postgresql conference east 2008 – announcement

Joshua Drake sent out the announcement for the PostgreSQL Conference East ’08 just the other day. We’re both super excited about getting the community together in Maryland. I’m also really looking forward to meeting the many contributors living in that area for the first time.

I was originally drawn to the University of Maryland as a site for our conference because of UMLUG, a Linux student group. They had an intro to PostgreSQL and MySQL meeting in early November, and I’ve chatted a little with their enthusiastic President.

I’ve also been in touch with the Computer Science department. Professor Louiqa Raschid has been invaluable – getting me in touch with the department head, Professor Larry Davis. The UMD CS department is now sponsoring us! I’m looking forward to collaborating with the students and faculty to make this a fantastic conference.

Joshua has also posted the members list for our conference and speakers committees. If you have an idea for a talk or tutorial, please don’t hesitate to contact us! With the 8.3 beta available, and the release just around the corner, there are so many things out there to talk about. Keep the submissions coming!

gulf coast trip: halloween, new orleans, lazarus project

Street View, New Orleans

We drove to New Orleans on Halloween. That night, we walked down Bourbon Street, to the Frenchman. It was a Wednesday night, but the streets were packed. We talked with people on our way, bought some pastries at a coffee shop, and we lost half of our crew in the crowds.

Frenchman Street, New Orleans

Eventually, we found a street band and danced for a while. Much later, we got back to the Hands On building, and went to bed.

The inspirational music started blaring around 7:30am. I was up, drinking my coffee and forcing down some breakfast. Breakfast was a series of “what happened to you?” conversations. And all smiles.

We’d signed up for our projects the night before. I chose to visit the Lazarus Project, a transitional living home for people living with HIV/AIDS. Our team leader gave us a quick overview of what we’d do – she figured some games and talking.

We were introduced to the staff manager, Rosetta. I found out later that she was living in New Orleans before Katrina, and she had returned to work at the Lazarus Project. Most of her family did not return. She said her neighborhood was a ghost town.

Later in the day, she saw that the corner the volunteers and a few residents were sitting in seemed dingy, so she walked up with some brooms and bleach to clean it. Her focus was always on what would make the residents feel taken care of.

I spent most of my day talking with a shrimp fisher named D. He was tall, maybe 6’2″, and in a wheelchair from a series of strokes. I don’t know very much about the illnesses that strike people with AIDS, but strokes seemed common among the residents. Three of the people I spoke with seemed like they were under 50, and had experienced multiple, paralyzing strokes.

D took more than an hour to warm up to me. We sat with a group, chatted about the weather, Oregon and TV. When it got hotter outside, a few people left to go watch some TV in the air conditioning, or just to nap. D and I stayed outside, and ended up talking for a long time about his family, his house and in a round-about way, the last year of medical problems he’d experienced.

Somehow, we started telling jokes. He knew a ton of cajun jokes, and some generally dirty jokes. After I told him that I had chickens, he taught me a children’s rhyme:

I dropped a dollar in the dirt
I asked the dollar if it hurt
The dollar didn’t say nothing
But wah wah wah

He’d known a guy who had trained a chicken to peck out the tune to that rhyme on a piano.

I don’t have any pictures from that day. I brought my camera, and I could have taken some shots of the garden being built, or Ms. Parker grilling up chicken, or the sweet, southern patio we sat on most of the day. Mostly, I would have liked a picture of D, laughing after I told an incredibly bad joke.

women’s sized t-shirts for postgresql

I have been looking into getting some woman-sized PostgreSQL shirts, in addition to the more typical men-sized tshirts. The particular style is American Apparel shirts, style # 2102. The shirt says ‘PostgreSQL’ in small print on the front, and has the big elephant logo on the back. We’ll most likely ask for a $20 donation to the PostgreSQL non-profit for each shirt.

So, I’m conducting a small poll:

If you are interested in a woman-sized shirt, please email or comment on this thread with a quantity, and size (XS, S, M, L, XL). If you would not wear a PostgreSQL woman-sized shirt yourself, please consider whether you would maybe get one as a gift for someone else this holiday season 🙂

I would be overjoyed to have my mailbox clogged with requests, so please don’t be shy!

I’m just trying to get a feel for the numbers, so your comment won’t be considered an order. Also, please forward this to anyone you think might be interested.

gulf coast trip: biloxi, hands on gulf coast, de-molding

Welcome to the Lake

My first volunteer project was de-molding a house in Biloxi. Over three days, nearly all of the Hands On Portland team and I worked with Emily, a team leader from Hands On Gulf Coast. The house was built about 20 years ago, and it sat unoccupied after Katrina. Despite being 13 feet off the ground, water still reached three feet high inside.

Lawrence, the owner, was living in a second-hand FEMA trailer. He spent as much time as he could away from that trailer. Our goal was to finish mold remediation by the end of the week. After that, Lawrence was going to manage the drywall and final rebuilding of his home himself.

A week or two before, Emily and her crew had stripped the house down to the studs. They cleaned out the debris and furniture, drywall, a ton of mold and cockroaches. Everything was so bare by the time we got there, I had a hard time imagining what it must have been like when they started. There are still 30 houses on the HOGC mold remediation program waiting list, and I heard there are still 4500 houses in the Biloxi area that have yet to be rehabilitated. Emily’s team ran out of money a month or so ago. She’s not sure where funding will come from next year for her particular program. Hands On Gulf Coast takes donations online.

Soon we were scrubbing the walls with wire brushes to get rid of the last bits of visible mold, and release whatever dormant spores might still be hanging out in the surface of the wood.


We wore sweet Tyvek suits with filtering masks all day, and most of the next day. The weather was gorgeous. Probably 70-75F, sunny, with a cool breeze. Inside the house and our suits, it was incredibly hot. The tin roof and some pretty windows in the front helped create a nice greenhouse effect. During our lunchbreak, we hung our suits out to dry.
Suits drying

For lunch, we went to Irma D’s.

Irma D’s 2

I had a shrimp po boy, and a plate-full of fried pickles. We all ate together at a huge table and lots of us had the sweet tea, which just about made my head spin off from all the caffeine.

Then, we went back to scrubbing. In the afternoon, we were treated to the radio and lots of political commercials. One silly thing I noticed in Biloxi was a hot race for the Coroner’s office, and some really huge signs for one of the candidates.

Gary Hargrove

Eventually, we found who he was running against – but only saw one tiny sign, on the side of a large freeway on our way out of town the next day.

The next step in the de-mold process was to vacuum up the dust and debris we had scrubbed off the wood. That left time for us to hang out, talk with Lawrence’s friends and play horse shoes. I talked a lot of smack, but lost.

The third step in de-molding was to wipe down all the wooden surfaces with an anti-viral disinfectant, that happens to also kill several types of mold. I got to work more on my Daniel LaRusso moves, and try to sing karaoke-style through the air-filtering masks. By lunch the next day, we’d finished!

Applying the Raydon

Finally, we were ready for the Kilz. This is a general-purpose primer, supposed to both seal in the mold-killer and protect the surface from future mold-infestation. We got most of the way through the painting before we had to leave – about half the rafters were left to be sealed. Emily said that we’d probably saved them a week’s worth of labor.

Lawrence was so happy to see his house coming back together. He and his friends kept walking in and taking photos, smiling and giving us all hugs. After two years of watching the house he built mold away, his home was being transformed back into a real place to live.

I’ve read a few things for and against remediation projects like this one. In this case, Hands On Gulf Coast did exactly the right thing. The house was in great shape – the owner just needed some help to get started in rebuilding.

The Houston Chronicle has a 6-part series from 2006 on the Gulf Coast region. In the first article about Biloxi, they said that 90% of the 20,000+ structures were flooded to some extent. The city’s damage assessment map says that 5,000 were completely destroyed. People at HOGC said that the city estimated that half of the 50,000 or so residents from before the storm were gone and not returning.

On our way to New Orleans, we drove down the coast. It was incredible and very sad.

Church without steeple

NPR has a special section for coverage of post-Hurricane Katrina issues.

ptop – meeting summary from last nights pdxpug

Last night’s meeting was about ptop and Mark Wong’s efforts to make an interactive, command-line tool for monitoring the current status of a PostgreSQL database.

For our meeting, Mark set up a test operating system on a USB drive, and bravely demo’d his new software.

Mark got the idea for ptop a few months ago, and went looking for the source code to top to get started. After a few days of hacking, he had a some useful features he wanted to share. So, he’s set up a project and started gathering developers:

The features currently supported include displaying:

  • Current queries
  • Query plans
  • Locks
  • User table statistics
  • User index statistics

Continue reading

automatic character set conversion in postgresql

Today, I encountered a few goofy characters in the data I am migrating from one ERP system to another. For example, “¢” isn’t represented the same way in UTF-8 as LATIN1 character sets. In UTF-8, the hex representation for “¢” is c2 a2, but in LATIN1 it is a2.

I started looking for an easy Perl way to translate everything into UTF-8 on the client side, when I discovered that PostgreSQL offers automatic client-to-server character set conversions. All I have to do is specify what my client character set is.

Here’s how you can do it with an SQL command:


Substitute your character set for “LATIN1”.

Lucky for me, my database is set to UTF8, and in that case, all supported encodings on my clients will be automatically converted to UTF-8 — as long as I specify which encoding I’m using.

The support for UTF-8 (formerly called UNICODE in the docs) in PostgreSQL has been around since version 7.1 (early 2000), and in version 8.1 the conversion support for UTF-8 was expanded to all known character sets.

back from the gulf coast


My trip to the Gulf Coast with volunteers from Hands On Portland ended on Sunday. I wrote continuously while I was there, cataloging every experience so that my leaky memory wouldn’t fail me when I wanted to reflect.

Lawrence’s House

I had a wonderful time and made some lifelong friends. Karol wrote eloquently nearly every day. While there, I worked on mold removal in a house the owner had built himself, spent a day talking and telling dirty jokes with people living with HIV at the Lazarus Project, and spent a day cleaning out cages in a no-kill animal shelter. I also toured the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, St. Bernand Parish and drove out to a Katrina-specific landfill located in the middle of a national preserve for wetlands.

I’m working on sorting out pictures and some of the words, but I’m not quite ready to write about what things were like in Biloxi and New Orleans. Maybe I just need a few days.


There’s so much to do there, still, two years later.