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Time for new rules!

Posted by James Jones at 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST


Engineer on team #267, The Demolition Squad, from North Broward & St Andrews and Motorola.



I really thought FIRST was headed in the right direction last year by opening up the material list. I was extremely dissapointed to see that they reversed direction this year. This is my fourth year designing robots on a FIRST team. I've done it on 2 different teams and in most years I lead the design effort. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of these rules. They don't make things more fair. They hurt poor teams, they hurt rich teams, they make everybody's robot less robust and less reliable. FIRST robots have outgrown SPI. Each year the task gets more complex yet the parts to choose from stays the same. I could rant about this for pages, let's see if I can lay out my objections succinctly.

1. Material limits make the design cycle longer resulting in shorter practice and debug time. This hurts everybody. What is inspiring about engineering is when you build something that works. Robots that don't work no matter how much work you put into them are frustrating, not inspiring. I can honestly say that the first 2 years I did this many of our robot problems were caused by the pathetic choices of materials we had to make them out of. The design cycle is also lengthenned because industry standard parts and solutions are not available to you. You may have a concept to accomplish some task that you could design in one evening, instead you spend one whole evening just trying to figure out how you can make it with legal material then another evening to design it. That is one less day you have to test that mechanism, then the parts you ordered to make it are back ordered from SPI for a week! This hurts everybody.

2. The rules discourage new participation. People's time is valuable, if you want people to give up their precious time to participate in this, you can't have them wasting time to make a part out of some stupid but legal stock size or spending hours upon hours first trying to figure out the rules (which interpretation may change with the next update) then figure out what materials are available and then design the mechanism.

3. The rules waste teams' money. They can't use material they have from last year, they can't buy material from the cheapest vendor, they can't even get non additional hardware stuff donated. They can't buy non SPI gears or sprockets they have to pay somebody to make them. They can't even buy gear or timing pulley stock to throw on a lathe, they have to WIRE EDM it! Tell me how that is fair or cheap.

4. The rules create tension within the teams. I can't tell you how much time and energy I have expended every year trying make sure we are legal. Quite frankly I'm convinced there is not a single robot that is 100.000% legal. Somebody used some stock they had laying around, somebody used some parts from last year, somebody made some parts outside the window. I've designed parts, bought SPI stock, took it to the machinist with the print and said make it out of this. I come back later and there are my parts and there is my SPI stock still in the wrapper. It was easier to make the parts out of another stock size and since the machinist is donating his time or is tying up a company machine he chose to make it the fastest way possible. What an I supposed to do? Tell him to stay late again tonite and remake it?

5. The rules don't make things fairer. Everybody can get gears within a week from Rush Gears. Everybody can get stuff next day from McMaster. Everybody can get stuff from SPI, Berg, Stock Drive, Grainger, Alro etc. etc. It's stupid to think that rookie teams can't figure what where to get parts and material fast. Anybody can and sometime much cheaper and faster than SPI.

6. Openning up the rules won't significantly change the robots. If you told me I could have any gears, Titanium, Carbon Fiber composites or any other expensive, high tech part or material, I would probably still use the gear transmissions, aluminum and lexan.

7. The rules waste FIRST resources. How much time does Eric and others spend writting, interpreting and explaining the rules every year? Maybe if they were simpler it would free them up for other things (like getting the field print right the first time, well maybe second, shoot even third would be better than this year).

Sorry if I sound a little bitter. I'm just tired of having to decide between designing something that fits the rules and seeing my kids for a few minutes before they go to sleep for the first two months of every year. Why don't we ask if poor teams feel protected by the rules? I know I never have.


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Letters to FIRST and the Team Forum

Posted by Joe Johnson at 03/09/2001 12:10 PM EST


Engineer on team #47, Chief Delphi, from Pontiac Central High School and Delphi Automotive Systems.


In Reply to: Time for new rules!
Posted by James Jones on 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST:



I know you speak for a lot of folks out there.

I suggest that you write a letter to Dean, Woodie, & Dave after the season is over.

Also, send someone to the team forum that FIRST host's in the summer. Make sure that they voice your concerns and suggestions.

FIRST has impressed me over the years with their ability to address problems that come up. Don't sell them short.

Joe J.


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Re: Letters to FIRST and the Team Forum

Posted by ChrisH at 03/09/2001 4:34 PM EST


Engineer on team #330, Beach 'Bots, from Hope Chapel Academy and NASA JPL, J & F Machine, Raytheon, et al.


In Reply to: Letters to FIRST and the Team Forum
Posted by Joe Johnson on 03/09/2001 12:10 PM EST:



I personally spent many hours designing a shifting transmission that would have you guys drooling last summer and fall. We were even going to build a prototype except Jan 6 was too close so we decided not to.

Unfortunately the design was based on the assumption that gears would be unlimited again. Since there was insufficient time to redesign or figure out how to cut or own gears we had to scrap it for this year.

But I'm sure that gears will find their way back onto the unlimited list sooner or later, so I don't feel the effort is wasted. Besides, now I have new incentive to develop new sources that can't be made illegal. Unless they get rid of SPI ;^)

They change the rules to keep us off balance and finding new solutions. They don't let us use off the shelf stuff for the same reason. It doesn't bother me, it's part of the game. Complaining about it is like complaining that the wind is against you in a sailboat race. Overcoming the difficulties is the point.

I have stated to FIRST privately and will now do it publicly. "IF THE RESTRICTIONS DON'T PINCH THEY'RE NOT DOING THEIR JOB" (the restrictions that is).

BTW this is my fourth year and I have a family too.

Just my not entirely humble opinion

Chris Husmann, PE
Team 330 the Beach'Bots


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Re: Time for new rules! I agree???

Posted by nick237 at 03/09/2001 12:35 PM EST


Engineer on team #237, sie h2o bots, from Watertown high school ct and sieman co.


In Reply to: Time for new rules!
Posted by James Jones on 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST:



I dont know if our posts ever get back to FIRST or if they even care but your right James, something has to be done.
Our team spent the 6 weeks alowed and built what we thought was a very inovative Robot but when we had finished it we didnt have any time to test or drive it, the robot went right in the box.
The design was sound but the materials used did not live up to our expectations and needless to say we disapointed many teams who relied on our help to score points.
FIRST could be spelling its own fate by being so ridged in its rules. FIRST has to go through the agony of organizing the events but with out our teams agony their would be no FIRST.
Dean is possibly blind to the real needs of teams and has lost sight of the goals that he first dreamt of ten years ago. With his "IT" that is touted to be an inovative revolutionary aid to the future of the world you would think that he above all others would understand the need for "KISS".
I bet you all that Deans "IT" was not built using exclusivly SPI parts, nor in 6 weeks.
Lets keep shaking the tree, possibly a new way will fall out.
nick237


: I really thought FIRST was headed in the right direction last year by opening up the material list. I was extremely dissapointed to see that they reversed direction this year. This is my fourth year designing robots on a FIRST team. I've done it on 2 different teams and in most years I lead the design effort. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of these rules. They don't make things more fair. They hurt poor teams, they hurt rich teams, they make everybody's robot less robust and less reliable. FIRST robots have outgrown SPI. Each year the task gets more complex yet the parts to choose from stays the same. I could rant about this for pages, let's see if I can lay out my objections succinctly.

: 1. Material limits make the design cycle longer resulting in shorter practice and debug time. This hurts everybody. What is inspiring about engineering is when you build something that works. Robots that don't work no matter how much work you put into them are frustrating, not inspiring. I can honestly say that the first 2 years I did this many of our robot problems were caused by the pathetic choices of materials we had to make them out of. The design cycle is also lengthenned because industry standard parts and solutions are not available to you. You may have a concept to accomplish some task that you could design in one evening, instead you spend one whole evening just trying to figure out how you can make it with legal material then another evening to design it. That is one less day you have to test that mechanism, then the parts you ordered to make it are back ordered from SPI for a week! This hurts everybody.

: 2. The rules discourage new participation. People's time is valuable, if you want people to give up their precious time to participate in this, you can't have them wasting time to make a part out of some stupid but legal stock size or spending hours upon hours first trying to figure out the rules (which interpretation may change with the next update) then figure out what materials are available and then design the mechanism.

: 3. The rules waste teams' money. They can't use material they have from last year, they can't buy material from the cheapest vendor, they can't even get non additional hardware stuff donated. They can't buy non SPI gears or sprockets they have to pay somebody to make them. They can't even buy gear or timing pulley stock to throw on a lathe, they have to WIRE EDM it! Tell me how that is fair or cheap.

: 4. The rules create tension within the teams. I can't tell you how much time and energy I have expended every year trying make sure we are legal. Quite frankly I'm convinced there is not a single robot that is 100.000% legal. Somebody used some stock they had laying around, somebody used some parts from last year, somebody made some parts outside the window. I've designed parts, bought SPI stock, took it to the machinist with the print and said make it out of this. I come back later and there are my parts and there is my SPI stock still in the wrapper. It was easier to make the parts out of another stock size and since the machinist is donating his time or is tying up a company machine he chose to make it the fastest way possible. What an I supposed to do? Tell him to stay late again tonite and remake it?

: 5. The rules don't make things fairer. Everybody can get gears within a week from Rush Gears. Everybody can get stuff next day from McMaster. Everybody can get stuff from SPI, Berg, Stock Drive, Grainger, Alro etc. etc. It's stupid to think that rookie teams can't figure what where to get parts and material fast. Anybody can and sometime much cheaper and faster than SPI.

: 6. Openning up the rules won't significantly change the robots. If you told me I could have any gears, Titanium, Carbon Fiber composites or any other expensive, high tech part or material, I would probably still use the gear transmissions, aluminum and lexan.

: 7. The rules waste FIRST resources. How much time does Eric and others spend writting, interpreting and explaining the rules every year? Maybe if they were simpler it would free them up for other things (like getting the field print right the first time, well maybe second, shoot even third would be better than this year).

: Sorry if I sound a little bitter. I'm just tired of having to decide between designing something that fits the rules and seeing my kids for a few minutes before they go to sleep for the first two months of every year. Why don't we ask if poor teams feel protected by the rules? I know I never have.


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Re: Time for new rules!

Posted by PAUL GIANNOSA at 03/09/2001 11:09 PM EST


Engineer on team #27, TEAM RUSH, from OSMTECH and TEXTRON AUTOMOTIVE CO..


In Reply to: Time for new rules!
Posted by James Jones on 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST:



: I really thought FIRST was headed in the right direction last year by opening up the material list. I was extremely dissapointed to see that they reversed direction this year. This is my fourth year designing robots on a FIRST team. I've done it on 2 different teams and in most years I lead the design effort. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of these rules. They don't make things more fair. They hurt poor teams, they hurt rich teams, they make everybody's robot less robust and less reliable. FIRST robots have outgrown SPI. Each year the task gets more complex yet the parts to choose from stays the same. I could rant about this for pages, let's see if I can lay out my objections succinctly.

: 1. Material limits make the design cycle longer resulting in shorter practice and debug time. This hurts everybody. What is inspiring about engineering is when you build something that works. Robots that don't work no matter how much work you put into them are frustrating, not inspiring. I can honestly say that the first 2 years I did this many of our robot problems were caused by the pathetic choices of materials we had to make them out of. The design cycle is also lengthenned because industry standard parts and solutions are not available to you. You may have a concept to accomplish some task that you could design in one evening, instead you spend one whole evening just trying to figure out how you can make it with legal material then another evening to design it. That is one less day you have to test that mechanism, then the parts you ordered to make it are back ordered from SPI for a week! This hurts everybody.

: 2. The rules discourage new participation. People's time is valuable, if you want people to give up their precious time to participate in this, you can't have them wasting time to make a part out of some stupid but legal stock size or spending hours upon hours first trying to figure out the rules (which interpretation may change with the next update) then figure out what materials are available and then design the mechanism.

: 3. The rules waste teams' money. They can't use material they have from last year, they can't buy material from the cheapest vendor, they can't even get non additional hardware stuff donated. They can't buy non SPI gears or sprockets they have to pay somebody to make them. They can't even buy gear or timing pulley stock to throw on a lathe, they have to WIRE EDM it! Tell me how that is fair or cheap.

: 4. The rules create tension within the teams. I can't tell you how much time and energy I have expended every year trying make sure we are legal. Quite frankly I'm convinced there is not a single robot that is 100.000% legal. Somebody used some stock they had laying around, somebody used some parts from last year, somebody made some parts outside the window. I've designed parts, bought SPI stock, took it to the machinist with the print and said make it out of this. I come back later and there are my parts and there is my SPI stock still in the wrapper. It was easier to make the parts out of another stock size and since the machinist is donating his time or is tying up a company machine he chose to make it the fastest way possible. What an I supposed to do? Tell him to stay late again tonite and remake it?

: 5. The rules don't make things fairer. Everybody can get gears within a week from Rush Gears. Everybody can get stuff next day from McMaster. Everybody can get stuff from SPI, Berg, Stock Drive, Grainger, Alro etc. etc. It's stupid to think that rookie teams can't figure what where to get parts and material fast. Anybody can and sometime much cheaper and faster than SPI.

: 6. Openning up the rules won't significantly change the robots. If you told me I could have any gears, Titanium, Carbon Fiber composites or any other expensive, high tech part or material, I would probably still use the gear transmissions, aluminum and lexan.

: 7. The rules waste FIRST resources. How much time does Eric and others spend writting, interpreting and explaining the rules every year? Maybe if they were simpler it would free them up for other things (like getting the field print right the first time, well maybe second, shoot even third would be better than this year).

: Sorry if I sound a little bitter. I'm just tired of having to decide between designing something that fits the rules and seeing my kids for a few minutes before they go to sleep for the first two months of every year. Why don't we ask if poor teams feel protected by the rules? I know I never have.

As a 2nd year FIRST'r with no life from JAN to MAR, i can say life with the limited mtl's list is challenging yes, but part of the fun. It would be nice to goto a supplier and use off the shelf stuff, like giant erector sets. Sure would take the load off of me as the team machinst/welder/jack of all trades guy but then whrer is the fun in that? I like to pull my hair out at nite trying to deall with the wonderful restrictions laid before me. This is fun! Sure i can design a robust system with supplies not on the list, but then i wouldn't have the fun repairing a jimmyrigged setup that i crammed together in hopes it stays together for a season of "field testing" in between rounds of competition. I really crave that stresss!! Builds character. puts hair on your chest. Makes you stay up nites trying to design a complex system to do an impossible task in way to little time to come up with something that acctually makes a multi million dollar inventor impressed! Kinda makes you feel like a robo bad dude when you accomplish the goals you set out to achieve on Jan 8. PMGRACER



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Time to revisit Gear and Pulley Rules

Posted by Michael Ciavaglia at 03/12/2001 8:47 AM EST


Engineer on team #47, Chief Delphi, from Pontiac Central High School and Delphi Interior Systems.


In Reply to: Time for new rules!
Posted by James Jones on 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST:



I totally agree with your comments!!!

There are so many ridiculous material rules that add to the stress/sleeplessness during the robot build. What was the reason they went back from last year's gears/sprockets/pulleys rules?

Extra money spent to Wire EDM gears, sprockets, and pulleys could be spent on things that make a difference. We all have equal access to Berg, Stock Drive, and SPI. They are just a fax away.

Let's bring this up at the Team Forum.

Mike C.


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Actually, I disagree

Posted by s_alaniz at 03/13/2001 11:45 AM EST


Other on team #57 from Houston Regional co-ordinator.


In Reply to: Time for new rules!
Posted by James Jones on 03/09/2001 11:57 AM EST:



Sorry, but I disagree. In all the jobs I've held and in
all the companies I've worked for, the most successful
mechanisms I've seen are those that are clever not
sophisticated. True, with unlimited resources we could
build a Mars rover and a pretty good delivery system...
well.. for those teams that can afford it.. and I could
come up with a pretty good electronics package, (Last
year, I had my electronics team build a two minute
countdown timer using ICs and a clock developed from
the AC line... then I showed them how to etch a PC
board.. a forgotten art...and with respect to the
Yellow Dongle.. had a 4 output system that enabled the
extra channels and disabled the controllers after the
two minutes... but I digress..)but in REAL life, your
prototype is going up to management who kick it back
down and say..."Can we build it cheaper with the parts
in our warehouse?" That's part of F.I.R.S.T., to give
the kids a taste of the real world.
I'd also like to think we're preparing the kids for
an Apollo 13 situation where you must solve a problem
with limited resourses. Also... not all of us have
great machine shops or computers with autocad...
something I've seen with some teams that makes me a TAD
envious... (as we sketch out designs on discarded
"whopper" wrappers..)
I'm sure the rules will change, but honestly, I've
yet to see ... and maybe because there are so many
teams... any team max out the possibilities of the
parts or electronics...
Just my opinion...


Best Wishes

Steve Alaniz







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Historical Note

Posted by ChrisH at 03/13/2001 12:48 PM EST


Engineer on team #330, Beach 'Bots, from Hope Chapel Academy and NASA JPL, J & F Machine, Raytheon, et al.


In Reply to: Actually, I disagree
Posted by s_alaniz on 03/13/2001 11:45 AM EST:




: I'd also like to think we're preparing the kids for
: an Apollo 13 situation where you must solve a problem
: with limited resourses.

I think you're refering to the scene where a guy comes into a meeting and says something to the effect of "We need to hook this square filter up to this round dohickey and this is what you've got to work with" Whereupon he pours a bag of what looks like office supplies on the table.

I have it on reliable authority that that scene or something very like it actually occured and is not just a Hollywood creation. One of my co-workers was on the LEM program at Grumman at the time. While he wasn't actually in the meeting, the occurance was common knowledge in the plant at the time and he knew the people involved.

It was a remarkable performance under pressure. Especially since they had to talk the astronauts through the proceedure they came up with without any visual aids. (No video uplink) So it wasn't only "insert Tab A in Slot B". But "make Tab A like this, then make Slot B here, now insert A into B".

Of course when lives are at stake, especially yours, it does wonderful things for your concentration.

During the team party at San Jose regional the year we played with floppies they showed "Apollo 13". My wife who was there for the whole competition as a spectator thought it was a very appropriate choice.

Christopher H Husmann, PE
Team 330 the Beach'Bots
and Northrop-Grumman employee





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Re: Actually, I disagree

Posted by Michael Ciavaglia at 03/13/2001 4:04 PM EST


Engineer on team #47, Chief Delphi, from Pontiac Central High School and Delphi Interior Systems.


In Reply to: Actually, I disagree
Posted by s_alaniz on 03/13/2001 11:45 AM EST:



Steve,

I think we agree but also disagree.

The best mechanisms are simple and not sophisticated. I don't think anyone could possibly disagree with that.

With the rules that FIRST has in place now, you need to have access to a shop that can make gears/sprockets/pulleys (here to refered to as G/S/P) so that you can get what you need to build your machine. This year we used the sprockets from SPI until we were 9# overweight. We had to make the same sprockets out of Aluminum. Seems simple. Well it was because we know of a shop that will make us sprockets. However, I could have gone to many other sources (off the shelf) to get them, paid less money than I did to have them custom made, and had them quicker.

I think more teams have the ability to order G/S/P from other sources (McMaster, Berg, Stock Drive Products, PIC, etc...) that have a better selection than teams have the ability to wire EDM the G/S/P that is needed.

It is sort of like re-inventing the wheel. What is the point?

The idea of this rule change would make it easier for teams to get what they need at a more reasonable price. There is no disadvantage to any team. This would only raise the bar for ALL teams to create better machines.

This will also allow many teams the ability to buy more Whoppers to use their wrappers for sketching paper.

I understand your point about management wanting you to make a prototype cheaper. But why would you want to make some part inside your company when you can buy it on the outside at a substantially cheaper price?

Just my 2 more cents.

Mike C.


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You'all make my point !

Posted by James Jones at 03/14/2001 9:49 AM EST


Engineer on team #267, The Demolition Squad, from North Broward & St Andrews and Motorola.


In Reply to: Actually, I disagree
Posted by s_alaniz on 03/13/2001 11:45 AM EST:



Basically all the objections I've read to openning up the material rules fall into 2 catagories. 1: The material limits are part of the game, they make it more fun ("they put hair on your chest&quot. 2: The material limits simulate real life.

I find it interesting that no one chose to defend the rules on their primary grounds for existance (according to FIRST) that they make the game more fair between teams of different resources. Apparently no one thinks they make the game more fair or at least no one is willing to defend that position.

As to the assertion that the onerous material limits are an integral part of FIRST and part of the fun. I disagree. Perhaps I am not as creative or resourceful as some of you. I say the same thing to you that I say to people who don't think they pay too much taxes. That's fine, let the rest of us have a break and you keep paying at the higher rate that you like. You guys who need more hair on your chest can always voluntarily limit the resources you use on your robot to make it more fun. In fact, I have some suggestions for your team in 2002:

1. In 2002, only use parts available in the 1991 kit. If some limits are fun, more should be even more fun right?

2. In 2002 only use material listed on the odd numbered pages in the SPI catalog. Real engineers don't need all that selection anyway.

3. Since the 130 lb weight limit is not sufficiently challenging, I suggest you set a team goal of having a robot that weight 12.7 lbs or less. Now THAT should put hair on you chest!


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Re: You'all make my point !

Posted by ChrisH at 03/15/2001 9:36 AM EST


Engineer on team #330, Beach 'Bots, from Hope Chapel Academy and NASA JPL, J & F Machine, Raytheon, et al.


In Reply to: You'all make my point !
Posted by James Jones on 03/14/2001 9:49 AM EST:



: 3. Since the 130 lb weight limit is not sufficiently challenging, I suggest you set a team goal of having a robot that weight 12.7 lbs or less. Now THAT should put hair on you chest!

Especially since the battery and controler weigh more than that by themselves.

Chris Husmann, PE
Team 330 the Beach'Bots


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You make my point: Part 2

Posted by James Jones at 03/14/2001 10:12 AM EST


Engineer on team #267, The Demolition Squad, from North Broward & St Andrews and Motorola.


In Reply to: Actually, I disagree
Posted by s_alaniz on 03/13/2001 11:45 AM EST:



The second objection to opening up the material list is that it simulates real life. If it does at all it is a very poor simulation. First of all, no team has unlimited resources so we are all limited by what we can procure in time and what it costs (just like real life). True, some companies have Approved Supplier Lists from which you must chose a vendor. In these cases this policy exists because there is value added by the relationship (negotiated costs, volume discounts, etc. ) and usually reached by a competitive process. However, if the success of a multimillion dollar project depends on going to another vendor, only the stupidest of companies will object to going outside the vendor base. I think we all agree that in many cases our robots could be more successful if we could use parts not offered by SPI.

Also, in industry, in most cases the bottom line is money and time. You make things in cheapest, fastest way possible with the minimal wasting of money. This is perhaps my biggest objection to the material limits. They waste teams' time and money. I remember several years ago there we a few of use working late in the machine shop. We needed some aluminum bracket and some lexan hubs. This was before aluminum was on the AHL. We had one person on a machine cutting a piece of Al round stock (because that was the only stock from SPI big enough)into a square and another person CNCing a square piece of lexan sheet into a round! What a waste of my team's time, my team's money and my company's machining resources. No sensible business would make parts this way unless for some reason it saved time or money.

We also waste time and money when we have to wait for parts from SPI either due to shipping or back order. If you have a few days to build or change a mechanism, you don't want to be sitting around waiting on a back ordered part. You end up buying the part from someone who has it immediately and swapping it out with a real SPI part when it comes in. So now your team has bought the part twice and built the mechanism twice. What a waste. In real life, if you need cheap, the vendor that has the part cheap gets your business. If you need it fast the vendor that has it fast gets your business. You don't buy two of something if you don't need two. Dean has made his fortune in a competitive environment. Let's start letting SPI operate in a competitive environment.


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