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December 1998
ArachnoFiles"

Directory assistance for the spelling-impaired

Each month in this new column, we'll highlight an in-house Web page of interest. Send your suggestions to bhenson@ucar.edu.

You're trying to find a new employee in the online directory, but you're not sure how the last name is spelled. How do you look up something you can't spell?

RAP systems administrator Tres Hofmeister has an answer. As part of his interest in search engines, the Perl programming language, and common-gateway interface (CGI) scripts, Tres has created a gateway to phonedir, the UCAR online directory, that forgives many spelling errors. It debuted on 22 October as an in-house-only Web page. Tres says it should be opened to the world at large soon with some added features.

The directory uses Soundex, a system familiar to anybody who's done genealogical research at the National Archives. According to Tres, the algorithm compresses words (in this case, names) into a small space using a model that approximates the sound of the spoken word. Each word is reduced to a four-character string: the first character is the first letter of the name in upper case and the remaining three are digits that represent the first three remaining consonants in the name.

The gateway built by Tres generates Soundex codes for each name entered and compares them to the codes for last and first (or middle, if the first name is an initial) names in the database. The output gives a range of possible matches to the name in question. One caveat: the first letter in the first or last name (whichever one is entered by the user) needs to be correct in order for the system to find the desired entry.

The phonedir gateway is Tres's first CGI effort. He hopes to build his expertise while producing useful products. "You've got to keep your skills reasonably up to date," he says. Tres welcomes your feedback and suggestions at tres@ucar.edu, ext. 8415. •BH

On the Web:
UCAR phonedir Soundex Search

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall