Alva L. Couch > Personal ( )
Quick links: Contact Teaching Publications Research Software Personal Arts Archives

Alva L. Couch - Personal

(last updated 9/2012)


I was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the 50's. My background includes intense pursuit of a rag-tag fugitive fleet of interests. I began my education with four years at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where I was a major in bassoon and contrabassoon performance. I went from there to MIT where I graduated with a degree in Architecture, concentrating on Visual Design, Filmmaking, and Computer Music.

While at MIT, I worked on one of the first digital music synthesis computers, programmed a Disco lighting control computer, and in association with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, my senior project was to write the control program the first viable microprocessor controlled laser scan machine for drawing laser images on buildings, etc. Its control program consisted of 4000 lines of machine language, coded in hexadecimal. Microcomputers of the time didn't even have assemblers.

After MIT I got a job as a systems programmer at Harvard Medical School, working for Dr. Claude Lechene in what is now called the `National Biotechnology Resource for the Analysis of Cells' (NEPRAC). My duties were to maintain and update 8000 lines of Fortran-66 running on a Hewlett-Packard 2100A computer with 32 kilobytes of main memory and a 5 megabyte hard drive. The Fortran programs were responsible for controlling and analyzing data from an electron probe, whose task was in turn to measure concentrations of various elements very precisely in red blood cells and other cells. While there I completely rewrote the control program and developed a high-level language parser (in Fortran!) to aid in specifying statistical analyses.

I came to Tufts in the spring of 1982 as a graduate student in Mathematics. After three years working my way through school teaching Math 5, 6, and 11, I became a research assistant to Prof. George Cybenko and completed a Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1988, whereupon I immediately began work as an assistant professor in the then Computer Science department. Two department moves, one merger, and one split later I ended up in the Computer Science department where I am today.

I have a reputation as a coding madman. I've been known to write 3000 lines of new C++ for a single Data Structures assignment, in three days. I estimate that I've written a total of over 100,000 lines of C++ and over 40,000 lines of Perl (the practical extraction and report language). Rest assured that in my classes, my students aren't the only people spending long times at the terminal. Add to this my historical records of 4000 lines of assembler, 4000 lines of Fortran-66, etc.

Activities and hobbies

My personal interests other than Computer Science include science education, networking and information infrastructure, computers and personal privacy, ethics of technical professions, and general political issues of the Democratic party. I am a member of my city's Democratic Committee and a frequent delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention.


I am interested in most every hobby known to humankind, and participate at any given time in as many hobbies as I can manage and afford! Recent interests include:


I and my spouse Elizabeth Cavicchi (married for 31 years in August 2010) are avid tandem bicyclists, and have for 29 years gone on a two week tour of New England every summer, taking along only our tandem and camping gear. We missed this year due to family responsibilities (2012) but expect to get back to touring next year.


I'm an avid amateur photographer working mostly in digital format now, though in the past I have worked in 35mm, medium format, and large format, mostly specializing in color landscape, fine art, and scenic styles. My favorite camera of late is the Canon G10. See my Picasa page for recent digital travel photos. Check out my photography page for film pictures. These are quite old but I do not have the energy to update them.


On the hot and lazy days of summer, my spouse Elizabeth and I can often be found kayaking local rivers, including the Ipswitch, Sudbury, and Nashua. We can also commonly be found kayaking NH lakes such as Wentworth and Winnipesakee.

We own and paddle every conceivable kind of kayak, including singles, tandems, sit-on-top, and foldable. My principal boat dealer is Joel Thomas of New England Small Craft in Rowley MA. Always the best deal in New England IMHO!


Recently (Summer 2001) I decided to expand my kayaking horizons to canoeing. This is not "as serious" an interest as kayaking, and we only own a couple of boats, a single and a double.

What intrigues me the most about canoeing is the art of "Freestyle Canoeing" (as well as "Canadian Style Paddling") which is, in essence, a "dance with the canoe". I've been practicing the moves with excellent guidance from several canoeing books.


I am also an avid kite flyer, and member of the "American Kite Flyers' Association". Of late, I've "specialized" in single line maneuverables such as fighters, as well as dual and quadline parafoils of all shapes and sizes. I've even practiced kite buggying a few times (and have the injuries to prove it).

Old-Time Banjo

My most recent hobby (that is consuming a lot of practice time now) is to honor my mother's memory by learning "Old-Time Banjo" style of North Carolina, using some excellent guidance from DVDs, CDs, and books. While my general interest is "frailing" or "clawhammer", I'm concentrating upon the "Round Peak" style of the western NC mountains. I grew up with this music and it is thus part of my heritage. I have only been working on this for 8 months and certainly do not have the skills of my predecessors, who studied for literal lifetimes. But I am enthusiastic nonetheless and even keep a practice banjo or two in my office.

Other hobbies

In whatever time is left over from all this, I enjoy keeping up with current Science Fiction, as encompassed by books, TV, and movies. Star Trek Lives. Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" series and Mercedes Lackey's "Urban Fantasies" are particular favorites.

Alva L. Couch > Personal ( )
Quick links: Contact Teaching Publications Research Software Personal Arts