Tubes Hardcover – May 7 2012
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The year's most original and stimulating 'travel' book ... utterly engrossing ... really does make the world more legible ... even the most geek-wary of readers will enjoy Independent, Book of the Week Excels at rooting the internet in real-world locations ... Full of memorable images that make the internet's complex architecture easier to comprehend ... entertaining and illuminating Guardian All too awesome to behold. Andrew Blum's fascinating book demystifies the earthly geography of this most ethereal terra incognita -- Joshua Foer, Author Of Moonwalking With Einstein Compelling and profound. You will never open an e-mail in quite the same way again -- Tom Vanderbilt, Author Of The New York Times Bestseller Traffic An engaging reminder that, cyber-Utopianism aside, the internet is as much a thing of flesh and steel as any industrial-age lumber mill or factory ... It is also an excellent introduction to the nuts and bolts of how exactly it all works Economist Makes hard-to-grasp concepts easy to understand, even obvious. The history, in particular, is one of the best and most memorable I have ever read New Scientist A Quixotic and winning book ... with a knack for bundling packets of data into memorable observations ... This valuable book leaves you with its share of unsettling visions, but there are comic ones too The New York Times A great, playful, wondrous read ArsTechnica One of our best writers ... a compelling story of an altogether new realm where the virtual world meets the physical -- Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-Winning New Yorker Critic In this thrilling adventure book, Blum takes us inside the infrastructure -- Jonah Lehrer For a full understanding of the Internet on every level, this book is a must-read Techzone At once funny, prosaic, sinister and wise, Blum's tale is a beautifully written account of the true human cost of all our remote connectivity -- Bella Bathurst, Author Of The Lighthouse Stevensons With infectious wonder, Andrew Blum introduces us to the Internet's geeky wizards and takes us on an amiably guided tour of the world they've created ... the Internet that Blum's beautifully lucid prose makes real turns out to be if anything a more marvelous place than the cloudy dreamland we'd imagined -- Donovan Hohn, Author Of Moby Duck --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now.
In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes inside the Internet's physical infrastructure and flips on the lights, revealing an utterly fresh look at the online world we think we know. It is a shockingly tactile realm of unmarked compounds, populated by a special caste of engineer who pieces together our networks by hand; where glass fibers pulse with light and creaky telegraph buildings, tortuously rewired, become communication hubs once again. From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan where new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet's development, explains how it all works, and takes the first-ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments.
This is a book about real places on the map: their sounds and smells, their storied pasts, their physical details, and the people who live there. For all the talk of the "placelessness" of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical spaces as the railroad or telephone. You can map it and touch it, and you can visit it. Is the Internet in fact "a series of tubes" as Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska, once famously described it? How can we know the Internet's possibilities if we don't know its parts?
Like Tracy Kidder's classic The Soul of a New Machine or Tom Vanderbilt's recent bestseller Traffic, Tubes combines on-the-ground reporting and lucid explanation into an engaging, mind-bending narrative to help us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives.--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Most days, I spend all day and much of the evening lost in the internet. Lost, that is, figuratively. We think and talk in physical terms about the net, the web, the online world – and this metaphorical place often feels like it’s where I live.
But what does that mean? What is the world of the internet? For my friend the journalist Andrew Blum – architecture critic, Wired contributor, student of geography, and contrarian – that question was an invitation to explore the physical world of the net. The results became his book Tubes.
He drank with divers on the Portuguese coast, spelunked Lower Manhattan with Con Edison engineers, schmoozed with many network technicians in many dark rooms full of wire cages. (In Toronto, the Toronto Internet Exchange is here on Front Street West. For now!)
What he learns is that the whole network is a) literally a network of wires, fiberoptics, and tubes; and b) remarkably ad hoc. Right from the start the Internet has been improvised, expanded and renegotiated; an early important hub was in a parking garage in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Even today there are meetings both personal and physical where different commercial networks plug in to each other. Some of these are New York, London and Frankfurt – because of the presence of fiberoptic cables, legacy phone companies or just because, in Frankfurt’s case, the guys in charge thought it was a reasonable place to meet.
Now some of the crucial points are data centres, located where moderate climate and access to fiberoptic cable meet. Look up Google’s new data centre and then Google The Dalles, Oregon; it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find globally important infrastructure. Google was very secretive about it, until recently.Read more ›
Blum writes beautifully and this is as much fun to read as anything else you might choose. If you like Bill Bryson, you'll love this!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
From that point of view, I must strongly endorse Tubes by Andrew Blum. I first met Andrew at a meeting of core Internet architects - his intellectual curiosity was striking. He sat in our meetings, went to our bars, listened to our bad stories. Andrew is an excellent writer who talked to the real guys (and girls) who built the Internet. Not an early research network, or an NSF/DOD project, or some web page or search engine - the REAL Internet.
If you want to know how it really fits together, how the Internet really works, read this book. If you are an aspiring network engineer - you must read this book, to really learn something about what you claim to know. If you are a layman - this book will give you an appreciation of the real Internet - behind the glitzy Flash, the addictive MMOs, the electronic storefronts, the content delivery networks - the Tubes. Now, I have to go back and feed the beast. Read the book - this is what Where Wizards Stay Up Late should have been and was not.
"Tubes" doesn't really create new ground in sustaining or refuting any of these concepts. Instead, it captures the physicality behind the magic that delivers all those digital pieces to us through and examination of how the physical layer of the Internet grew.
After a squirrel-induced outage at at his Brooklyn home, Andrew Blum set out to expand the trace of wires behind his furniture, and see where all that data came from. The result of his findings are here, and he presents us with insider looks at the following:
-The physical parts of the network that grew by chance in its early days
-The physical parts of the network that grew by design as it matured
-The physical parts of the network where data moves and where data rests.
The results: detailed descriptions of the large centers where the connections of large backbone providers intersect and move data, tours of some of the places where undersea cables emerge from the depths to tie continents together digitally, and visits to the one of the factory analogs of the Information Age: the data centers that some increasingly trust more than they trust their own local storage options.
I've had my own experiences visiting facilities like these, and it's quite an accomplishment to get a book-length treatment of them. How much can you write about servers, switches, hubs, routers and cable runs? As it turns out, a lot, and Blum does so in an engaging and accessible way.
This book may not appeal to the general reader, but it will appeal to those who appreciate the kind of infrastructure we often take for granted. If you appreciate modern roads, modern sewage systems, clean drinking water delivered to your tap and a reliable supply of electricity --and have more than a passing interest in how any of these things became available to us-- then you will probably enjoy this book. When it comes to computers, computing and understanding the connectivity made possible by the Internet, most homes have their alpha geek...and that's who will most enjoy this book.
This question was covered years ago in a series of fascinating Wired magazine articles written by novelist Bruce Sterling, so I was eager to read Blum's account. Blum traveled from one city to another, looking at inconspicuous office buildings filled with equipment, talking to executives about underwater ocean cables that are thousands of miles long, and tries to give the reader a series of mental pictures of how the internet actually 'works.'
The book is interesting, but his efforts to draw word pictures of complex equipment, how the internet functions, and the engineers who maintain it are somewhat rambling and disorderly, and he assumes a level of knowledge on the reader's part of things like internet IP addresses.
If I weren't a bit of a techie, I would have given up after the first 10 pages. This type of subject cries out for tight vignettes and colorful prose.
I think techies like myself will like it, but the average reader will be bewildered or bored.You do need to be a bit of a geek to understand the book.
The result is rambling bore. The author is lazy when using similes to describe aspects of the Internet, many just enough off to be annoying, such as describing the act of connecting networks "as dancers around a maypole." For some, the author admits they are not quite right - which begs the question: why didn't he spend a bit more time finding ones that work? He also over relies on asking questions and engaging in superficial philosophizing about what it all means, making grand statements about the limitations of language, such as "I realized that the words we use to describe 'telecommunications' don't do justice to their current relevance to our lives." Well, neither do words describing "air" and "water." He is constantly telling us how mysterious it all is, as the travelogues and exchanges themselves don't quite do the trick. And there are no diagrams, maps, or pictures to help illustrate the connections (probably because it would have obviated the need for 40-50 thousand words).
There are gems buried in all the rubble. The description of how networks exist within networks was interesting, as was the introduction to peering and the issue of speed as a matter of professional pride. I wanted the scene where they splice open an undersea cable to make repairs to go on for a few more pages. And the energy consumption data on data centers and how data center locations are chosen are engaging. But these do not redeem the book. It simply tries to do too much with too little.
As other reviewers have noted, this book presents some complex IT concepts. They are well explained, but it's easy to get lost here and there. Even when you get lost, it doesn't detract of the overall story and learning experience. For the most part, everything is well explained and you don't need any specific background before reading this book.
The author has a nice writing style and the prose flows well. I don't think the author achieved the kind of casual brilliance of Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) or Michael Lewis (The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine), but this isn't a criticism. To the contrary, the fact I compared them speaks volumes about the author's writing and I thought he was pretty close to them at times.
This book is perfect for people interested in: engineering/IT, modern history, and urban archeology. I have included urban archeology because the book really delves into all the places you've never heard about or walked by and never thought about; for me, this was the best part of the Tubes. I recommend this book.