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Engineer on a Mission

A Jesuit priest EE finds a new calling in Africa

2 min read

As both an electrical engineer and a Jesuit priest, Lammert B. ”Bert” Otten can lead a spiritual retreat just as easily as a dam-building project in Zambia. ”As an engineer,” he says, ”you’re cocreating with God to make life better for people.”

Zambia has been Otten’s adopted African home since 2005, when he retired from the University of Seattle. As a consultant in appropriate technology for the Diocesan Promoters Office in Monze, about 180 kilometers southwest of the capital city of Lusaka, he has installed solar-powered water pumps for irrigation, solar vegetable dryers, solar lighting, and refrigeration. He has turned the oil from the seeds of local plants, such as jatropha, into biofuel, soap, and candles. And, yes, he’s built a dam—on the Ngwerere River.

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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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