Serpent Mother

The Big Picture

1 min read

Neither words nor pictures do full justice to the Serpent Mother, a fire-breathing steel-and-electronics dragon that debuted this past August at Burning Man, an annual orgy of art, technology, and water deprivation held in the Nevada desert. Serpent Mother took six monthsï»' to create. Her 55-meter-long body supports a hydraulically activated moving head. Forced air shoots burning propane from her fangs and from 31 points along her spine—a total of 1700 liters is used each evening. The jets can be shot individually, or they can be controlled by a computer [lower left].

The humongous automaton was built by the Flaming Lotus Girls, an ad hoc organization of artists, electronic ­engineers, computer programmers, plumbers, welders, and anyone else who shows up at the group’s San Francisco studio willing to work. About 60 of the 100 volunteers who contributed to the Serpent Mother were women, some of whom wielded welding equipment for the first time.

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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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