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Beekeeping engineers bring cheap widgets to a 19th-century craft

4 min read

Pity the poor beekeeper. While bee researchers play with high-frequency dancing robotic bees, DNA scanners, and forensic pollen analysis, beekeepers must scavenge 19th-century feed scales off eBay.

The problem is money. Even though bees play a crucial role in the pollination of agricultural products worth billions of dollars, a hive typically produces honey that's worth no more than US $1000 a year at retail. A few lucky beekeepers get hired by farmers to pollinate their crops, but the overall margin is still far too slim for fancy modern equipment. So beekeepers typically are able to track the health and honey-making performance of their charges in only the crudest of ways.

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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
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.

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