Harvard Class Reports


[12/58] A student from Falls Church H.S. who is in the bottom two thirds of his class applies to Harvard. [4/59] Thick letter arrives--apparently Harvard's Admissions Committee has exercised its 'diamond in the rough' option. [4/59] I drive down Brattle St. toward the Square; Chuck Corbett ('63), my future roommate, reads map and says we are in the center of Harvard University. I tell him he doesn't know what he is talking about, clearly there is no University here. [9/59] What the hell is the difference between a "section" and a "lecture"? [9/59] Leonard Nash, Chem 2: "It is said that I drink the blood of freshmen." Drinks flask of red fluid. "It is true." [2/60] "Dear Bill: The Administrative Board has voted not to place you on probation although your record at the recent return of grades was again unsatisfactory. Dean McIntosh." [1960] Gen. Ed.: I typically stop typing my papers as the bell rings, arrive at class late, and thus never notice Ellen Furry ('63) who arrives early (typical Cliffie) and sits by the far window. [9/60] Psy. 50a.: I ask a worried looking Cliffie to be my lab partner (it seemed so innocuous at the time). [Fall, 1962] Ellen is over for supper with Jim Scott ('63) and me. Ellen says "I found the coolest function today." As she starts to graph it on a napkin, Jim turns to me and says "My wife is never going to say 'I found the coolest function today.'" [2/63] Letter to grad. schools: "I like the methodology used in the Psychology Department and the subject matter dealt with in the Department of Social Relations" (very prophetic). [5/63] Pick up my honors thesis. Two slips of paper fall out. One says "magna highest" the other "summa."

[6/63] I finish packing a U-Haul trailer outside of Adams House 1 hr. 45 min. before my wedding is to take place in Belmont (there were a lot of books). When I arrive in Belmont I find a rather distraught looking line of women (mother, mother-in-law, and bride) waiting for me. [1964] Department of Psychology, University of Iowa uses Paris Island as a model for its graduate program. Two thirds of the members of the class ahead of me fail their comps. Hours spent memorizing worthless behaviorist texts blur together. [1965] Computer room: Ellen analyzing crucial data for me. Terrible noises. Ellen with wry expression on her face, pulls a handful of horribly mangled computer cards out of the card reader and hands them to me. [3/66] Ellen, several weeks past due, has me take her to a James Bond picture in hopes of inducing labor. It works, John is born. [12/66] I write a letter to my parents thanking them for their efforts in raising me.

[9/67] During postdoc at U. Minn. I read and understand the implications for psychology of Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory. [1968] I also read Ulric Neisser's, Cognitive Psychology, and see the future of experimental psychology.

[1969] Assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Illinois. Much research. Little free time. We live in a university house. The grass gets longer and longer. Eventually the university ground crew receives orders to cut my grass and bill me. I cut grass, but leave a 100 sq. ft. plot of uncut grass in the front yard which I post as a research area. [11/71] I come home at 6:00 A.M., totally exhausted from preparing materials for an experiment. Bedroom light is on. Bad sign. Robert born at 8:40 A.M. Thoughts on parenthood taken from a letter written to Chuck and Alice Corbett when they were expecting their first child: "If you want to go out and have a pizza on impulse, sleep late on Sunday morning, do it now. They look fragile, but we, and others, have proved repeatedly that they do not break when dropped (Oh, yes, you will). There is the matter of the high water mark. This is the point to which a baby of a given age can reach. It starts low at around 6 mo. and reaches the ceiling remarkably soon thereafter."

[1973] I write a paper with the audacious title: "There is no convincing evidence for operant or classical conditioning in adult humans." The senior members of my department do not like this paper one bit. [10/73] Noam Chomsky drops me a note saying that the paper is one of the most significant things in psychology that he has ever read. [1974] Notice on my office door: "There is really no one here today (even if you hear typing noises inside)." [7/74] John and I stop over in D.C.. He is the youngest person in the line for the Watergate hearings. [1975] We discover that due to the endless levels of university committees there is no one moment when one can celebrate receiving tenure. [1975-76] The cold spring of '75 and the dry summer of '76 reduce the yield of the corn plot growing on our front yard. [1977] I am still driving the car I drove out of Harvard Square in '63; however I have to warn passengers to watch their feet, since there is a foot-square hole through to the street on the passenger's side. [12/79] Letter from La Jolla to the Israeli family that rented our house back in Urbana during our sabbatical: "When the snow melts in the spring you will find a thick layer of leaves--well, that is not exactly as it is supposed to be..." [1/78] After Robert's first day at La Jolla Elementary School: "We had to eat lunch outdoors and a big sea gull came down and tried to grab my sandwich."

[12/82] We acquire an Apple II which has since then evolved into the Mac plus that I am writing this on. These machines have had roughly the impact on our family that another child would have. They were the children's major source of recreation, income, and conversation. [8/83] John enrolls at the U. of I. in Math and Computer Science. [1983] I have 5 outstanding book chapters. Ellen threatens to publish a notice in the journals saying "I will not be responsible if Bill Brewer accepts any more invitations to write book chapters." [1985] An undergrad comes into my office to talk and backs out apologizing for bothering me when I am in the middle of moving. I have to explain, no--my office always looks like that. [1/87] Ulric Neisser asks me to replace him during his sabbatical (I can't, it is Robert's senior year). [9/87] Harvard's 350th birthday party: Ellen is trapped in Memorial Hall (an undergraduate nightmare?) by a divestiture crowd for several hours while at a Choral Society concert. [1989] After a sabbatical in Cambridge, England, which place will we be referring to when we talk about "the other Cambridge?" It's been fun.


Bill at Harvard gates in Illinois and Cambridge

Selected vignettes from the last 10 years. [6/88] Harvard 25th class reunion. Ellen enjoys being able to stay overnight with Bill in a Harvard dorm room. [6/88] Portsmouth, RI. Mellow Harvard counter-reunion--in attendance: Ellen Brewer, Bill Brewer, Charles Corbett, Bob Higgins, Paul Holman, and Jim Scott. [8/88] Younger son, Robert, to Reed College. [1/89] Cambridge, UK sabbatical. Our flat looks out over the Cam and into the Magdalene College gardens. Bill's walk to the MRC-APU takes him by Heffers--bad planning. [4/89] Vienna. Find house that Wittgenstein designed and constructed for his sister. [4/89] Athens, Agora. Find room in which Socrates spent his last night before drinking hemlock (never can tell when Hum 5 will come in handy in later life). [6/89] Copenhagen. Ellen finds the house she lived in at age 8 when on sabbatical with her father--its become much smaller. [6/89] Sweden, Island of Ven. Picnic on ruins of Tycho Brahe's observatory. [6/89] Senate House. Cambridge. Watch Prince Philip give Stephen Hawking an honorary degree. [7/89] Wales. After our visit Hay-on-Wye has many fewer OP books.

[5/90] Florence. Find Galileo's telescope and index finger. [11/90] In Ellen's role as computer consultant she adopts sig quote: "Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco." [12/90] C-U. Robert says he is serious about Yuka Nagashima whom he touchingly describes as "a fellow physics geek." [7/91] Hawaii. Whole family to Big Island for total solar eclipse. Saw impressive dark cloud cover (afterward Jay Pasachoff also not visible). [7/91] London. Bill and Ellen hold the real fake Piltdown skull in their hands (the one on display is a fake, fake). Bill takes Ellen to see the stuffed Jeremy Bentham in all of his finery. Saw the Thomas Crapper manhole cover at Westminster Abbey (its location one of the few useful pieces of information to appear in the Harvard Alumni Magazine).

[8/92] Robert and Yuka move to Honolulu. [1/93] C-U. Older son, John, starts job at WRI, makers of Mathematica. [5/93] C-U. Bill watches Harvard commencement on U. of Illinois Quad. (sic). [9/93] C-U. John meets Stacy O'Leary (in a hot tub). [8/94] Descartes, France. His house was under repair. [11/94] Honolulu. Robert sends email message "Its alive! ALIVE!!!!. The 56 Kbs link for LavaNet (the ISP company he has founded) is up and running. [12/ 94] CU. John moves from WRI to Spyglass to participate in the web browser wars. [12/94] Big Island, HI. Whole family walks to flowing lava on Xmas Day.

[7/95] Honolulu. Robert marries Yuka Nagashima. [12/95] Henderson, NC. Navy honor guard fires salutes at Bill's father's funeral. [1/96] Barstow, CA. John and Stacy can't get into see land tortoises on a Federal site due to the government shutdown. John says "How would you like to get drive to Las Vegas and get married instead" They did. [1/96] Cambridge, UK. Sabbatical. We know we are back when we find our flat has no heat or hot water, but the heated towel rack is working fine. [4/96] Cambridge, UK. Chuck and Alice Corbett and Ellen and Bill trying punting on the Cam. Chuck says it should be easier going downstream. Humm. [4/96] London. Ellen sings Verdi's Requiem in Royal Albert Hall. [5/96] Preseli Mountains, Wales. Bill and Ellen find Carn Menyn, the source of the Stonehenge bluestones. [7/97] Denmark. After training in base camp in Aarhus, Bill climbs Himmelbjerget ("Heaven Mountain') the 4th highest peak in Denmark. [3/97] C-U. U. of Illinois celebrates HAL's birthday ("I became operational at the Hal Plant in Urbana, Illinois, on January 12, 1997"). [5/97] John and Stacy move to Marin county where John joins Silicon Valley (no hot tub yet). Until next time gentle reader.

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Last updated January 30, 2000 by EFB