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Get Productive With Google Talk, Split Browser and Firefox

Get Productive With Google Talk, Split Browser and Firefox

If you’re like me you’re probably using multiple VoIP/ VoIM (Voice over Internet Protocol/ Voice over Instant Messenger) software clients to communicate with friends, family and business clients. I use all of Google Talk, Skype, AIM Pro, Yahoo Messenger, and Live/MSN Messenger nearly every day. That not only gets annoying, it also uses up loads of computer RAM, leaving little memory for other applications. It’s also difficult to work in your web browser and a text chat client at the same time, unless you have a giant screen. But there are a few simple solutions.

Memory Usage

To alleviate some of the RAM memory usage, I rotate between soft clients based on the time of day and the time zones of the people I talk to daily. So for example, if I’m expecting a chat with someone twelve zones away, I’ll have a 3-4 hour window where I’ll fire up the software they prefer to use, say Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger. For someone who is closer to my time zone, and who chats with me more often, I might leave their preferred client, such as Skype, open longer each day. So far, I tend to have Skype and Google Talk open most often, and the other three clients mentioned above the least often.

This way, I don’t have to run all five clients simultaneously. Of course, I could get more RAM, but at present, it’s not an option for me. Because of my warranty, I’d have to take the computer miles away and leave it there for two days. So this is the best solution I have short of buying another computer with more RAM – possibly one dedicated to VoIP calling. But that’s an expensive solution.

Another possibility is Meebo, which is a browser-based application that bridges all of the above VoIP/VoIM clients except Skype. The problem with Meebo is that it doesn’t do audio and doesn’t support Skype – my primary audio call application. So Meebo is of no use to me. But if you use it, understand that it’s memory use is not cheap. It’s only worth it you use three or four of the VoIM clients indicated earlier. If you have audio conversations, then it’s not.

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Productivity

The other problem with using chat clients is productivity. Or lack of it. I use multi-tabbed browsers like Firefox and Mozilla. Firefox is a great productivity tool for bloggers and anyone who does online work, simple because of the incredible array of extensions. I could never be as productive as I am with my freelance writing if I didn’t have Firefox. There’s nothing like it.

Therein lies a partial solution to productivity: the Split Browser Firefox extension and the new Google Talk Sidebar widget, which can also run in the Firefox sidebar. Here is a quick overview:

  1. Install the Split Browser extension in Firefox.
  2. Bookmark the Google Talk Sidebar widget.
  3. Split up your Firefox window into whatever convenient configuration you prefer. Leave one split pane blank for Google Talk.
  4. Drag the Google Talk Sidebar bookmark into the empty pane.
  5. Voila, embedded Google Talk that doesn’t steal the sidebar.

Now for the long explanation…

The Split Browser extension is simply brilliant and has multiplied my blogging productivity many-fold. With it, I can split up the Firefox browser into multiple panes, in whatever way I want. Anything that runs in a normal Firefox tab can run in a split pane, though I use it to run multiple ScribeFire editor sessions (see Top 10 Firefox Extensions to Avoid, which I obviously disagree with). That’s because I work on multiple articles simultaneously. Multiple edit sessions are not for everyone, but it works for wonderfully for me.

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Now, while the Google Talk Sidebar widget is supposed to run in the Firefox sidebar, it can actually run in any of the split panes too. All you do is go to the above link, find the link to “Google Talk Sidebar”, then bookmark that in Firefox. Your Firefox bookmarks run in the sidebar. Find the bookmark. If you click on it, Google Talk starts in the sidebar. But this means you cannot simultaneously browse your bookmarks. So what you can do instead is split off a Firefox pane, then drag and drop the bookmark into that pane. Google Talk will now start in that pane.

The screenshot below shows a portion of my Firefox browser with the sidebar still intact, and multiple panes running. You can see the main multi-tabbed browser pane at right, and two PFF (Performancing for Firefox) sessions at bottom. (PFF is the earlier version of the ScribeFire editor. It was renamed and moved when Performancing was sold earlier this year.)

    A closeup of the Google Talk pane from above is shown below. You can see that there three tabs within Google Talk: one is the main Contacts tab, and the other two are chat sessions that have stopped. I have had situations where I’m chatting with three people in Google Talk at the same time (or even two in GTalk and one in Skype). This functionality remains intact in the embedded version of Google Talk.

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      Of course, if you have anything less than a 17-inch monitor, this may not be all that effective for you. For me, it’s been an incredible boon to my multi-tasking and productivity. My text chat sessions are intermittent. A single conversation may extend 30-60 minutes. But for most of that time, there is no chatting. The communication channel is open, and if either party needs to communicate, we do. Now that I can embed Google Talk, my general productivity has increased.

      This is something that I hope can be duplicated for other VoIP/ VoIM clients, especially Skype. Skype has developer APIs, as do some of the other clients, so it’s possible someone will come up with a Skype Sidebar. Of course, what would be better is if there were a single Sidebar style client that supported all the primary VoIP/VoIM applications.

      It should be noted that Split Browser itself does not take up a lot of memory. However, if you have loads of Firefox extensions that you do not use, uninstall them before you get addicted to Split Browser – since it appears to load up all of them each time you split panes. Also beware that the Split Browser button pops up when you least expect it, depending on where your mouse cursor is. So it may take a little getting used to before you become efficient.

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      For me, it’s been a boon, and now with the Google Talk Sidebar, I can chat and browse at the same time, in the same application window – which is especially valuable if the browsing has to do with your conversation.

      [Raj Dash writes about blogging productivity, Internet success, new media, VoIP, RFID and other technologies, and is the editor of Tubetorial.]

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      Last Updated on January 21, 2020

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

      This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

      The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

      The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

      Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

      Curiosity

      Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

      People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

      Patience

      Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

      When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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      Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

      A Feeling for Connectedness

      This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

      A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

      The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

      How to Self-Taught Effectively

      With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

      1. Research

      Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

      Learning the Basics

      Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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      Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

      What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

      Hitting the Books

      Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

      Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

      Long-Term Reference

      While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

      My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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      2. Practice

      Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

      A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

      Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

      Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

      3. Network

      One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

      These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

      Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

      Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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      4. Schedule

      For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

      Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

      Final Thoughts

      In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

      If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

      At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

      More About Self-Learning

      Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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