AN EPIC: The Making of this Website
The day of the orientation of the Seevak website, Jian, with her back pack on askew and her hair flying, came running up to me.
Jian: “Hey! You wanna do Seevak with me?”
Me: “ Er?” * (full copyright of the exclamation used in my response given to Jenny Lum)
As you can see, our enterprise had a very humble beginning. Actually, we had planned to have four people in order to form the Ultimate Unbeatable Team, but after learning of the requirements, the extra-large team split into two very talented, if somewhat smaller, teams.
Our team consisted of me (QN), Jian (JN) and Norman (NN). My job and Jian’s job were uncertain during that time but Norman was definitely the Webmaster. The technological skills in our group had several levels: sure, I got skills, but they were only limited to the complicated language of Microsoft Words. Jian, on the other hand, was versed in basic HTML and some Photoshop. We, especially me, were amazed at Norman’s ability to do everything computer related and his habits of staying up until 3:00 in the morning, for we never pulled all-nighters except one night every year, the night before the science projects are due.
Our team has never actually heard of Andrei Sakharov until Dr. Forman made the suggestion to us. Upon further research and reading, we were amazed at the amount of work he threw into defending human rights in a country. His was a case of irony, to be exiled for advocating the progress of one’s own country. We realized…that we could never truly realize the dedication, the hard work, the tears, the strength that Andrei Sakharov gave openly to the defense of the lives of many people, at the expense of his own life. From the unique beginning as one of the top scientists involved in Soviet war effort, to becoming the target of the government for his work in human rights, we realized that we had a lot to learn from Andrei Sakharov.
We started planning out a timeline of dates, an antiquated object, which we regard with amusement now. We were so apparently so confident in our abilities that we set the timeline for the completion of the entire website at the end of February vacation! Needless to say, we didn’t. The first two meetings at my house, before the February vacation were spent partly on the planning of the project, assigning writing, developing an idea for a strong introduction and downloading New Age or Chinese music, the genre depending on whether Jian or Norman was at the computer.
When we checked out the Thurgood Marshall site from the Seevak competition in 2002, we were impressed by the interview from someone who had known Marshall. We decided that, in order to understand Andrei Sakharov on a more personal basis, we should get an interview. While I was talking about my Seevak topic with my friend who lived in Brookline, he mentioned that Elena Bonner, Andrei Sakharov’s wife, was currently residing there, although he did not know the exact address. When I told my teammates the news, we started a frenzy of internet searches, rifling through the Brookline yellow pages…but to no effect. Just as we began to feel dejected, a new hope manifested itself in an unusual way. Since I was assigned to do research on Sakharov’s wife, fellow activist Elena Bonner, I borrowed her book Alone Toghether, a memoir of the years they spent together in exile in Gorky. On one of the pages in the book was a picture of a forged postcard with the address of Elena Bonner’s family in America. Apparently, twenty years ago, when this book was published, Elena Bonner’s family had a house in Newton. We immediately typed this address into Yahoo! Maps and confirmed it to be real address. Then we wrote to this address, introducing ourselves, the Seevak project and expressing our wish to meet and perhaps have a brief interview with Ms. Bonner. When, after a week, our letter was not returned, we began to look dejected again, showing signs of premature hair-loss and sharp decrease in appetite for junk food. Then, while conscientiously doing her research, Jian found a link to the Sakharov Archives at Brandeis University in Waltham. The archive, located in the library of Brandeis University, is run by Tatianna Yankelevich, the daughter of Elena Bonner and Professor Gribanov, archivist, the expert on both Andrei Sakharov’s life and the history of Russia. We called the Sakharov archives and, after a whole series of telephone tag, Mrs. Yankelevich amiably agreed to an interview with her and Professor Gribanov.
Perhaps the hardest part of this project (besides the technological aspects), as Jian and I both readily agree, is the writing. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the research; throughout the course of this project, I can safely say that I’ve printed out more than two hundred pages worth of materials from the internet alone. Some of this information was useful, others extraneous or too specific to be used. The more I learned about the state of human rights in Russia, the history of Russia and Andrei Sakharov, the harder it was to write about it. The more things I read, the harder it was to try to be completely fair to the consideration of some issues. So, the writing took me a long time, much longer than the research because I wanted to weigh everything I said carefully.
Jian, who was responsible for the biography, had a different type of problem. After reading everything posted on the web about Andrei Sakharov’s life, she decided that her sources of information there were too vague to do him complete justice. So she went to the library and borrowed the biggest book I’ve seen in his life, Andrei Sakharov’s biography. During the course of my research, I had read many books, but this one alone was worth five of my books put together. On a quest to learn about every aspect of Andrei Sakharov’s life, she read the entire book, analyzing everything painstakingly (the now has little blue sticky-notes all over the place). Jian, upon finishing his biography, discovered that there was a sequel to it and spent weeks trying to find the title and tracking down the book.Call my opinion biased, but hours of sweat spent in finding a non-existent book in the Copley library (oh, how human casts doubt upon their own intelligence when faced with a “fact” produced by a computer.) is far from how one would like to spend a Saturday morning.
The writing process was painful, since writers’ block was a recurring headache. Nevertheless, we emerged victorious after this long struggle, and did the best we could, which was enough, in light of our complete ignorance of dissident matters before this project.
:The Quest of the Webmaster:
Norman, our webmaster, is a highly talented individual with a persistence that Qingni and Jian can’t match. For this project, Norman lost a major part of his golden sleep (the most precious thing to a BLS student indeed!), caught a fever, and, missed I-don’t-know-how-many nights of entertainment. His web design process, at same time a learning experience, was not less painstaking than that of the writers. At the beginning, Norman planned to do an html site: simplicity. However, he got excited upon seeing the magnificence of some flash site. Having no prior experience in designing a flash movie or site, Norman had to plow through an entire Flash book (a task that was beyond the imagination of Jian, who aspired to be a programmer), analyze the code of a dozen sites, and spend tens of hours on trial and error. According to Norman, it was an enriching experience; however, as we all saw in Norman’s 4am emails expressing his joy at a breakthrough, the experience came with a high price tag. In the week before the due date, a new difficulty—the hardest one of all—hit us: Norman could not input the text correctly into the “stages”; the text was above everything, including the frame that was supposed to contain it. The week that followed was more stressful than the week before college application deadline could be. Norman got only 3 hours of sleep every night. It was a wonder to Qingni and Jian how Norman could last through the school day without falling down on the stairs (a secret too teacher-sensitive to be disclosed here).
Here we are, standing at the tail of this project, laughing (almost laughing—tomorrow is THE DAY) at the stressed out weeks past. We are thankful for all the fun we had discussing this project, and, most of the time, digressing into foreign territory. Overall, this had been a trail of tears, frustrations, sleep depravity, laughter, hysteria, perkiness…We hope to tread on it again.