No profession, it has been said, has higher self-esteem than journalism. And while this may be debatable--doctors never struck us as suffering from negative self-image--few professions bestow upon themselves as many awards as does journalism. In the United States, many have heard of the country's glitziest competitions: the Pulitzer Prizes and the National Magazine Awards. But there are literally hundreds of other competitions, including annual ones for such subjects as the best article about osteoporosis and one for the article judged to have done the best job of "presenting biblical truth in the secular media.

Among these many competitions, the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Awards have established themselves as the premier venue for recognizing excellence in special-interest magazine journalism. So it was particularly gratifying for us here at IEEE Spectrum to win four honors at the most recent Neal ceremony, held this past 23 March in New York City.

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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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