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Getting Vexed

A robot kit that's fun as well as functional

4 min read

Either you think building robots is cool, or you don't. But if you do, then you'll love the Vex Robotics Design System, a line of robot construction kits and accessories from RadioShack Corp., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.

RadioShack developed the Vex system in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, in Pittsburgh, and the organizers of an international high school robotics competition sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization based in Manchester, N.H. While the kit's target audience is high school kids in classroom and lab settings, it is versatile enough to appeal to a much wider audience.

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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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