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Running / Installing Mac OS X (Snow Leopard) on VirtualBox

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X, VirtualBox, virtualization by commorancy on June 21, 2010

Updated 8/2/2011

Lion Update

With the recent release of Lion, there is a push to get a Lion version working on VirtualBox.  At present, there is yet no boot loader capable of booting Lion on VirtualBox. So, for now, Snow Leopard is still it for a standalone MacOS on VirtualBox.  I will update this article as necessary to address a working installation of Lion as it progresses.  Stay Tuned.

Nawcom Mod CD

There is a new CD image from Nawcom (http://blog.nawcom.com/?p=306) that makes installation of MacOS X much easier on VirtualBox (instead of using Prasys’ EFI boot CDs).  And yes, I’ve tried it.  The Nawcom EFI CD is much faster for installation because it does some very clever things, including installing the boot loader at the end of the install.

So, I am now recommending you to download and use the Nawcom ModCD instead of the Prasys EFI boot CDs listed below.  Although, I will leave the information for the Prasys Empire EFI CDs available should the Nawcom CD not work for you.  Alternatively, you can try the tonymacx86.com iBoot or iBoot Legacy CDs if all else fails.  Even using the Nawcom ModCD, you will still need to follow the instructions on changing the resolution of the screen as documented below as this CD doesn’t change that part of the installation process.


Let’s start by saying this. Support Apple by legally buying your copy of Mac OS X.  Don’t pirate it.

Note also that buying a retail packaged disk from the Apple store prevents a lot of headaches during this process.  A Mac OS X Install Disk that comes bundled with any Mac system will only install on the hardware with which it came bundled.  For example, if you try to install from a bundled DVD media that was shipped along with a MacBook Pro, it will not install on Virtualbox and you will see the error ‘Mac OS X cannot be installed on this computer’.  Save yourself the headache and get a retail disk from the Apple store.

Before getting started, if you are wanting to run Mac OS X on VMWare Player 3 instead, then check out Randosity’s Running Mac OS X on VMWare Player 3 article for details.

Apple’s Stance

Apple wants you to buy and run Mac OS X (desktop edition) on a MacBook Pro or other similar Mac hardware. While I think that’s a grand notion to sell the hardware, the hardware will sell regardless of the operating system. Further, if you are a hardware company, why sell the operating system separately anyway? I mean, if it’s the hardware that matters, how is it that you can buy Mac OS X separately both desktop and server editions. I digress.

Because Apple wants you to buy into their hardware platforms, they would prefer you not run Mac OS X on Virtual Environments. I personally think, however, that this idea is both socially and ecologically irresponsible. For a company that tries to tout itself as Green and Earth-Friendly, by not allowing virtualization of Mac OS X (any desktop version), this prevents people from using the hardware they already have and instead forces us to buy new hardware that will eventually fill landfills. Using existing hardware that may work just fine, although not made by Apple, at least keeps the hardware out of the land fill and they are still making money off selling the operating system.

Supported vs Non-Supported CPUs

Note, these boot CDs support specific types of CPUs.  If your CPU is not listed (i.e., Atom processor), you will need to download and use the CDs labeled with the word ‘Legacy’.   These CDs may or may not work for your CPU, but these are the only CDs that have a chance of working on non-supported CPU types.

Let’s get started — items required

  • A recent PC hardware config (within the last 3 years) installed with 64 bit Windows 7 or Vista or Linux 64 bit
    • Note, the faster the PC is, the better that VirtualBox will work.
  • A recent processor (Intel core i3, i5, i7, i3m, i5m, i7m, AMD Phenom or similar 64 bit processor)
  • Enabled VT-x (for Intel Processors) or AMD-v (for AMD processors) in the PC BIOS
  • Retail version of Mac OS X Snow Leopard.  (If you try any other version other than the retail package, it probably won’t work!)

As stated above, you will need hardware capable of VT-x / AMD-v (BIOS level virtualization support passthrough). Without this hardware configuration, you will not be able to install Mac OS X. Most recent dual and quad core processors support this technology. Although, you may have to enter the BIOS to enable it. So, check your BIOS for ‘Virtualization’ settings and enable it.

Pick your host operating system. You can run Windows 7, Vista, XP, Linux (Ubuntu, Redhat, etc) or Solaris. Whichever operating system you choose for the host, make sure it’s a 64 bit edition. I recommend Windows 7 64 bit edition as XP 64 bit edition can be somewhat of a bear to work with and Vista isn’t readily available at this point. If you’re looking for the least expensive solution, then I would choose Linux. I personally use Windows because I also need Windows 7 for other tasks as well. If you are currently running a 32 bit OS edition, you will first need to upgrade the host to 64 bit to operate Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard is mostly 64 bit now and, thus, requires a 64 bit host OS to function.

Note that this tutorial was tested using Mac OS X 10.6.3 (Snow Leopard). OS X may install using 10.6.4 or later, but Apple may also make changes that could prevent it from working. If you have an older install disk than 10.6.3, the installation may fail. I recommend using 10.6.3 or later.

What is EFI?

One other thing to note about Macintosh computers and Snow Leopard… Macintosh computers require an EFI BIOS to boot. What is EFI? EFI stands for Extensible Firmware Interface and was developed by Intel for the Itanium platform in the mid-90s. This ‘BIOS’ replacement is designed to allow direct 32 and 64 bit addressing right from the firmware unlike the PC BIOS which only allows 16 bit addressing during boot operations.

Apple integrated EFI into the PowerPC and later the Intel Macintosh line to boot Mac OS X. Because this boot system is not compatible with PC BIOS, it requires the standard PC BIOS to boot an EFI boot system first. Then, the EFI boot system can then boot Mac OS X. So, the boot system goes like this:

  • PC BIOS boots EFI
  • EFI boots Mac OS X

Yes, VirtualBox has an EFI boot system within, but this EFI system will not boot Mac OS X (probably on purpose). Instead, the Empire EFI boot ISO is necessary to boot Mac OS X (both the Mac OS X install media and the actual operating system once installed).

Focus on Windows

With this post, I will focus on using Windows as the Host and Mac OS X as the guest. You can utilize this guide if you want to use Linux, but you will need to determine how to get certain steps done with Linux (i.e., creating and/or mounting ISO images). So, let’s get going.

Items you’ll need

Steps to get it working

  • Install VirtualBox on Windows
  • Open VirtualBox and click ‘New’. This will start a Machine build Wizard
  • Name this machine ‘Mac OS X’
  • Set the Type to Mac OS X + Mac OS X Server (if it isn’t already) and click Next
  • Set memory to 1024 (or whatever you want to give it) and click Next
  • Under Boot Hard disk, either create a new HD or select an existing HD file* (at least 20GB), click Next
  • If Creating new, continue onward. Otherwise, skip down to ‘Readying VM for First Use’
  • In the New HD Panel, choose Dynamic Expanding Storage, Click Next
  • Click the Folder icon to choose where this disk is to be stored (C not recommended)
  • Set the size to 20GB (type in 20GB), click Next
  • Click Finish to exit HD creation and click Finish again to exit VM creation

Readying VM for First Use

Now you have a new VM for Mac OS X set up, it’s not to use ready yet. So, Let’s ready it for use:

  • Click to select the Mac OS X machine
  • Click the ‘Settings’ button
  • Click the System settings icon
  • Uncheck ‘Enable EFI’ (we will use EFI, just not VBox’s built-in version**)
  • Under Processor tab, leave it at 1 CPU and enable PAE/NX if it isn’t already
  • Under Acceleration, Enable VT-x/AMD-v (must be enabled). Without this setting, you can’t run Mac OS X in VBox.***
  • Under Display, set the Video Memory to 128 and Enable 3D Acceleration
  • Under Storage, IDE controller type must be ICH6
  • Also under Storage, click ‘Empty’ cdrom drive and set the Empire EFI disk to this drive using the Folder icon****.
  • Audio Driver is Windows Directsound + ICH AC97
  • Network should be Bridged Adapter (NAT may work)
  • Click ‘OK’ to save these settings

Now you’re ready to start the install process. Click the ‘Start’ button to start the Mac OS X virtual machine. Once the Empire EFI screen has loaded, eject the Empire EFI ISO image by unchecking it from the Devices->CD/DVD Devices Menu and then locate your Mac OS X Install ISO and select this. If you have the original media and want to create an ISO, go to the ‘Creating an ISO image with ImgBurn’ section below. After the Mac OS X install ISO is selected and you’re back at EFI, press the F5 key. The screen should refresh to show the newly inserted Mac OS X install media. Once it shows the install media, press the enter key to begin installation.

Note, if you start this process using the Empire ISO image, then you must use a Mac OS X Install ISO. If you want to use the physical media, then you’ll need to burn the Empire ISO to a CD and boot from the physical media drive in VirtualBox. You can then eject that media and insert the Mac OS X install media. You cannot mix and match ISO to physical media. I was not able to get mixing ISO and physical media to work in Empire EFI.

Installation of Mac OS X

Once you get the Mac OS X Installer going, I’ll leave it up to you to finish the full install process. However, I will say this about the hard drive. The VBox HD is blank. So, you will need to prepare it with ‘Disk Utility’. Once the Mac OS X installer starts and you get to the first screen with a menu bar, choose Utilities-> Disk Utility. It will recognize the Disk is there, but it cannot be used until it is partitioned and formatted. Choose the VBox disk and click the ‘Erase’ tab. Under Erase, choose Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) and then name it ‘Hard Disk’ (or whatever you want to call it) and click the ‘Erase’ button. It will confirm that you want to do this, so click ‘Erase’ again. Exit Disk Utility and continue the installation. It will probably take 30-40 minutes to install Mac OS X depending on various factors.

Mac OS X Installed — What’s Next?

If you’ve installed from the Nawcom ModCD, then skip this part and go directly to Final Steps + Increasing screen resolution.  If you’ve installed from tonymacx86.com’s CD, you may still need to install MyHack.  If you’ve installed from Prasys’ Empire EFI CD, you will need to install MyHack.  So, continue on.

Ok, so now that Mac OS X is installed, the system still won’t boot up without the EFI disk. So, reboot after the install with the Empire EFI ISO in the drive. Choose the new bootable ‘Hard Disk’ in the EFI menu and boot into Mac OS X. Once Mac OS X is loaded, open Preferences and set the ‘Startup Disk’ to your new bootable installation. Now, open Safari and search Google for ‘MyHack’ or locate this Randosity article in Safari and go to this site: MyHack. The download will be a package (.mpkg) file and needs to be downloaded on Mac OS X. Once downloaded, double-click the package to install. Click through the Wizard until you get the screen with the ‘Customize’ button. Click Customize and enable PS2Controller (keyboard and mouse) and disable SleepEnabler (doesn’t work with later OS X versions). Click to finish the installation process.

After MyHack is installed, you can eject the Empire EFI media and your Mac OS X installation will now boot on its own.

Final Steps + Increasing screen resolution

You’ll notice that the resolution is fixed to 1024×768. You can change this resolution, but it has to be done in two files. First on Mac OS X, there’s the /Extra/com.apple.Boot.plist file. This file describes the resolution for the Mac to use. Before you edit this file, install Xcode from the Mac OS X media (insert it into the drive with the Mac running). Open ‘Optional Installs’ folder and double-click ‘Xcode’ and follow the installation instructions. Note, it takes about 2.3GB of space. Plist files are easier to edit when the Property List Editor is installed from Xcode. Otherwise, you will have to hand edit these files with TextEdit.

Also note that the /Extra folder is at the root of the Hard Drive volume.  It is not inside your local user profile folder.  You will also note that after a default install, Mac OS X doesn’t show hard disk icons on the desktop.  To turn this icon on, from the top menu, select ‘Finder->Preferences…’.  Then, put a check next to ‘Hard Disks’ under ‘Show these items on the desktop’.  Once you open the Hard Disk icon, you should see the Extra folder.  If you still don’t see the Extra folder, be sure that you have installed MyHack or used the Nawcom ModCD.  If MyHack hasn’t been installed, there won’t be an /Extra folder there.  The Extra folder gets installed as a result of installing MyHack.

Also, there can only be one available resolution in Virtualbox and on the Mac at a given time. I wish it supported more resolutions at once, but it doesn’t. Note also that because VirtualBox doesn’t support Mac OS X fully, there are no machine additions. To enable the resolution, on the PC side of VirtualBox (on the VirtualBox host), you will need to run the following command from a command shell (cmd):

VBoxManage setextradata "Mac OS X" "CustomVideoMode1" "1920x1080x32"

The “Mac OS X’ label is the exact machine name in VirtualBox. The “1920x1080x32” setting is customizable to your needs (and video card capabilities). However, both this setting and com.apple.boot.plist (on the Mac) must match for the screen resolution to take effect.

The ‘VBoxManage’ command is located in the Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox folder or wherever you installed VirtualBox. You can add this location to your PATH variable so you can use this command without typing in the full path each time.

In the com.apple.Boot.plist file, you will need to add the following properties (if not already there):

Graphics Mode - String - 1920x1080x32
GraphicsEnabler - String - y

(The resolution value should match the above VboxManage command). If you want to change resolutions later, you will need to edit both places again and reboot your Mac.

If you reboot and the screen hasn’t changed or has changed to 1280×1024 and not the resolution you expected, double check that both com.apple.boot.plist and the CustomVideoMode1 setting match and are active. Both of these settings must match for the resolution to work.

Updating com.apple.Boot.plist

It’s easiest to edit this file with the Property List Editor tool. So, install Xcode before managing this file. In order to edit this file, you cannot edit it directly. Instead, copy the file and paste it to your desktop. Edit the file on your desktop. Then, once done editing, drop the file on top of the /Extra folder. Click “Replace File” when asked and supply your account password. Once the file is replaced, you can reboot to see if the resolution change has taken effect.

Audio Support

Update: On my HP quad core system, I am unable to get the AC97 sound driver to work on 10.6.4 (as have others). I have uninstalled and reinstalled this kernel extension, but it simply will not activate. I am still working with this setup to see if I can get it working, but so far no luck. I should point out, then, that the AC97 sound driver may not work on all systems and may not work with 10.6.4. So, you may not want to update to 10.6.4 until this issue is resolved if you need sound.

Mac OS X does support audio output with an AC97 audio driver in Snow Leopard up to 10.6.3. It does not appear to support audio input. I will say, however, that the audio driver is, at best, under performing. That means, it breaks up, it doesn’t always work and it generally sounds crappy. That said, if you want to hear the various insundry noises that the Mac can make for bells, you can install the driver. The AC97 driver can be found in this Virtualbox Forum Thread.

Note, if the supplied installer does not properly install the driver, download the .zip file and install the AppleAC97Audio.kext Extension the into /Extra/Extensions folder. Then follow the instructions below on rebuilding the Extensions.mkext file.

Kernel Extensions — Rebuilding .mkext cache files (Kernel Extension Cache)

Mac OS has always been known for its extensions. Well, Mac OS X is no different in this respect. In the original Mac, you simply drop the extension into the Extensions folder and it works. Well, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple with Mac OS X. If you want to drop in a .kext file (extension), you will need to rebuild the Extensions.mkext database. This database is what helps Mac OS X find and work with installed extensions. To rebuild these cache files, you will need to use the following Terminal.app as root:

# kextcache -v 1 -t -m /Extra/Extensions.mkext /Extra/Extensions/ /System/Library/Extensions/
# kextcache -v 1 -t -m /System/Library/Caches/com.apple.kext.caches/Startup/Extensions.mkext /System/Library/Extensions/

Running these commands will rebuild the cache files necessary to activate newly installed extensions. So, if you need to install any new extensions, you will need to run the above commands to recreate the extension cache files.

Creating an ISO image with ImgBurn

To create an ISO image using ImgBurn, you will first need to download and install it. Once it’s installed, start it up. Now click ‘Create image file from disc’. Insert the Mac OS X CD. The CD will be labeled ‘Boot Camp’. This is fine as this is the only partition that Windows is able to see. As long as it sees the ‘Boot Camp’ partition, the image will be created correctly. Click the CD icon at the bottom of the Window to create your ISO image. Once the image has been created, you can continue at your previous step.

Rebooting the Mac

As a side note about rebooting. With some hardware, rebooting Mac OS X in VirtualBox doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems to hang, sometimes it gives a banner telling you to power off the machine. Basically, there isn’t really a resolution to this issue. Simply use shutdown, then when it appears all disk activity has stopped, close the Vbox window (making sure to power it off). Then click ‘Start’ again to start it up. This is really more of an inconvenience than anything, but it’s manageable.

Updating Mac OS X

As new updates get released by Apple, you may be tempted to install them immediately.  While this shouldn’t be a problem on a real Mac, it is possible that a security or full update from Apple could break VirtualBox installations accidentally (or, more likely, intentionally).  Since Virtualbox offers snapshot capabilities, I recommend taking advantage of this and do the following:

  • Cancel any updates
  • Shutdown Mac OS X
  • Take a snapshot of your Mac OS X Guest in the Virtualbox console
  • Start up Mac OS X
  • Update OS X

If the update causes your system to stop booting, stop working or in any way become broken, you can revert to the snapshot and not update.  On the other hand, if the update works perfectly, then I recommend you delete the snapshot once you feel comfortable that the update is working as expected.  If the update doesn’t work, you may need some updated components such as the Chameleon boot loader or an updated boot disk to handle the new OS update.


* I suggest using a VMDK HD image as there are more tools for VMDK format files than VDI files. Though, your choice. If you want to use a VMDK file, go to vmcreator.com and have them make you a file to download.

** VirtualBox’s EFI works, but not with Mac OS X. Whether that’s intentional is unknown. Instead, you need to use the Empire EFI ISO disk to boot Mac OS X to install it.

*** You may have to enable VT-x/AMD-v in your machine’s BIOS.

**** Click the ‘Add’ button in the Media Library window to locate your ISO image, then make sure this file is selected and click ‘Select’.

Cell Phone: Prepaid vs Postpaid

Posted in Uncategorized by commorancy on June 14, 2010

Having used both service types, I have personally settled on using prepaid services for many different reasons. With this article, I’ll delve into the various aspects of both types of plans.

Postpaid Plans

What is it? A post paid plan is a contract plan. With this type of plan, you are required to sign a 1, 2 or more year contract on your phone service on top of the cost of the phone. With a 2 year contract, the carrier will subsidize (or help pay for) the phone you wish to use. Instead of paying the full price for the phone (usually $200-600), the phone might cost $0-150 (depending on the phone).

In exchange for this seemingly less expensive price of the phone, you will incur an early termination fee to exit the contract early. This termination fee is anywhere between $175 to $325 (or more). Note that the early termination fee (ETF), may reduce in amount after the fourth month of service. So, the carrier might reduce the cost of the ETF by $10 per month every month after the fourth month of service.

As a note about your postpaid phone’s cost. Nothing in life is ever free. If there’s anything we need to learn, this is it. So, when a phone says that it is ‘free’ with 2 year activation, that’s where they get you. Having a forced 2 year contract, for example, they will more than make up for that phone’s cost in the 2 years. But, at the same time, you will end up likely spending more than the cost of the phone outright. So, subsidized phones look good until you do the math.

Postpaid Hidden Fees

There are many hidden fees with these plans. Postpaid plans give you a certain number of ‘primetime’ minutes included. These minutes may be used any time of the day up to the amount you contract for. For example, under a $40 per month plan with the iPhone, you might be allotted 450 ‘anytime’ minutes. Let’s calculate that price: 40 dollars / 450 minutes = 8.9 cents per minute. So, that’s basically 9 cents per minute minus taxes, fees and surcharges. You won’t know the taxes, fees and surcharges until you receive your first bill. Likely, the extra fees will raise that 8.9 closer to 10 cents per minute. Note that the 10 cents per minute price point is important in the prepaid part of this article.

Further, once you have used up your 450 minutes, the per minute rate goes up to a whopping 45 cents per minute! Ridiculous! So, be cautious with overage fees on postpaid plans. Unfortunately, postpaid plans and services don’t give easy access to usage information. So, you’re using the service blind. Again, see prepaid services benefits below.

Data Plans

With postpaid plans, you have the option of adding data plans (and with the iPhone, it’s pretty much required if you want to actually use it). With these data plans, the data overage charge depends on the plan you pick. With AT&T doing away with its unlimited data plan, you will need to review their new plans carefully to find out how this could affect you. With other carriers, like T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon, you will need to ask these questions before you sign the contract. Both with your data service and your phone coverage, be sure to check the coverage maps to make sure it covers the places were you want to use the phone.

Signing a contract

Pick the right phone for your needs. Don’t pick a phone simply because it looks cool or is the thing to have. Be sure that this is the phone you want to use for the next 2-3 years. If not, you could be locked into a plan, service and phone without a cheap exit. Even if you do decide to early terminate and pay the fee, you may still not be able to unlock the phone to sell it. So, be careful when dealing with AT&T on this matter. If you let your contract run to conclusion, AT&T will likely be more amenable to unlocking the phone at the end. Note, however, that the Apple iPhone is exempt from unlocking due to contractual obligations between Apple and AT&T. If you want to unlock the iPhone, you will have to do it another way other than by asking AT&T. However, if you plan to travel overseas, you may be able to get the phone unlocked for that reason. You should call AT&T if you plan to travel.

Other hidden issues

When you apply for a postpaid cell phone service plan, this application is the same as filling out a credit card application. The carrier will run a credit check to determine credit worthiness. This credit check is listed on your credit report. So, depending on your credit score, you could be approved or declined for service. That may also be noted on your report. Any time your credit report is pulled to verify your credit worthiness, that’s a possibility for identity theft. The reason is that you don’t know what the carrier staff will do with that report once they are done with it. They could simply throw it in the trash which could end up fully intact in a dumpster by the curb. Anyone dumpster diving could find these credit reports and learn all of your credit card accounts. So, you should always be aware when someone intends to pull a credit report. You should also ask for that original report to be certified mailed back to you so that you can shred it yourself. Once they are done with the report, they have no more need of it.

Billing Issues

With a postpaid plan, the carrier will send you a monthly bill that you must pay to continue service. If you fail to pay your monthly invoice, they can cut your service off and sock you for the early termination fee. They may also charge you a disconnect fee, a reconnect fee or both. Not paying your bill can give AT&T cause to write negative information into your credit report. So, it is up to you to ensure your payments are always received timely. Fighting with AT&T over postal issues or late payments is likely to fall on deaf ears. They’re a big company and really care very little for each individual. So, disputing your bill or not paying it can have serious consequences on you, but is really nothing to AT&T. They just want their money. If you don’t think you can commit to a monthly $40 (or higher) payment on an on going basis, then you should consider prepaid service instead.

Prepaid Plans

What is it? A prepaid plan is a plan where you pay for your minutes and data as you use it. Prepaid plans now offer monthly service plans much like the postpaid plans, but do not require contracts or commitments.

Unlike postpaid plans, prepaid plans require no contracts, no commitments and no credit checks. This means you can start and stop service at any time without any penalties. Let me say that again, you can terminate service at any time without any penalties. Note, however, you may lose any remaining minutes left on your account unless you use them by their expiration date. So, if you want to terminate your service, finish all your minutes and stop paying for anything more. It’s that simple.

No contracts

Because you sign no contract, you are not committed to continue service with any carrier under prepaid terms. However, because you are not committing to a locked-in length of service, that doesn’t come without other issues. For example, without a contract, carriers will not subsidize the phones. So, you will pay usually between $50 and $300 (or more) for your phone. For example, the retail price of an iPhone is $600. Most HTC Android phones cost about $400-500. So, this is what you will pay to buy the phone. Note that this is what you also pay on the postpaid plan, but the cost is hidden in the monthly fees. Most prepaid services do offer entry level phones. However, most of these entry phones usually lack things like an internet browser, GPS, bluetooth, maps and large touch displays. These entry level phones are just the basics. Enough to dial and talk, buy ringtones, limited browsing and limited data… and probably no apps.

If you want to use an iPhone, an EVO or any other data heavy smartphone, prepaid service may not offer the plans and features to fully support these devices. That doesn’t mean you can’t use smartphones on prepaid service, it just means you are limited in the types of smartphones that you can use. In other words, if you want an iPhone, you will have to buy into the postpaid plan as they are not yet supported on prepaid plan carriers. That may change eventually, but for now that’s how it is.

Prepaid plan costs

There are two basic types of plans: 1) Unlimited and 2) Pay-as-you-go. The unlimited plan is much like its postpaid counterpart. You pay a fixed amount of money per month, starting at $40, and you get unlimited text and minutes. These plans are great if you talk and text a lot. By ‘a lot’ I mean, enough texting and talking to make the per minute costs go down below 5 cents per minute or message. Once you have used this amount of service per month, then the plan begins paying for itself. This may require heavy usage to get to that point, however. Average or light usage might not be enough to justify that $40 per month fee.

For those who can’t justify an unlimited cost plan, there’s the pay-as-you-go plan. These plans charge you for only the minutes you use. These plans usually offer per minute rates at 10 cents per minute all the time. As I said above, I am circling back to discuss the per minute postpaid pricing in comparison with prepaid pricing. Note that the postpaid plan is 9 cents per minute for 450 minutes. After that, it’s 45 cents per minute. With prepaid plans, the cost is ALWAYS your per minute rate (usually 10 cents per minute). Never higher, rarely lower, it’s always the same month after month (unless the carrier specifically raises the rates and you can drop your service at any time without penalty). Also, your minutes will remain at the rate that you purchased them. So, even if they do raise the rates, your current remaining balance will be used at your purchased rate.

Rollover Minutes

Prepaid plans offer the concept of rollover minutes. On the unlimited plan, this isn’t necessary. In prepaid plans, as long as you put more minutes onto your phone before the minutes expire, those minutes are extended to the next expiration date. So, you never lose any remaining minutes as long as you add more money to your account before those minutes expire. This same concept applies to postpaid plans if you don’t use all of the 450 minutes.

Keeping Track

With a prepaid plan, it’s very easy to keep track of how many minutes you have left. Most carriers offer a phone number that will message the phone with how many minutes are remaining and when they expire. With postpaid plans, there is no tracking usage. In fact, they don’t want you to keep track. They want you to use that 45 cents per minute overage cost so they rake in more money.

Service Savings with Prepaid

Even though you are required to pay full price for the handset, it doesn’t have to be an expensive phone (unless you want it to be). However, this is the only major expense to prepaid service. So, once you have a phone, you can easily save money by using a prepaid account wisely.

Because there are no contracts, no commitments and no penalties, you immediately avoid all of those costly issues up front. In addition, the minutes you buy already include taxes, fees and surcharges. That means, you never receive a bill and never pay those ‘extra’ fees mandated by postpaid plans. Again, this saves you money. When you buy a top-up card or via credit card on the phone, you only pay the cost for the minutes. For example, T-Mobile charges $100 for 1000 minutes. That’s 10 cents per minute. These minutes expire in 365 days (one year). That means, you can spend $100 and never have to spend any more money for an entire year if you never use up those 1000 minutes. Also, T-Mobile’s minutes are used like credits. So, this money can pay for added features like data plans and extra services right from that minute pool.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Prepaid over Postpaid


  • Easily track your usage and expenses
  • Never overage charges
  • Per minute charges are always the same
  • Pay for exactly what you use
  • No contracts
  • No added fees, taxes, surcharges
  • Never worry about a late bill (or bills at all)
  • Minutes rollover as long as you top up before expiration (although, postpaid offers rollover too)
  • Standard phone features (voicemail, three-way calling, caller ID, call waiting, etc)
  • Minute cards can go on sale lowering per minute rates to 8 cents or less per minute.


  • Limited data plans
  • Full priced handsets (no subsidies)

Benefits and Drawbacks of Postpaid plans


  • Better data plans and, sometimes, coverage
  • Better choice of phones (usually)
  • Handset cost is subsidized (cheaper up front)
  • Can offer cost savings IF you use up your plan each month but do not go over (see drawbacks)


  • Costly per minute rate overage fees (both minutes and data)
  • Requires credit check
  • Requires credit approval
  • Requires contract
  • Mandates early termination fee
  • Adds surcharges, fees and taxes (more than prepaid)
  • No ways to easily monitor usage
  • Not designed for cost conscious consumers


Postpaid plans are designed for people with disposable income. These plans are designed for people who don’t watch their bills closely and who don’t mind the added charges when they run over. As such, postpaid plans do not offer mechanisms to control costs and random expenses. So, doing the wrong thing on the phone could add an accidental high cost charge to your bill (i.e., roaming into an out-of-zone area and using the data plan at per megabyte rates or running out of minutes). Because there are no tools to monitor usage, postpaid plans are not designed for the cost conscious consumer. If you want to keep a handle on your wireless service costs, then you should opt for a prepaid plan.

With prepaid service, the carriers all give methods to watch your minute usage, give alerts on how many minutes were used after a call completes and ways of determining current minutes left and when they expire. All of these tracking features let you determine when you need to pay more money to add minutes. On postpaid plans, the carriers decide when you pay and how much you pay.

With a postpaid plan, it’s very easy to go over your allotted minutes because you have no way to know that you just used up the last of your 450 plan minutes and it’s just the 15th of the month. That either means you need to be a zealot and check your minute usage often (you have to call customer service to get this information), or you need an app to track this data on your phone. If you happen to buy a phone that supports apps, you might be able to do this. Otherwise, you’re out of luck and will have to do it manually. You may be able to call customer service and get this information, but they only support limited phone hours and may not be able to give you this data in real-time.

If you’re a budget conscious consumer, a prepaid plan lets you track your usage exactly. You also only pay for exactly what you use. With postpaid plans, if you don’t use yours service for 30 days, you still pay the $40 (or whatever the plan costs). If you are using prepaid and don’t use the phone for 30 days, you pay nothing (unless you are on a unlimited prepaid plan). The single thing you must be aware is the expiration date. So long as you buy more minutes before the minute expire date, your old minutes remain and become part of your new minutes. The downside of prepaid is the lack of a solid data package to run phones such as the EVO, iPhone and Droid.


Finally, this last section is about the carriers themselves. The carriers that support prepaid services include TracFone, Net10, Virgin Mobile, Simple Mobile, MetroPCS, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. Some of these carriers only offer unlimited prepaid plans, others offer both unlimited and pay-as-you-go. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T all offer both plans. Note that AT&T has introduced a new spin on the pay-as-you-go plan.

Ways to take your money

Not all prepaid services are equal. So, you will need to read the fine print for each of the plans. For example, some of the plans, like AT&T’s plan, take a $1 access fee on the days you use for phone. So, in addition to the 10 cents a minute, you also lose $1 on every day you use the phone. If you use the phone each day, that means $30 a month. So, you need to take this into account if you decide to use AT&T. The upside to this $1 access fee is that AT&T offers free mobile-to-mobile minutes. That means you can talk to anyone else on AT&T with no per minute charges. So, the $1 a day fee is all-you-can-talk mobile to mobile. That’s a great deal if you’re only calling AT&T phones. Talking for longer than 10 minutes with mobile-to-mobile equates to less than 10 cents per minute. The longer you talk with mobile-to-mobile, the cheaper it becomes during that day. You will also incur that $1 a day fee if you call a landline or someone who has a Verizon phone.

T-Mobile requires no access fee on pay-as-you-go, but they require $1 on Sidekick and possibly other plans. So, pay-as-you-go cost is always 10 cents a minute. However, T-Mobile doesn’t have any mobile-to-mobile minutes. T-Mobile also offers 365 day expiration period on 1000 minute packages (the best deal).

Virgin mobile offers 1000 minutes for $50. That’s half price from T-Mobile. The trouble is, the minutes expire in 1 month. So, you’ll end up spending $50 a month for those 1000 minutes. If you’re going to do that, you might as well go for an unlimited plan.

In other words, with prepaid there’s always some kind of thing you need to watch for, but that also goes for postpaid. With prepaid, each carrier offers some perk (or catch) that may help you save money (or spend money). A perk for someone might not be for someone else. You will need to review each prepaid carrier plan carefully to determine what works best for your needs and budget. From personal experience, T-Mobile has the most well-rounded plans and best service (least dropped calls) for my area. You may find that Tracfone works better for you. So, do your homework.


Diet vs Lifestyle

Posted in Health, health and beauty by commorancy on June 7, 2010

In this article, I will assume that when you’re reading this, you have committed to some level of weight loss. Whether that weight loss is for an event (i.e., wedding, prom, hanging at the pool, going to the beach, vacation, etc) it doesn’t really matter. Or, perhaps, you’ve just decided to make a change and simply want to be thinner than you are. Whatever the reason for the weight loss, the goal is still the same… to lose the weight.

What is your goal?

I’m not asking how much you want to lose. We’ve already established that you want to lose weight and you’ve likely already determined how much. No, this question is asking for how long do you want the weight gone? It’s a valid question. The reason I’m asking this question is very much the crux of this entire article. If you are looking to lose your weight for a month or two and then ‘forget about it’ and go back to ‘normal eating’, then this article really isn’t the answer.

This article may help you attain that goal, but this information is not intended nor designed to lead people back into the dieting trap. This article is designed to help people get out of the diet trap and bring about lasting change. If you are committed to lasting change, then you’ve come to the right place.

Thinking patterns evolved

Let’s start by discussing what the food industry has done for America (and, arguably, the world). We’ll start by saying that the food industry is, first and foremost, in it for the money. Secondarily, they supply food. Plain and simple, without profits they can’t stay in business, so money always comes first. From Kraft, Hershey, ConAgra, Archer Daniel Midland to Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s, the mantra is the same. Eat more. It’s a simple and subtle, yet consistent message. The more we eat, the more money they make. It’s simple economics. It’s also economics working against the waistline. The bottom line is, eat more so they make more money. I’ll discuss how that thinking manifests shortly. As long as you keep this ‘money making’ aspect of the industry firmly in your dietary planning, you can easily maintain your weight loss goals. Remember, it’s about their profits, not your waistline.

Money making manifestation

The ways in which the food industry keeps to their profit goals is through marketing. Whether that marketing is on TV, in print, on menu or on the packaging, the message is always there. Eat more. How? On packages, there are many ways they accomplish this. Some subtle, some not-so-subtle. The first and most bold is the ‘serving suggestion’ combined with ‘image enlarged for detail’. So, for cereal, as an example, it’s always a heaping huge bowl of cereal filled to the top. Granted, the image is ‘enlarged’ so determining scale is out. But, that’s the point. They don’t want to give you a frame of reference so you equate that imagery with the bowls in your cupboard (probably huge due to standard manufacturer sizes). So, then you turn to the ‘Nutrition Facts’ panel and see that 1 cup is 110 calories. You naturally equate the ‘serving suggestion’ to the ‘1 serving size’ and pour your cereal thinking you’re eating 100-110 calories. The thing you don’t realize is that bowl of cereal you poured might account for upwards of 300-400 calories depending on bowl size. Combining that with 2% milk, you are looking at 244 calories in 2 cups of milk. That turns what you thought was a 100-110 calorie meal into a 500+ calorie meal. Granted, 500 calories for a single meal is probably fine by itself, but the nutrition in cereal and milk is questionable. Basically, it’s carbs and fat with some protein. The vitamins you receive have been fortified both in the cereal and the milk. On top of that, the milk contains bovine growth hormones that could interfere with weight loss.

With restaurants, the idea is similar. Show a picture of a great looking meal on the cover or next to the food item. They tempt you through the look of the food. Of course, if you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant once, you know the food never looks like it does in the photographs. But more than this, the size of the meal is also, again, quite large and hard to judge scale. On the plus side to this, however, is that many states (including California) are now requiring nutrition guides be placed on the table. So, you can look up that oh-so-delicious-looking-meal and realize that that meal is actually 1100 calories. Yes, that’s 1100 whopping calories. Over 1/2 of the recommended calories for a 2000 calorie a day diet. Again, over half of the calories for 1 day’s meals. So, the plate may appear appetizing, but you need to dig deeper to see just how calorie dense that meal really is.

You should begin to understand why are waistlines are exploding. We can’t eat like this and expect to remain thin. But, the food industry has been slowly and steadily increasing portion sizes so that we’re to the point of gut busting, yet oblivious as to why.

Convenience and Instant Gratification

The second aspect of this thinking paradigm shift is in convenience and speed. The restaurant (and food) industries have additionally ingrained into our consciousness the need-for-speed. We have to have it now. That food should be something that’s ready in 5-7 minutes. The microwave and other innovations have also instilled this thinking. Granted, some foods don’t need to take long amounts of time to prepare. Some do. However, it’s not the speed here that’s at fault. It’s the fact that most meals that can be prepared rapidly are usually the foods with the highest calorie density (see below). So, with speed can come higher calories. The food industry has played off of our need-for-speed and produced foods that prepare rapidly, but those foods are usually overly calorically dense.

Bucking the system (and your friends, relatives and colleagues)

So, now the main aspect to weight loss is bucking the system. You don’t have a choice in this matter. The industry has so ingrained into the American consciousness that more is better that you have to forget that mantra and retool your own thinking. In addition, that now means you have to ignore your friends’, relatives’ and colleagues’ comments. What matters is your goals. If you want to lose the weight, you must look at portions and do what needs to be done to meet your goals. That means you need to think critically about what got us to the gut busting mentality and retool your own personal programming. It also means eating smaller portions and eating less calorie dense foods. However, this does not mean starving yourself. It also doesn’t mean you can’t eat the foods you like. You must eat them in smaller sizes.

I know, it’s hard to ignore friends’ and relatives’ comments. It is. But, if you are committed, you have to do this. When they ask you to eat over, accept. But, don’t eat more than what you need. Remember, you also do have ‘cheat’ meals.

Calorie density

As food engineering has progressed, prepackaged foods have become increasingly more calorie dense. Calorie density means that the manufacturers have been able to pack in more calories into smaller and smaller sizes. This also means that you cannot easily spot high calorie items simply with your eyes. You now need to weigh the foods. So, that means if you don’t have a scale in your house, you need to get one. Scales are important because weights are the only true way to measure calories. For example, 85g of chicken is 120 calories (that’s ~3 ounces). But, can you spot 85g of chicken just by looking? No. 85g of chicken is actually a small amount of chicken. It’s about 1/3 of a small-med chicken breast. That also means that a small-med chicken breast is about 360-400 calories. But, some chicken breasts are now enormous (thanks to hormones). So, here’s another example of density. Because chicken producers are now able to produce humongous chicken breasts, restaurants may even be serving these on your plate. These breasts might be 600 calories. The food scale is your friend, so weigh your foods. It’s the only way for you to be certain of how many calories are in your foods.

Cheat meals

What is a cheat meal? Simply, a cheat meal is a meal that lets you eat a ‘normal’ (ahem) sized portion. A portion that you would find in a restaurant. Yes, that 1100 calorie meal above would be considered a ‘normal’ sized meal. But, this is a once-a-week meal. This is something that should be considered a treat or a reward. Think of it as a way to eat out and make it appear like you still accept the ‘eat more’ mantra. That you blend in with your waistline bulging friends. Then, once the meal is over, you immediately go back to your regular eating schedule as normal. And yes, I realize, I haven’t gotten to what is a ‘regular meal’ answer. We’ll come to that next.

So, what is regular sized meal?

Going by the 2000 calorie-a-day guideline of the FDA, let’s examine. It’s very simple math here. 2000 / 3 = 667 calories per meal. That’s assuming you eat only 3 meals per day. If you want to add in two 100 calorie snacks per day, then let’s calculate. 2000 – 200 = 1800. 1800 / 3 = 600 per meal + 2 100 calorie snacks. So, let’s break it out:

  • Breakfast = 600
  • Snack = 100
  • Lunch = 600
  • Snack = 100
  • Dinner = 600
  • Total = 2000

Here’s a challenge, I dare you to find any chain restaurant that offers full adult meals plus desert that fits into 600 calories. It’s next to impossible. Most restaurant meals start at 800 calories and finish (including a desert) well over 1800 calories just for that one single meal. How is anyone expected to lose weight eating that amount of calorie density in one meal? Combining that with several meals around that same size and you can’t.

So, this is mostly why you need to make your own meals at home. There are some restaurants that do offer lesser calorie meals. But, you need to dig through their nutritional guides to find them. For example, Chili’s offers a Guiltless Tilapia meal that’s just 200 calories (the full meal). That’s a Tilapia fillet and a side of vegetables (broccoli and shredded carrots). That would still leave 300 calories for a dessert (if following the above meal guide).

So then, what does a 600 calorie meal look like? Here’s a web site that gives you some ideas.

Grains, Vegetables and Fruits

The only thing that breads and, specifically, wheat products offer nutritionally is 1) carbs and 2) fiber. Both carbs and fiber are readily available in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are much more vitamin and mineral dense than breads. In general, grains of all types fall into this as well (rice, barley, rye, corn and, of course, wheat). That’s not to say not to eat grains, you can. But, you get better nutrition out of vegetables with far fewer calories. So, you can eat more vegetables and get full, yet still eating far fewer calories So, eating vegetables will give you more fiber than wheat with far fewer calories (and much less insulin response). On the other hand, fruits give about equal insulin response as wheat (because of the fruit sugars). So, always think of fruits as desert.

Weight Loss

To truly begin losing weight, you need to rethink your meals. In that goal, instead of trying to do the above 600 calorie meals, you could do 200-300 calorie meals spaced out differently. For example, you might do 6 300 calorie meals over a 6 hour period and throw in 2 100 calorie snacks where ever you feel you need them. By eating more frequently with smaller meals, you keep the body constantly processing foods and nutrition. The body burns calories to digest foods. So, you are using this food processing system to burn calories. At the same time, you need to restrict your calories to an amount just under your maintenance calorie number.

So, if your maintenance number is 2000, you might have to drop to 1700-1800 to begin losing. You might need to go to 1500. It all depends on where your number is and only you can determine that number. Once you determine the number, you can easily maintain your weight (or go back into weight loss mode) as necessary. This also means the end to ‘normal meals’. That is, meal sizes dictated by the food industry. You need to ignore that rhetoric and use a plan that actually works.

Fresh foods and density

Food designed by nature is food the way it was intended to be found and eaten. That means, when foods are eaten the closest to that foods natural state, the more healthy it is (barring pesticides, hormones and fertilizers). When foods are in their natural state, they are the least calorically dense and the most nutritionally dense. This means, you can eat more of them to satisfy your hunger and, at the same time, not go over your calorie goals. You will also meet your body’s nutritional requirements. Such foods include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, corn on the cob, carrots, etc.

On the other hand, foods designed in factories are the farthest away from nature that they can get. These foods are devoid of nutrition and very calorically dense. These foods must be fortified (vitamins and minerals are added back to these devoid products). These foods include bread, pizza dough, Pillsbury Dough, Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Ice Cream, Cheese and processed cheese food (Velveeta).

Foods that fall into the unsure status include Milk, Eggs, Chicken, Pork, Beef, Lamb, Veal, etc. While meats contain dense proteins and are necessary for the body, the commercial meat industry uses questionable practices to get these foods into the stores. So, unless you trust your meat supplier explicitly from farm to market, you may be getting extra things in your meats you are not really needing. That’s not to say that you can’t eat meat, let’s just say that you should limit meat consumption to only the amount needed to fulfill your daily protein requirements. As far as bovine milk, this is an calve food not designed for human consumption. See Randosity’s Milk: Does it really do a body good? for more details. Milk (and milk products, like cheese, yogurt, kefir, cream and butter) should be avoided as they are not necessary for the human diet. There is nothing in milk that cannot be had from other sources of solid foods including meats and vegetables.

Portions vs Exercise

To truly lose weight requires rethinking. It requires making yourself acutely aware of marketing practices and thinking about how manipulative these images really are. You need to determine your own calorie intake per day, but that will likely be no more than 2000 calories per day (unless you are an extremely active person like a bodybuilder, a runner, a biker, a hiker, a skier, a climber, a swimmer or a surfer). If you are not extremely exercise active, then you need to reduce your calories to fit a less active lifestyle. The bottom line is, calories in have to be less than calories expended to lose weight. The more active you are, the more you can eat. The less active, the less you can eat. It’s simple math here.

So, you need to reduce your portion sizes to accommodate a less active lifestyle. Increasing your exercise levels does not give you cause to binge, however. You still must stay below your energy expenditure to lose weight. You must equal your energy expenditure to maintain your weight. It’s very simple logic.

Permanent thinking

The hardest part is changing your thought behavior to become a permanent way of life. You can’t keep thinking ‘Oh, I only need to lose 5 pounds in 30 days’. No, instead you need to think, ‘They’re tricking me into that portion size’. So, eat a piece of cake, but eat a 50-100 calorie piece. Eat a size that fits into your daily eating schedule. As long as you adhere to portion sizes and calorie relationships that fit with your goals, you will continue on your weight lose goals. Don’t forget your cheat meal, though. You can use this as a crutch to help keep you on track. Eventually, this crutch won’t be necessary every week and you will fall into a normal eating behavior that is correct for your long term goals. You just need to give your body a chance to adapt (usually several months). And yes, your body will adapt to the correct portion sizes over time. Getting over that hump can take some time.

Let’s Recap

To affect permanent lasting weight loss, you have to understand misleading marketing materials that can lead you astray. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You need to retool your thoughts about food and your current lifestyle for long term changes, not for a month or two. So, think about how you can affect food changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. We also learned that a real meal size is about 600 calories (for a 2000 calorie a day diet). In fact, your meal size might be smaller than this to affect weight loss. It’s also difficult to find 600 calories in restaurant meals. You may have to request substitutions in restaurant meals to reduce the calorie density. Fresh natural foods are always healthier than processed industrial foods. Processed industrial foods tend to be high calorie density foods. So, you need to rethink your thoughts on foods and the way you think about foods. If you are committed to making these thought changes and learn more about foods, you can make a permanent lasting change towards a thinner you.

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