TPA Software

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 by Tad J. Ingram [html/header.htm]


In September of 1998 I came up to Maryland for Kev's wedding.  It was the first time we have had a chance to talk about non TPA related stuff in almost a year and was a lot of fun.  I wanted to do a little "interview" bit with him and post it here as his last FAQ page was somewhat outdated and and rather boring (sorry Kev, but it really was!)  :P

It turned out way different than I had anticipated, and much better.   Take a read!

Tad:  So pretend like ya don't know me and answer honestly, after all, you are in front of an audience of the four or five people who read your web pages regularly.

Kev:  Five eh?  There are four others I don't know about?

Tad:  So, lets get right to it.  What does TPA really stand for?

Kev:  Originally, it was short for Tampa, as that where I used to live nearby to.  Actually, it was also for the benefit of the chat room I used to play in, the Tampa chat room.  TPA equals Tampa.  Pretty easy to figure out.  When I started doing the shareware thing, I needed a sort of company name, and the sad little "KC Productionz" was not going to cut it.  I just took TPA and added the word "Software" behind it.  When those five people you mentioned took notice of us, I got the questions "What does TPA mean?".   Heck if I had a decent answer besides the one I just told you.  I asked one of my online pals to come up with something.  I got "The Power Added-On" and "Total Power Add-Ons".  I chose the latter.  Had a better sound to it.

Tad:  You in a chat room?  LOL, pretty rare.

Kev:  Who has time to chat anymore?  I have not been a regular chatter in ages it seems.

Tad:  Do you remember when you actually first joined AOL?

Kev:  September 26, 1995

Tad:  And when did you first start programming?.

Kev:  I bought my first copy of Visual Basic (VB) in October of 1995.  I had gotten into the "waver" thing and found myself with a whole lot of wav files and no way to organize them, much less remember them all.  Having some background in BASIC programming from high school, I though I would take a gander at VB and see if I could write a small tool to list all my wav files for me so I would not have to remember them all.  It took quite a bit of studying in my free time to figure out the differences between BASIC and VB but had it down enough, with a little help from the "Dummies" book to write my first program.

Tad:  WavMan

Kev:  Well, it wasn't called WavMan at first.  It didn't really have a title.  It was just a window with a list of wav files and a button to send the wav text into the room.  I shared it with a few online pals who had the same wav organization problems and boy was it a hit.  About a month later I had the title WavMan and a few more little features.  It was what is remembered as WavMan v2.0 and in its day took about 300 downloads from my AOL web space.  Not bad for a newbie, eh?

Tad:  Where exactly did you come up with the term "WavMan"

Kev:  It was short for Wav Manager, I couldn't think of anything catchier.  Of course, looking back I think I should have come up with something different, but, what's done it done.

Tad:  So, WavMan 2.0 was released in Novemberish of 1995?

Kev:  Sounds about right.  The version changes started flying after that.

Tad:  How so?

Kev:  Well, WavMan became sort of a "cult" thing after that.  It was very popular in the Tampa and Jacksonville rooms at the time and more suggestions were offered as features.   I also had a problem with the version of VB I was using at the time, which was version 4.0.  It sucked really so I downgraded to VB 3.0 which although does less than VB 4.0, is much easier to work with.   If I recall this correctly, WavMan 3.0 was written in VB 3.0 and started using a little more complex programming techniques, called API.  Don't even ask me to explain it, it would take too long.  Just understand that API coding is a little more solid than standard coding, if done properly.

After I released 3.0, 4 and 5 came not to long after that, eventually, I stopped at 5.3 and let it alone for a while as I had a real job to consider.  Writing and supporting WavMan was not a paying job at that time and I was forced to treat it as such.  But at the same time, it was doing really well.  I managed to get WavMan released in AOL's AddOn library and it took some decent downloads.  I was quite shocked that it did as well as it did.  Of course, it meant more tech support, and I gave it as well as I could for a program that was free at the time.

At that point I started getting help from a long time online pal, Debbi (Grzy TPA).  She went from room to room doing the waver thing and spread the word about WavMan.  That's when the real frenzy started and I released WavMan 6.0 which was jam packed with stuff compared to the old versions.  I look back on that version now and cringe.  It was badly done and still it was very popular. (Shakes head)  I still don't get it.

Kev:  Badly done?  I'm surprised to hear you say that.

Tad:  Well, its the truth.  WavMan 5.3 and 6.0 were sloppy.  I knew nothing about programming really except what I had taught myself.   Plus, writing an AddOn to interface with AOL properly is not an easy task if you don't know what your doing.  I started backwards you see.  I learned the advance programming before the basic programming.  I knew a decent amount of API, which is considered advanced programming before I could properly read and write text to a file.   Pretty sad.

Tad:  Then there was WavMan 7.0, which was shareware, yes?

Kev:  Well, not right away.  6.0 stayed for a while in one form or another.  AutoDialer was my next program.  That was the first shareware, and ultimately that was the program that launched TPA Software.

Tad:  How so?

Kev:  Well, that happened in December of 1996 when AOL went unlimited, and thank God because my AOL bills were pretty hefty.  I went into some serious debt because of AOL and WavMan.  But, it was the first time in a long time I was having any real fun, so the trade off was worth it.  Getting back to will recall that after AOL went unlimited, dialing into AOL was a real bitch.  Busy signals out the ass.  Back then, AOL 3.0 was the latest client and its redialer only tried twice before you had to answer a "Connect Error" window and try again.  AutoDialer simply bypassed that step and allowed for a constant uninterrupted redial.  I offered it to AOL for release in their libraries, and arguably, it was the first AddOn redialer available.  It got major attention really quickly, even from some high up AOL staff.  One of those gents suggested selling it as shareware, five bucks a pop.  I thought it was a neat idea, an income supplement to help pay off some of those AOL bills I had racked up over the year.  Well, as my mom always likes to say "Be careful what you ask for, you might get it."

Tad:  And you got what you asked for?

Kev:  Well, lets put it this way...the mailman eventually had to bring the mail to the door.  He could not get it all in the box.

Tad:  Jeez.

Kev:  No doubt.  I had to quit my job to keep up with AutoDialer.  I did not expect it to meet with this kind of success.  Indeed I was not prepared.  I though it would maybe bring an extra 20 or 30 bucks or so a week.

Tad:  Not prepared?

Kev:  Yeah, that's putting it mildly.  With a popular program comes tech support, maybe 10 times what I had to do for the free version of WavMan, plus the paperwork and database maintenance with registrations was unreal.  I didn't even have a real database back then.  Mom and I had to create tables in MS Word.  Eventually I broke down and invested in Access to handle that...but the E-mail, my God...I was not prepared.  Its one of the reasons I had to quit my job, I could not keep up with any of it working 40 hours a week and then coming home to do TPA.   I was getting no sleep.

Tad:  Why so much E-Mail?

Kev:  Well, you have to consider that there are a great many people on the Internet who are not as computer literate as you and I.  Some people who wanted the AutoDialer program did not fully understand how to install and operate the program.  They needed a little help.  Its all part of the job.  Plus you have to take into account I did not know how to properly script setup programs and support texts.  That's the AutoDialer story really, and the birth of TPA Software.

Tad:  So, next came WavMan 7.0?

Kev:  Yeah.  Recall I had left my old job and needed to find a way to continue to support myself through programming.  I like doing this.   It's probably the only job besides IBM that I ever really liked.  I thought making WavMan shareware might carry this TPA thing a little while longer.  Plus WavMan needed a redesign badly.  So it was made shareware and got a major overhaul.   But it didn't end there.  AOL had introduced the 32 bit version of AOL which WavMan 7.0 did not work with.  To make a long story short, WavMan 7.0 was rewritten to be WavMan 16.  I purchased 32 bit programming language, VB 5.0 as I had no love for VB 4.0 and wrote WavMan 32.  The rest is history.  Somewhere in there Terminator was born to counterpart AutoDialer.  Basically, its AutoDialer without the redialer part.

Tad:  You got lucky kid.

Kev:  I don't really like talking about my success in this venture.  The Bible says in so many words that pride is sin.  I like to keep a low profile when TPA comes up in casual conversation.  People ask: "So, what do you do for a living" and I'll say "Computer programmer" and leave it at that.  Sometimes I have to say AOL AddOns when asked specifically what kind of programming.  Its funny.  I once told some chap at some computer show I was TPA Software's programmer and he didn't believe me.  I ended up having to show him my driver's license to prove it.  Its too much hassle, I would rather just say "programming" and leave it at that.  I'm very shy around people I don't know.

Tad:  Well, lets move on to something else then.

Kev:  Works for me.

Tad:  What job did you do before TPA Software?

Kev:  Immediately before?  I was tech support and computer hardware troubleshooter for some dinky little company in Sarasota.  I didn't care for that job too much.  Granted, the work itself was always a challenge, and I liked that, but the owner was a power hungry control freak and he annoyed the crap out of me.  I recall he once called me into his office because he did not like my "I know it all" attitude.  I had no such attitude.  The only reason that ever happened it because the floor supervisor was having a problem with a system.  He spent hours on it never figuring out what the problem was.  I fixed it in less than a half hour and pointed out to him what he was missing.  He got pissy with me and presumably told the owner that I was being a "Mr. Know-It-All smart ass".   I got reamed with no chance to defend myself with the freakin' truth.  I was glad to give him my two weeks when TPA took off.  In the end I only did 4 days before I got the offer  of not having to fulfill those remaining days.  I took it gladly and left.  I took that job in desperation and I think they knew that.

Tad:  Really?  Why in desperation?

Kev:  Well, its a long story really.  I had moved to Tampa some months before that and moved in with a young lady who ended up freaking out on me in the end.  At that time I was with IBM doing end user support for OS/2.   Great job, I loved it and I miss it.  But when this young lady threw me out of the apartment I was stuck. Debbi let me stay with her for a few days but I was in bad shape.  I took the easy way out and moved back home.  I stayed with IBM for a bit and made the commute to Tampa which was rather long.  I left IBM shortly after that as I had determined that what I made there was not enough to support me in the cheapest apartment I could find.  I was nearly broke and badly in debt so I just went home and took the first crap job I could find to start the income flow again.

Tad:  And before IBM?

Kev:  Sheesh, well, lets just start from 1993, when I moved to Florida from Maryland.  I was a manager at Pizza Hut from 92-94, I started working for PH in Maryland and carried it over to Florida.  In 94 I worked at Camelot Music for about 8 or 9 months and then joined a touring country music band.  That was awesome for the first few months, but eventually I got tired of living on the road and came back home.  I then worked at NationsBank for a while as a teller, which was in 95 and ultimately when I first signed onto AOL and started programming for a hobby.   I left NB to work for a cool company called HDS in which I did computer building and networking POS systems for various clients.  That job would have been perfect had it not been for one minor setback.  There was a client in Naples, about 130 miles from the office, one way.  I made this drive every other day until I finally left to move to Tampa and work for IBM.  It took a lot out of me and my car and decided in the end I didn't want to do this for years and years.  Plus I had to move to Tampa anyway as I thought I was in love.

Tad:  LOL, want to talk about that?

Kev:  Not really.  Best to let sleeping dogs lay.   I will only say that is was because of my hang-up on Heather back in Maryland (at the time) that the relationship she was on some major anti-depressants which was making her act weird.  I could not handle it.

Tad:  Heather being the gal you are married to now for the benefit of those who don't know about your recent marriage.

Kev:  Absolutely.  And I am fabulously happy.

Tad:  Cool.  So, what kind of music are you into these days?

Kev:  I have grown a major crush on swing music these days.   Although I don't really know how to swing per se, I enjoy the music very much.

Tad:  Big band swing?

Kev:  All kinds really.  I have the Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and so on CD's.  But it seems swing is making a nice comeback with some bands doing some new original swing stuff.  I have a few CD's now which I listen to while working which are simply awesome.

Tad:  Who are they?

Kev:  Well, the Brian Setzer Orchestra is one of my all time favs now.  He was the former leadman for Stray Cats.  The Cherry Poppin' Daddies is another great swing group.  Squirrel Nut Zippers offers a new take on ragtime swing/jazz, and of course there are many swing collections that are just as great.  I think I even have the Swing Kids soundtrack someplace.

Tad:  Anything else besides swing?

Kev:  Classical music.  Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt to name a few.  I have a huge weakness for orchestral music.  You can probably catch the Titanic soundtrack going at least once a day in my house.  With that in mind, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) is another one of my all time favorites.  I like a little bit of everything, well, almost everything.  I'm not to keen on heavy metal and rap, but to each their own.

Tad:  I've seen quite the Chicago collection in your studio too Kev.

Kev:  Older Chicago, yes.  I like their jazzy style back when Terry Kath (guitar player who accidentally shot himself) was alive and Peter Cetera (bass player, lead singer) was still with the group.

Tad:  Anything you like to do besides work?

Kev:  I love playing card games.  Hearts, Euchre, Phase 10, Spades to name a few.  A few times a month some of my old high school pals and I get together to play a few good hands of the games aforementioned.  Its a great time to light up the cigars, crack the beers, put some swing music in and just play.

Antique shopping.  Actually, I'd call it browsing.  Very rarely do I actually do any buying of antiques.  We have one antique dresser I gave Heather as a wedding present.  But other than that, I just like to look and browse.  We have a very large antique mall here in Westminster.  Three warehouses full.  You could spend all day in there and not see the same thing twice.  Its a lot of fun.

Fine dining.  I think I have just about exhausted Westminster and Maryland in search of nice restaurants.  Florida I need to work on a little more later next year

Tad:  Yeah, planning a move back to Florida anytime soon?

Kev:  Sometime next year, after we get the child custody thing worked out with Heather's kid and the biological dad.

Tad:  Care to elaborate?

Kev:  I probably should not for legal reasons.  I know the dad is on AOL and should he see me slamming him, probably would not be good.   All I would like to say is this:  If you are a father who demands the right to see your kid, then pay child support!  Being a deadbeat dad only hurts the child and the child does not deserve that.

Tad:  So Kev, boxers or briefs?

Kev:  LOL, both actually.

Tad:  Care to comment on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal?

Kev:  Uh, waste of taxpayers money.  Here is the government wasting time, resources and energy on beating a dead horse while we have the Year 2K problem creeping up on us.  We should be worrying about that, not digging into Clinton's personal life.  Who cares if he did it.  Let it go already!   I did not vote for Clinton, but I don't think what's going on is right either.   Its just a waste.

Tad:  Interesting you bring up the Year 2K issue, you are worried about this?

Kev:  I have concern, yes.  Go read the book "Timebomb 2000" by Edward Yourdon.  'Nuff said, I don't want to start a panic.

Tad:  Coke or Pepsi?

Kev:  Diet Coke actually.

Tad:  Do you tutor people in VB?

Kev:  No, I hate tutoring.  I don't have the patience and I'll be honest, I am not a patient person.  I don't really have the time anyway.   Most of the VB questions I get involve actual requests for source code.  I don't do that anymore.  I may have at one time, but that was before this business became so cutthroat.  I got tired of people taking my code and writing programs and calling it "theirs".  And it has happened.  So I just stopped altogether.

Tad:  Gee Kev, that's pretty harsh.

Kev:  The stories I could tell you Tad.  Maybe if/when I retire, I'll write a book about the whole thing and tell the story like it really is.   It would probably shock the pants off you what some people do in desperation.   I'd probably call the book: "Divide By Zero:  The Perils and Pitfalls of Developing and Marketing an AOL AddOn".  Or maybe once you turn that little tape recorder off there, I'll tell you then.

Tad:  LOL.  So, you play the piano still?

Kev:  Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, yes.  I don't play like I used to, and I've been playing since I was at least seven.  Completely self taught.  I used to write songs by the tapefull, but have since stopped as it was not paying the bills.  Now its just something fun to do when I get stuck with a programming issue or I've just had to much.  Or when I'm bored, which is pretty rare.

Tad:  What kind of car are you driving these days?

Kev:  I have a '98 Camero.  I only care about two inanimate objects in this world.  Cars and computers.  But of course my wife comes first (looks off to the other room), she's in earshot range ya know, LOL!

Tad:  LOL!  What, no Monday night football?

Kev:  Eh, sports.  Zzzzzzz.  I never got into them and don't really understand most of them.  I like baseball a little but don't get into it.  And I used to play golf a while back.  Had this terrible thing called a "slice" I could not get rid of, so I gave it up.

Tad:  I can't help but notice all the crap you have in your studio, out of all those junks food, what's your favorite?

Kev:  Ah, snacking while programming is a must.  In no particular order, I thrive on those Pepperidge Farms Cheddar Goldfish, Doritos's Cool Ranch 3-D's (a major hit at the card games by the way), Pringles Ranch Right Crisps, and Mozz Sticks every now and then...but those are fattening so they are a rare treat.

Tad:  Health conscious?

Kev:  Seeing I'm the one who does a majority of the cooking in the house, I have to be.

Tad:  Your birthday is coming up soon as we speak (November 4th), so what do you want for your birthday?

Kev:  I hate this.  I don't need anything.  I have everything I need.  Take the cash you were gonna spend on my gift and donate it to your favorite charity.

Tad:  LOL, seriously?

Kev:  Why not?  I'll tell ya Tad, since I stepped into the roll of step-daddy I have learned things I never stopped to notice before.   Heather has an adorable child who is very lucky he has what he does.  A good home, health, loving parents (Heather and I that is) and then I see ads and commercials of suffering children who are poor, starving and dying.  And then I look at Heather's son who can't appreciate yet all he has.  It's truly heartbreaking.  I wonder if those kids know how badly in shape their lives really are, or if they comprehend that as normal.  I imagine before the year is over I shall be making a descent contribution to help that cause.  Sometime I feel guilty for all that I have and realize there may not be a whole lot I can do...but I'd like to do what I can.

Tad: (Pauses) Well, thanks Kev.  You can just rock me to sleep tonight.

Kev:  Think about it sometime.  Look around you and appreciate what you have.  Don't take it for granted.

Tad:  Remind me not to ask you what you want for Christmas.

Kev:  Uhh, want to talk about a holiday that has lost all its meaning over the last decade or so?  Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, if you subscribe to that belief.  What I see these days is nothing more than a commercial hype for people to spend money and for businesses to suck it down.   Where is the spirit of Christmas in that?  If that is the spirit these days then I got lost someplace because its ridiculous.  I went to Wal-Mart the other day and saw all the damn Christmas displays up already.  Whatever.  When I was a kid, I remember the Christmas season starting around Thanksgiving, not Halloween or weeks before.  What I see is "come spend money here because that's what Christmas is to us, your cash!".  I imagine Heather and I will do some modest gift giving, cook a nice meal and celebrate with family the true meaning of it all.  Giving.  Uhh, lets move on, I'm getting pissed off now...stupid holiday hype.

Tad:  You're not the same person you were two years ago dude.

Kev:  I know, I grew up.  Leaving home half a country away, raising a child and getting married will do that to a guy.  Not to mention running your own business from nothing is a hell of a responsibility.  I am responsible to a whole lot of people at once and its hard sometimes.  I feel I have these standards to live up to.  It's quite the pressure.

Tad:  Yes I know, I answer E-Mail for TPA too lest you forget.

Kev:  (Smiles) I have not.

Tad:  Describe to me your average work day.

Kev:  Well, I usually get up sometime mid-morning.   This is because I stay up radically late, sometimes 3 or 4 in the morning.  I work better at night for some reason.  I'll get up, grab my Slim Fast and Diet Coke and go answer E-Mail.

Tad:  Ewwww, Slim Fast?

Kev:  Best breakfast there is.

Tad:  Go on

Kev:  After the first round of E-Mail is the shower, then back to work in the coding closet.  This usually consists of researching potential bug reports and addressing the E-Mail that requires an in depth answer.  I'll apply changes to the programs as necessary and save them.  I like to try to keep the releases as far apart as possible, but nasty and serious bugs get addressed right away.   By this time All My Children is usually on and I have to flip that on so I can at least listen to it...

Tad:  Soap Operas?

Kev:  Blame mom, she got me hooked on them when I was a kid.

Tad:  LOL, go on.

Kev:  So program research and development continues for most of the afternoon.  Eventually Heather comes home and I spend some time with her and her son.  Then I'll finish up whatever I was doing and go make dinner.  Then we spend some more time together which recently has amounted to watching reruns of The Simpsons.  I'd do evening mail then while Heather gets her son ready for bed.   Then I usually have a pow wow with E.J. on the phone about the Florida half of this company.  Then Heather and I do some evening thing together or I'll do work if there is need for my immediate attention.  Heather goes to bed at some point and I'll work until I get tired or I'm done doing what I had planned for that night.  That's my job.

Tad:  Sounds monotonous

Kev:  Not really, each day is very different in terms of work, goals and challenges.

Tad:  You enjoy this?

Kev:  Yup.  I was never good at being someone else's employee.  Working for yourself takes that factor out.  However, for those people who think working for yourself is a bowl of cherries, I have some disappointing news for ain't.  You just can't take off whenever you want.  Missing a single day of work can set one back quite a bit.  Come down sick with the flu?   Too bad, work still has to get done.  Want to take a vacation?  Better allot time to get the essential work done, in my case E-Mail at the bare minimum.

Tad:  Hire some people (Smiles)

Kev:  I have the people I need, and whom I trust.  TPA is my baby and to just hire off the street I think is insane.  I don't see how small businesses do it.  Besides, I like being in control most of the time.  I've known you forever it seems, so I trust you with my E-Mail, mom (E.J.) of course I trust to handle the paperwork and databases and such.  If it gets big enough to require more people, my sister and her husband are ready, and of course my wife is ready to pitch I feel confident I should be okay for a while.

Tad:  So, trust no one?

Kev:  Well, I don't want to sound paranoid and completely distrustful, but if I get an E-Mail out of no where from someone who wants to volunteer their help I just can't say "Okay sure, here is what you do...."  Perhaps I did at one time, but times have changed.  I just can't risk the competition sending one of their own to me trying to get in and find stuff to use against me.  If I ever start asking for volunteers again, I will probably have a very stringent screening process.

Tad:  C'mon Kev, is it really that bad?

Kev:  Actually, it is.  That's all I want to say about it publicly.  I'm very happy with who I have now.  They are all good and descent people and I am lucky to have them helping me out.

Tad:  Anything you want to say in closing?

Kev: Actually, if this ever goes to press on the website I would like to say one thing for those who took the time to read it.  I do appreciate everyone who has ever tried us out and registered our programs.  Its honest people like yourselves that keep us around to write and support these programs for you.   Quite often I get some nice and flattering E-Mails from people.  Sadly, due to my workload, I don't always write back, but I do want to say thank you for all the support and kind words that have come my way.  It never goes unnoticed is always appreciated.   Thank you.

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