The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Kindig

I have long been an avid reader. I like to write as well. I am also the kind of person who loves to learn, but does not particularly like to be taught. I'm fascinated with science, history, music, art, and the human experience. This includes other cultures as well as my own. Most of what I read is non-fiction. I wish that I could spend thirty hours a week reading, but time is limited so I must be selective.

In 1984-85 I was introduced to a Star minicomputer system, employed for collecting weather data from numerous sources including satellite, regional radar, and standard temperature, pressure, & RH data distributed by the National Weather Service. It was a very neat system, occupying four or five amazingly small cabinets, and using a specially arranged channel from the local cable system to connect to the information servers via a U.S. Army communications center. These systems used a set of four large displays with what we now call a GUI. I did not get a chance to play around with these systems much, but the GUI and the Networking aspects did make a strong impression on me. Some time later I got to play with an Apple McIntosh. It was small, friendly, and more than a little quirky (all features I like in a piece of equipment) but also had some severe limitations. It could not be expanded, it had a black & white display, it was slow. Still, it was WYSIWYG & did include graphic capabilities and nice fonts. I really liked the page layout features. This was something new & exciting—something that held promise, though I could not quite figure out why it intrigued me so.

By this time it had become clear to me that part of my future work would involve knowledge of computers. I took out a subscription to PC Magazine™ and began a five year long study of the industry. This without so much as a Timex/Sinclair to work with. Those were very fruitful years of study, let me tell you. I only regret that I did not pay more attention to nuts & bolts networking technology. It's quite a game of catchup I'm playing now.

In 1987 I played with Windows 1.x on the computer of a friend. Windows was a toy then & magazines like PC did not hesitate to say so at every opportunity. Windows did not feature over-lapping windows & there were no applications yet. running in 512k of DOS Memory, with only the most rudimentary access to anything above 640k, Windows was the merest germ of an idea. So why did I find it so exciting? I couldn't figure this out myself. It was time to get a PC. I had also read that Windows 2.x was a lot more capable product. Apparently so, because Apple was suing Microsoft for a trade agreements violation concerning the "look and feel" of Windows, & Samna had just released the first Word Processor, Amì. I got a 286 with 2 meg of memory, a 20 meg Hard disk, & a Hercules monitor, monochrome "Paper White." I bought Windows 2.x & Amì, oh—& an Epson LQ-510 printer. I still use that printer, even for business correspondence, but the rest has changed dramatically.

I got involved in networking, after a fashion, in 1988. Fidonet was available on a couple of local BBSs, although we suffered from a poor quality node coorinator in Las Cruces. E-mail was a real challenge, but the message services were good. I was trading messages with people all over the U.S., several places in Europe, and a couple of Asian locations. Surprisingly, to me anyway, was the strength of traffic coming out of Australia. Fidonet communications were somewhat iffy, especially due to our poor local support, but the Windows message forum I hung out on enjoyed 200+ messages per day! I wrote a couple of reviews of new Windows software, participated in various conversations about Windows, and even got into a flame war once over a shareware program that I still use: Unicom.

I was impressed with how far these messages went & what an immediate impact they had on the audience. I felt almost as if I were publishing in a magazine that was delivered instantly to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The best thing was that, while I was unable to find people in the local area who were interested in Windows, here I access to thousands of people who were.

Ideas about electronic publishing were beginning to solidify in my mind. I began looking at some of the options. I looked at the early version of Asymmetrix Toolbook™, an early version of which was bundled with Windows 3.0. I looked at Owl Guide, a hypertext publishing system for Windows. Both of these platforms were problematic. I did not find Toolbook to be very well oriented to text-based content. I also had little confidence that Asymmetrix would prevail in an e-publishing market niche. Guide, by Owl Inc. was a much more solid & better supported package. But it was prohibitively expensive. And whereas Toolbook was bundled with Windows (at that time) Guide would require that I distribute a bulky "reader" program with each product.

Up popped WinHelp, the Windows Help Reader (see How these products are Developed). I began to notice that all help files for Windows applications used a common platform for context sensitive help. This is a program called winhelp.exe in the Windows root directory. I didn't really pay too much attention until one day when I saw a graphic in a help file. Then the investigation began. I wrote a letter to Microsoft Customer service asking for WinHelp tools. They called me on the phone & suggested that VB Professional Extensions was what I needed. They sent it to me (a $45.00 package), free, FedX, the very same day. I was not even registered for Visual Basic.

As I got rolling with Help development, the focus on Windows 3.1 started appearing in the Trade magazines. There were several articles about the Windows Help System & the many features that had been added to it. My first product, a Freeware version of the U.S. Constitution, was ready shortly thereafter. I distributed it to a few popular archives via Fidonet & a few long distance calls. Windows 3.1 was launched, I bought the 3.1 SDK (software Development Kit) and began focusing on WinHelp 3.1. Meanwhile, I started to get favorable responses about The Constitution. This was not mean feat, as there was absolutely no reason for anyone to respond. Except that these people were very excited about what they were seeing.

I got on the Internet, finally, in 1992. I had read occasional references to the Internet in BYTE magazine, but had been unable to find any good references. The University library at NMSU has a superb technical reference body & excellent periodicals too. However, any references to Internet were either vague, or couched in language that I did not understand. I dropped the subject for about a year until a friend of mine asked what I knew about the Internet. What I knew took about three minutes to explain. He said that he was in a class at the University that required he do some basic research on the Internet & would I like to help him out. Pretty soon we were on line & cruising. I knew a bit more UNIX than he did & so I was of some use. We found out a lot about resources on the Internet. I got a pretty clear understanding of how it was put together too. A couple of weeks later, I went out to the computer center on campus & asked about how to get Internet access. They gave me quite a spiel—something to the tune of $900 per CPU hour (not much, really, but intimidating just the same.) However, they mentioned a student-run server called ACCA where they might be able to arrange something.

The only thing they could tell me was to send e-mail to bob@acca for more information. Since I didn't have e-mail, this was going to be a bit of a challenge. My friend was able to help out here. I found out that ACCA would let me on, despite the fact that I was not a student, & they did.

Being connected to the Internet is like any amplifier for anything you want to do. Suddenly you have mind boggling resources within reach at all times. Things that you would once discard out of hand... well, now you know where to ask. The only secret is that you must be a person who loves to read & write. Shortly after my initiation to the Internet, perhaps eight or nine months after I got on line) the climate changed suddenly. There were books coming out devoted to the Internet. Then there were more books. Then the Federal Administration started talking about it. Then, boom, everybody was talking about it. Boy, have things changed!

Meanwhile I was out on the Net collecting information, documents & reference materials. I was participating in USENET Newsgroups, learning & teaching. I solicited some help with programming so that I could add features to my work, extending the functionality of WinHelp. I published two more works (We the People, The Federalist) with these features, and as they were polished & refined, I added features. I also re-published The Constitution.

LeftJustified continues to grow. I have a strong presence on AOL, Compuserve, and Ziff-Net, as well as several key archives on the Internet. I supply programs to CD-ROM Publishers PsL, Advantage Plus, Media Resources, Shareware Etc., Limelight Media Inc., and ZD Interactive. I also supply materials to several Homeschool BBSs around the country.

My products have been registered in 42 of the United States & also in Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Poland, & Thailand. This Web site represents another step forward in the evolution of an Electronic Publisher.


Thomas E. Kindig
August, 1995
survey for ushistory.org

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