Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Defense of Paper Logs

I love my paper log. In fact, I'll probably never give it up. Why, with all the fancy computer logging software available, would I subject myself to such antiquated and technologyless (Look, I made up a word) form of tracking contacts? Glad you asked.

I've only been a ham for four years now, but I have been asked at nearly every turn why I continue to use a paper log. Last year, I attended a club radio event at a children's festival that coincided with the California QSO party. Being that we were their to demonstrate amateur radio and there were literally hundreds of stations looking for El Dorado County on that day, I worked both the event and the QSO party…with my paper log. Within a few hours, I had logged nearly one hundred contacts. One of the club members looked over my shoulder and remarked that with a computer, I would have much less trouble checking dupes and keeping accurate on my count. He also pointed out that it would be much easier to upload a digital log to the contest afterward. He was right on all counts, but it didn't change my preference.

I spend all day at a computer. I am constantly looking at a screen full of numbers, spreadsheets, technical documents, Facebook, Twitter, HTML, blah, blah, blah. When I get some time to spend with my hobby, the last thing I want to look at is a computer screen. I think that there are three primary reasons I like a paper log so much better:

1.) They let me focus on the contact and not the computer.

I don't know about you, but I cannot abide a messy spreadsheet. So when I'm logging on a computer, all of the spacing must be exact, caps in the right place, and every cell filled to the brim with useful and properly spelled data. In my paper log, it could be chucked scratch, but at least the time, band, and call-sign are there. But more importantly, there are usual notes floating around the page about what I was hearing on the bands beyond what contacts I made. Which brings me to number 2.

2.) My paper log holds more useful information than my computer log.

Look through my HRD log and you can see who I talked to. Look through my log book and you can see what the band sounded like on June 3 of last year. What was the QRM like? Where were the strongest contacts originating? What rare DX was operating? Who couldn't I reach, even though they were 20db over S9 and only running 100 watts? That information is priceless in adjusting my station to reach out and touch them on the next chance. Now, I am aware that I could have a note file up on screen that let me capture all of this information at the same time. But, this brings me to reason number 3.

3.) My paper log can go anywhere, any time, and doesn't eat batteries.

Of all the things I love about my paper log, the thing I love the most is its simplicity. It doesn't require power, it fits in my backpack, and I can use it as easily in a tent as in my shack at home. It is a go anywhere solution that doesn't require schlepping an extra 10 pounds up a mountain for a SOTA activation or an impromptu QRP expedition to a local park. And I fI turn on the radio just in time to hear that one rare entity calling CQ, I don't have to wait for my computer to startup to log the contact.

In the spirit of full disclosure: there are times when I power up my computer and use it for logging. There is no way I could keep an accurate log for a Club Field Day for instance. There are too many contacts happening too quickly and the pile up won't stick around if I need more time to write. They have their time and place, but for my time, it will always be a paper log.

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