Spectrum Magazine, Meet Controversy

At a time when it really needed one, IEEE Spectrum had a visionary leader named J.J.G. McCue

7 min read
Spectrum Magazine, Meet Controversy

Lofty Ambitions: IEEE Spectrum's third editor, J.J.G. "Jerry" McCue, loved a challenge. An avid hiker and mountain climber, he vacationed at Spray Lake, in Alberta, Canada, in 1952.

Photo: Willis Henry Auctions

Editor's note: In this 50th anniversary year of IEEE Spectrum, we are using each month's Spectral Lines column to describe some pivotal moments of the magazine's history. Here we describe the surprising and eventful tenure of the magazine's third editor, J.J.G. McCue.

At the tender age of 5, IEEE Spectrum had its first identity crisis, and it was a doozy. The year was 1969, and the United States was racked by intense social and political upheaval. The war in Vietnam was prompting huge demonstrations, and as that tumult inevitably seeped into the offices of Spectrum, the magazine was soon forced to decide whether it was going to incorporate timely journalism or be another academic journal, disconnected from the important issues of the day.

By shoving the young magazine firmly toward journalism, one extraordinary man precipitated the fledgling magazine's crisis—and bestowed on the publication one of the greatest favors it would ever receive. He was Spectrum's third editor, and his name was J.J.G. “Jerry" McCue.

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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: 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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