[CQ-Contest] The Skimmer Rule Challenge

Dick Green WC1M wc1m at msn.com
Fri Jun 13 03:48:53 EDT 2008

W4TV wrote:

> Technology has never been used to differentiate between stations.

Just because it hasn't been done before doesn't mean it isn't appropriate

Rather than basing category decisions on names ("assistance", "technology",
etc.), or how the variations are implemented, we should base our decisions
on how the competition is affected.

While packet is driven by other operators, and a local copy of Skimmer is
driven by software, they have a remarkably similar effect on the
competition. If I use either one of these tools, I can grab spots for new
multipliers and new stations from the bandmap. If I don't use these tools, I
have to tune the radio to find new multipliers and new stations. It takes a
lot more time to tune the band manually, time during which I could be doing
something else (running, S&Ping another band, sleeping, etc.) I would argue
that it takes more skill to manually find an equivalent number of new
multipliers and new stations, but it's inherently less efficient.

Now, let's not get into an argument over whether packet and Skimmer really
are superior to manual contesting. I know that the winner of the
SO-Unassisted category often has a higher score than the winner of the
SO-Assisted category. This may indicate superiority of manual contesting,
but I'm more inclined to believe that our most skilled ops almost
universally compete in the Unassisted category. They can do a lot of things
better, such as run like the dickens and filter QRM/QRN with their magic
ears. It doesn't matter which category they choose: they'll win it.

So, let's normalize the equation by comparing top operators who compete
SO-Unassisted. We really don't know what would happen if two titans like
K5ZD and K1AR competed with equal stations, one with packet and the other
without. But it's easy to see that such a competition wouldn't compare their
skills apples-to-apples. This also would be true if one used Skimmer and one
did not. Does it make any sense at all for them to compete in the same

Here's another way to look at it. I've managed to get myself into the top
ten USA a number of times. But anyone who follows my posts on 3830 knows
that I'm often woefully behind the winner in mults, especially in contests
like CQ WW and IARU, where mults play a huge part. Usually I can run up a
respectable number of QSOs, but sometimes I'm staggered by how far behind I
am in mults. I run SO2R and do a lot of mult chasing on the second radio.
It's tedious, time-consuming work to scan up and down a band looking for
mults while CQing on another radio. Often I have to wait for QSOs to
complete before I hear the callsign of the station calling CQ. If I could
use packet spots, or Skimmer, to populate my bandmap, I know I could work
more mults. Using packet, I still might have to tune for additional new ones
-- the ops who post the spots don't have the same antennas and propagation
as I do. But if Skimmer lives up to its potential, I might not have to do
any tuning at all: every CQer that can be heard by my station will be in the

So if anyone should be lobbying for Skimmer in the Unassisted category, it's
me! Then maybe I could beat the current top dogs. Well, maybe not, but I'm
sure I would get a lot closer. It doesn't seem right: I don't have their
skills for finding new mults, so I use Skimmer as a substitute. Suddenly,
the importance of that skill set is diminished. Is it really fair that I've
used a technological edge to overcome their skill advantage? I don't know if
it's fair or not, but it's certainly not the same competition. Like I said,
you have to look at the result of the innovation, not what it's called or
how it's implemented.

There have been a number of technological innovations since I started
contesting: autotune amps, band decoders, high-performance receivers,
SteppIR antennas, noise-cancelling headphones, and rotor presets, just to
name a few. Although each of these improvements can provide an operating
advantage, I don't think anyone would consider them worthy of their own
category. They just don't change the nature of the competition all that

SO2R, on the other hand, is a technology that has sparked many category
debates. While the issue has been settled by the contest sponsors, it comes
up again and again because people understand that it can change the nature
of the competition. But, unlike Skimmer, SO2R requires *more* operator
skill, not less. 

Perhaps one way to look at innovations, then, is whether they require more
or less operator skill to increase the score. I think it's pretty clear that
Skimmer will reduce the amount of skill required to increase the score.
Again, this is the way the innovation affects the competition, not what it's
called or how it's implemented.

Two other innovations have made a huge difference in contesting: computer
logging and packet. By all rights, computer logging (and code/message
generation) should have created a new category. It provides a huge advantage
over manual logging. So, why didn't we create a new category? I don't know
the answer, and don't know if it was even debated. But I suspect it was
because contesters flocked to computer logging because it was a lot more fun
and less tedious. Evidently, the "skill" of being able to log quickly by
hand wasn't valued enough by the top operators to make them insist on
preserving it in a separate category.

I don't see that happening with Skimmer. I'm not hearing our top Unassisted
operators saying, "Wow, I can't wait to contest with Skimmer!" Why not?
Because they know it will be similar to contesting with packet. A skill they
treasure, tuning to find stations, will be replaced with point-and-shoot
from the bandmap. If they wanted to compete that way, they would have been
competing Assisted all these years.

Packet, of course, spawned a new category. While the term Assisted was used,
and sometimes the rules say use of a spotting network automatically makes
you multi-op, we shouldn't get lost in the fact that packet requires help
from other people. As we say in the software biz, that's just an
implementation detail. The real reason packet spawned a new category was the
way it affected the competition. Contesters realized that not having to tune
for mults and QSOs was a very different way of operating and might provide
an unfair advantage over those who tuned for mults and QSOs.

As Ward has pointed out, the unfortunate argument over Assisted and
Unassisted is just semantics. We can fix that easily, as he has
demonstrated. Let's look past the words and get to the substance. Let's look
at how the competition is affected.

73, Dick WC1M

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