The Ubiquitous Webcam

Do we really want to know what the dog does when it’s home alone

3 min read
Illustration of many hands around the globe holding mobile phones with screens showing a single eye.
Illustration: James Steinberg

In the 1990s, when webcams first hit the market, I made up some special slides (yes, 35-mm slides!) to illustrate a story I used in several speeches.

I began the story by asking a question that has always mystified me: What did my dog do when I wasn’t home? Well, I said, I could install a webcam in the hall and watch. But then maybe I should tie the webcam to the dog’s head so I could follow his field of view. In my presentation, I would then show a charming picture of my dog with the webcam attached to his head. Everyone would laugh.

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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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