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HACK ATTACK

Computers may be taking over the world, but Harold Kester is working hard to make sure that our new masters are at least polite when we need something from them. Like information.

“We all seek information,” says Kester, 45, “but we’re limited by how difficult it is to get the information that we want.”

Difficult because most computers demand exact spelling, precise commands and specific wording, which often stymie the human user. So, for the past 10 years, Kester’s quest has been to change all that. In 1985, as president of the Del Mar Group, Kester began developing an interactive touch-screen computer system for national bookstore and video chains. Customers could ask for what they wanted and the computer would tell them where to find it and even make recommendations. More important, the system wasn’t concerned with spelling or wording.

He has now turned his attention from retail to ROM. As vice president of research and development for Solana Beach-based Compton’s New Media, Kester is working on computer tools that will provide information on everything from golf to the history of rock ‘n’ roll. New Media is introducing CD-ROMs--compact discs packed with megabytes of words, pictures and sounds that plug into personal computers--including “Compton’s MultiMedia Encyclopedia.” “They say knowledge now doubles every three to five years,” Kester says. “The fundamental problem is how do we get access to what we need right then and there.”

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