Teleconferencing on the Cheap

With Skype and a little hacking, you can converse clearly with a room full of people

4 min read
Photo of Erico Guizzo teleconferencing at table.
Photo: Randi Klett
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As a telecommuter, I love the Internet, for obvious reasons. Strangely, though, the teleconferencing system that IEEE Spectrum editors have long been using is just one step up from a speakerphone. It only provides audio—and crummy audio at that. As a consequence, every editorial meeting I “attend” is a painful experience: Imagine trying to pick out a single voice at a noisy restaurant, in the dark, while wearing earplugs.

A partial solution is to teleport into meetings using Skype. Skype’s video capability gives you a window on what’s going on at the other end, which of course is nice. But the real advantage is that it provides much higher bandwidth audio than you get over phone lines. That makes picking out voices in a crowd much easier.

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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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