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You’d think it would be the religious leaders and philosophers who had a handle on the existential, but of the 175 people that director Roger Nygard interviewed for his upcoming documentary, The Nature of Existence , he says it was the physicists who stood out. (Other subjects include novelists, biologists, artists, and a pair of Stonehenge druids.) Nygard, best known for the 1997 cult film Trekkies , figures it this way: ”Breaking down man’s existence to the smallest particles and comparing that to the enormity of multiple universes makes you naturally philosophical about our origins.”

The Nature of Existence will premier at the Cinequest film festival in San Jose, Calif., 8 March 2009. You can see the traileron YouTube.

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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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