The Hamlyn Dictionary of Computing S M H Collin UKP2.99 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd
Dictionaries of computing suffer from two main drawbacks: firstly, they become outdated soon after publication, and, secondly, they tend to be of use only to people who are already computer literate. Hamlyn’s Dictionary of Computing published this week falls prey to these two difficulties and a lot more besides. For a start it lists hardly any of the acronyms with which the computer industry is plagued, so that, for example, the naive layman (at whom the dictionary is addressed) would draw a blank looking up OOP (object-oriented program), and wouldn’t be very much the wiser if he found the entry for object-oriented architecture, which says a structure where all files, outputs etc, in a system are represented as objects. While such a definition may be accurate it simply does not give enough information to demystify the terminology. Of much greater benefit to people new to the computer world would be a book placing computing terms firmly in the historical, technological and business context from which they are derived. Admitted-ly such an enterprise requires a skilled populariser and a publisher willing to back such a risky time and money consuming venture. This type of project has, however, proved successful in the past. Allen & Unwin had a bestseller on its hands in the 1940s and 1950s with the socio-biologist Lancelot Hogben’s Mathematics for the Million, which took pains to put mathematics into a practical, historical and social context. In the current social climate where there is a potentially large constituency of people who have to come to terms with computing, but who never encountered it at school or university, such a popularising tome would undoubtedly prove profitable. Hopefully it will be written by someone with greater scholastic credentials than James Martin. In the meantime, dictionaries of computing should not neglect acronyms, and should also endeavour to offer more insight into terminology by giving examples of what the labelled objects can do if nothing else. Hamlyn take note: no dictionary should be able to get away with the following, laughably literal, definition of a relational database as a set of data in which all the items are related.