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All of these podcasts can be downloaded from their individual Web sites or from the iTunes Music Store. If you have a suggestion for a podcast to appear in this section, mail it to—be sure to include ”Podcast Picks” in the subject line.

Engineering Workshttp://engineeringworks.tamu.eduBrought to you by Texas A&M University, in College Station, Engineering Works is a professionally produced podcast that focuses on offbeat stories. Shows are 2 minutes long, and recent episodes have covered students competing in a space elevator prototype contest, the use of rat neurons to control a simulated fighter jet, and a robot lawnmower that cuts the grass even when you’re sleeping. The Engineering Works Web site also provides complete transcripts of episodes and an archive of previous podcasts that goes back to 2003.

Image: Matt Powell

COSC110 Tim Bell, an associate professor in the computer science and software engineering department at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand, usually hosts the show, which is aimed at those taking his introductory course on digital technologies (known as COSC110). But the show has value to a broader audience, as Bell frequently talks with academics and other guests about current issues, such as the advent of digital libraries, changes in New Zealand’s telecom industry, and the recent establishment of the new national center for Information and Communications Technology. There’s also an interesting audio deconstruction of the MP3 file format available.

Image: Fabrizio L’Abbate

Advanced Concepts Team The European Space Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team is a group of researchers dedicated to looking at technologies with long-term potential, such as manipulating conducting tethers to navigate around the moons of Jupiter without using rocket engines. Headquartered in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, the team is largely made up of young Ph.D.s who stay for a maximum of two years, ensuring a stream of fresh ideas. Although the podcasts are somewhat sporadically produced, they provide insight into a team thinking at the very limits of the possible, and maybe even present a preview of things to come.

Image: Chad Davis

In The Trenches A podcast for working system administrators by working system administrators, this show is chockablock with practical advice and suggestions for keeping those networks and servers humming along despite all the problems that inevitably occur when trying to manage systems in the real world of limited resources, obstreperous users, and imperfect technology. Each episode is around an hour long and has a watercooler-style conversational tone as the host, Kevin Devin, and a bevy of regular contributors kick around sys-admin issues that concern them and swap war stories.

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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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