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Review: The Return of the Theremin

An exhibition of designer theremins marks a revival of this classic electric instrument

2 min read
Review: The Return of the Theremin
Photo: Francis Dzikwoski/Esto

In the 1920s, Leon Theremin played to packed concert halls in Europe and the United States, wowing audiences with his newly invented electronic musical instrument, the aetherphone. Rebranded as the theremin, the gesture-controlled device was available for sale in the United States by the end of the decade. For a moment it seemed as if it might be able to achieve the kind of success later found by other 20th-century electrical musical innovations such as the electric guitar and the Moog synthesizer.

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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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