Information of Popular Communication Methods

Information Theory (Winter 2020)

Arun Seetharaman and Alissa Ling

Information theory can be a difficult topic to convey to middle school students, and we would like to encourage students to further explore fields in engineering. Our goal is to teach the theory and science of information using popular communication methods such as texting, social media, and phone calls as a platform to engage with the students. We believe this will be a concept more accessible and appreciated by the students of our outreach initiative. Our final deliverable will be a fun video that will both inform and captivate our audience. We will use drawings and animation throughout the video to make the material accessible. This is important so that we can help younger students understand an abstract science concept and get them excited about the field of engineering.

The link to our video is here:

Our outreach project was intended to be an interactive, animated video that we would share with the students. We would have paused the video and asked the students questions during the video so that they stayed engaged in the dialogue. Since the outreach was cancelled, we just recorded ourselves asking the questions we would have asked to the students.

Our project is unique in that our deliverable is the same as the outreach video, since our original idea was to make a video for the middle schoolers. We believe we accomplished our goals in creating this video to be fun, interactive, and engaging, and believe that we made the content accessible to the level of a middle schooler. While it is unfortunate that we cannot share it in person, we believe that watching the video is as good as if we were there in person.

Outline of video:

  1. Introduction
    • You can understand the fundamental aspects of information theory without knowing all the math behind it.
    • Everything you communicate can be broken down into bits, which is 1’s and 0’s.
  2. Texting
    • Each letter in a word has its own, unique binary sequence.
    • While texts are simple and can be represented easily, as you scale up the complexity of the data, you need to compress it.
  3. Compression
    • You need to use the structure of the binary sequences in the data in order to make the data smaller, while still retaining the same information.
    • Example. Say you have a sequence such as 1111111111101. Instead of sending the whole sequence, you can just send the location of the 0.
  4. Photos
    • A picture is made of pixels which are little squares of color, which all combine to form the larger image.
    • To compress an image, the most common method is to use lossy compression in the form of a JPEG, which means that some of the data is lost.
    • The image quality if affected by how much compression is applied to the image. As more compression is applied, the image becomes blurrier and more noisy.
    • Example is Snapchat.
  5. Videos
    • Videos are many pictures in quick succession. Since there are many pictures, videos require a lot of data to store, and thus need more complex methods of compression.
    • We need to both spatially and temporally compress a video. Spatial compression is image compression, and temporal compression looks at the changes in the frames.
    • Streaming and video calling are two different applications the behave differently for a variety of reasons. Examples are Netflix and FaceTime.
  6. Conclusion
    • Everything can be represented in bits, which is a binary sequence of 1s and 0s.
    • Compression is necessary when dealing with complex data such as photos and videos because they are very large.
    • Everything you use is related to information theory.
    • If you found this interesting, then you should pursue a career in engineering!


We found a variety of reputable sources and technical standards that are agreed upon by the scientific community. Many of our resources are blog posts, lecture slides, and google support posts. Unfortunately some of the information we are looking for is proprietary information that is not publicly available. For instance the exact type of compression used by popular applications such as Netflix and Snapchat are not publicly specified due to their role in their respective company’s success in their field. In these cases we can only look at what publicly known techniques are considered cutting edge and use that as an estimate.

  6. All images and clips were found online and were not created by us.

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