Thursday, February 15, 2007

Logging accuracy and diligence

Marti Lane (OH2BH) famously asked, "Where do we go next?" I have the answer: St. Kitts! I have set the wheels in motion to rent a villa on the island of St. Kitts (NA-104) for the upcoming CQ WW SSB contest in October. So, while I'm still sorting out the final stages of the Montserrat trip, I'm now busily making plans for the next thing. Life is good!
Another dozen envelopes came today seeking Montserrat QSL cards (at least I presume that's what they're looking for--I've not opened them {grin}). I've also received one or two emails a day with requests for corrections for the log files. Perhaps this is a good time to talk about logging and accuracy.
I believe there are three different levels of logging diligence you can have. The lowest is that done by means other than directly into a computer. Paper and pencil, or entering data into a PDA while operating portably would be the lowest level of logging diligence. When you log this way (and I've done this a great deal while operating portably on Field Day or from a Boston Harbor Island) you are capturing all data manually: time, date, frequency, mode, call signs of stations you've worked, signal reports, and other QSO information such as operator name and location. The chances for any one of these data points to be inaccurate are relatively high when compared to other logging means. Even if you capture everything correctly at the time of contact, there is still a chance you'll make errors when you transfer that information to your permanent log later. These transcription errors are easy to make and difficult to find.
The next highest level of logging diligence is using a computer to capture some, but not all, of the QSO information. For example, perhaps you have your computer talking nicely to the radio so time, date, frequency, and mode are captured when you log a call, but the call sign recorded is not checked for validity. It is still possible to get the call sign wrong and not recognize the error immediately. Operators who use computer logging without call sign database lookup (either through the internet or via a resident database such as the QRZ CDROM) operate at this level.
The highest level of logging diligence involves using rig control to capture all the radio's data, and using a call sign database to verify each call sign you work. This is how I try to operate, both in contests, and on a DXpedition. When I hear a call sign, I immediately type it into my logging program and do a lookup. If I get a name back like "Franz" and the operator says his name is "Franz", I'm pretty sure I've got things right. Occasionally, the names will not match--so I ask for a repeat on the call. Often, in these situations, I've got the call logged correctly, but it is worth the time for the second query. And, on those times when I had dropped (or added) a letter or transposed two characters, it was definitely worth the extra time.
Out of the nearly 1300 contacts I made while on Montserrat, I have needed to fix just one of my QSOs (so far). I would be surprised if the number grew much more than this.
I'm not trying to make some point about my operating skill here. Quite the contrary, I worry (obsess?) that I'm not accurate and focused enough. The point I'm trying to make here is accuracy counts and the best way to achieve higher accuracy immediately is to utilize computerized tools that are available. Rig control, when working, eliminates a whole category of errors: forgetting to record when band or mode changes occurred. Computer logging eliminates another whole category of errors: recording incorrect times or dates. Call sign lookup helps eliminate another category of errors: logging non-existent or nonsensical call signs. It can't guarantee you won't log a busted call, but it gives you second chances to correct a problem that would otherwise go unnoticed until much later.
Those of you who like to contest know the importance of accurate logging. Busted calls cost you that QSO and usually a penalty of a couple more. The penalty points really add up! If you wish to work on your logging accuracy for DXpedition work, I can recommend no better practice than working a big contest and then submitting your log for score. Review the results when they appear. Vow to improve your score the next time. Here, I certainly believe that practice makes perfect.
Again, if you are not logging with rig control and the QRZ ROM or equivalent, I would urge you to try it. This can be one of the best investments you can make. After all, don't you and those you work deserve an accurate and reliable accounting of your fine work on your DXpedition? I think so. I hope you agree.
I'll report back to everybody when the QSL card design is finally off to the printer. That should be by Monday (I hope). I'll also let everybody know where we stand on electronic QSLing for the group. I believe everybody has finally arrived home (except PauL) so it is time to get that buttoned-up. We are coming to a close on the Buddipole Users on Montserrat. At this point, we need only finish what we'd begun. Just a few tasks left...


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