How to Automate Your Home Without Rewiring

Radio-controlled servos allow you to control lights without having to deal with high voltages

4 min read
How to Automate Your Home Without Rewiring
A radio-controlled servo arm buzzes in office visitors without the need to connect a receiver directly to the intercom circuitry.
Photo: Paul Wallich

I don’t like working in the dark. But I also don’t like mains current. Maybe it’s the smoke and flames, maybe it’s the flying droplets of molten metal, maybe it’s the chance of sudden death, but I just like to make my mistakes at lower voltages and amperages. So years ago, when I found out that all the light fixtures and most of the sockets in my basement (where I have my workbench) were on the same circuit, I put my plans for converting everything to remote control on indefinite hold.

But lately I’ve been exploring more mechanical solutions: If I can’t play with the power lines, why not just use microcontrollers and servos to push buttons, pull lightbulb chains, and flip switches directly?

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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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