Whether it's writing a column or designing a chip, Bob Pease likes to add a certain personal touch to his work. Since the early 1990s, he has been writing his column, "Pease Porridge," a mixture of technical advice, personal observations, and helpful hints ("those little wood strips really worked and detoured the water from running into my house") regularly for Electronic Design.
But then there was the first adjustable negative regulator that he built at National Semiconductor Corp., where he's been since 1976, and all of the e-mail that he answers at National. "I'm sort of the Ann Landers and Dear Abby of the electronics racket in the analog world," he says. His e-mail can be interesting. "I get stuff like, 'Hey, Bob, can you tell me what's wrong with my camcorder?' No, I can't." Additionally, Pease works on some designs for low-power devices.
Pease started in the industry in 1961. He spent 14 years designing op amps, voltage-to-frequency converters, and analog computing modules for Philbrick Researches before joining National. Since then, aside from designing analog ICs, he has written over 65 magazine articles, 190 magazine columns, and two books, including Troubleshooting Analog Circuits, which is now translated into Russian. Pease also holds 21 U.S. patents and is a frequent lecturer and presenter.
His biggest accomplishment, Pease believes, is the fact that many of the devices he designed are still in production, like the negative regulator. "A bunch of things. And I designed a voltage-to-frequency converter when I was back at Philbrick about 26 years ago that's still in production," he says.
No matter what anyone tells you, Pease says that you still can't tell in advance what's going to sell. "We used to say, 'Hey, that's a good idea.' Now, people use spreadsheets and crunch all the numbers," he says. "And if they don't like all the numbers, they change them until they can say, 'Hey, this is a pretty good idea.'"
Pease thinks that engineering is much more complicated today. "Mixed-signal stuff like analog-to-digital converters. You have to trust Spice for some of that design because you can't breadboard a lot of these things with CMOS parts," he notes. "CMOS devices are generally not available for breadboarding, and if they were, capacitance would screw it up." But young engineers are another story. "They usually come out of school greener than grass. They still have a lot of learning to do. But you see some good ones."
Like most people, Pease thinks that Silicon Valley has changed over the years. "This was a wild and crazy place 30 years ago, and it still is—well, maybe not quite as crazy as it used to be," he says. But that's another column.