What you get when you make smart people do stupid things

This post is a little overdue.  I promised my daughter I would post her experience as she described it to me and here it is.

My daughter Brianna is 16.  She is pretty smart (aren’t all our daughters!) and recently did her GCSEs  (the exams young people do in the UK after 5 years of high school).

Actually when I say she did her GCSEs, I mean she did some GCSEs.  You see, Brianna’s been doing them sort of staggered over the course of a couple of years. Her school encouraged her to sit for the subjects she was showing strength in early (like a year early), basically to give her a few chances of getting good grades – a practice run of sorts. It’s a great idea – can’t fault it.  You can use the system as an improvement tool or as a testing only tool. Taking the exams repeatedly and exploring the student’s weak areas and then focusing energy on improving that is a great way to use a dysfunctional system that places so much emphasis on how you do in a 2 hour exam!

Well, Brianna did her English exams earlier on in January and she got a great grade – an A!  So when the exams came round again in June, she was surprised to be told she would retake the English paper. Hadn’t she already aced the exam? She may have had weak parts of her knowledge, but what did those matter if she aced the exam?  In any case, those could be improved without her sitting the paper again.

Side Notes

A side note about exams and the propaganda of how good a school is.  In the UK, schools are judged, in part, on exam results. On how many students got an ‘A’, ‘B’ and so on. Not much is given to the innovation and creative thinking of young people or the real life application of knowledge or how well their learning was facilitated.   As a school, if you put 80 students up for exams and 80 of them got ‘A’ , you are considered the best!

Ok, so now you have an idea of how the system works, perhaps it’s clearer why a school might put a smart kid into the same exam twice.  If she aced it once, she most probably would ace it again – so they get twice  the kudos for the same student.  It’s the kinds of academic double accounting that would delight Enron management. This is what what the Politicians make the ‘educators’ do in order to survive in this system. It’s simply bananas!

Also, a side note about Brianna and exams. They place a strain on Brianna, she gets tired and worn out. Her school know this and yet, knowing fully well both her previous grade and her health concerns they still insisted she sit the paper.

Brianna 10 – Silly School 0

Well, my darling Brianna did something that surprised and delighted me in equal measure.  As she sat for the English paper the second time, she took the decision, independently and without declaration, to stage a most fantastic protest.

She ignored all the set questions on the paper and penned a letter to the unknown examiner. Brianna wrote about pop culture, what bands she loved. She wrote about current news items and ,fantastically, about the unfairness of making a student sit an exam they had already passed, again. In her own words:

.. I wrote my opinion on current pop culture, my opinion on issues in the news currently, why I think it’s unfair to make someone who already achieved their target resit the exam when they have exams they haven’t yet got their grades in. I laid it all out the way we’ve been taught and used all the different presentational features but just didn’t look at the content of the paper

I always knew her intellect was sharp (goodness knows I have been on the receiving end of it once or twice), but to make such a silent yet bold act of protest gives me huge pride and a quiet assurance that at least one young person in this generation of gamers and stylistas is going to give the establishment a run for its money.

There is an examiner out there who marked a paper that was entirely a letter, who – whatever they think of Brianna – cannot have failed to be surprised. I hope as an educator that they recognise that they are not alone in challenging the nonsense that government policy vis-a-vis testing as a means of measuring learning is. I would give that paper a A+ for both ingenuity, civic innovation and creative expression!

From my generation to yours, Brianna, thank you.

An Experiment for Good.

By: PeteCC BY 2.0


This weekend I’m taking a break from ServiceChat.

I’ll hang out with my family and go to some friends on Saturday for a BBQ and on Sunday, we’ll head to Salobreña for our first San Juan celebration (no , I don’t really know what it is either!).

This weekend also, I want to try a little experiment, an experiment for good – well, at least start it off.  It is a lovely juxtaposition between my dream and an idea for a game that I have kept putting off.

The Dream

All through my career I’ve met people who have said things like ‘give X away!? why – I’m not a philanthropist’ or ‘why give it when you can sell it’. I’ve quietly listened and argued with that thinking internally.

I am a philanthropist, there I said it.  It’s not a dirty word (at least not how I interprete it). I don’t have much money, nor even much free time.  But I do have creativity, innovation, curiosity and skills and I can/will and do give those and their various products freely to those who can benefit from it.

When I dream about my future, it always involves a few businesses that are generating incomes sure, but also joy.  The money they generate is doing something wonderful in the world, not simply going to pay for expensive, unnecessary stuff.  I’m delighted that I don’t have to wait long to start doing this – I support a few charities but mostly use Kiva to do microlending.  I find microlending to be one of the most respectful and empowering ideas of our age (if you aren’t already doing micro-lending, I encourage you to check it out, you don’t need very much to start and the joy you generate far outweighs whatever limited risk of losing money there is).

The Idea

It’s called Twumps and it’s a game. If  you ever played trading game cards or something like Top Trumps – a stats comparison game based around themed cards, you’ll love what I want to make.
Plus you don’t even have to wait very long to experience it.

The Experiment

Here is what I want to discover:

Can I launch a revenue generating thing that pretty much runs itself and use that to perpetually and increasingly fund the change I want to see in the world?

So, I want to build something (Twumps) that people can play and enjoy and possibly either make donations to or pay something for (this will emerge) and/or generate advertising from and can I extend that by making it continuously and totally fund some good in the world.


I want this experiment to be done as transparently as possible. Why?  Well, why not?

Prior to its release, I’ll open a new @kiva account for Twumps  and make it’s transactions public.  Initially I will make all  revenue payable to Kiva directly  (from donations or advertising). If this experiment succeeds, I may deduct enough to cover operating costs (pretty much just the hosting) to keep it running smoothly and pass everything else to @Kiva.  All those costs will also be entirely transparent.

Who knows, this might encourage other entrepreneurs to consider this as a business model – only one in which they do not personally benefit financially but one that they can leave a living trust for good work in the World. Now wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

What Next?

Stay tuned, I shall be asking for help.
Very soon I shall need some UI and graphic design help (I’m great at functionality but suck at making things look wow!) and later I shall need players and feedback and later still I shall need things yet unknown!

It’ll be fun.

ps. Please share this.

There is no room here for your anger.

By: JohnCC BY 2.0

I had a funny experience last night. Not funny “hahaha”, more funny “wow that’s deep!”

Here is what happened.

I had put my sons to bed and a few hours later, I went to sleep also. Then, at about 3am I was woken up by my older son, Ruben , falling out of bed.  I went in and lifted him back in, made sure he wasn’t hurt, gave him a cuddle and tucked him in.

Fifteen minutes later, as I was drifting back to sleep, Ruben calls out and I go in because he needs his nose blowing (he’s got pretty bad hayfever).  I blow his nose, give him  a cuddle and head back to bed.

Before long, I’m about to totally start snoring when I hear a sound, I wake up and notice Ruben’s light come on and then off.  By this point, sleep deprivation has kicked in and I’m properly irritated.  I call out in my deep, stern “this is your father speaking’ voice and ask him what he is doing. (damn it, it’s nearly 4am I need to get to sleep!). Ruben replies ‘Nothing’ and goes quiet.

Then something really weird happens.

As I lay in bed – totally irritated and getting so totally wound up by having my sleep disturbed repeatedly, I heard this voice inside my body.  I mean  inside my entire body, not just my head.  This voice (which I still don’t recognise) spoke loudly and matter-of-factly (but not angrily).  It said “Listen, I know you’re angry but I’m telling you there is no room in here for your anger. There is only space here for love”.


The voice went on, and I could hear it as loud and as clear as though I was the only person in the audience at a stadium performance. It said again “there is no room here for your anger, there is only room for love. So, forget your anger and just let love in”.  What struck me was how resolved and reassured it sounded. Like an OccupyNewYork style activist who had occupied my heart and was refusing to let anger share the space.

At this point, I am physically super-tense and the voice coaxed me : ‘You’re tense, look at what anger is doing to you – shake it out and let it go on its way, there is no room here for anger”.
So that is what I did.  At 4am in the morning, I did a shimmy shimmy electric boogaloo breakdance move in bed to shake out the tension in my body.  I instantly felt the tension ease off. And that is when I thought I was having a heart attack.

But not really – what was happening was that my heart muscle had been so  tensed up and then very suddenly relaxed and the resulting sensation felt like your hand feels when it has been clenched in a fist for a while and you suddenly relax it.  It wasn’t painful – just weird.

A deep sense of calm came over me and the voice had gone. Slowly I get up from my bed and walk quietly into Ruben’s room , he is still awake (but barely) and I cuddle him, speaking gentle and soothing words to help him fall back to sleep. I stroke his hair and kiss his forehead, then I went back to bed and got some sleep.

When I woke at 8am, I thought it was all a dream and to be honest I have no explanation about what happened beyond what I share here.

I do know that as this voice was speaking, I was filled with a deep sense of love for my son and my family and an intuitive acceptance that it was speaking an undeniable truth (well as undeniable as you can get at four in the morning) – I don’t have space in my heart for anything but love. Not anger, not irritation and certainly not hate. I could reason with it, that anger is part of life, as is grief and as is love, but this voice wouldn’t engage me in whether those where valid, inappropriate, right or wrong. It simply insisted that I had no space in my heart for anything but love.

I am deeply grateful to this voice, from wherever it came. Its message was fully and gratefully received.

As ever on this blog and especially on this post, I want to share what you think? Have you had a similar weird but beautiful experience.

I do not have space in my heart for anger. Do you?


A Dog Has Died

A dog has died
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Alfred Yankauer

Pablo Neruda
(Sourced from: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-dog-has-died/)

Why I Love This Poem

I have had dogs for most of my life.
Even now, I feel a void in my existence without one.
And I love Neruda. I imagine him as uncle Pablo. He has such a beautiful mastery of language, yet he is very matter of fact.
I can imagine strolling with him through the streets of Santiago or Paris, talking extraordinarily about the ordinary!

This poem reminds me of dogs I have been privileged to have in my life. That I have loved and have loved me. You only need to sit with a dog on your lap, contemplating life,  to comprehend a simple yet full and total bliss.

I am reminded of play, of the freedom to be myself – never being judged or judging.

‘A dog has died’ also transports me back to moments of deep sadness and loneliness with only my dog has my companion – who listened and somehow was deeply empathic.Even now I weep.
Yet when, one by one my dogs died, there is a practical aspect to it, they must be buried and mourned. But life goes on.

Neruda surely felt the same about his dog. Deep connection, love and affection, yet in the end, moving on.

All relationships shape us.  I learnt much about empathy from my dogs. Much about non-verbal communication too.

That is all there is to it.  And that is why I love ‘A dog has died’.


What do you think of ‘A dog has died’?

What memories do you have of the animal companions that you have had?
In what ways have those relationships shaped you?

What are your favorite poems and why do you love them?

I would really love to share them. (and if you don’t currently read poetry, this is a perfect time to start)

April 30 – Retro : Beautiful Things Unfolding!

Copyright 2013 – Brianna Sutton

Check In

  • I’m glad that my cold and fatigue are conquered for now.
  • Glad that I stuck to my schedule and worked sustainably
  • Glad I did 80 pushups across all 4 of my ten-minute breaks!
  • I’m mad that I am still discovering more things to be done.
  • Glad that there are more things to be done
  • Afraid/Excited to learn new things

I’m in. 

Achievements Since Last Retro

  • Closed ChittyChat for revamp.  This was non-trivial – had to write some new tech to do it graceful (and another product idea emerged!)
  • Sent off invitations to prospective ServiceChat customers to a chat to validate my pricing (what would they pay for a service that delivered the outcomes that ServiceChat tries to deliver?)
  • Drafted my network outreach email.

How The Trello Board Now Looks

Trello at close of 30/April/2013

I Learned…

  • I can’t do it all, but I should at least be able, and prepared, to do anything required in my business.
  • Help can come from the unlikeliest of sources.
  • I may not be the best coder, but I ain’t so bad at finding solutions to stuff.

I Loved…

Chatting with my friend Amit (who is doing some awesome writing for  ServiceChat) and  is also an amazing SEO , internet marketing guy. We came up with some interesting experiments to amplify the value of any content we produce. Very excited.

I’m Grateful For…

My  first daughter, Brianna , celebrating her 16th birthday. She is such a beautiful person who is overcoming so much. I feel deeply inspired by her.