HAMNET Report 26th December 2021

In a report following up on Cyclone Rai-21, Digitaljournal.com reports that the death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year surged to 375 on Monday, as desperate survivors pleaded for urgent supplies of drinking water and food.

The Philippine Red Cross reported “complete carnage” in coastal areas after Super Typhoon Rai left homes, hospitals and schools “ripped to shreds”.

The storm tore off roofs, uprooted trees, toppled concrete power poles, smashed wooden houses to pieces, wiped out crops and flooded villages — sparking comparisons to the damage caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

“Our situation is so desperate,” said Ferry Asuncion, a street vendor in the hard-hit seaside city of Surigao, which was devastated by the storm.

Residents urgently needed “drinking water and food”, he said.

As mentioned, 375 people were killed and 56 are missing in the latest disaster to hit the archipelago, with 500 more injured, the national police said.

More than 380,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Rai slammed into the country on Thursday.

One of the hardest-hit islands was Bohol — known for its beaches, “Chocolate Hills” and tiny tarsier primates — where at least 94 people have died, provincial Governor Arthur Yap said on Facebook.

In Bohol’s coastal town of Ubay, a state of calamity has been declared, with many wooden houses flattened and fishing boats destroyed.

Rai hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season. Most cyclones develop between July and October.

Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.

The Philippines — ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change — is hit by an average of 20 storms every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.

The Philippines has an established disaster management system that provides early warnings of approaching storms and moves vulnerable communities into evacuation centres.

But the storm has dealt a savage blow to the tourism sector, which was already struggling after Covid-19 restrictions decimated visitor numbers.

“SOS” has been painted on a road in the tourist town of General Luna on Siargao Island, where surfers and holidaymakers had flocked ahead of Christmas, as people struggled to find water and food.

“There’s no water anymore, there’s a water shortage, on day one there was already looting in our neighbourhood,” Siargao resort owner Marja O’Donnell told CNN Philippines.

There has also been widespread destruction on Dinagat and Mindanao islands, which along with Siargao bore the brunt of the storm when it hit, packing wind speeds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour.

With electricity knocked out in many areas, there is no signal or internet, hampering efforts to assess the storm’s damage.

Thousands of military, police, coast guard and fire personnel were deployed along with food, water and medical supplies, while heavy machinery — including backhoes and front-end loaders — were sent to clear roads.

Southgate Amateur Radio News notes that the WIA, notified by the German regulator through their regulatory committee, alerts them to be aware of radio interference. One unfortunate side effect of the Christmas celebration is the dumping on the market of cheap devices emitting radio interference.

At the moment, USB battery chargers and action cameras are particularly conspicuous with the German Federal Network Agency. At first glance, many electrical products are very cheap bargains. In reality, however, they are inferior products that cause radio interference.

In recent weeks, the Federal Network Agency has increasingly found LED products of all kinds, but especially Christmas lighting, that do not meet the legal requirements. The spectrum ranges from simple LED lamps to LED recessed and ceiling lights to outdoor lighting (LED floodlights). Colour-changing and other Christmas lighting for indoors and outdoors are also popular items to buy in the run-up to Christmas. The prices of these products are usually significantly lower than those of well-known brand products, especially in online retail. This can be an indication of inferiority and undercutting of legal requirements.

So don’t forget to go round your house, switching off new random electronics in the house, if the noise floor on your HF radio is now so high that you can’t hear for noise!

Chris Burger ZS6EZ and Hans van de Groenendaal ZS6AKV are to be congratulated on having produced a paper ‘Amateur Radio as a Vehicle for Technology Literacy‘ which looks at the situation in Africa.

Africa faces a shortage of technologically-proficient people who can develop and maintain our ICT infrastructure and drive innovation to facilitate manufacturing and services.

Amateur Radio offers a vehicle for technology training that has reaped great rewards for many countries. The barriers to entry are continuously dropping.

The article explains the potential of Amateur Radio for technology development, looks at the current state of Amateur Radio in Africa and suggests avenues that might be explored to allow wider access on the continent.

The PDF can be downloaded here: https://ur.booksc.eu/dl/68281938/e2535a

Space weather physicist Dr Tamitha Skov has forecast that seven sunspots could cause Christmas chaos for radio and GPS users.

She pointed out that a massive coronal hole in the Sun’s core has been rapidly “rotating into the Earth’s strike zone”, warning that there is a “big flare potential”. Dr Skov said the fast solar wind coming from the large coronal hole has threatened up to a 45 percent chance of a major storm. She added that there are up to seven sunspot clusters on the Earth-facing disk, including several that are “big flare players”.

And she warned that, while one “massive solar storm” is not Earth-directed, we could even get some more big flares that have “blackout risks”.

She added: “Flares are starting to pop again, almost being like little paparazzi bulbs, and that could signify that we could get some bigger flares coming in here soon and cause some radio blackouts for GPS users and amateur radio operators, so stay vigilant.”

Finally, I wonder if you, like me, held your breath and watched with anxiety as the James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas day at 14h20 CAT, from the European Space Agency launch facility at Kourou. Well the launch was absolutely flawless, but there are still so many control activities, 344 of them in fact, that have to occur consecutively and correctly, for the telescope to start functioning correctly at an orbit of 1 million miles from the earth. And remember, there is no “fix-it” mission possible if it doesn’t work. We continue to hold our breath over the next several weeks as it is progressively commissioned.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR wishing you all a Happy New Year, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 19th December 2021

By Monday of this week, Philippine nationals were being warned of the arrival of Tropical Cyclone RAI-21, moving from East to West, and due to strike the Philippines amidships on about Thursday.

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System was predicting winds of up to 260 km/h, an alert level of RED, and 13 million people to be in the line of the strike zone. Thousands of people were being evacuated from their homes in central and southern Philippines.

The central and western Visayas region was the most threatened, with Mindanao and Luzon areas also expected to bear part of the brunt of the storm. Very heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges were to strike southern, central and western Philippines on Thursday.

By Saturday the death toll stood at 18 as the disaster agency warned of “severe damage” in the hardest-hit areas. More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Typhoon Rai ravaged the southern and central regions of the country, knocking out communications in many areas and toppling concrete power poles.

This is clearly still a developing story.

Rick, Palm, K1CE, who manages the Emcomm pages in QST magazine, has a problem that I definitely identify with. Writing in the weekly ARES letter from America, he says:

“[I have] a case for not programming repeaters into the memories of your radios.

“If you are like me and most other operators, you have programmed your area repeater frequencies into the memory channels of your radios. Recently, when I needed to switch to a new repeater frequency, I could not remember how to enter the [CTCSS] tone and offset – an aggravating factor may be that I’m almost 70 years old with a slowly eroding memory! I resorted to reading the radio’s operating manual. Now, I forego using the memory channels and instead enter the repeater frequency, offset, and [CTCSS] tone manually each and every time so that I’ll have the muscle memory needed to select repeater parameters on the fly in the field. Think about it – it only takes a second to enter the parameters.” Close quote.

He is not wrong. If I have two radios, I can’t remember how to do it on either of them!

On December 24th, SAQ in Grimeton, Sweden, is scheduled to transmit a Christmas message to the world, using the 97-year-old 200 kW Alexanderson Alternator on 17.2 kHz CW. At 0730 UTC, a livestream will begin on YouTube.

Start-up and tuning of the Alexanderson alternator will begin at 0800 UTC and transmissions soon after.

Some test transmissions will take place on December 23 between 1200 UTC and 1600 UTC and SAQ will be on the air for shorter periods during this interval, when technicians will be carrying out some tests and measurements.

Comments and reports are welcome. Amateur radio station SK6SAQ will be active on 3.535 MHz, 7.035 MHz, and 14.035 MHz CW, and on 3.755 MHz and 7.140 MHz SSB. Two stations will be on the air most of the time.

Thanks to the weekly ARRL newsletter for this summary. The 24th December is this Friday, folks, and the sunspot number and solar flux index has suddenly shot up. Let’s hope conditions remain good for this coming Friday.

Now, combining my two interests, I can tell you of the use of amateur radio repeaters in association with Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) technology to improve diagnostic capability in medical investigations.

In Imaging Technology News on 16th December, I learnt that Scientists at the University of Tsukuba demonstrated how conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines can be retrofitted to detect sodium ions using a cross band radio-frequency repeater. This work may allow for new medical diagnostics to be performed without expensive new equipment.

Magnetic resonance imaging has become a crucial part of the medical toolkit for non-invasive visualization of internal organs. MRI machines operate by placing the patient in a very strong magnetic field, which will cause the nuclear spins of atoms in the body to align in the same direction, essentially acting like tiny magnets. Then, a radio-frequency (RF) signal of a very specific frequency is applied, which has the ability to flip the direction of the spins. When the nuclei relax back to their original aligned state, the precession of these spins about the magnet field direction can be measured by RF detector coils to determine the concentration of that particular atom. The majority of MRI machines in use today are optimized to look for the presence of hydrogen-1 (1H) nuclei, which are naturally abundant in the body as a component of water molecules. Retrofitting such a machine for detecting other isotopes, like sodium-23 (23Na), would require a great deal of expensive hardware upgrades.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Tsukuba have demonstrated a proof-of-concept method for equipping a conventional MRI machine with the capability to image 23Na by installing a cross band RF repeater system. This is a device that receives signals at a certain frequency and rebroadcasts at a different one. “The RF repeater, which is a commonly used device in amateur radio, can be placed directly inside the magnet bore of an existing MRI machine as a cost-effective upgrade,” explains author Professor Yasuhiko Terada. This allows the frequency produced by 23Na, which is around 17 MHz, to be detected by the coils tuned at the 64 MHz frequency of MRI.

The research team tested the system with a saline “phantom” and an anesthetized mouse. Even though the resulting signal was much lower compared with custom-built 23Na machines, it could be amplified to produce comparable images. “Watching the motion of sodium ions inside the body provides detailed metabolic information not available from conventional MRI images,” Professor Terada says. 23Na imaging has already been shown to be useful for applications involving the kidney, owing to its large sodium concentration, as well as the brain and heart. This approach may substantially reduce health care costs by providing completely new abilities to existing machines without requiring a complete refurbishment.

The work is published in Magnetic Resonance in Medical Sciences. Thank you to ITN for this report.

It remains then only for me to wish those of you who celebrate at this time of year, a very Happy Christmas, where appropriate, and a safe and healthy 2022. Here’s hoping that the Omicron version of the Coronavirus will so overwhelm previous mutations, as to make the pandemic fizzle out into an endemic state, with very little morbidity and even less mortality!

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

HAMNET Report 12th December 2021


Out of the University of British Columbia comes research that has created what could be the first battery that is both flexible and washable. It works even when twisted or stretched to twice its normal length, or after being tossed in the laundry.

“Wearable electronics are a big market and stretchable batteries are essential to their development,” says Dr Ngoc Tan Nguyen, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s faculty of applied science. “However, up until now, stretchable batteries have not been washable. This is an essential addition if they are to withstand the demands of everyday use.”

The battery developed by Dr. Nguyen and his colleagues offers a number of engineering advances. In normal batteries, the internal layers are hard materials encased in a rigid exterior. The UBC team made the key compounds—in this case, zinc and manganese dioxide—stretchable by grinding them into small pieces and then embedding them in a rubbery plastic, or polymer. The battery comprises several ultra-thin layers of these polymers wrapped inside a casing of the same polymer. This construction creates an airtight, waterproof seal that ensures the integrity of the battery through repeated use.

It was team member Bahar Iranpour, a Ph.D. student, who suggested throwing the battery in the wash to test its seal. So far, the battery has withstood 39 wash cycles and the team expects to further improve its durability as they continue to develop the technology.

“We put our prototypes through an actual laundry cycle in both home and commercial-grade washing machines. They came out intact and functional and that’s how we know this battery is truly resilient,” says Iranpour.

The choice of zinc and manganese dioxide chemistry also confers another important advantage. “We went with zinc-manganese because for devices worn next to the skin, it’s a safer chemistry than lithium-ion batteries, which can produce toxic compounds when they break,” says Nguyen.

Ongoing work is underway to increase the battery’s power output and cycle life, but already the innovation has attracted commercial interest. The researchers believe that when the new battery is ready for consumers, it could cost the same as an ordinary rechargeable battery.

“The materials used are incredibly low-cost, so if this is made in large numbers, it will be cheap,” says electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. John Madden, director of UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Lab who supervised the work. In addition to watches and patches for measuring vital signs, the battery might also be integrated with clothing that can actively change colour or temperature.

“Wearable devices need power. By creating a cell that is soft, stretchable and washable, we are making wearable power comfortable and convenient.”

The battery is described in a new paper published recently in Advanced Energy Materials. Thank you to TechXplore for this report.

Kate Nakamura, writing in Global Citizen, says that many liken climate change to the scenario of a slowly sinking ship. The creators of the latest in provocative climate change monuments view our planet’s demise as more of a plane crash.

Earth’s Black Box, created by data researchers, artists, and architects, will sit in Tasmania and record every single climate failing humans commit. Through news articles, tweets, and scientific journals, the black box, powered by solar energy, will listen and archive leaders’ climate actions and hope to inspire more to be done.

“The box will act as an indestructible and independent ledger of the ‘health’ of our planet,” Jonathan Kneebone, artist and co-founder of the artistic collective Glue Society, told CNN. “And we hope it will hold leaders to account and inspire action and reaction in the broader population.”

The structure will be composed of three-inch thick steel and, like its namesake, is meant to withstand the destruction of its aircraft (in this case, Earth). The black box will record land and ocean temperatures, military spending, atmospheric greenhouse gas, as well as biodiversity loss, all serving as an objective account of the climate disaster for future generations and the leaders of today.

The outdoor installation won’t be completed until next year and the creators are still in the process of figuring out certain aspects, such as how visitors will access the information sealed within the box, but it comes at a pivotal point in our planet’s history, where we have entered make-or-break scenarios.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended in November and science points to it as a failure. With current commitments, the earth will heat past the internationally agreed upon temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are currently at 1.1 degree Celsius of warming and current estimates predict that we are on track to reach 1.8C to 2.4C warming. At 1.1C we’re already seeing the deadly consequences of climate change, from extreme weather events to migration to famine.

Unlike the climate clock, an installation in New York City that calculates the time we have left and what we must do to keep the planet within 1.5C warming, the black box does not measure the amount of time until we crash. Although it’s intended to collect data through the next 50 years, its creators are looking into ways to keep it running for hundreds or thousands of years.

“The idea is if the Earth does crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible recording device will be there for whoever’s left to learn from that,” Jim Curtis of Clemenger BBDO, where the project was conceived, told ABC News.

The New York Times reported that the location of Tasmania was picked due to its “geopolitical and environmental safety” and the structure will be built to withstand natural threats such as weather occurrences and earthquakes.

Since COP26 in Glasgow, the black box has been collecting data and will continue to collect climate-related content from the past and future. While some scientists argue that there is very little evidence that global warming will result in human extinction, the black box’s website states that the project is meant for future generations to understand the steps it took to lead the earth into its demise and hold leaders accountable for their responsibilities.

“How the story ends is completely up to us,” reads the website. “Only one thing is certain; your actions, inactions, and interactions are now being recorded.”

We must hope that it is never necessary for our descendants to look back through the records, and pinpoint the exact moment we dropped the ball and let climate change pass a point of no return.

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

HAMNET Report 5th December 2021


Here’s a situation in a quantum computer lab, where a Ph.D might not have been as useful as a qualification in lock-picking!

The South China Morning Post reported last weekend that water leaking through the ceiling of a Chinese national research facility might have destroyed a new-generation quantum computer under construction if not for the quick action of students working late.

The incident has brought attention to the fragility of the hi-tech machines, but also the vulnerability of the humans who design and operate them.

Around 2am on Sunday morning, 26-year-old doctoral student Zhong Hansen was working at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale in Anhui province when he noticed water spilling into his lab, according to an official investigation.

The lab was filled with expensive equipment, some of which was unique. More than 180 superconducting detectors cooled by liquid nitrogen alone cost more than 24 million yuan (US$3.7 million). They were part of Jiuzhang 3, China’s next world-leading quantum computer based on light, and Zhong was working late writing code for an experiment.

He found the water was coming from a locked laboratory. After calling for help, other students also still at work joined him in the rescue bid. With the help of security guards they forced the door open and stemmed the leak.

The authorities rewarded Zhong and four other students with 120,000 yuan (US$19,000) between them. In a statement on Thursday, the national research centre said much equipment might have been destroyed and the Jiuzhang 3 project “delayed by over a year”.

Perhaps lock-picking should be included as a module in your Ph.D course!

I have posted previously my concerns over the huge constellation of Starlink satellites being placed in low earth orbit, and the effect their presence and RF signals might have on visible light and radio-astronomy. I continue to be worried, and note that telemetry is becoming trackable from them now. Southgate Amateur Radio News reports from Hackaday.com that often, mere curiosity is sufficient to do something. This is also the case with people trying to analyse the communication setup and protocol which SpaceX is using with their Ku-band based Starlink satellites.

One of these fine folk is Christian Hahn, who has recently posted some early findings to r/StarlinkEngineering over at Reddit. Some of the captured data seems to include the satellite ID system that ground-based user stations would presumably use to keep track of overhead Starlink satellites.

For the capturing itself, Christian is using a second-hand dish for capture and a DIY SDR using KC705 FPGA-based hardware – which may have begun its life as crypto mining hardware – along with the usual assortment of filters and other common components with this kind of capture.

Even at this early time, some features of the Starlink protocol seem quite obvious, such as the division into channels and the use of guard periods. Nothing too earth-shattering, but as a fun SDR hobby it definitely checks all the boxes.

Christian has also announced that at some point he’ll set up a website and publish the findings and code that should make Starlink signal analysis easy for anyone with a readily available SDR receiver.

It remains for the radio-astronomy body to determine what degree of interference the satellites will cause to the astronomers!

And several sites have posted about the real threat two astronauts aboard the ISS would have faced had they done their planned space-walk on Tuesday the 30th, because of risks to their spacesuits caused by space debris after a Russian satellite was destroyed earlier in an experiment by the Russians.

All aboard the ISS were obliged to take cover in their respective “lifeboats” until the immediate threat was over. The debris spread out over the next few orbits, and was calculated no longer to pose a threat, and the spacewalk to replace a defective 20 year old S-band antenna took place successfully on Thursday the 2nd December.

A report from India says that solid, metal antennae have been the standard in a wide range of technologies for decades, including a wide variety of radio communications and scanning such as radar. However, research into the concept of liquid antennae was discussed in the 1990s. A liquid antenna would comprise a lightweight and perhaps collapsible container that could be erected into the appropriate shape and filled with a suitable liquid. Water, saltwater, ionic liquids, and other substances have been investigated over the years.

New work in the International Journal of Ultra Wideband Communications and Systems offers a novel design of a conical structure for a liquid antenna that can operate effectively across a wide frequency range. The antenna is compact and cost effective the team reports as well as offering a simple way to reconfigure it for different applications, something that is not easy with a solid metal antenna. Conical antennae are usually the form required for radio-frequency broadcast.

Roopa and E. Kiran Kumar of the Siddaganga Institute of Technology Tumakuru, in Karnataka, India, have demonstrated proof of principle for their new type of liquid antenna using pure water, seawater, and glycerine as the liquid component. The device can achieve voltage standing wave ratio of 1 to 2 over a frequency range of 300 to 850 megahertz, the team reports. They add that the gain achieved in experimental results was 2 dBi, which is comparable with their simulations in which the gain is around 1.9 dBi. The operating frequency is adjusted by changing the height of liquid within the cone.

The team concludes that their proposed antenna is simple, low cost, and covers a wide range of frequencies, which can be tuned easily. The radio emission from the antenna is omnidirectional and the fact that it is transparent gives it an additional attractive design feature for the development of wireless applications. In addition, the antenna is 30 to 40 percent shorter than its equivalent metal antenna.

Thanks to techxplore for that report.

I don’t know about you, but I can see this technology very rapidly catching on in amateur radio. Just imagine – with a few minor adjustments to the chosen additives to the liquid inside the antenna, one might not be at all disappointed if the bands seemed closed. One would be obliged to sit back in a comfortable camping chair, to drink the contents of the antenna, and watch the smoke curl over the coals as you grill your steak to perfection! Now that is the very essence of amateur radio! Who needs sunspots anyway?

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