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With a Little Help From Our Friends

Throughout its history, IEEE Spectrum has depended on help from the great and powerful

5 min read
With a Little Help From Our Friends
Traveling Men: John R. Pierce (left) and Rudolf Kompfner perfected the traveling wave tube at Bell Laboratories in the 1950s. Both also wrote memorable feature articles for IEEE Spectrum.
Photo: Yale Joel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

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A magazine, like a politician, needs friends. And the more powerful, the better. Throughout its first 50 years,IEEE Spectrum has benefited in no small measure from the support of the great, the famous, and the well-connected.

Sometimes they agreed to be interviewed about a sizzling topic of the day; sometimes they shared a personal recollection of a landmark breakthrough; sometimes they pulled strings behind the scenes for us. Every now and then they tipped us off to an upcoming event of seismic consequence. From time to time, they even wrote articles for us. Indeed, the roster of dazzling bylines in Spectrum is long.

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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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