Anatomy Of A 504 Panic Attack

That was a bare sidewalk 24-hours ago — Photo by Me, Mar. 09, 2008


“Joy To The World”; Three Dog Night
Let me know if the video isn’t available.




I spent the better part of last week trying to decide whether to throw my computer off the balcony or cover it in Shake ‘n Bake and put it in the oven at 450f for forty-five minutes with a little garlic shoved in the DVD Rom.

Over the past few weeks my surfing ability had finally slowed to a crawl until last week when pages were taking four or five times to load than usual, and after more than ten tabs were opened Firefox would freeze and shut down… sometimes this meant restarting the whole frozen machine because of how slow things got. This meant losing whatever graphics I had been working on, writing I hadn’t saved or just the hassle of having to get everything back to where it had been.

After awhile it starts to get personal… as the instances get closer together and more frequent my thinking went from “my computer is getting slower, I wonder why?” to “my computer is actively working against me, why?” to “of course this is happening, this is what I deserve”.

It’s like skipping rope and trying to keep up as the people swinging the rope keep speeding up and the rope is swinging faster and faster and because you’re afraid you’ll trip all you can do is concentrate on jumping faster and faster because in your panic you’ve forgotten all you have to do is stop.

It’s like I gradually got lost, like I thought I had a wall growing in front of me and I had to do everything I could to break through it and the only weapon I had was the Refresh Button. Even though a chunk of spyware made the most sense, and that did occur to me, I was telling myself “if it’s spyware I can get it fixed later… after I hit Refresh another seven dozen times”. By the end of the week I was blaming my new choice of background images for my computer’s inability to open any WordPress pages.

I’m not sure if it was a Panic Attack, an Attack Of Paranoia or whatever but I do know my head hurt for three days, and I dreamt about someone telling me “every thing’s fixed” and waking up on Saturday morning believing it… until I turned on the computer and Every Thing was still Not okay.

When I finally regained access to my blog later on Saturday it was like I could breathe again… none of this is new, it happens frequently but not often. The difference between this one and the Others was I had unwittingly documented the whole thing through emails, posts and Other Stuff.

…of course most of how I was feeling last week was probably due to me going cold turkey on the Diet Pepsi.


Tuesday, March 4th Until Saturday, March 8th

On Tuesday I saw WordPress had announced there had been a substantial Denial of Service attack over the previous weekend. According to The Dude In Charge…

“On a less exciting note, last month was the first in a long time where we had unplanned downtime caused by a criminal directing a DOS attack at us. We get these quite frequently and it’s usually no problem, but this was larger and we had to work closely with our upstream providers (Peer1/Server Beach and Layered Technologies) to get things back on track. We learned a lot in the process and should be able to better deal with attacks of this magnitude (estimates around 6 gigabits per second) in the future.”

When I first read it I thought “that’s interesting…” because back-in-the-day I reported on “Mafia Boy” and his DOS attacks against most of the major Web Companies in 2000.

So it stuck in my head like maybe there were some residual effects of the DOS making it hard for me to surf around WP.

I had already spent days being angry at my computer for not responding fast enough… when I get frustrated my brain tends to loop as though it were programmed in BASIC: 10PRINT”ARRGH”; 20GOTO10; Run. So by Tuesday every time a page loaded slower than the last time I was taking it personally.

It was around… maybe noonish on Thursday when I started getting a message I had never seen before, a “504 Gateway Timeout” whenever I tried to open a WordPress blog… even my own. For the first dozen times it was like I was being poked, or asked “why” a dozen times and not being able to come up with an answer fast enough.

After that I wasn’t just being blocked from WordPress, in my mind I was being evicted from WP. Based on twelve hours of 504 pages I was getting ready to acknowledge my blogs were lost forever and I was preparing to move to another Blog Firm altogether.

So just after midnight on Friday, March 7, with the announcement from Matt in mind, I emailed WP bloggers in three different countries so I could find out how widespread this 504 thing was… the US, UK, one on the East Coast of Canada, one in the West and one in Toronto.

The emails were basically the same…

“Hi [insert blogger friend name]… I think WordPress is under a Denial Of Service attack… I can’t access any of their pages, including yours. Are you having the same problem or am I delusional?”

The first response came at 3:16am, Friday morning from Kitty who let me know my blog was still active… honestly it was like I was breathing for the first time in two days.

Then I shut the computer down to play some video games for a couple of hours until 05:43am when I emailed Mark, the WP Support SuperDude…

“Hi Mark… I can’t access any WordPress blogs, anytime I try in IE and Firefox I get this notice:
‘504 Gateway Timeout The following error occurred: A gateway timeout occurred. The server is unreachable. Retry the request. Could not open error file’
I can access, and the WordPress News pages, but none of the forums or FAQ pages… I can also open all pages on and
I can also open any other website… except any WordPress blog. I did, very recently, download a scheduled Java upgrade. Any help you can offer would be VERY appreciated.”

In my head, since the 504’s started popping up just a few hours after downloading some JAVA upgrades, it made sense to me they would be the source of all my problems. At a few points on Friday I was ready to delete anything with the word Java from my harddrive. I’ve done that before… something goes wonky with the computer so I start ripping software out of it only to find out some of that stuff is really very critical to the operation of the computer. Live and learn.

Mark’s reply came six hours later at 11:47am on Friday… basically asking me to check with my ISP (he actually said “check with your host” but I’m pretty sure he meant ISP). So early that afternoon I accessed Bell Sympatico’s new and vastly improved customer support chatroom… which really hates Firefox. The dude on the other end of the line did a great job. But, really, all he did was empty my cache and delete my history.

But I did manage to get some control back over my blog because I think what the Bell SupportDude had done was solve some of my pre-504 era slowed-surfing problems. I just didn’t notice because the only website I was interested in opening was my blog.

At 4:13pm I emailed Mark (Psychiatric Survivor) to let him know things had improved…

I can see WP pages now, and log into my account but the WP Forum and FAQ pages still won’t load properly, and that Blue Bar across the top of the page when we’re logged in won’t appear.

So at 5:07pm I finally managed to publish a post… “504 Gateway Timeout Because Apparently Canada’s Biggest ISP Refuses To Talk To The WordPress Server” and thirty minutes later, at 5:45pm, Mark (Psychiatric Survivor) posted a comment…

“I have the same problems with loading my page. I changed the number of posts to be displayed down to 2, and it helped a bit. I think wordpress is having bandwidth problems.”

This was the first indication I had the entire problem wasn’t emanating from my computer, but it brought back the DOS theory… which actually made things worse in my head. If there was some residual effects from the DOS attack after a week, is it possible I’d be prevented from fully accessing my blog for what could be weeks or months? What if there were a dozen Mafia Boys out there?

Then I got a pingback at 7:29pm on my 504 post from a dude in Toronto having the same problems…

“Whenever I tried logging on to my admin panel, I get redirected to a 504 Gateway Timeout message, which is very frustrating whenever I try to see my blog stats and even trying to post on my blog. Its quite inconvenient. Hopefully its not going to take a long time. It seems all WordPress blogs are affected.”

This is when I started to create New blogs on I was actually giving up on WordPress at this point and registered two new blogs at… which did Nothing for my state of mind because, no offence, Blogger sucks moose balls. The themes are limited and limiting and bare ass ugly. Their FAQ page is a freaking mess and their stats pages are absolutely bare bones.

When I realized there was no way I could afford even TypePad’s price, and there was zero chance I could survive more than ten minutes as a Blogger blogger I went back to WordPress and tried again to get into the Forum

After about thirty minutes I managed to load an old-school HTML looking version of the Forum page, and then found something from February 23 called “For Bell Canada Customers too slow to respond?” and thick rays of sunshine broke through the clouds and landed on my shoulders, highlighting my now serene face and angels sang out “Joy to the world, all the boys and girls.”

Almost immediately I emailed Patient Anonymous at 8:47pm and asked…

I managed to (barely) get into the WP forums and there’s a topic about Bell Canada in there, but when I try to open it I get the 504 Gateway Timeout message. Could you, pretty please, go into the WP Forums and see what they’re saying about Bell Canada?

After a few dozen more refresh hits I was finally able to read the entire thread (to that point) and it seemed as though WordPress was asking Bell users to fix the problem ourselves… but that was Cool because I was finally coming down. At the very least I knew where I could find a solution. I was even thinking of ways to start a campaign to get Bell to fix Every Thing.

So at 11:26pm I emailed Mark, the WP Support Dude, and wrote…

I think you’re off the 504 hook. I finally got into the Forums (everything looks like it’s old school HTML) and found the Bell Canada 504 thread… and everything in there applies to me.

It was like a fever had finally broken. My brain still hurt, and I still thought I wouldn’t be blogging for a week or two, but I knew I hadn’t lost anything. So just after 1am I found this at the last minute in the Forum and started to add it to my 504 post as an Update…

“But WP has no solutions… they’re asking Us to call Bell Canada to complain, this is from one of the Official WP People (Barry):
‘Based on the traceroutes we have received from various users and the information we have received from our upstream provider, Bell Cananda (sic) is routing traffic destined to one of our IP blocks in a loop. The traffic is not being correctly routed out of the Bell network. This is likely a simple configuration error on their end and may or may not affect their routing of traffic to other IP blocks/websites. Our upstream provider has contacted their Network Operations Center and informed them of the problem, but as Bell Canada customers, it would also probably be helpful if you contact them as well. Unfortunately, since the configuration error is not within our network, there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. As a temporary workaround, I have routed the majority of blog traffic around the problem area for the time being.’
So I have no idea what happens now… I think I’ll wait until Monday to drop the computer off at The Shop. This is starting to feel like one of those things which basically sorts itself out… but the more emails to Bell the better.”

But as I was actually in the middle of updating my 504 Post I suddenly had total access to WordPress pages… my blue WP Admin bar was back, and it actually felt like I was surfing infinitely faster… it was all over.

On Saturday, March 8, at 1:18am I left a comment on Mark’s (PsychSurvivor) blog letting him know he could come back from Blogger, then I finished my update and published it at 1:27am.

Overall I don’t think I did that badly… at least not during the bits where I was writing emails, posts and comments. In between, however, I was a frustrated mess of nerves… but I didn’t break anything and I didn’t erase anything. In the end I feel like I avoided something which really wasn’t there.

But I did manage to take the weekend off from my Blogs and get in some serious Max Payne gaming.





About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at
This entry was posted in Bell Canada, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Canada, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Ottawa, sympatico, Technology, WordPress. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Anatomy Of A 504 Panic Attack

  1. markps2 says:

    “In the end I feel like I avoided something which really wasn’t there.”
    During a highly stressful period, you did not go out-of-control-manic or out-of-control-depressive, so yes it IS(?)/was an accomplishment, test of your mental health, you passed.
    Thanks for the linky love.

  2. dame says:

    i’m glad it’s been cleared up for ya, mister. (til next time — cuz there’s always next time when it comes to this jazz)

    ever notice that you can diss posting for the while, until posting isn’t possible? and then it’s like, FuCk, let me IN!

    okay, maybe that’s just me. i’m giddy that way.

  3. nursemyra says:

    wow that was a really long post, I hardly know where to start commenting. love the photograph. and the problems that wordpress had over the weekend were distressing for many people I think.

    three of my posts went up at once! I’m not as prolific as you. it takes me hours to write them, often because there’s research involved and I like to find appropriate images. to see 3 days worth of posts uploaded at the same time left me with nothing in reserve…. it’s enough to drive a woman to drink…

  4. Pingback: Snow piles « Psychiatric Survivor

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Nurse Myra… I’ve thought about banking some posts like that, it’s something my editors had me do at the last magazine I worked at but I’ve never really been able to do it, but I’ve actually been meaning to suggest Patient Anonymous she do it, she’s doing the 365DayBlog thing and I think she’s getting a little worn out.

    This post took eight (+) hours over three days to put together because I was trying to keep it as close to the actual timeline as possible. I actually left out close to half of what I originally wanted to put in, mostly due to length issues. There were a bunch of personal issues going on at the same time which were driving my frustration levels through the roof.

    It’s not just WordPress… I have a Thing when I’m writing. In order to write I have to have the right pen and the proper sized notebook. I can’t, for example, EVER use a pencil. The sound of a pencil on paper drives me freaking nuts. For a while I was using QuarkXPress to write in, then it was Publisher and now WordPress. I’m not using WordPress entirely for its Blogging stuff, I just really like using their publisher tools because I can fiddle around with the design stuff while I’m waiting for the right word to pop into my brain.

    I’ve had the same issues, in the past, with other publishing programs where they’ve seized or broken… or run out of ink. The result, with the electronic stuff, is usually the same… I panic and get frustrated.

    Here on WordPress, everything I publish is the last thing I’ve written. I have this Other Thing where I can’t start something until I’ve decided I’m done with the Last thing. I actually have a Lot of Things… I should probably get some of them looked at.

    The photo… thanks, it’s my parents place. I took a photo of my youngest brother’s house and you can barely see the roof for all the snow. I’ll post it soon.

  6. Love the photo. Like your blog. I’ll be back.


  7. Pingback: No Post Day: Counterbalance « …salted lithium.

  8. nursemyra says:

    hey gabriel we all have lots of “things”

    I can only clean house in the morning. I can only write a new post after I’ve answered my emails . I can only use the same colour pegs to hang out my washing. I can only do my grocery shopping by walking down the aisles in the ‘correct’ direction….. I could go on forever….

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