[CQ-Contest] The Skimmer Rule Challenge

Dick Green WC1M wc1m at msn.com
Fri Jun 13 23:39:16 EDT 2008

> Why should contest sponsors reward one technology (antennas)
> and punish another (skimmer)?

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but there's nothing like a better antenna.
Seriously, nothing is being punished. I'm sure Skimmer will be available in
all categories that permit packet, at the very least.

>  Technological advancement of
> all kinds if a significant part of and reason for amateur
> radio.

Absolutely. And if Skimmer is allowed in all categories except Single-Op,
we're not suppressing technological advancement, are we? (Note that I am
now, suitably chastised, omitting the word Unassisted.)
There's nothing wrong with regulating where technology can be used. You
can't use a Formula 1 car in the Daytona 500. If you want to drive one of
those cars, enter the Indy 500.
> Again, that is incorrect.  "Packet" is permitted in all classes
> except "single operator" because all of the other categories
> permit participation by other individuals.  "Single operator -
> assisted" is simply a special case of "multi-single" that
> recognizes the difference between a one operator and a "tag
> team."

The categories may have originated that way. I don't know. I wasn't involved
in the process at the time. I have no doubt the rulemakers considered that
packet spots are originated by other ops, which is certainly a reason they
were allowed only in the SO-Assisted and Multi categories. But I rather
doubt this was done without considering the value of the information
produced. If a spot from another op couldn't help you, then there would have
been no reason to disallow it in the SO category.

With Skimmer we have a nearly identical form of information, which makes it
eligible for the same kind of treatment as packet spots. 

> The issue is the participation by "another individual" and not how that
> participation takes place.

This is not the only issue I want to consider when thinking about the impact
of Skimmer on contesting.
> Where the technology does not represent participation by another
> individual it does not violate the rules of the single operator
> category.

Right, it doesn't violate the current rules. But if the contest community
wants to preserve the SO category, and not have it morph into something that
is virtually identical to SO-Assisted, then the rules will have to be

This has nothing to do with what the rules say now, what the categories are
currently named, or whether other ops participate. It has to do with the
nature of the game and how the majority of people want to play it. It's that

Why do so many ops favor keeping Skimmer out of SO? It's not the "not in my
backyard" syndrome. It's because a lot of people like playing the SO game
essentially the way it is, and if Skimmer is allowed in that category the
game won't be even remotely the same. It won't be a small change. SO will
become almost identical to SO-Assisted. We will have gone from two
categories, each of which appeals to different people, to one category in
which some people are happy and others are not. I think we'll lose
contesters as a result. Some have said that doesn't matter, because Skimmer
will attract more contesters. But since they'll have Skimmer in the
SO-Assisted category, we would pick up those newbies anyway. Why alienate
the people who wish to continue competing in a category that requires you to
manually tune for S&P? 

It seems to me that part of the job of the contest sponsors is to structure
the categories so the greatest number of individual tastes can be
accommodated without creating excessive overhead for the sponsor. Yes, the
rules should be fair and consistent, and up to date with the latest
technology. But the primary mission is to please the participants as best we
can. When a large majority takes a position, as seems to be the case with
respect to allowing Skimmer in SO, this must be respected. You may disagree
with the logic, and you may believe it's not consistent with the rules, the
precedents and the terminology, but if it's how most contesters want the
game defined, then that is what will carry the day.

> > If it looks like packet, talks like packet and smells like
> > packet, why wouldn't we put it in the same category as
> > packet? Because it's not "assisted" by another human?
> Exactly - because there is no participation by another person.

So what? Suppose other operators send meaningless greeting messages to you
over packet during contests? No one would say those messages constitute
assistance. Why? because they are devoid of useful information. It's the
information that makes the difference, not the participation by others. I'm
not talking about the original rules, or the words that were chosen to
describe the category. I'm talking about the reality of contest operating.
Spots help you. Spots change the competition, not the people who gave them
to you. Just because a piece of software is giving you the same information
doesn't absolve it from the restriction. 

>  As N0AX has written - get over
> the term "assisted" and focus on the real difference - the
> additional person.

Just replace your last phrase with "- the information provided", and you'll
have my position.

> > That's just semantics.  The information provided is nearly
> > the same: the callsigns and frequencies of stations calling
> > CQ.
> Again, the information does not matter - I get that information
> by tuning the receiver.  The only thing skimmer does is tune
> and decode faster that the human can just like computer logging
> dupes and logs faster than the human operator.

I disagree that the information doesn't matter, and you can't possibly get
the same amount of information manually tuning as Skimmer provides in a
given span of time. 

I did say that computer logging provides a significant advantage. It would
have had a separate category if enough ops felt strongly enough about
preserving good-old manual logging. But they didn't materialize and the
contesting community moved on. That's not the case with Skimmer.

Believe me, if the majority of contesters wanted to put Skimmer in SO, I'd
have to go along with it. There's no way they can or should be forced to
participate in a system they don't want. So why should the majority, who now
believe it's a good thing to have two categories requiring different skills,
be forced to accept the inevitable merger of SO and SO-Assisted? Why will
that happen? Because it won't make any difference whether you operate in one
category or the other: pointing and shooting will dominate the mult game.
SO-Assisted might give you a slight advantage over your local Skimmer in
cases where a remote receiver (attended by Skimmer or a remote op) may be
helpful, but there are just as many cases where remote spots will be less
useful or downright time-wasters (e.g., when you can't hear the spotted
stations at your location.)

The differences between the impact of local Skimmer spots and remote
Skimmer/packet spots will be so marginal that the there won't be any
significant difference between SO and SO-Assisted. There are many of us who
think that's not a good thing. We enjoy the tuning game and competing with
others who enjoy it too. Why take that away from us based on some notion
that our categories can only be defined by whether one person or multiple
people participate?

> > It's not just a matter of copying by ear. It's a matter of
> > taking 20-60 minutes to tune through a band looking for new
> > stations to work, versus having a bandmap with all the calls
> > in front of you, available for instant point-and-shoot. Let's
> > have a race to see who can work more new stations in a fixed
> > period of time.
> Sure ... but make it realistic and have both operators running
> at 60+ per hour on another frequency and decide which of the
> stations they hear/confirm from the other list are multipliers
> and worth potentially losing a run frequency to work.

I don't understand this argument. The op with the list of Skimmer spots will
know exactly what's out there and whether it's worth losing a run frequency
to go get it. The op who isn't using Skimmer won't know what's out there
until he/she has abandoned the frequency and started tuning the band.
Advantage: Skimmer.
> > Regarding "not in my backyard", category decisions should be
> > influenced by demand as well as how various options affect
> > competition.
> No, category decisions should not be made based on the effect
> they will have on the competition.  They should be made based
> on the rules and the traditional criteria for the rules.

I don't agree. If we make rules in a vacuum, without regard to how they will
affect the contest participants, we risk killing contesting.

> Specifically, if 'technology' is to be the distinction, we
> should be looking at EIRP (QRP < 10W < LOW < 300 W < HIGH),
> number of simultaneous receivers, single/multi operator
> (including "participation by another person"), and number
> of simultaneous transmitters.

I've never objected to Skimmer for the SO category based on it being a
technology. My objection is, to say it for the umpteenth time, that it
provides the same information, and value, as packet. If we allow it in SO,
then SO becomes virtually indistinguishable from SO-Assisted. That's it in a

> Once sponsors enter the area of
> permitted/disallowed technology and the appropriate level of
> the technologies, the sponsors have to be careful that they
> are not picking winners.

This is one reason why sponsors should listen to the contest community and
base their decisions on what the clear majority wants, not on an antiquated
set of rules and terminology that never anticipated something like Skimmer.

> Again, there is no "SO-Unassisted" class.  The single operator
> ops are there because they do not want the participation by
> any other individual.  Technology, no matter how it presents
> the information is not an individual.

True, they don't want the participation by other individuals. But they also
don't want SO to become SO-Assisted in everything but name.

You may find this hard to believe, but a lot of people compete in SO partly
because they find pointing-and-shooting spots to be boring and uninspiring.
They want the thrill and challenge of finding a new one by tuning and
listening. It is absurd to say, "They don't have to use Skimmer if they
don't want to." If they don't, they'll have no chance of winning. Once the
weapon is available, it will be used. A number of SO ops are uncomfortable
with the notion of SCP (talk about assistance from other ops...), but they
use it because almost everyone else does. The same thing will happen with
Skimmer, and SO will be no more.

73, Dick WC1M

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