Our Valve Overlords

So, it seems that Valve Software are yet again trying to stop people from gaining new weapons in Team Fortress 2. The Scout update was released yesterday, and people want to try out the new weapons a quickly as possible. As per normal, the targets were those who used the Steam Achievement Manager.

Dear Valve, here’s a hint: if I wanted to grind away for hours to get new weapons, I’d be playing World of Warcraft.

As with last time, only a handful of people are reporting their weapons being taken away from them. This isn’t a deterrent, it barely rates as news.

Valve, I implore you, don’t go down this road. We know you’re trying to encourage people to play more, that you want to reward regular players. The fact is, not all of us have copious quantities of spare time to devote to playing each class. We just want to try out the new weapons, have a bit of a mess around, then go about our lives.

A recurring comment is that you want people to gain achievements through their regular game play, that it should come as a surprise. I ask you, then, what is more in line with your philosophy: unlocking just the weapons using the Steam Achievement Unlocker, or grinding them out on achievement servers, blowing the fun of the achievements on repetitive work, rather than fun?

For reference, I used the unlocker, and I still have my weapons. Same as every other pack.

And for those wondering why I’m posting this on my blog that almost certainly isn’t being read by the TF2 team, it’s just a public copy of a similar email I’ve sent to Valve. They’ve been good about listening to public feedback in the past, I’m hoping that this time is no exception. If you feel the same, send an email to Gabe Newell.

Upgrading MySQL with minimal downtime through Replication


With the release of MySQL 5.1, many DBAs are going to be scheduling downtime to upgrade their MySQL Server. As with all upgrades between major version numbers, it requires one of two upgrade paths:

  • Dump/reload: The safest method of upgrading, but it takes out your server for quite some time, especially if you have a large data set.
  • mysql_upgrade: A much faster method, but it can still be slow for very large data sets.

I’m here to present a third option. It requires minimal application downtime, and is reasonably simple to prepare for and perform.


First of all, you’re going to need a second server (which I’ll refer to as S2). It will act as a ‘stand-in’, while the main server (which I’ll refer to as S1) is upgraded. Once S2 is ready to go, you can begin the preparation:

  • If you haven’t already, enable Binary Logging on S1. We will need it to act as a replication Master.
  • Add an extra bit of functionality to your backup procedure. You will need to store the Binary Log position from when the backup was taken.
    • If you’re using mysqldump, simply add the –master-data option to your mysqldump call.
    • If you’re using InnoDB Hot Backup, there’s no need to make a change.  The Binary Log position is shown when you restore the backup.
    • For other backup methods, you will probably need to get the Binary Log position manually:
      mysql> SHOW MASTER STATUS;
      (Perform backup now...)
      mysql> UNLOCK TABLES;

    Once you have a backup with the corresponding Binary Log position, you can setup S2:

    • Install MySQL 5.1 on S2.
    • Restore the backup from S1 to S2.
    • Create the Slave user on S1.
    • Enter the Slave settings on S2. You should familiarise yourself with the Replication documentation.
    • Enable Binary Logging on S2. We’ll need this during the upgrade process.
    • Setup S2 as a Slave of S1:
      • If you used mysqldump for the backup, you will need to run the following query:
        mysql> CHANGE MASTER TO MASTER_HOST='S2.ip.address', MASTER_USER='repl_user', MASTER_PASSWORD='repl_password';
      • For any other method, you’ll need to specify the Binary Log position as well:
        mysql> CHANGE MASTER TO MASTER_HOST='S2.ip.address', MASTER_USER='repl_user', MASTER_PASSWORD='repl_password', MASTER_LOG_FILE='mysql-bin.nnnnnnn', MASTER_LOG_POS=mmmmmmmm;
    • Start the Slave on S2:
      mysql> START SLAVE;

    The major pre-upgrade work is now complete.


    Just before beginning the upgrade, take a backup of S2. For speed, I’d recommend running the following queries, then shutting down the MySQL server and copying the data files for the backup.

    mysql> STOP SLAVE;

    Once the backup is complete, restart S2 and let it catch up with S1 again.

    When you’re ready to begin the upgrade, you will need a minor outage. Stop your application, and let S2 catch up with S1. Once it has caught up, they will have identical data. So, switch your application to using S2 instead of S1. Your application can continue running unaffected while you upgrade S1 server.

    • Stop the Slave process on S2:
      mysql> STOP SLAVE;
    • Stop S1.
    • Upgrade S1 to MySQL 5.1.
    • Move the S1 data files to a backup location.
    • Move the backup from S2 into S1’s data directory.
    • Start S2.
    • Setup S1 as a Slave to S2, same as when we made S2 a Slave of S1.
    • Let S1 catch up with S2. When it has caught up, stop your application, and make sure S1 is still caught up with S2.
    • Switch your application back to using S1.

    Complete! Hooray! You just need to run a couple of queries on S1 to clean up the Slave settings:

    mysql> STOP SLAVE;


    You can keep the outage to only a few minutes while performing this upgrade, removing the need for potentially expensive downtime. If you need the downtime to be zero, you probably want to be looking at a Circular Replication system, though that’s getting a little outside of this blog post.

pento.net goes mobile!

With a bit of fiddling around, I’ve found a good combination of WordPress plugins for mobile support.

  • For iPhone/iPod: WPtouch. Lots of options, looks good on the iPhone browser.
  • For all other mobiles: WP-viewMobile. This one is particularly handy, because it gives you the option to define the user agent strings it should activate for. To make it play nicely with WPtouch, I just had to remove the iPhone and iPod entries.

For both of these, setting them up was as simple as turning them on. I also added the various search engine mobile crawlers to WP-viewMobile. At the moment, the list of user agent strings I have are: Googlebot-Mobile, Y!J-SRD/1.0, msnbot-mobile, MSMObot. If anyone knows any others, please let me know.

So now, if you desperately want to check my site from the road, you can read it a bit easier on your mobile screen.

Permissions by interface on the local server

I had an issue come up recently that involved some confusion over permissions for the same user, connecting through different interfaces. For example, say you have a server with the public IP address of You could connect to it from the local machine using the following commands:

shell> mysql -h localhost           # Connects through the socket file
shell> mysql -h           # Connects through the loopback interface
shell> mysql -h         # Connects through the network interface

They all connect to the local server, but they can all have different permissions. Here are a couple of rules to make your life easier:

  • Don’t use @, unless you absolutely can’t use the socket file for some reason. Connecting through @localhost is usually faster than the loopback device, and it’s easier to type.
  • Only connect through the network interface if you’re planning on moving the application to a different server later on.

That’s all. 🙂

Don’t use GoDaddy Hosting

It will only cause you pain.

To give a brief description of the problems I had:

  • Apache is horribly slow. To the point that some RSS readers were having problems subscribing to my blog.
  • Apache setup is weird, and causes all sorts of problems.
  • FTP access is mind-boggling slow, only allows one connection at a time, and at one point, wouldn’t let me download directories.
  • MySQL is sickeningly slow.
  • More expensive than better hosts.
  • Really bad web interface for site management.

Now, I’m happily away from them. Never again.