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Who Wants To Make Money With Alpha5?

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    Who Wants To Make Money With Alpha5?

    In the early 1980's, I was a lowly Buck-Sergeant in the United State's Air Force. My job was to install telephone systems in all of the office buildings on whichever base I happened to be stationed at.

    One day, I was in the BX (that's the Air Force's version of a Wal-Mart) looking at cameras or stereo equipment or something of the sort and I noticed that they had computers for sale. Being one that had always been fascinated by gizmos and gadgets, I found myself comparing the attributes of the two models available, the Commodore 64 and the Texas Instruments TI-99-4A.

    After careful consideration and much deliberation, I eagerly slapped down the $99.00 for the TI-99-4A. If my memory serves me correctly, that was about a week's pay back then. I really didn't have the money to spend, but what the heck; I had eaten Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for more than a few meals in the past. It wasn't going to kill me to do it again.

    I rushed home and tore open the box. There it was, my first computer. It looked like a keyboard with � well, it looked like a keyboard. It had no monitor, no disk drives, no speakers and since Mr. Gates was still in his youth, no mouse.

    I dug out some telephone wire (always had plenty laying around), some stereo connectors and in short order had connected the contraption to my Curtis Mathes 25" Console television. Viola! (Did I Spell That Correctly?) A keyboard, video AND audio.

    The blinking cursor begged for input. I dug out the "Learning BASIC" manual that came with the machine and went to work.

    10 cls

    Okay, now I know how to clear the screen! In no time, I had written my first program. A simple snippet of code that asked the user to enter their name. If the name entered was mine, a welcome message appeared. If not, a siren went off and the screen flashed red then blue, red then blue. I couldn't wait for my wife to get home from her job as a waitress at the Officer's Club so I could show her what I had accomplished. I was so proud.

    When she arrived, I urged her to check this thing out. This wonderful thing I had done. She sat down, typed in her name, hit enter and all hell broke loose. It was great! Her response�"that's stupid." Did I mention that she is now my ex-wife?

    What next? If I turn this thing off, I will loose my precious program. As I said, the machine had no disk drives, only RAM�volatile RAM at that. Out comes the book again. Oh cool, I can save my program to standard audiotape. That's right, audiotape. I borrowed a miniature tape recorder (the kind you could carry in your shirt pocket) from my next-door neighbor. I don't remember his name any more, but at the time, he was a lifesaver. Whoever and where ever you are now neighbor, thank you! You know, I think his name might have been Roger.

    In any event, I saved my program, turned off my new computer and went to bed.

    FLASH FORWARD to the late 80's�

    I was now a Staff Sergeant and stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls Texas. I was assigned as an instructor in the Air Force's Telephone Equipment Installation and Repair Specialist technical school. Sheppard AFB was a training base with thousands and thousands of students.

    Our students came to Sheppard immediately following their graduation from Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. Upon arrival, they had a lot of restrictions placed on them. Phase I students were not allowed to wear civilian clothes, had an early curfew, could not leave the base and were not allowed to consume alcohol. After the required time in Phase I, students moved into Phase II, which was less restrictive. I think there were three or four phases in all.

    Just about everyone in the Air Force has to pull "Additional Duty". For the Airmen, it was mowing grass, buffing floors, waxing windows or painting walls, rocks or just about any other object that didn't move.

    Yes, you read it right, WAXING windows. In the Air Force you don�t wash windows, you wax them. I think the owner of some glass wax manufacturing company had a relative at the Pentagon.

    For instructors, "Additional Duty" was to play dorm daddy. Sheppard AFB has no less than six (6) one thousand man dormitories to house the student population. Since the new fighting men and women of the Air Force could not be trusted to follow the phase rules, someone like me had to be there when the regular staff was gone to make sure they (the students) didn't burn the building down, get drunk, stay up past their bed time or God forbid, discover a new way of getting around the Air Force's "Public Display of Affection" prohibition.

    One weekend night while playing dorm daddy, a couple of young, attractive and very hungry female airmen came up and asked�"Sergeant Nickerson, we're hungry. We're sooooo tired of the chow hall food! If we give you gas money, will you pleeeeeeeease go to Burger King for us?" Being the kind hearted guy I was I agreed. Before I could make it out the door, I was bombarded with pleading, cash and food orders from what seemed like the entire dormitory. From this experience was born an entrepreneur.

    I had some business cards printed up.

    Fast Food Delivery Service 855-RULE (7853)
    We Deliver From Most Local Restaurants
    McDonalds ▪ Burger King ▪ Church's Fried Chicken
    Taco Mayo ▪ Whatta Burger ▪ Hardees
    Northside Catfish and Bar-B-Q
    Deliver Fee $1.50

    I met with the owners and/or managers of each of the restaurants. Got their blessing and wrote down all of their respective menu items and prices. I made up a poster board with each of the menus and pricing. Bought a calculator and had some order forms made up.

    I had planned on opening on a Monday afternoon. All of the restaurants were expecting us to open on Monday as well. On the Saturday before we were to open, I decided to do a little test marketing. I went into each of the 1000-man dormitories and left a stack of business cards on top of the newspaper machines just inside the front entrance. It took about an hour to make my rounds and get back home.

    When I walked in the door, my wife handed me the phone. It was our first order. By the end of the night, we had taken and delivered 37 orders. Before long, I had to hire additional staff to take orders and make deliveries. The volume was staggering. The workload was out of control.

    I had a friend Bill who worked at a pawnshop as their in house computer programmer. He suggested that I might benefit from a custom written program. We discussed what I wanted the program to do and negotiated the price for the project at $200.00. He put me in touch with an acquaintance of his, a retired phone company guy named Joe who drove to Dallas once a week, purchased computer parts and built computers for extra money.

    I bought a computer from Joe and my programmer friend Bill went to work. He took two or three weeks to deliver the program. It was written in D-Base and looked and functioned nothing like I expected. I sent him away with his head hung low, his spirit broken and my $200.00 still in my pocket. A few weeks later, he returned. This time with the shell of a program written in GW-BASIC.

    The BASIC program looked much better. He completed the project in my home over the next weeks with me looking over his shoulder and I suspect, irritating him to no end. We had many nights with little sleep but in the end, I had the program I needed. I gave Bill his $200.00 and thanked him for his hard work. What a guy!

    While looking over Bill's shoulder, I learned something about computers, about programming and most importantly about myself. When trying to learn something technical, I stink at going it alone. Concepts that I simply could not master on my own with my TI-99-4A were easily learned while watching and questioning Bill.

    I started to remember when I graduated from telephone technical school back in "79". I left tech school with average grades and got to my first permanent duty station, Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach Florida. When I went to apply what I had supposedly learned in tech school, I was absolutely clueless. It was like everything I had studied over the past twelve weeks and three days had disappeared. Only by watching others was I able to grasp the concepts and master the skills required.

    Eventually, I sold the delivery business, left the Air Force and moved back to Florida. I job hopped for a couple of years and finally ended up with a communications company in Vero Beach Florida. The owners of the company were looking to sell and asked if I was interested. Interested was an understatement. I borrowed half of the money to buy the company and the owner of another local communications company put up the other half. We merged the two companies and after a few years together, I bought him out and now own the company lock, stock and barrel.

    My company sells, installs and maintains telephone and PBX systems, voice mail and other related products. We have around 1500-2000 business customers and stay quite busy. When I came to the company, everything and I mean EVERYTHING was done manually. The company had one computer that the bookkeeper used to keep track of the money and do word processing on. She was the only person allowed to touch the computer because "The rest of us didn't need to be wasting our time playing around on the thing."

    I knew there was a better way. I had been there with the delivery business. I knew that someone out there made a software program designed to run a telephone business. After all, the telephone had been around since the late 1800's.

    The search was on. I talked to all of my suppliers who talked to all of their other telephone company customers who talked to their other suppliers who talked to their telephone company customers who get the idea.

    No one had a shrink-wrapped solution for our industry. In steps the entrepreneur again. That's okay, I thought. I'll just make it myself. I started out in BASIC on one of the old delivery business machines I had kept when I sold the business. I guess I didn't learn enough from Bill after all because I fell flat on my face. I gave up.

    A year or two later, I remembered being in a customer's office back in the early 90's. The son of my customer was in the office hammering away on a computer. Being the inquisitive type, I asked what he was doing. Turns out, he was a computer programming instructor at our local community college. He was there writing a program for his dad's business in some language called "C". The screens looked really cool. Lots of color and little boxes full of information that popped up now and then.

    I had to learn more. Could this be the answer to my problem? I called around to a few software stores and finally found one that had a program called "Learn C Now" by some company named Microsoft. It came with a thick manual and a whole stack of 5 1/4 inch floppies. I bought the program and headed home with determination. Upon closer inspection of the box, I discovered that I needed an ungodly amount of RAM to make this stuff run. 256K.

    Off I went. From computer store to electronics store to computer junkyard. Everywhere I could think of to buy RAM for a 286-XT. I finally found the chips I needed, paid a small fortune and once again headed for the house.

    The book was well written and the software did pretty much what is was advertised to do. Every time I typed code into the program EXACTLY as it was printed in the book, the program performed exactly as it was supposed to. So what's the problem you ask? The problem is that I had no clue what all of that code meant. I tried reading the book. I tried working through the examples. I tried to "Learn C Now" but I just didn't have the time, patience or aptitude to teach myself this cryptic language.

    Status ~ Mission Aborted�"Learn C Now" on the shelf.

    Some time later, I received a junk fax advertising what sounded to me like the answer to my problem. A software company that was owned by a guy who used to own a telephone company had developed a software package to "Run My Business" Waa-Hoo, Eureka, Oh Happy Days Are Here Again � NOT!

    The program set me back $349.00 and came with all the support you would ever need. It did not work. The company disappeared.

    Status ~ Back to square one�Software package to remain un-named in the trash.

    ENTER Microsoft Access�

    By now, it was in the mid to late 90's. Computers were popping up everywhere. Software was available to do everything from keeping track of your favorite recipes to designing your dream home. The PC was here to stay and Microsoft was king.

    I bought a couple of books on Microsoft Access and went to work. This stuff was cool. I could actually create a form, put buttons on it; change colors of things and come up with a pretty darn good-looking screen shot. What I couldn't do however was make my Access database behave the way I wanted and needed. Over the next year or two, I would dabble, make some progress, and then run into a brick wall. I'd shelf the project, time would go by and I'd get motivated again. This cycle of try, make a little progress then give up repeated itself several times. I never did succeed with Access.

    Status ~ More Frustrated Than Ever�Access Gathering Dust.

    One day, I received a call from an acquaintance that owned a local computer shop. He had partnered up with a guy who was writing a software program in some language called FoxPro. The program was going to be a generic package that would help service related companies manage many aspects of their business. They were looking for a few select customers that were interested in providing input with regards to features and functionality. I signed up, paid around $1500.00 for the software and became a pre-Beta tester. My staff spent months doing the initial data entry. Now we're ready to Rock-N-Roll!

    Status ~ Software was never completed�Developer out of business. Surprise, Surprise!

    Finally, Yes there is a happy ending, I got another one of those faxes in mid "99". It was from a company that at the time was called Information Management Consultants. They had apparently developed a product they called the TigerPaw Business Suite. The fax I received was not fancy, not necessarily pretty, but the content was quite interesting.

    I called the company and they immediately scheduled an on-line demo of their product. Much like Alpha5 Version 5, the suite did so much it was overwhelming. TigerPaw Business Suite was written in Microsoft's Visual Basic and used the Access Jet Database Engine. The product was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. Information Management Consultants had spent years developing the product and it showed.

    There were four modules.

    "Pursuit", a contact manager that would allow you to have unlimited customers. Each customer could have unlimited contacts. Each contact could have unlimited phone numbers.

    The "Service" module kept track of virtually (we do live in a virtual world now, don't we?) every aspect of a service businesses activity. You could see every service request, the action taken, the time spent, the parts used and so on.

    "Parts", the inventory module kept track of every purchase order, when it was received, what you paid for it, back orders, RMAs (Returns of defective equipment to the vendor), serial numbers of each part purchased and sold, a catalog of every item we would sell with it's cost and multiple price points for customers who fell into different categories.

    "Quotes", the quote generation module of the suite allowed for unlimited quotes for each customer. To create a quote, you simply went to the customer screen and selected "New Quote" from an easy to use drop down list. Once the new quote template was on screen (and it was quick by the way), you simply clicked on the "Price Book" icon and selected items out of your catalog to include on the quote. TigerPaw would automatically calculate your cost, the customer's price and the profit to be made on the deal.

    There was a reference library that allowed the user to create their own "Technical Library" of documents that could be accessed from any machine on the network. There was fax and e-mail integration, QuickBooks and other accounting package integration. It had import and export functionality, group e-mail, reminders, calendars; you could scan documents into the suite and link them to a customer, a quote a service order or whatever. And best of all�

    They wrote an exquisite interface to Crystal Reports. The suite came with literally hundreds of ready-to-go reports, but if that wasn't enough or if you didn't like the way their reports looked, you could create your own or modify theirs. Every field from every table was accessible for the purpose of report generation. If you were willing and able to learn the basics of Crystal, you could create absolutely any printed, faxed or e-mailed output that you heart desired.

    Well as the story goes, I bought the product. Although I did take advantage of their Beta program and the price breaks that came along with it, I purchased a five-user license for each of the four modules. Eventually, we upgraded to a ten-user license and ultimately even upgraded to the next major release of the product. All said and done, I now own over $20,000.00 worth of TigerPaw Business Suite and it was worth every last cent and then some.

    These folks had the skill, saw the need and worked their butts off to deliver the best product money could buy. They were a small family owned company. Father (President), son (developer), Mother (Marketing I believe) and a small handful of very dedicated staff. The gentleman who wrote all of the "canned" reports for the suite literally spent years doing nothing other than creating reports. I've had the pleasure of dealing with him directly and I'm telling you, this guy knows his stuff!

    I'm sure that the owners of what is now called TigerPaw Software are now millionaires many times over. They dedicated themselves to a vision of producing a product that would have no rivals, and succeeded.

    By now, if you're still with me, you're probably asking what any of this has to do with Alpha5. Well I'm going to tell you. And let me preface this with "I have no desire to compete with TigerPaw Software".

    The son I mentioned above, well, he's authored for Microsoft Press. He's better than good; he's the best at what he does. He obviously loves what he does and has dedicated the majority of his adult life to acquiring the skills needed to accomplish such a task.

    Here it comes�are you ready?

    I have no doubt, absolutely none, that the entire TigerPaw Business Suite could have been developed in Alpha5, and in much much less time. I have taken the work of TigerPaw Software and used it as a guide, as a benchmark in my efforts to learn Alpha5. Guess what? I can do it. Yeah, me! The guy who gave up on BASIC. Gave up on C, Gave up on Access and searched years for a solution. I can do it, I know I can. I've proven it to myself already.

    Do you have any idea how damned good it feels to succeed where once or twice or three times you've failed? I do, and I owe it all to Alpha Software! These folks, not unlike the good people at TigerPaw Software have dedicated years of their lives to producing the very best product money can buy. They even took it a step further (a very crucial step I might add) by taking a personal interest in the success of their customers.

    Their success depends on our success, and they know it!

    Remember that nagging little problem I have with learning technical things. Alpha Software has eliminated the problem for me�at least as it relates to software development. Most things I want to do can be accomplished with Action Scripting. Those that cannot need to be coded in XBasic, which I don't know, but can, still create.

    Wait a minute. I don't know X-Basic, but I can program in X-Basic? Which came first, the chicken or sliced bread? This is so confusing!

    That's Right!

    I've discovered that when I need to push Alpha5 beyond it's Action Scripting capabilities, I can usually create one or two Action Scripts that perform the individual component portions of what I want the end result to be. I then look at the XBasic code that was created for me, piece it all together with the help of the incredible smart prompting in the code editor and write my own XBasic code. When all else fails, I simply post a question on the forum (what a killer tool). Usually I have the answer I need in a few minutes and frequently the answer comes from a gentleman named Selwyn Rabins, the President of Alpha Software.

    My motivation for writing this rather long...Okay, ridiculously long thread came from a question posted by Scott Rusoff. His original post follows:

    Msg ID: 11318
    Subject: Alpha Consultants
    Author: Scott Rusoff
    Date: 11-15-2002 3:23 PM

    I am new to the Alpha world, most of my work is done with FileMaker Pro and Access.

    Now I am getting more into Alpha, I am interested in how well do most of the consultants in the Alpha world are doing.

    I am interested in knowing, if anyone out there in the Alpha consutling world makes in excess of $50,000 in Alpha consulting services.


    Well Scott, here's your answer.

    I know I now have the tools and support to develop the software package I so desperately needed. I LOVE working in Alpha5. I love the sense of accomplishment I get every time I conquer a new challenge. I love the power it gives me.

    $50,000 a year?


    How about $50,000 a month. I really see the potential for $50K a week�No kidding.

    Everywhere I go. Every time I walk into a customer's office. Every time I go to dinner, to the movies, the doctor, the dentist, the car dealership, the gym, to Disney World, to the mall or the grocery store, I see a database that needs to be written.

    Every business in this great nation has information that they need to keep track of. Every business would buy your product if it made their business more efficient, more profitable, improved their image in the eyes of their customer or made their company a safer or more secure workplace.

    Every industry could use a "TigerPaw Business Suite" of it's own. My plan�choose my jobs carefully, learn everything I can about that client's industry. Watch them work, hear their ideas and listen to them complain. Ask questions, take good notes, develop exactly what they need and then surprise them with features or functionality I know they will benefit from but they did not ask for. If it's not right, I'll fix it. If it's ugly to them, I'll change it, and most of all, offer to do the job for free.

    Free, why free you ask? Well if I've done my job well in selecting an industry in need of a database application, and if I have partnered up with a company that truly knows the needs of their industry and is willing to invest their time, effort and hard work, the end result will be a product that I can sell to virtually any company in their industry.

    Does anybody want to buy a phone company?


    RE: Who Wants To Make Money With Alpha5?

    Very interesting and well written, Louis.

    As to Viola... No, that's a musical instrument or a woman's name. But I give you credit for at least knowing that it's not "walla!" According to my French teacher of many, many years ago, the correct spelling is voilà. (I hope the 'a' comes out correctly with the "accent grave" over it.) For those who aren't aware, this is actually a shortened version of la voilà meaning there it is. (Yes, the French use slang, too.)


      RE: Who Wants To Make Money With Alpha5?


      That was a very inspiring piece of writing - and puts the issue in a very interesting perspective. Thank you!

      Gary S. Traub, Ph.D.


        RE: Who Wants To Make Money With Alpha5?

        Reference 286-XT, I thought the old 286 was an AT. My first computer was a Radio Shack 1000TL, 6Mhz, which was an AT with 512K of RAM and a 5 Mhz hard drive with 31/2" floppy and the worst CGA monitor I have ever seen. This mess cost about $1500.00. You should see what I build now for $1500.00.


          The original post here was 20 YEARS ago, still inspirational to me! Oddly, I can really understand that feeling of WOW, I can actually do this...and as he said it's thanks to Alpha Software - Alpha Anywhere is an excellent product.
          NWCOPRO: Nuisance Wildlife Control Software My Application: "Without forgetting, we would have no memory at what was I saying?"