The Creative Engineer

What can you do to spark new ideas?

4 min read

We engineers are often accused of being uncreative. In fact, many nonengineers would say that the phrase Creative Engineeris an oxymoron. Why is that, since much of engineering is inherently creative? If we weren't inventive, how could we ever develop new technologies and adapt emerging scientific principles to solve problems? That said, not all the work we do is done creatively. We can be more creative; the question is how to unlock your creativity to improve the quality of your ideas.

First, let's start by defining creativity : it's the quality of making, inventing, or producing--rather than imitating--and it's characterized by originality and imagination. One reason engineers aren't considered creative is that they often don't start with the proverbial blank sheet of paper each time they do something. Rather, they build on existing technology and try to improve incrementally on its performance.

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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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