[CQ-Contest] Skimmer - What shall we do?

David Kopacz david.kopacz at aspwebhosting.com
Mon Jun 2 16:36:58 EDT 2008

Although I read my post several times before submitting it, I found a
poor choice in wording I would like to correct.

The statement "If the Skimmer is allocated the Yagi, it will "hear" much
better, but ONLY in the direction of the yagi.", should read " If the
Skimmer is allocated the Yagi, it will "hear" much better, but PRIMARILY
in the direction of the yagi."

David ~ KY1V

-----Original Message-----
From: cq-contest-bounces at contesting.com
[mailto:cq-contest-bounces at contesting.com] On Behalf Of David Kopacz
Sent: Monday, June 02, 2008 3:06 PM
To: cq-contest at contesting.com
Subject: [CQ-Contest] Skimmer - What shall we do?

To my fellow hams,

I have been watching, reading and learning from this skimmer debate for
several months now.

I have deliberately refrained from comment while gathering as much
information as possible. I listened to many people's opinion in Dayton.
Many good points were made. There were many angles to the debate, not
just for or against its ban, but some less passionate discussions about
rule changes or categorization changes based on Skimmer. I gained
valuable insight and wisdom from many of you. For that, I thank you all.

At this time, I am not certain that my opinion on the subject even
matters. Strong opinions, both advocating skimmers use and for it's all
out ban have been shared by many of our fellow amateurs. Regardless, at
the risk of being whipped, tarred and feathered or even burned alive, I
have decided to comment.

I am still not convinced that skimmer has currently provided, or will in
the future provide, any more advantage in the SOAB U category than SO2R
does versus SO1R, but I suppose that is another debate. I have, however,
received my Flex 5000-A which I plan to use to experiment with Skimmer
over the upcoming months. I honestly believe that one cannot make an
informed decision without having made a complete evaluation which
includes actually using the system under similar operating conditions as
that which is being debated. This also means I may have to enter some
contests SOAB. Oh my, am I in for a surprise!

There are many questions which I ask myself, many of which I do not see
others asking, at least not publicly on this reflector.

For example, when comparing Skimmer to the packet cluster one can only
imagine that the cluster is providing far more information than possible
with skimmer. Perhaps not as quickly, but certainly there are more
"ears" in more locations listening in more directions! 

At the same time, Skimmers data may be more advantageous to its owner
because it contains only the data relevant to that station. So I ask
myself, is Skimmer really more powerful than packet? Does it even
provide the same information? Is the information provided more relevant?
Is it more concise? I hope to soon find out.

One must seriously consider that Skimmer only hears what is provided to
it. In order to be most effective, Skimmer would require resources
extending far beyond the means of the average amateur. Why? Let's
examine a skimmer in operation at an amateur's station having a single
high band yagi and one vertical. If skimmer is assigned the vertical
antenna, it will "hear" in all directions, although somewhat poorly to
certain parts of the world depending upon a number of external factors.
If the Skimmer is allocated the Yagi, it will "hear" much better, but
only in the direction of the yagi. This may be the only direction the
band is open to in some cases, but certainly other paths would be
severely attenuated due to the front to back and front to side ratios of
the yagi. In other words, skimmer is likely to miss signals that might
otherwise be reported on packet, or heard with better antennas or even
dedicated directional antennas which are allocated to the device and
constantly rotated 360 degrees.

For an amateur with substantial means, multiple skimmers could be
deployed, each having allocated one or more directional antennas, each
computer controlled so the horizon can be scanned simultaneously while
skimmer scans the band.

So I ask myself, isn't skimmer just another technology that really only
benefits those with significantly more means to build a contest station?
This is certainly true of SO2R. Not everyone can afford two radios, two
amplifiers, an SO2R box and multiple antennas. Isn't skimmer going to
benefit each station using it to a different degree? If skimmer is going
to make a huge difference, like SO2R has, why ban it and not SO2R?

This brings an even more important question to mind. Is radio contesting
fair at all? We certainly try to make it fair, do we not? No matter how
hard we try, is it possible to make it fair to everyone? I think not. 

Was it fair that in the recent WPX CW contest ES9C made 2,640 more
contacts and 144 more multipliers than 6Y1V but lost by more than 3.4
million points? Is it fair that SA Caribbean stations have a 1 point
advantage over NA Caribbean stations in CQWW? Is it fair that west coast
US stations have to compete with east coast US stations? Not really, but
those are the rules and we don't ban the use of technology in order to
try to make them more fair. On the other hand, no one having invested
significant sums into a contest station would want to see rules changed
that permitted an average sized station to effectively compete with
them. Therefore, only correct categorization of stations can provide a
level playing field. Categorization needs to take into account BOTH
location and technology utilized.

It has always been obvious that those with the means to build bigger,
more technologically advanced stations, will always have a significant
advantage over others. The same is true for those with the luxury of
strategic locations. The same is true for those with the ability to
travel to those special locations, such as the Caribbean, North African
Islands or the Galapagos. They always have an advantage that landlocked
stations cannot overcome. Fortunately, almost all of these people are
willing to share their stations with fellow hams that are less fortunate
geographically, or financially. What a hobby, eh?

In my opinion, radio contesting will never be completely fair. We can,
however, try to be more dynamic, flexible and prompt in making
appropriate changes to adjust the rules of contests in order to keep
people with like means and proximity on an even playing ground. We
should not, however, stifle the introduction of new technologies into
our hobby at the expense of relative fairness in any particular contest.
Instead, I believe we should embrace these technologies in the interest
of keeping our hobby up to date with the times and adjust rules and
categories in order to maintain the spirit of competition.

After all, radio sport is about the spirit of competition, is it not? So
why not embrace the new technologies and make those appropriate
adjustments so that some level of fairness is provided to all concerned,
rather than throwing out the new in order to preserve the status quo? 

Some have argued Skimmer will turn CW contesting into robot wars.
Perhaps this is true. Only time will tell. But even if this is true,
imagine for a moment, several thousand teenagers becoming immensely
interested in the designing and building of these automated CW
contesting stations. Kids love robots. They love automation. Perhaps
once again, they can love amateur radio. And in the end, maybe one or
two of them will learn the code and be on the other end of a contest,
competing with us in the "Old Fashioned" category. Like it or not, at
least we'll have someone to work!

Again, I haven't enough experience with Skimmer to pass judgment. In
fact, I haven't any experience in SOAB U or A and cannot pass judgment
on its use within these categories. What I do have though, is enough
common sense to know that our hobby is based upon technology and we
should be encouraging the development of technology and fostering its
growth in a manner that interests our youth in our hobby. At the same
time, as a group, we have the collective common sense to be reasonable
with one another so that we can maintain the spirit of competition, in
both new and old ways.

Perhaps simply working together, through proper categorization of
competing stations and tweaking rules, we can accommodate everyone
concerned, while keeping a watchful eye on our hobby's (service)
technological future.

David ~ KY1V

PS: Before you flame me, keep in mind, I am not condoning the use or the
ban of skimmer at this time. I think we all need to reflect before doing

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