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In Memory of Francé Rodé
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France Rode Obituary:

Francé Rodé, an electrical engineer best known for his pioneering work on the first pocket-sized scientific calculator (HP-35), passed away of a stroke at the age of 82 on June 7, 2017 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Mia Rodé, daughters Ana and Maja, and relatives in his homeland, Slovenia.

As an inventor and entrepreneur Francé significantly contributed to the beginnings of Silicon Valley. In 2009, the IEEE declared the HP-35 a milestone in engineering. Rodé was also a co-inventor of the HP-80 financial calculator, and designer of the HP-5360A, the first measuring instrument with a built-in integrated processor. Francé also held early patents in RFID and GPS technologies.

A loving family man, Francé lived most of his life in Los Altos, CA, where he remained active in retirement. He was memorable for his enthusiastic handshake, engaging smile, and loving heart. To honor his passing, in lieu of flowers please consider supporting one of his favorite causes, the American Slovenian Education Foundation: www.asef.net.

Scroll down to read more about Francé's life. 

Early Life in Slovenia
Francé's home town: Homec village and church in Nožice, Slovenia

Francé was born in Homec, a small farming village in the town of Nožice in the Gorenska Region of Slovenia on November 20, 1934. His parents were farmers Jože and Pepca (maiden name Prešeren).

France was the oldest of four children including sister Agata and brothers Marko and Aleš. When France was 6 years old, the World War II German occupation of Slovenia began. The effects and dangers of war were very real for France and his family, but somehow he always made it through. The local elementary school was burned down soon after he started attending and his education was interrupted through the end of the war. But after the war he entered an accelerated learning program, studied through the summer, and quickly got back on track. At one point during the war, his entire family's life was threatened by a potential shooting attack on their house, but a neighbor convinced the gun men not to do it.

Throughout his early life France helped with physical work around the farm which helped him develop his strength and stamina, for which he gained local a reputation, and maintained throug the end of his life. Whenever he had to study, France was excused from farm work. However, living on the farm allowed him no time for extracurricular activities for which he envied his schoolmates. Only occasionally did he manage to join his peers after school. His fondest memories of such activities include participating in the staging of Hamlet, skiing trips to Mala Planina, and staying with his ski buddies in “Steletova koča.”

Living on the farm had side benefits beyond his physical development. France learned hard work habits and discovered his inventive drive. In his uncle’s carpentry shop next door, he built his own toys and later tools that were otherwise too expensive to buy. Foreshadowing his later pioneering work, he painstakingly made by hand the slide rule he used during all his academic years in Slovenia.

 

Academics
Giving a Lecture in Ljubljana

France planned to study mathematics at the the University of Ljubljana, but altered his interest electrical engineering after he visited the University’s electrical engineering laboratories. He never regretted this switch. He felt that in this field he would be able to combine his interest in mathematics with hands-on work.

France’s early contact with the world outside Slovenia (which was at that time part of Yugoslavia), were two summer jobs in Germany and a few school excursions. These contacts  led him to visit companies in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, which exposed him to advanced technologies of that era. They also triggered in him a desire to learn more about new places and people. Soon after his graduation in Ljubljana, he filed an application at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and in November 1960 he boarded the Slovenian ship Bohinj and was on his way to an unknown world.

He earned a Master's Degree in the field of bio-medicine from Northwestern University in 1962. His Master’s research explored what some now call “Consciousness Hacking.” France created a strobe light machine that induced a hypnotic state in his subjects in which they did not feel pain. On one occasion the subject of his experiment was stuck in the hypnotic state and it seemed there was nothing France could do to bring them out of it. Eventually the subject was fine, but the incident spooked France and he decided not pursue that line of research further.

He ended up in the working field of Electrical Engineering and in 1975, he earned a PhD, where he applied his real-world knowledge of microprocessor design combined with coursework at Stanford University in a dissertation submitted at the University of Ljubljana.

Family, Community Life, and Hobbies
Rodé Family, 1970

France's educational and professional opportunities and advancement were made possible by his move to the US in 1961. But it wasn't these opportunities that inspired him to leave his homeland. He was inspired instead by love -- and the possibility of marying his highschool sweetheart, Mija Ivanka Gaber, who had moved to Chicago in 1957 to be with her father who had fled persecution during the war.

France arrived in 1960 and married Mia a year later. They had two daughters: Ana in 1964 and Maja in 1967. France was a supportive and loving husband and father. The depth of his dedication to family was most notable in his wholehearted support in caring for Mia's mother with Alzheimers who came to live with them for what turned out to be the final 10 years of her life. 

France loved people and entertaining, and offered a place to stay and many tours and outings in the San Francisco Bay Area for visiting friends and relatives over the years. He took pride in his tasty barbeque specialties, especially čevapčiči ("che vop chee chee") a hand-rolled mix of ground beef, lamb, and pork.

France and Mia both placed a high value on learning and education, fully supporting their daughters to pursue their curiosities and academic interests. France also encouraged the pursuit of creative endeavors and entrepreunerial ideas with many people in his life. His encouragement and support was a direct or indirect factor in many successful business and professional ventures from high-tech startups and careers, to tourism, to energy healing, and the arts. He also played an important support role as Mia delved into teaching the Slovene language.

With a deep faith, France was a devout Catholic attending mass every week and blessing his home with prayers and incense on holy days each year. His prayer of the Our Father in the Slovene language was a consistent ritual whenever dinner was served at his home -- no matter what the company or if they even understood Slovene.

In his life, France pursued a variety of hobbies and sports including chess, skiing, drawing and painting, tennis, and woodturning. For many years he enjoyed his annual Christmas jigsaw puzzles, until his aging knees disagreed with the extended kneeling over the coffee table.

With an extended community of friends and relatives in the US and in Slovenia, France formed strong connections with people in the role of godfather, uncle, adopted grandparent, friend, and collaborator. A friend commented that his firm handshake was an extension of his heartfelt enthusiasm to see you, and that he was also a missionary. Whenever he drove someone somewhere in his car, they prayed.

France was a big man with a big heart, and his spirit will surely live on in the way he touched our lives.

Innovations at Hewlett Packard
At Hewlett Packard, 1964?

During his years at Hewlett Packard (HP), Francé was able to participate in the remarkable development of new technologies in modern electronics. He was not just witnessing the birth and growth of Silicon Valley, which was then the center of world’s technological progress, but made significant contributions to it. When a new measuring instrument needed a (digital) calculating unit, France was given the task of designing it. HP was a strictly analog instrument producer before that time. From then on the whole instrument design methodology has changed, taking advantage of data processing within the instrument itself. France was a key player in this trend.

France’s next contribution was just as vital for HP as the former and it involved the first integrated circuit designed within the company. The engineers and the management were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the processed chip, which arose from France’s cutting and pasting its layout by hand.

Being armed with two important technologies that catapulted Silicon Valley, France was the obvious choice for carrying the intricate load of designing the miniature processor for HP-35, the first scientific pocket calculator. While he did not get the recognition (which some say he deserved) of having designed the world’s first microprocessor, France’s HP-35 calculating unit had all the characteristics associated with a microprocessor. With it’s complete instruction set for controlling its arithmetic units, this calculator put the slide rule out of business and changed the engineering profession overnight.

As the designer of the “brains” of this new calculator, Francé saw the opportunity to apply the same technology to give the business community their own pocket calculator. Consulting with business experts, France designed algorithms that are still in use to this day in the commercial world. His vision of possibility resulted the HP-80 business calculator, which replaced reams of tables previously used to compute mortgages, returns on investments, and other business transactions.

France also foresaw the need for a portable computer and developed the concept of a “Briefcase Computer.” Hewlett turned down the proposal because flat-screen technology did not exist back then. Francé’s idea was apparently ahead of its time in the evolution of computing, which was just reaching desktop computer stage.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard oscilloscopes had a bad name in the engineering community around the world and the top management asked the central R&D Lab to do something about it. A new promising concept called for an integrated processor and France was again called into action. For him this was such an easy task that he found time to enrich the final prototype named “Smart Scope” with many vital ideas, which later became topics of his doctoral dissertation in 1975.

Entrepreneurial Adventures
RFID Workplace Entry Card, early 1980s

Francé’s entrepreneurial spirit led him in 1979 to establish the company Sielox Inc. to develop electronic locks and security devices, which were among the world’s first (if not the first) applied RFID wireless technology. In 1986 Sielox was acquired by Checkpoint Systems and Francé became their R&D vice president. In 1990, his pursuit of new adventures led Francé to Trimble Navigation, where he participated in developing early GPS technology for airplanes to enable them to navigate blind landings. During the last two years at Trimble Navigation, Francé was heavily involved with attempts to redesign and then integrate the GPS receiver into only two chips. This effort led him to join his two coworkers who established a new company under the name eRide, Inc. Their goal was to design novel GPS receivers, which would make it possible to navigate under diverse conditions such as inside the buildings or in other reflective environments but primarily inside a wristwatch. While the project proved the concept, it missed the window of opportunity to competition.

Throughout his years Francé participated as an employee, founder, board member, or advisor in many start up ventures. His latest project, Search411, now continues on in its aspiration to revolutionize the recruiting and job search process. To this and any other current ventures that Francé supported, may his spirit continue to inspire and guide their success.

Links


Memorial Video

Video of Francé's Memorial in Los Altos (43 min)
(Thank you Connor & Madeline)

Articles and Interviews:

Interview with France Rode, Silicon Valley 50 Years Later
"You need to have courage. Without courage there’s nothing."

Wikipedia Article

Slovene Inventor of First Scientific Pocket Calculator

SlovenianMuseum.org
"The HP-35 calculator... was taken by President Richard Nixon’s party to China as 'the prime example of modern U.S. technology.'"

Slovenian Union of America Facebook Post with Letter from Thomas Brandi

Persistent Technology
Retrospective View on the HP-80

Hewlett Packard Publications:

Computation for Measurement Flexibility
HP Journal articles on the 5360 Computing Counter -- pioneering the shift from analog to digital measurement.

The Powerful Pocketful: An Electronic Calculator Challenges the Slide Rule
HP Journal articles about the HP-35 Calculator, the world's first scientific handheld calculator.

A Pocket-Sized Answer Machine for Business and Finance
HP-80 Calculator

Measure Magazine "Critical Mass"
HP-80 Calculator

Slovene Language Interviews and Articles:

Inventor Interview with Katra Kozinc (Video: 7 min.)
and the corresponding Article

Video Interview with Večer (4 min.)
[Translated] About the origin of the HP-35 calculator: "One day, Bill Hewlett came into the office and told us it would be good if he could put a desktop calculator into the pocket of his shirt. We measured his pocket, and then produced a unit that fit into it," explains Rode.

Farewell to Inventor France Rode

A Historical Perspective on Silicon Valley
Video interview: 1 hr 16 min

Silicon Valley 50 Years Later
Video Interview at University of Ljubljana: 1 hr 13 min

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This memorial is administered by:

Maja Apolonia Rode

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