After the Contest
Log Checker’s thoughts after processing CQWW RTTY DX Contest logs by Paolo, I2UIY (sk)
January 18, 2006: I just finished with log checking for CQWW RTTY held on the last weekend of September 2005.
While I was working with these logs, I put a note on my desktop to remember some highlights because I decided to put together some suggestions to help who just finished a contest and now wants submit his log. Don, AA5AU, agreed to fix my poor English and publish my notes on his very well known RTTY webpage.
I like checking contest logs. I did it for almost 15 years for ARI DX Contest, for the Eu Sprint and for a couple of domestic contests. I did log checking at WRTC 1996 and I will do it at WRTC 2006 in Brazil.
Maybe I like it because of my job. I’m in charge of 100% of the Outgoing and of about 60% of the Incoming QSL Bureaus for all Italy. It’s a big pile of cards, over 7,000/8,000 Kg per year, that keep me busy for about 40 hours a week. When you sort so many cards daily, you learn to understand when a callsign is broken at the first sight, you don’t need to think a lot.
I’m a member of the CQWW (SSB & CW) Contest Committee since 16 years now and since when Cabrillo was born I’m heavily involved in converting into the correct format all those logs submitted for CQ contests in wrong/different formats. In 2004 and 2005 I have converted and resubmitted almost 500 logs.
So, when I met N5KO (HC8N) in Visalia and he asked if I was interested to take care of the two “big ones” (CQWW RTTY and CQ WW WPX RTTY) I said “yes, why not?”. Then I went back to California in August, I met W6OTC and we arranged the details.
Every year, for ARI DX Contest, we get a couple of hundreds of RTTY logs but we don’t have big numbers. For CQWW RTTY 2005 we got 1,361 logs and some of them were quite big with several thousands of QSOs for a grand total of over 614,000 QSOs.
I have always thought that RTTY had to be easier to check because people read what their decoder gets so the percentage of errors should be smaller than on SSB/CW when receiving is performed by human mind/ears. Obviously it turned to be a wrong assumption.
Basically I must state that people – most of them – simply don’t care about their own log. It’s sad but it’s true, trust me.
This is very curious because someone spends thousands of USD/Euros/Yen or whatever currency you like more to put together a good contest station. They spend countless hours under the sun or in the icy weather installing towers and raising antennas. More hours and money are spent fixing the station, setting the SO2R things and testing new software and some minor issues that might become very important during the contest. Rivers of words are posted on the reflectors discussing, sometimes, about nothing.
Then comes the contest itself: no sleep, Murphy, equipment crashes, fights for a frequency, some frustration – you know how it works.
After the contest, when everything is quiet again, many of them don’t even read their own log. They simply push few keys to create the Cabrillo file and submit it as soon as possible. So, if log checking is enough sophisticated, they end to lose points just because they did not cared of the easier work: reading their own log before to submit it. It looks stupid, isn’t it?
There is not an award for the fastest submission. This time we received 1,361 logs but 562 of them have been received within 5 days after the contest. This is over 41% of all logs and I’m not talking of little pistols, there are many big guns in this list.
Obviously, nobody is supposed to change his log after the contest, this must be VERY clear. Nevertheless typos can be corrected without bending the rules. It doesn’t make any sense keeping in the log callsigns like 0M7PY, I2UIY15, 45WD, 4ZG, 5V, 6YXPT3, 9M6/G300K just to name a few.
What really surprised me was the large number of logs with missed columns. Yes, we are not talking about a missed zone or a missed QTH. We are talking about full columns missed.
I e-mailed to 151 entrants (this is over 10% of the received logs) that submitted incomplete logs. The largest majority missed the received Zone or the received QTH column.
Some others (partially) missed time or frequency column. One missed the whole log (!) and submitted only the Cabrillo header, another two submitted the log with a callsign different from the one he had used during the contest (i.e. I operated as IR2A and then I submit my log as I2UIY).
What surprised me even more was that for about 30% of those 151 entrants I had to send them up to 6 (six) e-mail messages before to get their attention and get some answer.
The top of the surprise come from 15 of those 151 that not even answered to my 6 messages (so they ended Control Log).
Many logs had been “somehow” edited by the entrant that “I don’t know why it’s messed up most of the columns making their log useless unless someone (me!) edited it again.
All this is totally unacceptable. Remember: each entrant has only his own log to care about, we have ALL of them. Why should we go after over 150 logs? It would be much more easy just reclassify them as Check Log and move to the good ones. I don’t like and I don’t want do this so I waste so much time to fix the most part of them but this is not right.
Just think about this:
- Final results were ready on January 18, about 118 days after the contest.
- The log-checking process took about 2/3 weeks, I did not worked on the logs for about 10 days around Christmas.
- The rest of the time, about 90 days, was spent fixing some logs with problems and going after those 151 logs that I could not fix myself.
Discussions about Cabrillo pop up at least once a year on the CQ Contest reflector. The bottom line is that Cabrillo was created to have a single format that could make easier processing the logs. Then, for some strange reasons, it happened that each contest sponsor receives up to 20/30 different (!) version of Cabrillo format for the same contest. If the file is created by a contest software, at least the columns are fixed. If the file is edited by the entrant then everything may happen.
I made a fast check to discover that among the 1,361 logs that we have received, this is the software Top Score:
- WriteLog = 337
- MixW = 271
- N1MM Logger = 254
- MMTTY = 84
- RCKRtty = 77
- JK1IQK’s software = 55
- SM6BSK Cabrillo Converter = 28
- AATest = 8
- MMVARI = 6
This means that about 250 logs have been created by other software, most of the times unknown.
I found that most of the files that have been edited by the entrant come from MixW and I cannot understand why. I had some e-mail exchanges with the author of that software and he cannot understand it, too.
Someone still submits his log done with Excel and/or WinWord. These are the two WORST format that you can submit. Sometimes it takes up to 4 steps to bring them in a reasonable format. Sometimes I even think that who submits a log done with Excel does it intentionally just to give troubles to the log checker!
The point is that all logs submitted in strange formats must be manually edited and fixed in order to be able to process them because I check 100% of the logs, including those with only 1 QSO.
E-mailing (multiple times) to those 151 entrants, waiting their answers, converting all the received files into a single format took about 3 months. You must count this in the time it takes to get the final results.
Why convert all logs to the same format? Because the log checking software reads automatically each log to create the database that is the “heart” of the process and he expects to find a given column in a given place and if he doesn’t find what he wants he stops working.
Why don’t we have a smart software that can recognize different versions of Cabrillo and “maybe” some other formats? Because nobody wants waste his time writing such a software without anything in return. Writing a real good log checking software is not easy because the software is supposed to catch most of the errors automatically and this is not easy to achieve considering the multiple options that ham callsigns involve.
The Cabrillo header
About 20% of the entrants (we are talking of over 250 logs!) entered their “own” category.
I understand that the categories that one finds in the rules cannot make everyone happy but those are the only categories you can enter, you cannot build your own category. So, no Single Operator Assisted Low Power, no Rookie, no Triband and Single Wire, no Expert, no Over 50 Years Old. This is CQWW RTTY and the only valid categories are listed in the rules.
Unfortunately, in order to proceed with log checking, you have to edit each log with a wrong category and fix it. When a choice seems “very” strange, then you have to e-mail to the entrant to make sure that was really his decision (i.e. a log with 900 QSOs on all bands submitted as Single Operator 10m where he made only 3 QSOs!).
If you are Single Operator, then you don’t need to fill the “Operators” box unless you have used some special contest callsign. If your callsign is I2UIY and you have operated as I2UIY, then leave that box empty. If you fill that box with your name, your family name, your nickname, your former callsign or with whatever you might imagine, then I’ll need to fix it.
Another funny line in the Cabrillo header says ARRL-SECTION. This is useless for most of the contests so you may leave it empty but if you really want fill it, just do it right! If you are in USA then look for your ARRL Section, if you’re in Canada look for your Province but if you’re not in USA and neither in Canada then you can only choose “DX”, nothing else.
Are you a member of some Club? Then (if the Club category exists in that contest) write it clear without any abbreviation or nicknames. The reason to add your club in the Cabrillo header is to help your club with your score. If you write the name of your club in a way that it cannot be recognized – it is useless. Just remember that ARRL, DARC, JARL, RSGB are not clubs, these are national Associations.
The log itself
Don’t trust blindly to your software. In these days when you operate in a contest with a “fixed exchange” that comes automatically from a “multiplier list”, you generally just type the callsign, hit the space bar and the received data magically pops up. This makes faster your work but you must be sure that what the software gives you is correct.
You must check what you’ve received, too. RTTY brings on your screen a lot of junk so you must be careful. If what you read it doesn’t match with the callsign you’re working (i.e. I2UIY in zone 05 or AA5AU in NY), then ask to repeat.
The multiplier list might be not updated so some new contest callsigns might not be properly recognized. If this happens, do NOT change the callsigns. Just take a note on paper and go on. After the contest you will edit and fix the multiplier list and then your software will recognize the special callsign. For instance: we had some entrants that changed these callsigns:
- KG6DX (Guam) into KG6DX/KH2
- B3C (China) into B3C/BY
- KL0S/4 into KL0S/W4 (or /K4)
This is wrong. They should have just edited their multiplier list (after the contest) adding those callsigns to their countries. Please understand that B3C and B3C/BY are two different callsigns.
If you’re not 100% sure of a QSO (callsign and/or exchange), ask to repeat and, if nothing happens, consider if you really want put in the log a incomplete QSO or not. Accuracy can be one of the keys to get a better score.
If, for some strange reasons, you logged on paper, be sure to type-in it yourself, do not ask someone else who’s not a ham to do it for you if you don’t want have a log full of typos. I found a lot of “I” that were really “1”, “Z” that were really “2”, “V” that were really “U”. This must only came from a paper log typed in after the contest.
There is a common recommendation for SSB, CW and RTTY contests: be on the air as much as you can (outside of the contest) so you will “learn and remember” the existing callsigns and you will immediately understand if a callsign cannot exist. This will allow you to ask that station to repeat his callsign until you’ll get it correct. This is VERY important because you’re not supposed to make any change in your log after the contest so you must do it “live”.
In many countries there are rules about the callsigns: learn those rules!
- The only 2×2 Japanese callsigns are JA and JR6 (so any 2×2 JE, JF, JG, JH, JI – are all busted callsigns).
- There are NO 2×2 IK and IZ in Italy,
- All 2×3 LA callsigns end with “A”
There are no 1×2 United Kingdom callsigns beginning with M.
In some countries there are no call-areas so a German station will never sign (i.e.) DL1AAA/5. Same in United Kingdom (no G3AAA/4), Denmark, Ukraine, France and some others.
There are just some examples but there are many others.
Remember: busted callsigns make you lose the QSO and if that QSO is a multiplier than you will lose the mult, also. In many contests there are penalties so you might lose up to 3 additional QSOs. In a RTTY contest the rate is not so important as for SSB and CW so few seconds asking to repeat a callsign or waiting for the next time that station will sign his callsign are a good investment.
It’s amazing in how many ways a callsign might be busted during a big contest like CQWW RTTY. These are some examples taken from CQWW RTTY 2005 (the correct callsigns are written in bold characters:
Obviously one must pay attention to the exchange, not only to the callsigns.
During CQWW RTTY 2005, 88 stations logged VO2NS. Well, they have been able to log his exchange in 14 different ways: NT, NL, NF, LB, NS, NO, VO2, NFL, NWT, LAB, DX, VO1, PE, ON.
This is not to count the many mistakes with US stations sending a zone different from what one might expect. Just to name a few:
- W6IHG lives in VA and he sends 05 but 117 stations logged him with zone 03
- AD4EB lives in TN and he sends 04 but 92 stations logged him with zone 05
- W4GKM lives in TN and he sends 04 but 87 stations logged him with zone 05
- W6DSQ lives in TN and he sends 04 but 63 stations logged him with zone 03
- K7RE lives in SD and he sends 04 but 57 stations logged him with zone 03
- NY4N lives in TN and he sends 04 but 35 stations logged him with zone 05
- N6ZUE lives in FL and he sends 05 but 24 stations logged him with zone 03
- KU8E lives in GA and he sends 05 but 20 stations logged him with zone 04
- AC7IU lives in WY and he sends 04 but 17 stations logged him with zone 03
Each time that, after a contest, I read on the reflectors some polemics about the robot that receives the logs, I get upset.
You (should) know how it works: some robots doesn’t like the wording “RTTY” in the category line, some others accept it. So what? If the robot doesn’t like that word, just remove it and resubmit. Who cares if your software puts that word in that line and the robot doesn’t like it? Just edit the line and go on!
The robot is supposed to send you a immediate confirmation of reception of your log. Didn’t you got it? Send your log again, it will take just one minute.
Let’s take it easy. Do someone remember when logs were done by big stacks of paper pages, 40 QSOs each one, all hand written and submitted by regular mail hoping that your log would not get lost somewhere between your post office and its final destination? Ever handled a 9,000+ QSOs paper log with a Commodore 64? I did it and I’m so glad when I can submit my log thru a robot even if time to time it doesn’t work so I have to resubmit.
I guess that there is not much consideration for who sponsors a contest and takes care of all the “post-contest” work. These people makes us have fun, we should be happy of what they do for us.
Let’s summarize what I’m talking about:
- Read your log before to submit it. Better if you read it twice.
- Never edit your Cabrillo file. Columns are and must remains fixed.
- Never create your “own” category. The only allowed categories are those listed in the Rules.
- Take few minutes to understand how the Cabrillo header must be filled.
- Don’t trust blindly to the multipliers list that your software provides.
- Try being on the air as often as you can. It will help you getting familiar with callsigns.
- When a “callsign/zone combo” doesn’t sounds correct, just ask to repeat.
- Don’t fight against the robot. Most of the times the robot is right and when he’s not right you should forgive him anyway.
Please do not misunderstand: these are not rules engraved in the stone. I just put together some advices that come from my experience of log checker. I just guess that it’s a pity making so much work before and during a contest and then don’t pay attention to the post-contest work (the easiest one).
If something is not clear, feel free to e-mail to me and ask, I’ll be happy to help. Same if you have some suggestion that might be added to this page, just let me know and we’ll do it.
Thanks for your attention.
73, good luck in the contest!