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The Idea Man

Blue-chip companies and reality TV contestants alike want him on their side

6 min read

Invention is Doug Hall’s life. In his teens he created and sold magic and juggling kits, and today he is familiar to millions of viewers in the United States as an acerbic judge on the reality TV show ”American Inventor”—think ”American Idol” but with struggling inventors instead of wannabe pop stars—which recently ended its first season. But in between his teen hustle and his stint on TV, Hall established himself as an innovation guru and in 1990 founded the Eureka! Ranch, in Cincinnati.

Eureka! Ranch works with companies to develop new products, and it counts such major corporations as Ford Motor Co. and Johnson & Johnson among its clients. While the ranch refuses to discuss specific products that it has helped develop, it claims that the average U.S. home uses 18 products or services either invented or improved by its employees. Hall has also authored the Jump Start series of books, aimed at innovators. IEEE Spectrum Senior Associate Editor Stephen Cass talked with Hall about what it takes to stay on top of the invention game.

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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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