[CQ-Contest] CQ CERTIFICATES--the real story

John Brosnahan broz at csn.net
Thu Sep 23 10:26:22 EDT 1999

Dear Contesting Community,

A few years ago I became frustrated with the slow response time with
CQ on their certificates.  Rather than just complaining, I decided to
try and help.  I was semi-retired and thought that I could help repay the
contesting community for all of the fun I have had over the last 40 years
by volunteering some time and the use of my B-sized laser printer (a
"regular" laser will not handle the over-sized blank certificate stock 
that CQ uses).  Over a long period of time I badgered John Dorr and 
Bob Cox to allow me to automate the process.  Previously it had all been 
done manually and I thought that computerizing the process would make 
it all go faster and would allow much classier printing than had been 
done previously with an IBM typewriter.  Just how hard could it be?  
A simple database program and a style template overlay should make 
it all pretty easy and the results would be much better--both in quality 
and timeliness, especially since the results were already being submitted
to CQ in a computer format.

What then transpired has been a lesson in frustration, for me, Bob Cox, and
the contesting community in general--although, at first, it seemed 
to go pretty well.  The WordPerfect documentation for their database 
and template functions is not very good but, with the help of a good
friend, the software and procedures were created that allowed the
1996 SSB certificates to do printed and mailed.  I was pleased with the
results and although it took a lot more time to do that I had initially
estimated, I just chalked it up to the "learning curve".

Shortly after the 1996 SSB certificates were completed I was approached
by Dick Ehrhorn, who said he needed some help with Alpha/Power and
I agreed to take over as President and Technical Director.  I knew this
might delay the 1996 CW certificates by a month or two, but once I
got things running smoothly at Alpha I could get the CW certificates
done quickly, now that I knew how to make it all work, based on my
experiences with the SSB ones.

The Alpha/Power job quickly became bigger and more time consuming 
than I had first thought it would be.  I wanted to improve the products,
improve the service, add new products, and generally make Alpha/Power
the very best company serving the amateur radio market.  Not only did 
Alpha/Power require more time than I thought it would, I also got involved 
in estate issues associated with the then-recent passing of both of my 
parents that quickly grew to be much larger than anticipated.  And
I still had remaining business committments to the atmospheric and 
ionospheric sounding community that required more time and energy
than I had expected.  (I took the certificate task on and later the job
at Alpha/Power as a way of helping to overcome the grief of the loss
of both of my parents, figuring that if I got very busy it would leave
little time to sit around and feel sorry for myself--something that seemed
to be happening at the time.)

The next thing I knew, quite a few months had gone by, and when I went 
back to do the 1996 CW certificates, it was after I had had a computer 
crash.  When I tried to do the certificates the formating was corrupted
and I could not seem to make it work, no matter what I tried.  For the
following few months I spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out the 
problems.  I even bought a newer version of WordPerect.  I upgraded
from Windows 95 to 98.  I bought new hard drives, and finally I even 
bought a new computer.  I studied the HP 4MV laser printer manaul, and
I called on a number of computer friends who know a lot more than I do.

The formatting appeared to be OK on the monitor screen, properly 
centered on the page but when I went to print on the oversized forms 
the data was always improperly offset.  I began experimenting with
everything over the coming months, recreating the databases,
redoing the templates, reconfiguring the computer, the printer, and
anything else I could think of.  Each experiment would take almost as 
long to try as actually doing the certificates themselves since I had to 
go through each process before I got to the printing part where the 
formatting would fail.

All of this time Bob Cox kept pushing me to try and get them done
as soon as possible and all of this time I kept reassuring him that I
would be able to figure out the problem "in a few days" and that I
would complete what I had started.  I am certainly not one to quit 
a committment I have made, and this became a point of honor.

This battle continued for months--although it was not fought every
waking minute, I did spend countless evening and weekend hours
trying to get the process to work again.  A process that worked once
and appeared to work throughout all stages until the printing process.
Finally things started to work again, but it was extremely frustrating,
because I did not know what I had done to make things work and had
never figured out why things had not worked previously.  But I was
back on track and got the 1996 SSB certificates to print and they
were sent to Bob a month or two ago for stuffing into envelopes and
have now been received by the winners.

So I was now ready for the 1997 certificates and was relieved that the
disasater was behind me.  But the 1997 blanks were a different size,
requiring a modification to the template and they had also been made
"generic" by leaving off the year.  And adding the year to the certificate
would also require modifying the template.  Should be no problem, now
that I had gotten the 96 CW certs to print.  But the templates must be 
modified directly in the format codes, since trying to do the template 
mods on-screen never seemed to work right.  Something that
seems like it should make sense--but try looking at a WordPerfect
document in the codes section with the Show Codes turned on.

I decided to do the 97 MM and MS SSB classes first.  The multi-op 
classes have a different template than the single-op classes since they 
need to list the operators.  The results did not work right!  No matter what 
I tried the call sign jumped to the wrong location on the page after I had
added the year.  I finally manually edited each individual MS and MM 
certificate in order to get them done.  I thought I had figured out the 
problem with the multi-op categories after I had completed them and so 
I used that knowledge to modify the single-op template so that I could 
get them done, finally, without all of the manual editing.  The single-op 
categories are now completely messed up and yet the template looks OK.  
I have spent this past week trying to sort out these issues to no avail.  

I have run out of time and energy, Bob has become VERY frustrated,
and the contesting community is in massive revolt.  It is clear that I 
cannot make the certificates happen in a timely fashion and the
level of frustration with not ever really understanding what went wrong
and why it sometimes would work has finally overwhelmed me.

What started out with the BEST of intentions (I wanted to make the
certificate process happen FASTER) became the ultimate lesson
in frustration and, although my results LOOK better, the delivery time 
became much worse, not better.  After spending hundreds and hundreds
of hours, a lot of money (on software upgrades, new hardware, and 
$150 a pop for the B-sized toner cartridge) I have given up and turned 
the whole task back to Bob.  It is my understanding that he is well on
the way to getting the 98 certs out and also catching up on 97s by
arranging with someone who has both the time and the knowledge to
do it right and right away.

My apologies to all of those who have waited so patiently for their
certificates and my apologies especially to Bob Cox and to the 
CQWW contest committee.  Bob has gone to great lengths to keep
me isolated from the slings and arrows that he has been receiving on
a daily basis, but I read the contest reflector and I know how frustrated
everyone really is.  (But trust me, no one is anywhere nearly as 
frustrated as I am (except maybe Bob) --the time saving aspects of
computers is a myth, at least to me and people like me.)  Today I am 
forwarding the completed 97 SSB MS and MM certs and the blanks 
to my successor(s) and I wish him/them the very best of luck with 
finishing up both 97 and 98 over the next few weeks.

In retrospect my biggest mistake was NOT giving up much sooner.
When I made the committment to Alpha/Power I should have reduced
the volunteer committments, but I thought I could do everything--just
work a little harder and a little longer.  The result has resulted in some
health issues that force me to reduce my committments in a number of
areas in addtion to the certrificates so that I can focus on Alpha/Power.

Again, my apologies to all!  I hope this will at least help everyone
understand what went wrong and how Bob and CQ did everything
they could to make it happen.  All of the delays and problems were
mine and mine alone.  (And I have learned to have the highest respect 
for anyone volunteering their time to help with tasks like this.  The
projects are always bigger than they seem.)

73  John  W0UN

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