[CQ-Contest] The Skimmer Rule Challenge

Dick Green WC1M wc1m at msn.com
Sat Jun 14 15:32:29 EDT 2008

I can see we're getting near the end of this thread. You say Black, I say
White. You say we should only consider the number of ops, I say we should
consider the whole picture. I don't think either one of us is going to
convince the other.

But I can't resist a few parting comments. Feel free to reply with "I don't
agree" after each point I make.
> You may not be suppressing it but it is certainly not being promoted.
> It gets treated as a "necessary evil" for the multi-op classes.

Although some have gone overboard in reaction to Skimmer, most of the
comments against its use in SO don't characterize it as evil. I'm actually
looking forward to using Skimmer at multi-ops, where I have to use packet
anyway. I think Skimmmer eventually will be improved to the point where it
will do a better and more accurate job of providing spots than human ops.
The number of busted calls coming through packet these days is amazing,
especially on the second day of a major contest. Maybe someday Skimmer will
get smart enough to fix that.

Further, if the rules allow it, I'll probably install part of the Skimmer
technology to produce a waterfall display I can use to find an unused
frequency for running, check for band openings at a glance, etc. Just a
better version of the old pandapter, but it doesn't give me the
all-important call and frequency information provided by the full Skimmer.

Yes, this represents a technical advancement, and I never said we should ban
technical advancements from SO. I have said, repeatedly, that Skimmer
provices information that fundamentally changes the way one operates in the
SO categories, in a manner so similar to receiving packet spots that it
needs to be classified the same way.

> > This is not the only issue I want to consider when thinking
> > about the impact of Skimmer on contesting.
> That is the only issue involved - it is the only difference among
> the single operator, single operator assisted and multi-single
> classes.

This is where we have to agree to disagree. This may be how things have been
defined in the past, but it's not necessarily appropriate for the future.

>  If you want to consider the "impact," you are proposing
> a MAJOR change in the rules structure and those considerations
> should extend to ALL aspects of technology particularly "power"
> (EIRP) and receivers (SO2R).   Consideration of power would
> potentially encourage more participation from those with CC&R
> issues while consideration of receivers would potentially deal
> with both SO2R and Skimmer in the single operator class (e.g.,
> skimmer == second receiver).

I'm not against reconsidering all of the current rules. However, I'm
skeptical that we can devise a fair scheme based on EIRP because there would
be too many categories and each of them would be too small. Also, I suspect
that the contest community would soundly reject the idea. But I'm willing to
consider it.

I'm willing to reconsider SO2R as well. The fact that this debate continues
to rage is at least one indication that the contest community may not be
comfortable with allowing SO2R in SO. I say this as a devoted SO2R op. I've
spent an enormous amount of time, effort and money rigging my station to do
SO2R, and even more time trying to learn to use it effectively. But I
understand that it changes the strategic decisions in a significant way. On
the other hand, effective SO2R takes tremendous operating skill, and
presents strategic tradeoffs of its own (e.g., should you try to tune the
second radio when the rate is 120/hr?; Should you do a dedicated S&P session
without CQing in order to focus more attention on it?; etc.) In that sense,
the SO2R debate is different than the Skimmer debate: one requires
development of additional human operating skills, the other takes the place
of certain skills. 

But, bottom line, I'd be willing to consider a separate category for SO2R.
The problem becomes, unfortunately, that we'd end up with more categories
than the sponsors want to administer. We could have the same issue with
Skimmer. One solution that's been proposed is to split SO into two
categories, one that allows local Skimmer and one that doesn't. SO-Assisted
would allow remote Skimmer spots. I'm sure that will be considered. But if
we also had to fit SO2R into the mix, then we're going to run into a problem
with ops who want to compete SO2R but not against Skimmer. Category creep
will be the result, and that's a losing proposition that the sponsors will

I'd reconsider SCP, too. Personally, I enjoy using SCP and contesting would
be more difficult and less fun for me without it. But I have always been
troubled by the nature of the beast. Whether the calls come from aggregated
logs or my own past logs, it doesn't seem quite right that I can get that
information during a contest. It certainly smells like a form of assistance,
and diminishes the requirement that I copy 100% of the call with my own
ears. Yes, I should always do that to verify the SCP suggestion (it can be
wrong), but I'm not going to pretend that I haven't had to guess every now
and then. If a large number of contesters felt that SCP shouldn't be allowed
in SO, then I'd go along with it. However, like computerized logging, I'm
not seeing a groundswell of opposition to SCP in SO.

Again, while the rulemakers have to think for themselves, the desires of the
participants are an important consideration for making sure we have a
pasttime that will endure.

> You keep asserting that skimmer will cause the single operator
> class to blend into "assisted" but you have no proof.  There
> is no indication that skimmer results will be significantly
> different that those currently obtained by a good SO2R operator.
> Even if the multiplier totals change by one or two per band, the
> relative performance of any two operators will vary that much
> year to year based on propagation, preparation and human
> factors.

Here, again, we have a Black vs White issue. My years of operating
experience tell me that local Skimmer would make a substantial difference, a
lot more than one or two mults per band. My experience also tells me that
the game would change from tuning to point-and-shoot, just like SO-Assisted.
I don't want to compete that way.

> Contest sponsors have been very resistant to changing classes
> a the whim of individual tastes.

Judging from the heat and length of this debate, I don't think they're going
to view opposition to Skimmer in SO as the whim of a few individuals! The
similarity of local Skimmer spots to remote packet spots is so evident and
so obvious to such a large number of operators that it can't be ignored.

> > 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.
> I disagree.  It is entirely a resistance to technology and
> change.

This is simply not true. It's certainly not true in my case. I have one of
the most technologically advanced contests stations that can be built:
state-of-the-art transceivers, tunable antennas, autotune amps, SO2R,
Ethernet relay drivers, an elaborate homebrew Windows app for switching and
tuning antennas, a "smart" stack controller (that you sold me), smart rotor
controllers, even a smart wattmeter. I'm not at all opposed to adding more
and more technology. What concerns me about Skimmer is not the technology,
but the fact that it's going make contesting in the SO category virtually
identical to contesting in the SO-Assisted category. Like I said, if I
wanted to compete that way, I would have operated SO-Asssited all these

> That is not how the rules are currently structured.  Again,
> you want to change the rules to suit yourself and not conform
> yourself to the rules.

Not so. What we have with Skimmer is a technological anamoly that is capable
of changing the two-category system established by current rules into what
will be, in effect, a single category in which point-and-shoot becomes more
important that Search and Pounce.
> > I don't understand this argument. 
> Every time an operator calls a mult on the S&P radio he must
> decide if he can get the mult on one call or if it is going
> to take long enough that someone may "steal" his run frequency.

Oh. I thought you were talking about a competition between two strictly SO1R
stations. The strategic decisions are different with SO2R, but I still think
that with two SO2R stations, one using Skimmer and the other not using it,
the Skimmer station will have the advantage. Both ops have to decide whether
to work the mult found on the other radio, and there's always a risk of
losing one's run frequency. But in my experience, that's not a substantial
risk. I don't lose my run frequency very often while working someone on the
second radio. That's because I use Writelog's auto-resume function to keep
calling CQ between transmissions on the second radio. Sometimes I take a
little too long and someone tries to steal my run frequency, but I've had
pretty good luck chasing them off.

If you're saying the possibility of losing the run frequency acts as a time
regulator that will throttle back Skimmer's advantage, I seriously doubt it.
It depends on the run rate, of course, but I'm pretty sure I could work most
if not all the new mults Skimmer could feed me when the run rate is under
100/hr. I could certainly do it at 60/hr. How do I know? Because I can do it
with packet spots when I run Assisted (which I sometimes do for partial
efforts to help the Club score) or in a Multi. If I can do it with packet, I
can do it with Skimmer (which is a clue that the effect of Skimmer is just
like the effect of packet!)

Now, the counter-argument will be that SO ops often beat SO-Unassisted, so
packet can't be that much of an advantage. But we really don't know that. It
could be that the ops with more skill compete SO. Here's an interesting
question: if packet and its virtually identical twin, Skimmer, don't provide
a significant competitive advantage, why has there been such an uproar when
SO stations are caught using packet? Funny thing: when they cheat with
packet, they seem to win. Could it be that a top operator, packet or Skimmer
equipped, can beat other top operators not so equipped? Yep.

> "Assisted" does not dominate the single operator class today.
> What makes you thing that type of operation will dominate if
> skimmer used routinely in the single operator class?

Because it will provide such a big edge that it will have to be used in
order to win the SO category. If that wasn't the case, we could let SO use
packet, too. (I know, I know, we don't allow it because the spots come from
other ops. But if the spots have value, then I'm right about Skimmer spots
having value. If the spots don't have value, then there's no reason to ban
packet spot assistance from other ops. No matter which way you look at it,
it's the value of the information that counts.)

> There
> are instances of very good operators entering the assisted
> class today and they still do not dominate the top single
> operator scores.

Very good usually is not good enough to win SO in major contests. You have
to be world-class. Let's see two world-class ops go up against each other,
one with packet and/or Skimmer and the other without. I think we know which
one will win.

> If SO ops are uncomfortable with third party SCP why has there
> been no cry comparable to the anti skimmer crusade to have it
> disallowed?

I don't know. I guess people don't care enough, or feel contesting won't be
as much fun for them if they can't use SCP. I believe the hue and cry about
Skimmer is that if point-and-shoot becomes necessary to win, it won't be as
much fun as it used to be.

> If a large percentage of contesters want
> to add technology to the traditional framework for defining
> classes they should be calling for a "from the ground up"
> review and not simply an ad hoc ban on one specific form
> of technologies that have been used for many years.

Lots of things mixed together here. First, I think a ground up review is
appropriate, now that contesting and its associated technologies has evolved
so much from what they were when the rules were first crafted. Second, it's
not correct to say that contesters want to add technology as a basis for
defining classes. Some may want to do that, but that's begging the question.
The issue, for me at least, is how something affects the nature of the
competition. I don't care if it's technology, the required exchange, other
people helping, EIRP, or whatever. It's all fair game in constructing a set
of rules that results in the largest possible number of people having the
maximum amount of fun.

>  Any restructuring would need to
> be based on the technology/hardware and not the implementation
> or effect of the technology.

As I just said, it's all fair game: technology, people, hardware, software,
antennas, power, effects, implementation, etc. You said it should be
comprehensive, and at least that's something with which I agree.

73, Dick WC1M

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