Tubes Summary

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Tubes is a behind-the-scenes look at the real, tangible, physical heart of the internet, this elusive and seemingly invisible technology that permeates all of our lives on a daily basis.

The internet has become a big place. Over 1 billion websites are live right now, every day over 100 billion (!) emails are sent and this blog post will be one of 3 million published in this 24-hour period. If you’re reading this blog on a regular basis, chances are the internet is a self-evident, natural part of your life. But it’s still not for everyone.

As of writing this, there are about 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, meaning that half of the world’s population is not online yet. Can you imagine how big things will get as we slowly connect everyone to the web? Facebook has already dedicated itself to this mission.

While the sheer size of the internet is enough to make your head spin, there might be one thing that’s an even bigger mystery. Where is the internet? Like, physically. Do you know the answer?

I didn’t. Sure, cables, servers, but where? And how they’re connected? No idea. Until now. Thanks to Tubes by Andrew Blum, light is brought to the darkness of the internet’s physical structure.

Here are 3 lessons I learned from the summary on Blinkist:

The internet is actually a network of networks – the more the better!

Hubs, where companies peer with one another, are what keeps the internet fast.

Underwater cables connect the big hubs, while data storage centers keep all of the information we create online.

Curious to understand the physical nature of the world’s most powerful technology? Let’s take a closer look!

Lesson 1: The internet isn’t just one network, it’s a network of networks.

We’ve obviously come a long way since the very humble beginnings of the internet in the 1960s (then called ARPANET), ever since it’s grown exponentially. You’d think that with so many networks and participants added every day, the internet would become a messier and messier place – but in reality, it just gets better.

The biggest participants of the internet are networks themselves, like Google or Facebook. The more inter-connected these networks are, the faster and more efficiently you can travel from one to the other. If you click on a link on Google that directs you to Facebook, and the two are directly connected, it takes less time for your connection to load the page.

Physically, these connections happen at hubs, so-called internet exchange points, which are really just places filled with tons of routers from different companies, that are connected to each other and all to one main line, which then connects via fiber tube to the next IXP, condensing the web even further.

Lesson 2: Big companies and major networks peer with one another at big hubs, which is what makes some websites faster than others.

The practice of directly connecting one big network to another at a hub is called peering. It’s nothing more than plugging a cable from one router to another, allowing the data packages to travel shorter distances and thus reach their destinations faster.

Obviously, the more companies you peer with, the better the access to your network. Facebook, for example, peers with so many other networks that it’s sometimes jokingly called a “peering slut.” That’s why no matter where you access Facebook from, it loads really fast in most instances.

However, as good as peering is while it works, sometimes companies disagree and literally decide to pull the plug. This always leads to fallout and connectivity problems. For example, when Sprint and Cogent broke their connection in 2008, the US Department of Justice, NASA and all New York Courts couldn’t send emails for three days straight, not to mention the big outage for many private users.

Lesson 3: Everything you create online is stored in data centers, which are connected with underwater cables and hubs.

Apart from IXPs, two other physical components are majorly responsible for keeping the internet up and running:

Data storage centers.

Underwater cables.

60 million pictures a day are uploaded to Instagram, 350 million photos to Facebook, over 500 million tweets sent – where does all this stuff go?

The cloud, they keep telling us, but do you see bits of text floating in the sky? Of course not. Storing something in the cloud simply means that it’s not physically stored on your laptop (which is why you don’t need as big of a hard drive any more), but transferred to a big data storage center, somewhere in the world, via the internet, and stored there. These data centers are huge, highly secured and often shrouded in mystery, because they contain so much sensitive data.

The last part of the internet equation are the submarine communication cables, which are made of optical fiber and connect the big hubs and data centers across seas and even oceans. These are also very sensitive to natural disasters, like when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Taiwan killed internet access for most of South Asia, China and Hong Kong for several days in 2006.

My personal take-aways

This not only sheds some much needed light on how one of the most standard and taken-for-granted technologies of today works, it also lets you appreciate the internet much more. If anything, this is a great reminder to not freak out if your phone takes a few seconds longer to load something or when your wifi at home doesn’t work for a couple hours. Very informative and a good way to close a gap in general education!

The Third Wave Summary

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The Third Wave lays out the history of the internet and how it’s about to permeate everything in our lives, as well as what it takes for entrepreneurs to make use of this mega-trend and thrive in an omni-connected, always-online world.

The best books are timeless. You can read them now, in 100 years, or imagine giving them to someone in 1542, and they’d be equally valuable to the reader. Others need an update after a few decades – or to be re-written altogether. In this case, Steve Case did just that. The Third Wave is a “re-write” of a 1980 book of the same name by Alvin Toffler.

Back then, Toffler described three historic waves of how civilization had progressed until this point. First, settling and starting to form an agricultural society, thus transitioning from a hunter-gatherer structure. Second, the industrial age with the modern, nuclear family in its center, providing mass everything (distribution, consumption, media, entertainment, education). His third wave is about the transition into the Information Age, when knowledge started taking precedence over material items in terms of what’s valuable.

Since the dawn of the internet, the waves come ever faster, but are just as disruptive each time they hit. Steve Case takes a look at the advent of the connected world and explains what the third wave of the Internet Age will bring, and how you can benefit from it.

Here are 3 lessons from The Third Wave:

  • The internet will soon permeate everything on this planet.
  • You must embrace disruption to thrive in a Third Wave world.
  • Cooperate with Second Wave incumbents to succeed.

Ready for a revolution? Let’s surf the Third Wave!

Lesson 1: Soon, everything on this planet will be online, thanks to the Internet of Things.

First, here’s a quick recap of the three waves of the Internet Age. The First Wave started in the 90s with the dawn of the internet.

What had begun as a project of the U.S. Department of Defense in the late 1960s (a first network of fifteen computers hooked together via something called ARPANET) and slowly lead to standardized sets of protocols (called TCP/IP), finally came to a breakthrough at the Swiss CERN research facility in 1990 when Tim Berners-Lee developed the tools of the internet trade: the first web browser (called WorldWideWeb), HTML and HTTP. From then on it was a lot of hard work on the part of AOL, IBM and a bunch of other companies to spread the hardware and technology, as well as convince people that the internet was useful.

Slowly seeping through to the general public after 1995, the Second Wave really hit in the early 2000s, when Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook started to change our daily lives. Smartphones then gave us access to the web everywhere and all the time, which brought us to the brink of the Third Wave.

This last wave will be shaped by the Internet of Things, in which connection is unlimited: cars, homes, cities, nature. Your couch will be able to talk to your bookshelf, your fridge to your grocery store, your car to the one driving next to you and the crop field to the harvester.

Lesson 2: You have to be okay with big, sudden changes, and even disrupt yourself to make it in a Third Wave world.

This changes everything. The possibilities will be endless. Which means a lot of old solutions will become obsolete – and that’s okay. In fact, if you’re too busy trying to preserve the status quo, you’ll go down right with it.

Take John Deere, for example. For over 20 years they’ve worked on self-steering tractors and harvesters using GPS and satellite technology. It’s not uncommon for big land and farming machines to navigate all on their own, the farmer sitting at home, only checking in occasionally via a handheld device.

Sounds a lot like self-driving cars, huh? Imagine how far we’d be down that road if John Deere had licensed and sold its technology years ago, instead of waiting for Google, Apple and Tesla to take that cake from them.

But self-disruption is hard to accept and even harder to embrace. It wasn’t easy for Apple to say goodbye to the success of the iPod, but the iPhone was the right next step. Same with the iPad and Macbooks. Just like Amazon was okay with selling an ebook reader in spite of being the biggest physical bookseller in the world.

It’s hard to abandon your worldview from one day to the next and doubt everything you know, but embracing change and letting disruption happen is the only way to thrive in the Third Wave.

Lesson 3: Cooperating with successful Second Wave companies will help you succeed.

An especially sneaky part of disruption is that it often happens in subtle ways and before you know it it’s already the new status quo. How does that happen? Usually through partnerships.

The winners of tomorrow must partner with the winners of yesterday.

For example, Apple first had to partner with record labels to introduce music in downloadable formats into iTunes. It was a risk-free test for the record labels to see if music would sell online, and Apple was now in the music market. Similarly, Google made a deal with Yahoo!, an older internet pioneer in 2000 to provide search services for them.

Just like book publishers and record labels were gatekeepers before, now Amazon and Google can have a huge positive or negative impact on your Third Wave project, so consider partnering with the winners of the past to thrive in the future.

My personal take-aways

Being a digital native this process feels almost natural to me. I’m not surprised if I find out that A is now connected to B or that my fridge now knows when to order milk, but if you’re not a millennial, this will get you up to speed fast! A good book to help you live in the now and see the world as it is.

The Singularity Is Near Summary

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The Singularity Is Near outlines the future of technology by describing how change keeps accelerating, what computers will look like and be made of, why biology and technology will become indistinguishable and how we can’t possibly predict what’ll happen after 2045.

Ray Kurzweil is THE future guy at Google. His inventions range from optical character recognition devices to scanners and print-to-speech reading machines for the blind. He’s preoccupied with topics like futurism, transhumanism (overcoming fundamental human limitations, like death) and of course, artificial intelligence.

He’s also written seven books about these and other topics, many of which include predictions about the future. A lot of Ray’s predictions from the past turned out to be correct (for example that computers would beat the world’s best chess players by the year 2000 – IBM’s Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997), so it’ll be exciting to see which of the ones from this book are spot on.

The singularity itself is a term describing a singular point in human history, where the future of humanity will become unpredictable, because it’s changing so quickly. Imagine an artificial intelligence so smart that it constantly revolutionizes and improves itself at such a fast rate, that even the laws of physics will have a tough time catching up with it.

There are upsides and downsides to that. Here are 3 of them:

  • The Law of Accelerating Returns says that the speed of evolution keeps increasing.
  • Self-replicating nanobots will soon replace doctors and repair your body from the inside.
  • If the nanobots go haywire, we’re screwed.

Ready for a sneak peek into the future? Let’s look into Ray’s crystal ball!

Lesson 1: The speed of evolution increases every year, according to the Law of Accelerating Returns.

Take a second to think about all the changes your great-grandparents have seen in their lifetime. Mine have seen the rise of the car, the commercialization of aircraft travel and the first moonlanding. Now your grandparents. My grandma and grandpa are some of the few who manage to deal with smartphones and the internet somewhat decently.

Contrast that with what you’ve seen in just the last 15 years. The entire world is now connected. Cars start to drive themselves. You can carry most of the world’s knowledge in your pocket. Space rockets can be re-used.

The more time passes, the faster evolution brings about new changes. Around 4 billion years ago the process of evolution started. It took half of that time (2 billion years) JUST for multicellular organisms to develop from single-cell organisms. After that, the evolution from the first mammals to our homo sapiens took only 200 million years.

That’s not all though. According to Ray, what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns says that in addition to the changes themselves, the benefits of those changes for humanity, the returns of evolution, are also increasing.

For example, if you look at the number of calculations per second a $1,000 computer can make used to double every three years until 1950. Then, until 1966, it doubled every two years. Now it doubles every year, making computers cheaper all the time.

Lesson 2: Your doctor will soon be out of a job, because nanobots will repair your body from the inside.

Let’s transfer this accelerating rate of returns to a field that’s becoming more and more intertwined with technology: medicine. Can you imagine what medicine will look like 10-20 years from now, given that it’ll evolve faster every year?

One example of such a next-level technology are nanobots.

These mini-robots are so tiny that they can move through your entire body, for example using your bloodstream as a means of transport. You can imagine them as white blood cells on steroids. They’ll be able to eliminate bacteria, toxins or viruses from your body wherever they’re needed, keep your veins and arteries clean and remove chemical residues in your brain. Nanobots could even be used to deliver medicine just to specific cells, for example cancerous ones, or repair your genes when they’re damaged, for example from a sunburn.

Apart from being controllable via the internet, these nanobots will be able to self-replicate, meaning they can make however many copies they need of themselves, in order to take care of your body. You’ll just have to go to the doctor once and get an initial injection – after that, you can say bye-bye to your physician!

Lesson 3: If the nanobots spin out of control, we’re all doomed.

Everything that has an upside also has a downside. Ray thinks the singularity will happen by 2045. By then, nanobots in our bodies will be common practice. In fact, they’ll be a vital part of our survival. Imagine some of the nanobots protecting and healing your brain or immune system are destroyed or break down – they’ll need to be replaced quite fast! That’s why they’ll be able to replicate themselves in the first place.

But just like bodily cells can spin out of control and turn into cancerous cells by self-replicating uncontrollably, so could the nanobots. Nobody knows what’d happen if a virus turned your nanobots against you, but that’s not even the most frightening scenario.

If nanobots started multiplying uncontrollably outside of a human body, a nuclear explosion will seem like a joke.

Nanobots use carbon atoms as their basic building blocks, meaning they need carbon to survive. Infinitely replicating nanobots would start sucking carbon atoms from every piece of biomass around them – trees, animals, even humans – until there’s nothing left. Since the number of nanobots doubles with each replication, it’d only take 130 iterations until all life on earth is gone. This’d take anywhere between three hours and a couple of days.

Scary huh?

My personal take-aways

I took two of the most contrasting points from the book, because I wanted to show you that the future lies on a spectrum. These are the extremes and we’ll likely end up somewhere in the middle of annihilation and immortal super-humans. I think Ray is one of your best bets to learn something about tomorrow today, so if you want to learn more about some of his other predictions, go check out this book!

Inventology Summary

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Inventology takes you through the history of how many of the world’s best inventors came across their ideas, uncovering their creative process and how you can update it for today to figure out what drives great inventions and come up with your own.

Have you dreamed of being an inventor when you were a kid? I have. Fuzzy hair, a white lab coat, equations on a blackboard and pouring together colored concoctions until something explodes, that’s how I imagined myself.

15 years later, the reality of being creative looks a lot different, but also a lot less dangerous. With her book Inventology, Pagan Kennedy takes the “great inventor” off his or her pedestal and makes the spirit of invention something that’s attainable for you and me in our everyday lives.

She describes a process that’s not restricted to an elite few, especially gifted, super smart people, but based on living life with open eyes, being optimistic, looking at the obvious data, and allowing your mind to roam.

Here are 3 lessons that might help you invent something that changes the world:

  • All great inventions are born from the desire to solve a problem.
  • Even if you understand a popular problem well, accept thatit might take long for your solution to catch on.
  • Sometimes it’s better if you’re an industry outsider,because it allows you to bring a new perspective to the problem.

Inclined to invent something? Let’s get our lab coats and start experimenting!

Lesson 1: At the beginning of every great invention is your desire to solve a problem.

When Bernard Sadow returned from his family vacation in 1970, a lightbulb went off in his head as he struggled with carrying two big suitcases, made by the luggage company he was vice president of, through the airport. As he watched an airport employee effortlessly push a huge, heavy machine on top of a wheeled platform, he turned to his wife and said: “You know, that’s what we need for luggage!”

Upon his return to the office, he took the rolls off a big wardrobe trunk and put them on the bottom of his suitcase. After adding a leather strap to the front, he could drag his suitcase behind him, which seemed to now glide over the floor. Luggage on wheels was born (you can see Mr. Sadow’s 1972 patent with sketches here).

People had been flying commercially since early in the 20th century, but it took 60 years and the vice president of a luggage company, who was sick of carrying his own suitcases, to come up with something as seemingly simple as putting wheels on a trunk.

This is a great example of how painful a problem really needs to become to drive enough creative thinking that someone invents a 10x solution that really changes everything.

To invent something great, you need to have a strong desire to solve a problem, so the more acute the problem is for you personally, the better your chances.

Lesson 2: You have to accept that it might take time for your solution to catch on, even if you know the problem well and lots of people have it.

People don’t like change. Even though Bernard Sadow knew his invention was the right solution for a big problem, it took him many months, calls and sales presentations until finally Macy’s ordered some and the product started taking off. That’s because the pragmatic majority lacks the vision needed to try something new and it takes time for a new way of doing things to diffuse and reach the masses.

The same thing happened again when Robert Plath, an airline pilot, improved on Sadow’s design in 1987, adding just two rolls to one side of the suitcase and the telescoping handle you now see on suitcases everywhere. He had an even better understanding of the problem, because he traveled with a suitcase more often than Sadow, who just encountered the problem during vacations.

Still, he first only sold his invention to flight attendants, who became the first followers of the movement. With more women traveling alone, and even the biggest machos eventually giving in to the convenience factor, luggage on wheels finally became the standard.

So even if you have a very deep understanding of the problem at hand, accept that all inventions take time to catch on. Generally, these are the three stages you’ll move through:

You’ll notice your frustration with a problem that’s not obvious.

While collecting data about the problem, you see that solving it will help many other people.

You do what it takes to get the new solution out there, for as long as it takes to catch on.

Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid of solving problems outside of your field of expertise, it means you’ll bring a fresh perspective to the problem.

Being deeply immersed in a certain field is only one way to come across these hidden kinds of problems that desperately need a solution – sometimes others find them for you.

For example, in 1714, the British parliament offered a £20,000 reward (equivalent to over $3,000,000 today) to whoever could solve the problem of sailors not being able to tell the time at sea (and thus being unable to calculate their longitudinal position and often crash their ships).

The solution didn’t come from an astronomer, sailor or explorer, but from a carpenter, who made clocks in his spare time. John Harrison spent the remainder of his life solving this problem, providing a first, proper solution in 1761 with the H4 (sadly he never received the full prize money, and what he did get lasted him only three more years until he died at 83 years old).

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. As long as you understand the problem deeply, your fresh perspective an outsider might just be what’s needed to invent a great solution.

My personal take-aways

So many great stories and examples, this book is really encouraging. I think it opens your perspective. If you like history, tinkerers, science and finding out how to make things better, then this is for you.

Abundance Summary

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Abundance shows you the key technological trends being developed today, to give you a glimpse of a future that’s a lot brighter than you think and help you embrace the optimism we need to make it happen.

Published in 2012 by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, this book was an instant success with techies, entrepreneurs and science-fiction nerds. Contrary to what the news tell you, the world isn’t in such bad shape, and after reading this you’ll know why.

Abundance is a glimpse at the future and a primer for everyone, who doesn’t yet feel too optimistic about it. Followed by Bold in 2015 from the same two authors, which helps businesses create more of the technology we need to make it happen, James Altucher turned me on to this one, as he promotes an abundance mindset himself.

Here are 3 lessons to help you think abundantly in a world plagued by the scarcity complex:

  • Forget the news and your amygdala.
  • The world’s biggest problems will be solved simultaneously.
  • Think inside the right-sized box, not outside the box.

Are you ready for the future? After these lessons, you’ll definitely be!

Lesson 1: Screw the news and irrational fears, today is better than ever.

If you’re convinced we’re in a permanent, downward spiral and everything’s going to get worse, all the time, no matter what we do, you’re what Peter Thiel calls an indefinite pessimist in Zero to One.

At least this state is curable, and you’re most likely in it for the two following reasons:

Your lizard brain dominates your behavior.

You look at the news a lot.

The first factor describes the ancient structure of our brain, which isn’t all too suited for the modern world. What Seth Godin describes as the hungry, scared, angry and horny lizard brain, which must be quieted, is truly your amygdala, your fear radar, which puts you in fight or flight mode every time it sees even the slightest threat. Most of the things that trigger it today, aren’t real threads, however, because neither a yelling boss, nor a ringing phone or pressing the publish button on a blog post will kill you.

The second part is about the news blowing everything out of proportion and focusing on the bad headlines, because shock, horror and fear get the most clicks.

Calm down, cut the news chord and look at some statistics: you’ll see the world has never been a better, safer place to live a long, healthy, wealthy and abundant life.

Lesson 2: We will solve a lot of the world’s biggest problems simultaneously.

It’s right that we face many complex problems today, but looking at them individually is a mistake. The future will sure seem hopeless if you think of our increasing need of energy, climate change, environmental pollution, population growth and world hunger as separate problems.

But they’re not.

For example, eradicating Malaria will not only mean better health for African people, it’ll also improve their economic situation, because less people will be unable to work and more tourists will flock to the continent, because it is now safer. Also, since most cases affect children, as mortality rates go down, so will birth rates. There’s no need for African mothers to bear seven children, when they can be sure that their first two kids will actually survive.

Similarly, generating high-density energy from algae, which can be grown in salt water, will not only solve the need for more energy, but also lessen the environmental burden, because less crop has to be farmed for the same purpose.

You see, the world’s most complex problems all relate to each other, which means we never solve just one of them – progress always means progress in several areas.

Lesson 3: Instead of thinking outside the box, think inside the right-sized box.

These kinds of innovations can only come from a mindset of abundance. America is often considered to celebrate failure, a culture that’s often criticized by other countries (Germany is especially skeptic of this). But USA’s “failure culture” is not about trying to fail, it’s about the freedom to experiment and the spirit to get up and try again after learning from a mistake.

Nobody ever tries to fail on purpose, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying when what you’re doing is important.

Innovation competitions with small prizes encourage the right kind of behavior, because the prizes are not big enough to warrant huge companies’s interest, but force small teams to innovate with what they’re given. For example, MIT holds a competition where teams of five people have five days to run a business experiment for $5,000 or less.

The problems we’re trying to solve stem from current limitations we can’t move past (like batteries being able to only store a certain amount of energy), so confining ourselves on purpose is how we can learn to work with what we’ve got to create something better.

It’s not so much about thinking outside the box as it is about placing yourself inside the right-sized box and figuring out how to get out of it.

My personal take-aways

You can’t help but feel hopeful after reading this. You might even want to explore a bunch of the trends outlined in this book and take a swing at a project in one of them yourself (like 3D printing or robotics).

If you need a reminder that there’s no better time to be alive than today, and why you have all the reason to be grateful, this book is the right choice.

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