AMITIAE - Saturday 31 March 2012
Bloomsbury Dictionary of Computing and Other Specialist Dictionaries
By Graham K. Rogers
DictionariesTo define something is to control it: to understand, to limit, to avoid confusion. I use dictionaries all the time, from those on the iPhone to the three-finger gesture on the Mac that brings up a definition panel, as well as the two great tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact Edition) that sit in my office: a bargain when I bought it for $25 when I was in the US in the 1980s. Have you ever really needed to know the meaning of a word and when it was first used?
I was scouting round the iTunes app store earlier and saw a reference to the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Law. I was a UK policeman in the 1970s and remember (not too fondly) my copy of Moriarty's Police Law and the more informative Stone's Justices Manual that was in the Station office. Law too needs its definitions to control and limit.
Interested in the concept of such a dictionary, I examined the Lexicon Apps site and was intrigued to see there were more. On the iTunes store there are a dozen Bloomsbury Dictionaries listed in the Tagstar Publishing page, each priced at $6.99:
I must admit that I was sorely tempted by those on Food and on Wine, but more sensibly decided to run the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Computing through its paces.
Dictionary of ComputingOne of the marks of good developers is the effort that is put into the app icon which, as we look at it on screen is relatively small. Examined in a graphics application, the full sized (7.111") TIFF file that looks a little bland with its salmon pink background has a lot of detail including a grey shadow image of the archer icon. The sort of details that are missed if we glance at an app icon, but that are always there (in the better ones) to illustrate just one aspect of the care.
After an opening screen, the app opens at an A - Z index. And you can scroll right the way from A, A, A: or Å through to Zooming and ZV Port. It is easier of course to use the alphabetical shortcuts at the side of the panel or the search panel at the top. There are apparently more than 10,000 terms, although I decided not to count. The time it took me to scroll through a couple of times -- top to bottom and bottom to top -- tells me there are clearly a great many and a figure 10,000 is easy to accept.
As the list is scrolled, a small panel near the top shows the first letter of the apps in the panel, in lower case and upper case characters, like Ee, Ss, Zz. If the screen is used in landscape mode, the list and first letter panel are shown, but instead of the alphabet to the right for quick access to entries, only some of the letters are shown (space constraints) with a dot between. However, when the list is touched users are able to scroll quickly by just sliding the finger up or down.
The app is best used in portrait mode as there are more controls for the user. At the top of each entry is a back button to return the user to the main index. An Export icon allows email, share on Facebook and Bookmark, for those entries that are likely to be needed over and over.
On the entry panel itself, are two arrows (to left and right) for the previous and next dictionary entries. There are also two pale icons: a page with a corner turned, and a book. The page icon is for adding notes, so a user can make personal annotations to the definition. This would be attractive in many of the other Bloomsbury Dictionaries (above). When a note is made or a Bookmark created, the pale icons change colour to indicate this.
The app does not need access to the Internet for normal operations. I tested this by putting the iPhone into Airplane Mode and checking a number of dictionary entries, including several of the hyperlinks. Each access request was instant.
CommentsAt $6.99 some may not want to download such a dictionary: all online anyway, eh? That depends, of course, if online is accessible at the time it is needed. The content is broad and, apart from a well-made app, this is what we pay for. I did find some of the entries a little brief although those I examined were always correct. For some -- in computing and the 11 other areas that these apps cover -- that may be worth paying for.
I would hope that the developers have more of these dictionaries waiting in the wings, for example, medicine and engineering are both specialist areas that would benefit from such reference apps. I would also expect that as information is updated or revised, so the apps are updated as well. I must admit still being tempted by the Dictionary on Wine.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.
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