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Build a Clock With Lixies, the Nixie-⁠Tube Lookalike

Simulate a retro-tech look without the fuss

4 min read
photo of the Nixie-style clock
Photo: Randi Klett

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction film2001: A Space Odyssey still stands up pretty well. But there’s a telling anachronism in the scene where scientists visit a monolith that’s been uncovered on the moon. On their lunar shuttle’s control panel, there are numerical indicator lights clearly made with cold-cathode displays, also known as Nixie tubes. This technology was in vogue during the mid-1950s but fell out of favor in the 1970s.

Nixie tubes still enjoy a following among enthusiasts of retro technology. I’ve sometimes been tempted to build a Nixie-tube clock, but the difficulties and expense always put me off. It’s hard even to purchase Nixie tubes at this point—especially larger ones—and they require high-voltage driver circuits, which are inherently dangerous. So I was delighted when I stumbled on something designed to mimic the appearance of Nixie tubes without the complications—something its designer calls a “Lixie display.”

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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 of Jacob Ziv
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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