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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | BOOKS

Dictionaries to De-Encrypt What the Digerati Are Saying

January 26, 1998|KRISSY HARRIS

Submarining, sneakernet, clustergeeking, larval stage, scratch monkey, TCP/IP, interface, GUI, gopher, splash screen, WYSIWYG, bundle, peanut, Pentium, encryption, open architecture, LAN, push, SIMM, DIMM, RAM, DRAM, VRAM.

Oh, what does it all mean?

With the ever-rising popularity of the Internet and personal computers, there seems to be--no, there is--a whole new language seeping into our conversations, our media and our thoughts faster than you can say fencepost error.

What's a person to do? The obvious place to go is a dictionary of computer terms. A computer dictionary is a computer dictionary is a computer dictionary, you say?

Wrong. While the organization of all the books here is pretty standard (alphabetical still wins the day), the wide variety of offerings out there is amazing. Most even contain the same terms. The big difference lies in the definitions. Computers are complex, so it follows that the terms, expressions and concepts are too. Some make it more difficult than others.

Though I can't hold your hand deciphering all the jargon, I can point you in the right dictionary direction.

ILLUSTRATED COMPUTER DICTIONARY FOR DUMMIES: Third Edition, by Dan Gookin and Sandra Hardin Gookin (IDG Books Worldwide, $19.99).

In typical "Dummies" fashion, the "Illustrated Computer Dictionary" is at the top of the list. Of the six books reviewed in this column, it defines jargon with the greatest of ease. There's not even a close second. Terms aren't defined using words you have to look up. Instead, they're defined with words that, by and large, you already know.

Also, however, in typical "Dummies" fashion, "Illustrated Computer Dictionary" is too glib and runs its few funny jokes into the ground. The pictures, on the other hand, are very funny. At first. But then the same old jokes are recycled time and again. And again. Though the gags may hold up a little better if you're just looking up words as you need them (like a normal person) instead of reading the whole thing cover to cover (like a big loser, er, me). Also, the pronunciation key goes a little overboard. Consider: network computer, net-wurk com-pyoo-ter. C'mon.

But let's forgive them. Not only is this dictionary the easiest to understand, it offers the best selection of words. Sure, it has fewer than some. But the ratio of words it has to words you'll care about rocks--particularly if computers aren't a way of life for you. And it's not all computer terms. Words like masochist, aardvark and Zamboni also have a place.

Another bonus: icons to denote terms specific to the Internet, Windows or Mac when applicable.

ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF TERMS AND TECHNOLOGIES: Second Edition (Sandhill's Publishing, $9.95).

This one is from the publishers of PC Novice and Smart Computing magazines and can be purchased at your local newsstand. At $9.95, it's cheaper than the others.

And it's bucking the whole computer dictionary system--which is a good thing, by the way.

The definitions in "Terms and Technologies" are commensurate with many of the other books in this column (save "Dummies"), which is to say that the definitions can be technical and require some focus on the part of the user.

But sometimes this book is a little more confusing than it needs to be. Font is defined as "the design for a set of characters, which includes typeface, point size and weight." Maybe more information than you need . . . unless you're settling some kind of geeky bet.

But what really makes this book stand out is all the information it contains aside from the dictionary. It's a veritable treasure trove of computer information. A timeline, e-mail milestones, computer stats, computer history, "Who's Who in the Computing World" (short bios and pictures), top 60 execs in the computer industry (also with pictures) and a guide to "Net-speak."

The e-mail directory has a few addresses (enough to get you started) for a handful of subjects: government and politics, news media, TV, movies, celebs, authors, computers, consumer support and miscellaneous people, such as Rush Limbaugh, Santa Claus and G. Gordon Liddy.

And don't be alarmed by the "Display Until 2/1/98" notice on the cover. You see, this is the winter '97 edition, which I'm getting in just under the wire. But even if this is the edition you find at your local newsstand, don't worry. Technology isn't changing that fast.

THE COMPUTER GLOSSARY: Seventh Edition, by Alan Freedman (Amacom, $24.95).

Its cover screams that it's "the Rolls-Royce of computer dictionaries" with "more than 6,000 meaningful terms!" "for everyone!" Despite the self-promoting blather junking up even the binding, it's not so different from the others.

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