What’s All This Old Speckled Hen Stuff, Anyhow?

June 23, 2011
Bob Pease had the desire and ability to absorb encyclopedic amounts of information about a multitude of topics, from trekking in Nepal to asking questions about a traditional English beer like Old Speckled Hen.

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Old Speckled Hen beer

Bob Pease once telephoned me from California at my London office to ask, “What’s all this Old Speckled Hen stuff, anyhow?” In a small way, it demonstrated one of the things that made him not only a great electronics designer but also a very entertaining writer.

Bob liked to drill down deep into his subjects. He had the desire and ability to absorb encyclopedic amounts of information about a multitude of topics, from trekking in Nepal to asking questions about a traditional English beer like Old Speckled Hen.

I told him that Speckled Hen was brewed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the MG car factory in Oxfordshire and was named after an old MG car that was used as the factory runaround. The old MG saloon was always parked outside the paint shop, where it inevitably got spattered in paint.

So, the car became known as the “Owld Speckl’d Un.” This turned into “Old Speckled Hen” when the beer was launched (see the figure). Bob liked that and promptly asked if I knew a pub in the Kensington area of London where he could buy the beer on his next trip to the city.

With the passing of Bob Pease, the international electronics industry has lost one of its greatest characters and a legendary analogue designer following his death in a road accident on June 18.

His design work was pioneering, particularly in the area of op amps, voltage-to-frequency converters, and voltage regulators. He also developed a chip that was used in the Apollo moon program and components that made medical missions to Mount Everest. Bob’s renowned electronics design work is well documented, but he was also a hugely entertaining writer.

When we launched Electronic Design Europe eight years ago, it was a no-brainer that we would use Bob’s Pease Porridge column. On many occasions in Europe at electronics exhibitions or at press conferences, people would tell me how much they enjoyed Pease Porridge, which is particularly complimentary when you consider that for many Europeans, English is not their first language.

So in tribute to Bob Pease, I thought I’d pull a few quotes from some of his articles published in Electronic Design Europe.

On one trip to England, Bob had his credit card frozen because the card company’s computer has spotted what it thought was an unusual pattern of usage. In an article published in 2003, Bob wrote, “So I sent the card company a note telling them about the 31 cities I would soon be visiting on a lecture tour and I would not want to take your stupid credit card and shove it up your nose because you cut off my credit in any of those 31 cities.” This reflected Bob’s frankly spoken irascible streak. He would not suffer fools gladly.

But running in tandem with that trait was another Pease character facet. He was always keen to help young aspiring engineers. “We should go out of our way to help any kids who are good at science and/or math. We must encourage young people,” he once wrote.

Pease would intersperse his technical columns with some completely off-the-wall subjects, which was one of the things that made his column so entertaining for thousands of readers.

On one occasion he decided to get his teeth into theme parks, saying that there was no need for them. Countries around the world are entertaining because of their different people, their customs, and their geography.

He once penned: “The subway system in Tokyo makes a great theme park. It’s a maze with thousands of stores and restaurants. It has many signals to decode and a cast of millions. It has trains that connect thousands of people to other nearby theme parks at speeds of 180 mph. Stick that up your nose Mr. Disney!”

To close the loop in this editorial tribute to Bob Pease, it’s back to a beer-related story published in October 2005. Bob was writing about jetlag and how to overcome it when travelling east from the United States to Europe.

“Drink is part of the solution,” he said. “Drink lots of beer and stay awake until at least 11:00 p.m. Then go to bed. You are then so tired, and well hydrated, full of alcohol and food that you can now sleep ’til morning. This is like taking a phase-locked loop and forcing it into a new phase,” he concluded.

Finally, back to the Old Speckled Hen in the photo. After I heard about Bob’s passing, I went out and bought a bottle to use as a photographic prop for this editorial. Well, the editorial got written, and so it just left me to open the bottle and raise a glass to toast the unique Bob Pease.

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