<CTRL><ALT><DELETE> This blog and its (new) purpose

Life brings with it a number of reboots/restarts.  I find this comes with major life changes including:

  • graduating from high school (moving out of your parents’ house)
  • graduating from college (making your own rent payment)
  • job changes
  • epiphanies

This blog’s reboot is part of the last one – an epiphany.

I recently read a post by Stephen Rose (@stephencrose) titled “Changing your mind is what Twitter is all about.”  It was an epiphany for me.

Many people blog and tweet (and otherwise share their minds) to inform their audience.  I find these kinds of materials very useful.

I’ve decided that the best use of this blog, particularly while we are working on Reacht, is to use this blog to learn.  I hope to do this by posting experiences, thoughts, ideas, and reactions (mine and others) and learn:

  • from the process of writing, AND
  • from the (hopeful) response to the posts I get here and on Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook

I promise to follow-up with what I learn from those conversations.

So, with that…


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Fluid – the Site-Specific Browser (SSB)

FluidApp Logo

This past weekend I rediscovered Fluid.  Fluid is a Site-Specific Browser for Mac.  It packages up a WebKit browser that is specific to one website (or sites – the list is configurable).  I spent up and purchased a proper license.  This unlocks the following (very useful) features:

  • Create Fluid Apps with Separate Cookie Storage. (Preferences → Security → Cookie Storage)
  • Pin Fluid Apps to the Mac OS X Status Bar. (Fluid App Menu → Pin to Status Bar…)
  • Use Userscripts or Userstyles in your Fluid Apps. (Window → Userscripts)
  • Use Lion Full Screen mode in your Fluid Apps. (View → Enter Full Screen)

Why now?

My friend Paul Everitt mentioned in passing a few weeks ago.  I had been an early user and then at some OSX upgrade it failed to make the cut to be reinstalled onto the new machine/OS.

A bit of background…  For various reasons I have a number of Google accounts..  personal, a few for work, and a few for community causes in which I’m involved.  Interacting with multiple Google accounts during the course of a day is extremely difficult.  This is particularly true (and painful) when sharing files with Google Drive.  You need to know to WHICH persona/credentials your colleague shared a particular document.  Words can’t describe how annoying that is… was..Until I re-discovered Fluid.

I now have a Fluid browser for each account.  Below is a screenshot from the SSB I have for my rob AT zebrareach.com account.

My Webkit-based SSB for by Zebrareach account

My Webkit-based SSB for by Zebrareach account


  • Separate cookie storage means this browser stays clean and authenticated (with my Zebrareach credentials) with Google
  • Two handy bookmarks give me quick access to Gmail and Google Drive

Now, if I need to check something under my zebrareach.com identity (Talk, Hangout, Gmail, Drive) no problem.  Oh, switch to my reachtapp.com credentials – just launch that SSB.  Love it.


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What we want in an airline lounge

Dear Airline CEO(s):

I also realize times are tough and that you have to charge for many service components a la carte; things that your customers formerly assumed were “part of the deal.”  One of the appropriate a la carte items are your airline lounges.  Frequent travelers are willing to pay extra for these traveling oases.

Sadly, though, your lounges need a LOT of improvement.  Your frequent fliers subscribe to these places for two reasons:

  • Work
  • Relax

Mostly I work.  When I work in an airline lounge I want:

  • uncongested/speedy wifi
  • quiet
  • power outlets (this is another blog post – why do airports have so few outlets?)
  • A beverage and a snack (nice but not necessary)

Below is your report card.

Uncongested/speedy wifi

Grade:  F—–

See below.  Need I say more?


Screenshot of a speakeasy.net speed test.

Ridiculously bad internet


Grade: A

Not too many people so it was pretty quiet.

Photo of airline lounge - DCA

Mostly empty – very quiet.

Note:  If your patrons EVER, EVER have to stand because there are no seats YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG….  United…

Power Outlets

Grade:  A+.  Power outlets are in abundance.  I don’t have to stand, string extension cords, or wait-my-turn to get access to one.


Grade: C

This was the midday offering during a recent trip.  Seriously?


Airport lounge snacks

Airport lounge snacks



Overall grade:  C-

Your most active/loyal travelers patronize these places.  Don’t make us feel like your scrimping.


PS – I am available to any airline CEO that reads this for some usability testing of airline lounges.

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We need strong leadership for our schools


The Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles

Yesterday I read, in disbelief, a story in the LA Times, “Teacher removed for ‘dangerous’ science projects; supporters rally .”  Greg Schiller, a teacher at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Artsin Los Angeles was recently suspended “after  two students turned in science projects that were designed to shoot small projectiles.”

From the story:

School administrators did not respond to inquiries. District officials said they could not comment on an ongoing probe.

Of course they didn’t reply.  They are about to be lampooned nationally.  I’m at a loss for words to describe how ridiculous this is.

Later in the story:

Schiller initially prepared lesson plans for the substitute, but the district in an email directed him to stop.

Seriously?  The guy is suspended, sitting in a room in timeout and still writing lessons plans…   and then told to STOP doing that!?  Yep – the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had a much better idea – make him sit in the room and do nothing for his students.  That way LAUSD can risk the students’ performance on an upcoming AP exam.

Our devotion to political correctness has gone too far.

Tossing kids out of school for “shooting a finger gun” and suspending teachers for teaching this kind of “dangerous” science only hurts the students and makes total asses out of the school administration.  We have (I hope inadvertently) removed judgement, leadership and common sense from the list of skills needed by our teachers and school administration.

This is what we get.

I’m going to write my childrens’ teachers a letter requesting they teach them how to make an awesome air cannon to shoot marshmallows.

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How can I schedule user testing?

Good news – short post.  :)

We are about to conduct our second round of usability testing on Reacht.  We’re already feeling some pain associated with scheduling participants.

For our first usability test we invited people to “just show up between 5p and 730p.”  Mistake.  Regrettably, we ended up asking people to wait for a slot to open up.  That was unsat and we need to do better for our next testing evolution.

Our product manager Will Fulton found PowWow (http://www.powwowapp.net)

Screenshot from powwow

Scheduling usability tests in powwow

Powwow is a simple, attractive system for scheduling user testing appointments.  There are other uses for it but it is intended for user testing.  You create a project, add some times and distribute a private link.  People sign up.  Done.  Appointments don’t conflict and the inventory of available slots can’t be oversold.  I recommend this site.

Feels good to get one more process improved.

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Perception is reality

Photo of a sunset over a lake.

Last week we conducted a substantial usability test evolution for Reacht.  We were seeking truth about several things:

  • problem-solution fit
  • perception of the unique selling proposition (USP)
  • application discoverability
  • usability
  • colors, branding, style

We got the truth :)  Some of it was a pleasure to receive, some not  :).  All was valuable.  I want to reiterate my professional and personal thanks to those that helped us with this important task!  Will Fulton, our Product Manager, did most of the work.  If you have specific questions be sure to email him.

Volumes have been written about usability testing by people far better qualified than I.  A few useful links are shared below:

This post doesn’t intend to make you smarter about usability testing in general.  Rather, you’ll learn what we learned from our first (of many!) usability testing evolutions.  Would love to get your feedback @rspz!

Group Size

We had twelve (12) participants in our usability test.  It was great to see that many people interested in providing us feedback.

That said, we will recruit seven (7) participants for our next usability test with the idea that five (5) will participate.  After each test proctor had worked with three (3) people the variety in the feedback dropped.  That is, it took three (3) usability tests for the proctor to be able to identify The Most Important Thing we need to be working on.

Philosophically, we are likely to conduct more frequent smaller usability tests early in product development.

Qualitative Feedback

Early in a product’s life many decisions remain to be made.  The most important, from a product perspective, is what to work on next.  This doesn’t require large values of N or days-long usability tests.  For the moment we’ll be sticking to gathering qualitative feedback from our usability tests.

This doesn’t mean we don’t believe in “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  We do!

Think aloud, think aloud, think aloud

The (qualitative) value in our usability test was in learning what our test participants were thinking.  Repeatedly encourage everyone to THINK ALOUD during the tests!


David Malaxos “stood” in front of the elevators (on our Double Robotics robot) and recruited some ad hoc participants.  This was an excellent way to foment interest and curiosity and engage with our fellow building colleagues.  This is a definite repeat.  David took a nice “meta selfie” to document the tactic.


We recorded each interview from two perspectives:

  • tight device-only camera angle
  • wider angle for including the participant and the test proctor

Best practice suggests that video is a good reference when the team needs to more carefully interpret a participant’s behavior (e.g., was the participant thinking or expressing frustration).

Our pursuit of large format learning tells me we won’t need video for a little bit.  I think we’ll either (a) skip video or (b) rely on a single tightly-composed device shot during out next test evolution.

Scenario composition

We had a mismatch between the words in the software and the words (see Power of Words next) in the usability scenarios.  Phrases like “Add a new member” and “Join code” were intended to be compatible but were demonstrated to be incompatible.

The power of words

We dropped “Join code” in favor of “Group code” in the user interface.  It’s a simple change that is much more in keeping with how we intend users to behave and think about the groups and group segments in which they are a member and to which they are sending actionable messages.

The word “join” connotes and action and, more specifically, a non-member action (i.e.,  non-member JOINS a group).  In hindsight, this isn’t at all what we wanted to communicate.  This became painfully obvious by the end of only the second interview that evening.


It’s dangerously easy to lose site of your first-time user.  As you incept, elaborate, refine, design, implement, QA, test and release software your “feature virginity” is lost to inevitable expertise and familiarity.  Given how much distraction our customers/product users face it’s a survival issue for us to preserve a first-time user perspective in order that our user acquisition not suffer.

The usability test is the KEY component of ensuring that first-time users understand and enjoy the product.  We’re betting that if we do that user acquisition and conversion will be off to a good start.

Photo of usability test in progress

Bryan Wengren (@bwengren) observes a usability test being done by Chris Muldrow (@muldrow).

Lots of lessons learned and we can’t wait to apply them and make Reacht better!

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Reacht usability testing: THANKS!!!

reacht blue

This week was “alpha week” (aka, get it out week, live user testing week) for our Reacht (@reachtapp) application.  We’ve been in testing mode with real users for a while but this week we invited a larger group to experience and comment on the idea, branding, style guide, application, messaging, functionality, user interface, user experience.  Our Product Manager, Will Fulton, (@wyfulton) did a great job putting the evolution together.

We ended up with some fantastic feedback.  I want to personally thank those that participated:


We REALLY hope everyone developed an eagerness to use the product and enjoyed a short evening of playing with software, eating some pizza and drinking a beer.

David Malaxos (@dmlxs) is on the Reacht team and participated from Florida!  :)n We love our Ricky the Robot (thanks Double Robotics!)

More thanks to the whole Reacht team who brought the product together!!!

I’ll have a longer post out soon with the technical details of what we learned and how.  I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say thanks to our community (#FBXG) team for the help.  It takes a village.

Some photo moments below…

Posted in Entrepreneurialism, Inspiration, Startups | 1 Comment