In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: computers Page 2 of 8

A virtual goodbye

When I switched to the Mac five years ago, I brought Windows along for the ride. VMware Fusion is one of a few pieces of software that allow your Mac to ‘host’ a large number of ‘guest’ operating systems. This virtualization software presents an environment to the guest operating system that seems like a real computer, but it’s entirely constructed of software. After starting VMware fusion for the first time, you need to either download a virtual machine or create your own. In my case, I wanted Windows, so I had to install Windows into its own virtual machine. Once I had done that, I had a great big file on my hard drive called WindowsXP. To run Windows, all I have to do is start VMware Fusion, select WindowsXP, choose ‘Start,’ and watch Windows boot in a window on my Mac. It’s really surreal the first few times.

Getting files in and out of the virtual machine might seem problematic. The computer doesn’t really exist, after all! Happily, it’s not at all difficult. The virtual machine exists on your local network, alongside all of your other hardware so you can connect to any shared resources, including the host computer. When you install the guest operating system, VMware Fusion suggests that you creates a network share to your home folder on the Mac. Do that and you’re golden.

When I started using the Mac, my Windows virtual machine had most of the applications installed that I used on my old Windows system. Over time, I found suitable replacements on the Mac, and I used Windows less and less. Then at work, we moved to Macs even though the core application we used, Adobe FrameMaker, runs only on Windows. We used VMware Fusion for FrameMaker so I created a virtual machine specifically for my use when I worked at home. I used it often and it worked without issue.

I was laid off and no longer use VMware Fusion for work. In fact, the only use I’ve had to the software is to install and play with Windows 8. Not being crazy about Windows 8, to put it politely, VMware Fusion hasn’t seen a lot of use. I’ve downloaded some Linux virtual machines intending on refamiliarizing myself with the operating system, but it’s not a big priority and there’s always something else I want to do more.

Then earlier this week I read that VMware has announced Fusion 6, and the main feature is compatibility with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the next version of the Mac operating system. So if I want to use Fusion after I upgrade the operating system, I have to upgrade Fusion. Fusion costs $60, or if you have one of the previous two version, the upgrade cost is $50. My first thought was, “$50? I’m not paying that!” It’s funny because that’s often my reaction when new versions of software are announced. Then it quickly occurred to me that my knee-jerk reaction was absolute fact this time. I don’t need Fusion any more. If I want to have a Windows virtual machine ready in case I need one, or if I want to fool around with Linux, I can use VirtualBox, a free open-source virtualization software package. I wouldn’t depend on it for my livelihood, but just for experimenting, it will serve.

Fusion was a must-have piece of software the whole time I had a Mac…until now.

Graphic © 2013 VMware, Inc.


Ever wonder why they named the short-range wireless communication protocol ‘Bluetooth’? I have, but I never thought to look it up. Then I hear on an episode of Cash Cab that it was named for a king of Norway or something. How does that make any sense? The site sorts it out:

‘Bluetooth’ was the code name for the SIG when it was first formed and the name stuck. The name “Bluetooth” is actually very old! It is from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand — or Harold Bluetooth in English. King Blåtand was instrumental in uniting warring factions in parts of what is now Norway, Sweden and Denmark — just as Bluetooth technology is designed to allow collaboration between different business sectors such as the computing, mobile phones and automotive industries.

The story doesn’t end there. According to the Wikipedia entry on Bluetooth, the logo is a combination of Harald’s initials in Younger Futhark runes. The particular runes are Hagall and Bjarkan, respectively, as you see to the left.


Logo and runes courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hard drive strangeness

When I bought my NAS device, I bought a few Western Digital Green drives to use with it. I wasn’t about to pay the price-premium required for enterprise-class drives! Then, within two weeks, Western Digital released their series of Red drives, which are designed specifically for home and small-office NAS systems. It figures. I bought the Green drives and I was going to use them, damn it!

Except I didn’t. There are a few things that make me uneasy about using the Green drives for my NAS, including that they’re not designed for a 24/7 duty-cycle. So I replaced them with Red drives.

The Green drives sat around until recently when I decided that I’d retire a pair of 1.5 TB Green drives and use two 3.0 TB Green drives in their place. They still had the NAS formatting but I thought that would be simple to remove. I was wrong! No matter what I did, both the PC and the Mac reported a maximum size of 746 GB. I spent half a day troubleshooting the issue. I even wrote to the NAS manufacturer and asked how the heck to undo their device’s formatting. It had to be the formatting because it’s only these drives have this issue, and surely, if my drive dock supported 2 TB drives and no larger, I’d see 2 TB capacity.

Things started to fall into place when I corrected one of them directly to my Windows machine via the internal SATA cable. The PC recognized the drive as being 3 TB in size, and formatted it just fine. So I thought I’d format them that way, and they’d be fine in the dock. It turns out that I never got that far. I did note that I had eliminated the dock as a variable so maybe it was the issue. While the second drive was formatting, I decided to have a look at the Western Digital message board. It couldn’t be the USB dock, but I’d satisfy my curiosity.

As you may have already guessed, it was the dock. Why does it report 764 GB? Older and cheaper drive docks that do not support anything larger than 2 TB are limited to 32 bit logical block addresses. Support for 3 TB drives requires more than 32 bits … so when the computer queries the drive about its maximum size, the dock can’t handle the entire answer and strips the first digit of the number of blocks (in hex). The result, when converted to base-ten is 746.5 GB.

Sure, now it makes sense!

I bought a new hard drive dock and everything works as it should.

Old school

Don went to Canada Computers on a work-related errand, and I tagged along because I wanted to buy a floppy drive. A floppy drive? Yes, a floppy drive! I can’t put a floppy drive in an iMac, but the nutty folks at Bytecc offer a tiny USB 3½″ floppy drive for just $25. It’s powered by the USB connection as well.

Here it is:


Unlike in the photo, I assure you that the USB cable is connected to the drive!

Why did I get this thing? The main reason is that I want to create a DOS virtual machine on my Mac so I can play Begin. It’s a text-based starship combat simulator that I really enjoyed in the early 1990s. The problem was that it could be slow at times. My 12 MHz 286 could take minutes calculating the results of the turn even with only two starships. I never bothered trying larger-scale battles because it was just too slow. I’m thinking that it will be quite sprightly on today’s hardware.

I might even try installing Windows 3.0 for a laugh. Goodness knows the VM file and memory use will be ridiculously small.

Photo courtesy of Bytecc, Inc.

How not to help

Earlier this year, I upgraded my Mac to Lion. With the full disk encryption available in the form of File Vault 2, I decided to encrypt both the Mac’s drive and my external Time Machine drive. Before doing this however, I bought a 3 TB external drive to store backup data for a long time to come.

The problem is the 3 TB Western Digital My Book drive can’t be encrypted. It always returns an error and aborts the operation. I tried all sorts of things to encrypt it, all to no avail. Initially, I just left it be. Lion had just come out, and I thought Western Digital would issue a firmware update to fix the problem. They did issue a firmware update, but the problem remains. I finally got serious about it and submitted a trouble ticket to their technical support people.

The answer I received came as quite a surprise.

In this case we are not able to provide direct support to this configuration on the My Book drive. However, we suggest you to format the drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) which is HFS+ to be Mac compatible. Once the drive is formatted then you can use the encryption of the WD SmartWare in order to lock the drive with a password. This is AES 256-bit encryption that will protect the partition on the My Book external drive. You will need to first format the drive for Mac, then install the WD SmartWare software on your computer and last you will need to set up the password.

The key, to me, is the first sentence. They’ve decided that they simply won’t support the feature I’m trying to use, for some reason. I found it curious that the Western Digital forums had no mention of the problem I have. Thinking I was the only one, contacting support about the issue seemed the best course because they could probably help. Instead, The very first sentence was a door-slam in my face.

I did more digging and eventually found my way to Apple’s own discussion forums which had multiple threads about this issue. What I found the most surprising is that the hard drives with this problem were not limited to those from Western Digital. Indeed, it seems related to the sector size of the drive, or the sector size the enclosure electronics present to the computer. In fact, Apple has acknowledged the issue and is investigating a fix, though they’ve given no estimate of when it will arrive.

The lack of any mention of the issue on the Western Digital web site discussion area is even more strange, knowing all this background. Surely others would have posted about the issue given the number who have on the Apple site. Maybe the messages were deleted? I don’t know.

Looking back to my exchange with Western Digital technical support, I’m even less impressed. Either their corporate policy is to choose to simply not support certain operating system features, or they didn’t know that Apple acknowledged the problem as theirs. Ideally, the reply to my support query would have stated that this is a known Lion issue that Apple has acknowledged, so I’d need to contact them to pursue it further, or I could install their software to encrypt the drive.

But that wasn’t their reply. In the future, I may have to reconsider the hard drive brand I choose, because I am absolutely not impressed with what Western Digital calls ‘support.’

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