My Stupid Broken Website

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 13, 2007

Filed under: Rants 29 comments

Lots of people are complaining about errors they get when posting comments. Errors like this one:

Error 403
We're sorry, but we could not fulfill your request for /twentysidedtale/?p=nnn#comment-nnn on this server.
You do not have permission to access this server.
Your technical support key is: xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx
You can use this key to fix this problem yourself.
If you are unable to fix the problem yourself, please contact twentysidedtale at and be sure to provide the technical support key shown above.

I don’t even know what this error means, or what is generating it. Is it something on my website? WordPress? A plugin? I don’t know who wrote this piece of code, but they committed a major no-no by directing “technical support” emails to the site author. Icing on the cake is that if users consult the linked page they are (re)directed to a totally unrelated website that probably wants nothing to do with my technical support issues.

The problem started a while back, when the huge influx of new visitors caused a subsequent huge influx of new spam. For about a week I had .htakismet installed, which is a plugin that reacts to spam by blocking access to the site from the offending IP. That sounds like a very nice solution, although I was wary of having a WordPress plugin dabble in the black magic that is .htaccess files on my server. After a week, I couldn’t tell if .htakismet was even working. At best it was having no impact. At worst, it was blocking legit users without me even knowing about it.

I pulled .htakisment and installed a different plugin: Bad Behavior. Unlike .htakismet, BB really did have a big impact on spam. I went from nearly a thousand spam comments each day to a few dozen, but then the stupid error above started popping up.

As far as I can tell, the error appears when someone posts a comment. After they hit the “submit” button they get the above message, but their comment appears anyway. It has never happened to me, but I’m an admin and I think the filters ignore me no matter what I type. The problem also exhibits that most dreaded of attributes: It is intermittent.

I don’t know what to make of it. Is this some mess made by .htakismet? Is Bad Behavior causing the problem? I could come up with guesses all day, but whatever the reason the problem is either getting worse or people are more eager to tell me about it. Going back to 1,000+ spams a day isn’t an option, either.

I’d tell you I’m working on it, but that would be misleading. I can’t really do any work on it until I know what to do. All I can tell you is that the problem is being worried about.


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29 thoughts on “My Stupid Broken Website

  1. Telas says:

    I'd tell you I'm working on it, but that would be misleading. I can't really do any work on it until I know what to do. All I can tell you is that the problem is being worried about.

    I just might borrow that for the most mysterious help desk tickets I see…

    “PC Load Letter?!”

  2. phlux says:

    I get that every time I post. The solution I found? Hit the back button and hit submit again. This time I get a message from WordPress that tells me that my comment is a duplicate.

    Despite this, if I click back one more time and refresh the page…there is my comment.

    So not only does your spam filter block non-spam messages, but wordpress is also not stopping duplicate comments. AT least in my case.

    Hopefully that helps you in some way. I find that the more symptoms I discover the easier it becomes to diagnose a problem.

  3. Patrick says:

    It really doesn’t bother me. As long as my comment gets up, I don’t care what stupid message I get.

  4. Jeremiah says:

    I’ve never encountered the message. I don’t know that that helps much, really, since it’s intermittent, but hopefully it can help narrow down the cases when it does happen a little.

  5. Gothmog says:

    I’ve never seen this error you speak of either. Huh.

  6. Myxx says:

    What browser are affected posters using? Using IE7 I’ve never had a problem…

  7. Phlux, what you’re doing isn’t necessary. The post happened the first time, and your subsequent attempts are simply putting load on the server. Go back to the main page and reload the thread and you’ll see that your comment is there.

  8. I get it every time I post, and as Steven Den Beste mentions, it always posts successfully in the background despite the claims of the error message. I am posting from a win98 box (yeah, yeah, it’s work) using IE 6.0.2800.

  9. phlux says:


    I see that you’re correct now…which is interesting, because when I first discovered that little “workaround” I was not seeing my posts until after the second submission, even doing a forced refresh.

    I suppose that could just be a fluke, but it was pretty consistent at the time, but now it works despite the initial error.

  10. bbot says:

    I’ve never seen the error; using Firefox over OS X.

  11. Polk says:

    Never gotten, using latest version of Firefox.

  12. I get the message when I try to view the page at all using Firefox 7″”though, to note, this is largely attributable to the ad-and-cookiebuster proxy I use, Internet Junkbuster. A number of blogs using WordPress won’t let me access them because apparently there’s something about Junkbuster they don’t like. It ticks me off, but what can you do.

    When I view it in IE, it works, though.

  13. Stark says:

    I get this everytime I post – deosn’t matter what browser. IE6, 7 and Firefox – I’ve tried em all… my solution is to simply ignore it since it doesn’t actually prevent the post.

  14. Malkara says:

    I did e-mail you once about it, but I was away. Guess it was the computer I was using, because I haven’t seen it since.

  15. Chaz says:

    Richard Dragonbane – what kind of devil’s work can you be doing? Career-wise, I’m pretty laid-back, but even I would be looking for a new job if Windows 98 was part of my daily life.

    fwiw, I have never seen this error (Firefox, XP)

  16. I always get that error when I post. But when I ignore it and reload the page, my comment is there.

  17. Thad says:

    I get the message when I use IE at work. As I get it randomly with another site, I reckon it’s our firewall server playing silly buggers. Simply going back and reloading shows the comment.

    At home, using Firefox, I don’t get it at all. (He says, about to hit the submit button…)

  18. neminem says:

    Yup – I get that message almost every time I post here. Possibly ever time, I can’t remember if it’s missed me at all yet. Nonetheless, having quickly determined that the post went through regardless of the presence of the error, it doesn’t really bother me. Would be nice if it went away, for the benefit of other people, but it doesn’t really bother me.

  19. neminem says:

    And, of course… just to laugh at me… the error didn’t show up, that time.

  20. Errol says:

    #15 Chaz

    Many of the user boxes at my work are Win95. As they are acting as Citrix Terminals, it doesn’t seem to matter – certainly to the users.

  21. Rustybadger says:

    Chaz – I suspect that like me, R. Dragonbane works for a government agency (public school district here), and is tied to some dumb-ass legacy software (like us).

    Shamus, what about using a captcha? Since I installed Peter’s Custom Antispam I have had zero spam. Most people don’t mind entering a captcha as long as it’s a simple process. I know that both my readers have been impressed with the way the “random” words in the captcha seem to reflect my personal tastes and experiences.

  22. Dave says:

    I get it.. I ignore it.. my posts make it.. no big deal… oh wait.. THE SKY IS FALLING!!!

  23. Cineris says:

    I had a similar problem with BadBehavior and another blog I set up on my hosting. Trouble was, people seemed to be getting it from just navigating to the front page. When I saw it via accessing from a different computer I decided I had to pull BadBehavior.

  24. Roffax says:

    Google for this:
    “You do not have permission to access this server.”

    Problem seems to with BB.

  25. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    I got that message almost everytime I posted, but the few times I did not may have been when I posted from work (almost never). A couple of times I tried to email the link but it failed. I don’t remember exactly how.

    And it looks like Shamus is trying out the captcha! I post again after this one to let you know what happened.

  26. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    No problems at all. My post is right there without an error or a refresh.

    Well done, Mr Young!

  27. Steve says:

    I suspect it has nothing to do with the browser (much though almost everyone would seem to want it to be IE’s fault) and more to do with the email address one supplies in the second input box.

    For the record I always got the message, whether I posted from work or home. My home ISP is optimum online which is red-flagged by all sorts of open software.

    For example, I had a net-friend who runs a colocated web server aghast that I mailed him from since his antispam blocked that domain by default and he never changed it, assuming that optonline must be like a hotmail account. His software didn’t like them by default so they must be a non-starter. His exact words were “Does anyone actually use their service for real?” to which I answered “Only thousands of us”. I digress.

    Since my mail account of record on this site is the same one no matter who I connect through, I strongly suspect that was the deciding factor.

    The real problem though was that the bloody software block didn’t work. It told me that I was a spammer and that my post wasn’t accepted, but posted it anyway. I tried mailing Shamus with that news on day one, but the mail link in the splash page didn’t go anywhere real. Oh well.

    I think the Captcha works well and is about as inconvenient as being asked to show a train ticket. Which is to say, trivial. Anything that saves time and keeps DMotR coming in regular, high quality doses is jake with me.

    No doubt it violates umptytump WWW coding standards though.


  28. Miral says:

    Yeah, except the first time I tried entering it (it never seems to change) I assumed those were letters instead of numbers. It took a few failed attempts before the context clicked in and I realised what it must be due to the site theme :)

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