Why contesting sucks

This post is to be filed in the “ON5ZO is ranting about that stupid contesting again” cabinet, subfile “We don’t need no lessons from that finger pointing know-it-all”.

This post could have been titled “Me and my big mouth!”. Or “Sorry K1DG but peer pressure does not work”. Or at least not in Belgium.

But the flavour of the day is that contesting sucks. And coming from me, that means a lot. Because I love the game.

I have a job, I have a family, I have household duties. When these three are served and satisfied all my remaining time is spent on ham radio and contesting in one way or another. Some watch football, others collect stamps. I like the thrill of DX CW contesting. The competition. Gaining experience and skills. Making friends. Losing friends (read on!). There aren’t many people like me in Belgium. That’s too bad because I don’t get to share my passion with many people. And on the other hand that’s cool because everyone does what he likes. There is so much to do in the hobby that every operator can pick his favourite discipline. HF, VHF or microwave. EME or QRP. Homebrew or IOTA. It’s a hobby and only a hobby so not really that important in the universe. I realize that. But does that mean we cannot pursuit perfection and excellence? Does ‘only a hobby’ justify mediocrity? Not to me! While contesting is just some part of a propellerhead’s hobby, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be taking some things into account. Like following the rules (and reading them first) and not cheating, intentional or not.

I find not cheating and fair play by following the rules very important. I will never park my car where it’s not allowed. On principle. I will never submit a fraudulent tax file to rip the government off. Absolutely not on principle but just for the fear of getting caught. And I am even so stupid to tell the cashier she returned me too much change. Just because I do before I think. So when contesting I always follow the rules. Because I usually read ‘m first. Usually. I stick to the possibilities and limitations of my chosen category. And the naïve idealistic passionate contester in me expects others to do so too. But walking people park their cars on spaces reserved for the disabled. People rip off the government for billions. And contesters cheat. There is a lot of discussion about cheating. CQ Contest boils over about the subject. Even now reports people withdrew their logs. You don’t withdraw a top scoring log when you’re not afraid that the log checkers will take the lid of a cesspool.

The three main problems in contesting as I see it are: excessive power, Single Op With Back Up and unclaimed assistance. I have come to terms with the fact that people run excessive power. I don’t agree but no one talks about it. It seems there is a gentlemen’s agreement on running 5kW or more. I admit that this is impossible to check. But if I see pictures of a shack with an amp as big as my fridge known to put out 8kW, the misanthrope in me says: having means using. And why do companies offer ‘low power’ accessories to 5kW and high power up to 10kW? But possibly the biggest problem is unclaimed assistance. I have been monitoring the list of submitted logs for over two years focusing on Belgian logs and I tell you: Belgians cheat in the unclaimed assistance department. I agree that almost all of this cheating is done unintentionally but cheating it is since they end up in a category they actually didn’t participate in. You can unintentionally win the cycling race by inadvertently taking a shortcut. But not knowing that the actual track followed another route, doesn’t justify your victory. Everyone in cycling loving Belgium would agree that the winner should be DQ’ed because he took a shortcut. No one would pardon him because he didn’t know there was 10km more to do. Why can’t this logic be applied to contesting?

The use of the DX cluster is Pavlovian leaning to congenital in Belgium. I admit I feel odd when not seeing spots on my screen. I guess it’s safe to say that everyone in Belgium uses the DX cluster. Apart from busted spots, abundance in self spots, the occasional insults and signs of bad taste (and horrendous spelling!) in announcements, using the cluster is fine. Even in contesting when there is an assisted class. So why do Belgians end up in the unassisted category? Because Belgian operators… OK, not putting my foot in my mouth here. Because the average Belgian operator is not an RTFM type. Yes, put this way it should not offend too many people. They don’t read the rules (ask our UBA contest manager ON7SS!). And they don’t know how to set up the logging software. They are not aware of it. And they don’t care at all. They are the casual contest participant, handing out points and looking for some DX. They are not the handful of regular ‘usual suspect’ contesters in Belgium. I could go on over this but I won’t since ‘my peers’ seem to be sensitive. And most of all: I don’t want to scare people away from contesting. Too late you say?

And so I have been following the trend where more Belgian operators seem to submit logs in contests (GOOD) but in unassisted categories while my gut says they were receiving spots (BAD). Since I know ‘my peers’ don’t like to be corrected and confronted with their goofball stunts, I keep my mouth shut. Believe me: keeping my mouth shut is totally against my nature. I know that confronting people with their actions is seldom appreciated. I know that whistleblowers always get boomeranged. Lessons learned the hard way. But today I cracked and just had to let shit hit the fan. And get boomeranged.

For peacekeeping with my fellow hams and because I unilaterally offered a ‘notice of non disclosure’ to some of the parties involved I won’t go into details about the specific case. But by looking into one matter pointed out to me by a third party I stumbled upon another unrelated and different case where a Belgian unassisted log smelled of assistance. I know the game of contesting and I know my peers: this log was obviously a spot-hopping operation. Or at least the first dozen contacts I was looking at. So I took the first contacts and did a DXSummit search on call/band/mode/year and for ALL of these first contacts I could find one or more packet spots between 8 and 2 minutes before the call was logged with matching frequencies.

Yes I cracked and sent a message to that station. I tried not to accuse him of cheating. Actually I failed because it effectively was as accusation since I attached my DXSummit data. I tried to be friendly but still I expected a harsh reply. Soon it came and indeed the operator was not amused. I could not dodge the boomerang. He told me I am “Big Brother Watching aiming its arrows specifically at this casual contester” and that for him “winning a contest is a non-issue”. I am not Big Brother and I was certainly not picking on a specific station. I just found out by accident, by looking at some other anomaly! I feel measured with two standards here. It’s only a hobby and it was only a casual contest operation but on the other hand my message struck a sensitive nerve justifying a blunt reply. If it’s only a hobby and a matter of a wrong configuration in N1MMLogger (which he admits), then why make such a fuss? If it’s just a hobby and a casual participation and an inadvertently overlooked setting in the software, then why not just tell me: “Stay cool, no fuss, you’re right, my bad, hang loose,73″ in stead of threatening not ever to submit a log anymore. Not my problem since I never work him and he never works me in a contest.

So that’s Peer Pressure for you in Belgium. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. I wasted a whole day on this. Looking up, sending mails, replying mails, thirty minute phone call, typing this, try convincing the N1MM dev team to take ‘assisted’ as the default category. Actually I shouldn’t care. It’s only a hobby, people cheat in contesting, I am that naïve fool that doesn’t. End of story. And from now on if you see Belgians (apart from me of course) claiming to be Single Operator Unassisted or see Belgian calls (except mine, that goes without saying) in the Unassisted section, you know what to think of it. IARU 2012 anyone, where ‘asssisted’ means M/S?

I also told the people running the contest they should fix a few loopholes in their system. I’m confident that they will look into the matter and set things straight for the next episodes.

Big Brother QRU / QRT  SK

14 replies on “Why contesting sucks”

Same problem here in the Netherlands. They use N1MM and make a cabrillio log without checking. N1MM is configured “out of the box” as unassisted. I even won a contest sometime because I changed to assisted, all other participants were unassisted, so I was the only participant in the assisted category. We had a lot of selfspotters a couple of years ago in our national PACC contest as well till my neighbourstation PA1A did check it out and published shocking results. 73, Bas

Oh yes, selfspotting is common business here too. Especially in our UBA DX contests when there are more ‘unexperienced’ operators.
They are very creative: “Self spotting? Nono, I used my wife’s call!”. Or arguing that using the call of one of the operators in a mutli-op is not SELF spotting.

I have reported about that here before and did get some nasty replies then too. Since it doesn’t seem to help, since it takes much energy and since people get mad at me, I should just let it go.

You could change the title of your post to “Why Competition Sucks” as you look at what goes on in competitive cycling, football, US football, track and field, the Olympics, etc. Or even local amateur running events, where there seem to be a lot more 50 year old entrants than 49 year old entrants when the categories are 40-49 and 50-59…

High power cheating dates back to at least 1950, probably the same for Single Op with invisible multiple operators or backup. In most metropolitan areas there were 2m multiplier shout out frequencies used for assistance before there were any assisted categories. And so it goes.

Back in the 1980s I worked for the US Secret Service and a lot of what we did was chase those counterfeiting US currency. Every new wave of technlogy (laser printers, color laser printers, etc) brought new waves of counterfeiting (cheating) and enforcement would slowly change to catch some of them and discourage the borderline dishonest, and reduce the cheating back to historically acceptable levels – but never to zero.

The same is true of contesting – I do agree with K1DG here. Over time the cheaters will still cheat but the borderline ones will get caught or find it harder to cheat and we end up with the same % of cheating as back in 1950 – until the next technology (web SDRs) throws a new rock in the pond..

73 John K3TN

Competition sucking… That people cheat in sports is only normal. Big budgets, major sponsor deals, millions of prize money. When so much money is at stake, it’s normal that people crack and cheat.

But we contesters invest thousands of Euros/Dollars/Yens in a station or to travel to one. We invest uncountable hours to build it and operate it. And what can we win? A paper sheet or a small piece of wood at best. WHY CHEAT THEN? Humans are stupid animals.

BTW I find it utterly cool that I can say: “Hey I know someone who works for the US Secret Service”. No I will not use the Simple Past tense, it reduces the cool 😀

Wow, this is heavy stuff. Hard to believe but then again, I am naive. Wouldn’t be surprised though…

If you want very, very strong proof that humans are very, very stupid animals, all you need to do is watch just one political TV advertisment in this year’s US Presidential campaign.

Thanks but no thanks. However I can relate, it sure isn’t any better here with our four (FOUR!) governments. That means sixteen times more idiocy. Yes, the law on increasing idiocy is not linear 😯
Toothpaste smiles and hollow slogans by the dozen but sincere politicians with good and democratic ideas are hard to find. It’s come so far that this kind of politician often prefers to remain on a local (city) level where he can achieve more and effectively have an impact on how things are run. In stead of being yet another the clown in one of the four Brussel circusses.

BTW are we supposed to discuss this, just like religion? 😛

Let’s see; this began as statements about amateur radio contests, then became statements about politics, then became mention of discussion of religion. I like to argue just for the sake of arguing but I fear making any statement beyond those I have just made here, other than to extned my best 73s to all concerned.

You get full credit for trying! Thank you for doing that and for writing about it.

I agree with your three threats to contesting. It is disappointing that excess power has become so accepted.

We are making some progress in WPX Contest chasing the people who (accidentally?) enter the wrong category, but it takes a lot of work. Stilll, we do it because there is a need to distinguish between those who like to go hunting vs those who like to go shooting.

Don’t give up, Franki. If cheaters don’t like being in your (limited, non-disclosure) spotlight, that’s tough. We don’t need them.

I believe that N1MM Logger defaults to assisted in the contests that we use Cabrillo 3.0 with.

Maybe this is a sensitive issue, but it strikes me that American hams say ‘Way to go’ as opposed to EU hams who tell me ‘Hold your horses’ or even slightly make fun of it (right CCP? 😀 )

You take it too hard on them. I don’t consider them (the Belgian hams U r ranting about) cheaters as they are not really competing. A note in UBA newsletter would help more I guess. What about a polite personal note?

In addition, I think N1MM should set the class (assisted/unassisted) reflecting the actual cluster use. Case closed. IIRC CT used to do so.

73, zoli ha1ag

Zoli, you are absolutely right. You know the Belgian ham scene better than any other non-ON (for the readers: this is no sarcasm, ON/HA1AG spent quite some time here among Belgian amateurs and maybe still does).
Maybe I should just take notice and keep my mouth shut. And wait until records are set with means not allowed in a specific category. Or get beaten in CQ WW when I am a zombie after 45 hours, by someone who has a backup op who keeps the mults flowing while he is nicely asleep. Or who just hops the spots in the cluster filled bandmap while I am populating the bandmap solely by myself. Only then should I stand up and raise my voice?

You look at it through experienced true blue contester’s eyes. Like I also do, believe me. These eyes show us a picture where we see people who are not competing and only make a middle of the pack score at best. They ‘cheat’ in a pure contest-legal way however it’s mostly ignorance i.s.o. ‘with intent to kill’. And so we don’t even pay attention. But follow me here.

Take Mister Big Gun Seasoned contester. Mucho QRO, antenna gain à gogo. Doesn’t care about the contest anymore. Been there, done that. But he likes to keep in touch with the scene so he runs a few hours of course making a few hundred QSO easily. DX mults from all over the planet are calling him. Then he submits a log, but his logging software puts ‘unassisted’ there by default although he used the cluster. Since score is of no importance, he just sends in the log with 100k points.
In that very same contest is a newbie contester. The virus just entered his veins and he only has a small amp and a modest low tribander. This freshman scrapes all he can hear from the noisefloor, and runs remain unanswered or he has low rates at best mostly EU. He’s unassisted since he likes to go ‘old school’ or to keep away from a known assisted competitor or whatever. He ends the contest with 95k points. He’s very proud since last year he only made 87k.
Then the results are published. Newbie sees his pride torpedoed by Big Gun who actually was assisted yet ends up in unassisted. How do you think Newbie will feel? What will he do next year? Either nothing because demotivated, or act in a ‘When in Rome…’ way? Either which way, the contesting community loses. I was once a newbie. But I did not yet have the insights I have now that better scores might have been set with means beyond the category. I know when I am outsmarted or outgunned, and I’m beginning to learn to know when I’m being cheated on.

Notes in the UBA newsletter? There is no interest in contesting as such in Belgium. That has been literally stated to me by an UBA official, declining my offer to give a presentation during the annual UBA meeting. Yes people do participate, which is very good, but not for the sake of contesting. To work DX, to test a new antenna etc but the competition is of no importance for most Belgian hams in a contest. Again: absolutely nothing wrong with that. More calls to work is more fun for everyone!
But even if it’s only for the fun, even if it’s not for the race itself – is it so hard to follow the rules? I’m pretty sure the problem starts before the contest because rules are simply NOT read. Or understood. I have a nice MP3 of an ON4 calling ZF2 on 40m CW for over five minutes… in an ARRL DX contest. ‘Nuff said? Again: ask ON7SS, UBA Contest Manager, how many emails from Belgian participants he has to answer because our own rules simply aren’t read. They’re published in Dutch, French and English so language cannot be the problem here.

And I did send an open message, in which I state my findings and ask to please tell me I’m wrong. But I get this snappy reply. From this snappiness and his confession (although the category mix up was a case of not paying attention because of not caring) I conclude I am right. Bummer because I know the person. I wouldn’t call him a close friend but we have eyeballed a few times. And I respect him as a long time dedicated ham. I also pointed out that is was ‘business and not personal’.

I don’t want to be Big Brother. I don’t want to poop the party for Belgian hams. I don’t want to be the Robin Hood of contesting either, bringing home lost certificates to poor cheated on contesters. And so I’ll probably end up as the Don Quixote of Belgian contesting… HI HI


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