1. Ouellette, Teena H. MA

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A few months ago, my computer needed service. It would not boot because it could not read the hard drive. The technician who came to fix it diagnosed a "sticktion" problem. "Sticktion," according to the technician, meant there was a moving part related to the read/write function that was sticking Istead of moving and the sticking was preventing the computer from recognizing the hard drive. As computerese is a burgeoning language, we, the users, cannot possibly keep up with all of the terms. We are forced to turn to experts, technicians, manuals, and computer dictioparies for help.


Dictionaries of computer terms come in all sizes, colors, and levels of technical language. You should never just pick the one with the prettiest cover from the bookstore shelf. It is important to examine some of the terms and definitions and be certain that the level of technical language in the dictionary is equal to your level of expertise. I found that Jargon: An Informal Dictionary of Computer Terms by Robin Williams (not the comic) and Steve Cummings blends tongue-in-cheek humor with not-so-technical definitions, making it a delightful resource. For example, "crash" is defined as "When your computer stops working or when part of the system suddenly breaks down. The term may sound overly dramatic, but the first time it happens to you, you'll understand."


Jargon has been on the market since 1993 and contains more than 600 pages of alphabetized computer-related terms. Terms from the early days of computing to the present, from the Macintosh and PC perspectives are covered. Terminology related to hardware, software, operations, electronic mail, functions, and slang all are included. I discovered that ENIAC, which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator, was developed in 1946 as the first operational digital computer. Other helpful facts I learned included the difference between vector and raster graphics, and clarification of the term geek ("the larval stage of a hacker, or simply a fundamentally clueless individual"). In addition to defined terms, Jargon includes a helpful appendix for the technically uninitiated with such topics as "How to Read a Computer Ad" and "PC Monitor Options." The appendix deftly explains the differences between terms such as MB and MHZ, DX and SX, and parallel and serial ports.


Of course, Jargon is not complete. None of the computer term dictionaries on the market are because of the two truths: 1) the technology is constantly evolving thus creating the need for constantly updated nomenclature; and 2) users have discovered that they are individually empowered to add to computer yocabulary (ie, they can make up words).


Fortunately, much of the language that develops from the second truth (such as technobabble, hard drive crash) sound like plain English. Technological vocabulary additions usually are less obvious and since Jargon was published the Internet has grown exponentially, leading to the creation of hundreds of new terms. Wisely, Williams and Cummings recognize that these two truths exist and acknowledge that there may be some terminology that they did not include in the book. However, with more than 7000 terms between its covers, Jargon certainly cannot be called incomplete!


I also was attracted to the easy reading format in Jargon. Symbols and numbers are defined followed by the alphabetical listing of terms. The authors avoid being didactic when explaining terms. Reading Jargon is more like talking with a computer-enlightened friend. Jargon makes the important points without assuming expertise or intimidating the reader. Tables in the appendix are easy to follow and the index is comprehensive. Jargon is not the book for the reader who wants pocket-sized, brief, or succinct. It does not have an up-to-date cyberspace vocabulary. That said, it is a great book for the recreational user who needs a reference manual for a bookshelf or workstation.


With the incredible activity on the Internet and the introduction of Windows '95, I hope there will soon be a second edition of Jargon. Computer dictionaries tend to suffer the same fate as the technology they explain-they both become quickly outdated. Although much of Jargon is timely for most of the casual user's needs, it is certainly an effort worth repeating. By the way, "sticktion" did not make it into Jargon-maybe next time.


Jargon: An Informal Dictionary of Computer Terms, (1993) by Robin Williams and Steve Cummings. ISBN 0-938151-8-43. Published by Peachpit Press Inc., 2414 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710; phone: 510-548-4393, fax: 510-548-5991;