HAMNET Report 27th November 2022

It was a bad week for severe earthquakes. That’s not to say that we don’t see dozens of earthquakes most weeks, but most of them are of low magnitude, and cause minimal damage.

But the week started off with a Magnitude 5.4 quake in Indonesia on Monday the 21st at 06h21 UTC, in the province of Jawa Barat, population about 3 million people, and, as of late Friday night, the death toll stood at over 270 souls, of whom one third are children. The most recent victim found had been a 7 year old girl rescuers had spent 3 days searching for. She was eventually found under three collapsed layers of concrete, and had unfortunately not survived. Another 40 persons are still missing, over 2000 injured, and 62000 displaced. Search and rescue operations are ongoing, amidst many aftershocks, and heavy rain is hampering efforts.

On Tuesday the 22nd, a magnitude 7.2 quake struck just off the coast of the Solomon Islands, slightly east of Papua New Guinea, at a depth of 10km under the ocean, and generating a very small tsunami. There were about 2000 people within the radius of danger, and I’m glad to say there have been no reports of loss of life there, but damage to buildings and an airport and some power cuts have been reported.

And then, on Wednesday the 23rd, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey slightly east of Istanbul and close to the coast of the Black Sea, at a depth of 10km. About 197000 people were exposed to very strong shaking, and at least 93 persons injured. By yesterday no reports of deaths had been received, though the earth is still settling down in the area, as small aftershocks are felt. Again, heavy rainfall makes rescue efforts difficult.

Our Regional Director Michael ZS1MJT tells me that he and Pierre ZS1HF travelled up to Mossel Bay last weekend to meet the group of enthusiastic Radio Operators who come from that Southern part of the Cape Coast, and who asked for more information, and the right process for becoming HAMNET members and integrating themselves into HAMNET Western Cape.

Eighteen Southern Cape Amateurs joined for the session at 09h00 on Saturday, held at the new Joint Operations Centre in Mossel Bay. Pierre and Michael covered subjects like who should join HAMNET, why you should become a member, what is WSAR and how we fit in with the other organizations; discussions on antennas, propagation, NVIS, vehicle antenna placement: the pros and cons, deployment do’s and don’ts, ethics, the SARL, tactical call signs and recruitment.

During the course of the morning, they were visited by the deputy mayor of Mossel Bay and the JOC manager. They welcomed HAMNET and explained the purpose of the new JOC and also how it is going to be managed.

Michael says it was a very informative morning and a lot was learned, and I thank him for this report.

Those of you living in lightning-prone parts of the country will be interested in an article coming from the University of South Australia. This says that the chances of being struck by lightning are less than one in a million, but those odds shortened considerably this month when more than 4.2 million lightning strikes were recorded in every Australian state and territory over the weekend of 12-13 November.

When you consider that each lightning strike travels at more than 320,000 kilometres per hour, that’s a massive amount of electricity.

Ever wondered about lightning? For the past 50 years, scientists around the world have debated why lightning zig-zags and how it is connected to the thunder cloud above.

There hasn’t been a definitive explanation until now, with a University of South Australia plasma physicist publishing a landmark paper that solves both mysteries.

Reporting in Phys.org, Dr. John Lowke, former CSIRO scientist and now UniSA Adjunct Research Professor, says the physics of lightning has stumped the best scientific minds for decades.

“There are a few textbooks on lightning, but none have explained how the zig-zags (called steps) form, why the electrically conducting column connecting the steps with the cloud remains dark, and how lightning can travel over kilometres,” Dr. Lowke says.

The answer? Singlet-delta metastable oxygen molecules.

Basically, lightning happens when electrons hit oxygen molecules with enough energy to create high energy singlet delta oxygen molecules. After colliding with the molecules, the “detached” electrons form a highly conducting step—initially luminous—that redistributes the electric field, causing successive steps.

The conducting column connecting the step to the cloud remains dark when electrons attach to neutral oxygen molecules, followed by immediate detachment of the electrons by singlet delta molecules.

Why is this important?

“We need to understand how lightning is initiated so we can work out how better to protect buildings, airplanes, skyscrapers, valuable churches, and people,” Dr. Lowke says.

While it is rare for humans to be hit by lightning, buildings are hit many times, especially tall and isolated ones (the Empire State Building is hit about 25 times each year).

The solution to protect structures from lightning strikes has remained the same for hundreds of years.

A lightning rod invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1752 is basically a thick fencing wire that is attached to the top of a building and connected to the ground. It is designed to attract lightning and earth the electric charge, saving the building from being damaged.

“These Franklin rods are required for all buildings and churches today, but the uncertain factor is how many are needed on each structure,” Dr. Lowke says.

There are also hundreds of structures that are currently not protected, including shelter sheds in parks, often made from galvanized iron, and supported by wooden posts.

This could change with new Australian lightning protection standards recommending that these roofs be earthed. Dr. Lowke was a committee member of Standards Australia recommending this change.

“Improving lightning protection is so important now due to more extreme weather events from climate change. Also, while the development of environmentally-friendly composite materials in aircraft is improving fuel efficiency, these materials significantly increase the risk of damage from lightning, so we need to look at additional protection measures.

“The more we know about how lightning occurs, the better informed we will be in designing our built environment,” Dr. Lowke says.

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

HAMNET Report 20th November 2022

HAMNET Western Cape is happy to report that the 5 GigaHerz microwave link between our two Emcomm stations, at Tygerberg Hospital, for the Province, and at Goodwood Disaster Management Centre, for the City of Cape Town, was installed this past week.

Through kind donations of equipment and then the time of professional tower climbers and installers, the work was completed this week. There is still some configuration and set-up work to be done, but the provision of data, files and secure email is now ensured.

Thank you very much to the donors and organizers of the system.

Phys.org has announced this week that international scientists gathered in France voted on last Friday for new metric prefixes to express the world’s largest and smallest measurements, prompted by an ever-growing amount of data.

It marks the first time in more than three decades that new prefixes have been added to the International System of Units (SI), the agreed global standard for the metric system.

Joining the ranks of well-known prefixes like kilo and milli are ronna and quetta for the largest numbers—and ronto and quecto for the smallest.

The change was voted on by scientists and government representatives from across the world attending the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures, which governs the SI and meets roughly every four years at Versailles Palace, west of Paris.

Since the SI was established in 1960, scientific need has led to a growing number of prefixes. The last time was in 1991, when chemists wanting to express vast molecular quantities spurred the addition of zetta and yotta.

A yottameter is a one followed by 24 zeroes.

But even the mighty yotta is not enough to handle the world’s voracious appetite for data, according to Richard Brown, the head of metrology at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.

“In terms of expressing data in yottabytes, which is the highest prefix currently, we’re very close to the limit,” Brown told AFP.

“At the bottom end, it makes sense to have a symmetrical expansion, which is useful for quantum science, particle physics—when you’re measuring really, really small things.”

The new prefixes can simplify how we talk about some pretty big objects.

“If we think about mass, instead of distance, the Earth weighs approximately six ronnagrams,” which is a six followed by 27 zeroes, Brown said.

“Jupiter?  That’s about two quettagrams,” he added—a two followed by 30 zeros.

Brown said he had the idea for the update when he saw media reports using unsanctioned prefixes for data storage such as brontobytes and hellabytes. Google in particular has been using hella for bytes since 2010.

“Those were terms that were unofficially in circulation, so it was clear that the SI had to do something,” he said.

However metric prefixes need to be shortened to just their first letter—and B and H were already taken, ruling out bronto and hella.

“The only letters that were not used for other units or other symbols were R and Q,” Brown said.

Convention dictates that the larger prefixes end in an A, and the smaller ones in an O. Hence Ronna or Quetta for very big, and Ronto or Quecto for very small.

Hmm, I think it will be a while before we get a ham allocation in the QuettaHerz band!

Now, another conference in France has voted to do away with leap-seconds, and this is really going to confuse the poor FT8 and JS8 community, as well as all the other systems that require precise time.

Similar to leap years, leap seconds have been periodically added to clocks over the last half century to make up for the difference between exact atomic time and the Earth’s slower rotation.

While leap seconds pass by unnoticed for most people, they can cause problems for a range of systems that require an exact, uninterrupted flow of time, such as satellite navigation, software, telecommunication, trade and even space travel.

It has caused a headache for the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), which is responsible for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)—the internationally agreed standard by which the world sets its clocks.

A resolution to stop adding leap seconds by 2035 was passed by BIPM members and others at the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures, which is held roughly every four years at the Versailles Palace west of Paris.

The head of BIPM’s time department, Patrizia Tavella, said the “historic decision” would allow “a continuous flow of seconds without the discontinuities currently caused by irregular leap seconds”.

Seconds were long measured by astronomers analysing the Earth’s rotation, however the advent of atomic clocks—which use the frequency of atoms as their tick-tock mechanism—ushered in a far more precise era of timekeeping.

The problem is that Earth’s slightly slower rotation means the two times are out of sync.

To bridge the gap, leap seconds were introduced in 1972, and 27 have been added at irregular intervals since—the last in 2016.

Under the proposal, leap seconds will continue to be added as normal for the time being.

From around 2035, the difference between atomic and astronomical time will be allowed to grow to a larger value than one second, Judah Levine, a physicist at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, told AFP.

“The larger value is yet to be determined,” said Levine, who spent years helping draft the resolution alongside Tavella.

Levine said it was important to protect UTC time because it is run by “a worldwide community effort” in the BIPM, which has 59 member states and consults with other nations.

GPS time, a potential UTC rival governed by atomic clocks, is run by the United States military “without worldwide oversight”, Levine said.

A possible solution to the problem could be letting the discrepancy between the Earth’s rotation and atomic time build up to a minute.

It is difficult to say exactly how often that might be needed, but Levine estimated anywhere between 50 to 100 years.

Instead of then adding on a leap minute to clocks, Levine proposed a “kind of smear”, in which the last minute of the day takes two minutes.

Reading between the lines here, it seems to me that the problem isn’t the occasional leap second. The problem is that they are added erratically, and can therefore not be planned for in a fashion precise enough to keep the timekeepers happy.

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

HAMNET Report 13th November 2022

Emerging from a landscape torn apart by flooding and surge winds during the two worst tropical cyclones Mozambique has ever faced, the Government of Mozambique and its partners have placed disaster-risk-reduction at the core of its agenda. African nations gathered in Maputo earlier this year to hold climate talks ahead of COP27 which kicks off in Sharm el-Sheikh today.

Reliefweb.int reports that, more than ever, resilient telecommunications capability in the face of disasters is critical.

In times of crisis, amateur radio communications play a vital role. Ham radio provides a lifeline to assistance, information, and emergency coordination.

The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), the World Food Programme’s Technology division in Mozambique, and the National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction, have supported the National Institute of Communications in Mozambique (INCM) to set up a prototype ham station in Maputo, capable of reaching any location in the country.

More ham radio stations will follow across Pemba, Beira, Niassa, Lichinga, Tete, Zambezia and Inhambane provinces.

“Together, we assessed the needs and drafted a national action plan for telecommunications preparedness in Mozambique. Setting up a ham radio network complete with licensing and capacity building is one of 18 planned projects,” said Sudhir Kumar, ETC Preparedness Officer.

Already, 12 key responders from the INCM have been trained in using ham frequencies and equipped with licences to use amateur radio – a first for Mozambique. Previously, certification for Mozambicans was only possible to obtain from neighbouring South Africa, or even further afield.

Now, any responder with a license can join the disaster resilience movement via amateur radio.

“Ham operators are volunteers and can take their equipment and set up base in a government office or response staging area and provide communications from there. This makes amateur radio particularly useful in an emergency,” said Kumar.

Mozambique’s young people, who account for more than half the country’s population, are gearing up to join these telecommunications preparedness efforts.

In the aftermath of cyclones Idai and Kenneth, young people in Mozambique faced devastating hardships. In the districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge and Mutare, 60 percent of those impacted by the disaster were children. Across the country, thousands of classrooms were damaged or destroyed and the education of half a million children and young people was disrupted.

Students of electronics and communications engineering at the ‘Instituto Superior de Transportes e Comunicações‘, a college in Maputo, will join a planned workshop delivered by the ETC and WFP Mozambique on using amateur radio in the context of disaster response.

I expect South African Emcom operators will hear these stations on the air from time to time.

Amateur radio operators will join a powerful international network tracking NASA’s Orion spacecraft after it launches to the moon this month.

NASA officials announced that a network of 18 volunteers, organizations and space agencies will help track Artemis 1. Artemis 1 will carry an unmanned Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit on a Space Launch System rocket (SLS) launched from Earth. The shortest start date is November 14th. That is tomorrow.

NASA officials said selected volunteers, including two members of the radio amateur community, “will receive Orion’s signals and use their respective ground antennas to passively track and measure changes in the signals transmitted by Orion. We will prove that it can be done.

“These measurements will be taken during three different phases of Orion’s approximately 25-day mission: on the journey to the moon, during orbit of the moon, and during the journey back to Earth,” said the agency official.

NASA collected suggestions in a Request for Information published in August. Data collected from participants will be transmitted to the agency’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. The goal is to improve tracking information for future deep-space missions.

Thank you to the website bollyinside.com for excerpts from their report.

ARRL News reports that Amateur radio emergency communications volunteers have been busy preparing for another potential hurricane as Tropical Storm Nicole crossed the Atlantic.

As of 4 PM EST (2100 UTC) on Wednesday, November 9, 2022, the NWS National Hurricane Centre (NHC) was tracking Tropical Storm Nicole about 90km east of Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, and 200km east of West Palm Beach, Florida. With maximum sustained winds near 120km/h, the large tropical storm was expected to become a hurricane as it headed to Florida that night, where 45 counties were under a State of Emergency.

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM EST on their primary frequency of 14.325 MHz. The net disseminates the latest NHC advisories, and obtains real-time ground-level weather conditions and initial damage assessments from amateur radio operators in the affected area, and relays that information to the National Hurricane Centre (WX4NHC). Activation on their 40-metre net on 7.268 MHz began at 4:00 PM EST. The nets were expected to remain active on both 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz for as long as propagation allowed or until their services were no longer required.

Thanks to the ARRL for this summary of Hurricane Watch activity.

Nature.com says that, for astronomers who are sighted, the Universe is full of visual wonders. From shimmering planets to sparkling galaxies, the cosmos is spectacularly beautiful. But those who are blind or visually impaired cannot share that experience. So astronomers have been developing alternative ways to convey scientific information, such as using 3D printing to represent exploding stars, and sound to describe the collision of neutron stars.

On Friday, the journal Nature Astronomy published the latest in a series of articles on the use of sonification in astronomy. Sonification describes the conversion of data (including research data) into digital audio files, which allows them to be heard, as well as read and seen. The researchers featured in Nature Astronomy show that sound representations can help scientists better to identify patterns or signals in large astronomical data sets.

The work demonstrates that efforts to boost inclusivity and accessibility can have wider benefits. This is true not only in astronomy; sonification has also yielded discoveries in other fields that might otherwise not have been made. Research funders and publishers need to take note, and support interdisciplinary efforts that are simultaneously more innovative and inclusive.

Somebody should tell them that radio amateurs have been “guilty” of sonification for about 120 years!

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

Hamnet Report 6th November 2022

Last Saturday night, tens of thousands of boisterous young South Koreans, freed at last of pandemic restrictions, surged into a Seoul nightlife neighbourhood to celebrate Halloween.

More than 150 of them died in a narrow alleyway in Itaewon, the popular entertainment district in central Seoul where they had crammed in to enjoy an October evening out.

While government officials have been mostly tight-lipped about what went wrong in Itaewon on Saturday evening, saying only that they were caught off guard, many are already placing blame for one of the worst peacetime disasters in South Korea’s history on the failure to police the crowd, even as it became evident that things were getting out of control.

Even on an ordinary weekend, the neighbourhood attracts a crowd. But this promised to be no ordinary weekend, and while the investigation was still continuing, on Monday questions were being raised about why no police officers were in Itaewon to provide crowd control at a well-known choke point near a busy subway station exit and a tight alleyway known for its high foot traffic.

As South Korea grappled to understand how a tragedy of this scale could have happened, no government agency seemed prepared to take full responsibility for the scores of people who were killed.

Last Sunday evening, India time, at least 141 people fell to their deaths in a river below when a 140 year old suspension bridge gave way. The bridge is a major tourist attraction in the town of Morbi, Gujarat state. It had recently been repaired, and only re-opened a week before the tragedy. A spokesman of the company which manages the bridge said there were too many people in the mid-section, and they were trying to sway it from one side to the other. This doesn’t seem a good thing to do with a 140 year old suspension bridge!

Nevertheless, police arrested nine people from the firm contracted to maintain and operate the bridge on charges that amount to culpable homicide. I’m sure it will be difficult to apportion blame, when the pedestrians were actively testing the vulnerability of the structure.

At midweek, GDACS was reporting that Tropical Cyclone NALGAE (known as PAENG in the Philippines) had crossed the central-northern Philippines on 28-30 October, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges that caused floods, landslides and severe weather-related incidents across most parts of the country.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), 98 people died, 63 were still missing and 69 had been injured. In addition, almost one million people were displaced, more than 100,000 pre-emptively evacuated, and almost two million affected across 17 Regions. The most affected Regions are BARMM in the southern Philippines (with 53 fatalities and almost 400,000 affected people), and Western Visayas in the central-western Philippines (with 19 fatalities and more than 800,000 affected people).

Three ghastly tragedies, over a weekend when Halloween fun and pleasure should have been the important memories.

Michael ZS1MJT and Danie ZS1OSS both sent me reports on the IARU Region 1 QO-100 satellite communications exercise held last Saturday morning, the 29th October.

Between them, they say that the idea was to register a capable microwave station with the organizer Greg Mossup, G0DUB and a message would then, at some stage through the exercise be sent to that participant via a net control system station (G4NRC), thereby giving each station the opportunity to be involved, send, and receive messages and test and play with the setup. Where would the fun in our hobby be if we were not playing?

It took our fellows no longer than 10 minutes to set up James, ZS1RBT’s station, and align the dish towards the satellite. The station operated without any Internet or grid power. Altogether it is a very neat and compact installation.

James explained to them what all the parts in the box were and their use. To avoid major signal loss at microwave frequencies, all components of the entire QO-100 unit should be as close as possible to each other.

A particular advantage of a QO-100 station is that, as long as it is in the satellite’s footprint (Southern Africa up to Europe and from the Eastern edge of South America to Indonesia), it has a strong and clear signal from anywhere, and is not dependent upon times of the day which typically affect HF propagation.

The exercise started at 11h00 SAST and went on until 13h00. They operated under the call sign ZS1DZ and 2 messages were received and, in turn, 2 replies were sent. Although all tests on the day were voice tests, the satellite can also handle data such as Winlink e-mail, FT8 and so on.

Michael thanks James for bringing his equipment to Tygerberg Provincial Emergency Management Centre where it was set up and operated.

He also thanked Allan, ZS1AL and Danie, ZS1OSS for joining and taking part in the exercise. Thank you for the reports, Gentlemen.

For his part, Greg Mossop G0DUB reports that he had 14 stations taking part from 9 countries, and that David M0TGC did a good job running the control station G4NRC. QO-100 provides good wide area communication when HF is not consistent, and sunspot maximum has not yet arrived.


Danie ZS1OSS has also reported on the Koeberg Nuclear Exercise held on Friday morning, in a virtual form. All the agencies that might have been involved in a radiation risk accident assembled their controllers at Goodwood Disaster Risk Management Centre, and a busy morning of role playing it was too.

In Danie’s inimitable style, his report is very thorough, and comprehensive, but too long to include here. Suffice it to say that the greater Cape Peninsula was saved from a radiation disaster of a virtual kind, and lots of lessons were learnt. Thank you Danie!

I’d like to end by paying tribute to the life of Richard Brunton G4TUT. He singlehandedly produced Southgate Amateur Radio News, from which you have heard me quote excerpts so many times in the last 8 years. The behind-the-scenes work he put in to scanning the communications world for items to enhance our amateur radio experience was unending. We have lost a huge asset to amateur radio. Our condolences are expressed to his family and friends.

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