As most of you know, I’m not a programmer – I can handle macros and was moderately accomplished with HyperCard scripts back in the early 1990s. But I still wanted to present a hack at the MacHack developers conference back in June, so I decided to do what I do best – gather information from a variety of sources and put it together in a useful form.
Another Secret in Eudora — A while back, I learned from Steve Dorner that the internal spell checker in Eudora 4.2 and later included a feature that he hadn’t exposed. It’s essentially an auto-correct function, much like the one in Microsoft Word that automatically fixes common misspellings and typographical errors as you type. Why force the user to fix such mistakes manually later on, when you can do it automatically as text is entered?
Steve chose not to expose this feature in Eudora since creating an interface to it would have been ugly, so Eudora doesn’t offer a dictionary containing misspelled words and their replacements. When I learned of this feature, I immediately searched the Internet to see if I could find such a dictionary that could distribute, much as I did with my personal user dictionary of technical terms and names. No luck – I found many dictionaries and even some research into typing mistakes people tend to make, but nothing quite right. Of course, I knew precisely where such a dictionary lived – in Microsoft Word – but it wasn’t a text file.
The next step was to complain about this to TidBITS’s Technical Editor Geoff Duncan, who promptly extracted the word pairs out of Word’s auto-correct dictionary. So now he and I had an auto-correct function in Eudora, and Steve had given me permission to tell the world about this feature (as long I tell you it isn’t a supported feature, so don’t complain to Qualcomm if it doesn’t work right). However, I couldn’t distribute Microsoft’s dictionary. Theoretically we could have written a script to extract the words and create a dictionary, and although that might have been technically legal, it wouldn’t have been gentlemanly. I was stymied.
AutoCorrect at MacHack — Nonetheless, I showed this feature off at MacHack, hoping someone could help me find or create an auto-correct dictionary that could be freely distributed. While working on my demo – which mostly involved thinking of the pun in the title, writing an email message with numerous typos, and making sure my sample replacement dictionary had the appropriate replacements – a solution presented itself. Micah Alpern, a Princeton student who was inspired to attend MacHack after reading our articles about the 1999 conference, said that he was a lousy speller, and as a result had created a several thousand word dictionary of exactly this type for use with WordPerfect, which also had an auto-correct feature.
My demo was pretty bad. It happened somewhere around 4 AM as I was rapidly losing coherence. But I survived, and was even awarded a truly annoying prize – a four-foot long wooden stake. (The Hack Contest organizers, who get even less sleep than everyone else, buy all the prizes at Duke’s Hardware, and somehow made a connection with my hack’s title and stakes being used to kill vampires). Needless to say, flying home with large splinter-producing stake presented a challenge, but if everything goes as planned, the stake will rise from the undead next year.
Share & Enjoy — After MacHack, Micah sent me his word list, to which I promptly added other correction pairs I’ve accumulated based on editing TidBITS Talk. Now everyone who uses Eudora on the Mac can take advantage of this auto-correct feature. Simply download and expand the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary text file, drop it in your Eudora Spelling Dictionaries folder, and launch Eudora. From then on, Eudora will automatically fix mistakes contained in the TidBITS AutoCorrect Dictionary as you type. (And yes, it will make sure that everyone capitalizes TidBITS correctly from now on!)
The text file itself is easily created, if you want to make your own. It must start with a line containing only "#LID 1033 0 3" and go on to list replacement pairs (the misspelled word, a colon, and then the correction), one set per line. The misspelling must be a single word, but the correction can contain multiple words, up to a maximum of about 64 characters. You can’t put a return in the correction text (since that starts a new line) and there may be other non-kosher characters. Feel free to add or delete words from your copy of this dictionary – just make sure to save as a text file when you’re done.
The main annoyance I have with Eudora’s auto-correct feature is that it takes hints about case from the misspelled word. So, if you write PB, Eudora’s auto-correct feature would try to replace it with "POWERBOOK" rather than "PowerBook".
In the spirit of MacHack and of the open source theme that permeated the conference, Micah and I decided to place this auto-correct dictionary in the public domain for use with any program that can take advantage of it. Share and enjoy!