Fri08012014

News

"Brown is the new green," says local water district


Lina Broydo/Special to the Town Crier
Are downtown Los Altos flower pots getting too much water? The Santa Clara Valley Water District plans to hire “water cops” to discourage overwatering.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is spending nearl...

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Schools

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers

Foothill camps prepare local students for STEM careers


Photos Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Middle school students make robotic hands using 3-D printers during a STEM Summer Camp at Foothill College.

From designing roller coasters to developing biodegradable plastics, high school students received an i...

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Community

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women

Local entrepreneur opens home to Afghan and Rwandan women


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Businesswomen Joan Mazimhaka of Rwanda, third from left, and Fakhria Ibrahimi of Afghanistan, in orange, traveled to the U.S. with a 26-woman delegation through the Peace Through Business program.

Employees scoop ice ...

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Comment

Moving on: The Rockey Road

Just over a month ago, we decided to put our house on the market. My husband and I had been tossing around the idea of moving back to the area where we grew up, which is only approximately 40 minutes from here. Of course, Los Altos is a great place t...

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Special Sections

Long live the lawn: Los Altos native offers drought-resistant strategies

Long live the lawn: Los Altos native offers drought-resistant strategies


Bill Steiner’s grass is green, left, even amid the drought. He followed Max Todd’s water and maintainence instructions after having his lawn aerated, Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Green lawns are not necessarily on the endangered list during the d...

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Business

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday

Halo heads to Los Altos: Blow-dry bar founder opens new First Street location Monday


ElLie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
Armed with blow dryers, Halo founder Rosemary Camposano, left, and store manager Nikki Thomas prepare for the blow-dry bar’s grand opening on First Street Monday.

A blow-dry bar is set to open downtown Monday, and i...

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Books

"Frozen in Time" chronicles harrowing WWII rescue attempts


Many readers can’t resist a true-life adventure story, especially those that shine a spotlight on people who exhibit supreme courage in the face of adversity and end up surviving – or not – against the odds.

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People

DR. ALFRED HUGHES

Long time Los Altos resident, Dr. Alfred Hughes, died May 1st after a long illness. Dr. Hughes was born in 1927 in Maspeth, NY. He served in the US Army from 1945-6, attended Brooklyn Polytechnic University, then graduated from Reed College in Portla...

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Travel

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway

Travel Tidbit: Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers spa getaway


Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton in Lake Tahoe offers fall getaway packages that include spa treatments and yoga classes.

Fall in North Lake Tahoe boasts crisp mornings and opportunities to spend quality time in the mountains. Specially ...

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Stepping Out

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn

'Wizard' winds down at Bus Barn


Town Crier file photo
Local actors rehearse a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Los Altos Youth Theatre and Los Altos Stage Company’s collaborative production of “The Wizard of Oz” is slated to close Sunday at Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave.

T...

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Spiritual Life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life

Stanford University appoints new dean for religious life


Shaw

Stanford University named the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, its new dean for religious life.

Provost John Etchemendy announced Shaw’s appointment July 21, adding that she also will join the faculty in...

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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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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