May 172015


We continue to experience interruptions at NC. We went down twice yesterday. But as far as I can tell, we’ve been online since some time yesterday afternoon. Right now we are limping along with most of the plugins, as they are called, disabled. Our precious and elegant hovering footnotes are not working, for example.

The language of disruption is fascinating. It has evolved into several (competing) narratives, involving Apaches, zombies, the undead, the defunct, the runaway, the unstoppable, the infinite, and the bad boy. Yes, apparently in server-land, NC was a bad boy yesterday. And you thought technology was devoid of poetry!

The tech person(s) at the hosting company said we had spawned an unsettling number of processes that had somehow not ended correctly and had spun loose from the main program (and thus became “ownerless”) and were continuing to process endlessly, perhaps also reproducing. These took up more and more space on the server memory until it was choked and stopped working. Since they haven’t ended correctly and are ownerless, no one can stop these things, and the only way to get rid of them is to turn off the system. (Jonah says the best way is to turn off and restart the server, but the hosting company won’t do that, as far as I can tell, because we share server space with other sites.) The system software is Apache. So twice yesterday because of NC, the host had to kill Apache, thus making NC a “bad boy.” Yes, this is the way they talk, in an affable non-confrontational way, of course.

These runaway processes (called runaway processes, too) are called “zombie processes” or defunct processes. They are the undead who refuse to be killed and rise in rebellion against the living forces of logic and reason. They create chaos and disruption.

You would not think such things could exist, but they are created in moments of change and conflict (the human metaphor keeps expanding). Somehow I triggered the zombie when I upgraded WordPress three days ago. I also upgraded the database but for some reason that failed (who knows what happened or what the status is now). In itself, that possibly triggered the rise of the zombies. But the tech people (still calling me a bad boy by implication) think one or more of the plugins we use is having a conflict with the new WordPress software. The plugins are subsidiary add-on programs written by freelancers, not WordPress. They provide a myriad of extra functions (like those lovely footnotes; but even the spam filtering software is a plugin). But they are not always kept up to date with the new WordPress upgrades and sometimes they have bugs (another metaphor) of their own that cause conflicts.

Maybe you all know these words, but it’s fun to write them out and own the metaphors that proliferate in the land of technology. We live, still, in a world of myth and fantasy.

Meantime, keep your eyes open and please report anything you see amiss on the site.


  2 Responses to “Zombie Attack, or the True Story of the Near Demise of NC”

  1. Scary. Good luck. Can it reach out and grab us?

    • Nah, they are safely on my server. I think I am narrowing down the possibilities as to the source. One of the plugins. I am gradually turning them back on and watching the process list. I have stayed steady at 10 zombies for the last 6-7 hours. It seems one particular plugin triggered these zombies. I turned it off again and there have been no more. So far. Apparently, the site can live with 10 of the undead.

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