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Make Firefox A Snap: Part II

Now that we have the real estate cleaned up in our Firefox application, let’s really make this thing cook!

firefox_bkmrkbar

This is my Bookmarks Toolbar in Firefox and it allows me to hit several sites quickly.

Group 1

  • Gmail: I use Gmail and have it as a direct link from the bar. Any web-based mail client (like Yahoo Mail, HotMail, etc) can be bookmarked here, but I recommend putting it first in the bar since it is the most used. Simply go to your mail site and add the bookmark to the “Bookmarks” folder. It should automatically select the icon and will place text there. Hit OK. Now right click on the item in the toolbar and delete the text (Do I really need explanation of that great icon?)
  • Google Reader: In order to scan through about 50 different websites each day, one needs to be proficient at reading RSS feeds. More on that later, but since it is my second most used site, I put it second in the toolbar. No text needed since it has a unique icon.
  • Tiny: TinyURL is a great service for converting great big website addresses like: “http://maps.google.com/maps?q=raleigh+nc&ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&sa=N&tab=wl” down to just “http://tinyurl.com/2jxv45“. This is key for sending people links in emails that would normally wrap onto numerous lines, possibly rendering them useless. TinyURL simply databased my link and assigned it a preset in their system. With 36 characters per position, you can catalogue many entries without having to use more positions. These links actually go to TinyURL’s servers, though, so if their service is down (and I’ve never seen it go down), your link doesn’t work. Also, always be careful about clicking masked URLs. One could easily link a malicious site to an innocent looking tiny url entry.
    The TinyURL button I used is the company’s “button” from this page. Simply drag their link to your Bookmarks toolbar and edit the text to say “Tiny” instead of wasting space with URL. Now you can click that shortcut any time you want to quickly make a URL tiny. They actually have a Firefox extension for TinyURL, but I have found that piling on extensions can really slow performance down. This way works just as well..

Group 2

The second group of icons are folders of sites I use frequently. The first group, “D”, is daily sites I check. “W” is the group of sites I check weekly. In Firefox, you can hit any of these folders with the middle button and open all the links in tabs. I have eight sites in my “D” folder, and the Open In Tabs shortcut insures that I actually will check these 8 sites.

For more than one computer, though, things get complicated. I want my desktop and laptop computers to always keep the same population automatically. If I add a great site on my desktop Firefox, I don’t want to hassle with wondering later where I put it, so I have identical installations on each computer. There are Firefox extensions to handle this now, but I found a fantastic system that not only keeps my computers in sync, it also allows me to access them from someone else’s computer.

del.icio.us

While we are familiar with .com and .org sites, most don’t ever come across sites with the .us extension. This is one of them. Del.icio.us is a site now owned by Yahoo which allows one to store bookmarks on Yahoo’s server. In the old days if you saw a site you wanted to bookmark, could could copy the URL, login to your del.icio.us account, and post the link with subject-related tags. Better yet, these posts are public, so society’s popular links can be found easily through del.icio.us’ page.

I don’t deal with the social aspect of del.icio.us very much, but do use it as a razor sharp bookmarking tool. The key is that each search result in del.icio.us has an RSS feed*. When one clicks on a tag (listed on the right of the screen), del.icio.us returns a list of all of one’s bookmarks associated with that tag. Since the result has an RSS feed, one can use Firefox’s Live Bookmark feature to create dynamic bookmark folders! Simply copy the del.icio.us search result’s RSS feed to a new bookmark in Firefox, and Firefox will update the folder each time it launches.

firefox_bkmrkbar If you look at my toolbar again, you’ll see a “D” RSS feed. When I launch Firefox, it goes to del.icio.us to check which links I’ve tagged as “Daily” and lists them in my “D” feed. So, I have a quick, up-to-date folder for my Daily, Weekly, basketball, and blog-related links quickly accessible.

Adding links to del.icio.us is a snap with with the del.icio.us Firefox extension. Not only does it put a quick tag icon on the toolbar, it also has a fantastic replacement for the bookmarks sidebar. If I click Ctrl-B, two panels open on the left side of the Firefox browser. The top one of the two displays all of my tags in del.icio.us along with a Search box. The bottom panel shows search results. The search entry box yields instant results below, so if I type “drill”, for example, I see two results in the search instantly: a link about picking a drill bit for a given screw size, and a link about basketball drills.

I’ve bookmarked 831 sites in the last 3 years and have command over all of them!

Next up: Highlighting that active tab so you can actually see it.

*RSS Feeds: News sites and blogs usually have a pattern like headline, story, headline, story…. If a website creator sets up the site with an RSS feed, one can use an RSS reader (like Google Reader) to quickly crawl out and grab these headlines and stories and put them into a consistent, easy to use application. It is almost exactly like USAToday’s and Wall Street Journal’s front page quick top news sections.

Make Firefox A Snap

firefox_window

I switched to using the Firefox browser several years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I found myself getting through massive amounts of info with time to spare. I follow about 50 web pages a day and get around 100 emails and I finally have a system that tames all of this very quickly. The first installment of this series gets your Firefox viewing experience maximized.

There is a great article at Lifehacker.com about cleaning up the top of your Firefox window. I followed her advice and am stunned at how much more efficient this is. After getting used to this layout, it is hard to use IE7 without noticing how much valuable real estate is wasted.

I won’t duplicate Gina’s article, but it instructs one how to get rid of the navigation toolbar by getting rid of unnecessary icons like back, forward, and stop when you don’t need them. I was never a big user of the Bookmarks toolbar, but after seeing how she both created folders instead of true links and abbreviated the titles, one can see how efficient the bar can be.

In the next installment, I’ll explain how to really make the Bookmarks bar even more powerful than Gina’s.

Paste Multiple Lines into Google Maps

Firefox users can paste addresses in multiple lines into single line search boxes (like those in Google Maps). According to this article at Lifehacker.com, simply follow these steps:

  • Type "about:config" in the location bar.
  • In the Filter field, type "singleline"
  • Double click the editor.singleLine.pasteNewlines entry and change the value to "2"

A couple of other Firefox tricks I’ve adopted are two keyboard shortcuts:

  • Ctrl-L: Moves the cursor to the Address box ready to replace the current address.
  • Ctrl-K: Moves the cursor to the search box.

Christmas Comedy

I finally discovered XM’s temporary looney Christmas station on the 24th. Luckily I heard my favorite crazy Christmas song; a parody of a Doors medley. Very funny! http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/asc/holiday01.wisemen.asx

Carl Says It All

Nobody quite argues the shortcomings of the BCS like good ol’ Carl (link)

iPod Killer

Sansa During the process of moving a couple of years ago it hit me: how many of these CD’s in my collection have I actually listened to in the last two years? Using the idea of throwing out clothes that I don’t wear any more, I seriously reconsidered how I buy and enjoy music. In addition to never actually listening to these old CDs, there were a ton that included just a song or two that I actually liked. Even more insane is the amount of music out there that I want to hear and enjoy many times over, but just for a few months. Enter Rhapsody.

I’ve been a Rhapsody subscriber for around 4 years now and still love it like I just signed up. (Rhapsody is Real’s subscription unlimited use music service). It is ideal for those of us who rarely ever listen to our old CDs and love discovering new music. Have you heard this year’s CD by The Bravery? After loving “Beautiful Wreck“, did you hear the rest of Shawn Mullins’ 9th Ward Picking Parlor CD? It’s great! How about that great song “Built To Last” by Melee? Wanna buy that whole CD? Not so fast my friend. Rhapsody keeps me from making mistakes and keeps me fresh with great new music. Rhapsody even has music channels that emulate satellite radio’s, only Rhapsody has tons more. They also offer user-defined channels. Just list 10 artists you like and Rhapsody will create a channel of similar music.

Oh, and I still listen to the old stuff. When Rush came to Raleigh this past summer, I listened back to every song I wanted to hear by them, not just the ones from the 4 albums I purchased. I co-hosted my 20th high school class reunion and we needed some 80’s tunes fast (and not the ones I really liked all that much). Voila! The only problems I’ve run into with Rhapsody involve unavailable artists (old Dave Matthews Band, The Eagles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Radiohead) and being shackled to my computer to hear this music. Not any more!

A few of years ago Rhapsody introduced its togo service. Those of us with PlaysForSure devices (ie. Non-iPods) could download almost any of Rhapsody’s music to our players and listen as we please. Don’t want a song? Delete it and get something else. Want it again? No problem.

A couple of years ago Sansa introduced the E280R mp3 player and it is truly a godsend. The PlaysForSure players get a DRM (copyright) certificate per track. The R series Sansa players, on the other hand, get one updatable certificate for the entire device. Thus, the Sansa R players fly when you update them. I can download an entire CD to my Sansa player and start listening in less than 2 minutes. The other unique advantage with the R players is their ability to download any of those channels I previously mentioned. It’s almost like being able to “recharge” the player with great new music. If I don’t like a song, I can skip it with no limitations. Try that with a satellite radio!

Beyond its great unique Rhapsody features, the Sansa is a great mp3 player. It features a 5-band EQ, FM tuner, one-touch Voice recorder, photo viewing, playlist creation on the go, video viewing, song rating on the go, on-screen clock, and album art. The interface is a successful rip-off of the classic iPod interface and is controlled by spinning a (too bright) blue ring. The player has a 20-hour battery life and the batter is user-replaceable.

The disadvantages with this player are few. I would love to have a bookmark feature. There is a very immature ecosystem around this player, so it is difficult to find a clock radio, for instance, that is compatible. The screen is not large, so viewing TV programs is a bit of a stretch. The model comes in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB models, so the whole concept of video on this unit is a bit of a gimmick. Oh, and the big problem with this model is that it is on the way out. Best Buy promoted this item heavily through the end of the summer, but no longer lists it on their website. Apparently Real.com is the only seller of this device (they are now pushing the more video-capable clix unit). That shouldn’t scare you away, in fact it should entice you to strike while the iron is hot. Where else are you going to get a better mp3 player for $95-$140?

Why is this a Nano killer?

OK, obviously the product will not “kill” the Nano in the marketplace, but honestly the Nano has little going for it for music lovers. The marketing hype and the iPod ecosystem (variety of accessories) are definitely in the Nano’s corner. Audible.com’s audio book service works with the Nano and not the Sansa. The Nano is thinner than the already thin Sansa and features the touch-sensitive wheel that got people into mp3 players. Practically speaking, though, if I don’t take my tired old CDs with me in the car (a very convenient system, BTW) why would I want to bother with the hassle of ripping them and transferring them to my mp3 player? With an iPod you can only listen to bought and stolen music that is on your computer. The Sansa will do that as well as open you up to the nearly limitless world of Rhapsody as long you choose to spend your money on a service instead of buying iTunes’ DRM’d music.

The Sansa is not for everyone. Some have no use for new music and want to keep hearing the same stuff. The radio proves that point well. People will continue to buy $1 songs on iTunes, but for the price of 15 of those iTunes tracks per month with Rhapsody, I’m happier than I’ve ever been with the music arrangement in my life.

Make Surround Sound Headphones for < $20

Britwit