[CQ-Contest] The Skimmer Rule Challenge

Joe Subich, W4TV w4tv at subich.com
Fri Jun 13 20:28:40 EDT 2008


> > No, the real reason the cluster spawned a new category was 
> > because those who used the cluster did not want to compete 
> > against tag-team operators.
> I don't think so. It was obvious that using packet is 
> fundamentally different than not using packet. I think a 
> lot of people feel that way about Skimmer, too.

Sorry, you need to research the history of the so called 
"assisted" categories.  In the late 70's and early 80's 
before clusters you would see an occasional entry in multi-
single labeled "K7ZZZ + net."  With the early packet cluster 
software starting in the early 80's "N1XXX + packet" began 
to appear.  In both cases, multi-single was the correct 
entry class as "net" and "packet" meant participation by 
another operator.  

However, as clusters began to spread and more people began 
to consider using the cluster, some operators started to 
question the "fairness" and whether it was appropriate to 
make a single operator compete against "tag-team" operators 
that could keep rested bodies in the seat for the full 48 
hours.  While sponsors understood the fairness issue they 
also understood that "packet" did not belong in the single 
operator category - not because of the spots but for the 
same reasons that "+ net" was put in multi-single in the 
first place - due to the participation by other individuals. 
An alternate was needed and the "assisted" class was born. 

> Well, CQ WPX has the Tribanders/Single-Wire category. It's a 
> crude attempt to do what you've suggested.
> It's true that the categories for most contests don't take 
> antenna differences into account. In part, I think this is 
> because there are far too many variations.

... and the power categories are already quite broad.  Even 
if a simple tribander was "assigned" an arbitrary gain of 6 dBi. 
Low power + Yagi would be much closer to high with a dipole 
than to low power with a dipole.  If the real antennas were 
a short vertical or hidden random wire (typical CC&R antenna 
situation), Low power + yagi would certainly have a significant 
advantage over high power/CC&R. 

> Besides, it's no accident that contest sponsors have settled 
> on rules that reward antenna builders. Antennas are a huge 
> part of amateur radio. Nothing gets your signal out and the 
> other guy's signal in as well as a better antenna. We 
> encourage people to develop more effective antennas by 
> rewarding them with contest and DXCC awards.

Why should contest sponsors reward one technology (antennas) 
and punish another (skimmer)?  Technological advancement of 
all kinds if a significant part of and reason for amateur 

> We also reward people who develop and use technical innovations, 
> and we have special categories for that (yes we do: let's not 
> forget that packet is a technology without which spots from 
> other humans couldn't get to you.)

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 

> As the rules for SO-Unassisted stand today, those who develop 
> more powerful and flexible antenna systems and those who 
> develop better skills for listening, running pileups, tuning, 
> understanding propagations, etc. are the ones who win. Most 
> of those who compete in the Unassisted category have signed 
> on to that philosophy. 

There is no "SO-unassisted" category - only "single operator" 
and "single operator - assisted."  Assisted is, and always 
has been, shorthand for "+ net" or "+ packet."  The issue is 
the participation by "another individual" and not how that 
participation takes place.      
> Not really. We haven't had the capability to simultaneously 
> monitor an entire band. Advancements in computer speed and 
> DSP processing have made Skimmer possible. And it's going to 
> get better.

The same can be said about the application of computer logging 
that made SO2R as we know it today possible.  In the early 
days you did not hear much about SO2R (or separate "stations" 
for each band) because calling CQ, checking the dupe sheet, 
filling out the log, etc. consumed too much of the operator's 
time.  The advancements in computer speed and sophistication 
that have made SO2R possible (practical) are simply being 
continued into the area of identifying stations.  

It has been possible to monitor a few frequencies at a time 
for several years ... that computer technology makes it 
practical to scan more frequencies faster is the nature of 
advancing technology. 

> > The top operators are where the are because they optimize 
> > all their resources - not because they copy CW better than 
> > the other entrants.
> This is simply not true. Better ability to copy may not be 
> the only reason top operators win, but it's a crucial skill. 
> Ask any top op.  

Skimmer does not eliminate that skill - unless you accept the 
data blindly - it simply adds one more source of data for the 
operator to use as he sees fit.  

> Yes, they have these skills, too. I don't disagree that the 
> same group of top operators will win if Skimmer is allowed in 
> the Unassisted category. But if one Unassisted top op breaks 
> the ice and uses Skimmer, then they'll all have to use 
> Skimmer, and that's not how they want to compete.

So what?  There were top operators who did not want to use memory 
keyers or computers.  When others adopted them, everyone was 
forced to adopt the technology.  There are top operators who 
do not want to do SO2R - they understand the disadvantage they 
accept by not using SO2R. 

Where the technology does not represent participation by another
individual it does not violate the rules of the single operator 
category.  Every operator should have the right to decide for 
himself if he wants to use that tool.  For contest sponsors to 
change the rules to disallow one technology (skimmer) while 
continuing to permit other technologies (SO2R) that are even 
more "disruptive."  That change would effectively give one 
group of operators a "veto" over the way another group of 
operators choose to configure their station... it would be 
as if I could tell you what you could not do with your station. 

> 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. 
It is the additional person that represents the difference 
between "single operator" and "single operator - assisted"
not the information received or the "channel" over which 
the information is received.  As N0AX has written - get over 
the term "assisted" and focus on the real difference - the 
additional person. 

> 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.  

> 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.  

Contesting is not simply working stations from a bandmap.  If 
it was "assisted" stations would beat the other "single op" 
stations in every contest. 
> 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.  If 
the criteria are to change, the changes in criteria should be 
applied uniformly - for example, if technology is added to the 
list of criteria all technologies (computer logging, SO2R, 
Antennas/EIRP, etc.) should be reexamined and the technologies
that make the largest impact (SO2R and EIRP) should be the 
appropriate candidates as the "decision makers."  

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.  
> > To those who ask, "why should I have to compete with someone 
> > using skimmer?"  I ask, why should I have to compete with 
> > someone using SO2R or big antennas?
> Because, as I said before, the contest sponsors have decided 
> to reward those who build bigger antennas and develop better 
> skills. 

I do not believe that ... it could simply be because sponsors 
have not had the courage or desire to enter the "technology" 
debate.  Once sponsors enter the area of technology it opens 
a whole new can of worms ... much like the current debate but 
with many more dimensions.  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.    

> > The operator who rejects SO2R, or big antenna, or skimmer 
> > does so with full knowledge that he has chosen to limit 
> > his options.
> Sure. SO-Unlimited ops have long chosen not to use packet. It 
> seems from the numbers that they're now choosing not to use 
> Skimmer. Could it be because the effects of Skimmer and 
> packet are basically the same?

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.  


   ... Joe, W4TV 

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