HAMNET Report 15 July 2018

The International Amateur Radio Union Region One website carries news of the YOTA 2018 in South Africa week, to be held in August. Nico, ZS6QL, President of the SARL writes that the event will be held in the beautiful central region of Gauteng at the Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre easily accessible from the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The week will offer many opportunities to learn more about amateur radio and getting to know fellow amateurs from various other countries.
Highlights planned for the week include learning about SDR technology with your own SDR dongle, building a mini CubeSat and experiencing launching it as well as tracking it into near space on a high altitude balloon. Also, learning about Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio (RaDAR), which is in essence amateur radio on the move, and building a QRP HF transceiver kit.

Then there will be a visit to a game reserve to view the Big Five, and some cultural experiences like a traditional braaivleis in an open-air boma, and operating the ZS9YOTA special events station.

The theme of “Train the Trainer” will be explored, to enable participants to return to their home countries, equipped and inspired to organize and promote radio amateur activities to other youth groups, or ultimately starting a youth group.

An item of technology used for the rescue of the 13 people trapped in the cave system in Thailand came from Israel, where a company called Maxtech Networks has developed a mesh capability which allows handheld radios in a cave system to talk to each other, by being relayed to each other by a third handheld somewhere between them. Radio amateurs recognise this capability as being similar to repeaters, where our signals go in to the repeater on one frequency, and are simultaneously retransmitted out on a different frequency to the next radio in  the chain. However, with a mesh capability, the signal can be on the same frequency for the entire message path.

Uzi Hanuni, founder and CEO of Maxtech Networks was interviewed this week on CNN, and described his technology, which can daisy-chain the radio system to transmit video, voice and data as needed. Certainly good technology amongst rescue services.

And, since we’re talking about it, I’m sure you’ll join me in being hugely relieved that all 12 soccer players, and their adult coach were successfully rescued this week. It has been a very stressful time for the families of the victims. Tribute also needs to be paid to the senior diver who lost his life trying to ferry oxygen in to the trapped team. His efforts were not in vain.

In further watery disasters, the death toll from Japan’s record rainfall of last weekend stands now at 204, with another 40 people not accounted for. 6700 people are staying in evacuation shelters, nearly 5.9 million people were ordered to leave their homes in 19 prefectures due to landslides and flooding, and 203000 households are still without running water. It seems that the rain has stopped, but there is an enormous amount of clearing up and restoration of essential services still to be done. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled his trip to Europe and the Middle East to oversee the Government response in the country.

Tropical Cyclone Maria-18 of last weekend crossed the Chinese Coast on Wednesday, and rapidly blew itself out, so that danger is over, without much damage or injury reported.

Off the Eastern American border with Canada, Hurricane Chris continued to track northeast at 37 kilometres per hour with sustained winds of 165 kilometres per hour, and was due to make landfall on the Avalon Peninsula late Thursday night as a post-tropical depression.

Rainfall in the affected area was likely to amount to 50 to 70 millimetres, with 80 to 100 kilometre per hour winds, and large surf.

A summary of rainfall figures in the provinces of South Africa shows all provinces except the Northern Cape’s averages as static or slightly up. The Northern Cape’s dams have emptied by 7 percentage points, compared to last week, now at 86% full. The Western Cape’s dams are up by 5 percentage points, to 47% full, compared to 24% full at this time last year. Our big dam, Theewaterskloof is standing at 38% full, as of yesterday afternoon, compared to 18.9% last year. Very reassuring indeed.

And snow reports in our area yesterday came from the Afriski Mountain Resort in Lesotho, and the Matroosberg, and Drakensberg mountains, as well as Sani Pass in to Lesotho. Snowreporter.co.za has plenty of pictures and videos of the snow on Saturday.

The ARRL News reports that IARU Region 1 Emergency Coordinator Greg Mossup, G0DUB, has posted a report on the Emergency Communications Meeting held at June’s Ham Radio event in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Mossup said some 20 emergency communicators attended the June 1 meeting, sponsored by the IARU.

“After the introduction and Region 1 report, there were interesting presentations followed by a good exchange of information in an open forum session, which carried on beyond the official closing time of the meeting,” Mossup said in his report.

He said Michal Wilczynski, SP9XWM, and Krzysztof Gaudnik, SP7WME, presented on emergency activities in Poland, followed by Herbert Koblmiller, OE3KJN, who discussed “Exercise Solar Flare,” which saw good cooperation between Austrian radio amateurs, the military, and service providers. Finally, Alberto Barbera, IK1YLO, and Marco, IU1GJE, spoke about the internet-linked DMR network they have been working on for use in emergencies and disasters.

HAMNET South Africa hopes you will bundle up and keep warm during this coldest period of South Africa’s Winter. With schools opening for the second semester this week, viral infections will be rife, so please be well prepared for the cold.

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


HAMNET Report 8 July 2018

In the never-ending discussion as to the likelihood that there is intelligent life out there, a new report from Quartz says there’s a good chance that humans are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, according to a new study submitted to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. As Quartz reports, researchers at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute applied existing knowledge of biology, chemistry, and cosmology to the Drake equation. This was created by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 as an attempt to calculate the number of intelligent civilizations that could be in our galaxy. He included factors like the average rate of star formation and the average lifespan of intelligent civilizations.

They estimate there’s a 53 to 99.6 percent chance we’re alone in the galaxy, and a 39 to 85 percent chance we’re the only intelligent life to be found in the entire universe.

“Where are they?” the researchers ask, referring to the classic Fermi Paradox, which asserts that intelligent extraterrestrial beings exist and that they should have visited Earth by now. “Probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”

Seth Shostak doesn’t buy it. Shostak is senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, a research organization that analyzes radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Part of the challenge with mathematical modelling like this, Shostak says, is that the data are limited; scientists just haven’t looked at very many star systems.

“I could walk outside here in Mountain View, California and not see too many hippos strolling the streets,” he tells Mental Floss. “But it would be incorrect for me to say on that rather limited basis that there’s probably no hippos anywhere. It’s a big conclusion to make on the basis of a local observation.”

Moreover, they may not even know what to look for in the solar systems they have reviewed. The SETI Institute examines radio communications and light signals, but there’s always the possibility that an intelligent civilization has attempted to contact us using means we may not have developed or even considered yet.

The Fermi Paradox itself may be naïve in its understanding of the universe, Shostak says. “You could have said the same thing about Antarctica in the 1700s. A lot of people wondered, ‘Is there a continent down there?’ On the one hand, you could argue there was [a continent], and on the other hand, you could say, ‘Look, there’s an awful lot of water in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and there’s no continents there, so why should there be one at the bottom of the ocean?’”

In other words, any conclusions about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence are likely to be presumptive, made before any solid data is released or discovered. The truth may be out there, Shostak says. We just haven’t found it yet!

Now a report back about Hamvention near Dayton in May that shows the third highest attendance ever, at 28417 visitors, only 900 less than last year’s attendance, also at the new venue at Xenia. The organisers feel that there was slight reluctance on the part of rank and file amateurs to attend, because of reservations based on last year’s muddy flea market, and promised upgrades which were late in being announced.

Hamvention’s 2018 theme was “Amateur Radio…Serving the Community,” and the event highlighted emergency communication forums – many put on by ARRL – plus a big display of emergency communication vehicles. Nearly 800 volunteers put in a lot of their time before and during the convention to make it the success it was.

Last week’s Tropical Storm blew itself out alongside South Korea without doing much damage, but this week we have a new threat. Tropical Cyclone Maria-18 has been bearing down on the South coast of China, threatening to sideswipe Japan as it travels from South-East towards  North-West. On Thursday it was leaving the Guam area, and moving towards the Chinese coast, with Japan to its North and Taiwan to its South, and threatening an estimated population of 19 million people with wind-speeds of about 120km/h. Wind-speeds may reach 259 km/h, making it a category 5 storm. It’s main effect is to be expected on Monday, when it approaches the Chinese mainland.

Meanwhile, heavy rains already falling in Japan have killed at least 20 people and resulted in the ordered evacuation of 1.9 million people from threatened areas. Intense rainfall triggered huge landslides and flash floods in Hiroshima, Okayama, Kyoto and other regions, while hampering rescue operations with dozens of people reportedly missing. Some areas have been hit by more than a metre of rainfall, according to the government, while around 48,000 troops, police and firefighters have been deployed for rescue operations. We hope there Ham radio operators amongst them.

The Japan Meteorological Agency upgraded its alert system to the highest level—only issued when the amount of rain is expected to be the highest in decades—in large areas of Western Japan. Heavy rain was forecast to continue until Sunday in Western and Eastern Japan.

And the Hurricane Watch Net is having its attention drawn to early tropical depressions in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin. One such depression, entitled TD 3 at the moment, has been modelled by computers, and may grow and move up along the US East Coast into Nova Scotia, Canada.

A compact tropical cyclone, named Beryl intensified on Friday night to become the first hurricane of the season in that area. It is predicted to remain East of the Lesser Antilles until today (Sunday), and hopefully will weaken and dissipate before reaching the islands. Maximum winds so far seem to be in the 130 km/h range.

Luckily, the Western Cape Province is not having that kind of rain, but we are very happy to be able to report the City of Cape Town and surrounding dams currently at an average of 52.4% full. Our biggest dam, Theewaterskloof, is the slowest to fill, currently at 38.5% full, but there is a lot of river water still flowing in to it, and a lot of snow on the surrounding mountains still to melt and run in to all the dams, so we’re nowhere near finished with this rainy season yet. July and August’s rain has still to fall.

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

HAMNET Report 1 July 2018

It is with sadness that we have learned that Ashley Ware-Lane’s key has become silent.

Ashley ZS1ASH was well known throughout the Western Cape Rescue Community as an operator for both ORRU and HAMNET and attended many rescues in his day. He was recently the chairman of the 4 wheel drive club and the organiser of a number of HAMNET Winter Exercises.

His bright and jovial presence will be missed by all but no more than  by his family. At this time our thoughts are with Mari, Bradley, Celine and his extended family.

Funeral arrangements will be made known later this week.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) has been tracking Tropical Cyclone PRAPIROON-18, as it moves Northwards to hit the Southern tip of South Korea tomorrow (Monday) at 06h00 UTC, before turning North-East to skim the coast of North Korea. Maximum wind speeds are expected to reach nearly 140kph, and GDACS has set the alert level at RED.

Last Sunday, Andrew Gray ZS2G of HAMNET Eastern Cape reported that PE Amateur Radio Society members and Hamnet assisted the Mountain Club and EMS in bringing down two injured hikers on the Lady Slipper Mountain on Saturday afternoon the 23rd of June. The first injury was a suspected broken ankle. As the rescuers were making their way to the patient, another report came in that someone else higher up the mountain had fallen and sustained a head injury. The foot injury patient recovery was put on hold, while the head injury patient was brought down the mountain and flown to hospital. The second patient was off the mountain and at the ambulance by 16h15. It was really tough on the people who did two trips up the mountain. Andrew thanks and greets all who assisted, and says “Well done”!

In a sad ending to another rescue, HAMNET Western Cape participated in the eventual retrieval of a Cape Town Psychologist’s body, which was brought down off Table Mountain after a prolonged search. David ZS1DAV was duty logistics manager at the time.

A report coming from John ZS1JNT and Bruce ZD7VC brings to an end a saga that began in October 2015, when an unusually designed 51 foot high performance catamaran sailing yacht coming down the coast off the Eastern Cape struck a whale and started to take on water. After putting out a Mayday call on the Marine VHF radio, the owner/captain and his crewman abandoned ship in a dinghy and triggered their EPIRB. Shipping in the area was coordinated to search for the sailors and the capsized yacht was soon found, but it took another 24 hours to find the crewmen in their dinghy. They were finally rescued in 50 knot winds, and brought to Cape Town.

Nearly three years later, the Sea Rescue Service of St Helena found a piece of boat wreckage washed up on an inaccessible rocky beach of the island, called Turks Cap Bay. Sea Rescue decided to ask Bruce ZD7VC to help them identify the wreckage. Bruce thought of his old sailor friend John ZS1JNT, in Cape Town, and emailed him the details and pictures of the wreckage. John  identified them as bits of the bridge-deck of a catamaran, but with an unusual design and construction. There were features unusual in a catamaran, so John sent pictures to a few yacht designers around the world, who identified the structures as being of French origin.

A week ago, a knowledgeable cruiser in the United States thought the bridge construction looked similar to a yacht type called a “Switch 51”. It was discovered that only about a dozen of these had been built, and only one ever abandoned – the yacht struck off the East Cape Coast in 2015.

And thus, through the spirit of ham cooperation, was a mystery solved. The drift pattern to take the vessel Southwest in the Agulhas current and then up the West coast of Africa in the Benguela current, all the way to the tiny island of St Helena, is quite remarkable – a passage of around 2500 nautical miles or 4600 kilometres in just over two years and 7 months.

Thank you, John for this interesting story, and congratulations to you and Bruce on the ferreting achievement.

The ARRL letter for 28 June reports that, with typical propagation no better than fair to pretty good, most ARRL Field Day participants nonetheless enjoyed the 2018 running of Amateur Radio’s most popular operating event — most as part of club or group operations and some as individuals. Among them was an ARRL Headquarters team that included several newer operators as well as some veterans, who operated Maxim Memorial Station W1AW. ARRL Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, said most contacts at their station were on the HF bands, with a handful of VHF/UHF FM and SSB satellite contacts via SO-50 or FO-29.

“Conditions were so-so on 15 and 10, but 6 meters opened for a while, and 20 and below were hopping!” Carcia enthused.

More than 1,600 clubs and groups registered their locations on the ARRL Field Day Locator website.

The newsletter includes reports from stations in the mountains, others out on rivers, some working low power (QRP – less than 5 watts output power), some operating CW only (morse code), and others only digital modes.

The station reports continue to come in, and we will try to bring the interesting ones to you.

Finally, I am happy to bring you news of record rains in the Western Cape for the month of June. Dam levels are on average very close to 45% full, much better than this time last year or the previous year, and, at my station, a record amount of 145mm rain has been measured, better than all June rainfall in the last 18 years, which is how long I have been keeping records. Long may this Winter trend continue!

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

HAMNET Report 24 June 2018

In Lake Toba, North Sumatra, the ferry, Sinar Bangun, overloaded with over 200 passengers, sank on 18th June. It was apparently over five times over the passenger capacity of 43 passengers and had only 45 life jackets. It is holiday season in Indonesia, so the demand for space was very great. Winds were blowing hard, and waves were rough, while heavy rain made conditions worse. All in all, a recipe for disaster, and finally the ferry capsized completely, leaving 3 confirmed dead, some 190 persons missing, and only 18 survivors rescued.

An absolutely avoidable tragedy, were it not for the impatience of the local people, who could not or would not wait for another vessel. The agony for the surviving relatives cannot be imagined. Our sincere condolences to the nations involved.

The American local press has again been full of the ARRL Field Day Event across their country and coming to an end today. The Sun has been playing ball, just a little bit, with sunspot numbers daily in the 40’s, the Solar Flux Index being in mid 80’s, and a low K index contributing to reasonable communications in the latter half of last week. There will be many post-mortems on the video and audio blogs this coming week, so I hope to be able to report on their exercise successes next Sunday.

Southgate Amateur Radio News carries an insert this week on an example of amateur radio filling the gaps in urban or national disaster management.

“The Indian Express newspaper reports on the invisible warriors who battle Mumbai monsoons – Radio Amateurs.

“The forces on the frontlines of Mumbai’s monsoon crisis-management have a set of images that define their functions. The fire brigade invariably rescues youngsters stranded out in the sea at Bandra Fort, employees of the BMC clear out fallen trees, guard open manholes and disinfect mosquito breeding spots, hospitals witness queues of patients with water-borne diseases, the police are seen standing in waist-high water diverting traffic and the National Disaster Response Force frantically remove rubble from collapsed buildings, working to save lives.

“All the while, there is no such picture to define the importance of a band of ‘invisible’ volunteers who pull the strings from the sidelines and ensure that lines of communications between the agencies never break down. For close to half a decade, Ham or amateur radio operators have worked side by side with the BMC during monsoons. While they are kept on standby by the civic body in case a disaster or torrential rain knocks down electricity and phone services, the amateur radio operators also perform a vital function by relaying information from all corners of the city on days with forecasts of rough weather.

“ ‘This is a technical hobby and our expertise is special, which common people do not have. During a disaster, communications are very important,’ says Grant Road resident and Ham operator, Sudhir Shah VU2SVS..

“The 71-year-old usually oversees operations from the BMC’s Disaster Management Control Room, which has its own transceiver, directing his colleagues on the field in other parts of the city. While phones and hotlines ring off the hook inside the control room and bring information from all corners of the city, Shah’s messages have a far greater reach. ‘This is a secondary channel of communication. We are highly mobile and independent. We are a voluntary service and use our own equipment and are always on standby,’ he adds.” Close quotation

Thank you to the Indian Express for this report.

From Tokyo comes a good idea. The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, remarks on the fact that “Tourists can be especially vulnerable during a natural disaster, unable to speak the local language and unsure of what to do or where to go in an emergency. With that in mind, the Japan Tourism Agency has an iOS and Android app called ‘Safety tips’ to help foreign visitors navigate emergency situations such as the June 18 quake in western Japan’s Osaka Prefecture.

“Downloadable from the Apple App Store and Google Play, ‘Safety tips’ uses location services and push notifications to relay earthquake, tsunami, volcano and weather warnings to affected users. Available in Japanese, English, Korean, and both simplified and traditional Chinese, the app also provides evacuation information and multilingual communication cards to allow users to ask locals for essential information, such as ‘Is it safe here?’ and ‘Where is the emergency shelter?’

“However, the app is also designed to help foreign travellers overcome more commonplace problems while in Japan, with a list of emergency service numbers, a guide to local medical institutions in case of illness or injury, heatstroke warnings, and even a train route finder function.

“As the Safety tip app website notes, ‘Japan is a country which is prone to natural disasters,’ and tourists need ‘accurate information in the event of a natural disaster.’ That need has been growing as more visitors are arriving on Japan’s shores than ever before. In 2014, the year the app was launched, the country welcomed just over 13.4 million foreign visitors. That rose to about 28.7 million in 2017, and arrivals were increasing at their fastest pace ever in the first four months of this year, according to Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) statistics.” Close quotation.

Well done, Japan!

At 7pm last night, our national telecoms agency killed my normal email address, telephone line and username again, and I am seriously considering not invoking their services again. The pathetic and confused service does not merit my support. Please note that my email address changes to zs1dfr@gmail.com until further notice.

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

HAMNET Report 17 June 2018

It is reported in the ARRL Newsletter that Phoenix sailor and radio amateur Timothy Henning, KE7WMZ, has expressed his gratitude to the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN) for intercepting and handling his distress call on 14.300 MHz. Net control operator Harry Williams, W0LS, caught Henning’s call requesting assistance with an urgent medical condition on May 23. Henning, some 200 nautical miles south of Ensenada, Mexico, in his sailing vessel Victory Cat, reported that a severe vision problem had developed in his right eye, and he was seeking immediate medical attention and advice.

Williams contacted the US Coast Guard in Alameda, California, relaying all information concerning the medical problem and staying on the air with Henning for several hours. The Coast Guard, in turn, relayed the information to the on-duty flight surgeon who advised that Henning seek immediate medical attention at the closest port of call.

It was decided that Henning would continue on to Ensenada, and the Coast Guard arranged to have someone meet him there and transport him to the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, while his wife stood by with the vessel at the dock.

Ultimately, it was determined that Henning had a detached retina, and he was transported to Phoenix for surgery.

“I appreciate, beyond words, that the Maritime Net was able to help us get in contact with the USCG and simply be at the other end of the HF radio, helping us through a challenging time,” Henning told the MMSN afterward. “I especially want to thank Harry, W0LS. He was extremely professional and invaluable in linking us effectively with the USCG. We were just completing our 10 years round-the-world sail voyage.”

Also in the Newsletter is a report that Iran apparently has found 10 metres an ideal spot to operate various radars. The interference was audible in International Amateur Radio Union Region 1 (IARU R1) and perhaps elsewhere in the world.

“Iranian radars were very active on our 10-meter band every day [in May],” reported IARU Monitoring System (IARUMS) Coordinator for Region 1 Wolf Hadel, DK2OM, in the IARUMS newsletter. “On 28.860 MHz, we could daily receive the strong and long-lasting signals. Other frequencies were used in [frequency hopping] mode.”

The list of additional Amateur Radio intruders on 10 meters included — or in some cases, no longer included — some of the usual suspects. Hadel reported that FM signals from Russian taxi dispatchers, driftnet fishery buoys, and Citizens Band “abusers” in Brazil have been operating on various 10-meter frequencies, “as usual.”

Meanwhile, some chronic intruding signals have disappeared. Among the missing is the 14.295 MHz harmonic from Radio Tajik on 4.765 MHz. Radio Hargeysa in Somaliland on 7.120 MHz is said to have been off the air for several weeks due to a transmitter failure. “We did not miss the transmissions,” quipped Hadel, who also expressed the hope that the broadcast battle between Radio Eritrea and Radio Ethiopia on 40 meters may now be at an end.

Thank you to the ARRL for these items.

And while we’re still in the Americas, this weekend sees the ARRL Field Day event, during which about 35000 radio operators are expected to go into the open air, and operate their stations off-grid, using batteries, solar power generators, and other enterprising power solutions to demonstrate their ability to maintain communications should there be no power. While they’re at it, they will be advertising the hobby to the general public by inviting them to visit their stations. I counted 19 press releases in American local newspapers, explaining the weekend’s activities, and inviting all and sundry to visit and take a look. Each field station will have a “GOTA” station, for “Get On The Air”, where non-licensed folk can operate a radio under supervision of a licensed operator, to get a sense of how it works. This is generally a hit amongst the youth, and results in many young people studying for and taking their exams to get on the air themselves. I wish South African Hams were this enthusiastic!

The Field Day ran from 12h00 yesterday to 12h00 today local American  time.

And the best news from HAMNET today concerns the excellent rains the Western Cape is experiencing at the moment. Cold fronts have been coming past at roughly 4 day intervals, bringing heavy downpours and widespread showers over the Peninsula, but also over the catchment area of our most important supply dam, Theewaterskloof, just beyond the Hottentot’s Holland mountains from us. This reporter has measured 91 mm of rain at home since the beginning of June, 20mm more than our usual average for June, and the month is just half way. Rainfall in the Theewaterskloof catchment area on Thursday alone was 93mm, and the dam’s level has risen by 4 percentage points in the last 4 days, to nearly 30% full, much more than this time last year or the previous year. More rain is expected today Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and again on Thursday. Although it is cold here, there have been no reports of winter snow yet, which always contributes hugely to our water reservoirs as it melts. Video clips of many, many rivers flowing strongly, often for the first time in years, are available on social media, and tomorrow’s dam level reports for the week just past will make interesting reading.

Of course, no-one is advocating relaxing the water restrictions here. We’re nowhere near out of trouble yet, and will need several years of good rains to replenish the dams to full again. I hope Capetonians will remain loyal to the 50 litres per person per day, for ever. This is not a difficult goal to aim for, as we’ve been doing it now for at least 6 months, so can easily carry on. The stress of living so close to the drought-limit has made us all appreciate the value of drinkable water, and how easy it is to waste water!

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

HAMNET Report 10 June 2018

Today the 10th of June sees the famous Comrades Marathon taking place between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. On a very impressive spreadsheet provided by HAMNET KZN, I counted about 33 HAMNET Operators assisting with comms between the two cities.

It has actually been a busy two weeks for HAMNET KZN, as they were managing the Ironman race last weekend as well. I look forward to hearing that both events went well for the backroom boys, and hope we’ll receive a summary of proceedings from Keith and his merry band of men. Good luck for today, folks!

Alister ZS1OK of HAMNET Western Cape is looking for at least four volunteers to assist at a City of Cape Town Disaster Exercise to be held on Wednesday 20 June from 08h00 onwards. Some of the operators will be required to be mobile, and others will operate the HAMNET Comms Room at ZS1DCC in Goodwood. Details will be made known at the first briefing this week. Please contact Alister at zs1ok.alister@gmail.com if you are able to assist.

The Two-Way edition of 4 June, reported on the dramatic scenes in Guatemala the previous day when Mount Fuego, one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, stirred to life again. Mount Fuego spewed ash and lava from its heights, blanketing the lands nearby and leaving at least 69 people dead, according to Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Many people were injured and Guatemalan authorities fear the death toll may rise further as the aftermath from the sudden eruption becomes clear. More than 3,200 people were evacuated from the area.

Guatemala’s national disaster response agency, CONRED, said that the eruption lasted more than 16 hours before finally quieting. The agency described the substance ejected by the volcano as a pyroclastic flow — defined by the U.S. Geological Survey as “a high-density mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas.”

The USGS adds that pyroclastic flows, which resemble avalanches in their overwhelming rush, can reach temperatures of up to 700 degrees Celsius and speeds of more than 80 kph. They can “knock down, shatter, bury or carry away, nearly all objects and structures in their path,” the service notes.

The eruption Sunday was Fuego’s second this year, according to CONRED, though the first incident, in February, left far less of an impact.

We thank Two-Way for  these notes, and hope the situation has stabilised now.

In slightly better news coming from Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was able to guide first responders via drone to rescue a Hawaiian man whose home was on the verge of being engulfed by lava from the Kilauea volcano.

The volcano erupted in early May and has resulted in thousands of evacuations and rampant destruction ever since. Last Sunday, the USGS piloted a drone to help an emergency crew navigate the harrowing landscape to save a life.

The USGS provided footage of the entire event as it played out. Its team was able aerially to locate the man trapped on his property and then use the drone to guide a rescue team out of harm’s way.

Additionally, the drone camera’s live stream was able to allow the USGS to direct other residents out of hazardous areas, due to the more informed bird’s-eye view.

Thanks to Marco Margaritoff of TheDrive for this report.

It’s great to see actual deployment of technology like this after months and months of speculation and promises of that which drones can do to make life safer. Up to now, drones have been in the hands of the rich hobbyists, who played with them, and usually irritated the aviation industry by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, we have evidence of practical usage with life-saving outcomes.

NASA’s latest mission to space is the ICON satellite I mentioned a little while ago. The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will be launched this coming Thursday, and science will start coming back to us in August.

The main task assigned to the Explorer is to estimate the ionized winds that prevail at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and deduce the effect of atmospheric weather on the ionized winds in the seasonal tropical monsoons.

According to Thomas Immel, the ICON is designed in a way to monitor everything that comes past the boundary of space. He is the lead of the ICON mission and a physicist at the Space Sciences Lab.

The ICON satellite will orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 560 Km but will mainly monitor the area above 90 Km, where the feeble upper atmosphere of the Earth transitions into space, and the temperature is at 200 Kelvin, making it the most frigid region on Earth. However, the Sun continuously warms this area and, as a result of its UV radiation, knocks electrons off oxygen atoms, leading to the creation of ionized gas or plasma.

There are two MIGHT1 telescopes fitted in NASA’s ICON Explorer, and their main goal will be to calculate the velocity of the plasma waves by means of their Doppler shift effect between 90 and 320Km  over the Earth’s surface.

Thank you to Spaceflight News for this information. The week ahead should be fairly interesting.

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

HAMNET Report 3 Jun e 2018

Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, of HAMNET KZN tells me he “has a team of 8 HAMNET members who will be assisting with communications for the Standard Bank Ironman 70.3 Durban Event taking place today the 3rd of June. Race control manned by Keith ZS5WFD will be based at Pirates Lifesaving Club in front of Suncoast Casino/Tshogo Sun Hotel complex.  Around 3000 people have entered, comprising 40 teams.

“The event consists 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 makes 90.1Km, and finally running 2 laps along the promenade between New Beach and Blue Lagoon covering 21.1Km.

“Communications will be on 145.550 Simplex and 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Repeater.”

Thanks Keith, and good luck with this one!

Readers are reminded of the two HAMNET bulletins you can listen to each week, on Echolink, while HF conditions are so poor. On Sunday mornings, at 07h00, HAMNET KwaZulu Natal transmits its bulletins on VHF frequencies in KZN, using the call sign ZS5DCC and via the Echolink node ZS5PMB-R. The operators are Keith ZS5WFD and Glen ZS5GD. And on Wednesday evenings, at 19h30, HAMNET Western Cape airs its bulletin on VHF frequencies in the Western Cape, using the call sign ZS1DZ, and via the Echolink node ZS1DCC-R, operated by me ZS1DFR. On the first Wednesday of each month, HWC has a members meeting at that time, so we will not be on the air this Wednesday, but definitely all other Wednesdays of the month.

As far as I am aware, HAMNET Gauteng South and Western Cape are the two regions who have made donations so far to the funds needed to make the YOTA week in South Africa in August a success. We will probably be hosting young amateurs from a large number of IARU Region One countries in that week, and any and all donations to the fund will be gratefully received. Please contact the SARL Secretary or President for further details if you wish to offer help.

Those of you interested in Digital Mobile Radio, or DMR, but knowing nothing about it, may care to listen to a podcast entitled “Dummies Guide to DMR“, which has been put together on the ICQPodcast platform. The Podcast is episode 267 on their website, and can be found at www.icqpodcast.com on the left-hand side of their front page. Clicking on that image will give you a chance to listen on the web, or download the podcast for later listening. Thank you to Southgate Amateur Radio News for drawing our attention to that.

And while you’re about it, go and watch episode 21 of TX Factor, an HD webcast from the website all about amateur radio entitled www.txfilms.co.uk/txfactor/. It’s an hour or so of good amateur radio content.

And in a worrying post, SPACEFLIGHT INSIDER reports that China has apparently lost contact with one of its two lunar radio astronomy microsatellites sent into space last week together with a communications relay spacecraft for Chang’e 4 lunar mission.

The two “Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder” satellites, designated DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2, piggybacked on the launch of the Queqiao communication relay satellite that took place on May 20, 2018. The trio lifted off atop a Long March 4C rocket from the  Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China’s Sichuan Province.

Gbtimes.com reports that while Queqiao’s journey to the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrangian Point had passed flawlessly and DSLWP-A2 was successfully inserted into lunar orbit, the DSLWP-A1 microsatellite encountered problems during the flight. The site went on to state that there has been no communication between the ground stations and DSLWP-A1 since May 21, following a trajectory correction manoeuvre after trans-lunar injection.

Amateur radio and satellite tracking enthusiasts are trying to re-establish contact with the lost satellite but all attempts to do so have been so far unsuccessful.

DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 are two identical micro-satellites manufactured by the Harbin Institute of Technology, weighing approximately 45 kilograms each. They are designed to conduct ultra-long-wave astronomical observations of the sky at frequencies between one megahertz and 30 megahertz from a lunar orbit at an altitude of 200 by 9,000 kilometres. This is at a distance where interference from Earth-based HF signals will be minimised.

Let’s hope for a happy outcome for this ground-breaking mission.

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

HAMNET Report 27th May 2018

HAMNET is very encouraged by the news in this morning’s SARL bulletin that a 100kHz portion of the 5Mhz band will be opened on a shared basis to radio amateurs. For a long time, emergency communicators have needed a gap-filler between 80 metres and 40 metres, to transmit messages when conditions are poor, and now we have one. Once the band-plan has been published, HAMNET Directors must get together and specify an emergency frequency for future use. However, we must note the restriction of 15 watts e.i.r.p. on our signals, because the band is shared.

From the NASA Disaster Response blog, comes news of the work done by them to catalogue what is happening in Hawai, as the volcano continues to erupt.

NASA is tracking lava flows from Hawaii Island’s Kilauea volcano as fissures erupt and lava makes its way to the ocean.

Using data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer, or VIIRS instrument, aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, NASA’s Disaster Program has been tracking thermal anomalies, or hot spots, indicative of lava flow. VIIRS is the only instrument from space that can track lava flows through hot spots, making it an important additional source of information for the U.S. Geological Survey as it monitors and informs the public of the ongoing volcanic activity, which has produced everything from earthquakes and giant rock projectiles from eruptions, to blankets of ash clouds and volcanic smog, or vog.

In addition to VIIRS, NASA provides other information on volcanic activity, including aerosol and sulphur dioxide measurements derived from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard NASA’s Aura satellite as well as the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite aboard NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite, and ground deformation and movement with synthetic aperture radar data.

NASA also organized a field mission with airborne radar to provide accurate digital elevation maps that USGS can use to predict lava path flows. Flown on the G-III research aircraft, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) instrument is detecting changes in Kilauea’s topography associated with the new lava flows, with the goal of measuring the erupted volume as a function of time and ultimately the total volume of the event.

I doubt whether any other volcano has had the benefit of observations from space like this one. And the volcano hasn’t settled down yet.

It would seem that the Dayton Hamvention was a resounding success. Writing in the Xenia Daily Gazette, Anna Bolton noted that Michael Kalter, official spokesperson for Dayton Hamvention, said he thinks the numbers were higher than last year’s 29,296. Kalter said the weekend went smoothly, thanks in part due to the effectiveness of the county, city, township, fair board and all parties working together.

Kathleen Wright, executive director of Greene County Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed that the travellers seemed to enjoy their time in Greene County.

“So many are already beginning the countdown for next year’s event. I simply cannot say enough nice things about the people from all over the world who participate in this world class event. With over 600 volunteers led by Dayton Amateur Radio Association members, this event proves to be highly organized. We look forward to hosting this event for many years to come,” she said.

It is a pity that events like this are so inaccessible to us, isn’t it? New equipment, masses of accessories, and lots of lectures inside the venue, as well as an enormous fleamarket outside to curb everybody’s appetite. Sounds too good to be true!

On the 17th of May, the ARRL News reported on findings during the Solar Eclipse QSO Party last year in August.

The first science results from the Solar Eclipse QSO Party last August 21 have been published in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters. In the paper, “Modelling Amateur Radio Soundings of the Ionospheric Response to the 2017 Great American Eclipse,” Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, and team, present Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) observations of the SEQP and compare them with ray tracings through an eclipsed version of the physics-based ionospheric model SAMI3. Frissell, a New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) research professor, explains that ray tracing is a method of calculating where a radio wave will go based on electron density — essentially the same as calculating how a light ray passes through a lens. HamSCI, the Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation organization, sponsored the event.

“From a ham radio perspective, this paper very clearly shows the effect of the eclipse on not just a few, but a very large number of contacts,” Frissell told ARRL. “You can see from the charts that activity drops off steeply on 20 meters during eclipse totality, while 80 and 160 meters open up. On 40 meters, you can see how the contact distance increases in step with the eclipse.”

Frissell said another key aspect of the paper is that the researchers were able to use ray tracing to compare the observations to a physics-based numerical model of the eclipsed ionosphere. “We did this by ray tracing hundreds of thousands of ray paths on the NJIT supercomputer,” Frissell explained. “The development of this method of comparison also gives us a new tool for comparing datasets like the RBN, to actual models.”

On 14 MHz (20 metres), eclipse effects were observed as a drop off in communications for an hour before and an hour after eclipse maximum. On 7 MHz (40 metres), typical path lengths extended from about 500 km to 1,000 km for 45 minutes before and after eclipse maximum. On 1.8 MHz (160 metres) and 3.5 MHz (80 metres), eclipse effects were observed as band openings 20 to 45 minutes around eclipse maximum.

By using ray tracing to compare these observations with the SAMI3 model, it was found that the majority of 14 MHz signals refracted off the ionosphere at heights less than 125 km in the E region. On the lower bands, 1.8, 3.5, and 7 MHz, it was found that signals likely refracted off heights greater than 125 km in the F region.

These observations suggest an eclipse-induced weakening of the ionosphere, and are consistent with numerous prior HF radio eclipse ionospheric studies. Congratulations to Nathaniel and his team on this ground-breaking research.

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

HAMNET Report 20th May 2018

I’d like to add HAMNET’s collective voice to the messages of sympathy to the family of Mike Bosch, ZS2FM, and to the radio amateurs of division two, on the devastating loss of such a giant amongst us. Mike’s advice and writings have been gold-standards in this country’s experience on the VHF, UHF and SHF bands, and we are going to be lost without him. He has inspired so many of us not to forget to use these bands, and, indirectly, contributed so much to emergency Communications in this country, because Emcomms predominantly run on VHF frequencies and higher. Rest in Peace, Mike, you will be sorely missed.


Greg Mossop G0DUB of the IARU Region One Emergency Communications division has announced the itinerary for the Friday afternoon meetings, to be held on 1st June, at Friedrichshafen.

He will start at 12h00 with his Co-ordinator’s report, and will be followed by a report of Polish-Emcomm activities by Michal SP9XYM, and Chris SP7WME. Next will come a report on the Austrian Exercise “Solar Flare”, followed by Alberto IK0YLO, talking on portable linked DMR repeaters. An open forum of about 45 minutes will end with a discussion of plans for next year’s meetings at Friedrichshafen. The meeting will wrap up at about 15h30, and, so far, has the blessing of the European Emcom agencies.

Meanwhile, The ARES e-Letter reported that, at the ARRL Member Forum at the 2018 Hamvention, outside Dayton, Ohio, Great Lakes Division Director Dale Williams, WA8EFK, chairman of the ARRL Public Service Enhancement Working Group, talked about the dramatic changes that are occurring among agencies serving in the emergency and disaster response sector yesterday afternoon. He shared an update on planning for proposed new guidelines for participants in the ARES program, including plans for a new volunteer management software system, called ARES Connect. Upgrades to ARES training and resources will ensure the service continues to be a valuable partner for its served agencies into the future. The ARRL Member Forum was scheduled for noon on Saturday, May 19. A complete guide to ARRL activities, exhibits, and presentations at 2018 Hamvention is available at www.arrl.org/expo.

And don’t say you didn’t hear it here first! Watch for the Yaesu FTDX101D, still in prototype form, and the Kenwood TS-890S, after the Hamvention weekend, both of them hot off the press! So far, I’m not aware of a new ICOM rig announced at the convention.

The ARRL Letter for 17th May, reporting further on the volcanic activity on Hawai’s Big Island, says that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports active venting of lava and hazardous fumes continues, with no end in sight. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed after roads and trails were damaged. The Observatory this week increased the Aviation Colour Code to RED, due to increased ash emission.

FEMA reports that some 360 evacuees are staying in emergency shelters. Some 2,000 residents have been evacuated in all. “Twenty fissure vents have formed in and around the Leilani estates subdivision,” the agency said in its May 17 report. “Air quality in the southeast area of Lanipuna Gardens has been rated ‘condition red’ (that is: ‘immediate danger to health’) for high levels of sulphur dioxide. Volcanic-tectonic seismicity continues.”

The US Geodetic Survey has warned that new lava outbreaks could happen “at any time,” as well as “more energetic ash emissions.”

As we develop more and more powerful tools to peer beyond our solar system, we learn more about the seemingly endless sea of faraway stars and their curious casts of orbiting planets. But there’s only one star we can travel to directly and observe up close—and that’s our own: the Sun.

Phys.Org reports that two upcoming missions will soon take us closer to the Sun than we’ve ever been before, providing our best chance yet at uncovering the complexities of solar activity in our own solar system and shedding light on the very nature of space and stars throughout the universe.

Together, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Solar Orbiter may resolve decades-old questions about the inner workings of our nearest star. Their comprehensive, up-close study of the Sun has important implications for how we live and explore: Energy from the Sun powers life on Earth, but it also triggers space weather events that can pose hazard to technology we increasingly depend upon. Such space weather can disrupt radio communications, affect satellites and human spaceflight, and—at its worst—interfere with power grids. A better understanding of the fundamental processes at the Sun driving these events could improve predictions of when they’ll occur and how their effects may be felt on Earth.

“Our goal is to understand how the Sun works and how it affects the space environment to the point of predictability,” said Chris St. Cyr, Solar Orbiter project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This is really a curiosity-driven science.”

Parker Solar Probe is slated to launch in the summer of 2018, and Solar Orbiter is scheduled to follow in 2020. These missions were developed independently, but their coordinated science objectives are no coincidence: Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter are natural teammates.

A new water-based battery could provide a cheap way to store wind or solar energy for later, researchers say.

The battery stores energy generated when the sun is shining and wind is blowing, so it can be fed back into the electric grid and redistributed when demand is high.

The prototype manganese-hydrogen battery, reported in Nature Energy, stands just three inches tall and generates a mere 20 milliwatt-hours of electricity, which is on par with the energy levels of LED flashlights that hang on a key ring.

Despite the prototype’s diminutive output, the researchers are confident they can scale up this table-top technology to an industrial-grade system that could charge and recharge up to 10,000 times, creating a grid-scale battery with a useful lifespan well in excess of a decade.

This technology is still in its infancy, but looks very promising, and may provide a very cheap and reusable technology we’ll all be using in the next ten years, so watch that space!

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

HAMNET Report 13 May 2018

Bad news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo this week is the announcement of a new outbreak of Ebola. Of 32 potential cases reported, 2 are confirmed, 18 are probable and 12 are suspected cases. Eighteen of these people have died, though not all of them are confirmed to have had Ebola. All cases were reported from a single health facility, and 17 of them were shown to have had good contact with each other – in other words cases were not spontaneous and unrelated.

This is the eighth outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years in DRC. The Ministry of Health has deployed rapid response teams to investigate cases, one million dollars has been mobilized by the World Health Organisation’s contingency fund for emergencies, and risk communications materials have been distributed in all the local languages.

To date, the outbreak seems to be geographically limited, but the population density makes the risks in the area high, and the lack of epidemiological and demographic information hampers an estimation of the magnitude of the epidemic.

I asked Dave Higgs ZS2DH, the organiser of last week’s blackout exercise, to send me an informal report about the 24 hour exercise held over the weekend. He writes:

“It is very easy to put together a bunch of messages and then expect a bunch of other people to give up their time, drag their equipment out of the shack and spend a long (and at times cold) 24 hours sending these messages around the country. Well I did the easy part. A bunch of very willing people gave up valuable family time to undertake training and for that a big thank you is due to them and their families. Clearly not everyone needed training, but the old hands were there showing the ropes and that was also appreciated.

Comments made after the event point to everyone having fun and noting the professionalism of the other teams. In spite of some pressure periods, everyone maintained a polite, courteous, and professional air about them. Another common comment in the various emails is that a lot was learned – and that was ultimately the goal.

What stood out for me was the participation and enthusiasm with which the event took place. 11 teams from around the country took part – each with both a VHF and an HF team!

Digital modes were given a try and perhaps warrant more attention as part of our “out of the box” emergency field stations.”

Thank you, Dave, and to you also for the huge amount of work you put into organising the event.

From our perspective, we in the Cape received messages by electronic means at our VHF station, which required us either to send, or request, information from stations elsewhere in the country. Our VHF station then contacted our HF station by VHF, UHF, or even digital means, with a message to send, or information to request, from other stations via HF means. Being so far from the rest of the country, we were at a disadvantage, and suffered from poor propagation at various times during the event. There was a lot of fading on the bands, and 40 and later 80 metres was all we could use. I’m sure the other divisions had similar problems, but were often able to relay on our behalf because of their relative proximity to each other. During the lulls, our HF and VHF stations tested out various digital modes between each other, which proved to be useful experience. So all was not lost in Cape Town. ZS2 and ZS4 stations seemed to be heard the best here, though fade often prevented us from completing the message transfer.

I look forward to another exercise like this, but hope Dave Higgs can get the ionosphere working properly before then!

In a mail from Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director of HAMNET KZN, we have been informed that “In an effort to improve local co-ordination of members living on the lower South Coast who are not in range of our local 2M repeaters, Sid Tyler ZS5AYC, has kindly agreed to take on the role of, and I have accordingly appointed him as, an Assistant Provincial Director in KZN.  My thanks to Sid in also putting a team together that participated in the recent Blackout exercise.”

Congratulations, Sid, I can’t think of a better candidate! What Sid doesn’t know about radio operations off the grid and in the wild could be written on the back of a postage stamp!

Keith also mentions that he has discovered that only a third of his members were reachable by the email addresses he had on the portal. The rest of the messages all bounced back with error strings. He asks all KZN members to update their details on the portal, and volunteers his services in getting everyone connected again.

Good luck in getting that fixed quickly, Keith!

And in a deliciously sad story from Poland, The New York Times reports that a horse and trailer overturned on a highway, spilling tons of hot liquid chocolate over six lanes on the N2 motorway, blocking traffic in both directions!

Rescue officials said the chocolate was solidifying as it cooled, and would require large amounts of hot water to clear away! I reckon they should have declared a school holiday in the country and sent all the kids there with spoons. The mess would have been cleared up in no time at all! Why don’t we get disasters like that in our country?!

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