This past February in this space we announced the Spectrum/Make DIY contest, in which we asked you to send us your best DIY projects. Now, we’re happy to announce the winner: Alan Nishioka of Redwood City, Calif. Nishioka wowed us with his computerized Etch A Sketch toy, in which he uses computer-controlled stepper motors to create spirograph patterns. Nishioka demonstrated his project at the Maker Faire at the San Mateo, Calif., fairgrounds on 19 and 20 May. Congratulations also to our four runners-up: Rogerio Dionisio of Fundão, Portugal; Kevin M. Hubbard of Issaquah, Wash.; Michael Gaspari of Racine, Wis.; and Goran Hult of Trollhattan, Sweden.

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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

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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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