Picture this: a huge elevator car riding into space along a paper-thin, 100 000-kilometer-long ribbon. Artist Alan Chan did, and his vision graces this month's cover and the accompanying feature story [" A Hoist to the Heavens"].

Chan was the ideal person for the job. By day, he is a senior technical director at Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. in Culver City, Calif., where he has helped create digital special effects for such blockbuster movies as Titanic (1997) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). "I spent about two months staring at Viggo Mortensen kissing Liv Tyler," he laughs, referring to his work on The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002), for which he electronically painted in some suitably elvish scenery behind the smooching actors.

Chan is also well acquainted with the author of our elevator article, Bradley Carl Edwards, whose daring design for a cheap and reliable highway into space is the latest twist in a century-old engineering dream. Chan, who is also an independent filmmaker, got to know Edwards when he asked for some technical advice on a screenplay featuring a space elevator. At the time, Edwards had only relatively crude graphics of how he envisioned the elevator.

Chan offered to create "a magic bullet"--a polished animated short film that Edwards could use to impress and persuade people when he stumped for the space elevator. Recruiting some friends to help, Chan put together the animation in about four and a half months. The images used in Edwards's article are based on that animation, but the cover is a custom-tailored illustration Chan made for IEEE Spectrum.

Chan explains his motivation: "If I could give Brad this magic bullet, and he gets this thing done, I could stand at the bottom of the elevator and look up and think 'I had a small part in helping to bring this to life.' "

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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: 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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