HAMNET Report 15th September

Jon Excell, writing in The Engineer, says that LiFi, an emerging wireless technology that enables users to send and receive data in beams of LED light, will help overcome the limitations of radio frequency communications

In today’s connected world, wireless data has become a critical utility: an invisible element of our modern infrastructure that increasingly underpins many of the services upon which we rely.

And as we deploy connected devices in ever-greater numbers, and embrace emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, the internet of things and virtual reality (VR), the demand for wireless connectivity is expected to increase exponentially.

But there’s a problem. The radio spectrum upon which much of our connectivity depends is getting crowded and some fear that our insatiable appetite for data will ultimately lead to a ‘spectrum crunch’ that will soon crash our communications networks, rendering many of our fancy new technologies useless.

Against this backdrop, unlocking new levels of data and bandwidth is a priority, and one area of technology that looks set to play a major role in addressing this challenge is Li-Fi, an emerging wireless optical networking technology that enables data to be transmitted over short distances via the rapid and, to the human eye, imperceptible modulation of LED light bulbs.

Pioneered almost a decade ago by Edinburgh University’s Prof Harald Haas, the technology has some compelling advantages. For a start, the data spectrum for visible light is 1,000 times greater than the RF spectrum so there’s more capacity to drive bigger bandwidths and higher data rates. Li-Fi developers have already demonstrated speeds of 224Gbps in laboratory conditions and expect 1Gbps or above – around 100 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi – to become the norm.

What’s more, because data can be contained within a tight area of illumination, there’s little risk of interference and it’s also highly secure: while radio waves penetrate through walls and can be intercepted, a beam of light is confined.

Haas first caught the headlines with the technology following a 2011 TED talk in which he demonstrated how a standard LED lamp could be used to transmit high-resolution video directly to a receiver placed just beneath the bulb.

In the years following this jaw-dropping illustration of the technology in action, Li-Fi has begun making waves beyond the academic research space, with a number of organisations already commercialising the technology, and a growing number of companies supporting research into what is increasingly being viewed as a key emerging sector.

So, watch this space, if you’ll pardon the pun, for more detail and data!

In a follow up to the mention I made in the HAMNET Bulletin of 1st of September, about the dangerous lung disease occurring in persons using Vape Devices, the website univadis.co.za has noted that the FDA has issued a warning against purchase of all illegal (street) vaping products and urges consumers to refrain from using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil or modifying/adding substances to purchased products.

New York State (NYS) public health officials have announced that laboratory testing links recent vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses to high levels of vitamin E acetate in cannabis-containing products.

The FDA also states that although there are not enough data to unequivocally implicate vitamin E acetate, it believes that prudence and avoidance of inhaling THC are warranted.

A second, and possibly third, death has been reported and linked to the use of unregulated substances in the vape devices.

So please heed these warnings, if you use such devices. I hope you don’t!

Spaceweather.com reports that another interstellar visitor appears to be passing through the solar system–and this time it’s definitely a comet. Ukrainian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the object, now named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), approaching from beyond the orbit of Mars on Aug. 30th.

Based on observations gathered since Borisov discovered the distant fuzzball, the comet seems to be following a hyperbolic orbit with an eccentricity greater than 3.5. This means the comet is unbound to the sun. Indeed, it is moving some 30.7 km/s (68,700 mph) too fast for the sun’s gravity to hang onto it. Comet Borisov is a first time visitor to the inner solar system, and after this flyby it will return to deep space.

Comet Borisov will make its closest approach to the sun (2 AU) around Dec. 7th. Three weeks later, near the end of December, it will make its closest approach to Earth (also 2 AU). At the moment the comet is very dim, around magnitude +18. How bright it may become by December is anyone’s guess.

The first known interstellar object to visit our solar system, ‘Oumuamua, caused a sensation when it was discovered racing away from the sun in late 2017. Speculation about its nature ranged from an alien spacecraft to a fossil exocomet. Astronomers still aren’t sure what it was. Comet Borisov, on the other hand, appears to have a fuzzy atmosphere (a “coma”) and perhaps a stubby tail — signs that it really is a comet.

Because Comet Borisov is still just entering the solar system, astronomers will have plenty of time to study it in the months ahead.

UK investigators have revealed that reluctance to use a cockpit cup-holder resulted in coffee being spilled over control panels on an Airbus A330, causing substantial radio communications problems and forcing a diversion.

The A330-200 had been operating from Frankfurt to Cancun on 6 February this year.

It had commenced the transatlantic crossing when the cockpit crew was served coffee in cups without lids. While Airbus recommends using the cup-holder, the size of cups used by the carrier on the route made lifting them from the holder difficult.

The crew naturally tended to place cups on the fold-out table in front of them – making them “vulnerable” to being knocked over.

The coffee on the A330 captain’s table was spilled, with a small amount falling on the left-hand audio control panel, which immediately malfunctioned and subsequently failed. Some 20min later the first officer’s corresponding control panel also became hot and failed – although the precise reason for this was not clear.

VHF radio transmissions and public-address announcements were affected by the malfunctions and the captain chose to divert to Shannon, with the precautionary use of cockpit oxygen masks owing to electrical smoke emanating from the panel.

None of the 326 passengers and 11 crew members on board the jet was injured.

But the carrier subsequently changed its procedures to ensure cup lids were provided on all routes, says the inquiry, and has sought to obtain “appropriately-sized” cups for cockpit cup-holders.

Thanks to FlightGlobal for this shortened report.

This is Dave Reece  ZS1DFR  cautiously moving his cup of coffee away from the face of his VHF/UHF dualbander, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 8th September 2019

Writing in USA TODAY on Friday, Doyle Rice noted that, as Hurricane Dorian moved away from the United States, it’s now certain that the storm’s lasting legacy will be its slow, torturous rampage as a Category 5 monster across the Bahamas over the Labour Day weekend, which left dozens dead and unimaginable destruction.

With sustained winds of 185 mph [296 kph], Dorian was the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Bahamas since records began in 1851.

It was also the first Category 5 to make landfall on Grand Bahama Island, and, at 185 mph [296 kph], was the strongest hurricane on record to hit Abaco Island.

What was even more stunning was its slow path across the Bahamas: According to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach, Dorian tracked only about 25 miles [40 km] in 24 hours – the shortest distance tracked by an Atlantic major hurricane in a 24-hour period since Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said that “portions of (Dorian’s) eyewall lashed Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands with Category 5 winds for a total of 22 hours before the great hurricane finally weakened to Category 4 strength.

“In records going back over a century, there are no cases where an Atlantic Category 5 hurricane has impacted a land area for as long as Dorian battered the Bahamas,” Masters said.

At least 30 people are reported dead in the Bahamas and the death toll is expected to rise significantly. Property losses in the Bahamas could hit $7 billion.

The storm also left its mark in the record books in other ways:

As of Friday, with its landfall in North Carolina, Dorian has been a hurricane for a total of nine days. This is longer than most Atlantic storms: Klotzbach said that only about 10% of all Atlantic hurricanes last longer than eight days.

While this may seem like a lot, it’s still a long way from the record of 19.5 days, which was set by Hurricane Ginger in 1971, according to Klotzbach. Ginger took a long and loopy path around the Atlantic before finally making landfall in North Carolina in late September 1971.

In addition, Dorian has been a named storm for 13 days, which includes its first few days as a tropical storm. That places it in a tie for 5th place for most storm days by an Atlantic hurricane that formed in August, Klotzbach said.

Because of the death and destruction caused by Dorian, the storm’s name will almost certainly be retired by the World Meteorological Organization; the United Nations’ group that determines which hurricane names will be used in upcoming years.

A nation hardest hit by a storm can request its name be removed because the storm was so deadly or costly that future use of the name would be insensitive. The names of two of last year’s most destructive storms – Florence and Michael – were retired by the WMO earlier this year.

Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon’s news was that the Hurricane Watch net suspended activities at 16h00 UTC on Friday, because Dorian had inched away from the North Carolina coast, and been downgraded to a Category One storm, with sustained windspeeds near 145 kph.

Here’s an encouraging report from univadis.co.za about the ongoing battle of misinformation, with regard to vaccinations of all kinds.

A major social media platform has announced that it will only display authoritative vaccine information to its users, as part of efforts to tackle health misinformation.

Last year, Pinterest stopped showing results for searches related to vaccines as a way to prevent people from encountering harmful health misinformation. Now, the social media platform has announced it is introducing a new experience so that when users search for terms such as vaccine safety or other related health terms, they will only receive reliable results about vaccination from leading public health organisations.

The move has been welcomed by the WHO, whose Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he hopes to see other social media platforms around the world following Pinterest’s lead.

“Misinformation about vaccination has spread far and fast on social media platforms in many different countries, including during critical vaccination campaigns like those for polio in Pakistan or yellow fever in South America.

“Social media platforms are the way many people get their information and they will likely be major sources of information for the next generations of parents. We see this as a critical issue and one that needs our collective effort to protect people’s health and lives,” Dr Tedros said.

Finally, Krugersdorp News reports that, if disaster strikes and the world finds itself on the brink of destruction, radio communication may be the only way of getting the message out when all other systems fail.

Okay, so maybe that’s the worst-case scenario and it probably won’t happen. Learning radio communication skills and writing the international exam can still be very important, however. The disaster scenario was one of the many reasons Geoff Levey, ZS6C, from the West Rand Amateur Radio Club (WRARC) brought up for why it’s important for people to take up the hobby of, as they name it, amateur radio.

Young Clarissa Clarke, ZS6LIS, who knows all about the important uses of the international radio system, most of all enjoys connecting to people from all over the world.

Although the ever-increasing ease of accessibility to cell-phones and the internet has put a damper on the widespread use of radio as a means of communication, there has recently been a relative explosion of interest among members of the community, who are taking this up as a hobby. Clarissa is one of the many young people who found an interest in radio communication when she joined WRARC three years ago, following in her father’s footsteps.

At 21, Clarissa can build a complex radio system from scratch, and fully understands how to connect to any radio system around the world. She enjoys spending her time talking to people from across the globe. Sometimes these friends establish a radio time and frequency beforehand, and sometimes she meets new and interesting people by randomly accessing channels.

Last year, Clarissa participated in the Youngsters On The Air (YOTA) conference when it was hosted in South Africa. This year, she was chosen as one of only two youngsters to travel to Bulgaria from 10th to 17th August to participate in this year’s YOTA conference.

YOTA, in IARU Region 1, is a shining example of what value amateur radio can add to the lives of tomorrow’s leaders of society.

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

HAMNET Report 1st SEPTEMBER 2019

Alister van Tonder, ZS1OK, has provided us with a summary of the activities of HAMNET members during a recent event. He writes:

A team of six HAMNET operators provided communications support at the Wildrunner Kogelberg event on Saturday, 10th of August.  The team consisted of: Matt ZS1MTF and Grant ZS1GRC as team 1, Ian ZS1OSK and Ann ZS1AMS as team 2 and Douw ZS1DGK and Alister ZS1OK at the base.

When things run smoothly during the event, and it is a brilliant spring day with hardly a breath of wind, compared to last year when the jumping castle ended up in the breakers due to strong winds and tents had to be taken down for safety reasons, this year ran smoothly and effective updates and feedback were provided.  As usual team 1 always have a bit of a runabout from their initial position to a site with a superb view over Kleinmond and the sea.

As before, cellular APRS was utilized to track the XL-route and Long route sweeps, who had the responsibility to ensure that no runners were left behind on the track. As a result, they were the last to return to the finish line.  Having this information on hand, and being able to track the other HAMNET operators via APRS ensured race control was always informed of vital movements of support staff.  Having the positions available and accessible on APRS ensured all operators were informed of all the activity relevant to the event.  While using an RF iGate/Digi would be possible, 95% of the route has good GSM coverage and would not warrant the risk of the iGate/Digi being stolen, or requiring an additional operator just to keep an eye on it.

The briefing session commenced at 06:45 in the morning and the team stood down at 14:35.  This was Grant ZS1GRC’s first opportunity to assist at one of these trail events, although he previously also assisted at the Two Oceans Marathon.

Thank you to all of you, and especially Alister, for keeping HAMNET’s flag flying high.

Now we move to the Caribbean, where ARRL news reports that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) has been closely watching the progress of Hurricane Dorian and activated on Saturday at 2100 UTC, and will remain in continuous operation on 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz.

Over the past 24 hours, the hurricane’s forecast track has shifted slightly, which will take the storm over the northern Bahamas before it strikes south-eastern Florida.

As of 1500 UTC on Friday, Dorian was some 760 km east of the north-western Bahamas and about 1000 km east of West Palm Beach, Florida. Maximum sustained winds were 176 kph (making it a Category 2 hurricane) and moving to the northwest at 16 kph.

“The new forecast track does not look good,” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, observed. “The Bahamas are forecast for a direct hit late this (Sunday) afternoon when Dorian is a Category 4 hurricane. Next stop is currently forecast to be near West Palm Beach as a strong Category 3 hurricane.” Graves said that after it makes landfall, Dorian is expected to turn to the northwest and move up Florida’s east coast.

“No matter the location of landfall, suffice it to say that, unless something major changes, a huge area of Florida will be impacted by this storm,” Graves said.

According to the National Hurricane Centre:

  • Life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds are likely in portions of the north-western Bahamas, where a hurricane watch is in effect. Residents should execute their hurricane plans and heed advice from local emergency officials.
  • Life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds are likely along portions of the Florida east coast by early this coming week, but it is too soon to determine where the highest storm surge and winds will occur. Residents should have hurricane plans in place, know if they are in a hurricane evacuation zone, and listen to advice given by local emergency officials.
  • A prolonged period of storm surge, high winds, and rain is likely in portions of Florida into this week, including the possibility of hurricane-force winds over inland portions of the Florida peninsula.
  • Heavy rains are expected over portions of the Bahamas, Florida, and elsewhere in the south-eastern United States this weekend and into the middle of the coming week.

ARRL Headquarters remains in monitoring mode and has been in regular contact with ARRL’s partner agencies.  Thank you to ARRL News for this report.

Now, here’s bad news for those who use vapour inhaling devices in place of cigarettes.

Authorities in the United States are investigating around 150 cases of severe lung disease which they believe could be linked to e-cigarette use or vaping.

Between 28th June and 20th August this year, at least 149 possible cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette product use were reported by 15 states, primarily among adolescents and young people.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in many of the cases, patients reported a gradual start of symptoms including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and/or chest pain before hospitalization. Some cases additionally reported mild-to-moderate gastrointestinal illness and fatigue.

In a statement, the CDC said available evidence does not suggest that an infectious disease is the principle cause of the illness. While a cause has not yet been identified, all reported cases had used e-cigarette products or had been vaping.

It also noted that in many cases, patients acknowledged the recent use of tetrahydrocannabinol-containing products (marijuana); however, it said no specific product has been identified in all cases, nor has any product been conclusively linked to illnesses.

“Even though cases appear similar, it is not clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations,” the CDC said.

In a subsequent news release mentioned on the same website, Robert R Redford MD, Director of the CDC said:

“We are saddened to hear of the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or “vaping” devices. CDC’s investigation is ongoing. We are working with state and local health departments and FDA to learn the cause or causes of this ongoing outbreak.

“This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products. Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavourings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents. CDC has been warning about the identified and potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping since these devices first appeared. E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

Thanks to Univadis.co.za for these notes of warning.

And, in late news just handed to me, Icom Japan has surprised the amateur fraternity with the announcement of a small HF/VHF/UHF SDR transceiver putting out 10 watts, and called the IC-705. Look out for it on YouTube channels and Icom announcements. And remember, you heard it here first.

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