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Sultans of Solder

At hackerspaces like the Hacktory, geeks turn on, tune in, and hack out

4 min read

It’s a Tuesday night in Philadelphia—hacker time. A small group of do-it-yourself engineers and hipster geeks gather in a cluttered space downtown. One holds a Kinect, the motion-sensing controller for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 system. But he’s not playing a video game. He’s about to take the Kinect apart to see if he can get it to work with a shoot-’em-up space game for which it wasn’t intended.

It’s a typical challenge at the Hacktory, a freewheeling engineering clubhouse and just one of the many self-described "hackerspaces" popping up in cities around the world. The group takes its name from Andy Warhol’s famous 1960s hangout, the Factory, hoping to bring that sort of imaginative spirit to the technically inclined—and reclaim the word hacker. "It’s a way to take something apart and put it back together in a new way," says Hacktory director Georgia Guthrie. "It’s a creative act, not a destructive act."

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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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