Ban CW Skimmer from Contesting?

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A petition is now out on the Internet that requests banning the CW Skimmer program and Related Enhancements for CW contests in any operating category.

The petition says, in part:

We love CW Contesting because it is CW Contesting. CW Contesting is enjoyed by Amateur Radio Operators worldwide who use their skills and stations to compete with other stations and the other stations’ operator(s) skills.

Although certain technological advancements have been developed and generally accepted by the contest community, Skimmer technology is one we feel should be banned from use in CW Contesting in all categories.

Banning new technology for all categories is drastic, to say the least. And requested before there is any real data out on how contesters would use the program in a real contest and describe what would help or hurt them about the program.

I don’t disagree the technology should be available in all contesting categories, but banning the technology from any contesting category flies in the face of human behavior.

Banning the program from use sounds easy, but fails a key contest criteria: there is no reliable metric that tells us whether the program is used by an operator or not. Without the capacity to log check and know, the program will be used, or not, by the operator. Allowing the program in one/some categories would provide the operator a clear category to use the program in the contest.

Instead of petitions recommending banning the program from contesting, I think it would be much smarter to use the program in some contests. Let’s figure out how it changes the operator behavior and then work on putting the technology in the right category for the operator.

Also, KA3DRR’s article on this.

Scot, K9JY

http://ka7u.us/cat.htm
The CW skimmer is not all that new. MixW has the ability to “align” to a signal with a mouse click and with a dual receiver such as the ORION radios you can walk up the band easily. Once a station is marked the call sign will remain on that frequency until you log another there or clear the markers. It is easy to be listening to one station and set the receive cursor on another and let the machine read that track so that you can decide if you want to move up and work that station or not. No way they should try to stop this from CW contests. It makes CW contests fun, like a video game!
KA7U

Scot, K9JY

There is, no doubt, a place for this technology. It’s interesting to me that people would want to ban the technology before we even know how it could be used to help an operator.

Thanks for the comment Ron!

Scot, K9JY

Also for those that stop by, check out Ron’s URL above and it will take you to a screen shot that shows what he is writing about.

[…] this technology will be banned from CW contesting as […]

Scot,
Thanks for your interest! That web page of mine is aging and I should update it one of these days! HI But it does help to explain the “how to” of computer controlled radios and the nifty options of the band scope displayed in coordination with the controlling software. I just love playing with it, but CW is CW and I understand the frustration of the guys that don’t use computers. It would almost seem that computer users and many CW operators are incompatible socially, or something. I have an old Heathkit HW-16 and it is fun but it is not likely I would plan to use it in a contest. The old HW-16 cannot produce the clean CW of a modern Ten Tec rig and it is not really computer compatible. HI
73
KA7U

Banning software, simply unworkable.

One can envision a CW Skimmer Add-In to provide randomization or sequencing and periodic hunt & pounce QSO pop-up reminders to make it more difficult to tell if CW Skimmer was used or not.

It makes more sense to categorize band-pass software assisted entries as either their own new class, or as assisted.

Emotionally on one hand a person finds innovation like CW Skimmer bother abhorrent and attractive at the same time. The ingenuity of the mind is amazing, but then we also pine for the simpler & purer.

Somehow, while so different, both the technologically rich and the traditionally pure both seem good.

73

Steve
K9ZW

About “there is no reliable metric that tells us whether the program is used by an operator or not” – replace “the program” with “Low power”…
It´s not about freezing technology but to preserve a significant human skill-part in a competition of operators which would otherwise more or less completely shrink to a station builder´s competition. But of course YMMV.
73, Chris (DL8MBS)

Scot, K9JY

Chris — I agree with you. Banning the program is no different then including it in an appropriate competition class — you still can’t tell if it is used one way or the other. It is still up to the operator.

Banning, however, begs bad behavior. I think if Skimmer can be included in the categories, for example, assisted, it would allow the technology to flourish and give people a category to contest.

I would also suggest that low power — or QRP — is also about station builders. Having big antennas in the right geography helps both of those categories more than me with my 100 watts and a vertical with half the signal going into the side of a hill!

Thanks for the comment.

Gordon Brown G3MZV

Why not ban electronic keyers? At least it can be proven that they are being used. I remember the fun of using a DX40, a pump handle and a bit of wire out of the window. Contests today are really dummed down from the days when skill was the main ingreiant for winning.
73
Gordon G3MZV

Steve

Maybe we should also BAN computers from all contests… No more computer logging, only paper.

73, Steve wb3lgc

Scot, K9JY

I used to contest without computers. W0AIH had these big 11×17 sheets of paper with JA’s on one side and the rest of the world on the other. You did your dupe-checking by placing the suffix on the sheet by the prefix.

It always amazed me that there were like five slots for JN and by the end of the contest, four of the five spaces were filled in.

I don’t want to go back to that.

The real issue with Skimmer and attempting to ban it is “what skill are you attempting to measure?” If it is working the maximum number of contacts in a 48-hour period, that slants your skill set one way. If the skill you are trying to measure is copying code in your head, that slants your skill set a different way.

It’s a good debate and interesting to see the different perspectives on this (even though we don’t know how it really works in a contest just yet…have to wait until CQ WW WPX to find out…).

http://ka7u.us/2008-7qp.txt

I used MixW and N4PY software to control my ORION II in the 7 Land QSO party this year. Mostly I set on frequency calling CQ, but on occasion I did work up the band looking for other calling stations to add to my log. Basically, MixW provided me with a 7 KHz band scope as I worked my way up and I could open a reader box on any line in that 7 KHz window and see who or what was transpiring there while I worked the current transmitter position. MixW would “dupe check” for me when I input the call signs and expedited the logging process for the exchanged information and then compiled that information into a cabrillo file as you can see if you use the above link. MixW also automated the CQ calling. I would reply to a caller using a hand operated automatic keyer.

When you call CQ, stations come back to you off frequency and often several stations call you at once. Many times I would have to go back to a station based on the heard and understood portion of the station call, such as MOT or K4A? and hope the other stations would stand down and let that station transmit and be heard. So the skills required in this mode of contesting include, software use, CW mental copying ability, the mental ability to “filter” the cacophony of callers and select one, and the ability to “look ahead” while working a station when working up the band.

I don’t get why anyone is concerned about using computers and software in contests. Most of the contests expect the log book to be submitted in the cabrillo computer file format, so computer logging is already the normal method.

It seems to me that if a contester is relying on Skimmer type software, they won’t log enough stations to be a winner anyway. You have to call CQ yourself from time to time if you expect to attract new stations. Many folks don’t ever call CQ, they just work the calling stations.
Ron – KA7U

Ken, W5HYN

Seems to me if this type of software is banned then the software defined radios such as Flex-500 with their spectrum and waterfall displays would also be banned. Computers are here to stay and will be increasingly a part of all ham rigs. The point of CW is that it is retro fun and computer assist just adds flavor to the fun.

Scot, K9JY

@Ken, W5HYN
True enough. One of the things that I have gone back to do is sending CW again with the Bencher paddle. Too much computer keying and not enough tactile feel for the CW. It’s been fun, although a little tough for others on the receiving end!

As a CW contest operator myself, I have thought about the situation and feel that we do not need to ban such advancements in contesting, but that we need to create an entry class for enchancements such as these.

By creating a class for those using CW Skimmer and the like, we still encourage the use of these products for those who are CW-challenged, but keep other classes “pure” for those that love the challenge of CW contesting. That way both camps should be able to enjoy and use the technology that is available.

Scot, K9JY

@Jack Wilson K4SAC
The devil is in the details, of course, Jack. But, I agree. We’ve moved beyond spark and to continue to have the hobby grow requires that we continuously embrace and integrate new technology and operating methods into the hobby.

The argument will be where and how to incorporate this into contesting. I’d grab a model from business: try it in a category and then do continuous improvement.

@Jack Wilson K4SAC
Jack,
Maybe a Mechanical Key class of contest with no computer logging or band scope permissible would be a fun contest! Logs would be submitted either hand written or typed in the blanks on preprinted logging forms. The operator would certify that his stations equipment meant the required low tech criteria.

It is all fun, either way.
73
Ron

@Ron Morell-

I agree, wouldnt that be a blast from the past, logging by paper and doing it the old fashoined way!

Of course contest sponsers would probably howl and complain, but it would be interesting to see how that category would attract interest!

@Jack Wilson
Jack,
The Straight Key Century Club currently runs a contest called “Weekday Straight Key Sprint – two wicked mad hours of fun” that does just what I suggested, already!  They don’t use the paper logs though, instead they submit by Web Form .  

I hope K9JY is HTML and link tolerant!  HI HI  Otherwise this post will look strange.
73
Ron Morell
KA7U

Scot, K9JY

@Ron Morell
I am link tolerant. I just moderate them when links show up. Too many insurance, mortgage, credit — and other — spam out there. But, ham radio links rock!

This showed up from the ARRL email list tonight. So it looks like the “skimmer” is OK for now.
73
Ron – KA7U

The ARRL Contest Update for June 25, 2008

“BULLETINS
There has been a lot of discussion about the use of Skimmer in the upcoming IARU HF World Championship.
The published rules for 2008 do not refer to “Skimmer,” nor is there a
Single Operator Assisted or Unlimited category in this event. For the
2008 event, any Single Operator station that uses Skimmer (and does not
use spotting assistance) will be placed in the Single-Operator category.
The
evaluation of the technology, as well as the integrity of the
adjudication process, is of paramount importance to the Contest Branch.
To make sure the results are generated properly, we require that all
Single Operator stations using Skimmer make that statement in the
Soapbox field in their Cabrillo header. For example, “Skimmer was
used.” is sufficient. Do not put such a statement in the subject or
body of the email log submission – it will not be read. If the log
checkers do not know that Skimmer was used, an incorrect conclusion as
to entry class (e.g. Single Operator or Multi-Operator) may be reached,
or a log could be subject to review by the ARRL Awards Committee, which
could result in penalties up to and including disqualification.

This
accommodation of Skimmer technology for the 2008 IARU HF Championship
does not imply in any way the permanent acceptance of Skimmer’s use in
Single-Operator category operation in ARRL Contests.
The
technology will be evaluated and long-term rulings on how it may be
used in this contest will be made in the 2009 rules or before.
Since
there is no Single-Operator Assisted category, anyone using external
assistance through packet or the internet should enter as a
Multi-Operator entry, and, as in the past, the entry may be
re-categorized or disqualified if assistance is not declared.
As
with the 2007 IARU HF Championship, there will be continued emphasis on
log adjudication in 2008. Stations claiming exceptional results should
be prepared to have their log undergo thorough examination.
ARRL Contest Branch Manager, Sean Kutzko KX9X

Scot, K9JY

@Ron Morell
This is good news. I think we’ve had one contest where CW Skimmer could have been used and we need more to see the real world effect for operators.

I have CW Skimmer. For radios with limited receive bandwidth — not Software Defined Radios — the program is about the same as the WriteLog CW receiver that has been around for years.

I'm so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

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