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Date: 05/16/18 12:38
IMPORTANT Trainorders.com News!
Author: webmaster

This weekend I will be deactivating the two webcams in Dunsmuir and Hyndman permanently from Trainorders.com. I was committed to keeping the cameras going as long as they functioned, but circumstances have changed. I am transitioning the site to a cloud hosting platform that will allow us to weather the eventual discontinuance of equal access that was previously guaranteed by net neutrality. Eventually, I expect we will be serving from nodes in several regions throughout the world so that users can access the site speedy from all geographical areas. Transitioning the webcams will be considerably expensive, and considering the lack of interest from the membership, and the antiquated technology they use, I decided not to invest in the transition for the camera system.

For those that do not understand how net neutrality is important to small sites like Trainorders.com, I will simplify the concept. Imagine a commercial district made up of large and small retail stores. Access to the district is through a four-lane highway with overpasses and no traffic signals. People that shop at both Walmart (Google) and the small hobby shop (Trainorders.com) come and go freely using the same high-speed highway. Access to both is equal and this is how net neutrality works. You access both large and small web sites using the same internet data highway with no toll booths.

Now imagine the highway now has a toll booth leading to the shopping district. In order for you to visit the store, the toll booth operator requires the store to pay an access fee for each customer to visit. The big store in this case, we’ll call Walmart (Google) can negotiate with the toll operator (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc.), because if they can’t get a cheap rate for people to visit, they might just go build their own four lane highway and bypass the toll booth. They have deep pockets and can afford to do this. The little hobby shop (Trainorders.com) can’t negotiate because they are caught up in the monopoly held by the toll booth operator (AT&T). As a result, the hobby shop (Trainorders.com) has no choice but to pay the exorbitant access fees charged by the toll booth operator. The hobby shop (Trainorders.com) passes on the extra cost to its customers (You), or goes out of business because their customers are not willing to pay the high prices the shop needs to charge to pay for its customers to access. There is also another scenario where the hobby shop to save money moves the store out in the forest. Customers wanting to visit have to take a slow hiking trail, crossing rivers and streams to get there. It takes a long time to get there and many find the visit isn’t worth the trouble. That is the scenario where the hobby shop (Trainorders.com) decides not to pay the toll booth operator (AT&T).

This is a very simplified description. I left out the part where there are several toll booth operators that need to be paid, one for each of the big carriers that provide internet access to your home. While I had been contemplating an action plan after the FCC voted to end net neutrality, my plans sped up in February when our long time Internet service provider sold out to a bigger hosting company. The writing was on the wall that I needed to get my store in order to prepare for the future.

Most of the membership at Trainorders.com has no idea (or even care) how the site is delivered to your computer. You type in the Trainorders address into your browser and the site pops up blazingly fast. That is not an easy task to accomplish. Our system responds to over two dozen requests every second. We currently operate a collection of four servers that handle file storage, database, web serving, network connectivity. These are actual physical machines that the we own and are housed in what is known as a carrier hotel. Our facility is located at 700 W 7th Street, Los Angeles. This is about one block from the world famous One Wilshire facility. This building is so important that if a terrorist ever blew it up Southern California and much of the west would experience a lengthy telephone and internet blackout. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Wilshire). Our building directly feeds into One Wilshire which is across the street.

They call these carrier hotels because all the big fiber optic companies that transport data around the globe have their cables coming into these buildings. This is what allows Trainorders.com to be so speedy fast to all parts of the world. This has worked well for us since we moved into downtown Los Angeles almost 20 years ago, but it may become ineffective with the end of net neutrality. With our new system we will be removing all of our computer equipment in Los Angeles and renting space on a computing cloud operated by Digital Ocean at their San Francisco data center.

Rather than explain the concept of cloud hosting I am going to point you to this summary page: http://www.webhostingspree.com/cloud/resources/what-is-cloud-hosting/

With cloud service we are metered and billed for every bit of data that we transfer, and also for the amount of computer processing time our operation consumes. There is also a storage component bill we pay as well to handle the almost 2 terabytes of data that make up the web site these days. The neat part of cloud computing is we can ramp services to meet demand when a big event such as a passenger train derailment occurs. Cloud hosting tend to have fast bandwidth as they negotiate faster routes through the Internet than small providers. The downsize is we will pay considerably more for services than we do now with our own equipment.

Looking forward long term I expect the carriers to fully prioritize internet traffic based on a pay to play scenario. This transition to cloud hosting is the first phase in a two-part site reorganization. When the Internet toll booths go up we will be in position to move towards geographically media serving technology called CDN (content delivery network). Under this service if you are in Chicago and you want to watch a Trainorders.com video, the file will be served from a network center close to you, and not from San Francisco. This allows us to bypass vast geographical expanses that will slow down video loading, and bypass toll booths. I expect CDN will be our solution when the carriers transition away from net neutrality, but it comes at an expensive cost. Ultimately, if we are forced to go this way, the subscription price for Trainorders.com will go up to $50 a year based on today’s CDN pricing and our current traffic demands. This may go higher depending upon how much the carriers charge the CDNs for access. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming years.

Besides net neutrality, there is more change coming to the Internet. Last year congress pushed through legislation that lifted your privacy rights by allowing Internet service providers to sell your browsing data. When we have visitors in our home we offer our wi-fi password to our guests so they can access the internet. We have done this for years, but this year a rather bizarre trend has cropped up. We found about a month after guest visits, junk snail mail started showing up in our mail box for people that we shared our wi-fi password with. My in-laws now get targeted junk mail, as does my niece, and my sister-in-law. My father-in-law gets reverse mortgage advertisements, and my niece who is a college student got an advertisement for the University of Arizona. My sister in law who searched for airline tickets got an advertisement for baggage insurance. The common denominator is they all logged into large web sites that identify their names, but not where they lived. When they log into our network, our Internet provider Spectrum appears to be selling the street address of where they logged in from. With that data the marketers go to work target marketing them. Every site you visit could end up in a dossier sold to marketers.

Who is responsible for this? In March 2017 congress voted in favor along party lines to dismantle privacy protections that were in place. A few elected officials from both sides crossed party lines to vote yes and no, but this law was backed, and shoved through by the Republican Party. Some months later, the Republican controlled FCC commission voted to eliminate net neutrality as well. This is a corporate takeover of our country and I am pissed off. It is bad enough that I am looking at having a toll booth erected leading to my web site, but I am even more furious that my elected representative signed away my privacy. Please, regardless of party affiliation, if you think this is wrong let your representatives know this is unacceptable. I know Steve Knight my elected Republican representative could care a less.

I wholly understand that this final part of my editorial will piss off a good portion of our membership. If some of you choose not to renew then so be it. We have a healthy membership base and I can afford to lose some people. I have been running Trainorders.com for more than 20 years and this is the first time I have ever dragged politics into the site. I recognize that many of us come here to escape politics. However, this is such an important topic that I felt it was important to put it on the table as to what is at stake for not just Trainorders.com, but society as well. When the FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality last year I came close to putting Trainorders.com up for sale and walking away. After some long contemplation I decided to trudge through and fight the good fight. When my technical adviser came through with a solution I committed to fighting for a few more years and get us through this rough patch. Once I know that the site is in good shape I will be looking at handing the site over to another owner to bring new ideas and carry the site forward. By that time I will have had 25 years into the site and it will be time for me to pass the torch.

Todd Clark
Canyon Country, CA
Trainorders.com



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