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.

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