How do you photograph an idea? IEEE Spectrum's photo editor, Randi Silberman [above, center], faces that question every month. In arranging the photo shoots that accompany Spectrum stories, Silberman faces an array of challenges. But none are trickier than when the subject is a person whose contributions are intangible.

Such was the case with David Allen, a productivity guru interviewed and photographed for this month's Resources section [see "A Method Out of Madness"]. Allen is known for developing a system to improve personal organization that has been a hit with techies.

The challenge was to "visually say 'organization,' when it's such an abstract idea," explains Silberman. She wanted to avoid the common pitfall in these conceptual assignments, which is to resort to a very elaborate setup. Brainstorming with her colleagues in Spectrum's art department, she focused on a few elements associated with organization, such as file folders and a label maker.

"Usually we try to take photographs in an interesting location," Silberman says, "but we decided we needed more of a studio setting." Rented lights and a backdrop converted an IEEE office into a temporary studio.

When Allen, a veteran of many seminars and interviews, arrived, he needed little coaching before diving right in, unlike some subjects. "He's used to performing. He has a lot of charisma," says Silberman, who was delighted with the results. "One of the most exciting things in photography is when a concept works."

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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

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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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