Miller Puckette: The Man Behind the Max and Pd Languages (and a Lot of Crazy Music)

Electronic music would be very different without this pioneer

3 min read
photo of Miller Puckette
Photo: Miles Rosemire

photo of Miller PucketteThe Meta Composer: As well as composing and performing his own electronic music, Miller Puckette gave software tools to many others.Photo: Miles Rosemire

Experimental musicians and sound artists frequently incorporate otherworldly drones, warbles, and never-before-heard noises into their work. Yet as different as these compositions are, many of them have something in common: a pair of programming languages written by University of California, San Diego, computer musician Miller Puckette.

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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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