Computers add new definition to reference books

November 26, 1992|By Orange County Register

Even in book publishing, where the word reigns supreme, people are quickly getting the picture: Computers are fast -- and accurate -- on the draw.

This fall, publishers are introducing a pair of ground-breaking, user-friendly reference books that wouldn't exist without the computer: The Macmillan Visual Dictionary and Hammond Atlas of the World.

Nearly everyone is familiar with an atlas, but a visual dictionary is a newer concept. Containing 25,000 terms and nearly 3,500 color illustrations, it was designed for two purposes: to guide readers who know what something looks like but don't know what it's called; and to help those who know a word but can't picture the object.

Take, for example, the "dingus at the end of your shoelace," says Bill Rosen, the dictionary's publisher. "It's a well-known object, but you can't look it up in dictionary if you don't know its name."

Turn to pages 354-355 in the Visual Dictionary and there's a picture of a man's oxford shoe with its parts identified. There's the tongue, the heel, the welt, the vamp, the outsole, the shoelace and the thing at the end, the tag.

"That's very mundane," Mr. Rosen says. "In some ways I enjoy the impractical stuff more than the practical stuff. A transept spire on the top of a Gothic cathedral doesn't come up in my life very much, but gosh darn it, here it is." On page 176 in the architecture section.

On other pages, readers can find the parts of a nuclear generating station, the difference between a kick pleat and a knife pleat, the instruments in a symphony orchestra and where the script assistant sits in a television production control room.

The Macmillan work is an offshoot of a book published by Facts on File in 1986, but the new work is in color and contains twice as many images, all of which were produced using computers.

Mr. Rosen says computer-aided images offered several advantages over hand-drawn illustrations and photographs: "The [computer] images can be shrunk, rotated, inverted. We can change colors -- all on the computer screen. Plus the sheer

volume was immense."

Among the oldest, most useful means of conveying information visually is the map, and map-making is undergoing a computer revolution as well.

For the first time, computers are actually drawing maps, says Kathleen D. Hammond, chief operating officer of Hammond Inc., publishers of the new Hammond Atlas of the World. "This is the first atlas based on satellite-derived imagery -- so the underlying data is more accurate -- and then with a computer actually drawing the map, it draws it more precisely than the human hand ever does."

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