Technology | 84 hours of MySQL (My Server Quietly Languished) hell

Rarely do we comment on the technical aspects of maintaining and updating a website on world football, but a Jan 25 database collapse, followed by a switch in web hosts and assorted Windows Vista meltdowns had us grateful even for our several hundred inveterate daily spammers when normal service finally resumed, about 0300 GMT on Jan 29.

Understand that now we are extending Umberto Eco‘s comment on the “meta-” nature of writing about sport (see 16 Dec 07 and 27 May 07). Such commentary, or “sports chatter” in Eco’s phrase, consists of “talk about [sport], the talk about the journalists who talk about it.” In this brief posting, therefore, we talk about our World Wide Web–facilitated talk about those who talk about football.


Orwell’s draft of an early section of 1984, describing the Ministry of Truth building as “an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace …”

To indulge in website database repair is to enter a super-mediated world, at least three times removed from football’s earthly realm. For those three-plus days we imagined ourselves akin to Winston Smith from 1984, communing with a telescreen, aware of a physical world in which football might be taking place but that we were prevented from reaching by these zones of mediation to which we have become accustomed, or, in harsher terms, to which we have become enslaved. Here is how George Orwell describes Winston’s cubicle at the Ministry of Truth and the building’s stores of virtual memory:

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. … For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building. … What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms.

Orwell’s “unseen labyrinth” well characterizes the impenetrable curiosities of MySQL. “SQL” signifies Structured Query Language—although, given our predicament, it could have been “Soccer Quota Limited.” The open-source database provides the binary storage required for operation of WordPress-powered websites, such as this one.

When access to the database is blocked, as ours was on Jan 25, for unknown reasons, one suffers the full existential crisis of life as a mediated being. One’s talk about talk about soccer is worth bubkes.

Until one attempts to enter the labyrinth and pay obeisance to the database’s ultimate authority—to the control that the unreal wields over the real—there is no succor (or soccer). At the level of the soul, one learns the truth behind Jean Baudrillard‘s description of modern technologies as “expulsions of man” (see 12 Mar 07).

In short, those similarly in thrall to their telescreens should feel free to contact us at any time should they encounter database mishaps. We are happy to share what we learned.

To you spammers, you percolators of the subject line as poetic fragment, we welcome you back warmly. In tribute to spam, which we thought we might no longer have the pleasure of purging, we recognize these subject lines as the masterstrokes of the spammer’s art:

Are your forearms too fat?
How about a radio-controlled Patriot missile launcher?
Seltzer for mere shekels

Like sweeping up shards of glass from an imploded window, it will take several more weeks before the database has been cleaned. Our diligence in supplying diacritical marks (the “è” in “Arsène”) has come back to haunt us. An incompatibility in database formats means that all these instances must be corrected manually (also the acute accent in “Zinédine” and the circumflex in “crônica”).

Please let us know, using appropriate emergency measures, should you spot a missing cedilla in “façade.”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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