Wed09022015

News

West Nile fogging commences today

West Nile fogging commences today


Courtesy of the Santa Clara County Vector Control District
Fogging commences Wednesday within the highlighted area.

The detection of West Nile Virus-infected mosquitos means that Santa Clara County officials will begin mosquito fogging operations...

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Schools

LASD trustees reopen negotiations with Los Altos Teachers Association

The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees last week directed staff to reopen negotiations with the Los Altos Teachers Association, a move intended to shore up the district’s financial picture.

According to the district’s current co...

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Community

LA teenager crowned Miss Golden State, advances to national pageant in Florida

LA teenager crowned Miss Golden State, advances to national pageant in Florida


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Alexandra McCarthy, crowned Miss Golden State Teen in July, earned “Ms. Personality” honors from her peers.

Alexandra McCarthy has a ways to go before reaching her coveted role as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Bu...

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Sports

After rough year, Eagles aim to soar once more

After rough year, Eagles aim to soar once more


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High senior running back Patrick Vargas snares a pass in practice last week.

Don’t dismiss the Eagles. Coach Trevor Pruitt is adamant that his Los Altos High football team will be better than expected.

&#...

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Comment

Car spotting 2015: A Piece of My Mind

When I was a kid, September was exciting, almost like Christmas, because that was when the Big Three automakers would reveal the new models for the upcoming year.

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Special Sections

Loving on the Edge

Loving on the Edge


Courtesy of Ford
The Ford Edge has been redesigned for 2015. Ford lengthened the wheel base and added cargo space, among other things. The Titanium model sells for approximately $42,000.

Once in a while, a vehicle we test-drive is just right for our...

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Business

Wine bar aims for October opening

Wine bar aims for October opening


Rendering courtesy of Honcho
Honcho, the wine and beer lounge on First Street, expects an October launch. A rendering of the space reveals the interior layout, which includes bar and lounge-style seating.

A downtown libations lounge that anticip...

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People

LOIS CAROLINE WALLES

LOIS CAROLINE WALLES

November, 1928

Lois lost a long and courageous battle with a prolonged illness on July 14th, 2015. She passed away knowing how well she was loved. She was always the life of the party and loved bringing everyone to her home for dinner or an event,...

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Travel

Carmel Valley Ranch unveils upgrades

Carmel Valley Ranch unveils upgrades


Courtesy of Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch recently upgraded its Vineyard Oak suites, which feature sweeping views, rocking chairs and private outdoor tubs for soaking under the stars.

Things are heating up at Carmel Valley Ranch, with 30 n...

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Stepping Out

'Dead Man' comes alive at Bus Barn

'Dead Man' comes alive at Bus Barn


Richard Mayer/Special to the Town Crier
The cast of Los Altos Stage Company’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” includes, from left, Marjorie Hazeltine (as Hermia), Kristin Walter (Jean) and Adrienne Walters (Carlotta).

Los Altos Stage Company opens its ...

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Spiritual Life

Inside Mountain View

MV actress/playwright Garvin wins NY festival award for

MV actress/playwright Garvin wins NY festival award for "Corners Grove"


Courtesy of Undiscovered Countries
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin received a New York arts festival award for a featured role in “Corners Grove,” a play she wrote.

New York recognized that one of Mountain View’s own can “make it there” when the Planet C...

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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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