McGraw-Hill Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science and Technology

9780070467590: McGraw-Hill Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science and Technology

This CD-ROM contains the complete, updated text of the 20-volume "McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology", 7th edition. It includes all terms and definitions from "The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms", 5th edition, and incorporates more than 550 drawings, photographs, maps and charts. It is designed to operate in Windows using state-of-the-art software with full-text, Boolean, hypertext and context-relevant search and browse capability.

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The McGraw-Hill Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science & Technology (MEST) incorporates the text and graphics of the 20-volume, seventh edition (1992) of the print encyclopedia and the text of the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (1994). It is to be updated annually, a clear advantage over the print set, a new edition of which is published every five years. According to press information, in addition to the text there are 550 photos, drawings, maps, and charts, 39 animation sequences, and nearly 40 minutes of audio. Hardware and software requirements include a 386 or better PC with 4MB RAM and a hard disk, Windows 3.1, and a VGA or SVGA color monitor (the pictures will not display without an SVGA driver set for 256 colors, although this is not mentioned in the manual). A mouse and sound board are also necessary to use multimedia features. Networked versions are available.

Installation is uncomplicated through Windows, although one will probably get a "Fatal Error" message as I did when one tries to install this with any other Windows program open--something else not mentioned in the documentation. The documentation is only eight pages in length; McGraw-Hill evidently feels that its on-line help, described as "detailed" in the manual, is the best way to provide instructions. However, none of the help screens I accessed were particularly detailed. For example, the explanation of "photo command" says, "Use this command to view photographs associated with an Encyclopedia article." On this particular help screen, further information is offered under "Related Topics," for example, "View a photograph." The "detailed instructions" under this related topic consisted of "Select Photo from the Document Menu or press Alt, D and P." These particular screens seemed a bit tautological to me. They did not help explain why the actual photo command was dimmed out and unworkable. Tech Support could only suggest that I make sure my display driver was set for 256 colors and reinstall MEST. This advice did not solve the problem, so I was unable to view any photos.

MEST offers several ways to search for subjects, beginning with a choice of databases: Encyclopedia, Dictionary, Animations, Biographies, etc. Clicking on the Search button offers two options, "simple" or "advanced." Simple search allows users to enter a term, while advanced search allows one to use the Boolean connectors AND, NOT or OR with up to four terms. One can also restrict the search by a topic or discipline (Engineering, Physics, etc.) and/or by proximity.

The search engine is very fast and easy to use. The users sees a window of "search results," with the number of articles and number of occurrences of the search term. One can also use the index button to browse or skip directly to an alphabetic list of all terms. The only weakness I found in this part of the program was the sometimes confusing way that I had to enter a search to locate a reference. For example, to find information on "circuit elements" one must use a phrase search in the simple search mode; a Boolean search for these terms doesn't retrieve the same article.

All of the power of Windows is available through MEST, including the ability to display multiple windows on one screen. Printing text is easy. Photographs, animation stills, and illustrations that appear in separate boxes cannot be printed. The 39 animation sequences seem quite primitive, although the audio explanations are clear. I could see no particular rationale for why these specific examples were included and wished for more.

There are clear advantages to a multimedia approach for an encyclopedia like MEST. The ability to bring to life concepts and explanations, including pronunciations, certainly makes a good teaching tool. Although the publisher claims that all of the text from the print version is included on the CD-ROM, I found that some diagrams and figures are not included. When a figure is dropped, the text reference to it, quite naturally, also is dropped. However, in some cases, entire explanatory paragraphs that include the reference to a figure number are also dropped. For example, in the print version there is a clear illustration of magnetic induction including an illustration of the field pattern around power lines. On the CD-ROM this "Figure 1" reference is dropped as well as approximately 75 additional words of text explanation.

It would be helpful if future versions contained more extensive help screens including explanations for such items as a second Find button that appears on text information screens and does nothing that I could find other than display the message, "Text could not be found."

In its printed form, McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology is an important reference tool; in the present incarnation, I would give it a limited recommendation for high-school and college libraries. Having watched the difficulties public library reference staff can have in explaining CD-ROMs to the public, MEST might be a bit difficult to use in the latter environment. Charles Anderson

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