Contest Assisted - Skimmer or Cluster?

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I worked the ARRL DX CW contest last weekend and had a blast. As I'm pretty casual about contesting I'm able to play around in the middle and try different things. This time it was using the cluster and skimmer and spots on SSDR. It was pretty much the most fun I've had on air in a long while. Flex and N1MM+ in a CW contest and you work'em like a machine. Going assisted, almost like shooting fish in a barrel. Kinda. 

I tried both the cluster and skimmer (using SDR Bridge) and both worked but I found the cluster much more productive.

Using the cluster, multipliers and contacts stood out well. That was all that was displayed and the quantity was as much as I could work. If I seemed to be running out of spots I could be productive in between them.

Skimmer pretty much flooded the display with calls and I'm pretty sure most were S&Pers. I set up Skimmer for verified calls only and still was overloaded with calls displayed on the spectrum. I would have liked to have filtered out all US and Canada. That might have made a difference but most spots had +10 or more calls lined up so I'm sure they were S&P responding to one caller over time.

For someone that uses Skimmer regularly in contests, am I missing a setup or strategy that makes it more useful? Skimmer helps out in small contests and sprints when nobody is spotting and if the rules permit it. But in the big ones, maybe Skimmer isn't the right tool for the job. Tell me your secrets.

73,
Kev K4VD
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Kevin K4VD, Elroy

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  • casual.

Posted 1 month ago

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Pat N6PAT

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Use Slice Master with Skimmer. Then you can feed the spots thru Spot Collector which allows you to filter the spots any way you want...by country, state, prefix, etc.

I used this for the contest to find prefixes I needed and got over 200 of them without sorting thru any others. I just used the SQL filters in Spot Collector to weed out those that I already had
(Edited)
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Kevin K4VD, Elroy

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Hi Pat:

Hmm. I didn't think of that. I generally don't run DXLabs stuff with N1MM. No particular reason. N1MM for contesting and DXLabs for all else.

The spots displayed from N1MM are the points (blue) and multipliers (red) needed for the contest. Dupes or non-interesting stations are in white so they are easy to skip over. The spots from Spot Collector would not really be aware of the contest. 

So, Skimmer (cluster), Spot Collector (filter), SSDR (display). What does Slice Master do here.

Kev


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Mark - WS7M

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Kev,

I too find that skimmer tends to give a lot of S&P calls, so I considered adding a feature to FlexLogger when it receives a spot from skimmer of looking to see if the spotted call was up or down the band.  If so then have an option to ignore it as an S&P call.  But you run the risk of a runner simply moving up or down slightly triggering that same behavior.   

Another thought I had was much shorter life times.  Give spots like life times of say 30 seconds.  A runner is likely to show up more and S&P stations would continuously be changing frequency.

Spot filtering is a big deal when looking for specific spots, grids etc.  I am still developing the filter system for FlexLogger.

Mark
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K1DBO

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Slice Master is a minimalist when it comes to spot filtering but since CW Skimmer clearly tags CQ calls, Slice Master allows filtering based on this tagging (check the CW Skimmer group on the options tab)

When I use CW Skimmer in a contest I usually set it up to decode from the 3khz slice audio but use CW Skimmer Server for keeping an eye on the bands. CW Skimmer Server will also filter out anything but CQ calls if you ask it to.  Slice Master also gets used to aggregate the spots from all my skimmers and feed them to N1MM+ which send them back with "color" to Slice Master for display in SSDR.

Living on  a small city lot leaves me with very few antenna options.   So for me, the cluster servers are a firehose of mostly useless spots.  Unless it's a phone contest I stick to the skimmers only.  I can usually work about anything I can hear.  
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Charles - K5UA

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Here is the problem I have with CW Simmer....US “run” stations cause a huge number of DX call signs to be reported by CW Skimmer on a single frequency that jams up the SHOW DX window on N1MM. It causes confusion for search and pounce N1MM users because those stations are no longer on that frequency, they were only there for a few seconds for the contact with the US “run” station. I no longer use CW Skimmer for that very reason and I do not think there is a solution.
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bahillen

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With CW Skimmer I used the Callsign List. It is under View Tab. It was effective in finding DX that was covered by stateside. Sort by freq, time or call. So DX was in groups. Double click and the radio goes to that freq evennis not shown on the waterfall.

It worked for me because I was looking for Achallenge slots, BCs. I ran 1/2 the band on one receiver Slice and the other half on a second Slice. Two skimmers. If things were slower I would put one on each of two bands I was working.

Not an elegant solution but helped. Probably no use to a contest station but met my objective.

73
Bill W9JJB
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W5NE

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Kev,
Do not connect to any external clusters. Make sure you have checked the box "CQ only"in the Skimmer menu. When you do this the N1MM+ band map will only be populated by stations that you can work. The pathway is your antenna to flex radio IQ stream to SDR bridge to N1MM+ telnet.
If you need further help my e-mail is good in QRZ
Alex W5Ne
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Kevin K4VD, Elroy

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Thanks for all the help! Lots of good things to try out. I'd like to make Skimmer work rather than using a cluster... as mentioned above, I should be able to work what I hear. I'll just have to find a way to get Skimmer's output to be more relevant to the contest at hand. Alex, I'll reach out to you.

73,
Kev K4VD
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Rory - N6OIL

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Boy, I have a lot to learn when it comes to the world of CW, I thought I understood it all until I decided to learn CW. I tried to play this weekend but my code comprehension speed is not there yet plus it seemed to me everyone was running machine to machine. I guess I need to pony up the $$ for a skimmer if I want to play with the big boys. I tried using FLDigi to decode but it was useless. Oh well, the RTTY contest is coming soon, that one I can have fun with. Alex I may ping you also once I  learn CW enough to copy in my head. 73 all 
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Mark - WS7M

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Rory,

Another good one is https://lcwo.net/ use right in your browser.

So here is my take:

In 1979 I copied at 20 wpm.  But no time to take the extra.   Finally took it in Seattle with the FCC scraping by at 20 wpm.  I could copy ok but much faster I didn't do well.

After getting the extra I put my mic in my safe and locked it.  I spent the next 6 months eating, sleeping and living CW (at least when I was at the radio).  I managed to get up to a solid 35 wpm but strange words threw me plus I was copying that on paper!   Stupid!   

Fast forward to 2015 and I pretty much started over at about 12 wpm.  I did nothing but head copy with writing down a strange work.  I'm back to 30 wpm full head copy.  I have a buffer of about 5 words unless they are really strange.

How did I get there?  Well listen to CW a lot.  I just tune around and listen to QSOs in progress.  First few you will miss a lot.  Then you will start to lock in various common words.

Then the RUFZ program is very good for copying calls that you need in contests.

Another is Morse Runner, a PC program you run which can simulate pile ups.

Last thing is just stick with it.   Plus op the CWTs on Wednesdays.  Most (but not all) are good at slowing to your speed.
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Contests are a great way to hone your CWX skills, unless you actually care about your score. My first bunch of cow co tests were opportunities to jump in, get my ears dirty, and there was no shame if I screwed up, because it isn’t personal like a rag chew. At first I needed to camp out on someone and listen to his call three or four times before calling, then make the exchange, then listen to him work several others to make sure I copied the state correctly.

It was slow work, but it made me go from hating the code and barely passing the required 13 WPM (back in the day) to loving it and enjoying CQ contesting and DXing. Now I have CW DXCC+ !

Jump in there and tread water as fast as you can!

Ken - NM9P
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Dave N2OA

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I'm with you Rory. I've been trying to get my CW speed back up and while I did work a bunch in just a few hours this weekend some ops are just operating way too fast. I only S&P'd but some calls I had to listen for 10 minutes to even hear the characters .

I had one station I'm still not sure if he was calling me back. I don't run QSK and by the time my tx/rx was switched he had already given the call and was sending the report.  This happened several times until I gave up. I really wonder how many Q's these guys miss by being in such a hurry.

Dave
N2OA
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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I’m not sure there is any point in running more than 31-36 WPM in a contest due to the increased number of repeats it will generate. When I S&P (which is most of the time) I seldom go more than 28, and usually 26, on known good ops running faster I may bump it to 32 to get my short call in faster. But I’m not comfortable running that was even with CWX because if I need a manual fill with the paddles I always mess up! My Bencher and I are good to about 26-28. I think I need a new set of paddles. These I have had since 1986 or so.
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Kevin K4VD, Elroy

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My philosophy in contests,

If I find myself grumbling about what someone else is doing and how it doesn't fit with the way I do things then the path of least resistance is to adapt or move on. Grumbling costs points.

Embrace QSK. There's really no option in a contest.

Realize QSO speed and contest speed are very very different things. You know what to expect in a contest.

Use real contest software. CWX is not contest software. Adjusting speed on-the-fly by keyboard is invaluable. I love my external WinKeyer USB. Buttons, knob, paddles and no mouse.

I love the contest workflow using a computer. But, any time I'm forced to take my hands off the keyboard I'm being slowed down. In a contest, mice are evil.

Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.

Pounce... Type Call... Hit Enter... Type Exchange... Hit Enter... Search... X1000

I've got a lot more to learn but I'd like to become competitive in the big contests.

Kev