Oldies But Goodies

When yesterday’s gadgets are better than today’s

3 min read
When yesterday’s gadgets are better than today’s
Photo: Tim Whyte

Tech enthusiasts live in the grip of reverse nostalgia, forever pining for 18 months hence. After all, another way to state Moore’s Law is “They don’t make them like they’re going to.” But there is a subset of electronics devices that were made better or cooler, once upon a time. And there’s a bustling retro-electronics subculture busy cataloging, chronicling, and collecting these old-school gems.

At the top of the stack is a world of 1970s-vintage high-end audio systems that Tim Whyte, based in Carmichael, Calif., caters to on his website, Classicaudio.com. To feel the difference from modern systems, he says, “all you’ve got to do is pick one of these things up. They’re actually made out of wood, metal, glass. These things were a year’s worth of mortgage payments back in the day.”

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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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