HAMNET Report 13th February 2022

Tropical Cyclone Batsirai-22 seems to have been a big one for the island country of Madagascar. GDACS reports that the number of fatalities has risen to 92, of which 71 were reported in the Ikongo District of the Fitovinany Region, in east-central Madagascar. Their Office of Risks and Disasters reports almost 62,000 people displaced, and in total 112,100 people affected. Between the 10th and 11th February, more heavy rain was predicted to fall over south-eastern, central and northern Madagascar.

Luckily for South Africa, the wind strength dissipated while over Madagascar, and the storm turned South-west as predicted in the Mozambique Channel, and then drifted off to the South-east and away from Southern Africa.

I cannot fail to refer to the sad passing of Bob Bruninga this week.

The father of the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, died on February 7. An ARRL Life Member, Bruninga was 73. According to his daughter, Bruninga succumbed to cancer and the effects of COVID-19. Bruninga had announced his cancer diagnosis in 2020.

While best known for APRS, Bruninga, a retired US Naval Academy senior research engineer, had an abiding interest in alternative power sources, such as solar power. In 2018, he authored Energy Choices for the Radio Amateur, published by the ARRL, which explores developing changes in the area of power and energy and examines the choices radio amateurs and everyone else can make regarding home solar power, heat pumps, and hybrid and electric vehicles. Bruninga drove an all-electric car and had experimented with a variety of electric-powered vehicles over the years.

What became APRS had its origins in 1982, when Bruninga wrote his first data map program that plotted the positions of US Navy ships for the Apple II platform. A couple of years later, he developed what he called the Connectionless Emergency Traffic System (CETS) on the VIC-20 and C-64 platforms for digital packet communications to support an endurance race. The program was ported to the IBM PC platform in 1988 and was renamed APRS in 1992 and is linked globally via the internet. Bruninga founded the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet event, which fields APRS nodes from Stone Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine each July.

Bruninga mentored US Naval Academy midshipmen in building and launching amateur radio satellites and CubeSats, beginning with PCSat in 2001. PCSat was the first satellite to report its precise position directly to users via its onboard GPS module. Subsequent USNA spacecraft included PSK-31 capability (HF to UHF) and other innovations.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) ARRL liaison Rosalie White, K1STO, recalled that Bruninga attended many ARISS-International meetings and contributed “enormously” to ARISS APRS activities, leading a team in developing protocols and software for rapid message exchange via a packet “Robot.”

Though the technology he pioneered carries on, his continuing contributions will be sorely missed. Thank you to the ARRL newsletter for these notes.

We in the Western Cape celebrated Bob Bruninga’s 40 year-old invention yesterday as HAMNET Western Cape helped marshal the Gryphon 99er Cycle Tour around Durbanville. Eleven HAMNET members provided rover duties, and traffic reporting functions to traffic officers needing to stop on-coming cars as bunches of cyclists negotiated awkward corners and circles.

It was a blazingly hot day, as the route took riders on the long route out of Durbanville and northwards to the outskirts of Malmesbury (which can get even hotter than Durbanville) and back via a more westerly route. It was a trouble-free race, and the medics commented on the fact that the reason why there were no major or minor disasters was because the organisers had thought of everything. The Doctor-in-charge quoted his maxim around these things, when he said “Plan for the worst, and hope for the best”!

The previous day, our regional Director Michael ZS1MJT and I had installed a temporary APRS digipeater above the clouds, it seemed, at a beautiful vantage point on an outcrop on the Wine Estate Meerendal. It ran about 8 watts to an X-30 antenna mounted 4 metres up on a pole tied to a gate post on the top of the mountain, and seemed to behave flawlessly.

The route had a few dips and high points and some of the voice traffic and APRS traffic was a little scratchy, but nothing happened that radio and APRS couldn’t handle. Yours truly was ably assisted in the JOC by ZS1MMT, and I say thank you to her and ZS1TAF, ZS1REY, ZS1MJT, ZS1DGK, ZS1YT, ZS1JM, ZS1ZV, ZS1SJ, ZS1CO, ZS1S, ZS1OSK and ZS1LED for their sterling services.

HAMNET also supplied trackers to the five ambulance vehicles on the route, the three roving marshals from the school sponsoring the event, and the back markers of the long and short race. The value that these kinds of interventions provide is incalculable.

Personally, I had hoped to incorporate the use of map pins on WhatsApp more frequently, to be able to pinpoint, literally and figuratively, exactly where the incidents were taking place, but in the end, there weren’t any incidents, so that didn’t happen. I thought it might occur that a rover, who had last beacon’ed his position 2 minutes ago, might come upon an accident or injury, and would then send his lat and long with a map pin. Clearly, in a rescue or an out-of-town event, we won’t always have access to WhatsApp, so it is not something we should rely on. We are, after all, RADIO operators.

This is the 13th time HAMNET Western Cape has assisted the organisers of the 99er Cycle Tour. Last year’s event was cancelled because of pandemic lockdown, but 2020’s event took place a month before South Africa went into earnest lockdown for the first time.

Our next big event is the Two Oceans Marathon, over the Easter Weekend. This was cancelled two years in a row, because lockdown extended from before Easter 2020 to late in 2021. In an attempt to reduce runner concentrations during the race, the organisers have decided to hold the short 21km race, and the longer 56km race on different days, to help maintain a degree of distance between participants.

With COVID Omicron as infectious as it is, this makes good sense, and I look forward to inviting volunteers to assist with the Two Oceans again this year.

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