HAMNET Report 27th June 2021

Severe weather has been battering large parts of the globe this week, mostly in the form of floods. India and Pakistan have both seen heavy rains and flooding in their northern regions, New Zealand was struck by a tornado last Saturday, France experienced heavy rain on Monday, Poland experienced heavy rain, as did Guatemala, flood warnings were issued for Belgium, Czech Republic and Romania, and Tropical Storm Claudette battered Southern and Eastern American states last weekend. At least 14 people died in Alabama, and many injuries were reported.

Meanwhile Southern Hungary and Southern Italy were warned to expect extreme high temperatures, and California experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever measured there.

Then, on Thursday the Czech Republic was struck by the worst tornado experienced since 2001, pummeling the Breclav and Hodonin districts. At least 5 fatalities were reported, more than 200 injured, many of them requiring hospitalization. Major parts of some villages were levelled to the ground, and about 120 000 people left without electrical power.

The long-tracked supercell storm destroyed numerous roofs from several hundred buildings between the Breclav and Hodonin districts, as well as uprooting trees and overturning cars. The worst-hit areas along the tornado path were reported looking like a war zone.

According to the meteorologist speaking on Czech TV, this tornado was the strongest in the Czech Republic’s history. The estimated intensity likely reached the F3-F4 scale. That means that winds could have reached between 267 and 322 km/h. Besides the tornado, very large hailstones up to the size of tennis balls struck several towns and villages including Hodonin.

Local rescue teams were receiving help from neighbouring Austria and Slovakia.

I received an email from a HAMNET member who wishes to remain anonymous who reports that, on the 2nd of June 2021 at approximately 22:00, a distress message was broadcast on a local security WhatsApp group, in Sedgefield, Southern Cape. A house was burning in Sedgefield and all initial attempts to contact the local fire brigade telephonically had failed.

Due to load-shedding and a UPS failure, the fire department’s telephone system was down. A local HAM attempted to contact the fire brigade via the fire-brigade’s VHF repeater. Unfortunately the repeater was also down due to the power-supply failure. Being situated at a somewhat elevated location, the HAM finally succeeded in making contact by reversing the repeater offset on his rig, thereby transmitting on the repeater’s output frequency.

It was established that the fire brigade was at that time busy extinguishing another fire in a home on the opposite side of town. Available vehicles were swiftly diverted to the house fire across town. The fire vehicles were still unable to communicate amongst each other. Therefore the HAM continued to relay messages between the different vehicles until all fire resources had arrived at the house-fire, the first fire having been successfully extinguished.

The improvised method of communication was not without challenges though. The individual vehicle’s operators talked over each other, as they naturally could not hear each other’s transmissions. With some patience, all critical information was however successfully relayed. Apparently only one room in the house was burnt out.

Thank you to our HAMNET friend for that report.

Phys.org is reporting that damage to Sri Lanka’s marine environment from a sinking chemical ship is worse than feared, officials said on Friday, as more dead turtles, dolphins and whales washed up on the island’s beaches.

As of Thursday, 130 marine animals have been found dead on the Indian Ocean’s beaches since the MV X-Press caught fire last month before partially sinking off the coast after two weeks ablaze.

Sri Lanka’s government believes the animals were killed by the hundreds of tonnes of chemicals and plastics leaking from the ship.

“At least six turtle carcasses washed up along the western coast on Thursday alone,” a wildlife official told AFP.

He said they had also received the first report of a shoal of reef fish dying at Hikkaduwa, a southern tourist resort area known for its rich coral reefs.

“So far we have collected the carcasses of 115 turtles, 15 dolphins and five whales,” the official said, asking not to be named.

They include a blue whale carcass found off the northern Jaffna peninsula, about 400 kilometres north of Colombo, last week. Officials are awaiting the results of forensic reports, he said.

The Singapore-registered ship was known to be carrying 81 containers of hazardous chemicals, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, when it caught fire.

Around 1,200 tonnes of tiny plastic pellets and other debris that blanketed beaches have been scooped up and are being stored in 45 shipping containers.

Sri Lanka is seeking $40 million in damages from the ship’s operators X-Press Feeders. Local police have launched a criminal probe against the ship’s captain, chief engineer, chief officer as well as its local agent. Environmentalists are also suing the government and the owners for allegedly failing to prevent the disaster.

For the music lovers amongst you missing the pleasures of an orchestral concert as a result of the pandemic, Phys.org also reports that a team of researchers at the University of Utah Salt Lake City has found, via simulation, that it is possible to rearrange musicians playing wind instruments in an orchestra to reduce the spread of disease-laden aerosols. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes simulations they ran that showed airflow patterns during orchestral performances and what they found.

To learn more about the flow of air and the aerosols in it during orchestral performances, the researchers gathered data from prior experiments showing how air moves after being expelled from different instruments. This data was put into an air movement simulation, along with other parameters, such as ventilation for the given venue.

The team then began tinkering with the seating arrangements and discovered that by making certain changes they could reduce the viral load in the air where the musicians were playing. They found, for example, that putting percussionists closer to the centre of the group and those playing wind instruments around the fringes—and as close as possible to air vents—they could dramatically reduce the spread of aerosols. In studying the data, they found that the new seating arrangement reduced concentrations of virtual viral loads by a factor of 100.

In essence then, if you must blow your own trumpet, please go and blow it somewhere nearer the window!

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

HAMNET REPORT 20th June 2021

First of all, a grand Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. I hope you are spoiled no more and no less than you spoiled your wives on Mother’s Day! Enjoy being with your families!

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET Regional Director for KZN, has sent me a report of the 70.3 Ironman Event held in Durban’s beachfront area on the 6th of June. He says he “had a team of 7 Hamnet KZN members who assisted with communications for the event. Race control was manned by Keith ZS5WFD and Deon ZS5DD based at Pirates Lifesaving Club in front of Suncoast Casino complex opposite the old Natal Command building.  Due to Covid-19 restrictions the number of participants was only 830, which was considerably lower than the 3000 from 2019. The event was therefore categorized as “Low Risk”.

“The event consisted of a 1,9Km swim at uShaka Beach, two laps of the bike stage along the M4 Ruth First highway out to Umdloti and back which made 90.1Km, then a leisurely run of 2 laps along the promenade between New Beach and Blue Lagoon covering 21.1Km.

“Communications were maintained on 145.550 Simplex and the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club Repeater and I am pleased to report that there were no serious incidents.

“It felt really good to be out and about doing what we enjoy!!” said Keith.

Thanks for that Keith. I’m glad you were able to squeeze that in before the effect of the COVID-19 third wave began to be felt. I expect it will be a while now before we all get to help at similar events.

With America’s vaccination programme proceeding smoothly, and the number of cases not climbing from the India Coronavirus variant as much as in Europe, American Hams are gearing up for their Field Day exercise which takes place next weekend the 26th and 27th of June. Obviously distancing and exposure rules will be followed, but at least the number of amateurs on the air will increase, so look out for unexpected DX next weekend.

The ARRL Letter of June the 16th reports that on May 31, the ARES LAX (Los Angeles, California) Northeast District conducted its fifth Saturday Exercise – dubbed SatEx and themed “Return of the Operators” – which was deemed a “smashing success.” Assistant District Emergency Coordinator for the Hollywood district, David Ahrendts, KK6DA, was credited with devising a challenging exercise scenario that included deteriorating conditions and focused on building an ad hoc network of stations for the response.

The exercise began with a simulated earthquake at 08h30. Participating stations sent DYFI (Did You Feel It) reports to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and welfare messages to their out-of-state contacts through HF and VHF gateways. Stations were encouraged to use the K6YZF-11 VARA FM digipeater to connect to Winlink hybrid RF/email gateways AJ7C, W6BI and K6IRF.

At 09h00 the hospital net commenced operation on the southern California Disaster Amateur Radio Network (DARN) and stations with digital traffic were directed to ARES 501 (local designation for an emergency simplex frequency) to pass hospital traffic to the Medical Alert Centre (MAC). No infrastructure digipeaters were to be used, simulating deteriorating conditions post-event. In an ironic twist, life imitated exercise with conditions actually deteriorating on the 2-meter band after 09h00. However, without skipping a beat, stations affected asked for relays, and digipeater operators and other stations offered to act as relays and digipeaters. Their training kicked in and stations overcame adverse conditions effectively.

Hospital stations sent a list of check-ins, Hospital Status Assessments, Resource Requests, and check-outs using Winlink. Beaconed Hospital Service Levels using APRS were transmitted to the MAC station during the exercise. The MAC station responded with acknowledgements and replies containing simulated approvals and ETAs for resources requested. In some cases the traffic was sent directly to the MAC; in others, stations coordinated digipeats of messages through other hospital stations.

Reports were received of problems encountered during the exercise.

  • Powering stations remainrd an ongoing challenge. Solar panels and high capacity batteries paired with low current draw devices proved effective remedies for some stations.
  • Location. While some hospital stations enjoyed rooftop access, others had to operate at street level, often surrounded by buildings. It was impressive how the latter stations overcame their location challenges through creativity and teamwork. Digipeating through other hospital stations, for example, proved an effective remedy.
  • Antenna height and location. Several stations commented on field antenna height and/or location as challenges at their sites. Mitigation suggestions from those stations included trying different deployment systems, relocating antennas and trying directional antennas going forward

Successes evident from the exercise:

  • Operators are well trained and displayed excellent esprit de corps.
  • Traffic handling was effective in spite of challenging conditions.
  • Regular training and practice prior to the exercise helped overcome in-the-field challenges during the exercise.
  • Operators acted in calm, collected, professional manners and worked well together as a team.
  • Even without infrastructure, stations were able to pass traffic, building an ad hoc network of hospital stations.

Thanks to the ARRL for the story of this successful exercise.

Here’s a happy story of new technology helping a legally blind radio operator, Ben Murray KD8JBS, see with 20/20 vision.

Ben wears an eSight device, which resembles virtual reality goggles. The technology uses a camera to process an image in real time. The image is then re-processed through some algorithms in the glasses and then presented back to the user on two OLED screens in front of his eyes, and he can zoom up to 24x and adjust contrast.

As a radio amateur, Murray’s favourite activities incorporate a public service bent. “I enjoy hamfests and Volunteer Examiner testing sessions. I’m the VE liaison for Williams County, Ohio, and I’m the Emergency Coordinator,” he told ARRL. “I also enjoy public service activities such as festivals and parades where they include amateur radio [for] communications.”

Murray has been a ham since 2008. He upgraded to Amateur Extra class in 2012.

Clearly there’s a lot of technology built in to the headband he wears around his head with the OLED screens perched just above the centre point of his eyes, so he can see both the eSight screens, and below them for nearby awareness.

Thanks to this week’s ARRL Letter for that story.

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

HAMNET Report 13th June 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that a new report by two Canadian researchers is highlighting the growing hazard of space debris. It warns that the new mega-constellations of tens of thousands of communication satellites could pose a new kind of danger that could ultimately threaten other satellites, astronauts, our ability to use space and could even have an impact on the climate.

Recently, that uncontrolled fall from space of a large Chinese rocket booster gained worldwide attention as no one could predict where it would come crashing to Earth. Fortunately, it came down in the Indian Ocean and no one was injured.

That was just one booster.

The amount of stuff from satellites, discarded boosters and other debris in Earth orbit is huge. And this new report warns that with projects like the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation, the issue of space debris could approach a critical turning point.

In the light of that, it came as bad news that Fraser Cain, writing in Universe Today, notes that a piece of space flotsam was discovered to have hit the Canadarm2 Robotic arm on the ISS. Fortunately the damage was to the arm boom and its thermal blanket, and doesn’t seem to have affected its operation at all – a lucky break indeed. These bits of debris can be travelling at the speed of a bullet on earth, and have no difficulty in causing a penetrating injury to their target. The ISS is lucky to have escaped any major injuries so far.

In clever use of drone technology, the international ResponDrone project has integrated into its situation awareness system for emergency situations a near real-time 3D mapping solution to provide on-site emergency teams with tools that will help them better to evaluate their working environment.

The upgraded ResponDrone System will provide accurate location information to first responders, especially in relation to infrastructure, when called on to deal with a fire, flood or any other natural disaster.

ResponDrone has signed an agreement with Hivemapper to integrate its latest crowdsourced mapping technology. The ResponDrone System can now fly a mission over an area, process the collected data and turn it into an up-to-date 3D map. This is in line with the modular approach ResponDrone has adopted in the design of its platform, allowing easy expansion of the platform using state-of-the-art technology and giving first responders access to those tools.

“The need to provide precision 3D mapping to rescue teams as fast as possible has been identified by ResponDrone as a key capability toward attaining its goal of maximizing situation awareness for first responders,” said ResponDrone project coordinator Max Friedrich of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“If an ambulance driver uses an outdated map to arrive at the scene of an accident, or a firefighting crew can’t get to the scene of the forest fire as roads have been blocked due to falling trees as a result of the wildfire, the results could be fatal.”

By using Hivemapper technology, ResponDrone will serve the needs of emergency services by providing the teams on the ground with the highly focused and updated situational awareness they need.

The broader community will benefit from the updated mapping data as the impact of natural disasters will be reflected in the mapping app in near real time, which might otherwise have taken years to feature on traditional mapping platforms.

Thanks to techxplore.com for that report.

Continuing the theme of clever drone usage, here’s a heart-warming story of a drone pilot, who realised he could put an infrared camera, a spotlight and a 180 x zoom lens on his drone, and use it to search for missing animals, or animals stranded by bad weather or fires.

Professional drone pilot Douglas Thron has, since 2018, rescued critters from fires in California and Australia, floods in Louisiana, and other disasters anywhere they’ve struck. He told TreeHugger.com the Australian inferno produced multiple forms of hell – including 20-hour work days.

Thron said “It was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them.”

Thron works with individuals and associations that care for the scores of rescued animals he locates. But whenever he can, he goes the extra search-and-rescue mile to find their owners – enabling what are invariably joyous and boundlessly relieved reunions.

“It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because, frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death”, he said.

There is apparently a trailer dedicated to this man’s rescues, called appropriately “Doug to the Rescue”. View it on the channel “Curiosity Stream” on YouTube

Finally, China has released a picture this week of a selfie taken of its Tianwen-1 lander and its Zhurong Rover together on Mars. Apparently, included in the lander system is a remote camera, which Zhurong went and placed a little way away from Tianwen-1, and then went back to park next to Tianwen-1, so that the remote camera could take the picture. And Zhurong, with its solar panels unfurled like wings and its own cameras and presumably lasers installed on a head-like projection above the rover, looks a bit like a baby duck shaking its wings and trying to fly. More than one person on FaceBook has wished they had a pet that looked like Zhurong!

Look for “Zhurong and Tainwen-1 selfie” on google – I’m sure you’ll agree with them.

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

HAMNET Report 6th June 2021

As forecast, the central Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the Drakensberg received a fair amount of snow this week. High ground around Barkly East, Rhodes and Tiffindell in the Eastern Cape, and Bethlehem, Warden, Reitz and Harrismith in the Free State were to be well blanketed, and possibly areas around Newcastle in KZN and Volksrust in Mpumalanga.

Travelers are advised to take plenty of warm cover and protective clothing, and also be well stocked with food and liquids in case they get stuck along their routes, as driving in snow, even if light, is very challenging, and it is easy to lose control of a vehicle and end up in a ditch.

The whole country is experiencing cold nights, except perhaps the KZN coastline, but typical Western Cape rains haven’t really started yet. Days are balmy and still, and autumn sunsets are spectacular in Cape Town.

All radio amateurs are asked to have their radios on, monitoring or scanning their local repeaters, and keeping an ear on 3760 KHz, 7110 KHz, and 14.300 MHz, for emergency traffic. Please be available to help your fellow South African.

Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, HAMNET Deputy National Director, has sent me an interesting tale from Division six. He reports that flying is a very dangerous hobby, even more so if you need to fly and there’s interference on the radio frequency you have to use to communicate with other pilots in the same flying area.

This happened in the Special Rules Area East in the Gauteng area where 125.400 MHz had a constant carrier that made it very dangerous and basically unusable.

This was a big concern as this frequency is used over a great area, from the south of Johannesburg to the north of Pretoria and from O.R.Tambo Airport all the way to Bronkhorstspruit in the east.

On the 7th of April 2021 HAMNET Gauteng was made aware of the situation,  and they immediately offered the skills of Team Interdiction (this being a code name for the HAMNET Gauteng interference specialist team) to locate the source of the interference.

Seventeen members of HAMNET Gauteng joined the hunt. Every night the teams went out to locate the source. About 60 man hours were spent.

Leon ZS6LMG got a strong signal close to O.R.Tambo airport cargo area and asked ICASA to assist (as HAMNET does not have the power to enter premises and has to rely on the goodwill of people to open if asked).

ICASA came out and started looking for this signal source and found that the signal origin was not at the airport but more to the west. On Friday the 16th Henry ZS6IIX used a 7 element UHF Yagi and a USRP SDR from his home and got a bearing of the source. He then used a 3 element Yagi just to confirm that the signal was not a reflection off a building or any other structures.

The signal was coming from the North West.

On Saturday at the HAMNET meeting he suggested that somebody close to the Magaliesberg area be asked to drive out there and see if the signal was coming from that side. Awie ZS6AVI, staying in the Randburg area, volunteered to drive out that way on Monday before going to work and there he found a very very strong signal at Hekpoort School (even with the antenna removed from his mobile radio).

On Wednesday Henry ZS6IIX drove out to Hekpoort armed with a R&S FH3 Spectrum Analyser, a USRP SDR, a 100 dBm attenuator, a Dell Laptop and other odds and ends. He did a RF simulation and found the source to up the mountain. He and Leon informed ICASA, whose inspector confirmed the location and contacted the owners of the site.

It turned out that the interference was caused by an Airband transmitter whose PTT locked on after load shedding and the generator had kicked in. The owners went out and switched off the transmitter.

Brian notes that the strong signal on a high site caught a lot of interference experts out, and that Team Interdiction is adjusting its protocols for engaging strong signal interference.

On behalf of HAMNET Gauteng, Brian thanks all the pilots and aviation personnel that gave feedback on the areas of interference. Special thanks are due to the ARCC Chief for collating the pilot reports and feeding it to Team Interdiction.

And thank you Brian for that welcome report from Gauteng, compiled by Henry Rood ZS6IIX. My apologies for not listing the names and call signs of all seventeen HAMNET members involved.

The amateur radio fraternity as well as the radio astronomy fraternity has lost a giant of a man, with the passing, at age 95, of Emeritus Professor Gordon Pettengill, W1OUN. He was the former Professor of planetary physics and former director of the MIT Centre for Space Research, and a great pioneer in radio astronomy.

Pettengill pioneered the use of radar for planetary astronomy applications, making ground-breaking observations of the moon, the inner planets, and other solar system objects. His work was instrumental in the development of multiple NASA missions including the Apollo moon missions and the Mariner 2, Pioneer, and Magellan missions to Venus.

Interested in matters electronic since the age of six, he acquired his amateur licence in his teens, but his studies in Physics at MIT were interrupted by
World War 2. He finally finished his Ph.D in high-energy physics in 1955.

He returned to MIT just as a special government-funded experimental missile-tracking radar system was being built there, and with it, he made break-through observations in the developing field of radio astronomy. He aimed the system at Venus, and measured its distance by radar, recalibrating the astronomical unit by three orders of magnitude. He was able to generate a 2D radar map of the moon, used by NASA to plan future Apollo landings.

In 1963, he moved and eventually became director of the new Aricebo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. He helped with the installation of the powerful radar transmitter used to measure Mercury’s period of rotation, and also described surface properties of several asteroids and comet nuclei.

There were not many awards he did not win, but he retired in 1995, and pursued his hobbies of ham radio and bird-watching. Quaintly, he is quoted as being survived by his wife, two children, two grand-daughters, and an asteroid named 3831 Pettengill!

Not many of us will be able to boast something like that.

Thanks to MIT News for this abbreviated version of his obituary.

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