IEEE Spectrum’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Ideas for all ages and every wallet

4 min read
Photo: UNIS Technology
Photo: UNIS Technology
  1. Pong Coffee Table

    photo of Pong coffee table

    Photo of  Pong controls.

    photo of a Pong room Photos: UNIS Technology

    Retro tech is all the rage—witness the revived popularity of vinyl records and typewriters. So why not win the game with something that’s even more retro than the original? Enter this version of Atari’s 1972 Pong, the world’s first commercially successful video arcade game. At first glance, it looks just like regular Pong in a coffee-table cabinet—but look closer: The ball and the paddle are mechanical, driven by magnets beneath the surface. Made by Calinfer under license from Atari, it will set you back US $3,000. Avoid missing ball for high score. — Stephen Cass

  2. Mousr

    photo of Mousr Photo: Petronics

    The life of an indoor cat includes considerable periods of sheer boredom. Sadly, most people don’t much enjoy playing with their cats for more than a few minutes at a time. To help out, there’s Mousr, a $180 robot mouse. You can control Mousr with your phone or switch it to one of its automodes. There’s “stationary,” which consists of mostly tantalizing tail swishing; “wall hugger,” which is exactly as the name suggests; and “open wander,” where Mousr teases your favorite feline with unpredictable movements in open space. Mousr struggles and squeaks when caught, preparing your killer kitties for when a real mouse unwittingly invades their domain. —Harry Goldstein

  3. BatteryStrap

    photo of BatteryStrap in use Photo: GoWearTech

    It is the curse of smartphones that you’re always in a state of low-grade paranoia about how much battery charge you have. Active professionals frequently rely on external battery packs, but juggling a high-capacity pack while also trying to, say, take a photo can be difficult. So, for the road warriors among you, consider the BatteryStrap, which integrates a 5,000- to 7,500-milliampere-hour battery (typically enough for one to three complete recharges, depending on your phone) into a messenger-bag strap or purse strap, letting you power up while keeping your hands free. (A belt version is also available.) Prices range from $180 to $230. —S.C.

  4. Moonlander 2

    photo Photo: FutureBit

    Chances are, these days there’s someone in your life who is really into blockchains. Get them the $50 Moonlander 2. The high-tech equivalent of the lottery ticket you gave as a gift last year, the Moonlander 2 is a USB stick with a fan-cooled ASIC chip dedicated to cryptocurrency mining. The Moonlander 2 is designed for cryptocurrencies that are based on the scrypt function, rather than the SHA-256 function used by Bitcoin, but these cryptocurrencies use a similar blockchain. By default, the device is set to mine Litecoin, which currently has a market cap of about $3 billion. —S.C.

  5. DIY Flashy Flowers


    img Photos: TechnoChic

    Designed to bridge the gap between artsy and techie children, these $25 kits from TechnoChic contain 42 precut petals that can be mixed and matched to create unique paper flower brooches. Then an LED and battery can be added to make them light up. Enough materials are provided for 10 complete flowers per kit, and different kits have different color schemes. No soldering is required—everything is held together with the LED’s legs and clear adhesive tape—and the LEDs have built-in circuitry for flashing multiple colors. —S.C.

  6. µKENBAK-1

    photo of \u00fckenbak-1 Photo: Chris Davis

    The Kenbak-1 is why the well-known Altair 8800 is referred to as the first commercially successful personal computer, rather than just the first commercial personal computer. It was released in 1971, and only a handful of machines were sold, to schools. Genuine Kenbak-1 computers are pricey collectors’ items, but you can play around with a re-creation for $75, which uses an Arduino chip to emulate the original discrete logic. The kit was designed by Mark Wilson, but it’s being manufactured by Chris Davis, who makes the excellent Altairduino kit we featured in IEEE SpectrumFebruary issue. (Indeed, Wilson partnered with Davis partly as a result of seeing that article!) —S.C.

  7. Lunar Pro

    photo of Lunar Pro Photo: Quantum AR Technologies

    This 120-millimeter-diameter lunar globe from AstroReality manages to put two somewhat overhyped technologies to good use: 3D printing and augmented reality (AR). The $220 globe (which feels very substantial when held) has a finely detailed, raised-relief surface, which was created using NASA data and high-resolution printing. Unlike a typical globe, points of interest aren’t marked. Instead, AstroReality’s AR smartphone app will point out locations via your phone’s screen. Smaller globes are also available for $90 and $40. —S.C.

  8. Books!

    photo of books Photos: Left: DK Children; Right: No Starch Press

    Another entry aimed at younger folk, Coding Games in Python is a good way to get kids started on the most popular language of today: Python. The book takes readers through basic game design and how to leverage game and graphics libraries like Pygame Zero.

    Meanwhile, if you can’t afford the Pong table featured earlier, console yourself with The Game Console: A Photographic History From Atari to Xbox, by Evan Amos. (That kind of clever wordplay is why I’m a professional, folks.) In addition to external photographs, exploded views depict the internals of an amazingly comprehensive 86 systems. —S.C.

The Conversation (0)

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: 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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