Installing MacOS Guest in VirtualBox

| by Ken | in Technology No Comments »

I’ve experimented with VirtualBox before but today I had a legitimate work need to try out VirtualBox with a MacOS Guest. So I installed VirtualBox on my Windows 7 64-bit laptop and pulled out my Snow Leopard DVD and… it didn’t work. Nothing could be that easy, right?

I Googled for an hour or so looking for the trick but all the posts I found were about how to work with a drive image or a hacked install or to use special bootloaders that would function as a sort of handoff (such as the Empire EFI which is interesting since it touches on the Hackintosh concepts I’ve talked lots about in this blog). I eventually found the trick I needed at something called “LeaseWeb Labs” in a post titled “How to run OSX in a VM on VirtualBox“.
So here’s what I did:

  1. Install VirtualBox
  2. Create a new VM that is MacOS with the name “osx”; the virtual disk should be something like 25Gb (make sure you have that space on your local computer); the other defaults are fine as is, including leaving EFI checked on
  3. Click the storage section of the settings for the new VM and if it isn’t already included, add in your optical drive: you can click where it says “empty” and then on the right there’s a picture of an optical disc with a tiny triangle below it; click on that and select your optical drive
  4. Exit the VirtualBox application (any running windows including the Manager window)
    open a Windows command prompt and change directory to where VirtualBox is installed
    (on my Windows 7 64-bit, that location is “C:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox”)
    run the following four lines:
    VBoxManage modifyvm osx --cpus 1
    VBoxManage modifyvm osx --vram 128
    VBoxManage setextradata osx VBoxInternal2/EfiGopMode 5
    VBoxManage setextradata osx "VBoxInternal2/SmcDeviceKey" "ourhardworkbythesewordsguardedpleasedontsteal(c)AppleComputerInc"
  5. Insert the Snow Leopard DVD and start your osx VM
    you should see the VirtualBox startup, the screen change sizes, and then you are off and running with the install. If you haven’t done a Mac install before, you may discover that you need to run Disk Utilities from the top menu to format the virtual drive and then return to the installer where you would now be able to select the drive you just formatted.

I had a few problems with the resulting install, though. Not the fault of the setup, I don’t think. First, during the install, it appears as though as soon as the screensaver kicks in, the VM display will freeze. I couldn’t figure out how to wake it back up. So it froze during install saying there were “29 minutes remaining” but then it rebooted as part of the install process and came up with the language screen. I was away at the time so by the time I returned, it was frozen again. I rebooted the VM and it came back up fine ready to finish the install. Later I walked away again and when I returned it was frozen again. I didn’t get far enough using the VM to ever figure out how to fix that.

Second, I found it super annoying that the window was just slightly larger than my monitor because either the dashboard was off the bottom of the screen or the mac menu bar was off the top. This is the result of the “EfiGopMode” command above. The 5 sets it to 1920×1200 which is the size of my monitor but VBox doesn’t keep track of the window frame and the menu bar so you end up with scroll bars even if the GOP mode matches your monitor size. To remove the “5”, you’d just run the same command as above without the numeric value at the end. There are parameters to set the specific Horizontal and Vertical resolution but they only work for Linux, not for Mac. Which means the best way to avoid scrollbars is to choose a resolution that fits within your monitor’s limits. I chose “4” in the end.  No resizing on the fly like other OSes.

Third, I discovered after I thought I was all set that the software I wanted to run would only run at Mac OS 10.8 or higher. Okay, I just need to upgrade my 10.6 install so I got the 10.10 updater from the App Store and downloaded that. During download, the screen froze again so I rebooted again. I discovered when running the updater that I was out of disk space in Mac hard drive. No problem, just expand the size of the virtual drive. Strangely, VirtualBox doesn’t make that easy. You have to do that from the command line also (the numeric value is in MB):

VBoxManage modifyhd "C:\Users\kat\VirtualBox VMs\MacOS-VB\MacOS-VB.vdi" --resize 25000

Now, booting up the Mac VM, I could see that the physical drive was larger – cool. All I have to do is drag that partition bar and- wait, there’s an error message. “MediaKit reports partition (map) too small.” It turns out the problem is that the MacOS has built a partition table for that disk that is locked in to the size of the physical disk. But since a virtual disk can change size, it doesn’t handle that correctly. Okay, so how do I resolve this error. I found one post suggesting to boot into single user mode and clear caches and volume table. So how do you do single user mode on a virtual Mac? Another VBox command line of course:

VBoxManage setextradata MacOS-VB "VBoxInternal2/EfiBootArgs" "-s"

(And to take it off later, you would issue the same command but with no args.) That did get me into single user mode where I was able to delete the suggested files but unfortunately, it didn’t resolve the partition problem. There are crazy complicated fixes that I just don’t have the energy for. At this point, rather than struggle to increase the size of the disk, it would just make more sense to do it all over with a bigger virtual disk from the start. But after the hours I’ve spent, I’m already beyond where this exercise of Mac on VBox is useful to me. I’m out.

So sadly, this last issue was terminal for my experiment. But I did want to log the info here for future reference should I ever need to try something similar again.

After some recent network improvements at the house, I discovered the new router was causing interference with my old phone system.  Rather than replace the phone system with a newer one that is both technologically better and feature poorer, I decided to stick with the current one and change what I could.

Figuring that the new router is only causing interference where the old one did not must be because it the signal is somehow stronger.  Fortunately, I’m running dd-wrt on my routers so I there’s more tweakability than with stock firmware.  And fortunately one of the things you can tweak is the “TX Power”.  The default value for TX Power for the 2.4 Ghz antenna was 71 (out of a reported 1000?  that doesn’t seem right).  I changed it to 60 and the warblyness in the cordless phone went away mostly.  I can still get interference if I walk to the router and touch the phone’s antenna to the router.  Since that isn’t something I need to do to use the phone normally, I think I’m good now.

I’ve been using the same cordless phone system for probably 15 years.  It is a Panasonic KX-TG2720 base with lots of handsets.  An important feature for me is that it has 2 lines.  We still have a landline for the “house” and I have a work line.  I use the speakerphone.  We have Comcast voicemail on both lines and the handsets are setup to show when there is new mail and you just push a button to listen to your messages.  The handsets also include speakerphone capabilities.  The range is fantastic and covers our whole house including basement and all of our yard which isn’t saying too much, but the point is it is exactly what we need.

A month ago I re-jiggered our home network and replaced one of the older routers with a new one.  Since then we’ve been having interference between our handsets and the WiFi.  Frankly, it’s surprising we haven’t had a problem before since the old phone system is a 2.4 Ghz system and of course, that’s the band that WiFi has been operating in for years.  (And while I’d love to disable the 2.4 Ghz antenna from the routers, I have too many devices that don’t work with the 5 Ghz band.)  The new router has been a problem, though, making the phone sound really warbly when anywhere on the first floor – i.e. close the new router.

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I’ve got an old Weber gas grill that has served me well for a decade.  I’ve had to replace the cast iron grates a couple of times because, it seems, their covers, while keeping the grill look pretty, trap moisture inside.  There was one time when I had friends over and the grill didn’t get up to cooking temperature but it was just one time.

Until recently.  When it started happening more often.  There a couple of times when the burgers just sat on the cooking grate looking grey and annoyed rather than actually cooking.  The temp probe showed the interior temp only got to something like 250F or maybe 300F if the wind was light.  I thought maybe it was because I was low on gas so I refilled the propane tank and the next time it worked fine.  Problem solved, I thought.  But then it happened again with the full tank.  Something weird is going on.

It’s a tough thing to Google, but I did eventually find exactly what I was looking for at Weber’s site.  It turns out that you can end up with the grill in “bypass mode” where the regulator limits the amount of gas that can get out of the tank.  The mode is intended as a protection if something has gone wrong with the grill.  But you can inadvertently trigger bypass mode if you don’t turn on the gas the right way.  For some reason, I had apparently been turning on the gas the right way for years and recently, have been doing it the wrong way about half the time!  Or maybe there’s something about the valves and tank and regulator that make the setup more sensitive to bypass mode as they get older.

So the simple solution is to wait a couple of seconds after opening the valve on the propane tank before you turn on any burners.  That’s it.  I did that as a test today and sure enough, the grill ramped right up to 500F.

Walt Disney World at 80%

| by Ken | in Travel No Comments »

I’ve been with the family now to Disney World twice.  A couple of years ago, there were a number of things closed that were a bummer.  But this year, the number of things closed seemed excessive.

In the Magic Kingdom, the Railroad was closed – the whole thing.  And this was disappointing because it seemed to be unscheduled.

In Epcot, Soarin was closed.  This one we knew about ahead of time and it is undergoing big changes, so the closure is understandable.  But still a bummer.

The only thing we noticed in Animal Kingdom is the paths around the Tree Of Life were closed.  Disappointing, but that wasn’t something that we were really looking forward to doing.

In Hollywood Studios, there were big changes.  Honey I Shrunk the Kids, a family favorite, is gone.  The Streets Of America is closed – and this time is a particular bummer because since our last visit to Hollywood Studios, we’ve been to New York and San Fransisco and the idea that they could be in both places at the same time and experience the fakery of a “back lot” would have been great.  But nope, all closed.  Same with the Lights Motors Action.  Mater and Lightning are gone from their spot.  And Phineas & Ferb are no longer hanging around to greet people there.  I think this is all in an effort to build a new Star Wars area, but that didn’t help us on this visit.

Overall, it felt like about 80% of what we wanted to do was open for us to do.  And no surprise, we still had to pay 100% of the admission to get in.  Again, I know closures are inevitable, but it sure seems like we hit the parks at their nadir.

Have you been to Disney World in the past 10 years?  Have you stayed within the park and therefore traveled on the “Disney Transportation” system?  For a few of you, that would mean riding the Monorail only but for most, it involves spending time on a bus.  And it probably involved a fair bit of waiting for buses to come, waiting to board buses, sitting on buses, and walking from buses.  Overall, while the bus system does successfully move a massive quantity of people around the World, it does not do it efficiently.

How about the Monorail, you ask?  I remember riding the Monorail when I was a kid (in the 70s) and it was awesome.  Futuristic and smooth and just plain cool.  It is 40 years later and it hasn’t changed since.  The world (and the World) has gotten better around it.  These days, the best that can be said about the Monorail is it elicits nostalgia.  But for most people, they will see a worn coach that takes forever to load and unload and isn’t going where you want to go.

How about a personal car?  Well, you can definitely get to and from parking lots quickly but then you have to pay for parking and everybody knows how far away you have to park – so far from the entrance that you need a special parking shuttle to get around the parking lot.

The upshot is, getting around Disney World is a complete pain in the ass.  And when you are on vacation, you don’t want to spend time sitting around in a bus, a museum Monorail, or a traffic jam in a parking lot.  Especially at Disney World where you have to book what time you are going to do a ride months in advance (that’s another post!), burning up precious time just trying to get to the theme park of the day is downright stupid.

So if you are like me (and I hope for the sake of your fellow vacation travelers that you are not), then you spend much of that time on the bus thinking about how it should be done better.  And then when you get home, you kill a day studying maps and working out transit routes.

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I’ve got that new tablet that I’ve been writing about, the Teclast X16, and I want to be able to “watch TV” on it.  No, not live TV (except for the occasional truly live event, I have little use for live TV) but shows that have been recorded on MythTV.  The shows are on the server and I could stream them from there using a MythTV Android client.  And that does work.  But if I can avoid needing a network connection, I’ll be better off and most importantly, then my TV can travel with me.

The “tPad” does communicate through Bluetooth and I could use a BT file transfer to load files to it.  But I really don’t want to struggle with those kinds of connections.  I could also do a USB transfer which skips the flakey BT connection but then I still have to worry about filling up the “drive”.  I’d rather use the SD card slot on the tPad to store the stuff to watch.  (Technically, it is a Micro SD and it is labeled as TF.  Since I’ll be using an SD adapter to write to it from the MythTV server, for the rest of this post I’ll just refer to it as an SD card.)  And rather than stuff in an empty card and then transfer stuff to the tPad and store it on the SD card, way easier to just put the SD card into my MythTV server and drop the files on the card there.  Sure, there’s an element of sneaker-net involved.  But this isn’t something I’m going to do daily and it really isn’t too much trouble to stuff a card into the front panel of the MythTV server.  Besides, this way, if the SD card fills up, I know I have enough TV to last me a good long while and don’t have to worry about breaking the tPad functionality by accidentally filling up the main “drive”.  The only real hard part was setting up MythTV to automate getting the recordings to the SD card.

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Teclast X16 Support Through GearBest

| by Ken | in Technology 2 Comments »

I bought my Teclast X16 Pro from Gear Best at the end of January.  I previously wrote about my initial thoughts on the device and my opinion hasn’t changed since.  I still think the device is pretty good overall.  But it still has serious battery issues and a WiFi problem.  The battery drains completely within 48 hours without using the device at all so it appears that the device never properly sleeps.  And the WiFi will only find 2.4 Ghz networks, not any 5 Ghz networks.  Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about these two issues.  And I’ve been keeping my eye on a third potential issue – that the screen occasionally flickers.

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Xfinity WiFi Trojan Horse

| by Ken | in Technology 3 Comments »

Have you noticed a WiFi network near your house with the name “xfinitywifi”?  Have you thought it interesting that the signal seemed to be as strong as your own network in your house?  If you are a Comcast network customer, it’s probably your own networking hardware offering you an alternate connection.  Comcast has their hardware default to a setup that provides a public access point for everyone under the name “xfinitywifi”.  Their idea is somewhat admirable: save the ordinary customer the trouble of configuring a guest network and at the same time, enable every customer of theirs able to access any Comcast WiFi network anywhere.

There are a few problems, though.  First is that you have to be a Comcast customer to use the guest network and I assume you don’t select your friends based on whether or not they use the same ISP as you.  Secondly, the sign in requires you to sign in to Comcast meaning you have to go through extra login with credentials that you hopefully remember every time you connect.  Third, any knucklehead with a Comcast account walking down the street can pause in front of your house and use your bandwidth.

I had seen xfinitywifi show up in a site survey and I concluded that it was my neighbors who hadn’t bothered to customize their SSID.  I replaced my cable modem as part of a network overhaul at my house and after I did so, I noticed a new and stronger xfinitywifi signal.  I was able to look at the network info and MAC address and figure out that that new network was coming from my hardware in addition to the private network.  (And I realized that while I was correct about the previous conclusion about the signal coming from my neighbors, I didn’t realize that I was effectively seeing two signals from each Comcast neighbor.)  Since I use my own routers, I set the Comcast cable modem to “bridge mode” which means it disables the wireless signal.  Except it actually leaves the xfinitywifi network active!  And there’s no way in the configuration pages to disable it.

The way you manage it, believe it or not, is through your Comcast account.  The easiest thing to do is to login to your Comcast account in your web browser.  Then open a new tab and paste in this URL:  Choose the “Disable” radio button and click Save.  So it’s pretty easy to do when you know where to go.  But who would have thought to do that?

I wonder why Comcast wants to have users control this behavior through their site.  Perhaps this is something they want to track and the settings in an individual cable modem are not things they can “see”?  Okay, so it isn’t really a Trojan Horse, since the public network packets that are sneaking through the cable modem that you let into your house aren’t going to escape the cable modem and unlock your front door.  But still, it seems that Comcast should be more upfront about what’s going on in the hardware they give you.

By now I’m sure you’ve ready my Pulitzer winning articles from Part 1 and Part 2?  Good, so I don’t need to repeat myself.  I’ll just summarize briefly: I was able to improve performance somewhat by replacing a router that seemed to be failing but I couldn’t improve any more on either of my two routers through either firmware updates or through antenna modifications.  The performance had plateaued but not as high as I thought it should have.  I thought I should be able to get better results and I wanted to try a bit more to improve things.

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