Remembering Bob Pease

Today, on the third anniversary of Bob Pease’s passing, I am recalling the many things that he was famous for.  He was known and respected as a guru on band-gap voltage references and a magician with numerous analog applications tricks.  He was a bit of a curmudgeon on the pitfalls and traps of SPICE simulation, but always willing to debate his position.  He was passionate about National's products, such as the LM331 voltage-to-frequency converter, and his favorite op amps were the LF411 and the industry’s first modern operational amplifier, the LM101.  He was a vocal opponent of Fuzzy Logic.

Bob was famous here in Santa Clara for his quick wit, willingness to drop everything to help anyone, and ability re-engineering the wheel. But what also stood out was the controlled chaos in which he maintained his cubicle.

Bob Pease’s cubicle was notoriously in a state of disarray; not unlike a tornado hitting a room full of filing cabinets, but without the cabinets.  My first personal visit to Bob’s cubicle was around 2004 after first joining National Semiconductor.  Having been forewarned about what to expect, it wasn’t adequate preparation for what it was like seeing it in person. Now Bob had been here for many years as Staff Scientist and over time been involved with many groundbreaking products.  He created numerous custom testing fixtures for these products to assist in characterization and yield or accuracy improvement. His cubicle interior however was dominated by paper. Stacks and stacks.

Legend was that a random individual could walk into Bob’s cubicle, pose a random question about something Bob had worked on in the past, and Bob would wheel around and reach into one of the massive paper stacks to retrieve a single piece of paper that addressed the question at hand. Later, he would return the piece of paper to a different stack. Months later, the same question would be asked and Bob would pause for a second, and then retrieve the paper from its new stack. It’s still baffling to me how he could do this, but so many people had the same experience that this ‘talent’ is still discussed to this day.

Following his passing, we were tasked with honoring Bob’s cubicle belongings and mounds of remaining paper. Who knew what might be in there? Would we come out alive?  Over the course of Bob’s employment with National Semiconductor, his cubicle location moved several times, which generally resulted in less floor space available with each move (times were booming). We began the task of sorting, reviewing and categorizing each paper and the like until it was distilled down to about three banker boxes of stuff that we felt needed to be saved, though we weren’t really sure what for.  A lot of the saved paperwork was amusing (and occasionally over-the-top amusing) since the bulk was private communications with fans, publishers, and numerous engineers he was helping out with design difficulties.

With email, most of us are masters at filing away correspondence and such into folders in our online account (or delete!).  But for Bob, who was a one-stop-shop for free engineering advice, this was not a mechanism he used to track his exchange of email.  This became evident over the course of sorting through the endless stacks of paper.  Instead, Bob had his own method of dealing with each and every email he received:

  1. Received an email?  Print it out.
  2. Jot down thoughts/notes on the hard copy and formulate a response.
  3. Make a quick trip to the photocopier to make additional copies to distribute to coworkers for their input and remarks
  4. Gather all papers and consolidate input into an email response.
  5. Print the response.
  6. Wait for a reply and start over.

Bob did a lot of information gathering and resident feedback in the paper domain. As each piece of paper was dealt with, it was placed on a growing stack of paper.  As well, he saved quite a few humorous cartoons clipped from newspapers and seemed to have an unexplainable interest in newspaper articles about the golfer Tiger Woods (pre-train wreck). When he could not place anything on the top of the stack anymore, he started another stack next to it.

Bob’s cubicle seemed to be a magnet for the local Fire Marshall and on a semi-annual basis he would be forced to reduce the height of the stacks of paper and widen the pathway to his desk.  It appeared that Bob down-sized since the stack sizes became shorter.  What none of us were aware of was that Bob had rented a local storage space nearby.

So once we emptied Bob’s cubicle and were patting ourselves on the back for distilling it down to three boxes, we were quickly presented with a much larger task of dealing with the “Ghosts of Cubicles Past”.  At the time, we were all wrapped up in efforts as Texas Instruments acquired National Semiconductor.  But everyone was united in recognizing the value of the archival process pertaining to Bob’s significant industry contributions.

Here I am sorting.  I grabbed a few things on top to hold up and here are a cartoon, an email from 2005

 and a recipe!

The storage locker contents filled over 500 cardboard banker boxes. We volunteer sorters have made it through about 100 of the boxes, which sounds a bit slow, but we have regular jobs to do and finding free time between projects is sometimes elusive. And much like the unpredictable nature of Bob, his filing method was, well, random. And given the number of times he moved the many mounds of paper and boxes of prototypes, everything was randomized so far as chronological order, so it doesn't really matter the order in which we open boxes since material dated 1996 and 2004 could be in the same box. Of all the sorting, the boxes with breadboards or hardware are the most fun.  But the writings from Bob, many of them quite entertaining, are what make the digging worth it. 

We are continuing this process and one day, hope to be able to hand off the good stuff to those individuals and institutions that are best suited to protect his efforts.  If you have any suggestions on how to recycle or reuse the vast amount of paper, let us know?

What is it and what is it for?  Tell us and get a prize.

As well, I included a picture of this item that Bob Pease was well known for.  I'll run an informal contest here and the first person who posts the correct answer of what it is and what it is for - will get a prize.

What’s the difference in Bob’s cubicle before and after a tornado?    - Nothing.

Rest In Pease

Visit "Remembering Bob Pease" for all things related to Bob Pease.

  • I'm guessing Bob used the first op amp, made by Philbrick, for some kind of experiment, maybe a tube-powered stereo amplifier.

  • It sure looks like an analog computer...... Is it?

  • Thanks for the good wishes John. Several other compliments have arrived through other channels so it's great to learn there is still interest in RAP.

    Hello Raymond.  You are correct that these are vacuum tube based op amps created by George A Philbrick Researches. I'll see if I can dig up a data sheet and post a link. From what I knew of Bob, he wasn't much of an audiophile, and did not have a positive opinion of those that promoted high-end interconnects, speaker wire or capacitors.  On the other hand, there were several cases where he presented papers and spoke at the Audio Engineering Society meetings.

    As far as the set-up in the photo goes: The plastic "chassis" is the lower half of a plastic boat used to transport IC wafers around between manufacturing steps. There are two octal tube sockets and a filament transformer mounted onto the plastic case. There are two Philbrick op amps plugged in. The grey one is the common version that has a pair of 12AX7's in it. The silver model is either an industrial or military upgrade version (Impressively well made.). I haven't looked at the tube line-up yet on the second one, but in addition to the two twin triodes are a pair of nuvistors. If I'm not mistaken, in addition to the filament supply you need + and - 300 VDC power rails to get these running, and I believe the rated output swing was + and - 100V.. ( I'll clarify this once I locate the data sheet.) There is a third rectangular Philbrick module that we draped between the banana jacks just for flair.

    Argiris asks if this is an analog computer. The technically correct answer is no. Analog computers certainly incorporate operational amplifiers but the distinctive feature of an analog computer is that it also has an analog multiplier stage as well.

    The pattern of the banana jacks was common for bread boarding op amp based circuits in that era. Banana jacks are spaced on a 3/4" triangular grid pattern. At this point, I have some homework to do.. I need to find the data sheets, resurrect the pin outs and then reverse engineer the input and feedback networks to see if any sense can be made of what is there.


  • I enjoyed Bob's articles a lot. I particularly liked the smooth hand drawn schematics he did - gave me a very analog feel. Over the many years I worked for National/TI, I only visited his cubicle once - without any pre-warning though. It took me a while to adjust, psychologically and physically, to that layout and figure out a way to get inside the cubicle without accidentally disrupting his pre-established chaotic order. Bob will definitely be missed by many.

  • Thanks Alan for the great walk through memory lane! It’s very nice to see that people have taken a lot of care to sort through all the “crazy” things Bob worked on.  I certainly remember his office and was always at awe at how he could generate so many great ideas and function so efficiently buried in all those piles of paper.   Hopefully soon we’ll see some of the “art” on display around campus and maybe at the SJ Tech Museum as a tribute to one of the greats of Silicon Valley!

  • Maybe some kind of VCF? I don't see any zeners or polystyrene caps, but then again it's kind of hard to tell...

  • If Bob couldn't anwer a question he would usually leave people with something to laugh about.   At one of the analog road shows a customer came up to Bob to show him a schematic and wanted to know if Bob could tell him if it would be stable.  Bob replied: "I can tell you with 100% certainty that this circuit... may.... or may not oscillate."

  • I did some homework over the weekend. Found a Philbrick data book in my collection and rediscovered the Philbrick Archives on the web. The website reveals many interesting details about the history and characters of those that worked there.

    In the photo:

    The grey plugin with the two 12AX7 twin triodes is a model K2-W operational amplifier. The installed tubes are Russian made and branded with Electro Harmonix logos. These modules were all shipped from the factory with GAP/R brand tubes. In addition to a number of internal resistors are several neon bulbs for inter-stage coupling. Over the course of the production, the internal schematic changed a number of times.

    The large silver unit with the 6CW4 nuvistors is the SK-2V model that has a 12AU7 and a 12AX7 which are both twin triodes having the same pin out but different characteristics. The nuvistors are RCA, of course and the triodes are labeled "Made in West Germany" . Does anyone have a guess on the manufacturer?   It seems that Bob Pease was involved with the production of this operational amplifier model back during his tenure at Philbrick.

    And finally, the rectangular silver box with the green edge connector is a P65AU solid state operational amplifier that operates from +/-15V. It has a unity gain bandwidth of 1.5MHZ and sold for $33 in 1966.

    Next portion of  the homework will be to see if the components plugged into the banana jacks shed any light.

    Hello Tom, Bob's guarantee that it either will or won't oscillate is very true in my experience. An observation in my own breadboards is that when the amplifier you are designing starts oscillating your on the right track to getting it to work, and not time to dispair. But it's also a good idea not to have speakers or headphones plugged in when this occurs.

  • Bob and I were great friends and really enjoyed working together at National Semiconductor.  The article was areat review of his life.  I still miss his humor and friendship.

  • Bob and I were friends, but at arms length. He and I were fellow authors sharing the same publisher. He was always bothered about the business end of being a published author. No facet of life was ignored by Bob, in fact he wanted to publish a book about the bad driving habits of California drivers and the importance of using seatbelts. He, unfortunately, died, not wearing his seatbelt in a vintage VW bug, that he loved.

    Bob was one of the original National Semiconductor applications engineers which guided us electronic neophytes through the transitional years of the silicon evolution. He should be honored as much as Spork, and those who created and managed National Semiconductors as a platform for Bob and others to profoundly influence the rapidly changing electronics industry. I will miss Bob, for his always unorthodox view, his passion,  and extraordinary insightfullness of his trade. His "organized disorder" of his cubical is legendary, but he could locate a document within minutes of its need.

    Bob, will be missed, especially in this present market nature, led by MBAs and other non-founder-minded leaders. Bub gave to the industry selflessly and without expecting rewards. A legend has passed and we all will appreciate it the longer he is absent.  

  • This is a machine to search a specific paper in the paper stacks !

  • It's a BS detector, one of the finest examples I've ever seen