Tue06302015

News

LAH council approves  Page Mill Road expansion

LAH council approves Page Mill Road expansion


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The Los Altos Hills City Council endorsed a plan to widen the congested Page Mill Road to six lanes between the Interstate 280 interchange and Foothill Expressway.

Infamously congested Page Mill Road should be widened to ...

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Schools

Local muralist tells a story of young Los Altos at two schools

Local muralist tells a story of young Los Altos at two schools


Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Los Altos muralist Morgan Bricca, above, created a work at Covington School commissioned by the Class of 2015.

Just as school ended this year, new color bloomed on two Los Altos campuses – public art projects commissi...

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Community

Los Altos girl out to 'squash' inequality: 10-year-old raises funds for female players with motto Equal pay for play

Los Altos girl out to 'squash' inequality: 10-year-old raises funds for female players with motto Equal pay for play


Courtesy of Lisa Bardin
Mika Bardin displays a certificate of participation she received at the 2015 U.S. Junior Squash Championships. Although Mika is not competing in the upcoming NetSuite Open Squash Championships, she is helping other female pl...

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Sports

Hurdling adversity

Hurdling adversity


courtesy of Nicole Goodwin
Ella Goodwin, hurdling, above, has come a long way since her early-childhood battle with leukemia.

While Nicole Goodwin is proud of daughter Ella’s athletic achievements, it’s not her skills on the soccer field...

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Comment

No confidence in civic center proposals: Editorial

Few Los Altos issues have become more convoluted than the development of the 18-acre Hillview civic center property. Most agree that the area, as currently configured, needs improvement. But nothing has happened in the nearly 10 years since serious d...

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Special Sections

Star-spangled manor: Orange Avenue home boasts Americana theme

Star-spangled manor: Orange Avenue home boasts Americana theme


Megan V. WInslow/Town Crier
Los Altos resident Pinky Whelan’s Orange Avenue home features a patriotic theme, evident in her living room decor, her historical collections and displays and her welcoming entrance.

Let’s hear it for the red...

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Business

Thai Silks shutters Los Altos store this month

Thai Silks shutters Los Altos store this month


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
After more than 50 years in business in downtown Los Altos, Thai Silks is closing up shop at 252 State St. by the end of the month. The store will continue to offer its inventory online and via phone.

A longtime downtown ...

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Books

People

ALAN FRAZIER KREMEN, MD, PHD

ALAN FRAZIER KREMEN, MD, PHD

Alan Frazier Kremen, MD, PhD, aged 68, loving father & surgeon, of Stockton peacefully passed away on June 13th, 2015.

Born in Minneapolis on December 17, 1946, he received a BA from Stanford University, 1968, a PhD in Philosophy from the Univ...

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Travel

Venetian spa offers ways to de-stress

Venetian spa offers ways to de-stress


Courtesy of The VEnetian
The HydroSpa in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian in Las Vegas offers a muscle-relaxing bath and radiant lounge chairs.

Vegas cab drivers usually ask if you won or lost as soon as you get in their vehicles. They assum...

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Stepping Out

'Town' closes down

'Town' closes down


Chris Peoples/Special to the Town Crier
Hope Cladwell (played by Krista Joy Serpa) and Bobby Strong (Lewis Rawlinson) get romantic during their duet in “Urinetown: The Musical.”

The Los Altos Stage Company production of “Urinetown: The Musical” ...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Living it up Older adults aim to age in place

Living it up Older adults aim to age in place


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Local enthusiasts flock to the Los Altos Senior Center to play bocce ball. The center hosts informal games four days a week and occasional tournaments.

As baby boomers in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View nose...

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Inside Mountain View

Carrying the torch

Carrying the torch


Members of the Mountain View Police Department carry the Special Olympics torch as they run along El Camino Real between Sunnyvale and Palo Alto June 18. Members of the department participate in the relay annually to show their support for Spec...

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Resident recalls remarkable life as refugee, innovator, teacher


Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Les Besser and his wife, Susan, left, relax at home, with Besser’s early tech innovations on the table in front of them. Besser recently published his autobiography, “Hurdling to Freedom.”

Longtime Los Altos resident Les Besser’s transformation from World War II survivor to high-tech entrepreneur is an inspiring tale of a talented young Hungarian who left horrific conditions to thrive in the freedom of America. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“Kind” is the word that immediately comes to Susan Besser’s mind when she thinks of Les, her husband of the past 24 years.

Add “patient” and “helpful” to the positive adjectives that describe Besser, whose soft-spoken demeanor can’t hide the energy and activity that he’s channeled into teaching and using his considerable talents to help others.

Besser founded his own companies and developed trailblazing software before retiring in the early 2000s, but he remains active. Among his current pursuits is participation in the South Bay Area chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), running a support group for sleep apnea patients and volunteering as a track coach at Mountain View High School. In each case, Besser takes what he’s learned and succeeded at and readily shares his knowledge with others.

‘Hurdling to Freedom’

Besser offers a detailed and colorful first-person account of his life in “Hurdling to Freedom,” an online publication. The use of “Hurdling” in the title refers to Besser’s time as a star track athlete in Hungary. He broke the under-16 record in hurdles and was national junior champion in the 400-meter hurdles and the 4x100-meter relay, in the 16-19 age division. As a teen, he was named a member of Hungary’s national track and field team.

Besser began his track career virtually by accident. He had failed to make a popular club soccer team, but a coach observing his long strides suggested that he try track. A short time later, he placed second in the high jump at a championship meet. After that achievement, the coaches encouraged him to become a hurdler.

“My dream was to participate at the Olympics one day,” he said. “I gave up all typical teenage activities to train rigorously.”

Although growing up in Hungary allowed Besser to capitalize on his talents as a technician and athlete, two national crises disrupted his early years. World War II saw his country caught in the crossfire between the Nazi invaders and the Red Army. The Cold War, which followed, left Hungary under Soviet control.

Born in 1936 and raised by his mother, Besser remembers hiding in the coal cellar of his apartment building for weeks during bombing raids and street fighting. His mother offered shelter to Jews facing Nazi persecution.

“By the time we emerged from our hiding place, our scarce food supply was completely gone,” he recalled. “Many parts of Budapest lay in ruins.”

In 1956, under the Soviets, Besser found himself participating – albeit briefly – in the Hungarian Revolution. The uprising was short-lived, however, brutally quashed by the Soviet military. Faced with the possibility of being tried as a conspirator, the 20-year-old Besser fled to Austria. Although he hoped to end up in the U.S. to pursue his track career, he was only able to immigrate to Canada. His sister also escaped and joined him later in that country.

High-tech experience

The first member of his family to graduate from high school, Besser eventually attended college in the U.S. on a track scholarship. He completed his studies in electrical engineering and business administration at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Following graduation, he received numerous job offers from around the country. Besser selected Hewlett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto in 1966, which introduced him to the latest in microwave technology.

“My plant interview with the microwave division was a humiliating experience,” he said. “I didn’t know anything practical about microwaves and was fortunate that HP took a chance with me.”

Besser proved a quick study, and HP, with its congenial atmosphere, proved the ideal place for his talents to blossom. Within a year, he had developed broadband microwave components and received a patent for the first hybrid integrated amplifier circuitry used in the cable television industry.

He moved on to Fairchild, working in the company’s Microwave and Optoelectronics Group, and became heavily involved in a revolutionary technology, developing computer-aided design software that cut the time of high-frequency circuit projects from months of trial and error to just a few days. The program rapidly solved the tedious number-crunching that engineers had previously calculated with slide rules or via manual computations.

Besser’s innovation led to his founding of the firm Compact Software in the mid-1970s. The company merged with Communication Satellite Corp. in 1980 and, through multiple acquisitions, is now part of ANSYS Co.

Discovering that many, if not most, engineers were hesitant to learn the computer-aided approach, Besser began teaching the technique through classes, textbooks and technical articles. His next venture, Besser Associates, founded in 1985, offered continuing education courses internationally in modern circuit design technologies.

Besser’s stamp on the technology was so prevalent that he became known as “The Father of Microwave CAD.” The aerospace, defense and telecommunications industries benefited from his technical contributions.

In 2006, the IEEE bestowed its “Meritorious Achievement Award in Continuing Education” on Besser, recognizing him for “leadership excellence in teaching, and worldwide coverage of continuing education training for radiofrequency/microwave technology at all levels and for personally teaching more than 10,000 engineers in 30 years.”

His teaching goes beyond engineering. Inspired by his track success as a youth, Besser began coaching hurdlers at local schools 14 years ago, and is still at it. Several of his teams became league champions – the 2009 team at Mountain View High School thanked their coach with a poster-size photo collage. Approximately 12 years ago, he became involved with the Stanford AWAKE (Alert, Well and Keeping Energetic) support group for sleep apnea patients, and later started a Mountain View AWAKE group in conjunction with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. The latter grew to more than 300 members.

He continues to mentor and befriend engineers, organizing and leading a group of retired Life Members of the IEEE in Silicon Valley. The local group has more than 1,000 members and meets regularly to discuss topics ranging from the environment to education and energy. Among the group’s goals is to inspire interest in engineering. Besser is concerned about American students’ lack of interest in math and science and how their abilities lag behind other industrialized nations.

“If our country wants to maintain its leadership in the high-tech world, we must improve math and science education beginning at the middle-school level,” he said. “By the time students face algebra in high school, it’s too late.”

When asked to pick the highlight of his life, Besser said, “Becoming a father, a grandfather, a teacher and a coach. I kept learning by helping others.”

For more information and to read “Hurdling to Freedom,” visit hpmemory.org/timeline/les_besser/hurdling_to_freedom_00.htm.

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