Andrew Blum is a journalist and the author of two books that demystify the everyday infrastructure of our lives: The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast (Ecco) and Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet (Ecco). Known for his ability to clearly explain complex systems, Blum combines history, reportage and geopolitical analysis to show what’s at stake for the invisible networks that surround us. An experienced keynote speaker, he has given over a hundred talks at conferences, universities and corporations—like TED, Greenbuild, The Next Web, and SXSW; the United States State Department, the World Trade Organization and the MIT Media Lab; Google, Microsoft, and the Brooklyn Book Festival. His work has been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air, BBC’s Channel 4 (where it was a Book of the Week), HBO’s This Week Tonight With John Oliver, CBS’s This Morning, and The Economist’s Intelligence podcast.
In The Weather Machine, Blum tells the story behind today's weather forecast, and the infrastructure that makes it all work. Blum takes readers on a lively and surprising tour through the global network that predicts our weather, the people behind it, and what it reveals about our climate and our planet. He attributes the astonishingly accurate weather forecast, a crazy improvement that has crept up on us, to the supercomputer weather models and provides a look at the infrastructure that stretches across the globe and should be understood as one of the great technological achievements of our time.
This story is urgent for two reasons: the weather machine has given us a powerful forecast that we have not yet learned to trust. And the weather machine depends on fragile global alliances that are threatened (like so much else) by both the rise of large technology companies (like Google and IBM), and the withdrawal of American influence.
In this sharp and expansive talk, Blum pulls back the curtain on a universal part of our everyday lives, offering a crucial new understanding of our changing climate and how we will learn to live with it.
In his book Tubes—which has been widely acclaimed and translated into nine languages—Blum gave us the first book-length look at the physical infrastructure of the Internet. Tubes 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. Sharing tales of his on-the-ground reporting, along with lucid explanation about how the Internet works and what the stakes are for its ownership, Blum helps us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives, presenting a unique perspective on the role of technology by looking at it as something accessible, present, and wondrous. We are all connected now. But connected to what? And connected by whom? In his keynote speeches at corporate conferences, colleges, and community events, Blum takes audiences on a fascinating journey to find out.
As a magazine journalist, Blum has published feature stories in publications including Time, WIRED, Popular Science, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Metropolis—on subjects including architecture, energy, climate, design, technology, urbanism, art, and travel. He has degrees in literature from Amherst College and in human geography from the University of Toronto, and lives in his native New York City with his family.
Praise for The Weather Machine:
“[A] vivid account of the history and evolution of the modern daily forecast . . . [Blum] is a sharp analyst and engaging guide, adept at translating difficult concepts in meteorology and computer science for the uninitiated.”
“Andrew Blum’s new book, The Weather Machine, asks us to pause and marvel at the globe-spanning networks of collaboration required to turn the weather from something we experience to something we can predict.”
--The New Yorker
“Clear and entertaining ... A highly readable and accessible entry into the world of meteorology; of interest to everyone who is affected by weather.” —
“Thanks to Blum’s immersive research, readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into something often taken for granted.”
“[Blum] takes a dive into the forecasts of today and how they’ve advanced from a dream espoused nearly 180 years ago ... Totally fascinating to anyone with even a passing interest in weather or technology, and it lays the groundwork for really appreciating just how good we have it today.”
“Blum’s study of what goes into predicting the weather is all the more interesting because it goes beyond the science to remind us that forecasts are the impressive result of painstaking international co-operation.”
--The Times (London)
“Blum does an excellent job of describing how meteorological theory and observation were first stitched together, and why even today their relationship is a stormy one ... [he] fancies his chances at explaining human-built hyperobjects in solid, clear language, without recourse to metaphor and poesy ... Impressive.”
“With infectious curiosity and spirit, The Weather Machine is an engaging foray into the ingenuity that built the modern science of weather prediction.”
-- Shelf Awareness
“This fascinating book reveals the existence and origins of surely one of our species’ greatest creations, and Andrew Blum is the perfect writer to share both the remarkable human stories and the astonishing technical wizardry behind it all.”
--Mark Vanhoenacker, bestselling author of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot
“Andrew Blum is a master of revealing the hidden systems behind technologies we take for granted. In the “The Weather Machine,” he takes on the daily forecast, and the result is deeply researched, tightly written, compulsively readable, and totally fascinating.”
- Seth Fletcher, author of Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable
“Exhilarating … A hurricane-force tour of one of the most astonishing but under-appreciated facets of the modern world”
-- Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins
“Sharp, stylish and often surprising. In this absorbing book Andrew Blum tracks the development, from wild dream to astonishing reality, of the quietly revolutionary technology that shapes our everyday lives.”
--Peter Moore, author of The Weather Experiment
“A lucid and approachable guide to the satellites, scientists, and supercomputers that make up the forecasting system we so often take for granted.”
Praise for Tubes:
"Quixotic and winning. . . . Valuable, comic. . . . [Blum has] a knack for bundling packets of data into memorable observations. What makes Tubes more than an unusual sort of travel book, is [Blum's] sense of moral curiosity."
-- New York Times
"Ingeniously beguiling. . . . Blum is a smart, imaginative, evocative writer who embraces the task of making his readers feel the wonder represented by these unprepossessing objects."
"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."
-- The Economist
"Tubes is an absorbing tale of this new technology, as well as a wonderful account of the Internet's growth and the people who made it possible."
-- Science News
"Clever, enterprising . . . Tubes uncovers an Internet that resembles nothing so much as a fantastic steam-punk version of itself."
-- Boston Globe
"Engaging. . . . Full of memorable images that make the internet's complex architecture easier to comprehend. . . . Blum leaves readers pondering questions that would not have occurred to them before and better informed about an innovation most of us take for granted."
-- The Guardian
"Blum paints a vivid picture of the Internet, and gives a sense that it is more than just the mysterious interstitial digital space between your computer and mine. It is, increasingly, the backbone that supports our daily life, and Mr. Blum is an able anatomist."
-- New York Journal of Books
"Every web site, every email, every instant message travels through real junctions in a real network of real cables. It's all too awesome to behold. Andrew Blum's fascinating book demystifies the earthly geography of this most ethereal terra incognita."
-- Joshua Foer, New York Times best-selling author of Moonwalking with Einstein
"Andrew Blum's journey in search of the internet -- the actual physical wires-and-tubes reality of our 21st century ethereal life -- takes him from the subterranean world under New York's manhole covers to Cornish fields and Portuguese cable-laying vessels. 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
"We think of the Internet as a kind of ether, a magical way of transporting words and images from anywhere to anywhere else. But there is a vast physical infrastructure behind all that magic, and in Tubes, Andrew Blum, one of our best writers on the built environment, discovers it and turns it into a compelling story of an altogether new realm where the virtual world meets the physical."
-- Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Why Architecture Matters
"Like some heroic cartographer from a Borges story, Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen ether of the Internet, in a journey both compelling and profound. For the first time Tubes brings the 'network of networks' into stirring, and surprising, relief. You will never open an e-mail in quite the same way again."
-- Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times best-selling author of Traffic
"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, a world of wires and routers through which most of us daily wander, blinkered by our shimmering screens, but which few of us have ever really seen -- or heard, or for that matter smelled. (Yes, the Internet has a smell, Blum is here to report.) Though less ethereal and a bit dingier, 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
Photo by Davina Pardo