Tuesday, February 12, 2008

CW Skimmer Vs. Contesting

If you are a contester, you have probably heard about this new software package called "CW Skimmer."

There is currently a debate raging about the use of CW SKimmer in contesting.

For those that don't know what CW Skimmer is, the link to it is http://www.dxatlas.com/CwSkimmer/

According to VE3NEA (who has created some truly outstanding ham radio software), CW Skimmer is a :

1) a very sensitive CW decoding algorithm based on the methods of Bayesian statistics;
simulatneous decoding of ALL cw signals in the receiver passband - up to 700 signals can be decoded in parallel on a 3-GHz P4 if a wideband receiver is used;

2)a fast waterfall display, with a resolution sufficient for reading Morse Code dots and dashes visually; the callsigns are extracted from the decoded messages, and the traces on the waterfall are labeled with stations' callsigns;

3) a DSP processor with a noise blanker, AGC, and a sharp, variable-bandwidth CW filter;
4 ) I/Q Recorder and player

Many contesters are being very vocal about this new software and it has certainly sparked a controversy in the contesting arena about its use.

Pete Smith N4ZR wrote an article about its use http://www.pvrc.org/~n4zr/Articles/Skimmer.pdf (You must have adobe acrobat reader installed to read it)

Whether you are for this type of software or against it, one thing is for certain....The face of contesting and dx'ing is about to be changed. Whether it is for good or bad remains to be seen.

73, Jack K4SAC


KR2Q on the Elecraft list serv posted this which pretty much sums up all the arguments you will see against this new software. I won't try to paraphrase Doug, but will copy his post here for you to read.

Feb 06, 2008; 08:05pm

OK...here it is in a nutshell.
1. CW Skimmer will profoundly change serious-level contesting forever

2. Serious contesters use two radios at once (called SO2R or single op, 2 radios). While they CQ on one band (using a memory keyer...voice or cw), they TUNE a 2nd band, looking for additional contacts, using their 2nd radio. This is very intense contesting and require super-human concentration and skill to be really successful. It means that you are constantly switching focus from the Radio A to Radio B (the switching is automatic, controlled by the contest software).

3. Currently, tuning the 2nd band is a manual process, requiring one to (a) find stations between CQs on the other band, and (b) copy who it is and (c) then decide if you need it or not and if you do, (d) work it while not "losing" your "RUN" frequency (the first radio frequency where you are CQing and working guys who answer your CQs).

4. With CW Skimmer, one no longer has to use their skill to (a) tune the 2nd band and (b) figure out who it is. The computer does this for you....and all at once for the whole band.

5. The entire basis for CONTESTING is competition...a competition of who has the best set of HUMAN skills...skills at using their equipment, but mostly skills at copying callsigns and working guys and tuning a second radio and doing the same. With CW Skimmer, the "second radio" skill is effectively eliminated. The computer does it for you. This is VERY FAR from DSP, or a yagi, or an amp, or an electronic keyer because. Those things made CHORES easier. This thing makes the only human element left (tuning the band and finding callsign) meaningless. It eliminates the HUMAN element. All you need now is a clerk to "point and shoot" or "point and click" whatever you want to call it.

6. With this "tool," a single op can now be SO6R and have a CW SKimmer on every band. Someone will write a script so that multipliers bubble up as found...and even non-mults, but new Q's, will be easily flagged (and worked). YOu wont have to "waste" time tuning and copying the callsign of stuff that you already worked.

7. CW decoders (such as included on Elecraft K3) only copy one signal, which YOU tuned to. This thing does the whole band at once.

8. Yes, it is like an "automatic" packet/internet band-mapping tool, except that use of those places one in the "Assisted" or "unlimited" category, separate and apart from "single op all band." Under the current rules for all contest, the addition of CW Skimmer will NOT cause a change in category away from Single Op All Band to the Assisted or Unlimited category. How could it? Nobody else is helping you get the callsigns.

9. For many, especially those who feel that "packet ruined contesting" or that "packet ruined DXing," this may turn out to be the "packet ruined contesting" of the 21st century. As many have pointed out (if you want to read A LOT on this, go to the CQ-Contest Reflector: www.contesting.com ), with this "tool," there is currently no way to tell if the guy has a 2nd op in the shack, is using packet, or is using CW SKimmer. It makes adjudication a nightmare (probably, impossible).

10. Serious SOAB contesters have long done everything possible to keep their category separate and apart from packet/internet users. They want to keep the category "pure." This will make that job very, very difficult. Why keep it "out?" The same reason sailboat races do not allow engines/motors. The same reason why the Daytona 500 does not allow jet engines to be used. The same reason why people climb mountains instead of taking a helicopter. The same reason why some folks only Bow-Hunt.

Sorry for the bandwidth, but there seems to be a fair about of interest in this topic. Hope this helps paint a clearer picture. de Doug KR2Q


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73 hams!

Kevin N7136V said...

Thanks very much for the summary, om. It's easy to tell that I've not been paying close attention for the past two or three years... must be working too much. Had heard the term "skimmer" but didn't know what it really was. Searched on Bing for a summary and found your post. Cogent, compact, and very helpful. Really well done post. Again, many thanks!

Kevin K7VI

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