Humble Bob

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Ed Wesly

Humble Bob

Post by Ed Wesly »

I guess our pal Bob Hess is not as much of a shameless self-promoter as yours truly, but he was featured in a newspaper article! Here is where I first heard of it: ... News-Paper!

And here is the direct link to the news source:

Way to go Bob!
Jeffrey Weil

Humble Bob

Post by Jeffrey Weil »

Here's the story so you don't have to find it on their site. Ed's link no longer works.

San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Section: Business
Edition: Valley Final
Page: 1D
Mike Cassidy,

Conference on Lasers and Electro- Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Sciences

When: May 16-21

Where: San Jose McEnery Convention Center

Laser exhibit: Free and open to the public at the LaserFest Pavilion on May 18 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; May 20 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ask for an "Exhibits Pass Plus" at the registration booth.

More Information:

Caption: Photo: Dai Sugano/Mercury News.

Bob Hess has spent his career working with lasers, and his free time collecting them.

Photo: Dai Sugano/Mercury News.

He'll show some of his collection of lasers through the ages at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Sciences.

This is Bob Hess' moment.
It's not every day that people want to talk to him about his passion. See, he likes lasers, a lot. Really, really a lot. He's got a collection that is filling up his San Jose house. He's amassed it over years, spending more than he wants to say to gather up the once-cutting-edge machines that produce a light beam that can cut through almost anything.

Hess has gathered his vintage machines largely over the Internet after they'd been salvaged from garage sales, flea markets or cast off by companies. And mostly, he's worked in the shadows.

"It's kind of an arcane thing I'm into here," says Hess, a 53-year-old laser technician. "I don't get to spill about it very often."

But this is his moment. The world of lasers is coming to San Jose for the industry's annual conference. Not just any conference. This one, called the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Sciences (or CLEO/QELS), kicks off May 16, the 50th anniversary of the first firing of a laser (which took place a little to the south, in Malibu). And Hess will be there, spilling about his hobby and showing off some of his three dozen or so lasers, many dating back to the 1960s and the dawn of the technology.

Hess, who has a graying beard and the sun-kissed face and thin frame of a man who regularly rides his bike to work, sees the beauty in lasers -- the handblown plasma tubes, the smooth tooling of the early models. And he appreciates those who worked on the technology and the work the technology does.

Yes, he knows that some might find his hobby strange. He can laugh at himself, like when he points to the huge power supply for the 1969 Hughes argon laser he bought from a New Jersey college kid. The laser and power source cost $200. Shipping it? Another $900.

"It's comically heavy," he says.

Today, lasers (which is the merciful shorthand for light amplification by stimulated emissions of radiation) have been adapted for a variety of everyday tasks like scanning groceries, playing DVDs and serving as electronic pointers during those interminable PowerPoint presentations. Hess doesn't want their roots to be forgotten.

"I want to stimulate interest so people see they have value and keep them from being thrown away," he says of decades-old lasers. "Once they're gone, they're gone."

Hess, who works for a startup designing futuristic video displays, figures there could be a trove of old lasers in the garages and attics of Silicon Valley. Indeed, the valley was a hotbed of early laser development, with companies like Spectra-Physics and Coherent blooming here shortly after the laser was invented. It's a lost part of the valley's history, eclipsed by the invention of the semiconductor and the valley's contribution to the personal computer, Internet, e-commerce and social networking. But make no mistake, it is a part of the valley's history.

"Silicon Valley could have been Photonic Valley," says Tony Siegman, a Stanford University professor emeritus who spent decades working with lasers. "There is a lot of local connection."

Laser Valley, to pick a field of photonics, might have a better ring to it. But you get the idea. At any rate, it's probably a little late to make the name-change case, though Hess certainly has the exhibits.

"That's a beautiful one, isn't it," Hess says, nodding toward a display case in his living room packed with what look like sleek projectors of some sort. "The red one. That's a '67 Scientifica & Cook. The black one over there, that's a 1964. The green one is from 1965 -- that's a Bay Area company, Electro Optics Associates, Palo Alto."

He points to the first laser he landed, a 1963 Perkin Elmer/Spectra-Physics Model 111 that he bought from a Dumpster diver about 25 years ago. It was one of the first 75 built by the partnership, he explains. He flits to another, a Hughes Model 200 Ruby, that he found on eBay.

"It was like, wow, this is a magical piece," Hess says, "and it's on eBay." It was listed for $10,000. Hess offered the owner just over half that and got it. "I was sweating bullets."

The worry paid off, says Jeff Hecht, who wrote "Beam: The Race to Make the Laser."

"It's a wonderful archive of artifacts," Hecht says of Hess' collection.

It's about time somebody said so. In fact, for Hess, this is exactly the right time.

Contact Mike Cassidy at or 408-920-5536.
Ed Wesly

Humble Bob

Post by Ed Wesly »

I hate it when they yank those links! Thanks for the straight poop, Jeff!

Humble Bob

Post by BobH »

Thanks for posting it! :) I thought it was going to be a bit on his blog and it turned out to be on the front page of the business section that day. Sittin' in a smokey closed garage with a running laser on a hot afternoon made me sweaty enough, but watching his camera flirt with the beam made me really sweat bullets. :naughty: :pray: :pray: :pray:

Humble Bob

Post by Dutchelm05 »

Really great Bob, congrads. It is great to see some acknowledgement out there. I will look for that article for May 7th

Perhaps one day they will have the Holographers Calender. Each month featuring a renoun holographer.

"Wearing an smartly talored Armani suit and leather Gucci shoes Dave Battin is mixing another batch of DCG."

Sorry it is early and I'm tired and feeling a bit cheeky :dance: :doh: