iCandy: Data Saves the Day

Gadgets alert us to weapons, the weather, and our workouts

1 min read

Photo: Rex Features/AP Photo
What’s wrong with this picture? Michel Verhulst and Ben Allen, two of the Delft University of Technology students who created this 30:1 replica of a Nintendo Entertainment System controller, are playing a game on a display that seems tiny by comparison. The world’s largest video-game controller, made to celebrate the release of the Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer’s Edition, cost them US $6000 to build.

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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
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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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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