Build Your Own Enigma Cipher Machine
Photo: Randi Klett

Nearly a century after its invention, the electromechanical Enigma cipher machine still strikes a deep chord among the digerati. Used by the German military to encode communications in the run-up to and during World War II, the Enigma has achieved a mythic quality in computing history—the Medusa slain by the hero Turing with the new weapon of digital logic.

Consequently, original Enigma machines are now collector’s items that sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Even replicas are pricey. So the only alternative for those wishing to get to grips with this machine—and to better understand the mathematical, engineering, and operational feats that defeated it—has been to use one of a number of software emulators. But now there’s a middle ground: a hardware kit that duplicates the physical operation of the Enigma’s keyboard, display, and plugboard while replacing the rotating metal discs at the machine’s heart with an Arduino Mega microcontroller.

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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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