The best systems are simple [TED video]

Simplicity is something we desperately yearn for in areas from data visualization to technology. Yet these very areas often stray into more complex waters, becoming less usable the further they go. George Whitesides, who has a background in chemistry and various other sciences, seems uniquely qualified to help us find a definition of “simplicity” in this TED talk.

If you don’t have 18 minutes to spare, then skip to the 7:30 mark and watch until about 15:30. Whitesides explains how an ideas as simple as a wall switch was used to create the transistor. Many transistors put together created the integrated circuit. Many integrated circuits helped create the computer chip which ultimately evolved into what we know as the Internet and cell phones. Which means a concept as simple as a wall switch was built upon to allow people in the most remote areas of the world to have access to people and information around the globe at their fingertips.

Improve Firefox’s spell check feature

One of my favorite features in Firefox is the built-in spell checker. Two recent tips I learned are worth noting to improve the power of this feature.

Change the way misspelled words appear.

The default red squiggly underline for misspelled words is often too subtle for me. So I really like this tip, courtesy of downloadsquad. To change the indicator to something more obvious like a solid double-underline or

  1. Type about:config in the Firefox address bar. If it pops up an alert, tell it that you know what you’re doing and proceed.
  2. Search for ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle. If you find anything, skip to step 4. If your system is like mine, you found nothing. That means you have to add this configuration value. Right-click any where in the whitespace of the window and select New > Integer.
  3. Enter ui.SpellCheckerUnderlineStyle to create a setting by this name.
  4. Set the value of this setting to one of several options: 0 for no highlighting, 1 for a dotted line, 2 for long dots, 3 for a single straight line, 4 for a double underline, and 5 for a squiggly line (the default).

This setting doesn’t require restarting Firefox. It’s effective immediately, so open another tab and test each style to see what looks best.

Remove mistakenly added words from the Firefox dictionary.

I frequently customize the Firefox dictionary by adding new words that I know are spelled correctly but aren’t in the default word list. This is as easy as right-clicking on a word flagged as misspelled and choosing “Add to Dictionary.” Unfortunately, sometimes I do this too quickly and add a word I shouldn’t have. Thankfully, Lifehacker published instructions on how to remove misspelled words from your Firefox dictionary:

  1. Open your application data folder. On XP or Vista, go to your Start menu and hit Run (or just press Windows-R) and paste in %APPDATA%MozillaFirefoxProfiles; on your Mac, navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles.
  2. Find your profile folder, which by default should look something like something.default.
  3. Inside your profile folder, find the file called persdict.dat and open it up in a text editor.
  4. Find the misspelling, delete it, and save the file.