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Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Our annual dive into the presents techies will love

3 min read
Photo by Lego
Photo: Lego

When Lego debuted the Mindstorms robotics kit in 1998, it was programmed using a simple graphical programming interface designed for children. But Mindstorms quickly found a broad audience among older enthusiasts and researchers, and the capability—and complexity—of the line increased over the years. The new US $160 Lego Boost kit is something of a return to basics. Intended for children aged 7 to 12, Boost creations are controlled directly from a drag-and-drop-style programming app running on a tablet.

  • Circuit Classics

    photo of Circuit Classics productPhoto: Scott Torborg

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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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