A Zoom Wake in the Age of a Pandemic

Nick Nussbaum died earlier this week.  He died of the corona virus due to underlying health conditions.

Nick died without family, friends or colleagues present.  Only the brave medical professionals were in attendance.

Nick Nussbaum

We found out about his passing days after his death.  None of us knew he was even in the hospital.

Bill Knight, who worked with and managed Nick at several companies, arranged a Zoom online video wake for several of Nick’s co-workers.

Zoom wake for Nick Nussbaum

While Nick was not a personal friend, we were colleagues at several different companies ranging from Aldus/Adobe to Attenex/FTI Consulting.

Each of us brought our own favorite beverage and stories about Nick to the wake.  After each story, we would toast Nick.

Nick was an MIT graduate in Computer Science.  He was beyond passionate about technology and seemingly knew it all.  He loved to argue which was a blessing and a curse.  As colleagues, we each had to adapt to Nick.

He was a world class software engineer and an expert at text rendering in print and in graphical user interfaces.  His code is in many commercially successful products from Microsoft, Aldus, Adobe, Visio, and Tableau to name only a few of the software companies he contributed to.

Nick holds several patents in the realm of text processing.  The “Method and apparatus for concealing character modifications made for text composition purposes” is just one of his contributions:

“Disclosed is a text justification program (20) that runs on a computer (22) in accordance with the invention. The text justification program provides an improved method for justifying text by introducing random character modifications throughout the text so that characters modified for justification purposes do not stand out.”

Nick was a frequent contributor to online forums that had anything to do with text processing and typography:

Space is an antique convention …

As my former colleagues shared stories of Nick, I learned more about his capabilities than I had in my 15 years of interacting with him.

The shared stories fell into two categories:

    • How difficult it was to work and collaborate with Nick
    • What a big heart and graciousness Nick had outside of work in social situations

I shared my first interaction with Nick when we went to a Pagemaker customer dinner at The Brooklyn Grill while early in my tenure at Aldus.  I’d asked for several Pagemaker software engineers to attend as this customer was technical and wanted to learn more about how we developed the product.  This was my first dinner with these fine folk and I was not aware that there was a Pagemaker dinner ritual.  For the first forty minutes of any dinner, Nick and the software engineers had to critique the restaurant’s menu – not for content, but for its page layout.

I learned more about kerning and leading and font choices and typography than I ever wanted to know.  I kept interrupting to at least get some drinks and appetizers ordered.  No such luck.  The customer loved the experience.  Nick was in his element illustrating his wide and deep knowledge about everything having to do with text.  I was mesmerized by the challenges of doing typography in print versus doing typography online in graphical user interfaces.

The pre-dinner session ended with the tradition of guessing which page layout software application was used to create The Brooklyn’s menu AND how each engineer knew.  As it turned out, Nick always won these bets.

While we would prefer to have the wake face to face in one of the local bars, Zoom allowed us to honor Nick sooner rather than later.

The ultimate tribute to Nick’s big heart and graciousness towards others was finding out that Nick refused to be put on a ventilator at the hospital.  He knew his time on earth was at an end and he asked the ICU staff to save the ventilator for someone with a higher probability of surviving.

Bill closed the session with an Egyptian saying he remembered from somewhere in the past:

“The Egyptians believed that you die twice. Once when you take your final breath, and then again the last time someone says your name. They believe your spirit lives on as long as people kept remembering you.”

Rest in peace, Nick Nussbaum.



This entry was posted in From My Chair, Health Care, Lifelet. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Zoom Wake in the Age of a Pandemic

  1. rick says:

    A blast from the past – I haven’t worked with Nick in 2 decades but I still remember him and at least some of his contributions. RIP.

  2. Elina J Filander says:

    Thank you for this. Nick was a long-time friend and I am having a hard week without him right now (long story not work explaining) and this helped.

  3. Craig K says:

    Just learned of Nick’s passing today. Thank you for sharing this, especially the final bit about Nick refusing a ventilator. What a generous way to make one’s departure…

  4. Jason says:

    I worked with Nick at Tableau — we started around the same time. I just learned of his passing yesterday. He was such a sweet, caring guy. Great to talk to, full of insight and wisdom, and we all appreciated having him work with us. Best wishes to his family.

  5. Angel Diaz says:

    I interviewed, and then worked with Nick at Tableau. I always enjoyed talking with him, getting his unique perspectives on technical problems, and conversations on non-work topics. He had slowed down physically by this point, but that just extended our time as we would walk and talk together; and enjoyed that time very much. I’ve been trying to contact him for a few months and finally came on this post. I’m very saddened to hear of his passing and inspired by his heroism. RIP Nick.

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