Some advice for Flex Management

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  • (Edited)
1. Correct all known defects before releasing new functionality

2. Ensure that every release is upward-compatible with its predecessor

3. Maintain one release stream by charging for access to new functionality, not for access to new releases

4. Enforce the standards you say govern posting here

There is nothing wrong with releasing new functionality that only a portion of your user community considers interesting. However, if you do that without first repairing the known defects that plague many users, the result will be resentment, frustration, and anger - as we've seen. SmartSDR v3 should not have been released before first correcting all known defects in SmartSDR v2.

SmartSDR v3 is not upward-compatible with v2. If recruiting and retaining complementary 3rd party applications is an objective, never make another non-upward-compatible release.

Maintaining multiple release streams in parallel - like SmartSDR v2 and v3 - does not scale. SmartSDR v3 should have been a free upgrade bearing defect repairs and new functionality (e.g. multiFlex), with access to the new functionality mediated by the presence of a license key for which users must pay. Had you done this, most users would have quickly upgraded to v3 for the defect repairs, whether or not they found multiFlex to be of interest. That would have enabled you to retire SmartSDR v2, to the benefit of both your engineering and support teams. It would also eliminate the need for 3rd party developers to continuously flip their transceivers between v2 and v3. Icing on the cake: providing users with a free 1-week multiFlex license key would likely produce far more multiFlex revenue than you’ll get with the current all-or-nothing scheme.

This community’s descent into “cheerleaders vs naysayers” toxicity will drive away prospective customers and damage your brand. I cannot overemphasize the urgency of addressing this.
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Dave AA6YQ

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Posted 6 months ago

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K3DCW

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Good advice, Dave.

What surprises me, I guess, is that many of the same issues have been around since the beginning of SmartSDR. While there are no major show-stoppers for a majority of users, there are enough "quirks/bugs/workarounds" that should've been fixed a long time ago. Even if most don't bother me personally, they bother enough users that they should've been fixed.

Of course, the fact that they haven't begs the question "why not?"  There are three basic answers that I can see:

1) Flex doesn't want to fix them, at least at present.
2) Flex won't fix them ever.
3) Flex can't fix them.

I will give the benefit of the doubt to Flex and presume that the answer is #1, and that they will get around to them eventually. After all, engineering/software development costs time and/or money, as you know. However, several years into this architecture with some of the same issues still being discussed starts to lend credence -- at least in the minds of many -- to the possibility that the true answer may be #2, or even worse for the long-term health of the platform, answer #3. 

I trust that Flex knows what they're doing, but I tend to be a bit more forgiving than many.
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Dave AA6YQ

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It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that new features drive new revenue, so new features must be highest priority. While applications must deliver value to succeed, what really drives new revenue is delighted users; they are incredibly effective product evangelists. Nothing dampens user enthusiasm like reported-but-uncorrected defects.
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John KB4DU

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I've avoided these conversations, but I believe this is really the issue. Flex is needing/wanting the revenue this version will produce. It was promoted to be available in March, but as most software projects go, the release wasn't ready then, so the rush was on to get it out the door as soon as possible to generate the revenue. I can't think of another reason to release it without documentation. The documentation is always the last delivery. When I was in the business, we didn't release until the documentation was ready. Personally, I don't buy in until the documentation matches the release. I was surprised that the published docs didn't match the changes in 2.3 or  2.4. At a minimum, there should have been change notes, if not changed pages.
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WW1SS - Steve

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Yes . . . My User enthusiasm is certainly getting dampened with the lack of bug fixes. They may listen but nothing ever happens with bugs. I only have V3 because I received the free upgrade. I'de be upset having to pay the $199 for just multiflex and broken profiles. 
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Greg SP7QJF

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 SmartSDR v2 should not have been released before first correcting all known defects in SmartSDR v1.
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Pat N6PAT

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Dave,

I suggested a free trial period and Eric replied as follows:

"Pat,

The short answer is that this is not how we have chosen to do things.  We appreciate your feedback and thoughts on the matter and will take them into consideration."





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Dave AA6YQ

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Yes, I was disappointed to see that. "This is not how we have chosen to do things" is not a response.

While a making it easy for users to try new functionality would be beneficial, it's the least of their challenges right now.
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Burt Fisher

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This ought to be tattooed or a big sign posted in the Flex lab, "Correct all known defects before releasing new functionality.  I like a woman who takes a shower before putting on the perfume, not the other way around.
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Dave AA6YQ

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In my experience, the required change must likely come from product management, not engineering. High quality engineers always want to correct reported defects ASAP,  but are erroneously directed to hold off to avoid compromising the schedule for new features.
(Edited)
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Russ Ravella

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I gotta say, I agree with the sentiment of this comment but it will never fly as worded because Flex could NEVER "Correct all known defects...".  No software of any complexity is EVER defect free.  And when you also include the categories of: 1) things some people think are defects that other's don't, 2) fixes to defects that others don't agree are satisfactory fixes, 3) fixes that some feel actually made things worse (for example the auto save of profile settings in this release), and finally 4) the new defects introduced unintentionally by fixes of other defects, there ISN'T such a thing as "fixed" software.  Not to mention, even if the goal were fixing "the majority" of defects, by the time that next update was released, nobody would care anymore.

Reality dictates there has to be some kind of reasonable threshold for the number of bugs fixed per release.  And I'm sure Flex would argue they have set exactly such a threshold and no matter where they'ed placed it, there would be complaints of the type mentioned in the first paragraph all over the forum.  Just like there are now.  And I'll bet they'd say such complaining is inevitable no matter what they do and just go on doing what they're doing and basically ignore us.  Like they are.

I propose by not focusing our feedback we're making it EASY for Flex to ignore us.  I won't elaborate on this here but my experience so far is that the Flex company is actually two seperate entities.  There are the literally amazing employees themselves, and there is literally abominable executive management above them who establish policy they must follow.  I don't know what the later is doing but they are clearly not paying attention to, or even care about their average customers.  The ones footing the bills.  Like most of us.

My recommendation is this: someone on this forum with far more than my 4 months of (hardware actually working) experience make a very careful, short as possible list of the really major things that are being ignored and must get fixed.  A list based on their take and the inputs consistently voiced here.  Forum posters constructively comment on it and the originator refines the list accordingly.  At some point, we agree to a concise, practical, reasonable, URGENT short list for a first pass and distribute it to everyone who supports the effort to add their name.  Then as a large coherent group, we send it directly to Mr. Youngblood as a formal request from his customers.  If the list were reasonable (big obvious problems that would be embarrassing for Mr. Youngblood to publicly ignore) and delivered publicly enough, I can't see how he could refuse to tackle the list as the first priority for the next update.

Of course, we'd have to be reasonable people.  We'd have to be united and not simply dissolve into bitching out each other instead.  We'd have to agree not to turn right around and complain that Flex wasn't adding NEW features fast enough.  People would have to accept that their favorite request might not make the first list but stand by the process anyway for the sake of successfully CREATING a process - ANY process - in the first place.  In other words, we'd have to be different than we are on this forum.  As it is, we're like a zillion rowers in a boat who are all rowing in different directions and getting nowhere.  I propose that's why nothing has actually succeeded in getting through to Flex executive management in all these years.  They literally ignore us as poorly behaving children who can be casually disregarded.

Keeping in mind I am very inexperienced in this myself, I'll provide my initial input just to have my say, for what it's worth.  It would look something like this:

1) fix the ANF - it flat out doesn't work and just about every radio for the last many years has had an ANF that does.  The LAST thing customers should be regularly saying about Flex is that it has poor DSP.

2) fix "QSK doesn't work unless the antenna turner is turned off".  What's up with THAT?? This is another function too basic to literally not work in a commercially released product.

3) provide the data Dave Bernstein needs to conform DXLab to Flex's API's and offer to help him do so however possible.  This could be generalized to other s/w makers as appropriate.  Don't complain about them, just help them with whatever they need.

I'm going to leave my input as just these three things in an attempt to comply with my own admonitions.  Obviously, it goes without saying that s/w should NEVER be released without documentation and completing that for V3 is paramount.  My opinion is that none of the documentation I've read was ever really completed anyway and it's time for a first complete, consistent release.  (I can just hear some executive manager saying, "Ok STOP!  That's good enough - get back to work...")

Ok, flame away....

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Dave AA6YQ

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"No software of any complexity is EVER defect free" is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The definition of "defect" is specific: it means "a variance from the specification or documentation".

If the documentation doesn't explicitly state that QSK won't work unless the antenna tuner is disabled, and QSK doesn't work unless the antenna tuner is disabled, that's a defect.

If the noise reduction function is effective with most noise sources but doesn't help with your plasma TV, that's not a defect unless the documentation claims effectiveness with all plasma TVs; a product manager could consider improving the noise reduction function to be more effective, but this would be an enhancement, not a defect repair.

Any approach that results in a public release containing known defects is unacceptable - even for defects as trivial as misspelled words in the user interface. Without this stringent policy, the discussions over what must be repaired become slippery slopes that result in more and more serious defects going unrepaired.

I have used this approach in DXLab for past 18 years. Today, the total number of reported-but-uncorrected defects across all 8 applications of the DXLab Suite is 0. That's not because I haven't been making changes; in the 2 years since April 2017, there have been 68 public releases of DXLab applications, bearing a total of 260 enhancements and correcting 311 defects.

Unless all reported defects are expeditiously corrected, complaints about uncorrected defects will degrade online user forums -- just as we've been seeing here.

Yes, ongoing development will result in the creation of new defects, and some defects  will remain undiscovered for years until some unusual data pattern or new device or changed timing bring them to light. There are techniques one can use to accelerate defect detection -- I'm a strong advocate of internal consistency checking -- but so long as reported defects are corrected when reported, users will not only be satisfied; they will be delighted.

And delighted users are the most powerful marketing force a technology product can enjoy -- especially in amateur radio community.
(Edited)
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Joe N3HEE

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Well put Dave. I hope Flex will listen and repsond favorably.  

I am a new Flex customer.  I am a tech savvy user.  I'm also a very active contester in a very active contest club (PVRC) with hundreds of members following my story.  Some trying to decide if Flex is right for them.  I was very excited at first but that excitement is starting to fade. 

It has become pretty clear to me how Flex handles software and it's just not for right.  They broke some important functionality that I (we all) used (QSK, VOX with DAX) going from v2.39 to v2.49 and, to their credit, they also fixed some important CW timing issues in v2.49. Those fixes keeps me from rolling back to v2.39 as they are more important to me. 

They will now make me wait until later this year for bug fixes in v2.49 while releasing v3.0 !  I wont pay for bug fixes nor will I pay for more broken features in v3.0 that I am reading about.  Not to mention thrid party apps that are not 100% funtional in v3.0 such as DX Labs. 

So I'm unhappy and stuck at v2.49.  This could be a very good and exciting radio platform if the software was up to par. 

Again, I hope Flex will listen and make corrections to how they handle software.


Joe

N3HEE
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Gene - K3GC

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Guys,
Please pay attention.
In the past week I have gone from fan boy  to investigating Flex alternatives.  I feel totally ignored by FRS.  Some how I think the silence will be deafening.  Thus far Flex has shown zero inclination to explain, fix or, for that matter, pay the slightest attention to any of us, the Flex users.

I am very close to voting with my feet.  I wonder how many feel the same.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Not me,,not even cosidering it. What possibly would I replace this great performanc.
And Flex (Eric) has posted over 20 times on the community in the last 4 days. Anything you want to know just ask him when you see him posting.
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Dave AA6YQ

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There is no less satisfying and no more infuriating a response to a user unhappy with a product's poor software quality than "It's ok with me". Posts like this make a bad situation worse.
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WW1SS - Steve

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Well I feel the same way. Just watched a video on the Expert Electronics MB1. It seems like an awesome rig and order placed. Flex may be going bye bye for good.
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David Warnberg

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Did you take the time to go look in their forum, looks pretty new to me and several posts about issues... just sayin...
Here are a few titles to posts:
"Software down after new firmware update"
"Disappointed with new ExpertSDR2 1.3 Alpha."

But...

FYI, Which Radio do you have?  FLEX-6700? if so and are serious about saying bye bye let me know
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Burch - K4QXX

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Friend of mine has a MB1 and it's nice.  But isn't it only a single ADC radio?  Seems like a whole lot of money for a single ADC radio.  He has had a bunch of issues with it but it sure is pretty to look at.
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HCampbell WB4IVF

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I looked at the MB1 too, but decided against it for several reasons, especially it being integrated with a Windows 10 / I5 “PC”.  That has advantages but also some serious disadvantages.  Also the user community seems quite small and it’s foreign-based.  Interesting radio though I’ll admit.

Howard

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Bill -VA3WTB

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That sounds great Steve, enjoy...
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Simon Nash

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Bill, I have the SunSDR2 pro which is essentially the same rig without the PC. I have been using it for around 3 weeks and can honestly say that my Flex 6500 has not turned a wheel. Since. There are several reasons for this, performance is the same for my needs, the software is far more advanced, intuitive and configurable, is far more stable, and the basics such as DSP works.
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Joe N3HEE

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SunSDR lets their users run alpha code ! ?  Wow, I bet that's a hoot.  

To be fair, the SunSDR2 Pro is a step down in performance and functionality from the MB1.  15 watts output.  14 Bit ADC. Hence it's much lower price tag.  However, if it works for you that's all that matters :)  The software interface does like nice.
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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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Official Response
Dear Flexers,

Thank you all for your management advice.  It saddens me that we are not able to meet everyone's expectations or desires including our own. Fortunately, I learned long ago that it is not possible. We have an incredibly smart and hard working team that puts their heart and soul into their work.  We do your best every day to provide value to customers while at the same time providing a good place to work. I am incredibly proud of the work our team has done over the years including SmartSDR v3 to continue to add value for our customers. Each value add by nature will be of interest to some and not at all to others. 

I truly wish that Ham Radio were a larger market that could support a much larger organization to do all the things we and you want us to do. Unfortunately, if we controlled 100% of the entire worldwide amateur radio market for HF equipment, we would still be a very small business in today's world. Just over 20 years ago I ran a business that was larger than the entire ham market so I know first hand. It was still a "small" business. The only reason to be in the ham radio business is because we love what we do. The appreciation we receive in person and by email from so many customers who find enjoyment in the work of our hands is the thing that keeps us motivated to get up and come to work.

Every single software release we have made over our 16 year history has come with some level of public criticism. This includes the first 14 years of our history where all updates were free. I can tell you that software development is not free by any stretch of the imagination.

Radios shipped in 2013 have significantly more capabilities today than they when they shipped because of our continuous improvement process. This is a different model from what existed before where your radio pretty much stayed the same as was when it came out of the box. That means a FLEX-6000 radio gets new features that make it a better radio than when it was first manufactured. Yes, because we are human new bugs come along with that. There is no such thing as bug free software. I wish it were not so but we have to triage and make hard choices on where to spend our finite resources. Not everyone will be satisfied with our choices but we have to make them.

If I may indulge myself, on Saturday I discovered a cool capability that was not possible before multiFlex and SmartLink. It is actually something we imagined when we first started work on on the FLEX-6000 Series and SmartSDR in 2012 but just became possible. That is the ability to be in two places at once. On the wide scree PC monitor below I have W4AX in Atlanta and on the right my home station K5SDR.  I found that I could easily hear stations at one location and not the other and vice versa.  You can see the higher atmospheric noise on my station due to an incoming weather front. Think about the value to a net control station or for chasing DX. I bet you can think of other applications as well. I was able either ping pong or mix the audio between the two locations and could transmit on either as desired.  All I did was to bring up to instances of SmartSDR and logged into the two respective stations - boom - one station in each ear - 800 miles apart. 



The bottom line... Within the resources you provide us as our valued customers, we will take all constructive criticism to heart and do our best to improve. It will not be perfect and we will have to make compromises. And yes, we have to pay payroll and the rent. 

I want to thank all of you who purchase our products and provide constructive support to our team. Without you, we would not exist. We hope to continue to bring innovative and ever improving products for years to come. 

73,
Gerald

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David Warnberg

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Gerald, as always FLEX IMO is doing a fantastic job.... there are other choices out there I choose to stay with FLEX.

Thanks
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NA0B

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I absolutely agree. Thank you to Gerald and the complete Flex team for bringing much needed innovation to the ham radio hobby. 
(Edited)
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Dave AA6YQ

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No one doubts your intentions or commitment, Gerald, but in this world we are judged by results. There are way too many reported-but-uncorrected defects in SmartSDR. Your organization is fully capable of expeditiously correcting them, if you task them to do so.

New SmartSDR releases bearing excellent new functionality will continue to greeted with anger and frustration from users until you correct this situation. You can't hire enough marketing people to compensate for the brand damage.

Delight your users, and they will delight you with their product evangelism.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Dave, sorry to burst you little bubble, but this is only your opinion, and a few will agree with you,,but there are also tons on the community that are very happy with the determination of Flex.

Thanks Gerald, nice to see you post every now and then.
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Dave AA6YQ

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Bill, this forum of full of posts from users angered by the release of SmartSDR v3 without repairs to long-reported defects. For every unhappy user who musters the courage to post product criticism in a public forum, there are 10 more who do not.

I take Gerald at his word above that Flex will take our constructive criticism to heart and aim to improve. I'll be happy to help Flex in any way I can.

My advice to you is to stop denying the problem. Doing so only damages your credibility.
(Edited)
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Pat N6PAT

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Gerald,

Why doesn't Flex provide a free trial period for new releases?

I asked this before and Eric said it's the way Flex has chosen. That's not really an informative  answer.

Most software is offered with a free trial so the customer can decide if it's right for them. Flex does not offer a trial period so if you don't like the new release and revert back to a prior release you're out $199. Look at all the posts from ops where this has happened.
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Joe N3HEE

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The statement from Gerald is like when Ralphie finally gets his long awaited decoder pin and locks himself in the bathroom to decode his first message from Little Orphan Annie and it turns out to be a CRUMMY advertisement for Ovaltine !!

At least now I am VERY clear on what the issues are at Flex and what to expect in the future.  Hell, they cant even meet their own expectations and desires.

I'm very angry !!  

I want to be DELIGHTED !!
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I for one do not beleive the vast majority of customers are screeming angry with Flex. The people posting outrage here are the minority. just do the math. How many customers do you thing Flex has? 1000? 3000? and how many post here? But that does not belittle the importance of the angry comments. I get it.

Can we stop and think about were we are at the moment?
The venting of anger has been heard and recorded somewere. All the concerns have been heard, on both sides of the floor.

But I ask, what is next? were do we go from here? Do some just continue venting anger at Flex and anyone that do not agree with us? only to stir things up for days?

What is next? anyone?

And I suppose some may decide to tare the community up every day till they are satisfied at the expense of others.

If some of you have been paying attention,,, I posted a critical comment today, did anyone read it? It was something important to me, as many other problems are important to you.

How will I chose to go on now?  Well I said my peace, now I'm moving on. I know Gerald read it. And that's it.

So, no I am not ignoring the problem that faces Flex, I see the issues. But I don't get the rage part. Do we keep raging, for how long,,unless you enjoy it,,maybe that's it.

And even when the CEO of Flex takes the time to post here people still cut him down. Thats too bad.

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