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Send a Tweet to Your Office Door

And let your coworkers know what you're up to

4 min read

Here at IEEE Spectrum, staffers routinely put Post-It notes on their doors and cubicles to let colleagues know they're out. But you can't slap a note on your door if you decide to work at home at the last minute—which, as I learned this winter, happens quite often when you have a very pregnant wife about to go into labor any instant.

That's why I set out to replace those yellow sheets of self-adhesive stationery with something less, uh, analog—something that would allow me to post the updates electronically. An idea then popped up in my head: Twitter for my door.

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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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