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If you're into toolbars, Internet Explorer, and Google, the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer does more than give IE a mere shot of nitro. With a set of features both useful and self-promoting, Google Toolbar 6 feels like it adds eight cylinders to IE's engine, turning it into a powerhouse of personalized functionality for both IE 8 users and those who are stuck on earlier versions.

There's the dedicated Google search window, the effective pop-up blocker, the form autofiller, the translation utility, the spell checker, and the map tool that automatically links addresses in Web pages to … Read more

Check your spellling

Despite its name, letter-grade scoring, and nostalgic background of college-ruled paper, Dictionary.com insists Miss Spell's Class is aimed at their core demographic of high school and university students, and business professionals. The application is straightforward and holds some appeal, we'll give it that. In one short session, typically under a minute, you quickly decide which of the 20 words in the round are spelled correctly or incorrectly. Points are knocked off for inaccuracy, with 10 seconds for each error added to your total time. If it takes you forty seconds to go through the list, but you … Read more

Dictionary.com's iPhone game tests ur spelling

Since launching its Dictionary.com app for iPhone and iPod Touch in early April, the folks over at Dictionary.com have been plotting other iPhone applications that use the tools they've got: grammatical, orthographic, synonymic authority. And while they're at it, maybe duplicate the numerical success of their reference app, which has floated among the iTunes Top 10 since its launch, and which hit more than a million downloads within the first three weeks.

The conduit of such lofty ambitions is Miss Spell's Class, a 99-cent app that despite its name, letter-grade scoring, and nostalgic background of college-ruled paper, Dictionary.com insists is aimed at their core demographic of high school and university students, and business professionals.

The app is straightforward. You quickly decide which of the 20 words in the round are spelled correctly or incorrectly. Points are knocked off for inaccuracy, and added to your total time. If it takes you 40 seconds to go through the list, but you get two wrong, your score spikes up to 60 seconds, a B. So save the pokiness for reviewing your score and for kicking yourself for casual errors.

The game is cute all right, and a test to the ego in the way that SATs and other standardized tests are--taunting in their simplicity, and debasing when you miss a word you ought to know. At least you're not alone--the misspellings that are your object to spot are siphoned straight from the top 5,000 botched words entered into Dictionary.com at a rate of 2 million typos and flubs per month.

Still, there are a few light raps of the ruler we'd make. In a test game, 'consiencious' was paired with 'consensus', rather than with 'conscientious'. Apart from that, we're not quite convinced the game will make us more intelligent, until Dictionary.com slips in definitions, and perhaps the pronunciation guide from the free Dictionary.com iPhone app. Miss Spell's Class is also a bit one-dimensional. Although this game title is just the beginning, we'd like to see it instilled with different skill levels and playing modes, where you might actively spell a word, not just passively review it, or quickly choose the right configuration from a handful of choices. There should be different skins to pull in the grade-school youngsters, old fogeys, and tweens who are too cool for school, and competitions over Wi-Fi.… Read more

Google augments open-source spell-check

Google's expertise in translation has begun to pay dividends for an entirely separate project, its Chrome browser--as well as any other software using the open-source spell-checking package called Hunspell.

Chrome combines WebKit's spell-check infrastructure with Hunspell's multilanguage library of correctly spelled words to supply spell-check in 27 languages. But many widely used words were missing from Hunspell, and Google used its translation expertise to fill in the gaps.

Here's the explanation in a Wednesday blog post from Google programmers Brett Wilson and Siddhartha Chattopadhyay:

"The Hunspell dictionary maintainers have done a great job creating … Read more

Check your spelling in Firefox, IE

Some people seem to think they have carte blanche to spell any which way they want to when they're on the Internet. But whether you're writing Web mail or IMs, filling out a Web form, or just entering a term in Google's search box, spelling matters.

And that's not just because an abundance of spelling errors can make people think you're an eighth grade dropout. (Nothing against eighth grade dropouts!) It's also because misspellings can prevent you from finding the information you're searching for and lead to e-mail miscommunication.

Firefox 2 and 3 … Read more

Find the right word with WordWeb

Are you ever at a loss for words? Whether you're writing an essay, a letter, a business proposal, or even a novel, there are inevitably times when the right word is just out of your mind's reach. In the old days, you might pick up a dictionary or thesaurus to find a specific word, but now most people know that resources on the Internet are only a couple of clicks away. There's one program I like to use, however, that's even easier than opening your Web browser.

WordWeb is a free program that lets you highlight … Read more

The weird world of circuit-bending

If you spend any time with young children, you've been exposed to talking, beeping, musical toys. Most of them seem designed to annoy adults, but as good parents, we're willing to make the sacrifice if it keeps our children happy. Unfortunately, the average child's attention span for one of these toys is no more than three months, after which it sits in a corner, abandoned, until dad trips over it and sprains an ankle. Next stop: Freecycle.

Not so fast. Last week I was introduced to circuit-bending, the practice of taking abandoned kids' toys and creating musical … Read more

Video: Speak & Spell boombox mod

This whole thing started weeks ago when fellow Craver Tim Moynihan posted a story on a vintage NES game controller and cartridge that had been modded into an MP3 player and portable speaker. Not to be outdone, I realized that my homebrew MP3 player, the Little Professor, needed an equally nostalgic portable speaker system. A quick look through my closet produced the most worthy candidate imaginable--a malfunctioning vintage Texas Instruments Speak & Spell, manufactured the same year as the Little Professor--the year of my birth, 1978. Excellent.

Transforming the Speak & Spell into a portable speaker system wasn't nearly … Read more

Power Downloader finds the right words

When Power Downloader recently sat down to check his e-mail, he quickly noticed a message from his niece, Kitty Kilobyte. In the message, Kitty explained that she would soon be attending a summer English class, which would mean she would probably be writing a lot of papers. She went on to explain that though she was embarrassed to admit it, spelling wasn't her greatest skill, and any software he could recommend would be a big help.… Read more

Gspell: using Google for smarter spell checking

Gspell is a great little add-on for Mac users to add system-wide spelling recommendations from Google search results. For 10.4 users, Tiger's had spell-checking from the New Oxford American Dictionary built in, but even that has its limits when it comes to brand-new words and company names. Gspell's solution is to search Google to find spelling recommendations based on top results. This comes in handy when typing in people's last names, or site names that are slight variations of real words, such as Digg, Yelp, and CNET.

Gspell does have a few limitations. For one, it … Read more