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Editor’s Note

“A Demystifying Journey...”

Ever wondered how your emails actually travel around the world? Blum’s journey to the physical center of the digital world demystifies the World Wide Web for its everyday users.
Mallory F.
Scribd Editor

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.

Topics: The Internet, Communication, Tech Industry, and Informative

Published: HarperCollins on May 29, 2012
ISBN: 9780062096753
List price: $6.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
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Sadly, I thought "Tubes" was really lame. The author sets up the book by erroneously positing that because the Internet is a placeless, virtual world, the physical infrastructure behind it must also be some kind of cosmic cloud. Then he spends the entire book knocking down his own silly scarecrow. "Tubes" is a liberal artist's exposition of ruminations on literature, historiography, painting, etc., which he somehow bolts onto an Internet-for-Dummies, not-detailed-enough description of fiber networks, data centers, peering sites, etc. Blum goes downright goofy at times, for example when he witnesses policemen boarding an airplane and writes of them coming for him in retribution for his having toured an important private Internet facility (as an invited guest) the previous day. Unsolicited advice to Blum: if your goal is to describe a super-geeky subject, write like a real geek; and drop all but the most incisive nuggets of extraneous observations and comments.read more
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Every now and then I get taken in by a book based on a cool title with and equally cool looking cover. They say never judge a book by its cover. Blum's topic, the nuts and bolts of what constitutes the Internet worldwide, I thought would be interesting. In two words, it wasn't. In three, it really wasn't.In a rambling way Blum prods into unknown alley ways, manhole covers, and away cheaply tiled box rooms around the world. Stuff of not exactly spell binding excitement. If the thought of discovering large routers and winding tangles of cables arouses you then maybe this book is what you have been waiting for. Or maybe you are an aspiring network engineer.When I start a book it is rare I will not complete it regardless of how into it I am. This book I ended up parsing out by designating 'X' number of pages to get through each day to complete it. Once again I learned the lesson, don't judge a book by its cover.read more
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Sadly, I thought "Tubes" was really lame. The author sets up the book by erroneously positing that because the Internet is a placeless, virtual world, the physical infrastructure behind it must also be some kind of cosmic cloud. Then he spends the entire book knocking down his own silly scarecrow. "Tubes" is a liberal artist's exposition of ruminations on literature, historiography, painting, etc., which he somehow bolts onto an Internet-for-Dummies, not-detailed-enough description of fiber networks, data centers, peering sites, etc. Blum goes downright goofy at times, for example when he witnesses policemen boarding an airplane and writes of them coming for him in retribution for his having toured an important private Internet facility (as an invited guest) the previous day. Unsolicited advice to Blum: if your goal is to describe a super-geeky subject, write like a real geek; and drop all but the most incisive nuggets of extraneous observations and comments.
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Every now and then I get taken in by a book based on a cool title with and equally cool looking cover. They say never judge a book by its cover. Blum's topic, the nuts and bolts of what constitutes the Internet worldwide, I thought would be interesting. In two words, it wasn't. In three, it really wasn't.In a rambling way Blum prods into unknown alley ways, manhole covers, and away cheaply tiled box rooms around the world. Stuff of not exactly spell binding excitement. If the thought of discovering large routers and winding tangles of cables arouses you then maybe this book is what you have been waiting for. Or maybe you are an aspiring network engineer.When I start a book it is rare I will not complete it regardless of how into it I am. This book I ended up parsing out by designating 'X' number of pages to get through each day to complete it. Once again I learned the lesson, don't judge a book by its cover.
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A surprisingly compelling read about the hardware (tubes) or physical infrastructure that enables the Internet. Challenged at times by repeated descriptions of non-descript office buildings housing routers, wires and servers. At other times, though, almost mystical about the route our data takes over this physical infrastructure,
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Who has never wondered what the internet is actually made of? We know it's there, somewhere, but is there an actual place the internet can be found? This question answers Andrew Blum in his book Tubes and the title (almost) reveals it all.If you're anything like me, namely pretty clueless as to why technical things in general work, yet willing get a better understanding about why it's even possible to surf the net by the click of a mouse, you will certainly find this book as appealing as I did. It was easy for me to empathize with Blum, following his journey to map the place called the internet. Conversationally written, the author knows how to set the mood for the rather technical topic, embedding his personal perceptions into the information he gathers along the way. Despite the fetching narrative the exploration of miles of fibre-optic cables and vast data-warehouses was admittedly a bit on the dry side. Then again, I should have realized this would be the case earlier on, so I can hardly blame the author for that. Overall I found this trip into the world of the tactile side of the internet, well written and interesting enough to keep my attention almost all the way through, and I bet that those more amenable to this topic will definitely find it to be an enjoyable and informative read.In short: A tech-heavy look behind the scenes of what makes the virtual of the internet tangible!
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