What’s All This Last Column Stuff, Anyhow?

Nov. 29, 2011
The Late Bob Pease' Final Column for Electronic Design

Back in 1975, I was working at Teledyne Philbrick. We had had a good president, Bill Frusztajer. But Teledyne decided to retire him and brought in Howard Chechik.

Mr. Chechik was indecisive. Even with all our help, he could not make up his mind on 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 I was surprised to see that it was not about Howard 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. One thing he was not was indecisive.

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 would make his own stupidity into an advantage by claiming that his inability to understand was due to your stupidity.

What’s All This Three-Cup Bra Stuff, Anyhow?

Mr. Earley was not a fan of design engineers. He always thought that engineers were really dumb and had no sense. Product planning was to be done by the marketting guys, and after they reached their conclusions, the engineers could just design what they were told to do. He used to tell this story (An EsaeP’s Fable):

Once upon a time there was a really bright engineer who graduated from MIT. He came to work at a big clothing company. His boss assigned him the task of designing some new bras. So the kid engineer set about learning how to design bras to be made with the highest quality and the lowest cost.

Well, this engineer studied all he could about how the clothing industry made clothes with the highest quality, and the lowest cost, and he added the knowledge he had learned at MIT. He designed a new knitting machine, and soon it was making bras with the highest quality and the lowest cost.

This engineer planned a business plan for the new bras. He had a complete plan, and he soon had 27 factories each full of 100 knitting machines, all knitting these bras with the highest quality and the lowest cost. Soon there were 47 warehouses filling up with packages, ready to sell, followed by a big ad campaign and a big sales and marketting push.

On the big day when these bras went on sale, the kid engineer started out very pleased and confident, which soon turned into dismay. Women were not buying these bras. The MIT engineer could not understand why they weren’t buying them—just because all the bras had three cups.

So, the young engineer was astonished that women were not buying his three-cup bras. He had designed an excellent knitting machine that could only make three-cup bras—there was no way they could knit bras with two cups—and the kid could not understand why people would not buy them, even though they were of the highest quality and the lowest cost.

Marketing, Manufacturing, And Engineering

So Bill Earley thought that engineers were only capable of designing three-cup bras—products that nobody would want to buy. He told us all who was going to be in charge of new product planning: marketting. Of course, at that time many of the marketting guys at Philbrick had no idea how to plan or design a good product, but they were willing to try.

There were engineers who had designed a lot of popular and successful new products, but Bill didn’t want to hear a peep out of them. They had not only designed the product, but also the features. They designed the datasheet.

The whole building had been paid for by the profits on the P2 amplifier (see “What’s All This Profit Stuff, Anyhow?” at, which was designed by the late Bob Malter, an engineer who knew that nobody ever asked for a P2, but he had confidence that if he made them, the business would come. Imagine an amplifier made with seven germanium transistors and Ib better than 10 pA.

At this time about a quarter of Philbrick’s business and a third of the profits were made of the voltage-frequency converters that I had invented out of thin air. Most of the Philbrick design engineers had pretty good ideas of what  features would make a good new product when they put their marketting hats on.

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. Dave Ludwig. George Lee. Other engineers just bailed out. They quit because it was no fun to be insulted by Bill Earley and told that they did not know how to do their jobs.

In the fall of 1975, I had some squabbles with manufacturing, because they tried to tell 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, improved “low-cost”

circuit could be shown (by the manufacturing guys) to be more expensive than the old design, not cheaper to build. This happened several times.

So I squabbled 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 be pregnant and/or barefoot and shut up and do what we were told.

Further, I had been given a task of designing a new low-cost analog-to-digital converter (ADC). But they wanted a package and pin-out that was completely non-standard versus any other existing product in the industry. And the costing was completely arbitrary, so if you designed a product that everybody 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 Teledyne Philbrick. I would resign on the last day of 1975.

The Camel Award

Now, let me digress to another EsaeP’s Fable. Once upon a time there was an Arab who wanted to cross a broad desert. So he fed and waterred 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 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 in my ears, and it is tickling terribly, and if I go crazy, I cannot carry you across the desert.” This was shortly followed by, “The sand is blowing on the cut on my shoulder, and if I go lame, I cannot carry you across the desert. Pray let me put my shoulder under your tent.” And shortly the camel pushed the Arab out of his own tent.

Thus, a camel is anybody who can push you out of your own tent, by asking for just a little, and a little more, and a little more. He starts by putting his nose under your tent, and then he keeps camelling away.

For about 10 years at Philbrick, I had been giving out “Camel Awards”

on the last work 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 just wanted one of our standard op amps, but with a little less current noise, and a little less input current, too. And a little more gain. And a little more bandwidth.

And a little more output current.And a little less voltage noise. Until it became impossible. So every year for over 10 years, I gave out Camel Awards to various applications engineers and marketting and sales guys.

I gave out plaques, and certificates of camelry. I gave out little plastic camel figures, bactrians and dromedaries, etc. Lots of zingy awards. A sales guy who was really pushy and kept encouraging the customer to ask for more (conflicting) specs would qualify for not just a one-hump award, but a two-hump award. Many of our sales and marketting guys and even a few managers got heckled every year on the last day of the year.

If I was going to resign on the last day of 1975, and if I was going to give out Camel Awards, then Bill Earley was going to get a three-hump award.

I went down to a discount store and bought a couple of cheap bras. I carefully cut them apart and pieced them together to make a three-cup bra. I sewed on a couple tiny pink roses, right at the places where the cups were joined.

I had designed the (very profitable) 4701 voltage-to-frequency (V-to-F)

converter. I got a couple units and scratched off a little paint and modified the silk-screen to read “V-to-$ Converter.” Because it really did convert voltage to a lot of dollars of profit. Likewise I modified a 4702 frequency-to-voltage (F-to-V) converter to read “Model 4702 F-to-$ Converter.”

I got a cart and put all my Camel Awards on it. I put the three-cup bra on a piece of plastic foam. I put the 4701 under the left cup and the 4702 under the right cup. And under the middle cup, I put my resignation. I covered it all up with heavy fabric. Then about 2 p.m., I tootled my little camel flute and pushed the cart down to the marketing area, to give out all the awards. There were about 70 guys down there, engineers and marketing guys, and Charlie Lohmiller, our company photographer, whom I had invited just in case there was something good to take pictures of.

I started out with some fairly innocuous awards, and then they got zingier. Last of all, I unveiled the three-cup bra. I asked Bill Earley to look under the left cup. And the right cup. Charlie kept snapping away at the big grin on Bill Earley’s face. Then I told him to read the letter in the envelope under the middle cup—because that was my resignation. (The crowd went OOOOOHHH.)

I explained to the crowd of 70 what it said and why. I explained why the managers had made it impossible for me to do my job. I still have a photo of Bill reading the resignation. Some of the grin was still on his face. It hadn’t all faded yet. So with 70 witnesses and the company photographer to document the event, I quit.

What Happened Next

Then I went home to a big New Year’s Eve party. I hadn’t told anybody else at work that I was quitting, but I had told my wife. We did not know exactly what would happen in 1976, but it might just involve some liberty and freedom. Freedom from having to work for idiots.

And that was how I left Philbrick, after 15 years. I did it that way, just to make sure I wouldn’t change my mind on January 2 and decide to stay. I had not talked to any other company, because I could not possibly talk to those people without everybody knowing what I was doing.

By the time I got back to my office at 2:25, I was getting phone calls from old friends who had left to go to Analog Devices and Analogic and Datel. They were already calling to congratulate me on my decision and complimenting me on how well I had zapped Mr. Earley.

Well, I did what I had to do. Then I went home to our party.

I went around and interviewed at Analog Devices, Analogic, and Datel, at Burr-Brown in Tucson, at Precision Monolithics, and at NSC. I told them, “Make me an offer I can’t refuse.” Some came close, but the challenge of working in Dobkin’s Advanced Linear IC group at NSC was too good to pass up. So on Feb. 21-23, 1976, I got in my new 1970 Beetle and drove out to the Coast. And that’s a whole ‘nother story.

About the Author

Bob Pease

Bob obtained a BSEE from MIT in 1961 and was a staff scientist at National Semiconductor Corp., Santa Clara, CA, for many years. He was a well known and long time contributing editor to Electronic Design.

We also have a number of PDF eBooks by Bob that members can download from the Electronic Design Members Library.

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