attention and make a backup before making any changes if you aren’t confident in your changes.)
  6. (Optional) Delete the registry branch at [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\K1RFD]. — It looks like Echolink stores some settings here and it is safe to leave this key in place if you plan to run it standalone.
  7. For a 32-bit system, I found the uninstall keys in the registry at [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\{DC33421C-0E1C-470A-BE37-7B7C82677812}]. Delete that branch of keys. Verify Echolink is no longer listed in Control Panel > Programs and Features for uninstallation.
  8. For a 32-bit system, delete the C:\Program Files\K1RFD directory.
  9. For a 64-bit system, look under
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\]. Find the branch of keys under there that refers to Echolink and delete it. DON’T delete the entire Uninstall branch. (I didn’t run this on a 64-bit system, so I can’t give you the exact registry branch.) Verify Echolink is no longer listed in Control Panel > Programs and Features for uninstallation.
  10. For a 64-bit system, delete the C:\Program Files (x86)\K1RFD directory.
  11. (Optional) If you wish to delete your favorites, recorded QSOs, etc., delete C:\Users\<username>\Documents\Echolink. This directory is hard-coded into Echolink, so even if you run it standalone, it will still store data in this folder.

Please feel free to share your comments below. Thanks!


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Restoring and downloading S3 Glacier objects using s3cmd

I currently have a portion of my backups on S3, with a life-cycle policy that includes moving the objects to Glacier after a period of time. This makes the storage much cheaper ($0.01/GB/Mo from $0.03/GB/Mo – Source), but has the downside that objects require a 4-hour restore period  before they can become available for download. I have had need for some objects quickly, and so the 4-hour restore time isn’t worth the savings. Unfortunately, once an object has had this life-cycle applied to it, it can only be temporarily restored. In order to make it a standard object again, you have to download it, delete the Glacier object, and then re-upload it. Unfortunately, doing it all wasn’t quite as straightforward as I thought it might be. But, (I think) I figured out a way to get it done rather painlessly.

I’m going to be using s3cmd and a few cron jobs to automate this.

First, get s3cmd version 1.5. This version supports initiating restores on the Glacier objects. You can recursively initiate a restore on every object in the bucket, but when it hits a non-Glacier object it will stop. You can also use s3cmd to initiate a download of all the objects in the bucket, but when it hits a Glacier object, the download will stop. And you will end up with a zero-byte file. (Hey s3cmd developers, would you mind fixing this behavior, or at least writing in something to force progression on a failure, so we can walk through the entire bucket in one go?)

The solution had to involve initiating restores, waiting at least 4 hours for the restore, then going back for the restored data and deleting it from the buckets, then deleting any zero-byte files, and then doing it all over again later.

Ain’t nobody got time for that. Except cron. Cron has plenty of time for that.

First of all, make sure you have s3cmd installed and configured (with s3cmd --configure). Then you can configure the following script to run every 4 hours. I’m not going to go into much detail on this. If you’re familiar with s3cmd and Amazon S3/Glacier, you can probably figure out how it works. I wrote it as a short-term fix, but it’s worth sharing.


# This script should be fired every 4 hours from a cron job until all
# data from the desired bucket is restored.
# Requires s3cmd 1.5 or newer

# Temp file

# Bucket to restore data from. Use trailing slash.

# Folder to restore data to. Use trailing slash.

# Because of the way s3cmd handles errors, we have to run in a certain method
# 1: download/delete files from bucket,
# 2: run restore on the remaining objects
# 3: Do housekeeping on the downloaded data

if [ ! -f $TEMPFILE ]
echo === Starting Download Phase
s3cmd -r --delete-after-fetch --rexclude "/$" sync $BUCKET $FOLDER
echo === Starting Restore Phase
s3cmd -r -D 30 restore $BUCKET
echo === Starting cleanup
# s3cmd doesn't delete empty folders, and can create empty files. Clean this up.
find $FOLDER -empty -delete
# but it might accidentially delete the target directory if the download didn't
# happen, so we have to fix that now
mkdir $FOLDER

Note that restore, download, and delete operations can incur extra costs. Be aware of that before proceeding.

So that’s it. I *should* have my entire S3 bucket downloaded completely within the next few days, and then I can migrate to what I hope is a more simplified archiving plan.

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External optical drive woes

My old laptop, a Dell Latitude E6510, has a bad DVD drive. It won’t read most discs, and almost everything I try to burn, fails. I purchased an external USB drive to use with it, and that works well. It was cheaper than replacing the drive itself. Replacing the drive is straightforward, I just don’t want to spend the money right now to get a new drive.

About a week ago I wanted to install some software from a CD (Who does that anymore, right?) on my Asus tablet, which lacks an optical drive, but has a USB port. I plugged the external USB drive into the port, and put the disc in it. Shortly after, the drive kept disappearing from ‘My Computer’, I kept hearing the Windows disconnect and reconnect sounds. It wouldn’t stay ‘connected.’

My son likes to get into things that he shouldn’t, so I nearly chewed him out for it straight away, but after taking a bit to calm down, I decided to troubleshoot. I thought it was a bad cable at first, so I tried a few different cables. No change. Tried wiggling the USB port to see if the tablet port was faulty, no change. I plugged the drive back into the Dell, and it worked without a problem. This got me thinking.

After some of that thinking, I finally figured out what the issue was, and I’m posting this to see if anyone else can figure it out too, because you’ll learn something from my ordeal. Something that may surprise you.

This is a photo of the bottom of the USB drive, showing the label and the USB plug. Most of the information you need to figure this out is in this photo. You may need to go and do a web search if you’re missing a piece of information.

Post your comments, questions, or guesses in the comments below. The first person who figures it out will get recognition, and I’ll clarify the answer if it needs any. 

Hint: Again, almost everything you need to know to figure this out is in the photo of the USB drive. Almost. The rest is a quick web search away.

Hint: The Dell laptop has USB 2.0 ports. The tablet has USB 3.0. This is not the reason, although it’s going in the right direction. 

Guess/Hint: Someone guessed that the drive was made on April Fool’s Day. A clever guess sir, but not correct. You are looking in the right area.

Guess: Someone guessed that I might have been using the microUSB “On The Go” (OTG) port. A good guess, as this tablet has one of those ports as well, but no. I was using the USB 3 port that’s on the tablet’s keyboard dock. I did just try using the OTG port instead of the USB 3.0 port and got the same result. I am not surprised. 

Here are photos. Click any for a larger image:

Answer: My friend Gary got the idea that it might have been a power issue, but cwyenberg went so far as to point that 1.6A is a lot for a USB draw. 

Explanation: From Wikipedia:

USB power standards
Specification Current Voltage Power
USB 1.x and 2.0 500 mA[a] 5 V 2.5 W
USB 3.x 900 mA[b] 5 V 4.5 W

USB devices can only ask for so much power, (up to 500mA for a USB 2.0 device), and 1.6A is far beyond that. This drive can’t be expected to work under all circumstances according to the USB specification. The reason that it worked on the Dell laptop is probably that Dell is allowing the device to draw more power for the sake of compatibility. This is why you see external hard drives with Y-cables — the device can pull from 2 USB ports to get more power and still adhere to the USB standard, allowing the device to be expected to work under all circumstances. Interestingly enough, the drive does work with a powered USB hub rated for 2.5A. So, if you’re having a similar issue as me, try getting a powered USB hub. 

There’s a handy program I found called USBTreeView that can show you the requested power for each device connected to your USB bus. In this case, USBTreeView shows the following lines for this drive:

iManufacturer : 0x01
Language 0x0409 : "Hitachi-LG Data Storage Inc"
iProduct : 0x02
Language 0x0409 : "Portable Super Multi Drive"
MaxPower : 0xFA (500 mA)

Thanks for reading (and for your responses)!


Running EchoLink on Windows 8 or 8.1 without risking the loss of your start screen tiles

EchoLink is a VOIP program that allows licensed Amateur Radio operators to talk to other operators using the Internet as a link. Unfortunately, the current version on their website (version 2.0.908) uses an InstallShield installer that causes some serious harm to Windows installations when it is uninstalled — namely, it will remove the tiles from your Start screen and All Apps screen, as seen here.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t a flaw in the EchoLink operating software itself. Rather, it’s an issue with the version of the InstallShield installer that they are using to install the software, and that this only happens when you try to uninstall the software. Installing and running the EchoLink software poses no risk to your system until you try to uninstall it. The uninstaller does some (as yet unknown) mistake in removing the program which will cause the loss of your start screen after rebooting. See this post for how to fix the issue using System Restore. 

Up until I started digging into this issue I didn’t recommend for anyone to use the software, as the consequences of trying to uninstall the software leave your system in an almost unusable state. I can now confidently encourage people to use it, but only if you run it as a standalone program — not when installing it using the bundled installer.

Now, I’m going to show you a way to run the EchoLink program without using the InstallShield installer, which makes it perfectly safe to use, and there’s no need to run an installer or uninstaller.

First, obtain the EchoLink installer exe from the EchoLink website. It will be named EchoLinkSetup_2_0_908.exe.

Next, based on a tip from this site, open a command prompt, change to the directory containing the EchoLink installer, and run the following:

EchoLinkSetup_2_0_908.exe /s /x /b"." /v"/qn"

This should create an EchoLink.msi file in the same directory.

Now, download and install 7-Zip using the default options. With 7-Zip installed, you can right-click on the MSI and click 7-Zip -> Extract to “EchoLink\”. This will create an EchoLink folder which contains the extracted files. The files you’re most interested in are the EXE and CHM files.

You can run the extracted EchoLink.exe file directly, and from anywhere, and the CHM file contains the help documents, and they should be kept in the same folder. I don’t know if the elkbhook.dll is needed at all. I was able to use EchoLink normally and carry on a QSO without it.

I have already brought this issue to the attention of the team, and they confirmed at the time that it was an issue with the InstallShield installer. This is what brought me to look at working around InstallShield. However, I haven’t seen an updated release from to address the issue.

* Update 1/27/15 – The Echolink development team responded to an email I sent regarding this issue. They expressed interest in distributing the program via a standalone zip file for Windows 8 users. Check the Echolink website for download availability. 

Thank you for reading, and please share this post with any Amateur Radio operators you know that run the EchoLink software.

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Fixing Windows 8.1 blank start menu

Some older programs not updated to work correctly with Windows 8/8.1 will produce some very undesirable results when uninstalling them, such as clearing out your start and app screens.

Echolink is one program that affects Windows 8 in this way when using its bundled uninstaller. You can read about how to extract the exe to run it as a standalone program in this post.

You can see below a sample of an affected system, and that all the tiles have been removed from the start screen and all apps screen:


In this situation, the search from the start screen is available, but will not produce any results. The only way to navigate is to right-click on the start button and make selections from that menu, or to use the charms bar.

Various sites offer various fixes for this issue, and I haven’t found one that works without either refreshing the PC or having to use a restore point. If you use a restore point to recover, the program will likely be reinstalled. If you refresh your PC, you will keep your data but you may lose some settings or customizations.

For either of these two methods, follow the link below:

How to refresh, reset, or restore your PC []

I wish I could find a consistent fix without having to use the above, but they methods do work.

If you have a solution that works, please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thank you!

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ACL fix for Synology DiskStations

A reader got in touch with me regarding my previous post, Quick sh script cronjob to fix user homes permissions on Synology. That script was initially intended to fix user homes file ownership, but this reader shared a script that uses the synoacltool to fix the Access Control List on directories.

A few thoughts regarding this script:

First, it was mentioned that these issues may be fixed in the latest DSM release. If you’re still experiencing file ownership and permissions issues, please feel free to use the solution linked to above or posted below.

Second, the script linked to above and the script below take different approaches on the problem. You may find a solution in one, or you may elect to use both.

Third, it was mentioned that this was a “one and done” solution. Due to the changing nature of filesystem content, I don’t believe that to be the case. You may want to save this as a sh script and run it as a scheduled task, or you may want it to run on every boot up. If you decide you want to run it on every boot, edit (or create) the file /etc/rc.local, and paste the below. I can’t say for certain whether this script is preserved on an upgrade, though this page strongly suggests that it would be preserved.

I don’t have a Synology unit right now to test this on, so I can’t offer any insight other than what I’ve shared above.

Here’s the script:

synouser --enum all > user.list
sed -i 's/\\/\\\\/g' user.list
cat user.list | while read line
echo -n "$line: "
USERDIR=`synouser --get "$line" | grep "User Dir"`
if [ $? != 0 ]; then
echo "user: [$line] not found"
HOMEPATH=`echo "$USERDIR" | cut -d'[' -f2 | cut -d']' -f1`
synoacltool -get-archive "$HOMEPATH" | grep is_support_ACL > /dev/null 2>&1
if [ $? != 0 ]; then
echo "[$HOMEPATH] not support ACL or not exist"
synoacltool -get "$HOMEPATH" | grep -F "user:$line:allow:rwxpdDaARWcCo:fd--" > /dev/null 2>&1
if [ $? = 0 ]; then
echo "[$HOMEPATH] exist user's Full Control ACL"
synoacltool -add "$HOMEPATH" "user:$line:allow:rwxpdDaARWcCo:fd--"
rm user.list

Any feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thank you!

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