A Brief Biography

Family Matters

I was born in New York City in 1956. My brother, Josh, arrived two years later. We spent our formative years growing up in suburbia, mostly in Yorktown Heights, New York --- this was the country, we had three cats and a dog. However we did live for two years (when I was 4-5 years old) in Monrovia, Liberia. My brother and I fought often, but now get along famously. Josh now lives in Brooklyn where he writes screenplays, plays basketball, worked for Robert Altman (who died in November, 2006), raises a cat, and cooks amazing tarts and pies.

My mother, Gail, lives in Burlington, VT. Her last name is Neale although it has been Lovejoy, Astrachan, and Potter at different points in her lifetime. She has worn many hats, the sheer variety is amazing. She went from typist at Hudson Institute (which used to be near the Hudson River, and is now in Indianapolis) to become its president. She has been a vice-president at Middlebury College and most recently worked for the Salzburg Seminars. She retired in 1997 and now runs her own consulting company, the Lovejoy Group.

My father, Anthony Astrachan, and my mother were divorced when I was very young. Tony worked for the predecessor of USAID, then worked for the Washington Post where he was the Nairobi, Moscow, and UN correspondent (among other duties) before moving on to editorial duties at several magazines. My brother and I got to visit him in Nairobi and Moscow which was fun. A completely unexpected stroke led to complications resulting in his death in 1992.


I had an amazing math course from grades 7-12; one course that lasted six years (Columbia University's Secondary School Math Curriculum Improvement Study) with two teachers. We learned about vector spaces, probability, groups, rings, fields, calculus, and so on. I played on the soccer team; we lost all but about three of our games my junior and senior years. I played the trumpet maladroitly. I took all the standard courses and enjoyed them immensely.


When it came time to decide on college I chose Dartmouth. It had a good math department, valued undergraduate education, and offered lots of outdoor experiences and skiing. Dartmouth was great. I studied mathematics right from the start, but took enough French courses to minor had there been such a thing. I spent one quarter abroad, in Toulouse, France. I lived with a French family who let me take two showers a week. I was almost killed when I was hit by a car, I can still picture the accident (my bicycle was totalled). I went skiing in the Pyrenees, and at val d'Isere and Chamonix in the Alps.

Later at Dartmouth I took a course in French Drama from John Rassias for whom each class was theatre. I also had a course from John Kemeny, who was the president of the college at the time. Kemeny was co-inventor of BASIC (and popularized timesharing). In this course I believe I received my only 100 on a test during college.

My junior year I did Outward Bound as part of my fall quarter. One of the highlights was spending 30 hours in a bomb-shelter where it was so dark we couldn't see at all the entire time. Of course we also did outdoor kinds of things. I spent winter quarter of my senior year teaching on an Indian Reservation outside of Missoula Montana. I had decided to become a teacher and wanted a taste of it. I continued to study mathematics, (I took one course in computer science using Algol as the programming language). Later I TA'd a course in which BASIC was used.


In 1978, I got in my yellow VW squareback 2 hours after graduation and drove to Durham, North Carolina to start a Master of Arts in teaching program. All my belongings fit in the car and on the roof. I lived in a room upstairs in a house with no airconditioning. It was very hot. I spent lots of my free time at the Book Exchange reading novels that I didn't buy. Classes were mildly interesting and student teaching in the summer was challenging and scary.

After one summer of "learning" I became a full-time teacher in Jacksonville, North Carolina home of Camp Lejeune: The World's Most Complete Amphibious Training Base. I taught at a high school on the base. First year: algebra 1, pre-algebra, geometry; it was a nightmare. The students ran all over me. But it was kind of fun too. The next year I miraculously became a reasonably good teacher. Teaching was fun, life in Jacksonville wasn't. I found a cat that I kept for a year (she was run over by a car which made me immensely sad). I taught some "higher" courses (like pre-calculus). I accepted a job at Durham Academy.

Teaching in Durham

At D.A., I taught calculus, geometry, and computer programming. I loved teaching these courses. Durham is more fun to live in than Jacksonville. I coached the J.V. boys and girls soccer teams. We won lots of games. During my first year of teaching at D.A. I met the person (in my class) whom I would later marry. I got two cats named Poubelle and White-boy who stayed with me for several years before being called away.

I started running in 1980. I finished my first marathon in 1984 (Virginia Beach, 2:59). I also did triathlons for a while but I'm a terrible swimmer. I worked hard to break 37:00 in a 10K in 1983.

In 1983 I went to Carnegie Mellon during the summer to learn Pascal so that I could teach an AP Computer Science course. I got hooked on Computer Science. In 1985 I was the assistant coach of the varsity soccer team. We won the state title (not that I had much to do with it). I decided to go back to graduate school to get a masters in computer science. I went to Duke (it was a choice of Duke and UNC, and Duke offered more money).

Graduate School

I took courses, I was a TA. Taking class again after 7 years was lots of fun (I had taken some summer classes, not the same thing). I worked all the time. I started to drink coffee again. I wrote my first theorem prover for a project in the AI course. After one year of graduate school, I got married to Laura Heyneman (who had been a student in my first calculus class). I became a member of the committee that develops the AP test in Computer Science --- I had been a grader for the test since it was first offered in 1984.

I was a lecturer my second year. I spent most of my time teaching and developing materials. I didn't do much research, but took classes. I taught CPS 51 (the equivalent of CPS 06). In my third year I learned how to play bridge. Several grad students and I didn't do much else that semester (or the next). We sat in different offices and played cards all day. It was fun.

I also started writing a "real" theorem prover. This was going to run on parallel machines. I thought I could port a sequential prover in one night --- it took about 15 months. I received a master's degree for this in 1989. We got a cat named Simba who still runs around the house in an out-of-control manner when it strikes his fancy.

In 1991 I spent the summer working at SRI in Menlo Park. This work put me over the top in terms of finishing my Ph.D. I worked with Mark Stickel there. I rented a house in Cupertino and drove or rode my bike 15 miles to work. I worked a lot.

In 1990 I became the Chief-Reader for the AP Computer Science exam. I was in charge of developing the standards for how the test was graded and oversaw the grading. I learned a lot about grading doing this --- I was basically in charge of grading 50,000 exams from 1990-1994. Then I was retired. I also ran the Boston Marathon (in about 2:52) and set all my running PRs (34:37 10K, 4:38 mile)

In 1991/92 I taught CPS 01 (it was called cps 10 then). I was finishing my dissertation and had fun teaching. Teaching CPS 01 was a great deal of fun. In the summer of 1992 I did the final work on my dissertation. I defended in November and started as an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Computer Science in January 1993.

Professing In the fall of 1993 I instituted a change to C++ in our introductory courses (cps 06/100, then numbered 53/103). As the course progressed, the study of C++ became increasingly object-oriented. Since there were no good books when I started I decided to write my own. The Tapestry of Computer Science took about three years to write. It is now being used at many places (including, not coincidentally, Duke). Of course now there are lots of books, and some of them are even pretty good.

In 1995 I introduced CPS 108, Software Design and Implementation. The first year the course made itself up as it went along and used Tcl/Tk. The second year was more organized an used Python. In the fall of 1996 we began using Java, which worked very well. The groups in this course have done some amazing projects, the students were great.

Lots of other things happened professionally in this time, but most of the time I had was spent teaching and getting ready to teach (also getting ready to get ready).

In October 1995 we got a dog. Her name is Kelsey, half golden-retriever half black-lab. She is lots of fun although the cat, Simba, doesn't think so. In the Spring of 1996 I ran the Boston Marathon (for the second time), one week after I turned 40. Yikes. In 1996 I was also promoted to Associate Professor of the Practice of Computer Science.

Since years are now flying by, in the summer of 1998 I worked hard to run a 5 minute mile. At the beginning of the summer track season this didn't look realistic, but on June 17 I ran 4:55.7, and broke 5 minutes for the sixteenth year in a row. Just snuck under 18:00 for a track 5K too on the same night. Then, a week later, we moved with the dog and cat to Vancouver, Canada to begin a year sabbatical/leave. We drove the dog and cat to Charlotte to fly direct to Seattle, then drove to Vancouver (the car had been shipped). Everyone arrived fine and we're slowly getting adjusted to new northwest and a new country, eh?

Support and Motivation Motivated by Susan Rodger, who was hired at Duke in 1994, I wrote grant proposals to NSF to support an apprentice style of learning. One grant, joint with Rob Smith from North Carolina Central and James Wilkes from Appalachian State, has led to teaching resources for CS2 (the data structures course). Another grant, on which Susan and I are co-PIs (along with several other people in the dept) focuses on how to introduce core research done in our department into undergraduate courses. In 1997 I received an NSF Career Award to develop materials to help introduce Software Design Patterns into the undergraduate curriculum.

We hire many undergraduates to work on these and other departmental grants during the summer. This past summer (1997) students worked on many exciting projects. We also ate Indian food, pizza, and cookies when we could.

This summer, 1998, many students are working in our department. One of them, Huned Botee, is working for me on developing infrastructure for simulation assignments. But I'm not at Duke to help since I've started my one year leave/sabbatical in Vancouver, Canada. I wanted to say "sunny Vancouver", but that doesn't work.

Ethan While in Vancouver several amazing things happened. I finished the second edition of my book, but clearly the most amazing was the birth on June 14, 1999, of our son Ethan. Ethan is a dual citizen and he'll probably learn to speak in a southern drawl punctuated by "Eh" as in "y'awl come on over, Eh?"

Ethan is a joy, he giggles like a dolphin, rolls over one way, and in general keeps life amazing. Of course it's kind of scary too.

The sad update is that in the winter of 1999 Simba developed a terrible tumor and left us---very sad.

    2000 The summer of 2000 is over (for all intents and purposes).

On a more uplifting note, Ethan is tremendously happy. At fourteen months he walks all over the house, practices trumpeting like an elephant, and says one of his four words, "nana", "haah", "mama", and "daaah". The first is banana, the second is hat, the third is obvious, and the fourth is me, the dog, and on one occasion watermelon.

    2002 Ethan is now (August, 2002) three years old, pretty good with potty-training, and a master of jigsaw puzzles. He likes animals that start with A (and other letters), his favorite color is yellow, and his favorite letter is O --- "make that O round, Daddy" is a favorite saying. Ethan goes to daycare/preschool several days a week until lunchtime and his best friend this year is David Larson. Ethan likes the swimming pool, but not all the time. We visited Washington DC and he liked the zoo and the air-and-space museum, but the Lincoln Memorial (or blinking memorial as Ethan says) was a little too scary.

Millennium update 2000 (out of sequence) In July 2000 I was promoted to (full) Professor of the Practice.

In 1999 I ran 5:01 in the mile (twice) and my streak of sub-fives was broken at 16 years. In 2000 I ran 5:08 so I'm getting older and slower. Next year...

Adam On March 11, 2002, Adam Heyneman Astrachan (login: aha) was born, joining his brother Ethan (login: eha) in our family. Now, nearly five months later, Adam is smiling, spitting-up a lot, and not sleeping through the night (he goes for six-hours, but not the right six hours). Hopefully this will change soon. Ethan loves his brother, and Adam idolizes Ethan.

Running I was slower in the mile in 2001, but have some new speed in 2002. I ran a 2:18 800 meters and a 4:47 1500. But I didn't get close to 5:00 in the mile, hopefully next year. I ran a lot with Donald Macdonell, the famous Glaxo-Wellcome-Smith-Klein-Poobah Professor of Something Extraordinary. Ok, it's 2004, on the plus side I've run almost the same time in our running club 4-mile/February run for the past three years. On the minus side I want to get faster. I'm starting tomorrow (Feb 21, 2004). Divisible by Five Well, it's 2005. Ethan is in kindergarten at The Duke School, which currently has nothing to do with Duke, but did many, many years ago. He really likes it there and the project-learning approach they use seems very suitable to learning and Ethan. Adam is nearly three and spends 3-4 days a week until 3:30 at Weaverdairy Community Preshool. That's pretty good, though it isn't clear who his best friends are other than Thomas the Tank-Engine. Ethan has a new friend named Oliver with whom he gets along very well, that helped a lot in making the transition.

Kids have made book-writing harder. I had hoped to write a data structures book, this summer or bust is my motto. I taught a genomics/computing course as part of Duke's FOCUS program, that was new and enjoyable. Today, as I write, it's sunny, which does wonders for dispositions. I'll read this in five years and barely remember the day (I write barely to make myself feel good).

I ran a 2:17 800 last summer, and my goal is to run the Masters T&F Championships in 2006, Charlotte NC, a couple of months after turning 50. I'd like to get faster in the 5K and 10K, but I don't get enough running in. Soon? I'll dream some more.


Ok, last summer (2005) I had lots of students thinking about lots of things related to bioinformatics, social networks, and working on our Eclipse plugin, Ambient. Ambient got done well, bioinformatics got some materials, and social networks? not much.

The family is well, life is good on that front. Since there's a lot of running in this bio, I ran a 2:16 in the 800 on the last summer meet of the year. That was a great run. Now for the coming summer: reach the finals of the men's 50+ 800 in Charlotte. The training continues.

Summer 2006 I'm writing this the day after not making the finals of the 800. That was very disappointing, though I ran very well and just didn't have enough to catch the person in front of me over the last 200 meters -- he covered every move I made after going past me with about 250m to go. I had another gear, but his was faster. So I need to work on real speed since I ran a pretty even 2:17 at 68/69. That was the slowest of the heats, in the others I'd have had to run 2:12 to make the top-two or top-two times, and I didn't have a 2:12. So, next year the finals are in Maine and I'll have to train differently. But I'm still the 11th fastest 50 year old 800 runner in the US, officially (and technically two of the faster runners aren't from the US so ...)

Ok, the meet is over, a few highlights. Laura, Adam, and Ethan made it down Friday night just in time to see the 3000m steeplechase. I got a bronze (I was fourth, but the second place finisher was from Canada, so I got the bronze). It was a fun and challenging run, I'll try it again. Saturday was an off day (family day) and Sunday I ran a 4:49 1500, good for 11th, got fifth in the triple-jump with 9.67m, and our 4x800 50+ relay got a silver. Laura and the kids saw the 1500m too, I ran ok, though 5 secs. off my season-best.

I had a great time watching friends run pretty well on the first day of the meet which had a six-hour postponement/interlude because of the 100+ heat (more than 110 easily on the track) and folks collapsing all over the place.

(Aside: We had a great party in July celebrating my 50th birthday and our 20th year of being married.

2006 Family/Kids Ethan has done lots of camps this summer: Riverlea again (with lots of friends), Y Sports Camp (with Oliver), Duke School camp (many friends, too few hours), Movie-makers camp (with Jesse), Piedmont Wildlife/Friend's School camp (with no friends going in). Adam has learned to swim, going in three months from not putting his head in the water to going off the high-dive and swimming across the pool. He's a little Otter in the pool, rolling over and enjoying it immensely. Both kids are very fun, engaging, and wonderful. Of course they're occassionally difficult, but that goes with the territory.

Laura is working full time for three months on Cardiac MR stuff, essentially being a fellow. She's learning some cool new stuff.

2009 Wow, it's 2009. Time for a Facebook update. Adam is almost seven, Ethan is almost ten, mostly things are the same and different.

2012 Holy @*!(?#, it's 2012. I'm spending my time working on CS Principles, being part of a family in which a teenager now resides, and continuing to have a great time teaching at Duke. In 2010 I helped revise our first course to be more of an introduction to computer science than to programming, though we still do the latter. I'm still running and had a good indoor season in 2012 though a protracted time-off in fall of 2012. Summary So, I've got a great family, a minivan, a fun and flexible job. What's next?