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The Books That Made A Difference

IEEE Spectrum asked 14 leading technologists to name the novel that influenced them the most. You'll be surprised at how often they agreed

13 min read
The Books That Made A Difference

"I became an engineer," begins John Hersey's 1956 novel, A Single Pebble. The book, which describes an American engineer's search for potential dam sites on the Yangtze River, mightily captivated a then-31-year-old engineer named Samuel C. Florman, a vice president at the Kreisler Borg Construction Co., in Scarsdale, N.Y. "For the first time in my experience I was conscious of viewing my profession through a prism of fictional imagination," explains Florman, now a partner in that firm.

Florman went on to devour all the novels he could find with engineers as protagonists; that experience led him to write a magazine article in 1959 about the engineer as a character in fiction. It was the first piece of a literary sideline that now encompasses some 250 articles and six books.

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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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