If you're not listening to podcasts, you're missing out on a great way to get free bite-size pieces--and sometimes full servings--of news, information, and entertainment. Podcasts are downloadable audio files that anyone with a microphone and an Internet connection can publish. While some podcasts, especially those produced by established radio stations, are intended for general-interest listeners, the secret sauce of podcasts is that you can find 2- to 10-minute programs on whatever specialized interest takes your fancy. IT, digital photography, astronomy, intellectual property, flower arranging--it doesn't matter what, because someone, somewhere, is likely to have created a podcast for you. However, that also means there is a bewildering selection to choose from, and of wildly varying quality. What's worth listening to? I have a few suggestions.

The easiest way to listen to these podcasts is to use Apple's iTunes media player. You can download Mac OS X and Windows versions of iTunes for free at http://www.apple.com/itunes. While iTunes functions best with Apple's ubiquitous iPod, it works just fine as a stand-alone application on your computer. With iTunes, you can search a huge podcast directory maintained by Apple. If you don't want to use iTunes, you can get podcasts directly from their creators' Web sites through most current browsers.

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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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