The Times of Trenton
April 29, 2002

Local Computer Prodigy Returns as Festival Speaker
By Andrew D. Smith
Staff Writer

When Ari Kaplan first stood to address the Trenton Computer Festival, he was a 13-year-old computer prodigy from Lawrence who made extra money as a paperboy for this newspaper.

In the 18 years since then, both Kaplan and the TCF have grown.

Kaplan, who once used his math and computer savvy to improve baseball's 100- year-old system for evaluating relief pitching, now heads a Chicago company that makes applications for hand-held computers.

The TCF, which takes place May 4 and 5, now ranks among the nation's top computer forums and draws more than 15,000 people annually.

But thanks in part to Kaplan's Lawrence roots and his ties to TCF co-founder Allen Katz, Kaplan is coming home to speak once more at the annual event - coming home to give the prestigious keynote address once delivered by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

"I was obsessed with computers from the time I first saw one. And I remain that way today," said Kaplan, who will speak at 11:40 a.m. Saturday. "There's stuff coming out - particularly in the wireless market - that is going to change our lives dramatically. And that's what I'm going to be telling people about this week."

Kaplan's roots at the TCF go back long before his first presentation there. In fact, Kaplan first attended the 27-year-old event when he was just 6.

"That trip was one of the things that got me interested in computers," Kaplan said. "After that, whenever my parents visited Allen Katz and his family, I'd sneak down into the basement and play with his computers."

Kaplan immediately began begging for a computer of his own. His parents obliged. Pretty soon, Kaplan was spending most of his time learning to write programs and using that knowledge to create computer games.

Other computer enthusiasts learned of Kaplan's games through the Bulletin Board Service, a precursor to the Internet. As a friend of the family, Katz naturally kept track of Kaplan's progress and, when the time was right, extended the invitation to speak at the TCF.

As a freshman at Cal Tech, Kaplan turned his attention away from video games and toward baseball.

Methods used to evaluate relief pitchers had long struck Kaplan as inadequate because when a pitcher came into a game with runners on base and then allowed those runners to score, the pitcher's statistics were in no way penalized.

Kaplan devised a system for evaluating relievers that he found superior to existing techniques and began speaking about it at different events. One day, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles happened to attend one of those shows. And he was so impressed that he offered Kaplan a job on the spot.

Kaplan started working for the Orioles full time during the summer and part time during the school year. Afterward, he worked with nine other major-league teams, improving their systems for evaluating players and setting up databases that allow them to quickly compare players against one another.

In addition to his jobs for baseball teams, Kaplan also has worked for Oracle, a company that sells and manages databases, and U.S. Robotics, the company that created the Palm Pilot. While at U.S. Robotics, Kaplan decided that hand-held computers were destined to revolutionize life for both corporations and individuals. So in the fall of 1999, he founded a new company to develope hand-held applications.

The company, Expand Beyond, now employs 40 people and sells two products. One allows a company's IT staff to use hand-held computers to fix problems with company databases from remote locations. The other allows them to do the same thing for servers.

"We haven't made a profit yet. But there is a huge market for our products," Kaplan said. "Every big company has major problems when something goes wrong with the computer and the IT guy isn't there to fix it. It can take hours to get someone on site and that costs money. These programs allow repair work to begin just minutes after the problems arise."

As Kaplan's career has moved onward and upward, the TCF has done the same thing.

When Katz and partner Sol Libes planned the first TCF in 1976, they figured that around two dozen computer nerds would attend. But to their surprise, the event drew hundreds of people and it has grown steadily since.

By 1999, the TCF was too large for its previous accommodations at The College of New Jersey and, later, Mercer County Community College. Organizers moved it to Edison both for a larger venue - the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center - and a location closer to the state's major population center.

This year, the event will feature more than 90 speakers, workshops and seminars. There also will be a three-acre flea market of computer equipment and indoor exhibit areas for manufacturers.

The show runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 4 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 5. The flea market opens at 9 a.m. on both days.

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page


ars. There also will be a three-acre flea market of computer equipment and indoor exhibit areas for manufacturers.

The show runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 4 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 5. The flea market opens at 9 a.m. on both days.

Back to Ari Kaplan's Home Page