Sun03292015

News

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers


MEGAN V. WINSLOW/Town Crier
The escalator at the Safeway on First Street poses a safety hazard, some customers allege.

A Safeway shopper who accidentally placed his cart last month on the customer escalator instead of the shopping cart track next to...

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Schools

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week


Above Photo by Traci Newell/Town Crier;
Author Jack Andraka shares his story with fellow high school seniors during Los Altos High School’s Writers Week last week.

Los Altos High School students learned firsthand last week how professionals ...

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Community

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center


Photos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Charles Viajar, student and U.S. Navy veteran, brings his four-legged companion Bruno to the Veterans Resource Center at Foothill College. Bruno, a 2-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu, is trained to assist Viajar with...

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Sports

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Daisha Abdelkader goes on a fast break in the CCS Division II final. The senior point guard scored eight points in the Lancers’ NorCal semifinal loss to Dublin last week.

Senior Daisha Abdel...

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Comment

We'll buy it; what is it? Editorial

Would you buy a device on the condition that you are kept in the dark about how it works? Would you feel good about purchasing such a device when the contract even calls for nondisclosure of the nondisclosure form that keeps the device top secret?

T...

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Special Sections

Tuscany meets Waikiki: Los Altos Hills couple build their dream house

Tuscany meets Waikiki: Los Altos Hills couple build their dream house


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Sara Weber and Victor Martina’s Los Altos Hills home features brick from a 100-year-old building in San Jose artistically combined with stucco to evoke a centuries-old feel. The lanai in the backyard adds a touch o...

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Business

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Vintage Bath, the downtown Los Altos showroom, is under new leadership. Taking over are, from left, co-owners Jerry Rudick and Deena Castello and marketing and visual director Alissa McDonald.

Deena Castello – the new cu...

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Books

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff


The idea that there may have a female pope at one time in history has generated much speculation throughout the centuries. “Pope Joan” (Crown, 1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross, does not answer the question; rather, the author has created a detai...

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People

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

1944-2014

Beverley McChesney passed away at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA on Sunday, Nov. 16. She had been fighting cancer for about 23 years until it went into her lungs.

She is survived by her husband David, of Cloverdale; her sisters...

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Travel

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience


Eren Göknar/ Town Crier
Cavallo Point Lodge comprises former U.S. Army buildings, like the Mission Blue Chapel, repurposed for guests seeking a luxurious getaway.

It used to be a place where batteries of soldiers lived, with officers’ quarter...

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Stepping Out

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill


Courtesy of Cal Pops
The Cal Pops trumpet section includes Dean Boysen, from left, Bob Runnels and Noel Weidkamp.

The California Pops Orchestra is scheduled to perform “Swing Time!” – a musical tour of Big Band hits from the 1930...

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Spiritual Life

Silicon Valley Prayer breakfast speakers send strong messages about God's calling

Silicon Valley Prayer breakfast speakers send strong messages about God's calling



Kirk Perry, Google Inc. president of brand solutions, discusses his faith at the March 13 Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. Alicia Castro/Town Crier

When God calls, you have to listen to reap the benefits.

That was the moral of the story for t...

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Magazine

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm


/Town Crier It’s not all cute and cuddly for teens participating in the eight-week Animal Husbandry Apprenticeship program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Mia Mosing of Palo Alto, left, and Sophia Jackson of Los Altos clean the pigpens – one of...

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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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