The magazine of the Melbourne PC User Group

Encyclopedia of Computer Science
Major Keary
majkeary@netspace.com.au

The Encyclopedia of Computer Science, first published in 1976, is highly regarded as an authoritative resource on the subject of computer science. There is certainly no other single volume that can compare with it. 

The fourth edition has just been released; in keeping with previous revisions it is larger, contains new material, and much of the existing material has been revised. The breadth and depth of coverage is remarkable; it is a true encyclopaedia - a term often misused to make run-of-the-mill glossaries look grand. 

The contents deal primarily with computer science, but there is also much about what is, and can be done with computers. The articles, which appear in alphabetical order, fall into nine categories: Hardware; Software; Computer Systems; Information and Data; Mathematics of Computing; Theory of Computation; Methodologies; Applications; and Computing Milieux. A table is provided to assist in finding articles that deal with particular topics; it lists all the articles (with page references) in sub-groups. 

Thus, under the Hardware classification are sub-groups: Types of Computers, Computer Architecture, Computer Circuitry, Digital Computers, Digital Computer Subsystems, Hardware Description Languages, Hardware Reliability, Maintenance of Computers, Molecular Computing, Optical Computing, Performance Measurement and Evaluation, and Quantum Computing

Two indexes are provided, one by general subject (some 7000 entries) and the other by personal name. The contents are very well organised and presented. The language is lucid, and even the more esoteric topics contain introductory material that can be comprehended by ordinary readers. The writing throughout is a good example of effective technical communication, which is not the same as what passes for "technical writing".

The focus is on providing information about computer science in the kind of detail that is meaningful to computer professionals, engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and students. Articles about mathematical subjects, such as computer algebra, contain detailed explanations that use mathematical expressions. In short, those topics that are to do with what are often called the hard sciences are discussed at a professional level, and in depth. 

Apart from strictly computer science topics, there are articles on a wide range of related subjects. Of special note is the provision of historical information about the development of computers from earliest times, and inclusion of biographies of the pioneers. Much of that kind of material, including illustrations is sometimes difficult to find if one wants reliable detail. For example, the work of Konrad Zuse is significant but not widely documented in English. 

There is an article, Entrepreneurs, that mentions some well known industry figures - some of whom are more notable for generating wealth than their original thought or scientific creativity. 

Need information on an operating system (such as Control Program Microcomputers) or a programming language (BLISS, ECAPII, or DYNAMO III for example)? This is where to find that kind of detail. Need to track down a journal or magazine, such as Annals of Combinatorics? An appendix presents an extensive and detailed listing with contact URLs. 

There are several appendices that contain useful material, such as an extensive listing of abbreviations and acronyms, a glossary of terms in five languages (handy if one needs the Russian word for file), and a list of presidents of major computing societies. 

The pièce de résistance is a timeline of significant computing milestones. Apart from being an interesting and informative chronology that puts development of computer science into a global context, there are some very amusing asides. 

The Encyclopedia of Computer Science is a work of exceptional scope; the editors are to be congratulated on the success of what must have been a task of enormous proportions. 

Ordinary readers should not be put off by the physical size of the volume, or its imposing title; it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in real knowledge. If you have children in secondary school, encourage the librarian to acquire this encyclopaedia. A copy is in the Melb PC library - a quiet browse is sure to convince you of its quality.

Ralston, Reilly, & Hemmendinger, eds.: Encyclopedia of Computer Science
ISBN 0-333-77879-0
Published by Nature Publishing Group, 2034 pp., hardcover, 
RRP $360.25 incl. GST
The Australian and NZ distributor is Macmillan Academic & Reference 
Contact Renn Adams
Ph: 61 3 9825 1160 
Fax 61 3 9825 1010
e-mail: reference@macmillan.com.au

Reprinted from the November 2000 issue of PC Update, the magazine of Melbourne PC User Group, Australia