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 Radio-Sport.net 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