Mon09152014

News

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza

Council approves directional signs for Los Altos' Woodland Plaza


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council last week approved the installation of two new directional signs on Foothill Expressway pointing motorists to the Woodland Plaza Shopping District.

The Los Altos City Council voted unanimou...

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Schools

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD

New head of curriculum’s ideologies align with LASD


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Edsel Clark, new Los Altos School District assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, above, facilitates a junior high mathematics curriculum meeting last week.

Edsel Clark, Ed.D., new assistant superintend...

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Community

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China

Closing reception caps Foothill photo show on rural China


From IncredibleTravelPhotos.com
Jacque Kae’s “Mischievous” is one of the many photographs on display at Foothill College this month.

Photographs of the land and culture of Huangshan and Zhangjiajie, China, are on exhibit through Sept. 26 at t...

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Sports

Spartans shine in opener

Spartans shine in opener


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View High’s Frank Kapp snares a touchdown pass from quarterback Owen Mountford in Friday’s win.

Leading by a point at halftime, the Mountain View High football team outscored visiting Del Mar 20-0 the rest of...

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Comment

A look ahead to the Nov. 4 election: Editorial

Election season is upon us. In Los Altos, we have three major local races ahead – two seats on the Los Altos City Council, and three seats each on the Los Altos School District and Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District boards of tr...

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Special Sections

Renovation complete,  Villa Siena looks to future

Renovation complete, Villa Siena looks to future


Above and Below Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier; Left Photo Courtesy of Villa Siena
Villa Siena in Mountain View recently underwent a $35 million face-lift. The five-year project expanded their senior living community’s space and ability to serv...

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Business

Transitioning from postage to pets

Transitioning from postage to pets


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A new Pet Food Express store is scheduled to open at the Blossom Valley Shopping Center this month.

A site that previously existed to meet postal service needs will soon have an entirely different purpose – serving pe...

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Books

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights

‘The Humans’ transcends alien genre to glean human insights


A good story about aliens is always great fun to read – after all, it’s only by attempting to understand the human race from another perspective that we can see ourselves more objectively.

But readers who might be tempted to dismiss ye...

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People

JEANNE PACKARD

After suffering a stroke in May, Jeanne Packard died August 10, 2014 at age 83. She was born in 1931 in Berlin, Germany, the only child of Emily Channel and Frank Howe Packard of Chicago, IL. Jeanne is survived by 5 great grandchildren. She was a lon...

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Travel

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska

LA photographer spends a night with cranes – and moose – in Alaska


Sandy Powell/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident and bird photographer Sandy Powell recently visited Homer, Alaska, to photograph Sandhill cranes, below. While there, Powell also encountered moose, left.

Los Altos resident Sandy Powell, a...

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Stepping Out

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos

'Trailer Park' opens in Los Altos


Courtesy of Los
The cast of Los Altos Stage Company’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” includes, from left, Mylissa Malley as Lin, Vanessa Alvarez as Betty, and Christina Bolognini as Pickles. Altos Stage Company

Los Altos Stage Company...

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Spiritual Life

9/11 survivor Michael Hingson finds purpose

Imagine walking down 78 flights of stairs – 1,463 individual steps. You are in imminent danger as you walk, unsure whether you can make it out of the building before it collapses or explodes. Struggling for each breath, you smell the heavy sten...

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Magazine

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living


Courtesy of Spectrum Interior Design
In place of a more traditional fireplace, this modern living room features a linear-flame firebox that emits heat while offering a sculpturelike design element.

After traveling the world and visiting a host...

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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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