The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Automate Your Home Shop

Computer-controlled shop tools need not cost a fortune

3 min read

When high-tech companies go belly-up, much of their equipment ends up on the surplus market for pennies on the dollar. I took advantage of this to cobble together a computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) router table so that I could cut complicated shapes in wood, plastic, or sheet metal without the usual hassle of making paper templates, trying to follow them by hand, filing down the rough spots, and, often enough, messing things up completely.

This is not your father’s router table, the kind you might buy at your local Home Depot. Those are merely stout tables designed so that a router can be mounted underneath with the business end sticking up. They’re great for shaping the edge of a straight piece of wood, but not much else. A typical CNC table, by contrast, puts the router above, with its bit pointed down and moving under computer control along the x , y , and z axes. While an off-the-shelf CNC router table could set you back anywhere between a few thousand and a few tens of thousands of dollars, the parts for mine cost only about US $1000.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

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
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

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.

Keep Reading ↓Show less