End of an era

I started a combined Masters/PhD program at the amazing UC Davis Department of Computer Science in the Fall of 1999. As a grad student, I not only had access to the lab computers, but also access to a folder named “public_html” in my user account which was configured to serve up a website under the domain name: http://wwwcsif.ucdavis.edu/~toone/ or possibly http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~toone/.

Neither works now, and only the first (which is vaguely what I remember, but both are plausible) shows a single archived page back in 2003 of a robots.txt file for the entire domain. Long before JavaScript and CSS became an established way of making a website more dynamic, I learned HTML as well as how to create a “hover menu” via a Java Applet. From there, I wanted to do more advanced data processing, but our accounts were limited in what we could do with server-side scripting.

Sometime around 2001-2002, I was chatting with one of my research lab mates, Matt Roper, about this limitation, and he introduced me to https://www.linode.com where you could have a public ip address and complete control over a linux virtual machine for about $20/month. I remember that if you paid for a year in advance, they gave you a bunch of extra disk storage. So for about $250 / year I could have complete control over an internet connected machine. Also, for an additional $35 / year, I took out the domain name toonesalive.com back in 2003-2004 when we got married.

Initially I used register.com, one of the first five ICANN resellers, and it was still fairly novel to take out a domain name. Also, the UI and email confirmations came directly from ICANN. Unfortunately, toone.com was already taken (it was registered in 1997 by none other than Alibaba, the massive Chinese online shopping store, perhaps domain name speculation on misspelling of tune.com). So because my website was titled ALIVE@UC Davis and because we had gotten married in the summer of 2003 and our daughter was on the way (born the day after our 1 year anniversary), I took out the domain name toonesalive.com and pointed it at the linode computer, li7-89.members.linode.com, which I had been running for a year or two without ever taking out a domain name, which I also didn’t even have to look up to remember even though I haven’t used that domain name in 15 years given that I upgraded the system and moved it to the Atlanta data center 15 years ago where it received a different “default” domain name.

I took this screenshot after logging out for the final time of the linode system that has powered my projects for more than 20 years. It shows copying the zipped up backup to the sshfs mounted directory on my new home server. I will probably never even unzip the archive, but since I have cumulatively spent hundreds maybe even thousands of hours messing around in this directory trying to get things working, I wan’t just going to let everything disappear permanently.

For the next 20 years, this server powered many of my websites and research projects. The cost had gone up, though, over the years. In 2009, I purchased a second more powerful linode to have enough space and processing power for the projects I wanted to run. I realized fairly quickly (within a year) that it wouldn’t really affect the load on the new server if I ported everything over from my original linode and shut it down. The cost for the more powerful linode was about $850 every 2 years under the contract I was grandfathered into – I paid this for over a decade until a couple years ago when they forced me out of that contract into a monthly one where the cost skyrocketed to $55/month (i.e., $660/year). Plus, my server needs for the new research work I want to do with di2stats.com and mybiketraffic.com were about to push me to the next level of service where I would be paying upwards of $1000/year. While I am mostly happy with my job at Samford University, my level of compensation does not provide me with the discretionary funds to spend $1000/year of personal money on a server indefinitely.

Screenshot of the “more powerful” linode I had upgraded to in 2009. This is the exact system that I used all the way until shutting it down forever a few days ago. This was an upgrade from the earlier system I had been managing since 2002-2003. I don’t have any screenshots or records to pin down the exact date.

The solution to this cost problem turned out to be AT&T Fiber which arrived in my neighborhood late last year (2021) and didn’t have all of the restrictions that our previous ISP (Charter Spectrum) had on hosting web services. In addition to being significantly faster and less restrictive, AT&T Fiber cost less than what we were paying for our slower Charter internet service. So with the money I was saving, I invested in a relatively quiet, inexpensive server I could keep beside my home work computer and run all of the websites with significantly more storage space and computing power than the increasingly expensive linode I was “renting” … for twenty years … having by this point spent close to $7,500 over the years. Ironically, I almost purchased the new server from alibaba (owners of toone.com), but shipping was going to take forever, and there was a better option on amazon).

Easy decision, but challenging migration. It has taken me nearly three months from when I first made the decision, but yesterday when I finished porting over our mountain bike team website, I went ahead and backed up some of the websites and databases I had abandoned the domain names for years ago, just in case I needed to access the code again and clicked “the button” after filling our a short survey:

Three simple words “cost too much” and a click of the button. I wouldn’t have even got this screenshot except while the busy icon was animating, I realized after a few seconds: “this is it”. I quickly hit the keyboard shortcut to grab the screenshot while a whole bunch of things happened automatically: 1) I was sent a final bill of $20 for the 11 days I had used the linode this month. 2) My credit card was charged $20 for the 11 days I had used the linode. 3) I received several emails, none requiring confirmation. 4) The account was deactivated. I logged into verify that my access was turned off (a little concerned that might end up reactivating everything) but could not log in. So this screenshot captures the exact moment my linode was being destroyed permanently. Wow. More than two decades. The end of an era.

Challenging migration, as documented by my previous blog entries. Plus, I have a long blog draft documenting the server setup process and initial migration steps that I am going to be publishing soon. Stay “tuned”! (lol)

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