The Last of the First

Forty years later, astronaut Scott Carpenter looks back at his Mercury experience

3 min read

For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut, Scott Carpenter & Kris Stoever; Harcourt 2002, 358 pp. US $26, ISBN 0-1510-0467-6 This biography and semi-memoir is by the last Mercury astronaut to weigh in with a personal account. The six other members of that cadre selected in 1959 have already written their books and had their say, but Carpenter, although no recluse, waited 40 years to do so.

Much of the book naturally deals with his own experiences. His account of the Mercury astronaut selection process, based both on his first-hand experience and on subsequent interviews, is the best ever published. But his daughter Kris did the actual writing, which involved a great deal of follow-on research about events that involved Carpenter and has the pleasant result of providing a much wider context than the typical first-person account.

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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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