Monday, May 16, 2022

How I Manage My Contact Logs

When I’m out activating a SOTA summit, which is where is where most of my logged contacts come from, I put them into Outd logging software on my iPhone.  It makes it super easy to upload to the SOTA database.  (I’ve done a review of outd HERE if you are interested.)  When I’m at home, I use N3JFP’s Amateur Contact Log (ACLOG) on my PC.  I’ve also been known to use a paper log when things get wet on a summit.  More importantly, no matter how I log contacts, all of them are uploaded into ACLOG.   This article is about N3JFP’s Amateur Contact Log, and how I configure it and use it to centralize all of the logged contacts that I make from home or on the road.   Think of ACLOG as the clearing house for all of my amateur radio logging.

ACLOG

N3JFP’s Amateur Contact Log (ACLOG) is pretty well known in the ham community.  ACLOG is software that runs on Windows (sorry mac users) that hams use to log their contacts with other stations.  The software is very inexpensive and the author also publishes add-ons for contesting.  It was designed and developed by a ham for other hams.  Here are the things that I like most about it.

     It’s highly configurable.  For example, it has the ability to add custom fields.  (see more about this below).

     Ability to change the order of fields.

     Data is exportable in the portable ADIF format used by other apps and services.

     You can import from other logging apps (see more below on this).

     The import feature is very smart.  If you name a custom field the same as a field that is being imported from another app, it puts from that source into the right place. 

     Using the app to log contacts is very simple (or you can make it complex).

     It integrates with Logbook Of The World (LOTW).  (More below)

     Call lookup using the online service QRZ.  It does callsign lookup against QRZ when you are entering a contact callsign  and fills in name, state and other data automatically.

     Cool automation features, like the ability to highlight a bunch of contacts and tell it to fill in the blanks by using a lookup against QRZ.com  You’ll see this is important when importing logs from my iPhone, where the data for state and some other data is missing.

     It talks to my radio home radio by reading in the current frequency and mode, saving you from having to enter that.  That’s super handy during a fast paced contest.

I tried only one other logging app out there, Ham Radio Deluxe.  It was expensive and it was a hodgepodge of multiple applications smashed together, so it felt a little kludgy at the time.  I'm sure it’s improved over the years and there’s probably other great software out there too, but I’m sticking with ACLOG until something breaks with it.

I’m not going to delve into a full review of ACLOG, you can probably find that somewhere else.  I’m going to move onto the main purpose of this article, explaining how I use ACLOG for SOTA and my general workflow of how I ingest, update, and push data out into LOTW and QRZ for confirmations.


My Configuration Of ACLOG

I configured four custom fields for my use, and most of these are key for importing and managing my SOTA activities. My custom fields are named, “Other”, “MY_SOTA_REF”, “SOTA_REF”, and “QSL Sent?”.

The first custom field is “Other” (bad title I know).  This field contains mainly three possible options right now, Home, CHASE, and SOTA.

  1. Home is what I flag contacts that I made from home when I’m playing with my setup in a contest for instance and trying to work stations in the US and around the world.

  2. CHASE is what I flag contacts with to indicate that I was chasing a SOTA operator.  It allows me to identify which contacts I should export and then push up to sotadata.org.uk so I can track my SOTA contacts there and get my points. 

  3. SOTA is the designator that indicates that the contact was made from a SOTA summit.  Most of my log entries (currently about 9,000+) have the SOTA designation.

 

The next custom field is “MY_SOTA_REF”.  This is a standard ADIF field used by Summits On The Air logging apps and sotadata website for import.  This field indicates which summit I was on when I created a SOTA log entry for a contact.  This field happens to match the field name for the ADIF export of my logging app, Outd.  Because my custom field and the import datafile from Outd match, the import logic correctly pulls my sota summit id into this field.   This is super handy for multi-summit days!!!

SOTA_REF is another custom field that I added.  This field is used for holding the summit ID of a “chased summit”.  That is, when I chase a summit either from home, or from my summit while doing SOTA (summit-to-summit), this field holds the summit ID that the SOTA operator was on.  Because it matches the Outd ADF format, it comes across perfectly.  I really enjoy chasing other summits while on a mountain top.  It’s challenging and I feel a bit of comodery with the other operator that is battling some of the same things I am, cold, wind, dirt, etc.

QSL Sent?” is my final custom field.  It indicates the date that I sent a QSL card to an operator.  I enjoy sending one of my custom greetings and thank you cards to other Ham operators.  It’s been a tradition in the hobby for quite some time.  Originally, it was the only way that operators could prove that they had a particular contact with someone in order to earn credit toward some award, like “worked all states” for example.  Now confirmations are made electronically via qrz.com or Logbook Of The World (LOTW).  I don’t send a card to everyone that I contact, and if I do, I don’t want to keep sending them cards every time I make a contact, so I use this field to keep track of who I sent a card to.   Sending QSL cards is still a fun part of the hobbie and if you send cards, you are more likely to receive a “QSL card”.  I have quite a few with very cool art from all over the world. 



ACLOG is my logging clearinghouse. 

As I mentioned, I run all my logs through ACLOG.  That means that no matter where I log a contact, paper, phone, or directly using the app, those log entries will be loaded into ACLOG. 

Confirming:

Because ACLOG has a cool integration with LOTW, I can upload new logs directly to LOTW with a click of a button.  When I’m done, I export one or more days of contacts and then import them to QRZ.  Some operators really want you to confirm the contact so that they get credit as they are working toward some goal or award.  By uploading all my contacts to LOTW and QRZ, it covers most  everyone's needs.  If it doesn’t, they can request a QSL card.  I’m happy to send a QSL card in the mail but they really aren’t needed anymore and I’ve yet to have someone request one except when they send me one.

Export from Outd and Import to ACLOG

As I mentioned, I use Outd on my iPhone to log contacts when I’m out doing SOTA.  At the end of the day, I export my contacts from one or more SOTA expeditions and then do a quick pre-process prior to import.  Here are the steps that I follow:

  1. In Outd, I use the export feature to export to ADIF and use the email option, sending it to myself.

  2. On my PC, I open the email and download the attachment and move the file to a folder for that day.

  3. I upload that file to sotadata.org.uk so I can get my SOTA points and summit-to-summit points.  (I can also upload directly from my phone if I want to).

  4. I then open the file with a text editor called textpad. (any text editor will work)

  5. I use “save as” and change the file name suffix to “.adi”.

  6. I replace ALL “QPMSG” with “Comment”.  This puts that data into the comment field in ACLOG which typically contains “SOTA <my summit ID>”. The data is there so I figure why not bring it over to the comments field in ACLOG.  In addition, this is a standard field in QRZ logbook and since QRZ doesn’t have a “MY_SOTA_REF” field, this is an easy way to see what summit I was on if I’m browsing that logbook.  (Not sure if comments are visible to others).

  7. I replace ALL “<eor>” with “<Other:4>SOTA<My_Gridsquare:4>DM53<eor>”
    This populates my “Other” field in ACLOG and I populate the grid square field in ACLOG with the proper one for this summit.
    In the example above, I use the grid square that the summit is in (so it’s not always DM53), and I only use the first four characters of the grid square.  A four character grid square is close enough for users who want to prove they chased a county for example. 

  8. Save and close the file.

  9. In ACLOG I import the recently edited .adi file using File/Import

Note: N6ARA created a python script to do the file post processing a little quicker.  He may use a tad different scheme but check it out, he also distributes the source code located HERE.

Now all of the contacts that I made on one or more summits are loaded into ACLOG.  The one last thing that I do is go into ACLOG and fill in the blanks for name, state etc that are not captured in Outd.  I do this by highlighting all of the calls that I want to update, then use the edit menu, then “Fill Fields Determined by Call” then choose “selected records”.  ACLOG then quickly goes through all of the records, looking them up in QRZ via an API, and fills in the blank fields where it can.  This is a super cool feature in ACLOG.


Push records to LOTW using ACLOG

As mentioned above, I confirm via LOTW and ACLOG as a built in tool that does all the work for you.  The one thing you need to ensure is that you’ve created a new “location” using TQSL tool for each grid square that you will upload records for.  Because I only use the first four characters of the grid square, I didn’t have to create that many “locations” because a four digit grid square can contain a LOT of summits.
(By clicking on the image above, you can see that records in blue are "confirmed" via LOTW.)

When you are ready to upload directly from ACLOG to LOTW, highlight the records you want to upload, then select the “eLogs” menu and choose LOTW.  On the upload dialog, use the pulldown and choose the matching grid square for the records you will upload, then click on the button “Selected Contacts from Main Form”.  

Once you’ve pushed records to LOTW, you can use the “eLogs” menu / LOTW, and then choose the “All Since” button.  This pulls down all of the confirmations in LOTW into ACLOG.  It’s a super easy way to to integrate with LOTW.

Export then Importing to QRZ.com

As mentioned, I also upload my contacts for the day to my qrz.com, a cloud based logging app used by many hams.  Some hams use the automated feature that looks at the logbooks of the people you contact to see if they also logged you, which is a good way to “confirm”.  It’s a simple way to prove that you really did make a contact with someone at a date, time, band and location.

  1. In ACLOG, Highlight the records you want to import to QRZ

  2. Choose “File / Export ADIF...” then “selected records”. It will ask you for a file name then present you with a dialog to choose some special options... just choose “Continue”.

  3. Go to qrz.com and open your logbook. 

  4. Choose the import icon on the right side and “Import from ADI file”.

  5. Choose the file that you just exported from ACLOG

  6. When that completes, you’ll see all of your log entries in QRZ and an icon if it was able to confirm your entry with other users.

  7. The last step is to choose that same little import icon but choose “Import from LOTW”.  If LOTW has completed processing your file, all of your records will turn green and it will have a special icon that shows confirmations that came from LOTW. 


The above is a snapshot of my from my QRZ log 
A star with a circle indicates a confirmation via LOTW
A star without a circle indicates a confirmation from QRZ only.

You may wonder why I don’t just import from LOTW since we used ACLOG to push the records up there in an earlier step. This is because fields like comments aren’t in the LOTW database so if you want the comments to come along, you’ll need to import a file you exported from ACLOG.

This process of importing from the iPhone then using LOTW, and exporting, and importing to QRZ may sound like an all day affair, but in reality, all of this just takes a few minutes. Also, I might only do this once per week.

 There is no rule that says that you need to keep a log of all your contacts, and my hams don’t (I don’t log all of the contacts that I make using my hand-held or VHF radio around town for example).  Over time, it’s kinda cool to see all of the people and places that you’ve contacted.  ACLOG has a bunch of stats as well so it provides a bit of entertainment for data geeks like me.

 I hope my approach to centralizing my logs for statistics fun was helpful.


73,
N1CLC
Chris Claborne
(aka christian claborne)

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