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Famous People

Meeting the people behind great achievements

3 min read
Opening illustration for Reflections department page.
Illustration: Dave Klug

I was giving a talk at a high school, trying to convince the students that engineering would be a good career choice. To bolster my case, I showed a picture of a group of engineers around a dinner table at a banquet. I pointed to each engineer and told the students what that particular person had accomplished. I neglected to mention that this was an awards dinner and so it might have been expected that the achievements of the participants were significant, but I wanted to give the idea that every engineer had the potential to do great things.

A hand in the audience went up. “How do you know so many famous people?" asked the student.

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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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