Got this sad news in the mail today:
“Dear colleagues: I know some of you have heard this news, but I wanted to make sure all of you are aware of this. Fred Nick, the former Director of CSSCR (Center for Social Science Computation and Research), died this past Friday of a heart attack. Fred retired just one year ago, after serving for more than forty years in this position. He was an indescribable support to so many social scientists, from undergraduate students to beginning graduate students, to frustrated dissertators, to junior faculty struggling to learn new systems, to seasoned social science faculty undertaking new projects, using new data sets, and to so many others. When I came to the UW in 1982, CSSCR was right down the hall from my office. I turned to Fred more times than I care to count. Fred’s constant availability, generosity, and patience, were legendary. There was no problem too small, no problem too difficult, for Fred.”
Fred was one of those Great Guys. He was there when I started grad school back in 1986. Back then, of course, computing was in its relative infancy and social scientists tended to be notoriously computer-ignorant. Not all, of course, many of the archaeology faculty were way ahead of the curve, and we ended up using the computing facilities for much of our class work. In those days there were a few PCs, but mostly we used minis and mainframes, the latter primarily DEC Vax’s of various flavors. We used terminals and line printers as well. Most of the software was some graphics (I use the term somewhat loosely) and statistics, notably Minitab and SPSS.
And fred was there as the main support contact and instructor. And he was excellent at both. He was a big bearded friendly bear of a man, and I don’t really recall him ever being snarky or mean or anything like that. He was patient with those who were new to computers and his method of teaching was very straightforward and stepwise, doing the basics of what people really needed to do without trying to instruct everyone on the ins and outs of operating systems, etc., which would just be confusing. A really excellent teacher.
Since I was kind of a geek, I hung out at CSSCR a lot. And made a lot of good, though sadly as it turned out, temporary friends there. Mostly with his undergraduate research assistants who worked there as consultants and helped us a lot with our geeky extra-curricular projects. Some of these may or may not have involved text-based and semi-graphical adventure games, but mostly it was a lot of data whacking. And Fred was always there to answer our questions and shoot the breeze with us. I went back a few years ago for some reason, and Fred was still there and took out some time to talk over whatever it was. I’m guessing he would have been able to make a bundle in the private sector in an IT department somewhere, but I think he was happy where he was.
So long, Fred. I’m sure you’ll be up there ready to show us the ropes when we get there as well.
I’m leaving this up all day tomorrow (Sep 11) so it will be at the top of the page for a full day.