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The Long and Winding Road

Segwaying across the United States

1 min read

Eight kilometers northeast of Mountain Home, Idaho, on 24 August 2004, Josh Caldwell was wondering whether the unpaved path would pitch him off his Segway Human Transporter. It was the first extended stretch of dirt road on his 6502-km, 16-km/h, 102-day journey across the United States, which is the subject of an upcoming documentary film. The Segway technology behind the trip performed almost without a hitch. Part of the electrical system got soaked once during a battery change in the rain, but a little time drying out the handlebars on top of a pizza oven in Johnstown, Pa., fixed that problem. The 20th-century technology involved didn't fare as well: a jeep and trailer Caldwell's friends were using to follow him got three flat tires between them.

The Segway, with its five solid-state gyroscopes, is designed for stability rather than speed or distance. Caldwell never covered more than 168 km in one day. The Segway's pair of nickel-metal hydride batteries had to be swapped out a total of 418 times, as they averaged 16 km on a charge. "Technology everywhere is all focused on increasing speed and efficiency," documentary director Hunter Weeks wrote in an e-mail. "We forced it to do the opposite, and it was pretty amazing what we captured."

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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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