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A First Look at Mozilla’s Ubiquity

A First Look at Mozilla’s Ubiquity

    You’ve probably heard of Ubiquity by now. It was causing quite a buzz a few days ago before Google Chrome came along and stole all of its thunder.

    Ubiquity is an experimental Firefox extension that bills itself as “a powerful new way to interact with the web.” One way to describe Ubiquity that gives you a clearer idea of what it’s actually all about is that it’s Quicksilver for the Internet.

    We’re all used to the point-and-click, foreign and unnatural way of interfacing with the web. Ubiquity tries to change the way we interface with the web by allowing us to use language rather than buttons and endless URLs. For instance, if I want to post something I see on the web to Twitter, I’d usually have to copy the text, navigate to Twitter, log in, paste the text and press submit. With Ubiquity, I can select the text, summon Ubiquity and type “twit this.”

    For me, when I realized that the developers had connected the word “this” to various means of input selection, I realized that there have been many simple ways to create more human interfaces for a long time, but we’ve ignored them. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing technologically groundbreaking about getting a computer to understand “this” as the text within your selection, but in the current state of the web, there’s something groundbreaking about it from a user interaction point of view.

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    Useful Commands

    So what exactly can Ubiquity do? Anything really, since creating new commands is pretty easy. But most of us don’t want to do that, so here are a few of the commands that come with Ubiquity, or that you can easily get from the Herd.

    Before you invoke a command, you need to summon Ubiquity. Call up the Ubiquity window by pressing Alt/Option + Space, unless you’ve changed the summon shortcut to something else.

    Wikipedia: Do quick, on-the-spot research with the Wikipedia command. In full it’s wikipedia inserttopic, but you can substitute w for wikipedia to get there faster.

    Define: Typing define word will return the definition of a word within the Ubiquity window.

    Send This To: Select a chunk of text and, after summoning Ubiquity, type send this to person. It’s almost creepy watching it open Gmail and set up a message with the selected text in it, correctly addressed to the right person.

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      Get Lyrics: This one doesn’t come with Ubiquity, but you can grab it from the Herd. If you want to know the lyrics to the song you’re listening to, summon Ubiquity, type get-lyrics Welcome to the Jungle and you’ll be presented with a Google search page with various lyrics for that song. I would like it better if it took you straight to a lyrics page, but this is okay in the meantime.

      Maps: When I heard Ubiquity did maps, I thought if you gave it a street number and name, suburb and state, it would throw the map up for you. It does do that, but it can do a lot more. I thought I’d see if it could find the location of my very first job when I was in high school, with only minimal information. As you can see, it did:

        If you click the map thumbnail, it enlarges and provides you with a link: “insert map in page.” If you’re on a regular HTML page, you wouldn’t expect this to work, but it does. More useful, though, is the ability to quickly drop a map into an email:

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          To get to this point, I had to type “Helensvale KFC,” select it, summon Ubiquity and type map, click the map and click a link. It takes about ten seconds to get a map in your email, compared to the five minutes it used to take.

          Room for Improvement

          Let me briefly preface this section. A pet peeve of mine is when software reviewers slam an app and call it useless when it is clearly beta or even alpha software. It irritates me, so I’m certainly not joining in. So here goes: this software is a 0.1 release and any issues I’ve mentioned here are observations that I’m sure will get fixed eventually. None of this is deal-breaking because the app is very early on in its development.

          The first issue I came across during my time with the software was that the weather implementation isn’t the best. If I look for Brisbane’s weather by invoking Ubiquity and typing weather brisbane, it works fine. However, if I ask it for weather gold coast, the Gold Coast being where I actually live, I get nothing.

          But if I go to my OS X dashboard and type nothing but “gold coast” into Apple’s Weather widget, which uses AccuWeather.com, I get results right away. Is this a problem with Ubiquity? The weather site it uses or the API the weather site supplies? I don’t know, but I know that there are better weather services out there.

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          The second issue I had with Ubiquity may only be an issue because I’ve been spoiled by Quicksilver, but nevertheless there’s room for improvement in the way Ubiquity takes the text you’ve typed and looks for one of its commands that closely matches.

          When you summon Ubiquity and attempt to invoke a command, the list of options presented doesn’t search intelligently. For example, I use Quicksilver to call up the Start-up Disk Preference Pane whenever I want to boot into Windows on my iMac. Quicksilver will find that pane and let me invoke the right command whether I type any of the following:

          • Of course, startup (I use it regularly enough that st or sta will work too)
          • artup
          • starupd
          • diskpane
          • starttuuu

          You can make spelling mistakes, miss letters, or start from the second letter or even second word of the command, and Quicksilver will still find it for you.

          As far as I’m concerned, this intelligent search is exactly why Quicksilver is so useful as an app launcher. To be truly powerful, Ubiquity must implement something like this. I know this is 0.1 software, so I don’t really expect these features to be present, but I’d say if it’s not in there by the big 1.0, then this extension is going in the wrong direction.

          The Bottom Line

          The bottom line? Download it and try it. See if it’s for you. Personally, I swear by apps like Ubiquity and Quicksilver and I think everybody should use them.

          However, not everyone agrees, so give it a shot and see if it’s right for you – but give it a fair shot and spend some time with it before you reject it. If you can’t try it because you’re not using Firefox, that’s fine… unless you’re still using Internet Explorer. In that case, go and download a decent browser!

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          Last Updated on March 13, 2019

          How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

          How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

          Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

          You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

          Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

          1. Work on the small tasks.

          When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

          Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

          2. Take a break from your work desk.

          Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

          Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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          3. Upgrade yourself

          Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

          The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

          4. Talk to a friend.

          Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

          Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

          5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

          If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

          Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

          Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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          6. Paint a vision to work towards.

          If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

          Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

          Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

          7. Read a book (or blog).

          The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

          Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

          Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

          8. Have a quick nap.

          If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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          9. Remember why you are doing this.

          Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

          What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

          10. Find some competition.

          Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

          Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

          11. Go exercise.

          Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

          Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

          As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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          Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

          12. Take a good break.

          Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

          Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

          Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

          Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

          More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

          Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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