High-Tech Fabergé

1 min read

Palo Alto, Calif., is recognized as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, but until now it lacked a public landmark commemorating its fame. An effort to change that began in 2000 when the town's art commission asked multimedia artist Adriana Varella to propose a project. She designed a giant egg, a Styrofoam sculpture covered in discarded circuit boards, only to see the final product--obviously symbolizing birth—go up in flames in a warehouse fire.

Udeterred, Varella selected about 600 more circuit boards and distributed them to engineers, academics, and even a few homeless people, asking that each write a phrase about circuits on a board, which she then collected and used to rebuild the sculpture. On 6 May, the 2.13-meter-tall sculpture was installed in Lytton Plaza, a brick-paved public space abutting Palo Alto's main commercial street, University Avenue.

Tekla S. Perry

It was to be formally unveiled a month later, but after just two days a group of teens began to tear off the wrappings, bringing its gestation to a premature end. Varella didn't mind. "It was just curiosity," she says, which of course is what she wants.


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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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