Need a computer term explained? How about help converting carats into kilograms, or deciphering a list of acronyms? Assistance is just a few clicks away at an online reference site.

PC Webopaedia

Billed as the number-one online encyclopedia and search engine dedicated to computer terminology, PC Webopaedia provides descriptions of thousands of computer terms as well as links to Web pages related to those terms. For example, the description of "firewall" includes links to online magazine articles about firewalls and to companies that sell firewall products. Search results also include links to related terms and categories.

The site opens with a data box to type in key words for searches and a pull-down box to specify search categories.

Also listed on the opening page are the "Term of the Day," the top-15 most requested terms, and a list of recent entries.

Though a useful resource, PC Web-opaedia is limited. It has no listing for such cutting-edge computing terms as "petaflop" and "teraflop," and it lacks historical depth. For example, the only information on ENIAC, the first electronic computer, is a mention in the listing for "bug." But the site does accept requests for new terms, so its depth should improve.

The site also offers a free subscription to a semiweekly e-mail newsletter that provides updates on: 1) recently added terms and links to the corresponding Web pages; 2) the most popular search terms requested by site visitors; and 3) Web page reviews.

Computer Currents Magazine Computer Dictionary

What sets this site apart from other online computer dictionaries are its lists of filename extensions, Internet domain suffixes, HTML tags, and more.

If you receive a file with an unfamiliar filename extension, for example: xxx.dxf, head to this site to look it up. The site gives you two choices: type the filename extension into the search box, or select "File Type" from the menu and receive an alphabetized filename extension list. With one mouse click you'll see that .dxf is an AutoCAD file, and will know to open the file with the corresponding software.

As the Internet expands, so do the number of domain names. This dictionary defines the common, including ".com" and ".gov"; and the obscure, including ".mm" (the country domain name for Myanmar), and ".nom" (the relatively new domain name for personal sites).

The site also includes two fun lists:

  • Emoticons or smileys. Used in e-mail or in online chat groups, these icons represent emotions, such as "=0", which  (when viewed sideways) translates as surprise, and "%-{", which translates as confused;
  • Internet chat terms. These include terms such as "LOL", which translates as "laughing out loud," and "CUL8R", for "see you later."

Dictionary of Units

If you need to convert barrels into liters or pounds force into newtons, the University of Exeter's Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching Dictionary of Units can be your guide. The site claims to summarize "most of the units of measurement to be found in use around the world today" and includes formulas for converting the various units into the appropriate International Standard Organization (ISO) standard units.

Units are listed by category (length, density, speed, and so on) as well as alphabetically. The site also includes a brief history of measurement systems, ISO information, and links to other mathematics sites.

The Centre's main page (www.ex.ac.uk/cimt) provides links to downloadable programs and shareware for calculating the conversions as well as links to many other interesting, useful, or fun mathematics-related pages.

Acronym Finder

Acronym Finder is a searchable database of more than 53,000 common acronyms and abbreviations related to computers, technology, telecommunications, and military operations. If you have trouble remembering the difference between NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NOAO (National Optical Astronomy Observatory), or UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) and UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), a single click on this site can match the problematic acronym with its official name.

The advanced text search option allows users to: 1) search for information based on partial acronyms; and 2) search for specific text in acronym meanings, for example, every acronym with the word "Internet" in its official name.

The site, while quite useful, is by no means a definitive acronym source and is not always accurate. Many acronyms have multiple or irrelevant meanings (NSF is defined as National Science Foundation, Non-sufficient Funds, Not So Fast, and so on), and the site does not provide links to the home pages of the organizations or companies the acronyms define.

Send recommendations of useful education-related Web sites to prism@asee.org. Future column topics include shareware/freeware, online publications, and business-sponsored sites.

Vicky Hendley is senior editor and Web editor of ASEE PRISM

return to PRISM online; or October PRISM online