HAMNET Report 18 February 2018

Hamnet is in a pickle! Why, I hear you ask?

Well, in an article published in Science Alert, the question is asked: “If we receive a message from Aliens, should we delete it without reading?”

Scientists have been conducting multiple surveys in the hopes of find indications of “technosignatures” – i.e. evidence of technologically-advanced life (such as radio communications), for at least 50 years.

To put it plainly, if humanity were to receive a message from an extraterrestrial civilisation right now, it would be the single greatest event in the history of civilisation.

But according to a new study, such a message could also pose a serious risk to humanity. Drawing on multiple possibilities that have been explored in detail, they consider how humanity could shield itself from malicious spam and viruses.

The paper, titled “Interstellar communication. IX. Message decontamination is impossible”, recently appeared online.

The study was conducted by Michael Hippke, an independent scientist from the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany; and John G. Learned, a professor with the High Energy Physics Group at the University of Hawaii.

Together, they examine some of the foregone conclusions about SETI and what is more likely to be the case.

To be fair, the notion that an extraterrestrial civilisation could pose a threat to humanity is not just a well-worn science fiction trope. For decades, scientists have treated it as a distinct possibility and considered whether or not the risks outweigh the possible benefits.

As a result, some theorists have suggested that humans should not engage in SETI at all, or that we should take measures to hide our planet.

As Learned told Universe Today via email, there has never been a consensus among SETI researchers about whether or not ETI would be benevolent:

“There is no compelling reason at all to assume benevolence (for example that ETI are wise and kind due to their ancient civilisation’s experience).

“I find much more compelling the analogy to what we know from our history… Is there any society anywhere which has had a good experience after meeting up with a technologically advanced invader? Of course it would go either way, but I think often of the movie Alien… a credible notion it seems to me.”

In addition, assuming that an alien message could pose a threat to humanity makes practical sense.

Given the sheer size of the Universe and the limitations imposed by special relativity (i.e. no known means of faster-than-light travel), it would always be cheaper and easier to send a malicious message to eradicate a civilisation compared to an invasion fleet.

As a result, Hippke and Learned advise that SETI signals be vetted and/or “decontaminated” beforehand.

In terms of how a SETI signal could constitute a threat, the researchers outline a number of possibilities.

Beyond the likelihood that a message could convey misinformation designed to cause a panic or self-destructive behaviour, there is also the possibility that it could contain viruses or other embedded technical issues (i.e. the format could cause our computers to crash).

They also note that, when it comes to SETI, a major complication arises from the fact that no message is likely to be received in only one place, making containment possible.

In the end, it appears that the only real solution is to maintain a vigilant attitude and ensure that any messages we send are as benign as possible.

As Hippke summarised: “I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that a message will be positive, but you cannot be sure. Would you take a 1 percent chance of death for a 99 percent chance of a cure for all diseases? One learning from our paper is how to design [our] own message, in case we decide to send any: Keep it simple, don’t send computer code.”

Basically, when it comes to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the rules of internet safety may apply. If we begin to receive messages, we shouldn’t trust those that come with big attachments and send any suspicious looking ones to our spam folder.

So if Darth Vader decides, with evil intent, to send you a possibly encrypted 3D hologram from Death Star, either by audio, or digitally on your PC, do think twice before opening the attachment, will you?!

On the other hand, if some of you had given up all hope of receiving a HAMNET message from Bouvet Island because the 3Y0Z team is sadly in Cape Town licking its wounds instead of working a pile-up on the island, there may be hope ahead.

The ARRL Newsletter of 15 February notes that Peripatetic Polish DXpeditioner Dom Grzyb, 3Z9DX, and four other operators announced over the weekend that their postponed plans to mount the 3Y0I DXpedition to Bouvet Island are back on.

“Our trip, planned originally at the end of 2017, was cancelled at the request of the organizers of the 3Y0Z expedition,” an announcement said. “Due to the cancellation by the [3Y0Z] organizers, we are now returning to the implementation of our project and preparations for our trip as a matter of urgency.”

DX-World has reported that the 3Y0I license has been renewed and a landing permit — good for 1 year — issued by the Norwegian Polar Institute. While no specific dates for the DXpedition have been announced, the 3Y0I team said its plans call for operating during the sub-Antarctic summer, which suggests they could be on the air late this year.

The 3Y0I team said it has chartered a seagoing yacht adapted for extreme weather conditions to make the 12-day, 2,800-nautical mile trip from South Africa to Bouvet Island. The team anticipates operating for about 2 weeks. In addition to 3Z9DX, the 3Y0I operators will include Stanislaw, SQ8X; Leszek, SP3DOI; Branko, YU4DX, and Frans, J69DX.

However, the sun is having the last laugh at the moment. The magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2699 exploded on 12 February, for more than 6 hours. The blast produced a C1-class solar flare, and hurled a Coronal Mass Ejection directly at Earth.

For the last three days, Earth has been experiencing a Geomagnetic storm, with high A indices of about 12, and K indices of 4 or higher. With a Solar Flux Index currently of 72, you’re not going to hear Darth Vader or Bouvet very clearly for a while yet!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 11 February 2018

Riaan Greeff ZS4PR has sent me a very comprehensive report of the 2018 Value Logistics “The Fast One” Cycle Race, held on the 27th of January. He says Gauteng South, West Rand and Vaal Region HAMNET members teamed up to provide the main communications interface for the event.

On behalf of Leon ZS6LMG and Glynn ZS6GLN, he writes “Just under 5000 cyclists entered this annual event this year.  Regular planning meetings involving the event organisers, the Rotary club, The Midvaal Raceway owners, the Midvaal traffic department, SAPS, the volunteering car guard company in Meyerton, all the sponsors and the emergency services in the form of St. John Ambulance and ER24 ensured that the event started off on a smooth note on Saturday 26 January.

HAMNET set up the operations centre, installed and activated additional 70cm repeaters and used the 145.6375 Vaal Triangle repeater for the main communication services.

APRS tracking units were installed in every ambulance, sweep vehicle and the lead vehicles.  In the operations venue the different representatives of each organisation were set up to connect with their own people via radio and/or cell phone contact.  The cyclists were given access to “MySOS” as a service to send emergency messages to HAMNET.  The national HAMNET phone lines were also active.

HAMNET used an electronic dispatching system for the first time, to manage the dispatch and tracking of all resources.

Every vehicle with APRS tracking was also in contact with the operations centre via UHF repeater coverage.  It is essential that all vehicles on the track have direct communication with the communication centre at HAMNET, since HAMNET provides the most effective interaction between all the parties involved.

Some experiments with the Vaal DMR repeater, as well as the East Rand DMR repeater, also proved successful and this may be a way forward in future events since these repeaters also work very well.

In the operation centre all the APRS positions of all the units around the two routes of 48km and 96km were tracked in real time and displayed on LCD projectors.  These clear and up-to-date displays were very efficient in the transfer of location and real-time incident reporting.

Feedback after the event from the Rotary Club and organisers confirmed that HAMNET was a key role-player in the success of the event.  Swift reaction to the accidents on the route ensured that the ambulances were dispatched to the correct places, saving time.

The team of 24 SARL HAMNET members are keen to return in 2019 for the next event.  Being visible and efficient makes this service such a success.  The public and the people involved all played their parts and HAMNET through amateur radio ensured smooth operations.

Over all, the race had very few casualties, in fact less than 2017, and this is partly due to the effective communication service rendered by HAMNET.

Thank you Riaan, Leon and Glynn, for sending us the photos, and for keeping our flag flying high!

On a smaller, but just as important note here in Cape Town, HAMNET managed the race communications for the 99er Cycle tour yesterday the 10th February. For the tenth time in a row, we provided all the roving stations for the short 64km race, and the long 99km distance. The Western Cape had been promised about 10-15mm of rain overnight by the Clerk of the Weather, but he/she was hopelessly wrong, with less than 5mm measured. However, the little rain did cool the day down, and the wind was mild, while some cloud kept the race temperatures in the early 20’s.

The Metro Incident Command Centre bus was used by the medical team, and two HAMNET members managed radio communications with 10 Rovers out on the route, divided up into suitable sections. All Rovers, all ambulance and response vehicles, and the three main sector marshals, were monitored on APRS, which was enhanced by a temporary digipeater installed on the slopes of the farm Meerendal, as a gap-filler for blind spots.

The long race set off at 06h00, and the winners were back by 08h35, while the short race started at 07h30. Three thousand one hundred riders rode the two races, and a cut-off to weed out the stragglers was effected at 10h30 about 30km from the finish for both races, while the race closed at 12h30. There were a few minor injuries, but no serious multiple pile-ups, and all the plans to manage major catastrophes were unnecessary. In fact the race was mildly overshadowed in Cape Town by the fire which broke out at Mitchell’s Plein District Hospital, almost requiring us to surrender the Metro Bus for use managing the fire. We understand there were no actual casualties at the hospital, but over 200 patients had to be transferred to other facilities. Never a dull moment in Cape Town!

Anyway, the race authorities were their usual magnanimous selves in thanking HAMNET Western Cape for contributing to a safe race, and we arrived home in the early afternoon after a job well done. This author thanks ZS1’s EEE, OSK, DAV, PXK, JM, VDP, JNT, GS, XS, CO, S, DUG, MOM and OK, for their generous help.

The Cape Town Cycle Tour comes next down here, for part of which HAMNET shepherds the riders, and then at Easter, the Two Oceans Marathon takes place, for which we take full responsibility for the roving, and the cut-off points.

There has a been a 0.7 percentage point drop in the dam water levels in Cape Town, to 25.1% this week. However, because the agricultural quotas for the season  down here have been met, future water usage will diminish a bit, and so our predicted day zero date has been shifted out to 11 May. It is clear that more people are trying more to live on as little water from their taps a day as possible. The inhabitants of Cape Town will never look on water as a  never-ending supply ever again.

Even if the drought is broken, it will be very difficult not to shower with a bucket between one’s feet, or not to attempt to use the same litre of water as many times for as many purposes as possible! Never a dull moment in Cape Town!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 4 February 2018

An article in RADIOWORLD, on 1st February, discussed the false incoming missile alert raised in Hawaii on January 13, 2018.

In the minutes after the false missile Emergency Alert System alert was delivered in Hawaii, there was a great deal of general confusion — a lack of communication, general perplexity about the next steps, and phone call after phone call that didn’t get through to the right recipients.

But one group in particular said it knew exactly what it felt it had to do. While an official retraction from emergency officials of the alert did not come until 38 minutes had elapsed, amateur radio operators were able to confirm within 13 minutes that the Hawaii EAS alert was false.

“The big thing is, when all else fails, we’re able to provide emergency communications as required,” said Mike Lisenco, a member of the board of directors for the Amateur Radio Relay League.

At a hearing on  25th January, called by the Senate Commerce Committee, Lisenco discussed the role that amateur radio operators played in responding to the Hawaii EAS alert response. He noted that amateur radio, as a distributed form of communications infrastructure, is easily adapted to changing emergency conditions in disaster response situations.

And in this case amateur radio operators in Hawaii were well-prepared for the emergency event.

“Ironically, amateur radio members in Hawaii had just been drilling 20 hours before the actual false alarm, so everything was fresh on their minds,” Lisenco said during the hearing.

Rumours and stories began to circulate through various VHF and UHF repeaters about the alarm as part of the Hawaii State Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service. Amateur radio operators picked up a conversation from a Coast Guard vessel outside the area that was relaying news that the alert was false. The operators, taught to listen for a local siren that indicates a true emergency, realized that siren had not sounded.

The result was that amateur radio networks were able to disseminate validated cancellation information long before the cellular networks via WEA were able to do so, Lisenco said.

“Because they were able to disseminate that information freely, they were able to get word out right way [that the alert was false],” Lisenco said.

At the hearing Sen. Roger Wicker asked why amateur radios are considered valuable in a situation such as these.

“We’re not dependent on the [same] infrastructure to operate,” Lisenco said. “And because we understand how radio works, we’re able to adapt quickly to many situations.”

The use of amateur radio proved vital during Hurricane Katrina, Wicker’s office said, when amateur radio operators helped restore communications lines with FEMA, the Red Cross, and other disaster relief entities when the primary emergency response network was down.

“We have amateur operators both within and outside a disaster area,” Lisenco said. “That gives us a unique ability to disseminate information within a disaster zone that others don’t have.” During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, for example, amateur radio operators within the flood zones sent information to the outside to get first responders to where people needed help, he said.

And the official NASA website has issued an article written by Erik Lopez, discussing the ways in which Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) connects and inspires the world. The four ways are:

1) First-hand education about life in space

ARISS events educate students, teachers, and parents about living and working in space.

2) Direct connection with astronauts

Each ham radio contact brings a  student closer to space by connecting them directly to an astronaut aboard the space station. Each contact could potentially plant the seed of a future career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

3) Sharing amateur radio technologies

Ham radio educates the general public about amateur radio technologies, providing an opportunity for amateur radio experimentation and evaluation of new technologies.

4) Building global partnerships 

Like the space station, ham radio represents a multinational collaboration among different organizations to achieve one shared purpose. Each contact connects audiences from around the world, further uniting the world in the efforts of space exploration. Since 2000, ham radio has reached 57 countries in which more than 1,000 schools or organizations have been involved.

Thank you, Erik, for these thoughts!

The Martinsville Daily wonders if you have ever wondered why 2-way communications around the world commonly include the person on the receiving end saying “Roger” or “Roger that?” Well… here’s the story of how it came to be…

The first radio communications were in Morse code. In order to speed things up, abbreviations were used for everything. If the message was received the receiver would indicate this by responding with the letter “R”, abbreviation for “received.” When voice replaced Morse code as the preferred method the phonetic alphabet was used for letters to avoid confusion. The word “Roger” was assigned to the letter “R” at that time, so when the receiver got the message he/she would respond by saying “R” which meant received. Since protocol dictated the used of phonetics, “R” became “Roger.”

The first meeting of the Western Cape Division of HAMNET takes place this week on Wednesday evening, the 7th, at 19h30, at the Provincial Emergency Management Centre at Tygerberg hospital, and all interested hams are welcome to attend. And our first sports event takes place this coming Saturday the 10th, out of Durbanville. It is the 99km cycle race, called appropriately the “99er”, and takes the riders out almost as far as Wellington and then back towards the N7 via Philadelphia, before using the N7 to get back in to Durbanville via Vissershok. Thirteen radio teams will shepherd the riders along the route, and the weather looks good at this stage for next Saturday. I’ll report back in a future bulletin. Umm.. Roger?!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.