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Bowled Over by Toilet Technology

Super smart seats and community-conscious commodes aimed at huddled masses yearning to breathe free

1 min read
Bowled Over by Toilet Technology
Photo-Illustration: Eawag/EOOS

Photo: NTU
Made by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, the No-Mix Vacuum toilet diverts urine, which is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, to a processing facility. There these elements are extracted for use in products such as fertilizer. The fecal matter goes to a bioreactor where it is digested and yields a biogas rich in methane. The methane can be used in stoves for cooking or in turbines for generating electricity. Because of its vacuum suction, the toilet needs only 0.2 liters of water to flush away liquids; getting rid of solids takes about a liter of water. Today’s toilets use up to 20 times as much water for each flush.

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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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