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DIY as an Extreme Sport

Want to test your hacker prowess? Try to beat this scratch-built Web server

2 min read

Lots of people know that you can construct a Web server at home without great difficulty. Get a PC, load it with Apache, do some port forwarding on your router, and you're good to go. Or if you think that's too mundane, you could build a tiny Web server out of an Arduino microcontroller by adding an Ethernet accessory board. Thousands of people, I'm sure, have hacked systems like that together for various purposes. But I've recently discovered, much to my pleasure and amazement, that one home brewer has set up a DIY Web server that's far more impressive than any of those. Indeed, he's taken "do it yourself" to a whole other level.

Bill Buzbee, of Half Moon Bay, Calif., has built himself a Web server entirely from scratch. Scratch is, of course, a relative term. No, he didn't draw the copper into wires or slice the silicon into wafers. But he did construct his home-built CPU, called Magic-1, by meticulously wire-wrapping together some two hundred 74-series TTL chips. They reside on five printed-circuit boards, which are housed in a cabinet whose front panel is replete with dozens of LEDs and paddle switches. It thus has, as he intended, the distinctive look of the mini- and microcomputers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Buzbee claims that it sports the performance of an Intel 8086 (a close cousin of the 8088, the CPU found in the original IBM PC) making it a decade or so ahead of its nonchronological time. It's a DIY masterpiece. But Buzbee is self-deprecating in advertising his creation: On his Web site, at http://homebrewcpu.com, which is served up, of course, by Magic-1, he says, "I'm continually amazed that the damn thing runs at all, much less runs as well as it does."

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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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