Mon07062015

News

Effective today, library cards free again in Los Altos

Both Los Altos libraries should see a spike in use soon. After the elimination of an $80 annual card fee that had been in place since 2011, nonresidents will receive free library cards at local libraries, effective today.

Residents of Mountain View ...

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Schools

Almond fifth-graders set sail at Shoreline

Almond fifth-graders set sail at Shoreline


Courtesy of Corinne Finegan Machatzke
Fifth- graders at Almond School launched the boats they designed and built at Shoreline Lake last month.

Almond School fifth-graders boarded their handmade boats at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View last month to...

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Community

Taking it back to 'The Streets': Local filmmaker aims to revive 1970s series 'Streets of San Francisco'

Taking it back to 'The Streets': Local filmmaker aims to revive 1970s series 'Streets of San Francisco'


Courtesy of Charles Alley
Charles Alley’s filmmaking company may be based in Mountain View, but he knows all about “The Streets of San Francisco.” He’s rebooting the 1970s TV classic.

When people look for the next hit TV show, they often assume ...

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Sports

Enjoying the moment


Courtesy of Dick D’OlivA
Former Golden State Warriors trainer Dick D’Oliva, from left, wife Vi, former Warriors assistant coach Joe Roberts and wife Celia ride on a cable car in the victory parade.

Dick D’Oliva almost couldn’...

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Comment

The death knell of suburbia: A Piece of My Mind

The orchards are gone. The single-story ranch house is seen as a waste of valuable land and air space. An eight-lane freeway thunders past the bridle paths in Los Altos Hills. But nothing has signaled the death of suburbia more strongly than the ann...

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Special Sections

While competent & safe, MKC still can't catch European competitors

While competent & safe, MKC still can't catch European competitors


courtesy of Ford
The 2015 Lincoln MKC doesn’t overwhelm as far as overall performance goes, but it does offer comfortable ride quality.

Of all the auto companies with headquarters in the United States, only Ford managed to weather the great re...

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Business

Company installs EV charging stations at LAHS

Company installs EV charging stations at LAHS


Courtesy of Green Charge
Officials from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District celebrate the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations at Los Altos High last week.

The Mountain View Los Alto...

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Books

People

HILDA CLAIRE FENTON

Hilda Claire Fenton, beloved wife and mom to 9, grandmother to 30 and great grandmother to 22, passed away June 20 following a long illness. She was 90.

Hilda was born Sept. 28, 1924, to Lois and Gus Farley then of Logan, W. Va. While she was still ...

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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

Cast carries 'Arcadia'

Cast carries 'Arcadia'


Courtesy of Pear Avenue Theatre
“Arcadia” stars Monica Ammerman and Robert Sean Campbell.

The intimate setting of Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theatre proves the perfect place to stage “Arcadia,” allowing audience members to feel as though they a...

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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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