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From Math to Movies

Shane Carruth is not an engineer, but he plays one in the movies

4 min read

Engineering usually gets short shrift in the movies, even when it comes to science-fiction films, in which engineers are usually portrayed as if they are magicians, fixing warp drives or disabling security systems at the flick of a screwdriver. But in Primer, an independent science-fiction film made for just US $7000, engineering is faithfully depicted in all its messy glory: sufficiently so to garner the Alfred P. Sloan prize for advancing science and technology in film. The movie is a critical success, too, winning the top prize at this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Lights, Camera, And All Action : Shane Carruth went from math and computer science to writing, costarring in, and directing a science-fiction film about time travel. His Primer then won the Alfred P. Sloan prize for advancing science and technology in film.

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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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