You Don’t Need Sight to Read These Electronic Schematics

Lauren Race has refined circuit symbols for use in tactile diagrams

3 min read
Illustration: IEEE Spectrum
Illustration: IEEE Spectrum

When I was growing up, I remember reading in an electronics-for-young-folk book that good vision was a must-have if you wanted to build or design electronics: Even color blindness was a serious limitation. This was a myth. In fact, there's an active community of people with low or no vision who are using today's maker ecosystem to solve problems in their daily lives. And with some tweaks to the familiar symbols used in circuit diagrams, that community could grow even larger.

“The Arduino platform is actually wonderful for accessibility because we can create our own tools. We can create things that might be expensive on the market and customize them to our needs," says Chancey Fleet, the assistive technology coordinator at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York City. “There's specific techniques that we use for soldering and for getting around the board," says Fleet, giving the example of how some people use a Braille stylus to count pins as though it's “a tiny cane navigating the header." (For more details about how to work as a visually impaired maker, Fleet recommends the Blind Arduino Project.)

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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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