CW Skimmer — A Monster or Killer Tool?

While away in Ireland, a technology busting new program from the makers of DX Atlas showed up on the scene, creating responses of reluctant acceptance, to ham-bashing, to declarations that CW skills will no longer be required.

Well, facts first.

CW Skimmer is a "multi-channel CW decoder and analyzer." Think of it as your PSK waterfall screen for CW. It’s not the first CW decoder out there on the market; WriteLog has had a CW decoder for as long as I remember having the program, pulling out callsigns from the ether through your receiver’s passband.

But CW Skimmer is a bit like WriteLog’s CW decoder on steroids. Features, from the web site:

  • a very sensitive CW decoding algorithm based on the methods of Bayesian statistics;
  • simultaneous decoding of ALL CW signals in the receiver passband – up to 700 signals can be decoded in parallel on a 3-GHz P4 if a wideband receiver is used;
  • a fast waterfall display, with a resolution sufficient for reading Morse Code dots and dashes visually;
  • the callsigns are extracted from the decoded messages, and the traces on the waterfall are labeled with stations’ callsigns;
  • a DSP processor with a noise blanker, AGC, and a sharp, variable-bandwidth CW filter

And a picture is worth a thousand words; this from a 3-kHz mode:

CW Skimmer

This is a pretty interesting program. Others have noted that, especially in the wideband mode, DXpeditions would have an easier time pulling out callsigns and contesters would too.

Detractors lament the lack of skill needed in this endeavor for copying CW, but I don’t agree with that position. The mind is a great filter and I’ve done enough RTTY contesting — where the machine decodes everything — to know that what is copied by a machine isn’t necessarily the right thing copied by a machine. The operator still counts.

Yes, it could make CW different, just like calculators made doing long division different.

I think this sort of stuff is great for the hobby — it shows that we continue to embrace technology for communicating through radio waves. It will be interesting to see where this program takes the hobby.

I know I, for one, certainly don’t miss paper logs and dupe sheets…

Other reviews:

Scot, K9JY

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