All Hail Mike Pacific

My friends and relatives all think I’m a geek. I can fix most problems plaguing PCs. I built this website. I build my own computers.

Sometimes, even a geek needs someone geekier!

Yesterday morning I went to check on this site and found a cryptic automated note from the server. My blogging software wasn’t connecting to its database. Uh oh.

Further investigation showed the MySQL database had become corrupted, unrepairable.

A database is an organized storage system. It allows large amounts of information to be stored in a way that makes accessing any part easy.

The database for runs around 120mb. It contains everything I’ve written, links to the various photos and videos on the blog and your comments–all 23,000 of them! No database, no blog.

Thankfully, my webhost had a backup only a few days old. It was ‘dumped’ to disk on schedule, when the blog was working. All I had to do was overwrite the bad file with the backup.

Easier said than done. The database interface has a file size limit. Mine was way larger! Even compressing the database didn’t help.

mike pacificWhat I needed was a supergeek; a special person with the ability to use cryptic typed MySQL commands to make the database manager accept my backup. The people are the unicorns of the tech world!

My supergeek is Mike Pacific, originally of Bethel, CT, but now conveniently in Oregon and my time zone. He is tech lead at a digital marketing firm.

I emailed him my login credentials this morning and within a few minutes…

and you’re back!

And, I was.

One entry was lost in the shuffle, but Google had it cached so even it’s back online now.

Ten years of work in that one database. Scary times.

Mike Pacific, wear your geekiness with pride. You are the man.

When Geeks Need Geeks

I could read from the database, but I couldn’t write. No new entries. No new comments.

I probably know more than you do about computers and websites. That’s not saying much, is it? A meldown tonight at this website taught me how much I don’t know! is housed in a database. Over time it grew larger than what, my webhost, allows. They let me continue to get larger until it was 150% of their advertised limit then they shut it down! No warning.

This is my fault. Still a little reminder from 1and1 would have made a huge difference.

I could read from the database, but I couldn’t write. No new entries. No new comments.

I called the 1and1. They have new databases that could accommodate my data. Unfortunately the online form to do the transfer had a size limit and I was beyond it! Life’s full of Catch 22s.

I was lost… in over my head with no idea how to fix things.

I took a chance and fired off a message to Mike Pacific. He reads this blog, often comments and is active on Facebook. He moved from Connecticut to Oregon for a coding job. Maybe he knew how to wrangle my database?

Five minutes later (mostly spent in time consuming grunt housekeeping) he had moved me to the new space. I quickly edited the configuration file to reflect its new location and… HOLY CRAP IT WORKS!!!

I don’t think I’ve ever met Mike in person. Tonight he is my hero.

My Dev Website Is Still Down

The site is still down as I write this! Why? I could have gone to Best Buy, picked up a new PC, loaded a “LAMP” suite (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and restored from a backup hours ago.

A little before 2:00 AM finally responded to my “website down” complaint.

Thank you for contacting us.

We do apologize for the inconvenience.

Currently the server on where your sites are hosted is down and that is the main reason you couldn’t pull up your site. Our admins are now working on it right now to fix the problem in the fastest time possible.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us.


Christian Rey Tanilong

Technical Support

1&1 Internet

The site is still down as I write this! Why? I could have gone to Best Buy, picked up a new PC, loaded a “LAMP” suite (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and restored from a backup hours ago.

If it goes much longer, replace Best Buy with mail order from NewEgg.

There is a recent backup, right?

I’d Like To Program

I dabble with computers. I can take them apart and put them back together. I write code–not a lot. Not very well. I can rewrite other people’s code in languages I hardly know. I wish I knew more.

Specifically, I wish I knew more about PHP and MySQL. I’d like to write in those languages. They’re a powerful combo.

This is a good time for a quick lesson about the web and it’ll be pretty geeky. I’ll understand if you stop reading here.

If you’ve never written a computer program you should know there are lots of computer languages. Most are optimized for a specific task. All the languages are distinct but they are similar.

The underlying programming language on the Internet is HTML–hypertext markup language.

You can create HTML using PHP, another language. The reason you use PHP to create HTML is because PHP is built for databases. Using databases you can insert fresh information into otherwise static webpages.

Think of sites you know that always look the same even though their content is always changing–this one for instance. Most likely PHP (or Microsoft’s equivalent) is working behind-the-scenes to insert the data into pre-ordained slots.

MySQL is a database program. I’m not 100% on the licensing but it’s basically “free to use and modify” software and it’s running some huge websites.

If I knew MySQL and PHP I could develop websites. I’d like to do that. Scratch building websites is a design process not unlike architecture or writing a book. It’s a creative process which appeals to me.

There are online tutorials, but I haven’t found anything yet that is well taught and at the right pace. Distance learning is not for the faint of heart nor the uncommitted.

The Excitement Of Android

I read a lot last week about Google’s new mobile phone initiative – Android. It’s not an actual phone, that much is perfectly clear. Instead, phones will be built on Android.

Android is a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications.

My current Samsung Blackjack runs on Windows Mobile 5. Android would perform that same function. There are many similar, though different, phones using WM5. I expect the same thing with Android.

Does the world need another mobile platform? Maybe not. But what makes Android so exciting and different is, it’s open source. That puts it in the same category as Linux, MySQL and Apache&#185.

In a video (see below), Google co-founder Sergey Brin makes it perfectly clear he wants Android to be supported by the same type of free software tools he used to get Google going! This time, in his role as super rich guy, he gets to be the one who pays to have them developed, then set free.

To that end, the Android SDK (Software Developers Kit) is open and free. The SDK is the tool with which Android applications will be developed. SDKs for platforms are pretty commonplace. Having them be open and free is not.

Finally, Google has offered a $10,000,000 bounty for Android software developers. That might not be enough to excite Microsoft or Motorola, but it will spark many propeller head geeks into action. That’s big money if you can write a killer app all by yourself, or in a small partnership.

This open source phone talk can’t be pleasing my cell carrier, at&t, or any of the other incumbent carriers. Their business model is predicated on control of both the network and the hardware you buy. Right now, they decide what you phone can do, not you.

Understand, this isn’t a perfect solution. Free and open software can lead to ‘crashed’ cellphones, with no one to take responsibility. Still, it’s a very exciting concept.

My limited time with the Blackjack has shown me the potential in the mobile platform. We’re barely out of the stone age. My hope is, Android takes it to the next step.

For someone like me, who still fancies himself a bit of a hacker, it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of upside potential here. This is actually better than if Google had just gone ahead and announced a phone!

&#185 – Even if Linux, MySQL and Apache mean nothing to you, understand that much of the Internet would stop running immediately without them! That includes Google, EBay, and a gaziilion other sites… including

Geoff Who?

I went to add an entry to the blog earlier today. As is usually the case, I clicked a bookmark in my web browser. Because there’s a ‘cookie’ set, I don’t have to offer up my username and password every day.

The username and password screen appeared. Uh oh.

I entered the requested data and… same screen, except there were red letters telling me my name and password were unknown. This is not the kind of red letter day anyone wants!

I tried again… and again… and again. Each time the result was the same.

Maybe I had forgotten which of the myriad of passwords I use was assigned to I hit the page which is supposed to email my password to me.

Please enter the maiden name of the street your elementary school was on when you got your first pet, it asked?

“User unknown.”

Beads of sweat were beginning to glisten on my brow.

I went to the website of the company that writes this blogging software. Certainly someone else had experience this fate?

One of the hints was to check the database which serves as the nerve center for the blog. I did and found no databases. This was starting to look serious.

If you’re technologically savvy, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

For everyone else, is on a computer with dozens of other websites. It’s similar to the computer you’re using now, except for some specialized webhosting software. sits in a ‘server farm’ near Chicago. I control a very small part of this computer. Anything serious demands a user with more privileges than I have – someone who works for the hosting company I contract with.

I spent around 20 minutes chatting with Jason in tech support. It was a simple problem, he said. But he couldn’t fix it.

He asked me to send an email which he’d kick up to Level 3 tech support. Jason was admitting there were support guys even geekier than he! More importantly, they had even more privileges on my server than he had.

As you can see the problem did get solved.


this issue has now been repaired. Mysql should be fully functional.


John F.

It was a ‘simple’ permissions problem.

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

I asked John F. if it was something I had done… something I needed to avoid in the future. Nope, It was just a sh*t happens kinda thing.

For much of the afternoon, all I could think of was the grief I’d experience if I had to redo the entire site. There are thousands of entries and nearly as many photos and images.

As it is, I stay 5-6 versions behind with my blogging software because I’m afraid I’ll ruin some precarious balance of nature and crash the whole thing should I go current.

I’m beholden to the Jasons and John F’s of this world. Without them, our modern society would surely grind to a halt.

I’m sure it’s difficult for them to convince women of that.

Rod Serling Documentary

I have two DVRs. One is from Comcast. Its strength is being able to record digital cable channels. As DVRs go, it’s not very good.

The second DVR is self built. It runs MythTV software – a totally free Linux based application. I claim to have installed it on old throwaway hardware, but there were enhancements as I went along. It’s not totally reclaimed from scrap.

MythTV’s strength is its software. It is elegantly programmed and takes full advantage of a MySQL database. That means I can search for TV shows by title, genre, actors. You get the idea. It even knows how to record a show once, no matter how many times it airs or how many channels carry it.

I can also program what Tivo calls a ‘season pass.’ Every episode of a single show gets scarfed up on my hard drive.

That’s what I did with PBS’ American Masters series. OK, I’ve only watched a few, but they’re on my drive, just in case.

Tonight, after Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, I decided to delve into the episode on Rod Serling. Good move.

As a kid I watched Serling’s Twilight Zone. I remember having the crap scared out of me by some episodes. They were genuinely scary without being violent and with no special effects – none!

I knew they were good, because I heard they were good. I was too young to make that kind of value judgment on my own.

Now I understand more of what Serling was about. His work seen today, some of it fifty years old or more, is very impressive.

Rod Serling worked in the Golden Age of Television. You could make the case he was an integral reason it was the Golden Age.

Black and white clips of The Twilight Zone, Studio One, Kraft Television Theater and other dramatic anthologies present TV as a different animal. Writing and acting were critical. Production values were an afterthought.

Nearly every clip has featured actors I recognized from appearances long after the 50s. Many, like Robert Redford, Mickey Rooney, Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith and Jack Klugman had distinguished careers beyond television. There were also quirky scenes with actors out of place, like Ed Wynn, normally a slapstick comedian, playing a fight trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, or 14 year old Mickey Dolenz in The Velvet Alley, part of the Playhouse 90 series. Mike Wallace is even there, lit cigarette in hand, interviewing Rod Serling one-on-one.

Today’s episodic television looks for quick payoffs. TV shows have multiple plots going simultaneously. We no longer have the attention span to absorb ethereal writing. Serling would be quite unhappy. Serling’s type of television isn’t done today.

There’s no way to go back in time. That’s a shame. I’m just glad there are moments like this when I can take another look at why television became such an influential medium and why, even today, so many clearly remember these shows.

How Is My DVR doing?

I really wasn’t going to write about this, but a posting’s just gone up on Digg and I figured I’d better update. The Digg story referred to this article on building a homebrew DVR using SageTV software.

Paying $80 for software – that’s so not me.

I have chosen to use KnoppMyth, a Linux distribution based on Knoppix Linux and MythTV. For the un-geeky, “Linux distribution” refers to the operating system software that speaks directly to my computer’s chips. Windows XP is an example of an operating system.

What makes Linux so interesting as an operating system is, it’s free and it’s mainly supported by its own community of users.

MythTV is the actual suite of programs (also free) which turn my computer into a DVR.

What KnoppMyth does is make them play nicely together. Once you stick the KnoppMyth disk into your CD drive, most (not all) of the work has been done.

OK – enough of the technical stuff. How does it work and what have I discovered?

I’m pretty impressed with the quality. I haven’t played much with changing the capture parameters, but the way it’s set up now, recorded shows don’t look any different from what I’d expect to see on a TV screen.

The computer is currently in Steffie’s playroom. I thought it would stay there, but moving the video as packets across my network isn’t quite as simple as I thought. It will probably move into my office, on a shelf under the TV. I’ll unplug the computer monitor and move the video directly into a TV set.

Being able to program the DVR over the Internet is amazing – very powerful. More than once I have scheduled a recording while I was away from home.

Internet programming might be a problem over the long run because Comcast changes my home IP address from time-to-time. Imagine going to work in the morning and having all your stuff moved to a secret location while you’re away.

Also on the list of impressive features is the use of a MySQL database to hold the programming information. Enter a name, title, subject – nearly anything, and the DVR will let you know when something that matches will air. If there’s a conflict, it will even figure out another time to record! That’s very cool.

I recorded a program and wanted it on a DVD. No sweat. MythTV does all the grunt work of setting that up.

The computer I’m using is from the 90s. Its hard drive is large enough to hold 30 hours of high quality video. That should be enough.

One of the advantages of this free software is my ability to play around with it and modify it. I’ve done a little. I plan on doing more.

At some point, this homebuilt DVR will make me cry. All my computer projects do at one time or another. I try and keep it all in perspective, but stuff you throw together on a kitchen table or the floor of a spare room just isn’t the same as what you buy at Circuit City or Best Buy.

I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

How I Got MythTV

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I accumulate computer stuff. And, as more equipment comes in, more parts move to the attic where they await… let’s call it reassignment.

I’ve just rebuilt my ‘main’ machine, replacing some of its innards. A month or so ago, a friend’s sister gave me her discarded PC. And, with Steffie at college and the proud owner of a very pretty Dell laptop, I have her old AMD500.

My junk pile is large and old. Most of what I’ve got is way behind the curve. From time-to-time I’ve forced myself to throw stuff away. It’s a painful experience.

Still, I recently found myself with an old video tuner/capture card, an older Nvidia video card, Steffie’s 500 mHz machine and a posting on (actually, here are all the Digg postings about MythTV).

The world’s best HTPC&#185 distribution now includes MythTV 0.19.fixes and lots of under-the-hood improvements since R5A30.2. Everyone should upgrade from previous versions. So stop reading and go download it via bittorrent at !

Perfectly clear now? It wasn’t to me, but a little light went on over my head.

They are referring to KnoppMyth. KnoppMyth is based on MythTV, a free set of programs to turn a computer into a DVR. KnoppMyth is referred to as “The world’s best HTPC distribution” because it allows you to put a disk in a computer and come back with the job totally done – as long as you want a computer that’s nothing but a DVR.

OK not quite that easy, but close enough.

Yesterday I downloaded files, burned a CD and began to install… and install… and install. I had no idea what I was doing and refused to read any documentation. Not only that, one critical part of the puzzle (a router) was unplugged and I didn’t realize it.

Sometime late last night, my job was sort of done. I still had to configure the system to recognize my particular hardware. And, I did.

Holy cow – I have a mainly free Tivo! That’s the point of this entry.

This old machine is somewhat limited. I can’t watch and record at the same time and the quality is good, not great. Still, I took an old computer and turned into something (oh – I hate to say this) useful.

If they’re listening at my cable company, this thing is better than the DVR I pay you for! That’s not because of the quality, but because of the amazing program guide and the ability to program it online!

All the programming info is parsed into a MySQL (if those initials mean nothing, don’t worry) database. That means it’s quickly and easily searched and manipulated.

I think I can stream what I record to any computer here on my home network or on the Internet. How cool is that? I began to follow the instructions for that conversion, but decided there wasn’t enough time tonight and temporarily ditched that idea.

This will keep me busy for a while.

&#185 – HTPC means Home Theater PC… I think.

Free Education

Helaine and I have some ideas of things to do on the web. In our case it’s a ‘get rich slow’ schemes!

A good idea is pretty close to worthless. It’s only if you can flesh out your idea and implement it that you have a chance of (catch phrase alert) monetizing it.

Helaine thinks I’m an Internet whiz. That’s sweet – but not true. I know enough to begin to understand what I don’t know… and that’s my jumping off point.

Our web idea is database driven. PHP and MySQL are important. Don’t know what they are? I barely do, and certainly am not conversant in either.

This brings me to the point of this posting (which only took 5 paragraphs to get to). There is a way for me to learn about PHP and MySQL online and for free.

Let me repeat the operative portion of that sentence: it’s free.

It all part of the HP Learning Center, sponsored by Hewlett Packard. There are loads of courses, mostly computer oriented, though not totally.

I’m not sure what HP is getting out of this – though, shhhhh, don’t tell.

Helaine and I are both through lesson one of the PHP/MySQL course. I’m hoping it will move me from where I am to knowing enough to be dangerous… at least as far as this web idea is concerned.