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“Error 404 – Not Found” – and Permalinks “Save Changes”

Submitted by on October 2, 2014 – 3:52 pm
The dreaded message had an easy fix (at least in my case).

Thursday, October 2, 2014
6:20 a.m. Bird Nest Guest House
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I experienced some success, though very frustrating success, with the website. I had sent an email to my hosting company,m and I got the usual techo-babble reply. I felt I had the right to contact them because they had recently moved my website to a different server. I suggested that my website had crashed because of this move. Their reply wasn’t very helpful, to say the least. The guy said that he’d looked at my website and he “noticed a few things.” I assume that meant he noticed things that were wrong. He said something about anchor tags (and he included the code here) and he said something about unresolved links and how the thumbnails referred to the original “bix”. Needless to say, I had no idea what he was talking about and none of it was of any help. He finished the email by suggesting that I contact WordPress support.

This response was what I expected, and it illustrates what I’ve found to be a basic problem with the world of websites and WordPress. WordPress at its most basic is a menu-driven piece of software. That’s how I use it. I push buttons, make selections, and upload posts and photographs. That’s all I do. Using it is like using Microsoft Word. But when I write to my hosting company and submit a “support ticket”, they open up my website and look at the HTML code and CSS and reply to me based on the code. This is of no use to me. It would be like going to the Microsoft Word help page to see how to change the font size and then being told how to reprogram the underlying code. That’s not what I want. I just want to know where in the Word menu structure I can find the buttons to press to change the font size. If that example doesn’t work, I could say it’s like bringing your car to a garage and the mechanic telling you that the “torsional stresses have exceeded the logarithmic properties.” That’s great, but all you want to know is if you need to replace your brake pads.

On the even weirder side, I found that my website’s problems had completely changed. The problem a week ago was that all the thumbnail photos had vanished, the menu system had vanished, and all the comments people had left had vanished along with a lot of photographs. Yesterday morning when I went to my website, I found that the menu system was back and working perfectly and the thumbnail photos on the posts on the main page were also back. However, all the content of the website was gone. There were no posts at all. Every single link resulted in the dreaded “Error 404 – Not Found” message.

There was no explanation for this shift. I had done nothing at all to try to fix the previous problems. I had made no changes. So what could possibly have caused this change? My initial response was to log in to my WordPress dashboard just to poke around and see if, in fact, all the posts had vanished or if it was just a link problem. But when I tried to log in, I got a message from WordPress saying that my login page had been disabled because my site had been targeted by a brute force attack as someone tried to get into my website. So I could do nothing.

I did follow up on the suggestion from my hosting provider and I went to the WordPress support website. Predictably, that was of no help at all. For one thing, WordPress is a free program. I don’t pay them, so I can’t submit an official support ticket and expect a response. All I can do is go through their official Help documents and the forums. Anyone who has done similar things can guess at how helpful this was – not at all.

In the end, I went back to the only thing that has ever helped me consistently – random Google searches. I started typing search keywords into Google trying to describe the problem I was facing. After a few tries, I seemed to find the magic words, and the Google search returned a bunch of website pages from people who had experienced the same problem – that of all their links returning “Error 404” messages. One site in particular had a very simple solution and a very clear explanation. This guy said that this problem was a result of a change made to the permalinks settings and perhaps the .htaccess file. Most of the time, the entire issue could be resolved by simply going to the Permalinks page in the WordPress dashboard and clicking on the “Save Changes” button there.

A few minutes later, I checked again, and I found that my log in page was working. I logged in to my WordPress dashboard and I was relieved to see that all of my posts were still there. Not only that, but all the photos were there and all the comments were back. Everything looked to be in perfect shape. Then I went to the Settings menu and selected Permalinks. I took a deep breath and clicked on the “Save Changes” button. Then when I went back to the my website, I found that everything was back to normal. Clicking on that one button had fixed the problem completely.

The story is significant from so many points of view. For one thing, I had made no changes to my Permalinks settings or to the .htaccess file. I have only the barest and slimmest of understandings of what Permalinks are or what the .htaccess file does. If I had made no changes, then why would clicking on the “Save Changes” button have any effect? There were no changes to save.

Another interesting perspective is that the guys at my hosting company didn’t have the slightest clue how to fix my problem. Yet, I found an instant solution with a simple, random Google search. So when you run a WordPress website, you are caught between worlds. The dudes at your hosting company seem to feel that they are above that sort of thing. They are hardcore programmers that work with code and databases. No matter how many times I have asked for their help, they never reply in any terms that refer to WordPress. They send me on crazy errands deep into the code. I can feel it in my bones that what they are telling me is wrong. They are offering extremely technical and difficult solutions to fix a simple problem. Again, it would be like having trouble with Microsoft Word and then that company sending you techno babble about how to rewrite the underlying code of the program itself.

Finally, it was interesting to note how many other people were in the exact same situation as I was. There were a couple of hundred thank you comments left on this post about the “Save Changes” button and how it fixes the “Error 404” problem. I read a lot of them, and they sounded just like me. People talked about how they had spent weeks and endless hours trying to fix this problem. Like me, they would go down the technical rabbit hole and get lost in a parade of technical websites reading endless posts with each confusing technical term leading to twenty more. They would reach a point of total and utter frustration and be one second away from simply deleting their entire website and giving up on the whole thing. But then they stumbled across this post and learned that clicking on just one magic button in WordPress fixed the problem. It’s crazy. The lesson is that you should stick to your instincts and not listen to the technical wizards. A lot of people are like me. We aren’t webmasters. We aren’t coding. We aren’t using CSS or HTML. We are just using the WordPress menu to upload posts, and that’s all. So if something goes wrong, that’s where we should look for a solution. The solution isn’t in the twenty emails about anchor tags that you can exchange with your hosting provider.

Anyway, I suppose you can call that a happy ending. The website is back to the way it was. I’m more inclined to just call it an “ending” though. It’s hardly a happy one. Once more, the website crashed all by itself without me doing anything. I hadn’t even posted anything new for several months. And then I lost many hours as I tried to find a solution and endured days of frustration and annoyance as this stupid website preyed on my mind. Sure, the website is up and running again, but I lost a lot of peace of mind and even sleep over it.

Once I’d dealt with the website problems, I poked around online to see if I could find a good camping store in Kuala Lumpur – preferably one near a subway station. I found a number of promising stores, but most were very far away and extremely difficult to get to. My initial feeling that Kuala Lumpur is a convenient city has long since vanished. It is a very inconvenient city and very difficult to navigate. I eventually settled on one shop. It wasn’t near a subway stop, but at about 1.5 kilometers away, it was good enough and about the best I could do. I rode the LRT to nearly the last stop in the north and then got out for the walk to the shop.

I was amused (and pleased) when I got into the subway station to find some people from the Wonda coffee company giving away free samples of their coffee. This is the company that had the coffee aroma machines installed in the subway cars. I tried a paper cup of their latte and then of their regular coffee. The guy giving me the coffee was very friendly and we chatted about my impressions of Kuala Lumpur and my experiences there.

I’d like to say that I found the camping store with ease, but I’d be lying. The walk was long and hot and I had to walk alongside freeways again with high-speed traffic zooming past me. Then I got lost in the smaller backstreets as I tried to locate the shop. I got pretty frustrated and I almost gave up, but I persevered and found the shop. It was about 2:30 at this point, and there was a sign on the door saying that the store was closed and they would be back at 3:00. I popped next door at an Indian restaurant and had my first full meal of the day as I waited. The meal was pretty good – curry chicken and curry vegetables and rice and a drink all served on a big banana leaf for about $2.

The camping store was wonderful and the owners and managers very friendly and helpful. I knew it was somewhat hopeless, but I was mainly interested in getting a small plastic cap for my Trangia fuel bottle. The owner of the shop did some research for me, and I got a text message from him later on telling me that he could get me a .5 liter and 1 liter Trangia fuel bottle. These would presumably come with a cap. I’m trying to decide now if it would be useful or logical to have two fuel bottles – one for gasoline and white gas and one for denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol was plentiful in the Philippines, but I don’t know if it is available in Malaysia or Indonesia or any other places.

I was also looking for water purification solutions. I had gotten rid of my Katadyn water filter because it was far too large and heavy. What I really wanted was the water purification liquid I’d used before. It’s a system whereby you mix two chemicals and add it to water. The cost is reasonable and it works well. In keeping with my troubled brain of late, I totally forgot that I was looking for these chemicals and I ended up buying another water filter. This one is very small and very light. It’s from a company called Sawyer, and, assuming it really does make water safe to drink, it could be perfect. The filter itself is a small plastic cylinder with a unique attachment system. It has a combination of a screw-on thread and a kind of nipple for a plastic hose. The thread is designed to fit a plastic bag that comes with the filter plus most common plastic water and soda bottles. The plastic bag contains about half a liter of water.. The idea is that you use it like a water bottle. You fill up the bag, attach it to the filter, and then you can drink water directly from the filter just like you are drinking through a straw. You can also attach the filter to a 1.5-liter bottle and filter that water. You can also attach a straw to the filter and drink directly from any container. My hope was that the filter would also attach to my 10-liter Dromedary bag. I decided to take a chance on the filter and I bought one. It cost 119 ringgit, which is about $40.

I was pretty happy with my purchase overall. The filter was small and light and not terribly expensive. Water flows through it at a very high rate. In a way, that high rate of water flow kind of disturbs me. I’m used to the Katadyn. It uses a large ceramic core filter and it takes a lot of force with the pump to force water through the filter. In the process, you really get the feeling that something is happening and the water is being purified. With the Sawyer, water flows through it as fast you can drink it and it requires no more effort than it does to drink water through a straw. It doesn’t feel right that the water is being purified. However, the stats on the package (and I’ve researched this company a lot in the past) are acceptable. They give the standard claim that the filter removes 99.99999999% of all bacteria, protozoa and other things and makes the water perfectly safe to drink. It does not filter out viruses, but almost nothing does. To kill viruses requires boiling or chemicals. But generally, viruses are not present in drinking water. To use this filter with confidence, I simply have to believe that filter technology has advanced in the last fifteen years to such a point that such a high rate of water flow is now possible.

I was initially disappointed to find out that the thread on the Sawyer Mini did not match the thread on the Dromedary bag. But then I remembered that I also had the spigot for the Dromedary bag. I had attached a plastic hose to this spigot and used it as a shower and for washing dishes, etc. I quickly attached this spigot and to my delight discovered that the plastic hose fit perfectly over the Sawyer Mini’s nipple. I then lifted the Dromedary bag into the air and was happy to see that the simple force of gravity was more than enough to push water through the filter. The basic idea is that I can fill the Dromedary bag with as much water as I like, attach the filter and then fill all my water bottles with filtered water. Perfect and simple. The Sawyer Mini is rated to 100,000 gallons, which is, of course, about 400,000 liters. Even if I drank ten liters a day, the filter is rated to last for 40,000 days – far longer than I will ever cycle or be alive.

While at the Internet café in the morning, I also did more research on spokes. I still hadn’t decided whether I should make the effort to have DT Alpine spokes shipped here or if I should have the wheels rebuilt with Sapim Leader spokes. I found a healthy number of “experts” online claiming that the Sapim Leader spokes were more than strong enough for a touring load. These experts said that spokes like the Sapim Strong and the DT Alpine were not actually stronger in terms of carrying weight. They were stronger in that they lasted longer. The Sapim Leader were rated, I think, for 800,000 wheel revolutions, and DT Alpine for double that. Given a simple choice, I’d still go for for the DT Alpine, but the choice isn’t so simple. I couldn’t find anyone that sold DT Alpine spokes in the lengths I needed. They also charged up to $50 for shipping to Malaysia. Finally, I was told by the owner of the Bird Nest that he’d had many guests order things shipped here and never receive them. Some packages arrived and some didn’t. It was a toss-up. He was more than happy to let me use his address, but the risk was all mine. My feeling is that it would be better to just use the Sapim Leader and have Jason rebuild my wheels.

And I guess that is about it except for the normal depressing Doug health report. I think I slept well last night. Yet, as always, my eyes are extremely sore and I feel exhausted. I’m tired all the time. And it’s not just a physical exhaustion. It’s mental, too. I find it hard to even speak to people. I lose track of what I’m saying and my throat just won’t work properly. I can barely find the energy to speak. Even right now, just an hour after I got out of bed, I want nothing more than to just close my eyes and lay my head down on the table. But even if I spent the entire day in bed sleeping, I won’t feel any better when I get up. I’m soooooo tired all the time. I just don’t feel like myself. No energy at all – mental or physical.

Not to be too negative, but I’ve also learned that I arrived in Malaysia just in time for the rainy season. The weather of the last few days bears that out with massive rainstorms arriving nearly every day in the afternoon. The daily storm struck yesterday afternoon just as I was leaving the camping store. It’s rather pessimistic of me, but I swear that the rain and the storm held off just long enough to start at exactly the same minute that I decided to leave and walk the one and a half or two kilometers back to the subway station. I just kept walking and let myself get wet. I’d put all my valuables inside the pannier bag and covered that with the rain cover and just kept walking. I was feeling stubborn. I would have found shelter from the rain, but it had that feeling about it that it was going to last for hours, and I was tired and just wanted to go back to the guest house. It was a soggy business, let me tell you. And the storm was no joke with lightning and thunder and a downpour that could almost drown a man. I discovered to my dismay that even with the raincover on, a lot of water had gotten into the pannier bag and soaked all my hard-won maps of KL and Malaysia. I left huge puddles behind me everywhere once I got into the subway system. I was at the beginning of the line and so I got a seat. As the subway filled up, people took one look at me and refused to sit next to me. I didn’t blame them. When I eventually got up from that seat, I found I left behind a large puddle in the seat itself. I had been sitting in a deep pool of water of my own making the entire trip.

Who sits where on the subway is actually a very interesting question with the mix of cultures in Malaysia. I have a little bit of experience with Muslim cultures, but even so I have to admit I’m a bit freaked out around Muslim women. I’m particularly nervous around the women in the full black robes with just one narrow slit open for their eyes. You’d think having traveled a bit, I’d be more casual about these things, but I find these women fascinating if not astonishing. When I see them, I feel like I am on the set of the latest Star Wars movie. They hardly seem real to me. In any event, I couldn’t imagine taking an empty seat beside them on the subway or talking to them. I would never approach one of these women and ask for directions or information.

This mix of cultures is fascinating, particularly because each culture comes with such a specific style of dress. In Canada, we have many different cultures, but everyone dresses pretty much the same. Here, they have very distinct dress styles and appearance. The Indians look extremely Indian with the same clothing and mustaches and giant bushy beards you’d see in India. The Muslims dress as religious Muslims – the women with the headscarves and full body coverings and the men with the skullcaps and robes. I’m not sure about the Malays.

Activities also are divided. The Indians are everywhere in Indian restaurants serving and cooking. And every time I’ve gone into any kind of store – camera store, camping store, bicycle shop – the owners and employees have been Chinese. I would be very surprised to go into a camping store and find the owners to be Indian. I just assume the owners and clerks will be Chinese

Trying to Cycle Across Kuala Lumpur
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