Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How much technology is too much?

It's soapbox time again.

I was chatting with my friend Larry, N4VA, the other day about some of the discussions that have come up on various reflectors about the use of a relatively new near real-time system for displaying contest scores while the contest is underway. The website for this system is www.getscores.org and you can check out the CQ-Contesting archives (search for "getscores" as a starting point) if you're interested in the details of the discussion. (The main point of contention is whether using that site puts one into an assisted category for a contest even if otherwise operating as a single operator).

Larry's complaint wasn't about whether or not using the site constituted assistance, but rather he was complaining that the computer technology seems to get getting in the way of using the radio. (I found it amusing the our chat took place entirely using an instant messaging client, facilitated at each end by a computer with the Internet in the middle, but that's not the point.)

Larry's been a ham for a relatively long time now, and for years said "What would I ever need a computer for?"© I gradually badgered him into moving into the computer age while he was badgering me about working on my CW so that I could pass my General class test and work some nice juicy DX. Both of us decided that it was easier just to get on with it, so Larry started using computers and I started using CW. (I will be the first to admit that Larry's computer skills are far better than my CW skills.)

But here's Larry's complaint, and I think he's got a point: Larry said that what would be required to post his scores to the Getscores site would be that he'd need to start using electronic logging (something that's been on his to-do list for a while, and is currently pretty close to the top of my list of "things to bug Larry about"), then figure out how to configure the logger to upload the scores to Getscore, etc. My response was "well, logging programs like N1MM's contest logger have that functionality built in", but then he mentioned something that was the inspiration for this entry.

I've used electronic logging almost from the very first QSO that I ever logged. (I think I logged something like 8 QSOs on paper when I first got my General ticket, and those were all transferred to the electronic log within a few hours of making those contacts.)

Larry told me that in order to submit your score for certain contests, you are required to submit your log electronically if you have more than a certain number of QSOs. (The North American QSO Party says you must submit electronically if you have 200 QSOs or more, as an example.) Larry has a modest station with a tower, some beams, some wire antennas, and he runs low power. Although he is a member of the Potomac Valley Radio Club, he's not a die-hard contester, and contests for fun. Like myself, Larry knows that it's pretty unlikely that he'll win any significant award (though both of us have been surprised in winning regional awards in contests), but rather he contests because it's a fun thing to do.

Those of you who know me know that I'm a "computer guy", having worked in the industry since I got out of college. While I'm all for technology, I think that when there's a requirement to use a particular technology merely to get credit for participation in a contest, things have gone too far. The argument is that it's not all that difficult to log on a computer, and while I agree with that (rather strongly), the point is that you shouldn't be required to do it. So what's the downside of one guy not participating in the contest because they won't accept his (non-electronic) log?

It's more than you may think. Those of use who contest casually are used to seeing the "big guns" at the top of the scoreboard. But if those big guns only worked each other, contest scores would maybe make it to the double or triple digits, not the multi-million point scores that we see. Who else do they contact? Well, that would be the little pistol stations like Larry and myself, who are in it just for fun. Of the thousands of contacts that these guys make, it seems obvious to me that most of them are casual contesters. So if one guy doesn't bother to participate in the contest because he doesn't want to have to submit his log electronically, what's the big deal? Well, probably not all that much. But what happens if it's a few dozen, or a few hundred people who stop participating because the log submission requirements are (at least to them) too restrictive?

Lest I be bombarded with complaints saying that by submitting on paper, it makes more work for the contest sponsors (I'm having delusions of grandeur, imaging that enough people read this to be able to "bombard" me with anything), I will say that I know that the sponsors have a really tough job, and when everything is submitted electronically, I'm sure it makes the job a lot easier. However, I still think that requiring the use of a particular technology merely to submit your logs is counterproductive to the contest as a whole.

As I've said before in this posting and ad nauseum elsewhere, it's my opinion that ham radio should be fun. Unnecessary participation requirements don't make it fun.

Before I fall off my soapbox, I will say that A) I will continue to encourage Larry to move to computer logging, and B) I will continue to do so myself, but I still think that it should be a personal choice.

Ok, let me step down off this soapbox (psst ... check out that link and what it says about blogs!) and put it back under the desk.


  1. Hi David,

    I pretty much agree with your take on this, but it seems like I recently saw a comment somewhere on the percentage of paper vs electronic logs that are filed. I may be way off base, but I think it was around 98 percent electronic.

    I suppose most of the folks logging on paper are already not turning in a log at all. It is a lot easier to e-mail a cabrillo file than deal with the paper/snail-mail. That sort of implies that paper logging is being pursued mostly by the really casual ops. Not a surprise.

    Heck, I'd guess part of the reason the number of logs submitted is rising is due to the ease of submission of a e-log.

    I agree, the paper loggers shouldn't be punished. But from the contest sponsor's point of view, that two percent on paper is still a lot of typing for the sponsor. Its the only way to include them in the log checking.

    The paper logs are probably all hand written, and not conducive to scanning. With my handwriting, it wouldn't be conducive to READING either. ;) Either way, that is a lot of work for a volunteer doing the log checking. Even if I don't like it, it is easy to understand their position.


  2. I am sure you are right with the percentage of electronic vs. paper logs, but I'm not so sure that the folks logging by hand aren't turning in logs. To go back to my conversation with Larry, the whole thing started because he does log by hand and he does turn in paper logs.

    I do agree (and I think I mentioned it in the post) that it's got to be a lot of work to hand-enter those logs. It's a good thing that I submit electronically, because I've long considered my handwriting as "write-only"; even I can't read it half the time!

    Perhaps there should be a compromise for hand-written logs. Maybe requiring them for things like multi-op stations or at least raise the number of QSOs so that a single-op using a pad just isn't likely to log that many.

    I just think that to discourage participation from anybody doesn't make sense.

    David, K2DBK