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Revealing the Hidden Beauty of Common Components

Eric Schlaepfer showcases the surprisingly intricate structures of capacitors, LEDs, connectors, and other often-overlooked parts

3 min read
Photo of a two-color LED.
Light Show: A two-color LED sanded almost in half, with still-functioning light-emitting junctions.
Photo: Eric Schlaepfer/Tube Time

As we’ve remarked in these pages before, oftentimes some of the best engineering around is invisible, hidden inside black boxes of one sort or the other. If the black box is sufficiently important in some way, professional forensic and reverse engineers can be employed to crack it open and reveal its secrets. But what about more humble items, such as the apparently unremarkable components that make up everyday electronics? Who cares enough to take the trouble to look inside them?

Eric Schlaepfer does. To the delight of a growing following, in March of this year, Schlaepfer started posting to his @TubeTimeUS twitter account magnified cross sections of capacitors, cables, LEDs, transistors, and more, usually with accompanying annotations.

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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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