HAMNET Report 28th January 2024

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System reports that, following the earthquake of 7.0 M that occurred in Wushi County, Aksu Prefecture, in western Xinjiang Province, north-western China on 22 January at 18.09 UTC, the number of casualties and damage is increasing.

According to media reports, at least three people died, five have been injured across Akqi and Wushi Counties, and 12,426 people have been displaced. In addition, dozens of houses have been destroyed in Ahetch County in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture.

More than 70 aftershocks with magnitude greater than 3 have been registered in the area.

Last Monday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service issued a Geomagnetic Storm Watch for Monday and Tuesday as the largest solar flare since 2017 headed our way as we near the peak of Solar Cycle 25.

Officials said a coronal mass ejection was “observed lifting off the Sun” on Saturday and could cause moderate geomagnetic storming on Monday and Tuesday.

The X5 solar flare was observed by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Centre and officials said it could impact high-frequency radio communications, which are used by ham radio operators, some commercial airlines and by several government agencies.

Quite exciting finally to see an X5 class solar flare this solar cycle, because it does herald the arrival of solar maximum later this year and next, but in fact the coronal mass ejection delivered merely a glancing blow to our magnetosphere, and RF signals were not compromised much.

Professor David L Mills, one of the original wizards who built the internet, has died at the age of 85, leaving a remarkable technological legacy.

He is perhaps best known for his work on NTP, the Network Time Protocol, which he both invented and first implemented. This technology, which addresses an exceptionally thorny technical problem, allows computers to synchronize their time clocks with one another. For this, he was often referred to as the internet’s “Father Time.”

Mills was born with glaucoma, although an operation in childhood saved some sight in his left eye. His vision started to fail in 2012 and a decade later was altogether lost. However he became one of the engineers who built the internet. Later in life, he was the first chair of the Gateway Algorithms and Data Structures Task Force (GADS), and then of the Internet Architecture Task Force (INARC), the forerunner organization of today’s Internet Engineering Task Force.

Theregister.com reported on the loss of this internet legend.

The ARRL letter of this week says that ARRL Member and active radio amateur Dr. Philip Erickson, W1PJE, is the new director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Haystack Observatory.

The prestigious scientific appointment is the continuation of a radio interest that began in his youth. “I started as a shortwave listener in the mid-1970’s as a middle school student. So, in some sense, I was always fooling with antennas in the back yard and trying to understand why signals got to me at different times — why were they different in the day and at night? What was the farthest place I could hear, or the closest place?”

That early interest led him to an electrical engineering degree and ultimately, a doctorate in space plasma physics from Cornell University that he earned in 1998. Erickson was first licensed as a ham only about 10 years ago, but he says the professional hardware he worked with daily scratched the itch until he could gain amateur privileges. Erickson enjoys home-brewing gear, learning from the foundations of vintage equipment, and using amateur radio in the scientific space.

“An intense interest to me that crosses the boundary of what I do professionally and what I do as a radio amateur is what’s happening with the HamSCI Collective… Can you use the observations that are already being made in the process of conducting the hobby and extract information from them? It turns out you can — there’s a lot of ionospheric information buried in there,” he said.

The mission of the Haystack Observatory is to develop technology for radio science applications, to study the structure of our galaxy and the larger universe, to advance scientific knowledge of our planet and its space environment, and to contribute to the education of future scientists and engineers, according to MIT. The facility is home to research projects that span spectrum from VLF to 388 GHz.

He noted “We are almost a completely radio and radar observatory… We have a geospace group, which is most-closely associated with ARRL type ideas: the dynamics of the ionosphere and neutral part of the atmosphere, all the way out into near-Earth space. We are an observational group, so we use a bunch of different tools — radars, radios, sometimes data from satellites, and mostly data from ground-based observations.”

Techxplore.com notes that Conventional search and rescue operations after major disasters face many problems. A team from Malaysia writing in the International Journal of Vehicle Autonomous Systems, now suggests a practical solution that involves a real-time human detection system using a fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Researchers from two universities in Malaysia have brought together UAV technology with readily available small-scale tools such as the Raspberry Pi computer. This allows them not only to manage system functions better than with conventional technology but also to stream aerial imagery from an attached camera.

What makes this novel approach particularly attractive is the ability to offload the computationally intensive human detection tasks to a server at the edge, enabled by 4G cellular network technology. The team explains that the server employs the YOLOv3 deep neural network, trained on VisDrone and SARD datasets, and can precisely identify people from the images gathered by the UAV’s camera and transmit results to ground control. With a positive identification, a rescue team can then be sent to the exact spot where a rescue is needed.

The system brings together deep learning algorithms and mobile-edge computing and represents a shift away from conventional search and rescue approaches that could speed up the whole process during a major incident. There are also benefits to precluding the need for manned aircraft or people to cover a lot of ground in hazardous environments.

The researchers initially designed the system for human search and rescue scenarios, but it could be adapted to other applications, such as public safety and crime prevention. It could be repurposed for patrolling a site vulnerable to criminal activity or even used in tracking criminals.

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


KwaZulu Natal is still not out of danger from heavy rain and its consequences. GDACS reported on Thursday that the number of casualties increased after the floods due to heavy rainfall and thunderstorms that affected KwaZulu-Natal province, since 12th January.

Media report, as of 17th January, at least 13 fatalities due to overflowing rivers in eThekwini municipality and Durban city area. Six people were injured by severe weather-related incidents and three people have been rescued in Tongaat. Across eThekweni, KwaDukuza and Ndwedwe municipalities, people in the flooded areas have been evacuated. Moreover, roads, bridges infrastructure and electricity networks have been severely damaged.

On Friday, the Newcastle area was being threatened by oncoming storms and heavy rain, so the summer rainfall areas are certainly suffering a lot.

In a summary of the Tropical Cyclone’s path, GDACS says that BELAL made landfall over Reunion on 15th January and passed close to Mauritius on 15th and 16th January, bringing heavy rainfall and strong winds, that caused floods and resulted in casualties and damage.

In Reunion, civil protection reported four fatalities and more than 700 displaced people. In Mauritius, according to the United Nations, at least two people died, over 1,000 others were evacuated and approximately 100,000 were affected.

The Government of Mauritius is leading the response coordination with support from humanitarian partners.

BELAL has moved eastward as a tropical storm and was located 910 km south-east of Mauritius on Thursday. It was forecast to change direction moving south-westwards over the southern Indian Ocean and weaken. 

Meanwhile, large areas of Japan affected by the New Year’s Day earthquake are still without water and power, particularly in the evacuation centres, where 20000 people are still trying to keep warm in icy winter conditions.

As of Monday the 15th, the death toll stood at 222, with 22 people still unaccounted for and 1025 suffering injuries. The tsunami waves, while small, nevertheless inundated some 190 hectares of land in three municipalities mostly in the north-eastern part of the Noto Peninsula in the Ishikawa province, wrecking houses and port facilities, including the town of Shika, but the full extent of the destruction is yet to be assessed.

In an editorial carried on the Mainichi newsline, it is noted that the communication network broke down. This was due to equipment malfunctions and power outages rendering mobile phone base stations inoperable.

Service providers swung into action to provide alternatives. Major mobile carriers NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp. set up joint mobile base stations on ships, transmitting signals from the sea. SoftBank Corp. is using special drones as mobile base stations — a system introduced based on experiences from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, communication coverage remains limited in some disaster-stricken areas, making it difficult for phone and internet services to function properly. Delays in restoration could impede vital information gathering through drones and online medical consultations.

Strengthening disaster prevention capabilities is an urgent task. In the Great East Japan Earthquake, about 29,000 base stations went offline, with roughly 80% attributed to power outages.

Carriers have improved backup power for base stations, extending their operational life from three to around 24 hours in the case of a blackout. Considering that the first 72 hours after a disaster are crucial for life-saving efforts, further performance improvement is needed.

In the Noto quake, satellite phones played a significant role. The government sent terminals to affected areas, supporting recovery efforts. KDDI provided equipment to medical facilities and evacuation centres to tap into U.S. firm SpaceX’s Starlink communication system.

Communications are a lifeline during disasters. The government and network providers have a responsibility to establish essential universal services to protect the people.

Amateur radio enthusiast Tony Falla is encouraging community members to consider having a radio on hand to assist in times of emergency when all other forms of communication fail.

Tony has been an amateur radio enthusiast for more than 50 years and established the local Facebook group ‘Mt Alexander Radio Watch‘, in Australia, to encourage people to set up their own radio network for use in times of power cuts, mobile outages and other unpredictable situations. 

But his skills and equipment were recently put to the test when simultaneous power and Optus network outages plunged homes across the region into darkness and saw many unable to communicate via phone. 

The storm event on January 2 saw 24,000 homes across the central and western regions without power after 90,000 lightning strikes across the state damaged infrastructure. 

“Despite having to look for an alternative source of lighting, I was able to use my car radio transmitter set up to reach out to other Mt Alexander Radio Watch members across the region and to gauge how widespread the issue was and if everyone was okay,” Tony said. 

“After confirming everyone was okay, one of my colleagues offered to drop me off some spare car batteries to extend my lights’ duration. However, they weren’t required in the end as fortunately the outage only lasted a couple of hours.” 

Point-to-point radio enables an ‘open mesh’ network to form. This means participants can hear each other and are able to talk to everyone. It’s an efficient way of solving problems or calling for help. 

Thank you to midlandexpress.com for reminding us of the value of being “radio-active”. The message does bear repeating.

In this connection, Stanford News reports that researchers from Stanford and the American University of Beirut have developed a lightweight, portable antenna that can communicate with satellites and devices on the ground, making it easier to coordinate rescue and relief efforts in disaster-prone areas.

The antenna, described recently in Nature Communications, packs down to a small size and can easily shift between two configurations to communicate either with satellites or devices on the ground without using additional power.

The antenna, is made of fibre composites, and consists of multiple strips of material crossing each other in spirals, and able to be concertina’ed down to a 2.5cm tall 12.5cm ring, or stretched out to 30cm and considerably narrower.

Technically it is a bi-stable deployable quadrifilar helix antenna, and needs a ground plane to be used either for satellite communications with a high power directional signal, or for lower power omnidirectional signals, rather like a router’s antenna. The frequencies it resonates on obviously depends on its general dimensions. However it weighs just 40gms, so is easy to carry and use in portable situations.

Thanks to news.stanford.edu for this snippet.

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

HAMNET Report 14th January 2024

On Friday, GDACS started reporting on a tropical cyclone called BELAL, which had arisen in the Indian Ocean, and is currently threatening Mauritius and Reunion, with winds currently in excess of 230km/h and travelling from Northeast to Southwest, more or less parallel to the Madagascan east coast. The two French islands are directly in its path, and the storm should pass over Mauritius and Reunion on the 16th of January. There are at least 958000 people in its predicted path, and we must hope the cyclone disperses a bit before Tuesday, to reduce likelihood of casualties.

KYODO News in Japan is reporting that in all likelihood the pilot of the small coast guard plane that was struck by the landing Japanese Airlines passenger craft on the runway did not hear the landing instructions given to the JAL aircraft because he was listening on another frequency. He therefore thought it safe to taxi on to the runway to prepare for take-off.

It was the third flight of this coast guard aircraft, ferrying assistance to the northwestern coast of the main island to help with earthquake mopping up operations. The JAL passenger aircraft was completely burnt out, but not before all passengers and crew safely disembarked. All four runways at Haneda airport were temporarily closed, but the three unaffected runways were reopened the same day.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University are proposing a radio astronomy telescope on the moon to detect radio waves emitted from the hydrogen gas that filled the universe millions of years ago, and which may contain clues about the cosmic dark ages before the first stars started forming.

Writing in ISRAEL21C, Abigail Leichman says the Tel Aviv group could be able to measure the weight of Neutrino particles and add to scientists’ limited knowledge about dark matter, the mysterious building block of outer space.

This study was led by Prof. Rennan Barkana’s research group, including the postdoctoral fellow Rajesh Mondal. Their novel conclusions have been published in Nature Astronomy.

The researchers explain that while every car has an antenna that detects radio waves, the specific waves from the early universe are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. They can only be studied from space, particularly the moon, which offers a stable environment, free of any interference from an atmosphere or from radio communications.

They say that putting a telescope on the moon isn’t an impossible dream, given that the United States, Europe, China and India are engaged in an international space race to return to the moon with space probes and, eventually, astronauts. Their research may intrigue one of these countries to try detecting radio waves from the cosmic dark ages.

Barkana explained: “NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope discovered recently distant galaxies whose light we receive from the cosmic dawn, around 300 million years after the Big Bang. Our new research studies an even earlier and more mysterious era: the cosmic dark ages, only 50 million years after the Big Bang.”

Barkana said that conditions in the early universe were quite different from today and that using radio observations to determine the density and temperature of hydrogen gas at various times can reveal what is still to be discovered.

Furthermore, a radio telescope consisting of an array of antennas could accurately determine the amount of hydrogen and of helium in the universe. Hydrogen is the original form of ordinary matter in the universe, from which stars, planets, and eventually life began.

Since the end of 2023, HAMNET Western Cape has developed closer ties with the Western Cape Repeater Working group, which maintains and repairs the repeaters we have dotted around here. After all, although the VHF and UHF repeaters are available for all amateurs to use, the grouping that really needs the repeaters to be working flawlessly, is HAMNET, because we are the most likely to be involved in search and rescue comms, or management of regional disasters of any sort.

HAMNET therefore regards it as essential that our repeater system does not fail. Maintenance and repair of repeaters requires the time of the volunteers who repair them, and funds to replace equipment or provide parts.

To this end, the company who advertises on the front page of your SARL website, Bombastik Radio Accessories has sponsored three groups of prizes so that the Repeater Working Group can run a raffle. Each ticket costs R99 and only 200 tickets will be sold. The raffle will be drawn once all 200 tickets are indeed sold.

The prizes? Well, first prize is a Bombastik 80-40-coil-5-6m-whip part number p609509252, plus a 1.2m copper spike and connectors and radials for the whip antenna, part number p611033292 (if you want to go and look on their website).

Second prize will be an end fed half wave antenna covering 10-40m, part number p607418904; and there will be three third prizes, of 2 antenna wire winders each, part number p611037766. The total value of all the prizes is more than R3550.

The raffle is open to anybody in South Africa, and you will see Bombastik’s email address and raffle contact details on their advertisement on the SARL webpage. Thank you to Marius ZS1ML, for the generous sponsorship. There are still some tickets available, so feel free to enter for the draw.

It appears that Curation team members at the Johnson Space Centre have been struggling to gain access to some of the sample material brought all the way back to earth from Asteroid Bennu last year.

NASA now says that the team successfully removed the two fasteners from the sampler head that had prevented the remainder of OSIRIS-REx’s asteroid Bennu sample material from being accessed. Steps are now underway to complete the disassembly of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM, head to reveal the rest of the rocks and dust delivered by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

The remainder of the bulk sample will be fully visible after a few additional disassembly steps, at which point image specialists will take ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sample while it is still inside the TAGSAM head. This portion of the sample will then be removed and weighed, and the team will be able to determine the total mass of Bennu material captured by the mission.

How ridiculously frustrating? You bring a sample of asteroid material back after a multi-million kilometre trip, and then you can’t get at it, because the lid is stuck closed! I think I would long-since have resorted to a hammer by now!

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

HAMNET Report 7th January 2024

Well, here we are on the first Sunday of 2024, and I’ll seize a final opportunity to say Happy New Year to you all. May your knowledge, experience and fun playing radio only increase this year!

I mentioned, half in passing last week, the Ladysmith floods of the Christmas weekend, and now discover that the death toll from those torrential rains has risen to 23. The authorities have apparently stopped their searches for missing persons as of Wednesday this week.

A hidden tragedy unfolds, as it does every year this time, in the Eastern Cape, where deaths during the initiation ceremonies at mostly unregistered initiation schools now stands at 34. One can perhaps understand that there is a tradition related to this ceremony, and we all know how important tradition is to all people, but surely there is a more reliable, safe and hygienic way to go through with this event every year, reducing the number of needless deaths, usually of recently matriculated young men? This is 2024, after all, and there are more hygienic ways to perform this ritual.

Japan seems to have stuck to its tradition of dealing its nation with dramatic natural disasters during the festive season, by delivering an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 on New Year’s morning, luckily on the northern coast of the main island. Fortunately there were no nuclear reactors on that stretch of Japanese coastline, but damage was severe, and the death toll on Friday evening stood at 94, with 200 people still unaccounted for. Damage to buildings has resulted in 32000 people being housed in temporary shelters, as rescuers scramble to move rubble and search for more survivors.

The quake was felt as far away as Tokyo, on the other coast of the main island, and would you believe it, my daughter had just got airborne out of Tokyo on her way to Hokkaido Island when the shaking started. I can assure you that this worried Dad was watching the newscasts very closely until he got news that she was safely on Hokkaido.

And an even huger disaster was averted when a passenger plane flying back to Tokyo from Sapporo airport, the very airport on Hokkaido my daughter had alighted at, struck a small plane on the runway at Tokyo, killing all its passengers, and then bursting in to flames.

Apparently, the crew of the passenger aircraft from Sapporo behaved most coolly, and safely evacuated all 400 people on the plane down the inflatable shutes, with no injuries to anybody. The fire was extinguished on the runway, and the country mourns the passing of the people on the light aircraft, who were actually on their way to assist with search and rescue operations at the quake’s epicenter. All in all, not a good start to the Japanese New Year!

Here’s some better news for us oldies with grey hair or no hair at all. In what seems to me to be an obvious correlation, a large team of medical researchers affiliated with several institutions in Denmark analysed data from a national health information database and found evidence that hearing aids could reduce the risk of developing dementia in older people with hearing difficulties. Their study is published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

Phys.org reports that prior research has suggested that there may be a link between hearing difficulties in older people and the development of dementia, suggesting that gradual hearing loss may be a risk factor for developing one of the many types of dementia. Scientists are still trying to understand the link better, but in the meantime, some in the field have begun to wonder if the use of hearing aids may slow or stop the onset of such diseases.

To learn more about this possibility, the research team turned to the Hearing Examinations in Southern Denmark database, which, as its name implies, is a database that monitors hearing issues in people living in southern parts of Denmark. It contains hearing data for approximately 573,088 people aged 50 years and older and was collected between the years 2003 and 2017.

In analysing the data, the researchers looked for associations between hearing loss and dementia. They found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did not use a hearing aid were 20% more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. They also found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did use a hearing aid had just a 6% chance of developing dementia, which was close to the average for ordinary people who did not experience hearing loss.

The researchers point out that their findings do not prove that the use of a hearing aid can prevent the onset of dementia, just that more study needs to done to find out if that is the case.

In other words, there is a connection between increasing hearing loss, and an increased likelihood of developing dementia if you don’t use a hearing aid, but the one does not necessarily cause the other. Correlation, but not causation!

It is a sad fact that many people who are becoming hard of hearing are resistant to the idea of wearing aids, mostly I suspect because it is an admission of progressive decline. A bigger problem actually, is the fact that hearing aids non-selectively amplify everything, making it difficult for one’s brain to focus in on the one conversation or audio input one is particularly interested in.

A person with hearing aids will tell you the aids are useless at a gathering or social occasion, because the general hub-bub makes appreciation of the important stuff impossible. However, I think that is not a good reason for not wearing aids. Wear the aids, avoid the parties, and allow your brain to continue to listen to what is important to you. Visual and auditory stimuli will keep your mind active, and prevent senile decay. Put the other way round, becoming hard of hearing cuts you off from society and the world more and more, and causes you to sink into a lonely existence

I for one can’t wait for AI to improve hearing aid technology to the point that one can cancel out general noise, and allow only the audio you are actually interested in, to get through. In the meantime, wear your headphones, switch on the ordinary noise cancelling, and enjoy your amateur radio!

Thanks to Phys.org for that report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, reminding you all to be willing to volunteer to assist your families and society in general in times of need, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.