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Letter From Cambridge: Backwards Forwards

Michael Weishan '86

Given that we are by far the oldest Harvard House, and certainly the most idiosyncratic, it’s not unreasonable to expect that things don’t always progress in a linear fashion at Adams. That’s certainly been the case with several recent Gold Coaster initiatives. The oldest, and still ongoing, is the Historic Room Database. You may remember I announced the effort over three years ago with great fanfare, and requested your five-line bios. Well, much like President Bush’s “mission accomplished” announcement from the deck of an aircraft carrier, I was well ahead of reality. Let me count the problems. It turned out we were missing quite a number of Adams Facebooks, and those had to be located or purchased on E-Bay. Then, the online database program that we selected was designed by a very well meaning CS-50 student who hadn’t thought through the complexities of this old house — room numbers have changed, entries are listed varyingly as C-entry or C entry, some rooms have even had their floor plans merged. This data mish-mash wasn’t helped by one of the students we hired who very cleverly off-shored her work to India for two dollars an hour and pocketed the difference. This would have been fine if not so cleverly the data hadn’t come back with a slight formatting differences that we didn’t notice in time.  However, these problems are well on their way to being ironed out — with the exception of the WWII years where the College shifted to a year-round three-term schedule. There may eventually have to be a separate database for that period, but we’ll tackle that later. Once we get this up and running — and notice please I am not saying precisely when — you will each have a short period to add or emend your bios before the database is locked. Stay tuned.

Regarding our beloved football flag project, over three hundred Adams alums indicated that you would like to purchase flags. So… we worked with a manufacturer in China to develop a successful prototype, which we did, and came up with a beautiful sample. We were about to put the flag into production when the manufacturer suddenly demanded a minimum 5000-unit order, plus substantial tooling costs. Now granted, we could probably sell 5000 flags eventually, but I am not sure the Foundation wants to be in the flag business long-term, nor could we afford the upfront costs which ran to 15K or so. So if any of you have a clever idea of how to move this project forward, we’d love to hear from you. I looked into repatriating production, but sadly couldn’t locate a single manufacturer interested in making these flags in the US.

Finally, and most significantly, I regret to report that contributions to our Global Fellowship program have fallen off sharply, threatening the existence of the program. Over the past four years we’ve sent some remarkable individuals to do some very remarkable things that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to achieve, but unfortunately this kind of program is very expensive to run, on avegerage 10K per individual. We REALLY need your help to keep this wonderful Adams initiative going.

However, on one front we have made great progress, and you are reading it as we speak. An entirely newly redesigned Gold Coaster sits before you, which can be viewed on any type of device, from phone to tablet to desktop. This required entirely re-engineering the site, but the visual results, I hope you agree, are spectacular, ranging from rotating banners of Adams history to a new, easy-to-read article layout.

So a few steps backwards, a few forward, and still our grand old house marches on.