Behold, the World’s Most Famous Teapot

Used in pioneering computer-graphics research, the Utah teapot has made cameos in Pixar’s Toy Story, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and “The Simpsons”

2 min read
Photo of the Melitta teapot.
Photo: Mark Richards/Computer History Museum

Martin Newell was worried about his Ph.D. research as he sat down to tea with his wife one day in 1974. His work, at the University of Utah, was in the relatively new field of computer graphics. Some years earlier, the computer scientists David Evans and Ivan Sutherland had come to Utah, transforming the university into the world’s leading center for computer graphics research.

Evans, who had deep family connections to Utah, was a rising star when the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, had recruited him to start its computer science department in 1965. At the time, he’d been on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, and was one of the principal investigators on Project Genie [PDF]. This pathbreaking effort on time-shared computing was supported by the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Administration, or ARPA.

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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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