[Intro audio: “There is a Dark Place,” by Tom Rosenthal]
Hi, I’m Jordan
And I’m Sylvie.
And I’m Nick.
And this is Or, Learn Parkour.
This is a podcast usually about ADHD, sometimes. Usually is a pretty generous word there. But this week is a very special week, obviously, ‘cause we’ve got a guest.
Yeah, we are so excited to have Nick on the show today. He is the founder and brain behind Beeline Reader, which we have definitely mentioned on the show before. It’s a wonderful, wonderful reading software that helps a lot of folks, but especially folks with ADHD, like us, read faster, stay focused, not skip lines and get to the bottom of the page and go, I definitely stared at this page long enough to read it, but I don’t know what it’s about. So thanks so much for being on the show today, Nick.
Yes, that’s a terrific description of what it is that we do. And I’m so excited to be on the podcast and talk with you and meet your audience.
Yeah, we are happy to have you. So to start off, we kind of gave an overview, but would you want to give a quick, maybe more scientific or accurate view of what Beeline Reader is?
Sure. Beeline Reader is a new way of formatting text so that it’s easier to read and easier to stay focused. And the key to how Beeline Reader works is that it uses a color gradient that is applied to the text. And that wraps from the end of one line to the beginning of the following line. Now I will forgive anyone who, upon hearing that description, doesn’t think to themselves, that sounds useful, because it doesn’t sound useful. But it looks useful when you see it. So if you go to beelinereader.com, you can see it and you’ll see how the colors sort of snake from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line and how that visually pulls your eyes and keeps you engaged with the text. And you can change the colors and do all sorts of things, but that’s the key. It’s a simple thing. It’s a one trick pony, but it’s a pretty good trick and it helps people read and stay focused.
Yeah. And it looks cool if you haven’t seen it before, even if it doesn’t sound useful, you look at it and you’re like, interesting, okay. It looks very futuristic, kind of. My coworkers were looking at my computer one day while I was looking at it, and they were like, what kind of space age, special hacker screen do you have going on? And you can also change the colors, but before I nerd out about it more, Nick, what inspired the idea to develop this kind of program?
Well, it was an idea that came to me when I was reading a book about innovation and the thesis of the book was that new ideas aren’t always better. Sometimes they’re just newer. And one of the examples used in the book was e-books. And at the time the book was written, Kindle didn’t exist and iPads didn’t exist. And there was really the infancy of the e-book market. And this book I was reading made the argument that e-books were inferior to regular books in so many ways. They’re expensive, there wasn’t a lot of selection at the time, if you spilled water on an e-book reader it would break. You had to worry about the battery and they listed all of these things that were not so great about e-book readers at the time. And I thought, you know, this is an unfair competition because you’re taking a mature item, a book and you’re comparing it to the infancy of e-books. And obviously there must be things that you can do on a screen that you can’t do easily on a piece of paper. And so the kernel of the idea was how could you make reading on a screen better than reading on a piece of paper instead of just taking a screen and trying to make it look like a piece of paper? How would we have designed reading to begin with? If we had been working on a screen based medium, where you can change the colors and you can do things dynamically and I can have my colors and you can have yours. And this was the idea that I came up with.
Yeah. Respectfully that’s rad as hell. It’s pretty cool. Not gonna lie. It looks cool. And I like what you said about how it’s hard to compare something to books that have been around. We know what works for paper in books and how to read them. But like you said, it’s in its infancy, or it was, and now it’s a little bit more common, but yeah.
For sure. And I mean, books have been around for how many hundreds, if not thousands of years. And they still don’t do great when water is spilled on them. I don’t know why that was a dig against e-book readers.
Exactly. You gotta wait for it to dry out. That’s not trivial, you know.
But yeah, that is awesome. How did that idea and that mentality to say, like, how can we make the best out of this form? Or what inspired you to make this software? How has that contributed to your decision to be an entrepreneur across the board?
Well, so this was an idea that I had, and I didn’t really do anything with it at first. I went off to law school soon after having this idea and I became a corporate lawyer, like everybody’s mom and dad wants them to do. And I worked at a big law firm in Palo Alto and I did that for a number of years. And then when Apple announced the iPad, I thought, ah, that’s interesting. This is a device that, you know, could be a really good e-reader, it’s got a color screen. I should see if that idea I had actually works because if I don’t, someone else is gonna have the same idea, if it’s any good. And then I’ll be kicking myself for the rest of my life. I’ll be that bitter old man saying, I invented that first. But, you know, you gotta do the work. And so I had a friend of mine, who was getting a PhD in human computer interface, do a quick little study with some university students. And they found that it was helpful for a lot of them. And I thought, okay, this seems like something worth pursuing. And one day I posted the website that I had built. And I posted on a site called Hacker News, which is a website for start-up founders to talk about startup related stuff. And you can post your start-up idea and get feedback on it. And yeah. And so I posted on there and it quickly became one of the most popular start-ups to have ever been posted to this website, much to my surprise, because I was still working full-time as a corporate lawyer. And it became very popular. And we heard from a lot of people about how it was helping them read more easily. And we learned a lot of ways in which it was helping people that were not necessarily part of the original intended audience. And that is to say, I was completely ignorant of the benefits for accessibility when I first created this tool. It was first created as something to help anybody just read a bit more easily on a screen. And so I received an incredible education from our early users about how it was helpful for people with a wide range of reading challenges. And that’s what ultimately convinced me that I needed to quit my job, as no one’s parents have ever wanted them to do, as a lawyer to pursue a start-up. And so that’s what launched me down this path.
Yeah. No, I mean, thank you for sharing. I feel like we can all relate a little bit. Sometimes you fulfill what your parents want for you and, you know, sometimes you don’t, but both ways you can still thrive. Did you have another question?
Oh yeah. So the next question for you is it sounds like you said you were inspired to do this when you were first reading a book and, you know, across people who are just e-reading or people who are trying to read for fun, but might have some accessibility issues getting in the way, the value of this to reading is very apparent. How, before you started this and after, has reading been a part of your life?
I’ve always liked to read. I’m mostly a non-fiction reader because I’m very efficiency oriented. I feel like if I’m reading something, I should be reading something about the world I live in, which is a narrow view. Obviously you can learn things from reading fictional works as well, learn about how people interact. But I like to know for sure, I am learning a thing about science or about this industry, or about how the brain works, you know. I love to read about cognitive science. And so that’s sort of my meat and potatoes when it comes to reading. And I have used Beeline Reader for longer than any one else on earth, which is a weird thing to say, but it’s almost certainly true. I’ve been using it since, you know, 2010. And so I’ve used it a lot and I love to use it. And I even wonder sometimes how would my mind or my life be different if I hadn’t created this tool, not if I weren’t the person who created it, but if I hadn’t used it all this time, I would’ve read less. I would know fewer things. It’s interesting to think about how inventions have changed your life as a user. And so it helps me to read. I use it to read the news, and Wikipedia, and articles. So I use it a ton. And I lament when I’m reading something that I can’t use it with. And that just motivates me to push harder and make this a reality that anybody can use to read anything that they want to read.
I can vouch for that too. It’s definitely a big change to go from using this, to a site where it’s not on or, you know, back to a book or something. Is there anything in particular, one fact or one incident or one thing that you learned while using Beeline Reader that you think is one of the biggest things you’re like, I don’t know what my life would be like if I didn’t get this experience?
You mean something I’ve learned as a user of it or something I’ve learned as the person who’s running it?
I have learned so much from people in the disability community and just sort of the neurodiverse community. We continue to hear from people with unique, special needs that I did not know exist, and that are being helped by this. And it’s really cool to learn about ways in which you’re helping people, but also interesting to see the commonalities across different types of neuro differences and physical differences, the ways in which a tool can help someone who has motor difficulties with their eyes, the ways that their eye muscles move can be helped by a tool that also helps someone who has no problem with the way that their eyes work, but has a difference in how their brain processes what their eyes are seeing. And so I feel like we’re learning about the brain through this, and ultimately I’d love to do research experiments with scientists using MRI scans to be able to see, how does this change how the brain reads in the mind of someone who either is, or is not neurodivergent? Does it light up different parts of the brain? And then we can learn more about the differences that we have and come up with other better ways to help people.
That’s awesome. That is always such a cool thing to see when those communities have that kind of overlap. Thank you so much for that. Did you have any?
I was just gonna say, on that note, if you don’t mind kind of answering some, maybe more technical, scientific questions, but it sounds like you’re pretty knowledgeable. So could you maybe explain for, not just for our audience, but for me too, I’m not the brightest bulb, but what is the relationship between reading speed and cognition?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And it’s one thing that even educational researchers think about and sometimes get wrong, which is the relationship between what some people call reading fluency and reading comprehension. And they are really like two fibers in a reading rope and you have to twist them together and they’re always improving and improving each other. So someone learns to become fluent in reading and sort of gets that reading speed up and going. But then as they progress through the grades and they encounter more and more complex material, their reading comprehension will drop off unless they improve their reading fluency. And so these are really two interrelated concepts, and it’s important to keep your reading fluency up because otherwise your comprehension will suffer. And there’s a really great saying that some reading folks say, which is that reading is like riding a bicycle. If you try to do it too slowly, it won’t work. And that’s because by the time you get to the end of a sentence, you’ve forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was. Similarly on a bike, you know, if you’re riding it a mile an hour, you are gonna fall off. You just need to get that critical momentum to be able to get going, and then you can get down the street.
Yeah, no, I mean, that makes sense. It’s a very good metaphor, I think. And as someone who had to go through grad school, yeah, reading, being like a bike felt very real to me. I mean, if my mom’s listening, I definitely did not skirt by in college, but when I actually had to get back to reading in grad school, it was a lot like getting back on a bike.
Yeah. Along those lines of those two different skills, kind of, working in tandem, and you mentioned earlier, learning things from a lot of different communities, are there any other tips or ideas that you didn’t have before about reading that you think about it in a new way that you’ve learned from those communities?
I would say reading is something we’ve all learned about in the last decade or so. Any of us who are old enough to remember reading before smartphones existed and before push notifications existed, I mean, it was just a completely different world and there have been a number of books written. The Shallows comes to mind, Deep Work comes to mind, and these books are about how our brains have changed because of the internet and because of all of the distractions that are out there. So I, like many of these other folks out there who are much smarter than me and do this stuff for a living, I also believe that you need to sometimes just disconnect and read a physical book. It might sound weird for someone who’s all about digital reading to say that, but you just need a device that’s not connected to the internet. And that device may be made out of dead trees. Or it can be, you know, a Kindle that’s not online or something like that. Your brain will rewire itself if you are constantly feeding it notifications. And it’s hard to sustain long periods of reading if that’s the only environment your brain is ever in. And it feels like the reason we have good ideas in the shower is because that’s the only place where you’re not getting notifications, unless you have a smart watch, in which case you have no refuge.
Right. Right. So to folks who are wanting to sit down and read a paper book, an acoustic, I don’t know.
Acoustic? Get out.
Sorry. For folks who wanna get back to paper reading, if they are, you know, not available to get their book Beeline Reader printed or something like that. Do you think that there’s any of the science or mythology behind Beeline Reader that could be applicable to that kind of format?
Yeah. I think it’s definitely possible to apply our technology to printed words as well. I know people who do that, who have access to printers at their office. Most people don’t print out color stuff at home because it gets quite expensive. But if you’ve got a color laser at the office, you know. People do print out documents, legal documents, news documents, and read them that way with Beeline. There are some exciting developments coming in the e-book space, e-reader space, in terms of hardware. There are some color e-ink displays, e-ink is what Kindle uses, and the other e-readers. But the color displays have not been great and they should be getting better in the near future. And they would enable technologies like ours to run on there. And so I think that could be really cool. You could have a device that is not getting push notifications all the time and would have a screen that could display Beeline colored text and look really good because the e-ink displays, some people really, really like them for reading because of the way they reflect light, as opposed to being back lit.
Yeah. No, that makes total sense. Sometimes the normal screen can be quite straining. So that makes sense to me, wanting to have clearer colors and everything.
For sure. Well, that’s definitely exciting news. I’m curious too, because there are a lot of different, like you mentioned at the top of this, colors you can do, settings you can do. Because this is an ADHD podcast and that is mainly our audience, have you heard anything in particular from the ADHD community about some of the best or most effective ways to implement this?
Good question. I thought you were going somewhere else with that. I thought you were gonna say, is it a distraction to have too many different possibilities and settings, which is something that we do worry about. But I would say, in terms of the colors, about half of our usage is using our default color scheme, which is a bright red and bright blue. And then the rest of the usage is split up between darker hues, which are a little bit less bright and in your face. And then some people really like night mode, which is great if you have a browser extension that puts all websites into night mode, then our browser extension will be triggered into a night mode and display text that’s on a dark background with colored gradients. And I think that looks really great. So I recommend people check that out.
Yeah. I’m a dark mode user for sure. So, man, checking all the boxes, it’s great.
Although now that you mentioned it, I am curious what, sorry, the words just jumped right outta my head there. It’s almost like I have ADHD or something. Has it been an issue with working with the software where people have said it is a distraction, or how do you guys go about addressing that?
No, we’ve not really heard that from folks. I mean, some people don’t like it, for sure. This is not something that a hundred percent of people prefer, but most people do find it to be helpful. And so we definitely welcome feedback from anybody in ways that we can make it better. But you can change a lot about how the colors look, you can make it so that it’s really barely even there, you can do it in grayscale if you want, so it’s just alternating between black and a gray color. So you can make it almost indistinguishable from a typical text. And we actually have a partner, a website that has put Beeline into their website and they actually turned it on by default so that anyone who goes to their website is seeing Beeline text, but they did it in grayscale mode. And then they measured to see how it affects people’s behavior on the site. And they found people read a couple percent more. They stay on the site a little bit longer, even when it’s in grayscale and even when you don’t tell them that Beeline is there, which is pretty amazing considering that this is the kind of tool that to get the most out of it, the person has to know it’s there, obviously, and probably it should be using colors that are perceptibly different from each other, which the grayscale one really barely is. So people can try out that grayscale and know that even in its most subtle implementation, it’s still probably helping you a bit.
Nice. Yeah. Stealthy.
That’s awesome. And for those of you who are listening to this episode later and would like to try out Beeline Reader, it is on our brand spanking new website. So you can check that out by visiting wearewpc.com and you can look at it and figure it out. It’ll be easier than me explaining it, but yeah. So that is on our website as well if you wanna test it out. But good to know that it just helps people even if they don’t know it’s there. That is not what I expected to hear.
Yeah. I guess. So I just have one more question to kind of wrap up the interview sort of aspect of this episode, if that’s cool. Could you just let me know, what is your favorite color setting?
You know, it’s an ADHD podcast, I’m sorry, I’ve just been really curious the whole time.
It’s a fair question. And it’s actually something that I’ve thought about a lot and it’s something that’s changed over time. So when I first created Beeline, I had an older computer and it was a laptop and the screen was not super bright. And so the original color scheme that was bright, it was called bright with a bright red and bright blue, had a full red and full blue. And it was super bright. However, on a laptop from a decade ago, it didn’t look screaming bright. And then as time went on and computers got better and better screens, that color scheme has become less appropriate. And so I noticed myself thinking at one point, this is a little bit too bright for me. I understand what people are saying when they say that the bright is too bright. And we actually went in about a year and a half ago and changed the definition of bright. So it’s actually not as bright anymore in terms of the definition of the colors it uses because our modern screens are so much brighter. So it’s interesting that what we used to think of as our most bright, we actually had to tone down. I love night mode. When night mode is available, that is the best for me. And I use other extensions on my different devices to load websites, to force them into a night mode, even if they’re not officially supported. So I love that, but I do find during the daytime you get glare on screens when you’ve got a full black background, it acts like a mirror. And so that’s mostly for the evenings for me.
I’m right there with you, love night mode. Yeah. Oh, well, thank you so much for bearing with us and explaining some topics that we are not super knowledgeable with. It’s always super cool to have people come on and talk about things, especially when people like you are able to teach us some stuff, ‘cause we’re not the most intelligent duo around, is what I’ll say.
Well, we are only two people and we only have so much expertise. So thank you so much for sharing yours and sharing this really, really cool tool that I think our audience who isn’t using it yet will hopefully get a lot out of, if they haven’t already.
Thank you for all your excellent questions. I mean, you have really honed in on some of the most insightful things there are to say about this. So I appreciate the thought you put into coming up with those questions. And obviously you’re very good at doing interviews, because most people don’t get to all of those ideas.
Thank you very much.
Thanks. We try. You got us on a decent day, I guess, where we’re not doing too bad. But one more thing, if you’ll tolerate us for a few more minutes. One thing we love to do with our guests, is to do our normal segment at the end of each episode, which is the Dopamine Trampoline. And it’s where we bring, each week, something that’s bringing us dopamine or making us happy or just something that made your day a little brighter. Jordan has talked about hot air balloons.
I do like hot air balloons.
Exactly. And I’ve talked about the show Letterkenny, things like that. Each time we have a guest, we do ask, is there anything that has been giving you a lot of dopamine and is there anything you would like to bring to the Dopamine Trampoline? We can go first if that would help.
Awesome. Okay. So my DT this week is the new album from Mitski, it’s called Laurel Hell. It’s a really good album. She just released it at the end of February and I listened to it while driving my dad’s truck, which felt really appropriate, and cried the whole time. It was really beautiful and cool, but it was very cathartic and I love Mitski. I’m realizing this was maybe not the best DT to do when we have a guest. I’m so sorry, Nick. Welcome to the show. But it was pretty good. Yeah.
Do you have a favorite song off the album so far?
Still? From the point I first heard it and then still now, Stay Soft. I don’t remember which track it is ‘cause who can keep track of numbers when you’re just repeating it, you know? But it’s the song called Stay Soft and it is a very fun, almost disco sort of bop, but a little bit more chill. So it’s not quite as, yeah, it’s disco. It’s the indie rock disco that Mitski brings to the table. It’s really good. I love Mitski someday. I’ll talk about her on this show probably, but my main main thing was that album, Laurel Hell.
Yeah. That might be a whole episode to get into all the Mitski. But thank you for sharing that. My Dopamine Trampoline this week is my orchids. I really enjoy gardening. I know a lot of people have gotten into that during the panasonic and I’m not immune to the call of the plant store. We have a lot of plants in our house and I’ve always loved orchids. I think they’re weird looking in a really fascinating way. And they’re just fussy enough that you can keep them alive without having to do a bunch of really, really niche gardening, really expensive stuff. It’s just kind of about fine tuning when you water them and buying the right bag of soil from the store. But they’re just in that niche level where taking care of them is more difficult than other plants, but it’s doable. And so it’s really, really satisfying when they bloom. I have three right now. I have one mini moth orchid. Oh my gosh, I have four.
You definitely don’t have a problem. It’s fine. I guess this episode’s an intervention now. Sorry.
We’re all here because we care about you a lot.
Thank you. Oh, this is really kind. The banner too that says intervention is very clearly readable.
Yeah. I gotcha.
[Inaudible] It’s in the red and the blue and the black text and everything. Goodness gracious. I only have, it’s only four, it’s four.
So have four orchids.
And I only paid for three of them. I think that that is an important part.
So you have four-chids? ‘Cause you’ve got Four orchids.
Okay. Okay. Okay.
I have one mini moth orchid from Trader Joe’s. I know that’s basic, but their plants are really, really good.
Yeah. I have another one that was a rescue orchid from the local plant store. They sold it super cheap while it went outta bloom. And then I have a dendrobium, the variety is called burana peach and it makes these really, really beautiful, peachy pink, solid pink flowers. And I have two of those because the first one that I got got really beat up in the mail, so the company felt bad and they sent me a second one and I’m just getting those guys through the winter and that’s been keeping me going. Nick, how about you? What is your Dopamine Trampoline?
Well, I don’t know if adrenaline trampoline can count here.
I thought it would. So I have an electric scooter and I just used it for a useful errand this week. And so that was really cool. I had to take my car in to get maintenance done. And then instead of having to, you know, wait around forever or have someone pick me up and then bring me back again, I used my scooter and I went home and it was nine miles. And it was fun ‘cause you’re flying down a residential street, well under the speed limit, but it feels really, really fast. So it’s like a jet ski, but on land. So I’d highly recommend e-scooters. Super fun.
You are living my best life right now. I’m so envious. It is still the depths of winter here in Chicago and, oh, to just ride a scooter around. Oh my gosh. I also appreciate that you said that you got use out of it. ‘Cause you had mentioned that you like things that are utilitarian. And I think that I appreciate that as well. ‘Cause it’s portable. You can take it in your car. That is, oh man. I gotta take my car in too. So I’m like, maybe if I bring my skateboard, if I wait till the snow melts.
Well maybe you need a jet ski, but for land. That is such a good line for electric scooters. I see why you are an entrepreneur and a business person, ‘cause that was very good. I wanna go get a scooter now. Thank you so much for sharing that.
They’re great. You won’t regret it.
Amazing. Oh my gosh.
Well, I guess we should probably wrap this up so we can go get some scooters. But thank you again so much for coming on the show, Nick, and telling us all about Beeline Reader. Really excited for everyone to get to take a look at it. Do you want to just tell people world fast where they can find you online?
Yeah. So if you go to beelinereader.com, which is spelled B-E-E-L-I-N-E Reader, you can find all of our different tools, Chrome extension for desktop, an iOS app and extension, and links to our partner websites. I will say our iOS extension is free, totally free. We’re not selling your data or doing any of that nefarious stuff either. It’s just actually free. And our Chrome extension has a two week free trial. And I think we’re doing a thing with you guys where there’ll be a link in the show notes so people can get a discount. So look for that and if it’s not there, it’s not my fault at all. It’s totally somebody else’s fault. And yeah, so you’ll get a discount.
No, that will definitely be my fault.
But there’ll be a two week free trial regardless. So you can definitely check it out and email me, you know, if there’s any issues with it. And I’d love to hear feedback from folks. We’re also in a couple of other platforms, so if you’re a student in school, your LMS may have access to Beeline as an alternate download format. So check for that when you go to download something from your professor, if there’s a Beeline format you can do. And also there’s a partner of ours that we’re really excited about. It’s called Insight browser. It’s an iOS web browser and it’s got Beeline on there and you can just turn it on and use it as much as you want. And for now at any rate, it’s totally free. And they also have an extension for iOS, which has night mode and ad blocking and all sorts of other great stuff. And they’re putting Beeline in there and that is called something else ‘cause of course they wouldn’t call it the same thing. At any rate, there’ll be links on our website, beelinereader.com, to all of our partners. And if you love Beeline please shoot a tweet or an email to your favorite platform that doesn’t have Beeline and tell them, you guys should have Beeline because that’s how we get partnerships made, is when people ask for it.
Amazing. I use Beeline every day and I feel like I just learned a bunch about it.
That’s because we have a terrible comms team. The comms team is me at one in the morning, doing whatever I can with the remaining horsepower of the day.
Well, we’ll definitely have links to all of the wonderful things you just mentioned in the show notes for this episode. We will have that on our website and all of those good places, on our Twitter as well. So we’ll do what we can to help you out.
Yeah. On that note, let’s sign this out real quick.
And then go get some scooters?
And then go get some scooters.
Yes. All right. This has been Or, Learn Parkour from Wholehearted Production Company.
You can us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and most other places that cool people can find podcasts.
Special thanks to our special guest today, Nick, as well special thanks to Krizia Perito for our cover art design. You can find her at Petalhop, that’s P-E-T-A-L-H-O-P on Instagram, Etsy, and Twitter.
Yep. Thank you to Tom Rosenthal as well for our theme song There is a Dark Place off of the album Keep a Private Room Behind the Shop.
You can follow us on the sosh meeds @orlearnparkour on Twitter, @wearewpc on Instagram and at wearewpc.com. And all of those things will have links to where you can find Beeline Reader.
Yeah. Yeah. And just make sure that if you wanna get in on this make sure you check out all of our links and websites and if you enjoy this podcast and you wanna hear more, make sure you subscribe to our feed and while you’re doing that, just roll it all into one and get on Beeline as well. Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you, Nick.
And I’m Sylvie.
And I’m Nick.
And this has been Or, Learn Parkour. We’ll see you all in two weeks.