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The Back Story (July 2005)

Movies, Monoliths, and Mission Control

1 min read

David Kushner is no stranger to the computer game industry. He has partied with the men who make its music, and he's spent a lot of time with the two Johns, Carmack and Romero, who came up with the video game Doom and revolutionized the industry a decade ago. But seeing Sony Online Entertainment's operations center in San Diego for this issue's "Engineering EverQuest" was something else again, he says.

He took on this writing assignment expecting to see a version of NASA's mission control but for a video game world, and that's what he got. The engineers who keep more than half a million people playing EverQuest and EverQuest II are a different breed from the typical game developer, Kushner discovered. "It was much more the scientists in lab coats than kids with Nerf guns," says Kushner. "This is a serious operation."

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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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