Sunday, August 2, 2009

CQWW SSB Disqualifies Five

First, a humble apology for the lack of Fi-Ni Reports recently. We've been off looking for missing sunspots and collecting bribes for friendly customs officers for the upcoming UP5LID/4Q2LID DXpedition this month. In our absence an alert reader/fanboy(?) tipped us off to the dramatic announcement from the CQWW SSB results, and a possible conspiracy.

Monday, July 27, the CQWW SSB 2008 results were unleashed. The joy of the Top Guns taking home yet another plaque and/or certificate to hang on the I-Love-Me wall of the shack was overshadowed by the almost footnote mention of the disqualification of five Multi-2 stations placed at the end of the telephone book style printout of the contest results. The reason for the disqualifications was explained in the terse statement as “Altering of QSL log times to conform with the 10-minute rule .“ At meetings of the Lost Island DX Society (LIDS) we strictly enforce the 5-second rule for dropped pizza, but we have never attempted to actually understand the 10-minute rule as it applies to Multi-2 operation.

For Squirt Pistols who've never had to worry about such rules, the practice of adjusting log times to appear to conform to off-time or band-change times when in violation of the contest rules is referred to as 'rubber clocking”. See the note following this piece for a historical perspective on rubber clocking.

The effect of the disqualifications goes far beyond the CQWW SSB contest. The operators of the disqualified stations are not only disqualified from the 2009 CQWW SSB contest, but they are now also ineligible for the 2010 World Radiosport Team Championship to be held in Russia. While we hesitate to take joy in the misfortune of others, this does improve the odds of some actual LIDS making the WRTC teams. However, the Vegas odds makers still put our chances of making a WRTC team only slightly above that of our scoring a Brazilian supermodel date for next year's Dayton Contest Dinner.

The buzz about the disqualifications in the contesting world was soon overtaken with discussion and arguments of exactly how the violations were discovered among the entrants' logs. The lack of actual knowledge about the techniques and methods used by the CQWW Contest Committee to adjudicate the contest results did little to quell the discussions. It actually fueled the fires in some cases. The CQWW Contest Committee is notoriously secretive about the tools and techniques used to cross-check and score logs. The contest results are issued as if carved in stone and carried down from the mountain by Moses, with about as much explanation of how they are obtained. The Fi-Ni Report has been informed by a knowledgeable insider that the preparation and adjudication of the CQWW contest results involves high level statistical analysis run on donated supercomputer time and the tossing of runes and reading of chicken bones. However, no chicken blood is spilled, unlike the preparation of the ARRL DX Contest results.

Overlooked among the buzz about the disqualifications is an oddity of how the results leaked out to the contesting world. The first appearance of the results on the internet occurred on a Croatian website with an electronic copy of the results listing from the Spanish language edition of CQ Magazine. Such a confluence of international connections can easily lead to conspiracy theories involving the cognoscenti, the Freemasons and the IMF, but as responsible journalists we refrain from any such suggestions. However, contributions from readers are welcome.

What will be the ultimate result of the 2008 disqualifications? Will the 2009 CQWW contests be run with contestants walking on egg shells in fear of the dreadful DQ? The Multi-2 category will be a little more open with five major competitors gone. If the sunspots don't return, will the whole event be red-flagged until Monday? But this isn't NASCAR. The only prediction we can confidently make about the 2009 CQWW contests is that Macho Cuesew will dominate the Xtreme contesting category. We stake our reputation on that.

Now that the CQWW Contest Committee has taken a definitive stand on the practice of rubber-clocking, we only hope they will begin to address other dubious practices in the contesting world.

A Brief History of Rubber Clocking

Rubber clocking is the practice of altering QSO times in a contest log to make it appear that all contacts occurred during the legal contest period. As an example, if a contest requires a minimum of 30 minutes of off time, an operator might start operating after only 25 minutes of off time and then 'fudge' the log times to make it look like he actually did take a full 30 minutes of off time, giving him an extra five minutes of operating time. Needless to say, this practice is frowned upon. More so when someone is actually caught doing it.

To understand the origins of rubber clocking, we have to go back to the days of paper logs and mechanical clocks. In those days, operators had to actually copy the contest exchange off the air without the aid of a supercheck partial database and manually write it on a piece of paper. They also had tubes in their radios. The time of the QSO was manually noted as well, usually from the shack clock or operator's wrist watch. Back then, men wore watches on their wrists rather than using their cell phones to keep track of time. Blackberries of the time occupied an entire desktop.

A very popular clock of the time was an MFJ 24 hour wall clock with a large dial and hands. In an MFJ cost saving measure, the arms of the clock were outsourced to a low cost overseas manufacturer. The manufacturer produced a large quantity of minute hands using a faulty plastic compound with an extremely low melting point. As a result, when exposed to a hot environment, such as the exhaust of a two holer Alpha 77 running at full bore, the minute arms would soften and sag. The sagging or “rubbering” of the minute arm would result in an incorrect time begin logged. Thus, some Big Guns would accidentally record QSO times that were several minutes off and could potentially result in rule violations. This became know as rubber clocking.

(The preceding was relayed to the Fi-Ni Report by an old timer Big Gun who swears that this happened to him.)

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