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Mourning a Few Not-So-Ordinary EEs

The Tesla engineers who died in the Palo Alto plane crash will be missed

3 min read

A version of this article appeared in IEEE Spectrum Online’s Tech Talk blog on 19 February.

“It’s a small valley,” I heard people saying over and over as, like other Palo Altans, I took to the streets, ostensibly looking for power, Internet access, and hot coffee, but really just wanting to be out among people. It was too strange to be home alone in a cold, silent, and dark office. Just before 8 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 February, the entire town—except a few random traffic lights—lost power when a small airplane crashed into a transmission tower.

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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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