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

4 Responses to CW Skimmer — A Monster or Killer Tool?

  1. I used CW Skimmer with my SDR-1000 for the first time during the VP6DX dxpedition. I look at it more of a tool than a crutch. With CW Skimmer I was able to watch the entire pile-up on the split frequency, where I would never be able to decode each individual call by ear simultaneously, and find the exact frequency of the station VP6DX just worked on the previous call. Using this tool, I snagged VP6DX CW on all bands 10-80M, never having to call more than two or three times. It’s not so much that I lacked the skill to make the contact without the aide of a computer program, but it made it much much easier to snag a ‘big one’ while competing with the rest of the world.

    What’s amusing to me is the number of posts/debates/wars on the major Amateur Radio online forums about the code being dropped, not passing on the tradition, and lack of skill. Someone then writes a program that might very well promote younger hams to get in to CW in some shape-or-form, and now we hear the arguments that this isn’t real CW, you still lack skill, etc.

    Could this not be considered an ‘advancement of the radio art’? Personally, I could care less if it’s a CW-keyboard QSO, quick DX contact with a set of paddles, or a two hour rag chew with a straight key. Just keep them dits and dahs in the ether!

  2. Scot, K9JY says:

    Hi Scott,

    I had not thought of the “no-code” angle, but can see the irony of it!

    I think technology additions are a great thing for the hobby. They will sort themselves out over time; good, bad, or indifferent.

  3. John Chance-Read says:

    Perhaps I am unusual but I’m a enthusiastic contester in CW – problem is I am now totally deaf ! BUT I’m still enthusiastic, and CW Skimmer is going to be my salvation.
    I doubt whether there are many like me, most are going through stages of deafness, but 15 years ago I got the antenna ready for Boxing Day and then collasped, waking up on New Years and totally deaf.
    I tried various ways of operating without much satisfaction – but this I think is the answer.
    Thanks to the originator.

  4. [...] This year’s contest offered up a bit of a different competitor — CW Skimmer, that often maligned software program that attempts to copy Morse code using digital dits and dahs wrapped in binary computer code. Since [...]