HAMNET Report 28th June 2020

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that the Radio Amateur Society of Australia is pleased to announce the release of a new E-magazine for Amateur Radio in Australia.

The magazine, QTC, named after the Q-code “I have a message for you” will be published every two months.

In this first issue of QTC, they have news and updates about regulations, and information on their 60m submission in response to the ACMA’s Consultation paper. There’s a “Getting started” regular column, with this issue covering HF DX-ing.

There’s also a regular column on how you can deal with QRM and RFI in your shack. This month they have a feature technical article on 3-Phase Power Converters.

QTC may be downloaded from https://vkradioamateurs.org/qtc-e-magazine/

In passing, this first issue is free to download, and there is a link in the editorial to ask to be added to the distribution list. I have done so and await confirmation.

Here is news of some interesting benevolence in this troubled world. Business Insider says that Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder and the eighth-richest person, has a secret disaster-response team, according to The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast’s investigation found Brin was the sole donor to a disaster charity called Global Support and Development (GSD). The Daily Beast identified Brin as the company’s sole donor through a California court filing.

The company’s staff, almost half of whom are ex-military, are deployed to disaster areas to clear debris and use high-tech solutions to assist victims. GSD is headed up by Grant Dawson, an ex-naval lieutenant who was on Brin’s personal security detail for years.

The idea for GSD was apparently sparked in 2015 when captain of Brin’s superyacht “Dragonfly” was sailing past Vanuatu, which had just been hit by Cyclone Pam. The captain contacted Brin to ask if anything could be done to help and Brin then got in touch with Dawson.

Dawson said in a speech in 2019 about GSD: “So I grabbed a number of Air Force para-rescue guys I’d been affiliated with from the security world, and a couple of corpsmen out of the Seal teams … We raided every Home Depot and pharmacy we could find and on about 18 hours’ notice, we launched.”

The Daily Beast reported that GSD now has 20 full-time staffers, plus about 100 contractors working for it.

The Daily Beast said that, like at Google, GSD’s employees enjoy perks, including strawberry ice cream and fresh laundry aboard a superyacht while working in disaster areas. In addition to military-trained staff, the charity has access to sophisticated technology including drones and sonar mapping.

Since 2015, GSD has assisted during several disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Now the company says it is lending a hand during the coronavirus pandemic by helping set up testing in California.

Philanthropy of this nature is always gratifying to hear of. May it long continue!

Bloomberg is reporting that Japan natural disaster evacuation plans need an overhaul as the country heads into its rainy season, experts warned, saying crowded conditions could spark coronavirus clusters that grow into another wave of infections.

The period of heavy precipitation, which typically triggers floods and landslides — often forcing hundreds of people to take shelter together in gymnasiums — has already settled in in some parts of Japan. Failure to prepare, risks reigniting the disease, just as cases decline across most of the country and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to remove more restrictions and help the ailing economy.

“If a lot of people gather in a small evacuation centre and somebody is infected, a cluster will occur and the infection will spread,” said Ichiro Matsuo, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo centre for integrated disaster information research.

Matsuo compared conditions in shelters to those aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, where the virus quickly spread to more than a quarter of the crew. Singapore’s foreign worker dormitories have posed a similar problem, representing more than 90% of the Southeast Asian city-state’s confirmed coronavirus cases.

Japan was the country most affected by extreme weather events in 2018, according to Germanwatch, a non-profit organization that tracks global climate risks. The rainy season, which generally ends in mid-July, is followed by typhoons, which have become more damaging and unpredictable as the climate changes. Earthquake evacuees often need to shelter away from home for long periods, worsening the health risks.

Of course, Japan isn’t the only country experiencing severe rainy weather. GDACS reported Friday on flooding, in Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, European Georgia, Norway, Poland, Republic of Serbia, Romania, and India, and a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in southern Oaxaca State in Mexico. All these countries have reported some casualties in their flood reports.

Now HAMNET Regions 3 and 4 are the organisers of this year’s HAMNET Winter Exercise, to take place over the weekend of 29th and 30th August. This is not a contest, and there will be no winner. The organiser’s booklet has been released, and the idea is that, within the confines of the COVID-19 lockdown protocols current at the time, each HAMNET region should have at least one participating team, consisting of a VHF station located in an urban setting, and an HF team, in contact with them, but situated out of town, where QRM is less likely to interfere with communications. No list of teams or their coordinates will be issued, and the idea is that each team waste no time in finding out who is out there, and what frequencies they are capable of. Then the Exercise Director will start sending emails at various times to the VHF teams with specific tasks that will need to be executed, and the results relayed to another region by HF, to be logged back on to the internet by the receiving VHF station.

And to make it more interesting, there may be no use of the electricity grid for any of the tasks, on the internet, in town, or out of town. Not even to cook, or provide lighting. Battery, solar, vehicular or generator power is permitted however.

Slap bang in the middle of winter, it should be an interesting weekend!

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

HAMNET YouTube Channel

Recently we launched a YouTube channel to assist members and anyone else who is interested in learning about emergency communications, with a video portal to learn or refresh themselves with skills required to be competent radio operators. 

The channel can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCnZW9Eu74ygPCFXen2AAEg

The videos are intended to be around 5 minutes each so that you do not need to spend long periods of time looking through videos to obtain information. We hope to do a number of these and if you are wanting a video on a specific subject feel free to ask for it, and we will see what we can do. 

We hope to also do a series of interviews with interesting people within the ham fraternity and especially HAMNET members. If you know of someone that you may want to know more about feel free to suggest that we interview them. Further, if you are any good at making videos why not assist us in getting a few more videos online. 

HAMNET Report 21st June 2020

Firstly may I greet all the fathers out there, especially those who volunteer their time and expertise to help their communities with emergency or community events? Have a great Father’s Day, and be grateful for your wonderful families!

Wilderness Search and Rescue in the Western Cape reports that, at 12h47 on Sunday the 14th of June 2020 they were activated after a caller requested assistance for a hiker who had suffered a medical emergency while hiking in the central section of the Table Mountain National Park above Hout Bay.

Due to the nature of the incident, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) were dispatched to insert a Metro Emergency Medical Rescue Technician as well as a Rescue Climber at the location of the patient. On arrival, it was found that the 58 year old local male who was in a small party of hikers, may have experienced heart complications. While the person was receiving treatment from the rescuers, an emergency Landing Zone (LZ) was secured by WSAR members and other services including HAMNET at a nearby location.

After the patient was stabilised, he was placed in a stretcher and hoisted to the helicopter which delivered him to the LZ. He was then transferred to a road ambulance and taken to a medical facility for further treatment.

We would like to thank the NSRI who assisted WSAR in securing the emergency LZ for the operation. WSAR wishes the gentleman a speedy recovery.

From UniverseToday, we learn that, over the years, scientific estimates of potential intelligent life in our galaxy have ranged widely. Some estimates say just one (only us Earthlings) to just a handful, to possibly thousands or even millions. A new study attempts to quantify the number of other worlds we could potentially talk to by estimating the number of intelligent civilizations within the Milky Way that are actively communicating.

That number is 36, plus or minus a few dozen, depending on various assumptions. And the research team says this number is a lower limit, based on the assumption of how life arose and how long radio communications have been used here on Earth.

To make their estimates, the research team from the University of Nottingham said they take into account various factors like star formation histories, the distribution of metal-rich stars (like the Sun) and the likelihood of stars hosting Earth-like planets in their habitable zones.

They call their assumptions the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit” and the limit is either weak or strong based on when intelligent life arises on the planet.

But even if we do have a large number of talkative neighbours, there are a few caveats that make two-way communication seem unlikely. Other worlds are likely so far away – the Nottingham team estimates the average distance to these radio-active civilizations would be 17,000 light-years away – that detection and communication would be extremely difficult and unlikely, given our current technology.

The researchers also estimate the likelihood is extremely small that the host stars for communicating intelligent life are solar-type stars, and most would have to be M-class dwarfs, which may not be stable enough to host life over long timescales.

It is also possible that we are the only civilization within our Galaxy unless the survival times of civilizations like our own are long.

But like most theoretical research, the team says, it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.

By searching for extraterrestrial intelligent life — even if we find nothing — we are discovering our own future and fate.

Thank you to UniverseToday for these excerpts from their newsletter.

Now here’s a feel-good story from capetownetc.com, about a touching rescue on Table Mountain this week that showed the love between a man and his best friend, as a young dog was saved after falling in a ravine, and returned to his owner.

At 2.52pm on Tuesday June 16, 2020 Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) was again activated after a caller reported that his dog had fallen down the steep Slangolie Ravine while he was out hiking at the southern end of the Pipe Track. This ravine is in the northern section of the Table Mountain National Park overlooking the suburb of Bakoven.

Rescuers made their way towards the location of the incident. On arrival they found a six month old dog quite low down in the very overgrown ravine, which would require a team of Rescue Climbers to retrieve.

In order to aid the operation, rope and pulley systems were attached to the rock above the Pipe Track as well as hauling equipment anchored to old disused water pipes and other metal structures.

Just after nightfall, the dog was safely returned to his owner at the Pipe Track. From there, all rescuers and members of the public were walked off the mountain via a nearby jeep track.

There’s a lovely picture attached to the report of the dog and his owner enjoying a relieved cuddle after the rescue. Thank you to all the volunteers who spent their public holiday rescuing a puppy.

Now, writing in Paediatric Pulmonology, a group, investigating reports from 38 different studies of 1117 children infected with Covid-19, note that clinical manifestations of children with COVID-19 differ widely from adult cases and say fever and respiratory symptoms should not be considered a hallmark of the disease in children.

In these studies, roughly 14 per cent were asymptomatic, 36 per cent were mild, 46 per cent were moderate, 2 per cent were severe, and 1 per cent was critical. This review found that the most prevalent symptoms in children were fever (47.5%), followed by cough (41.5%), nasal symptoms (11.2%), diarrhoea (8.1%), and nausea/vomiting (7.1%).

CT abnormalities were reported in 63.0 per cent of cases. The most prevalent abnormalities reported were ground-glass opacities, patchy shadows and consolidations in the lungs. Wonderfully, only one death was reported!

And a study of screened cases in a random grouping of adults tested in Geneva Switzerland, and reported on this last Monday, says that it can be concluded that for every confirmed case of Covid-19, there were about 11.6 infections in the community. This is of course in a first world country. I wouldn’t know how to extrapolate those figures to the population in South Africa. We are clearly not testing everybody, so are probably missing many, many mild cases here.

This pandemic is not over yet – we still have a long, long way to go!

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

HAMNET Report 14th June 2020

Writing in NCAR news, Laura Snider reports that Solar scientists have taken a mathematical technique used by Earth scientists to analyse cyclic phenomena, such as the ebb and flow of ocean tides, and applied it to the confounding irregularity of cycles on the Sun. The result is an elegant “Sun clock” that shows that solar activity starts and stops on a much more precise schedule than could be discerned when looking at observations of the Sun in the traditional way – plotted linearly over time.

The new research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was led by the University of Warwick in England and involved researchers from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and NASA.

The sun clock could be used as a planning tool to help keep space- and ground-based infrastructure safe.

The clock was created using a technique known as the Hilbert transform to convert the linear observations of past solar cycles onto a circle, stretching and shrinking the cycles as necessary to a standard 11 years. As the cycles were overlaid on top of each other on the clock’s face, distinct “times” on the clock face when solar activity is flipped on and off came into focus.

“Scientists spend their lives trying to read the book of nature,” said Sandra Chapman, a professor at the University of Warwick who led the study. “Sometimes we create a new way to transform the data, and what appeared to be messy and complicated is suddenly beautifully simple. In this instance, our Sun clock method showed clear switch on and switch off times demarcating quiet and active intervals for space weather for the first time.”

The idea of applying a Hilbert transform to sunspot data was born out of a chance meeting at a conference in 2018, when Chapman, a plasma physicist, suggested that co-author Robert Leamon, a NASA scientist, apply the transform to help make sense of another project he was working on that involved the cyclic nature of El Niño.

“The Hilbert transform is a really powerful technique across all of science,” said Leamon, also of the University of Maryland. “When we applied it to sunspots, we saw it tied to the sharp switch-on of activity that we’d seen elsewhere. Further analysis of the geomagnetic data revealed the switch off as well.”

The creation of the solar clock is part of a larger body of research that makes a case that the Sun’s cycles are far more predictable and regular than scientists realize. For example, Leamon and study co-author Scott McIntosh, NCAR deputy director, have identified “terminator” events on the Sun, which they say offer observational evidence of the start and stop of solar cycles, something that has been estimated in the past.

“The Sun is not nearly as irregular as we thought,” McIntosh said. “But we’ve been looking in the wrong places. Once you realize that the Sun is actually adhering to a larger cycle, and that the appearance and disappearance of sunspots are just a symptom of that cycle, not the cycle itself, you see a beautiful order in the chaos. The striking regularity we find in this new sun clock is evidence of that.”

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that the Hindustan Times reports 9 amateur radio operators came to the aid of district officials during Cyclone Nisarga last week.

As all modes of communication collapsed in less than half-an-hour after severe cyclone Nisarga made landfall over Raigad district last Wednesday, a group of nine independent ham radio operators using wireless communication became the eyes and ears for the district administration. Their centres? A station without a roof in Shrivardhan, the district headquarters in Alibag and vehicles in Mahabaleshwar.

The entire exercise from the afternoon of June 2nd  to the evening of June the 5th (when mobile network availability returned in some areas), saw continuous relays of information about deaths, injuries, evacuations, the scale of the damage (tree losses, falling power lines, and damaged network towers), and relief and rehabilitation requirements across low-lying areas in Shrivardhan, Mhasala, Dighi, Murud, Revdanda, Nagaon, Revas, and Alibag areas in Raigad, from the police, local authorities and citizens, to radio operators who in turn relayed them to the authorities across different areas.

Here’s another feel-good story from Southgate Amateur Radio News about a West Virginia paramedic who kept the watch of a mine disaster survivor for 10 years and who was reunited with his patient for the first time last week.

Whitesville Paramedic Terry Vermillion was able to return the watch he removed from then mine-electrician James Woods while starting an IV line, after meeting with him last week, the Coal Valley News reported.

“I can’t really put into words how good it feels to be here right now,” Vermillion told the Coal Valley News. “Finally, these items are back where they belong.”

Woods’ family agreed to meet with Vermillion, a 36-year EMS veteran, after seeing an interview Vermillion gave to the newspaper last month expressing his desire to return the watch.

Woods, an Army veteran, was among two injured miners who survived the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster on April 5, 2010, that killed 29 mine workers. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that affects his memory, according to his wife Teresa Woods, who serves as his caregiver. Teresa Woods said her family has stayed private after the disaster due to the pain of talking about it, but that they wanted to thank Vermillion because keeping the watch for 10 years in the hopes of returning it showed how much he cared about his patient.

And that, of course, is how it should be!

Finally, my coronavirus message of the week is to ask you all to recognise the fact that, not only are you less likely to give your Covid-19 to someone else, by wearing a mask, but you are nearly 5 times less likely to get the disease from someone else if you wear a mask! Recent research from the UK shows that you have a 14% chance of becoming infected if exposed, if you don’t wear a mask, and only a 3% chance of becoming infected if you do wear a mask. And please remember, that also applies if you wear the mask over your mouth, but have your nose exposed. You might then as well not be wearing the darn thing. PLEASE don’t be inconsiderate to your friends and loved ones, or negligent enough to allow yourself to become infected because you didn’t wear your mask correctly.

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

HAMNET Report 7th June 2020

Severe weather is being experienced around the world. India and Pakistan were struck by Tropical Cyclone NISARGA this week, with wind-speeds up to 120 km/h. Houses were damaged, families were evacuated and a few deaths were reported. Further heavy rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the current weekend.

Tropical storm CHRISTOBAL has made landfall in Eastern Mexico with wind-speeds in the 75 to 100 km/h range. Houses and hospitals were damaged, and about 600 people needed to be evacuated from areas of high risk. Heavy rain and thunderstorms are also expected there this weekend, with spread into neighbouring Guatemala

Tropical Storm AMANDA struck El Salvador last weekend, 150000 people being affected, about 12000 needing evacuation to places of safety, floods and landslides being reported, houses and bridges destroyed, and interruption of water and electricity supplies. Humanitarian assistance is proving difficult in the middle of challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.

Meanwhile, Chile was struck by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in its North-East area on 3rd June, blocking roads and threatening some 12000 people, and a quake of strength 5.5 struck Southern California on 4th June. No serious damage to structures or infrastructure has been reported.

And Yemen, Somalia, Finland, European Georgia, Italy, Norway and Sweden are all being threatened by heavy rain and flooding.

The Western Cape is also facing extreme weather this coming week, with about 50mm of rain predicted for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We can do with the rain, and wait with eager anticipation to see if the forecast is correct.

And, on the first day of Lockdown Level 3, a climber went up Table Mountain, slipped, and fell to his death. Wilderness Search and Rescue, which includes HAMNET, was mobilized to aid in his retrieval, which eventually took place on Tuesday. HAMNET records its sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that HamSCI (www.hamsci.org) is looking for amateur radio operators in the eastern hemisphere to help collect propagation data during the June 21st solar eclipse. Data collection requires an HF radio connected to a computer.

There will be two data collection exercises: a control day, held on June 14, followed by the event from June 20-22, which encompasses the annular solar eclipse across eastern Africa and Asia on June 21.

If you wish to receive further details of the experiment, they are available at
https://hamsci.org/june-2020-eclipse-festival-frequency-measurement

Interested operators may contact Kristina Collins at kd8oxt@case.edu.

My piece of Coronavirus news for you this week concerns the no-yes-no confusion regarding whether Hydroxychloroquine will make any difference to your becoming infected with, or recovering from, COVID-19.

In March this year, a large summary of many studies which included Hydroxychloroquine in their treatment programmes, with or without other medication in combination, seemed to suggest that this old and much used Malaria drug DID NOT reduce the severity of COVID-19, or even prevent its occurrence. As a result of this news, further trials of the drug to find out how effective it might be, were stopped.

A while later, doubt as to the veracity of this evidence was raised, because some of the data supplied by a company whose job was specifically just to collate information, turned out to be suspect. I don’t understand it fully, but the company in question could not guarantee the quality of its data. As a result, Hydroxychloroquine became a hot subject again, and the World Health Organisation directed that the research into its effects be restarted.

But, in another backflip, leaders of a large study in the United Kingdom that is rigorously testing the malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine and other medicines for hospitalized COVID-19 patients say they will stop putting people on the drug because it’s clear it isn’t helping.

Results released Friday from 1,542 patients showed the drug did not reduce deaths, time in the hospital or other factors. After 28 days, 25.7% on Hydroxychloroquine had died versus 23.5% given usual care—a difference so small it could have occurred by chance.

The results “convincingly rule out any meaningful mortality benefit,” study leaders at the University of Oxford said in a statement.

This flies in the face of what the WHO still recommends, and presumably it will take some time before everybody starts to agree with everyone once more. However, I think we can abandon the idea that Hydroxychloroquine reduces the presence or severity of the disease. This is a pity, because it is cheap and well-tested, and dosages and side-effects are well understood. Stick to your Vitamin D3 – that still seems to be the best thing you can do.

The United Kingdom is testing an app on your smartphone that you use every day to send in your state of health, good or bad. 2.5 million people are submitting their presence or absence of symptoms, and then reporting on Coronavirus tests if they are done. A loss of smell and taste may be one of the clearest indicators of whether someone has COVID-19, this new study system suggests.

Some of the app users also reported results of PCR diagnostic tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Nearly 65 percent of roughly 6,400 U.K. residents who tested positive for the virus described a loss of taste and smell as a symptom, researchers report May 11th in Nature Medicine. And just over 67 percent of the 726 U.S. participants with a positive test also reported losing those senses. Only about 20 percent of all people who tested negative had diminished smell and taste.

Using data from the app, a team of scientists led by clinical researchers Claire Steves and Tim Spector, both of King’s College London, devised a formula for determining which symptoms best predict COVID-19. A combination of loss of taste and smell, extreme fatigue, cough and loss of appetite was the best predictor of having a positive result from the PCR test, the team found. Based on those symptoms, the researchers estimate that more than 140,000 of the more than 800,000 app users who reported symptoms probably have COVID-19.

The World Health Organization lists loss of taste and smell as a less common COVID-19 symptom, and again, seems not to be keeping up with the game. The new findings suggest that it should be added to the list of top symptoms used to screen people for the disease, the researchers say.

Thank you to ScienceNews for this last report.

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

HAMNET Report 31st May 2020

Alister ZS1OK has mailed me an interesting insert about a club in Canton, Ohio, where the Quarter Century Wireless Association have reported on a high altitude balloon with APRS tracking which was launched off the Portage Lakes in Ohio, 279 days ago. This is apparently the second balloon they have launched from there, with the intention that it would ascend to about 40000 feet (12200 metres), and then be carried by the jetstream wind currents for as long as possible.

Well, 279 days later, it is still being tracked, and can be watched on www.aprs.fi by looking for the call sign W8MV-11. The payload consists only of an APRS Skytracker, and two solar panels to drive it. This has the small disadvantage that, if the balloon veers too far North or South of the equator, the incident light on the panels is not enough to permit the tracker to generate a signal, so the transmissions are intermittent, and of course, never when the balloon is in the earth’s shadow.

Anyway, the speed of travel of the balloon up there and the tracks it has followed since launch indicate that W8MV-11 has circled the earth 16 times since launch and there is no indication that it is going to stop anytime soon. Currently it holds the record for the longest flight of a balloon carrying amateur radio. You can read more details at the home page of the QC Wireless Association at www.qcwa21.org/

Thanks, Alister.

Southgate Amateur Radio News has again reported on the workshops via Zoom or YouTube channels coming from IARU Region 2 since the end of April. Those held so far have been huge successes, with more than 200 participants tuning in live, and up to 1100 viewings of the YouTube videos subsequently.

Emergency Communications (in Spanish) was aired on 29th April, again in English on 6th May, and repeated on 13th May. Satellite Communications for beginners was presented in Spanish on 20th May and in English last Wednesday the 27th. June the 3rd sees a presentation on “Field Day in Social Distancing” in English, and FT8/FT4 Digital Modes in English on 10th June, followed by the same topic in Spanish on 17th June. The workshops take place at 02h00 our time early Thursday mornings.

EmComm enthusiasts in Region 1 of the IARU are encouraged to listen out for advertisements of the virtual emcomm meetings to be held at the time that the Friedrichshafen Hamfest should have taken place at the end of June, which will be carried live, probably on YouTube. I will attempt to give you enough time and information to register for the meeting when it is held.

Southgate news has also reported on a good news story out of India after Cyclone Amphan struck last week.

The New Indian Express reports that as communications failed post-Amphan, a ham radio club tuned in to save the day.

For two days after Cyclone Amphan tore through the state, Ramkrishna Kar, a resident of Barasat town in North 24 Parganas district, had no news of his family in Bagbazar area of Sagar Island in South 24 Parganas district.

Kar, who lives in Barasat for work-related reasons, had no idea how his parents, wife and son were doing since Sagar Island, which bore the brunt of the storm, got completely cut off from the rest of the state.

With electricity, internet and mobile networks down, Kar got in touch with the ham radio operators at the West Bengal Radio Club. The club dispatched one of its members, Dibas Mondol, to contact Kar’s family. Mondol cycled through the desolate landscape to reach Kar’s home. There, he shot their video message, and transmitted it using slow scan television (SSTV), which is a way of sending video images over a voice bandwidth.

Deborah Kotz, from the University of Maryland, writes that scientists from their School of Medicine (UMSOM) developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes. It uses a simple assay containing plasmonic gold nanoparticles to detect a colour change when the virus is present. The test does not require the use of any advanced laboratory techniques, such as those commonly used to amplify DNA, for analysis. The authors published their work last week in the American Chemical Society’s nanotechnology journal ACS Nano.

“Based on our preliminary results, we believe this promising new test may detect RNA material from the virus as early as the first day of infection. Additional studies are needed, however, to confirm whether this is indeed the case,” said study leader Dipanjan Pan, Ph.D., Professor of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and Pediatrics at the UMSOM.

Once a nasal swab or saliva sample is obtained from a patient, the RNA is extracted from the sample via a simple process that takes about 10 minutes. The test uses a highly specific molecule attached to the gold nanoparticles to detect a particular protein. This protein is part of the genetic sequence that is unique to the novel coronavirus. When the biosensor binds to the virus’s gene sequence, the gold nanoparticles respond by turning the liquid reagent from purple to blue.

“The accuracy of any COVID-19 test is based on being able to reliably detect any virus. This means it does not give a false negative result if the virus actually is present, nor a false positive result if the virus is not present,” said Dr. Pan. “Many of the diagnostic tests currently on the market cannot detect the virus until several days after infection. For this reason, they have a significant rate of false negative results.”

“This RNA-based test appears to be very promising in terms of detecting the virus. The innovative approach provides results without the need for a sophisticated laboratory facility,” said study co-author Matthew Frieman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UMSOM.

Although more clinical studies are warranted, this test could be far less expensive to produce and process than a standard COVID-19 lab test; it does not require laboratory equipment or trained personnel to run the test and analyse the results. If this new test meets FDA expectations, it could potentially be used in daycare centres, nursing homes, college campuses, and work places as a surveillance technique to monitor any resurgence of infections.

This all sounds very promising, and time will soon tell if the test is a golden bullet that can make diagnosis and epidemiology much easier.

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

HAMNET Report 24th May 2020

For more than a week now, GDACS has been watching a new cyclone, now called AMPHAN, that has been moving North up the Bay of Bengal, aimed at the border between India and Bangladesh. It finally hit the coast of India and Bangladesh on 20th May, with sustained winds in the 220 KPH range, and flooding the coastline, displacing 3 million people. 77 deaths in India, and 25 in Bangladesh, have been reported, and community shelters are full. Significant damage has been reported in thatched houses, standing crops, horticulture, fisheries, power, and telecommunication facilities in cyclone-affected areas. Most areas remained without electricity and a communication network and blocked roads, limiting a rapid response. Light to moderate rain with isolated thunderstorms, and strong winds are still forecast across north-eastern India, eastern, northern, and north-eastern Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, floods have been reported in Indonesia this week, as well as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and also in Algeria, Somalia, Ecuador and Guatemala, and flood warnings are in place for Finland and European Georgia.

So there is a fair amount of water about. It is a pity it is not more uniformly distributed.

The east coast of America has also been watching Tropical Cyclone ARTHUR, moving north-east up the coast there, about 190 km off the coast, and with wind-speeds of about 100 KPH. It is unlikely to cause much damage.

Meanwhile, The New Indian Express reports in preparation for the onslaught of another monsoon, radio amateurs in Kerala are setting up stations at major dam sites to ensure communications are maintained.

The newspaper says:

As Kerala prepares for the onslaught of another monsoon, ham radio operators are setting up stations at major dam sites to negate communication breakdowns in an emergency. Idukki, Mullaperiyar, Edamalayar and Kallarkutty are lined up to get ham radio channels. Idukki Ham Radio Emergency Communication Society secretary Manoj T R, who coordinates operations in the district, told TNIE that ham stations will be set up at major dam sites by next week.

“As the meteorological department predicts heavy rains, we are going to set up ham stations at major dams. The communication channels between dams were broken during the 2018 deluge. Considering that, dams like Kallarkutty, Mullaperiyar, Idukki and Edamalayar will have ham stations soon. We are awaiting the nod from the district collector and the KSEB chairman,” he said. Three other stations will be set up at the Karimanal power house, Vallakkadavu and Uppukandam along the path of the Periyar. In emergency situations, ham radio stations play a crucial role.

During the devastating floods in 2018, the lack of such a communication facility had foiled attempts to reinstate the operation of dams which were breached. “We are like police officers,” said Subramanian N Shastry VU2NSL, director, Institute of Amateur Radio in Kerala. “Similar to their march-pasts, we have daily roll drills. As a warming-up process, all our stations go through the drills between 7am and 8am.” Currently, the operators are pushing themselves to the next level to ensure Covid precautions remain in place.

If you live in an area where weather is commonly very dramatic, such as the US, you need this service. Skywarn is a nationwide network of between 350,000 and 400,000 volunteer storm spotters that are trained by the National Weather Service to report threatening weather when they observe it.

The Skywarn program is over 50 years old, and even with the latest technologies such as Doppler radar, satellites and high speed computers, the National Weather Service still relies heavily on ground truth reports. Some of these reports include snowfall measurements or confirmation of a tornado on the ground, hail size measurement or to confirm heavy rainfall or flooding.

Volunteers include members of law enforcement and emergency management, first responders, healthcare personnel, and any private citizen that just wants to help their community. Classes are offered periodically throughout the year, though are generally focused on the spring and summer. Topics covered include thunderstorm development and storm structure, tornadoes, different types of flooding, measuring snow, measuring hail, how and what to report, good and bad reports and basic severe weather safety and preparedness. All classes last about two hours and are free of charge.

Amateur radio is also part of Skywarn, though you do not have to be a HAM radio operator or have a HAM license to become a spotter.

The reports that spotters provide the National Weather Service are extremely valuable and can be lifesaving. While Eastern Oregon does not get the same type of severe weather as a place like Oklahoma, and you most likely would not be observing a large tornado or giant hail, there is still a need for spotters in that area. Radar coverage is affected by rugged terrain and a timely spotter report can be extremely beneficial in helping National Weather Service meteorologists with the issuance of warnings, and getting the word out to neighbouring communities. Spotter reports of flooding are also very important, as flooding can be very quick to occur in narrow canyons and people may be hiking or camping nearby.

Thanks to the Wallowa County Chieftain for this summary of Skywarn functions.

Now, a short summary of this week’s developments on the Coronavirus field. I’ve got lots of good news you may or may not have heard about. We will overlook the bad news of more cases and more deaths everywhere, because one can’t be full of doom and gloom all the time. Studies and reports issued this week tell us:

  • Vaccines are coming along nicely. One in America generated as good immunity in the volunteers who were given it, as people who had recovered from the sickness showed. One in the UK is very close to going to clinical trials. There are about 80 other vaccines being investigated worldwide.
  • Immunity after the illness looks very strong, and will last at least a few years. If you’re recovering, you won’t get it again.
  • The positive tests that showed up in people who had already recovered from the disease, turned out to be false positives. Even though they were better, these people’s respiratory tracts were still shedding bits of dead virus. These people are definitely not having the sickness again, and are definitely not infectious.
  • Children definitely have a much lesser chance of catching Covid 19.
  • Vitamin D3 deficiency will definitely make your illness worse if you catch Covid 19. Now that our illness statistics are rising fast, it would be very clever of you, no matter how much sun you get, or how isolated you are from the public, to take 50 micrograms (or 2000 international units) of Vitamin D3 a day, best with something fatty or oily to aid its absorption.

Right, I’ll take my medical hat off and wish you a safe week ahead!

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

HAMNET Report 17th May 2020

As I write this, the Philippines are weathering Tropical Cyclone Vongfong, the first typhoon during the Coronavirus pandemic. Sustained windspeeds of up to 175 kph struck the eastern coast of Samar Island, and the category of storm has been elevated to 3 (out of 3) in eastern Visayas and Bicol regions. Storm surges along the coastline were forecast for Thursday and Friday, and the province of Albay in the Bicol region was evacuating 400 000 people in low-lying and landslide-prone areas.

Obeying the pandemic protocols of distancing and masking will be a challenge as evacuation spaces are usually limited and congested. And if clusters of Covid 19 flare up in evacuation centres, management will be very difficult.

Heavy rain associated with the cyclone may cause mud and debris flow and sediment-laden stream flow along the rivers down the slopes of the Mayon volcano in Albay province. About 730 000 people live within the 17km danger zone of Mayon volcano, and could be affected by flooding and wash-aways (or eruptions).

The ARRL News says that extended-range forecasts for the 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season anticipate above-normal activity, although a low-pressure system now off the coast of Florida could get a jump on things and develop into a subtropical depression or storm this weekend. The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1st and extends until November 30th. The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) 2020 outlook calls for a season about 140% more active than average, with 4 Category 3 to Category 5 hurricanes. The 2019 season saw three major hurricanes (out of six).

“The above-average prediction is largely due to the hot Atlantic and Caribbean waters and lack of a substantial El Niño in the Pacific,” the NHC explained, noting that the combination of a busy hurricane season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could create a nightmare scenario for affected areas. FEMA and local emergency management agencies are already issuing COVID-19 guidelines for hurricane shelters, which include face masks and social distancing.

The NHC Annual Station Test — to check readiness of amateur radio stations and operators — takes place on Saturday, May 30, from 13h00 – 21h00 UTC. The NHC’s WX4NHC will be on the air, marking its 40th year of public service at the NHC. Julio Ripoll, WD4R, the Assistant Amateur Radio Coordinator at the NHC, said the event offers an opportunity for radio amateurs worldwide to exercise the sorts of communications available during severe weather. “We will be making brief contacts on many frequencies and modes, exchanging signal reports and basic weather data with any station in any location,” Ripoll said.

Operation will be on HF, VHF, UHF, APRS, and Winlink. WX4NHC will centre its activity on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) frequencies of 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz, depending on propagation, but will operate elsewhere as conditions dictate. WX4NHC will also operate on the VoIP Hurricane Net from 20h00 until 21h00 UTC.

The ARRL News also says that a recent BBC news feature outlines how ham radio has received a significant boost by connecting people during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. The article, by Vanessa Pearce, quotes the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) as saying that many former hams are now returning to the hobby. Mark Rider, G3VHJ — a retired engineer who lives alone in North Warwickshire — said that after the lockdown restricted his occasional trips to the pub, rehearsing with musician friends, and visiting his wife in a nursing home, he decided to dust off his ham radio equipment “to seek out some other social interaction.” Rider said that rag-chewing has become one of the highlights of his day. “Just speaking to somebody else in the same situation is very rewarding,” he said. The 67-year-old told BBC News that keeping in touch with others has been more important since his wife suffered a stroke.

RSGB General Manager Steve Thomas, M1ACB, said the society has experienced a three-fold increase in license examination applications since social distancing rules were put into place. The UK already has about 75,000 amateur licensees.

Eleven-year-old Anne-Marie Rowland, 2E0RUX, of Cornwall, worked with the Cornish Amateur Radio Club to conduct informal twice-weekly nets to help keep people in touch. “We have some regulars, but also some new people join in,” she told the BBC. Her father, Bill, M0NXF, runs a net that has attracted older radio amateurs who are self-isolating, to help them feel connected.

MedicalXpress noted on Friday that scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 infection, and epidemiologists are trying to predict how the coronavirus pandemic will unfold until such a vaccine is available. Yet, both efforts are surrounded by unresolved uncertainty whether the immune system can mount a substantial and lasting response to SARS-CoV-2 and whether exposure to circulating common cold coronaviruses provides any kind of protective immunity.

Collaboration between the labs of Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci. and Shane Crotty, Ph.D., at La Jolla Institute for Immunology is starting to fill in the massive knowledge gap with good news for vaccine developers and is providing the first cellular immunology data to help guide social distancing recommendations.

Published in Friday’s online edition of  Cell, the study documents a robust antiviral immune response to SARS-CoV-2 in a group of 20 adults who had recovered from COVID-19. The findings show that the body’s immune system is able to recognize SARS-CoV-2 in many ways, dispelling fears that the virus may elude ongoing efforts to create an effective vaccine.

“If we had seen only marginal immune responses, we would have been concerned,” says Sette, a professor in the Centre for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, and adds, “but what we see is a very robust T cell response against the spike protein, which is the target of most ongoing COVID-19 efforts, as well as other viral proteins. These findings are really good news for vaccine development.”

“All efforts to predict the best vaccine candidates and fine-tune pandemic control measures hinge on understanding the immune response to the virus,” says Crotty, also a professor in the Centre for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research. “People were really worried that COVID-19 doesn’t induce immunity, and reports about people getting re-infected reinforced these concerns, but knowing now that the average person makes a solid immune response should largely put those concerns to rest.”

This implies that it will not be difficult to construct a vaccine that really does work. The problem is that it will take time to test properly before releasing it.

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

HAMNET Report 10th May 2020

Grant Southey ZS1GS, our National HAMNET Director, has issued a communique this week thanking most sincerely all those HAMNET members from around the country, who assisted in monitoring the marine bands, transmitting weather and other critical information for the benefit of the marine traffic around our coastline, and otherwise standing in for Cape Town Radio (ZSC) when it was obliged to close its station last weekend for about 60 hours, after a staff member there developed Covid 19.

Michael Taylor ZS1MJT, the Western Cape Regional Director for HAMNET, choreographed the shifts and messaging between amateurs that were necessary, and managed the various group messaging protocols used to keep all monitoring and transmitting stations up to date. He described it to me as being a very hectic weekend, but a task that he thoroughly enjoyed undertaking. And Grant ZS1GS was very complimentary in his thanks to the HAMNET members in all the regions.

Good show, fellows. Thank you for volunteering!

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) has evacuated a sailor from a fishing trawler after he collapsed and required urgent medical assistance.

A call was made in the early hours of last Friday morning, according to NSRI Table Bay station commander Marc de Vos, from the fishing trawler, around 35 nautical miles off the shore of Hout Bay. An EMS duty doctor medically evaluated the sailor during radio communications.

“The doctor deemed it necessary to have the ill fisherman, who was suspected to be in a serious condition, evacuated from the trawler to the nearest appropriate hospital as soon as possible,” De Vos said.

The NSRI Table Bay duty crew, a paramedic and emergency services rescue technician responded and the Transnet National Ports Authority was alerted. Air rescue teams were placed on alert and the fishing trawler was instructed to head towards Green Point.

“The sea rescue craft Spirit of Vodacom rendezvoused with the fishing trawler in dense fog and deep sea off-shore of Llandudno. An NSRI rescue swimmer and the EMS rescue paramedic were transferred onto the trawler and the patient was medically stabilised and transferred onto the sea rescue craft,” said De Vos.

The sailor was transported to hospital in a stable condition by EMS ambulance and he is expected to recover fully.

Thank you to News 24 for that rescue report.

And in a kind gesture to all radio amateurs worldwide, who are feeling the loss of postal services delivering their favourite periodicals, the RSGB has magnanimously made the latest edition of RADCOM, its monthly magazine, free to download off the net by any and everybody. Visit https://rsgb.services/public/radcom/sample-edition/ to read this 100 page magazine!

The French national amateur radio society, which calls itself REF, has also made both April and May’s editions of its magazine Radio-REF available for free download as PDF’s.

In his post, REF President Jean-Louis Truquet F5DJL says he hopes that, by reading them, they will enhance your isolation and encourage those who know them less to discover the life of the association and of their community.

The editions are available at https://www.r-e-f.org/images/flippingbook/ and then 2020_04/2020_04.pdf for the April edition, or 2020_05/2020_05.pdf for the May edition. They are of course both in French.

Thank you to both the RSGB and the REF for their kind gestures.

In The Siasat Daily, we read that ham radio operators in Kolkata have been scanning the city round the clock during the ongoing Covid 19 lockdown to get medicines required by critically ill patients of West Bengal and outside.

With the help of police, these Good Samaritans have supplied medicines for cancer, hepatitis-B, HIV positive patients in several districts of West Bengal and a couple of North eastern states, the apex body of Ham Radio operators said.

Two patients, living in distant Aranghata in Nadia district, and Gangasagar in South 24 Parganas district, received homeopathic medicines from a reputed physician’s surgery after these amateur radio operators came forward, said Ambarish Nag Biswas, secretary of the West Bengal Radio Club (WBRC).

“With the help of a top disaster management official of Kolkata Police, we could procure the medicine and pass it on to these families. The two are among more than 100 people we managed to help during the lockdown,” he told PTI.

The WBRC, having 85 Ham Radio operators as members, has also come to the aid of an elderly cancer patient of Barasat in North 24 Parganas district, whose son in the USA could not send him a particular medicine like previous months because of the prevailing situation.

Around 30 orphaned children, all diagnosed as HIV positive, were given rice, dal, vegetables, salt, and cooking oil, after an NGO at Behala in the southern fringes of Kolkata, that look after them, sought help from the amateur radio operators.

Three patients of North eastern states, including a 7- year-old child, also received their medicines after the WBRC was contacted by their counterparts there. “Our members literally combed the city and the neighbourhood to find the medicines,” Nag Biswas said.

And, not to be outdone, our sister organisation in the UK, called RAYNET, reports that in March, during a routine 80m net, an amateur in the south-west remarked that he was elderly, without family to help him and was virtually out of food. The nearest RAYNET group, local to the gentleman concerned, was asked to see if anything could be done to help.

The local coronavirus support network was alerted and delivered a food package that afternoon.

Additionally, the local town council contacted the gentleman and organised a support package for him, as it transpired he is also disabled.

Thank you to all those who have helped to get vital support to this gentleman.  This was a real team effort.

Together we can save lives – even if you are confined to home, there is a huge amount we can do to support each other.

Thank you to Cathy, G1GQJ, for that report.

The coronavirus epidemic is certainly bringing out the best in mankind, but at what enormous cost! Will the world’s economies recover quickly from this disastrous year? I doubt it…

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

HAMNET Report 3rd May 2020

In amongst the pandemic news, we are also receiving news of heavy rains and flooding in a wide range of countries. The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) reported on Friday that Malaysia was experiencing strong rain, flooding and landslides, with more to come this weekend; Indonesia also experiencing heavy rain, affecting Java, Kalimantan, and the Northern Sumatra Islands, with resultant flooding and landslides; floods and flood warnings in Finland and in Georgia; heavy rain affecting most of Somalia states and territories, and parts of Ethiopia since the 20th of April; and then mopping up operations after Cyclone Harold struck the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga last month.

Our planet seems to lurch from one natural disaster to another, doesn’t it!

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) has launched a major campaign — Get on the air to care (GOTA2C) — in association with the UK National Health Service (NHS) to help promote health and wellbeing within the amateur radio community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, more than ever, we need to optimize all modes of communication to help reduce loneliness and isolation within communities,” said Paul Devlin, of the NHS England Emergency Care Improvement Support Team. “Amateur radio provides a wonderful, unprecedented opportunity to help make this a reality.” The RSGB is urging radio amateurs in the UK and around the globe to get on the air to chat and “support each other across the airwaves.”

Radio amateurs can “get on the air to care” with a simple handheld transceiver.

RSGB General Manager Steve Thomas, M1ACB, said, “We want this campaign to inspire even more to get involved and also to use #GOTA2C when they share photos, videos, and news of what they’re doing on social media.”

Devlin said that GB1NHS, the UK’s National Health Service ham station, gives the NHS “the ability to reach communities anywhere in the world, regardless of geographic location or connection to domestic power supplies, land lines, cell phone, or internet services. It will be on the air as part of this campaign, so listen out for it!”

RSGB Communications Manager Heather Parsons said the campaign has attracted media coverage that included a spot on the BBC, plus a video of support from Spandau Ballet lead singer Tony Hadley. “We’re asking for photos and short video clips of support with the title #GOTA2C,” Parsons added, “and we’ll be using them in [the RSGB journal] RadCom and for our weekly Photo Friday on social media.”

Thanks to Heather Parsons, RSGB Communications Manager for these notes.

International Amateur Radio Union Region 2 (IARU-R2) says the response to an announcement of online emergency communication workshops was far beyond their expectations. Some 230 individuals have registered so far, and registration remains open. Given the degree of interest, the IARU-R2 Executive Committee has appointed Augusto Gabaldoni, OA4DOH, as workshops coordinator to set up processes for the initial group of workshop sessions and to develop and manage ongoing workshops for radio amateurs in IARU-R2.

Workshops will be available free of charge using the Zoom videoconferencing platform. IARU R2 says most workshops are already at or near capacity, but additional workshops are in development, along with a new online registration process. The recent schedule included WinLink 101 in Spanish, WinLink 101 in English, Satellite Communications 101 in Spanish, and, later, in English.

Those already registered will receive a confirmation email with the link and password for the event. Participants will be assigned to a workshop in the appropriate language.  Augusto Gabaldoni, OA4DOH, will handle requests for future workshop topics, volunteer speakers, or other comments or suggestions.

Thanks to the ARRL News for these excerpts from their newsline.

Phys.org reports that Chinese researchers have developed a plastic substitute, based on Cellulose Nanofibres which have excellent mechanical and thermal properties. CNF, which can be derived from plants or produced by bacteria, is one of the most abundant all-green resources on Earth. CNF is an ideal nanoscale building block for constructing macroscopic high-performance materials, as it has higher strength and modulus than Kevlar and steel, and lower thermal expansion coefficient than silica glass. Based on this bio-based and biodegradable building block, the construction of sustainable and high-performance structural materials will greatly promote the replacement of plastic and help us avoid the plastic apocalypse.

Recently, a team lead by Prof. Shu-Hong Yu from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) reported a high-performance sustainable structural material called cellulose nanofiber plate (CNFP) which is constructed from bio-based CNF and ready to replace plastic in many fields. CNFP has a high specific strength, four times higher than that of steel and higher than that of traditional plastic and aluminium alloy. In addition, CNFP has a higher specific impact toughness than aluminium alloy and only half of its density.

Unlike plastic or other polymer based materials, CNFP exhibits excellent resistance to extreme temperature and thermal shock. The thermal expansion coefficient of CNFP is close to ceramic materials, much lower than typical polymers and metals. Moreover, after 10 times of rapid thermal shock between a 120 °C oven and the -196 °C of liquid nitrogen, CNFP maintains its strength. These results show its outstanding thermal dimensional stability, which allows CNFP to have great potential for use as a structural material under extreme temperature and alternate cooling and heating. Owing to its wide range of raw materials and bio-assisted synthesis process, CNFP is a low-cost material—only $0.5/kg, which is lower than most plastic. With low density, outstanding strength and toughness, and great thermal dimensional stability, all of those properties of CNFP surpass those of traditional metals, ceramics and polymers, making it a high-performance and environmental-friendly alternative for engineering, especially for aerospace applications.

CNFP not only has the power to replace plastic (and save us from drowning in it), but also has great potential as the next generation of sustainable and lightweight structural material.

Now under normal circumstances, nursing can be a stressful profession. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates it.

New research led by Marian Reven, a Ph.D. student in the West Virginia University School of Nursing, suggests that aromatherapy may reduce nurses’ on-the-job feelings of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and being overwhelmed. Her pilot study results appear in the  International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy.

“If we can improve our nurses’ emotional reserves and give them more resilience by using aromatherapy—give them a place to step back, to do some mindfulness—we’re doing a good thing at the other end of it by improving patient care,” she said.

Yes, well, compared to some of the smells nurses have to put up with as they tend to their sick patients, aromatherapy has just got to work!

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