Down and Out in Ham Lake

A cautionary tale to all inventors who surrender their patents in return for funding

6 min read

You've probably never heard of Corliss Orville Burandt. I certainly hadn't, until someone dropped a 10-page fax on my desk that Burandt had sent in response to last year's IEEE Spectrum article "Top Ten Tech Cars," which featured several hybrid electric cars.

In that fax, Burandt claimed that almost all hybrid cars on the market incorporate a version of his patented invention, and more faxes followed, with the documentation to back up his assertions. Burandt's patent was for a method called variable valve timing, which controls how long the fuel and air intake valves on an engine's combustion cylinders stay open, changing the rate of combustion according to engine speed and load. His invention also employs a detonation sensor inside each cylinder of a car engine to help control how much air and fuel mix together during combustion. The technology optimizes fuel burn rates so the engine works as efficiently as possible, constantly adjusting to the prevailing operating conditions. That adjustment is important in hybrid cars, because it helps the engine shift smoothly between electric and gasoline modes of operation.

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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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