HAMNET Report 28th January 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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