Monthly Archives: January 2007

The Firefox Bookmark Bar – A custom menu for your internet

I would be lost on the internet without my bookmark bar in Firefox. Certainly I could use google, but it would take me a lot longer to do my usual daily rounds and tasks.

Some people use and love Firefox, and don’t even use the bookmark bar. This is a tragedy, because it’s truly a great resource. There are three key functions behind this usefulness:

  1. Creation of bookmark menus using folders
  2. Bookmarklets for your web-based applications
  3. Drag-and-drop link collection

I’ll go through these one by one.

1. Creation of bookmark menus using folders

Here’s a screen shot of my bookmark bar:
Bookmark bar screenshot

It actually has more categories, but it wouldn’t fit properly and still be readable on the blog. Anyway, under “Lab” I have all of my frequently used lab bookmarks, including useful pages on our internal wiki. Under personal, I have all of my stuff like email and pages on my personal wiki. Journal Articles has a bookmarklet for adding journal articles to Cite-U-Like and links to my Cite-U-Like pages (like search, authors and tags, recently added, to-read). You get the idea. That actually introduces the next point.

2. Bookmarklets

A lot of “Web 2.0” type bookmarklets exist for different sites these days. A common example might be “Post to”. When you’re looking at a page, and you want to add it to your set of bookmarks, you just click the link, and it brings up a screen to add the page, enter tags, and so on. By adding bookmarklets to your categorized folders, you end up with functional menus for the web. As mentioned in point 1, under Journal Articles I have a bookmarklet for Cite-U-Like. If I’m looking at a journal article on PubMed or HubMed or or whatever, and I want to add it to my Cite-U-Like library, I click the “JournalArticles” menu and then the “Post to Cite-U-Like” item. This takes me to the Cite-U-Like post page with the details already filled in. The JournalArticles category is a great example for this post, because it contains all three points. The last is drag and drop link collection.

3. Drag and drop link collection

Have you ever been reading something on the web, and it links out to something else that you’re interested in, but you don’t want to look at it at the moment? This is really common with RSS feeds. Going along with the JournalArticles example, sometimes I just want to run through my RSS reader and read/ignore/process/discard the entries there. I have some RSS feeds from PubMed searches to bring up new papers that I might be interested in. When these papers pop up, I typically don’t want to read them or even post them to Cite-U-Like immediately. I just grab the link from my RSS aggregator, drag it up to JournalArticles, and drop it. It is automatically tacked on to the end of the pulldown list in JournalArticles. Later I can go back and process those entries, but at the moment, the disruption to my flow has been minimal.

There’s a lot more to this, but the post is already far too long. There’s just one more important thing to add.

“Wait!” you say, “That sounds like a lot of work to set up, and I use different computers. I’m never going to set that up and tweak it over and over on separate machines.”

Okay, maybe you didn’t say that. I did, at some point. Foxmarks to the rescue! Foxmarks will sync all of your bookmarks, and that includes the bar, between Firefox installations. Better yet, if you’re not on your own machine, you can still log in to their website and access your links.

I’ve been using the bookmark bar this way for years, and the addition of Foxmarks within the last year or so has made the system complete. I highly recommend it.

Questions? Comments?

GTD: The importance of daily checklists

The use of checklists has become a cornerstone of my GTD system. I have two checklists — one for home, and one for lab. They’re each broken down into key time periods, such as early morning, arrival at work, departure from work, arrival home, and bedtime.

Here’s the really neat thing about checklists: they’re a habit shortcut. All you have to do is establish the habit of going through your checklist, and you can automatically pick up a habit of doing anything you put on your checklists.

They have a secondary benefit, in that it’s easier to tweak your routine in checklist format. If you notice that things should go in a certain order, you can put them in that order on the checklist. If you find that the existing order isn’t working for you, then you can rearrange it. Typically I print them for a week at a time (made using spreadsheet software), so I update the file and then the next week it takes effect.

Here’s an example of an ordering issue I tweaked:

I keep my Next Actions and calendar on my Palm Treo, and every morning when I get to work, I sync it with my computer to pick up any changes I’ve made since I last left work. This sync takes a little bit of time. I found myself sitting and waiting for the sync before I could continue down the checklist, so I moved the sync to the beginning, and placed other things I could do while it was working immediately after it. Poof, I got back 4 minutes every morning.

You can get a copy of my lab checklist to see what I’m talking about here (PDF).

Do you use checklists?

Best Practices: Number your references in scientific presentations

Have you ever watched an interesting scientific presentation? Usually, when a presenter shows a figure or mentions a published study, you’ll want to note the paper reference. However, these can be time consuming to write down, especially with names like Karagueuzian. (They’re usually given like “Karagueuzian and Chen 1999“)

There’s a simple solution to this problem. The academic publishing industry solved it a long time ago. Number your references. Even if you want to show the authors and years, you can just put a little number in parentheses, like (1) Karagueuzian and Chen 1999, (2) So and so et al…

But how will people use that? Post the key somewhere that people can find it, and mention it in the presentation. If you don’t have a convenient URL or link page to direct people to, you can always use TinyURL to make a short link that they can quickly write down. Or better, yet, post it on your blog.

Comments? Refinements? Would this help you? Would it drive you crazy?

Abandoning FileVault

As neat and secure as Apple’s FileVault feature (which encrypt’s one’s home directory) is, I’ve abandoned it. Last night I had brought my laptop to a grinding halt (doing too much, memory-hungry apps, etc) and rather than wait it out, I just rebooted it. It screwed up the filesystem on which my home drive resided, which with FileVault is in an encrypted sparse image file. I was unable to fsck it and repair it — apparently I would have needed a $90 program called DiskWarrior.

FileVault, I discovered last week, was also behind my inability to “grab” a bunch of items from Finder with Quicksilver — something I use probably 100 times per day or more at work.

Luckily, not much of my personal data ever resides in my home directory, and what’s there is always available elsewhere, so I just wiped that user account and started over. It’s too bad, because it was going pretty well. Apple’s early iterations of FileVault were kind of buggy, but this time around it was much more solid.

Just not quite solid enough.