Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an occasion

July 22nd, 2005

So I discover this afternoon that my outgoing email is not getting off the local network; a bunch of it is getting queued up on the qmail server I run in the closet. I check this, and I check that, and eventually I discover that the problem is that the server can’t establish a connection to the SMTP server at I look at the configuration for a while, and I see nothing wrong with it. Of course, I haven’t changed it lately, so if it was OK yesterday, then it should be OK today. Right?


The SMTP server at uses SASL to authenticate email transfers. It’s a way to prevent spammers from using pobox as a relay. Basically, SASL adds a layer of password protection at the mail server level. Don’t know the password, and your mail server can’t relay email through Works great.

Until today, that is.

OK. Maybe my password expired. That shouldn’t happen, but who knows? So I try to visit the web site to check my account settings. I type “” into Mozilla and I wait for the sign-in page to come up. And I wait. And I wait. And my connection times out.

Bad mojo.

So their web site is down. That doesn’t mean their entire network is down. So I try to reach the SMTP server specified in my qmail config file. And… this happens:

$ telnet
telnet: connect to address No route to host

Bad bad mojo.

Their SMTP server is down. At least I know that my local configuration isn’t broken. I try to figure out a little bit more about what’s happening. Next I try using traceroute to see what’s going on:

$ traceroute
traceroute to (, 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1 ( 0.292 ms 0.344 ms 0.270 ms
2 ( 0.574 ms 0.543 ms 0.615 ms
3 ( 0.684 ms 0.567 ms 0.546 ms
4 ( 0.864 ms 0.827 ms 0.675 ms
5 ( 1.473 ms 0.805 ms 2.192 ms
6 ( 2.144 ms 0.813 ms 1.170 ms
7 ( 21.166 ms 21.75 ms 21.432 ms
8 POS7-0.GW9.NYC1.ALTER.NET ( 19.143 ms 23.442 ms 18.946 ms
9 ( 21.66 ms 26.482 ms 21.930 ms
10 ( 24.19 ms 24.257 ms 24.55 ms
11 ( 26.183 ms 26.102 ms 28.195 ms
12 ( 24.797 ms !H * *

That !H on the last line indicates “host unreachable”. It occurs on a different IP address than the IP address of, so what appears to be broken is some machine – a router, I suppose – between here and there. Pretty badly broken at that. Just to verify what I’m seeing, I SSH over to, the site that hosts this weblog, and I try the telnet and traceroute again. Same result.

I give up, for the moment, on using my local mail to send my message, and decide to use Gmail instead. I keep a Gmail account for occasions just like this.

New things get extremely weird. Before I can pull up Gmail in my browser, my Gmail Notifier pops up a message saying that it cannot reach the Gmail server. I open a new Gmail tab and type in the Gmail address. I get a message that reads “Gmail is temporarily unavailable. Cross your fingers and try again in a few minutes. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” Coincidence? I sure hope so. Otherwise the entire Internet may be melting down.

Not likely. But until Gmail or Pobox comes back online, I’m without email.

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