The Web Is My Master

The Web Is My Master

UPDATE 6/26/16:

I have since moved over to WP Engine. Many changes have since occurred. Read the latest here.

Original Post:

Another title for this post could be, “How My Website Ate My Holiday Vacation.”  Yes, this is a sad post, but with a happy ending.  It may also be a very boring post for most of you (sorry), but I must tell the the story of how InMotion Hosting sorta screwed me over and how UNIXy saved the day.  Even if it’s the nerdiest damn story imaginable.

I am just an actor and voiceover artist (big surprise, I know).  I used to make rent money as a self-taught Avid editor.  As a personal assistant to a rich guy, I learned Photoshop, how to network computers and, eventually, program a 1-900 line.  When I made the jump from survival gigs to full-time actor, I taught myself basic html and flash to design my first website.  I learned some SEO and began helping family and friends with their websites.  Then, to save money and gain speed, I moved all of the websites onto a VPS (also left Flash websites and embraced the ease of WordPress).

Yes, it is at this point many of you will want to click on something flashy in the sidebar.  Go for it.  This post doesn’t get any sexier for you folks.  For you other folks who are still with me, come listen to my story of woe.

It starts with me in an airport in Arizona en route to a personal appearance gig in Florida.  I decided to check on my website, since it had been sluggish recently.  There I discovered all my internal pages were unreachable.  I called support at InMotion and asked them to look into it.  20 minutes later he said they discovered that I had deleted my WordPress database.

I know, I know!  How could I do that?

Six weeks ago when I first noticed that my website was being sluggish,  I called InMotion and the tech said I was using an extraordinary amount of “resources.”  When I asked for specifics, I received vague feedback, something about processes and databases.

Now, I know just enough to be dangerous to myself.  I decided to eliminate many old legacy databases, delete unused files, etc.  Streamline, essentially, in hopes of eliminating some rogue program from a legacy website. I researched and then listed out all the databases to be kept (they’re auto-named with random numbers and letters). I even placed the database name of my website at the top of my notepad to be safe.  Then, as I went to delete the ones not on my list, I started by looking at the list.  The list in the middle of the page.  Far below where my big, important one was listed.   Aaaand I deleted my own database.  Thankfully this blog was in a separate database.

But, since I had a cache program running, I didn’t notice the damage until I was on that layover en route to Holiday Matsuri. (If you don’t know what a cache program is, I’m quite touched you’re still reading.)

But, hey!  InMotion backs up my system every 3 days!

The tech said not to worry and he would go get the back-up.  30 minutes went by.  Then he came back on the phone.

“Sir, I’m afraid we don’t have a back-up.”

“Whatchyoutalkinbout, Willis?” (Or something similar).

“We offer a complimentary back-up service up to 10 gigs, but your server is 10.5 gigs.  So we stopped backing it up.”

“How long ago did you stop?!”

“Six months ago.”

Yes, at this moment the entire airport restaurant became privy to my rage.

“Wait, wait, wait!” I said, thinking of the obvious, “just get the last completed back-up from then and install it.  I can remake the the newer pages easily.”

“We don’t have that.”

“Why the hell not?!”

“We deleted it to make room for others.”

“So, let me get this straight.  When I passed 10 gigs you DIDN’T send me an email notification.  When you stopped backing me up, you DIDN’T send me an email notification.  And when you deleted my only back-up, YOU DIDN’T SEND ME AN EMAIL NOTIFICATION!”

“That’s right.  Sir, it’s an added value service and it states in our terms-”

“- I’m talking about customer service!  Not how your lawyers cover your asses!”


Yup.  I was angry and not taking a zen path.  After all, I now had to recreate 300 video pages for the acting and voiceover parts of my website.  AND match their old URLs to keep any Google juice.

Since I was starting from scratch, I thought I’d find a more entertaining WordPress theme that was quicker at loading.  (SEO tip – Google likes FAST websites.)  Then I decided to merge the blog and main website together for easier management.  But what about my VPS host?  I couldn’t stay with InMotion after this debacle.  So I researched what the fastest servers were for VPS.

And down the rabbit hole I went.  My OCD took over.

While most folks were drinking egg nog and commemorating long-lasting oil, I was swimming in Apache versus NGINX, W3 Total cache versus Super Cache, more 0s or more 1s!   I settled on NGINX with Varnish, APC Opcode and w3 Total cache with MaxCDN. Yeah, I know.  Very sexy.

Then I spent three days trying to find a VPS company that would handle this.  Most don’t when it comes to the set-up I wanted.  You can rent their servers, but you have to set it up on your own, usually with line commands!  Hey, man, I’m sort of faking this whole webmaster bit.  I’m a nerd in deed, not in knowledge.

Then I found UNIXy!  (Can I get a “whoop whoop” in here?!)

They’re a little more expensive, but they offer managed service.  I can’t say enough awesome things about this company.  When I laid out what I wanted to do with the server, they didn’t blink an eye.  Had it set-up in a few hours.  Then they transferred everything over from InMotion, databases, emails, all of it.

As I began tweaking the website, I would send their support department requests and they would have it done within hours, if not minutes, depending on the issue.  No question was too dumb (or at least they didn’t let their exasperation show).

Mind you, I was full tilt OCD at the bottom of the rabbit hole, sitting for 15 hours a day, forgetting to eat and pee — fully dedicated to finding all the techniques to make my website fast and sending them over to the support department, just to be loved again by Google! (There was a time when I was always on the first page for “voice over”).

At one point I was stuck on my TTFB – Time to first byte – the initial response from the server to your computer.  It was over a second.  I asked them to look at it and they said they needed some time.  I then figured out it was probably mainly due to a plugin.  I told them what I discovered and that they didn’t need to do it.  They wrote back that they had some ideas and were all for making it faster so they were going ahead with those ideas.  It worked!  My TTFB got under a second!  And without that plug-in, even faster.

For those not bored, but rather impressed, just you wait.

I got so deep into the rabbit hole I got hung up on my DNS test.  A test I didn’t even understand! When I ran it there were all these FAIL grades for all sorts of greek techno-babble.  I sent it to the UNIXy support team.  They responded 15 minutes later with “try the test again.”  All PASS grades!

But wait, my four-eyed, pocket-protector friends!  Get this:

The morning after the website transfer happened, two of my clients couldn’t access the billing for their voiceover files.  I thought that since I switched from Apache to NGINX that my PHP was malformed and I would have to hunt down the guy who wrote it.  Pay more money to fix the issue, etc.  But first I thought I’d make sure it wasn’t a server-side issue.

I sent the links to UNIXy support.  They told me to try it again.  It worked!  But then I uploaded a new client and that one failed.  I wrote them again.  They said the fix was in the PHP file of my first client!  You see what happened, good people?!  They fixed MY code!!!

So that brings us to the point of this blog post:


I suggest any businesses out there that want an awesome VPS/Dedicated host to switch over to UNIXy ASAP.  They are worth every penny.

Yes, there are a few other points to this blog post, as well.  Like:

1. Always back-up your own databases – never count on the Hosting company.  I now use a plugin that emails me the databases every night.
2. Don’t yell in an airport restaurant.  It doesn’t fix anything.
3. Take food and pee breaks during bouts of OCD.

There are others, but these are the important ones.

So!  Welcome to the newer version of my new website.  Please poke around, go to the video playlists, and link to my website – especially if you have a .gov or .edu website [sniffs and pushes glasses back up nose].

And thank you, UNIXy, for reigniting my faith in customer service!

[I’d also like to thank an awesome coder in Vietnam who helped me get the video player up to snuff: Tran Quoc Thang!  The guy rocks.]