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Documentaries for Engineers: Mission Control, Denial, and Viva Amiga

These three films will keep you thoughtfully entertained during your vacation travels

3 min read
Photo: Mission Control
Photo: Mission Control

August is when many of us find ourselves taking long trips to get to vacation destinations. Documentaries are a particularly good choice for travel viewing: Unlike with a special-effects extravaganza, you’re not losing out all that much on the experience by watching them on the small screen of a smartphone or tablet, and their 60- to 90-minute length won’t eat up storage space. Here are three recommendations for recently-released-for-download documentaries that we think IEEE Spectrum readers will find interesting (all are available either directly from the filmmaker or from outlets like iTunes and Amazon).

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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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