2015 Holiday Gift Guide

IEEE Spectrum’s roundup of gadgets for the techie in your life

4 min read
photo of Icarus 180–Avenger
Photo: Simpit Technologies

img of Icarus 180 avengerPhoto: Simpit Technologies

Icarus 180–Avenger

Virtual-reality goggles promise great things, but they do have an inherent drawback. Because they completely block the wearer’s view, all but the simplest hand or gesture controllers are impractical. If you enjoy zipping through simulated realities in even a moderately complicated vehicle—whether a race car, airplane, or spaceship—you often need at least an entire keyboard’s worth of buttons. The $3,125 Icarus 180–Avenger “sim pit” may be the solution, with a semicircular screen 1.7 meters in diameter that’s fed by two HD projectors (the price quoted includes the pit, projectors, and software). You’ll need to add your own PC gaming rig, but most software should run without modification, letting you turn a patch of your home into the Grand Canyon or the Orion Nebula. —S.C.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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