Kenneth R. Anderson


updated 3 February 2006

Ken was a mentor and a friend who guided me to better ways of doing everything. He introduced me to new worlds of people and ideas. I'm really going to miss him.

This page is a tribute to Ken. If you have pictures or words you would like to see here, please let me know. Ken was a devoted family man, a thoughtful friend, and a most excellent colleague. The world was a much better place because of him. Ken lives through us now.

Ken worked at BBN and some of his wisdom can be found on his web pages. He was a leader in organizing the Lightweight Languages and SPAM conferences at his alma mater, MIT. His pet project was the JScheme dialect of Scheme, which allows easy access to the JVM and its rich JAR libraries while fostering the succinctness, correctness, flexibility and elegance of abstraction of Scheme. Ken co-authored JScheme with Tim Hickey of Brandeis and Peter Norvig of Google. Ken's nurturing vision of marrying Scheme and Java was consistent with his life's habit of bringing people and communities together.

Other tribute pages: Tim Hickey's


Ken was my mentor and my friend. He looked out for me. He gave me interesting things to think about. I could approach him to discuss things I wouldn't have discussed with others.

Ken always made my programs faster. Not just a little bit, but a lot, from forty thousand times to infinitely faster. I would go to Ken when my programs were slow or not working, and he would offer kind and simple advice, like "Why don't you turn it into a finite state machine?" or "Make sure you never have to read a character more than once."

Ken saved my bacon—that is, my job—more than once. I felt comfortable approaching Ken with my problems when I might not have wanted to talk to anyone else. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a programmer is for his program to continue working without ever finishing. That happened to me, on a very high pressure project with lots of visibility, so I went to Ken. He looked at what I was doing, made a few suggestions, I went back to the drawing board, and when I was done, my program produced correct results in 3.3 seconds! Of those 3.3 seconds, 3 seconds were file I/O on 42 megabytes of data, and 0.3 seconds were analysis of that data. That was the kind of miraculous transformation Ken offered us on a daily basis. He really was a software wizard, as well as a gentle friend.

When I had to move from Boston to Pennsylvania, Ken knew it would be difficult for me for a while, so he looked out for me. He kept in touch. He shared his interesting ideas. Particularly, though, I'm grateful that one day, realizing I was traveling 400 miles each way between Boston and the Pennsylvania wilderness on a frequent basis, he noticed his father, Tore Anderson, lived about halfway, in Danbury, CT. He also knew that Tore had some great stories to tell, and that he and I would enjoy telling each other stories. The next thing I knew, I was a frequent guest of Tore's, who would offer me coffee and Swedish pancakes at any hour, stories to entertain any engineer, pilot, sailor or father, and a guest room if I were really tired, so I could drive the rest of the way more safely. I can't tell you how much I treasure those visits I had with Ken's father. They gave me some insight into Ken's character. I knew that Ken looked up to his father. And when I heard Tore laugh, I knew where Ken had gotten his laugh and also his sense of humor and curiosity about all things in this world.

Ken and I talked a lot about flying, and made plans for all sorts of trips we'd make, if only we had more time. Ultimately, we did go flying once, last year just before Thanksgiving. As usual, Ken was looking out for me. When I flew in for an evening board meeting, Ken picked me up at Hanscom Field, and brought me back at the end. I sensed we had a moment to spare, so I offered to take Ken up for quick hop around the pattern. You see, Ken had been a pilot too, and he missed flying. So up we went, and I shared the flying with him. He said he didn't actually want to fly the airplane, but I insisted he follow along on the controls. As he helped us around the pattern in the early night, the lights of Bedford and Lexington lit up his face, his eyes opened up wide, and on the downwind leg, when he picked out his Arlington home amongst the lights ahead, his joy produced a light of its own. Really he was flying most of the time, with me just following along. It was a short, but very beautiful flight.

I'm really going to miss Ken. He guided me to better ways of doing everything. He introduced me to new worlds of people and ideas. He was a great role model. But above all, he was a fine friend, a family man, a giving soul, a wonderful human being who shared his delight of this world and offered hope and shelter.