Electronic Design

What's All This Camel Stuff, Anyhow?

Once upon a time, I worked at Teledyne Philbrick. Way back in 1975. We had had a good president, Bill Frusztajer, who came over from Crystalonics. But Teledyne decided to retire him and brought in a new president, Mr. Chechik.

Many people observed that Mr. Chechik was indecisive. Even with all of our help, he could not make up his mind for even a simple decision. In fact, there was a book that came out a few years later called My Indecision is Final. I immediately went out and bought the book—and was astonished to see that it was NOT about Mr. Chechik.

Finally, Teledyne decided to relieve Mr. Chechik of his problems, and they brought in a new president. His name was Bill Earley. We soon learned a lot about Mr. Earley. He had a unique way of arguing. If he asked you to explain a problem, and you gave him an explanation, after a minute he would likely stop you and say, "I don't understand your explanation. So you are a stupid explainer. You are wrong. I'll make a decision, and YOU LOSE because your explanation was lousy." In other words, he made his own stupidity an advantage, because he could claim at any time that his inability to understand your explanation was due to YOUR stupidity....

Twenty years later, if we had to find a way to make Dilbert's boss look good, Mr. Earley could have done it. Bill Earley was not a real fan of engineers. He always thought that engineers were really dumb and had no sense. Product planning, he declared, was to be done by the marketing guys, and after they reached their conclusions, the engineers could just design what they were told to do. No, Mr. Earley did not make a lot of friends in Engineering.

Bill Earley thought that all engineers were only capable of designing products that nobody would want to buy. He told us all who was going to be in charge of new product planning.

Of course, at that time, most of the marketing guys at Philbrick had NO IDEA how to design a good product, but they were willing to try. AND of course at that time, there were engineers who had designed a lot of popular and successful new products, but our friend Bill didn't want to hear a peep out of them.

And the whole BUILDING had been paid for by the profits on the P2, which was designed by an engineer who knew that nobody asked for a P2, but he had confidence that if he made them, the business would come. If you want the detailed story about the P2, look up "What's All This Profit Stuff, Anyhow?" (Electronic Design, Nov. 7, 1991, p. 115).

Well, the next few months after Mr. Earley arrived were not a lot of fun. He threw out a number of engineers who seemed to know what they were doing. Threw out a lot of good guys, including Dave Ludwig and George Lee. Other engineers just bailed out.

In the fall of 1975, I had some squabbles with manufacturing, because they told us that if we followed their guidelines and designed a good new product, the manufacturing guys could later tell us that they were NOT cost-effective, because we had designed them wrong. If we claimed that we had followed their guidelines, that did not matter. A new low-cost circuit could be shown retroactively (by the manufacturing guys) to be MORE expensive than the old design, NOT cheaper to build. (This was mentioned in my old column "What's All This Cost-Accounting Stuff, Anyhow?" (Electronic Design, Feb. 28, 1991, p. 87, or Aug. 19, 1996 reprints, p. 39)

So, I had a squabble with Bill Earley and the manufacturing guys. I did not win any arguments, because the manufacturing guys argued like Bill Earley did—if you don't like my argument, YOU are stupid. Coming down to the end of 1975, I came to the conclusion that there was no future for me at that company. Engineers were supposed to just shut up and do what they were told.

Further, I had been given the task of designing a new low-cost ADC. But they wanted a package and pin-out that was completely nonstandard vs. any other existing product. And the cost was completely arbitrary, so if you designed a product that everybody initially agreed was better, according to all the guidelines, it could later be declared to be NOT lower in manufacturing cost. So, I decided to leave the company. I would resign on the last day of 1975.

Now, let me digress to an old story—an EsaeP's Fable: Once upon a time there was an Arab who wanted to cross a wide desert. So he fed and watered his camel well, and got all necessary supplies, and started out. The very first afternoon, a sandstorm began to blow. The Arab got off his Camel and pitched his tent and climbed in, to wait out the storm.

After a while, the Camel said, "Master, pray let me put my nose under your tent, for the sand is blowing in my nose. If I suffocate, I cannot carry you across the desert." So the Arab let the camel put his nose under the tent.

Shortly thereafter, the Camel said, "Pray, Master, let me put my eyes under your tent, because the sand is blowing in my eyes, and if I go blind, I cannot carry you across the desert." So the Arab let the Camel put his eyes under the tent. THEN after a suitable delay, the Camel asked, "Pray, let me put my ears under your tent, as the sand is blowing my ears."—etc. This was shortly followed by, "The sand is blowing on the cut on my shoulder, Pray let me put my Shoulder under your tent." And shortly the Camel pushed the Arab out of his own tent.

And THAT is the Fable of the Arab and the Camel. In other words, a Camel is anybody who can push you out of your own tent, by asking for just a little more....

For about 10 years at Philbrick, I had been giving out "Camel Awards" on the last day of the year. This was based on the concept that a Camel would ask for one specification, and then another, and another, and while not any one spec was prohibitively difficult, when the total picture was in focus, the combination of the specs made it impossible.

The perfect example was a guy who wanted one of our standard op amps, but with a little less voltage noise—and a little more gain—and a little less current noise, too ... until it became impossible. So every year for over 10 years, I gave out Camel Awards to various applications guys and sales guys.

I gave out plaques and certificates. I gave out little plastic camel figures that were painted gold. I zinged our marketing and sales guys, and heckled them for making various silly mistakes.

For the last day of 1975, I put together some real zingers. I made up a special award—not just a Bactrian, and not a dromedary, but a three-hump award. I fabricated it very carefully. Then I got an old 4701 Voltage-to-Frequency Converter, and doctored up the silk-screen to say "V-to-$ Converter"—because it really did convert into $$$. I put it under the first hump. Similarly, I put a 4702 Frequency-to-Voltage converter marked up to say "F-to-$ Converter," under the third hump.

On the last day of 1975, as I tootled my little camel flute, I went down to give out the Camel Awards. We went down to the marketing area. There, with 70 people AND Charlie Lohmiller, the Company Photographer (whom I had invited down, just in case there might be some good photo opportunities). I then gave out the awards. I started out with some zingy ones, and then I got nastier. Finally I unveiled the three-hump award, as a special award for Mr. Earley.

Oooh—aah—giggle. I explained to the group about the 4701 V-to-$ Converter and the 4702 F-to-$ Converter. Then, I explained that under the middle hump was—my resignation. I took it out and handed it to Bill Earley. I still have a photo somewhere of him smiling wanly as he started to read it. I explained that it was impossible to do my job any more with "management" doing what they did, and I walked out. Within four minutes, I started getting phone calls from old (ex-Philbrick) friends at Burr-Brown, Datel, and other competitors, congratulating me for doing such a good job on Bill Earley. Yeah, the news sure did get around fast.

Then, I went home for a New Year's Eve party with 30 friends. (I HAD told my wife I was quitting.) I told my friends that I had the 70 witnesses AND the Company Photographer, so there would be no mistake that I was REALLY resigning. No going back. And within a couple months, I moved out to California. But that's a whole 'nother story.

All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
[email protected]—or:

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

P.S. On Friday morning, January 2, 1976, I drove down to work. When I got there, there was 5 inches of new snow all over the parking lot—and no cars. I laughed and laughed. The only guy to show up on that Friday was the guy who had just resigned. Nobody had told me that was a holiday. /rap

P.P.S. If you want to hear about how our Annapurna trek comes out, send me an e-mail or snail-mail request and I'll send you a report on ~Dec. 15. (It may take another month to get pictures on my web site.) We did get the trip filled up to 15 people. /rap

Circle 550 if you want to find out how exactly the three-hump award was constructed.
Circle 551 if you have you ever quit more emphatically than that.

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