HAMNET Report 4th February 2024

GDACS has been reporting all week on the wildfires ravaging areas around the Western Cape, in the presence of the current heatwave. They note evacuations and widespread damage.

According to the JRC Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS), as of 31st January, the total burnt area across the affected region was approximately 25,000 ha. A number of these wildfires are currently still under containment.

Media report, as of 1st February, around 250 displaced people and dozens of damaged houses in the Overberg District Municipality and the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Over the next 24 hours, according to the JRC GWIS, the fire danger forecast is still expected to be from high to extreme across the already affected areas.

The Western Cape government has approached the National Disaster Management Centre for Disaster Classification.

“A provincial disaster classification will empower the premier and the minister of finance to move funding as and when we need it to sustain our firefighting efforts,” said local government MEC, Anton Bredell.

According to Bredell, the hot and windy weather conditions, combined with several wildfires burning in the Cape Winelands and Overstrand districts, necessitated a large and co-ordinated firefighting effort.

“We have the necessary resources available to address the wildfires, but the disaster declaration will give us the ability to co-ordinate optimally. We are doing everything to protect lives and property,” he said.

Since Monday, fires have engulfed Hangklip between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay, destroying several homes and forcing evacuations.

Overstrand municipal manager, Dean O’Neill, reported on Thursday that the fire in Hangklip had flared up again.

On the other side of the province, the Cape Winelands District Municipality’s (CWDM) Fire Services and teams spent an anxious night monitoring and battling multiple fires in Rawsonville, Worcester and Wolseley.

Massive flames have been burning throughout the area for nine days.

CWDM spokesperson, Jo-Anne Otto, said over 30 000 hectares of land had already been destroyed there.

“At Kluitjieskraal and Wolseley, 27 200 ha have been burned. The Brandvlei fire, which is ongoing, has so far seen 3 700ha, and the Fairy Glen fire 2 200ha,” Otto confirmed.

The South African Weather Service yesterday also cautioned that extremely high fire danger conditions were expected over the West Coast and Cape Winelands on Friday.

Otto said: “The hot weather impacts our ability to fight the fire, it’s hot and there are real dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion.”

These reports come from various sources.

Writing in universetoday.com about the rocky materials retrieved from the Asteroid Bennu and delivered back to earth last year, Evan Gough says that Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, a primitive chunk of rock that forms a link to the past when the rocky planets were forming. Scientists have already found carbon and water in the previously removed material. In fact, according to initial analysis, its carbon concentration is close to 5%. That’s among the highest non-terrestrial carbon percentages ever measured. “The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our own planet for generations to come,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Once scientists get their hands on more of the material, they’ll doubtlessly find other interesting components. Maybe even some of life’s building blocks like amino acids. Bennu’s water and carbon content could indicate that life’s building blocks originated in asteroids like Bennu.

The sample also gives researchers an opportunity to test their findings against previous observations of Bennu. Astronomers studied the asteroid’s composition with OSIRIS-REx’s instruments as it approached Bennu, and the samples will tell them how accurate their efforts were. It’s an opportunity to verify and improve spacecraft instruments and remote sensing methods.

Scientists suspect that Bennu could actually be older than our Solar System. If that’s true, then it’s a window into the distant past when only the solar nebula and the proto-Sun existed. It may contain insights into how everything formed, including the Sun.

Bennu may also be one of the remaining pieces of a much larger body. Scientists think that the parent body broke apart between 700 million and two billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn more from the Bennu sample about its parent body and how Bennu migrated to the inner Solar System.

In a notable act of foresight, 75% of the sample will be stored for the future. Instruments and analysis techniques will only improve over time, and these pristine samples will be available when they do. NASA has done the same with other materials like lunar samples, and it’s paid off.

The Bennu samples can only enhance our understanding of our Solar System and how everything came to be. From its ancient early beginnings in the solar nebula to its present-day location in the inner Solar System, Bennu is a well-travelled message-bearer. Now that we have some of that message in our labs, scientists can reveal what Bennu has to say.

This coming Saturday the 10th of February sees the riding of the Gryphon 99er cycle race out of Durbanville in the Cape, in the general direction of Malmesbury, on a 100km round trip back to Durbanville again. HAMNET Western Cape has assisted with rover duties and communications for about 17 years now (except for the Covid years), and will be at it again this week.

Nineteen HAMNET members will be involved with eight roving stations, three danger points which will occupy 2 members each, one before, and one after each danger point, and 3 members in the JOC. APRS trackers will be utilised to keep track of course marshals, and roving hams, and two different APRS software methods will be tested in comparison with each other, to attempt to identify the better one.

February in Cape Town is notorious for hot weather, as I noted in the previous report above, and last year’s race was stopped due to extreme temperatures at about 11am, with an hour of riding still to go. We sincerely hope the same won’t happen this year. I hope to be able to include a report-back in next week’s bulletin.

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

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.

HAMNET REPORT 21ST JANUARY 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to news.stanford.edu for this snippet.

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

HAMNET Report 14th January 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAMNET Report 7th January 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Phys.org for that report.

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

HAMNET Report 31st December 2023

Extreme weather in the forms of storms and heavy rainfall in the eastern half of the country has seen the forecast I mentioned of floods in the Newcastle region last week almost take place.

But it wasn’t Newcastle that bore the brunt, it was Ladysmith in northern KZN, where mopping up operations are still taking place. At least 14 people have been identified as killed by the floods, but there are at least 10 still missing, and their names are likely to be added to the list of lost souls after rescue work is over. The rain and flooding started on Christmas Eve, and now, a full week later, the tragedies of lost family members are still unfolding.

With roads from KZN back in the general direction of Gauteng Province starting to get busier this coming week, we don’t need more extreme weather to make those roads more treacherous, and the drivers lose their skills.

There is a saying here in the Western Cape that, when it rains, as it does all winter, people forget how to drive safely. I hope the same isn’t true of the rest of the country.

Talking of water and flooding, I wonder how many of you remembered the 19th anniversary of the Indonesian earthquake and Tsunami of 2004 that claimed over 230000 lives around the rim of the north Indian Sea.

And the remarkable use that amateur radio was put to on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? The effort to reunite families on the islands was led by a New Delhi housewife, Bharathi Prasad VU2RBI. She was visiting the islands’ capital, Port Blair to set up its first ham radio station when the disaster struck, and the chain of 570 islands was cut off from the world.

But within hours, Bharathi Prasad put up her radio with the use of a hotel generator, and reached out to other ham operators. Soon she and six colleagues were conveying thousands of messages to and from the islands.

In similar vein, hams from the Indian subcontinent, from Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other parts of Indonesia did what they could, often without structured electricity grids to carry the messages of hope, survival, and often tragedy, as the death tolls mounted.

That all happened on Boxing Day 2004. It is amazing to think that 2024 will see the 20th anniversary of that disaster.

News from airtrafficmanagement.net is that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has approved the use of satellites to support voice and data communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. The approval was announced in Dubai at the World Radio Congress in December 2023. This approval will lead to substantial improvements in the safety, sustainability, efficiency and passenger experience of air transport.

Voice and data radio communications in the VHF band are used for communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. VHF radios are standard aircraft equipment around the world and are vital in ensuring the safety of air travel. Currently, VHF voice communications services are only available when the aircraft is within range of a ground-based radio. This means that large areas of the Earth’s surface, including much of the world’s oceans, are not covered. The use of satellites in place of ground-based radio systems will enable seamless global real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers for the first time.

The use of space-enabled services supporting pilots and air traffic controllers will:

  • Improve safety by providing real-time communications between pilots and air traffic controllers to maintain correct separations between aircraft.
  • Reduce environmental emissions from aviation by allowing the most efficient routes to be flown by aircraft.
  • Increase efficiency of the aviation industry by reducing fuel consumption and reducing flight delays.
  • Improve the passenger experience by improving on-time performance. The cost of flight delays in the United States, Europe and Australia has been estimated at US$67.5 billion per year.

The approval follows [a company called] Skykraft’s world-first demonstration of space-to-ground voice communications systems operating in the VHF band, carried out in south-western Australia in July 2023. Skykraft’s trial of space-based voice communications in the VHF aviation band demonstrates the feasibility of satellite communication directly with aircraft using existing equipment.

Skykraft is developing a constellation of satellites to provide VHF-band communications services and surveillance services to track aircraft from 2025.

Thanks to airtrafficmanagement.net for the news. Hopefully, Skycraft’s systems, or others like it, will quickly span the globe and make air transport communications even more safe and guaranteed.

In a news item dated the 27th December, the ARRL says that 2023 has been a remarkable year for amateur radio. There were many noteworthy opportunities for hams to use their license privileges for the greater good. An annular solar eclipse saw radio amateurs engaging in projects of scientific research about our ionosphere, devastating firestorms gutted entire cities and saw Amateur Radio Emergency Service member-volunteers rise to activate, hurricanes threatened life and property, bicycle races spread across the desert necessitated robust communications provided by hams, and high school students led and executed contacts with the International Space Station. Many amateur radio operators stood to serve in ways that made headlines, and all of them were volunteers.

Commenting further, the Relay League reminds us of volunteer examiners who supervised amateur licensing exams, traffic net managers who handled traffic from hams checking in, and even the unsung mentors who helped newcomers on a one on one basis. Most of these volunteers did not get their names in lights.

The ARRL designated 2023 as the Year of the Volunteer to recognize these people’s efforts, and to encourage new prospective volunteers to follow their lead.

We have a small squad of like-minded volunteers in this country, and I’m sure the SARL, and especially HAMNET would encourage more to become volunteers in the hobby. It is a funny fact that you get more OUT of an activity when you put more IN to it, and this is also true of amateur radio. So, make only one New Year’s resolution this year, and let that be to volunteer your services to ham radio more than you already do! On behalf of us all in the hobby, I thank you.

I now grab this opportunity to wish you all a healthy, happy and safe New Year, and look forward to seeing the spirit of volunteerism even stronger amongst the amateur radio community, as we use our knowledge and experience to be of assistance to our fellow South Africans. Thank you to all our volunteers who give selflessly of their time, with the surreptitious knowledge that their hobby is more fun when they do!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa, and looking forward to serving you again in 2024.

HAMNET Report 24th December 2023

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all those for whom this time of year is very special, a very happy festive season, no matter your faith. May your time spent with loved ones be memorable, and your relaxation complete.

If you are on holiday, and driving, please take extra special care, because you have no idea what the state of mind of the oncoming driver is. Drive carefully and defensively, and arrive alive, as the saying goes.

GDACS reports on the earthquake of magnitude 5.9 at a depth of 10 km which occurred in Gansu Province in China on 18th December at 15.59 UTC. The epicentre was located approximately 37 km west-northwest of Linxia Chengguanzhen and 100 km south-west of Lanzhou City, the capital and the largest city of Gansu Province.

At least four aftershocks of magnitude between 4.2 and 4.6 have been recorded in the area. USGS PAGER estimates that up to 117,000 people were exposed to very strong shaking and up to 158,000 to strong shaking.

National authorities are in the field with rescue and emergency operations. At least 4,000 firefighters, soldiers, and police officers were dispatched in the rescue efforts.

According to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, as of 20th December, at least 127 people died, of whom 113 were in the Gansu Province and 14 more across the Qinghai Province. In addition, media also report more than 700 injured people and approximately 5,000 damaged buildings across both the affected provinces.

Meanwhile, there have been tropical cyclones affecting parts of Australia and Philippines, flooding in India and KZN (in the Dundee area), severe weather in eastern states of the USA, and floods and flood warnings reported for Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and the UK. So weather extremes continue to affect the globe. It appears that dramatic weather has no regard for holiday seasons amongst mankind.

And, as I write this, the air in Cape Town is heavy with the smell of burnt fynbos, and the sky takes on an orange hue from the extensive fire which is still burning above Simonstown and beyond to Glencairn . The Southeaster has been accentuated by the up-currents of hot air from the fires, resulting in the rapid spread of the fire in the deep south of the Peninsula. As you probably know, fynbos needs regular fires to remove ragged old bush, and allow the germination of new flora, so all is not lost, but the speed of spread of the fire has been very alarming.

GDACS notes that more than 300 firefighters have been involved, of whom 7 have been injured, and at least 96 families have been evacuated from their homes in one area. By Friday, an area of 1430 hectares had already been burnt in the fire.

Now here’s some space age technology for you. Interestingengineering.com says that Rydberg Technologies Inc., a leading company in Rydberg quantum technologies and radio frequency (RF) quantum sensing, has announced the successful demonstration of the world’s first long-range radio communications using an atomic quantum sensor with their small size weight and power (SWaP) atomic receiver. This demonstration, Rydberg Technologies announces, took place at the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) C5ISR Centre Network Modernization Experiment 2023 (NetModX23) event, which serves as a proving ground for next-generation technologies for communications and intelligence.

An atomic quantum sensor is a highly advanced type of sensor that utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics. It specifically uses the properties of atoms in quantum states to measure physical quantities with exceptional precision and accuracy.

Atomic quantum sensors have a wide range of applications, including fundamental physics research, navigation systems such as advanced versions of gyroscopes, geological surveying for measuring gravitational variations, medical imaging, and more. They are particularly useful in environments where traditional electronic sensors might fail or be less effective.

Rydberg Technologies has developed atomic quantum sensors that utilize something called “Rydberg atoms.” These atoms are excited to extremely high energy levels, which makes them incredibly sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Rydberg Technologies explains that this sensitivity is particularly beneficial for communication and electromagnetic field sensing applications.

“The Rydberg atomic receiver device exhibited unparalleled sensitivity across the high-frequency (HF) to super high-frequency (SHF) bands and demonstrated over-the-air atomic RF communication at long range,” Rydberg Technologies said in a press release. “This historic demonstration occurred in an operationally relevant environment, with the atomic receiver setting new industry standards in size, performance, and environmental resilience for Rydberg atom quantum sensors,” they added.

Rydberg atomic receivers are a new type of receiver with several unique features. They are highly sensitive and selective and can cover a wide range of frequencies using a single atomic detector element. These devices can significantly change RF surveillance, safety, communications, and networking capabilities from long-wavelength RF to millimetre-wave and THz bands.

The technology demonstrated signal selectivity, low detection probability, and immunity to interference in contested electromagnetic environments. The successful deployment of this technology in real-world conditions, as noted by Rydberg, indicates a significant step forward in transitioning quantum technologies from laboratory settings to practical applications.

Thank you to interestingengineering.com for those excerpts from their report. I wonder how tiny our handheld radios will become if we start using a Rydberg Atom to sense the electromagnetic radiation from a distant transmitter. Dick Tracy’s wrist-watch radio will well and truly become real!

In a similar area of communications experiment, jpl.nasa.gov says that NASA succeeded in sending ultra-high definition streaming video on 11th December from the satellite Psyche, a record-setting 31 million kilometres away. The milestone is part of a NASA technology demonstration aimed at streaming very high-bandwidth video and other data from deep space – enabling future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

The demo transmitted the 15-second test video via a cutting-edge instrument called a flight laser transceiver. The video signal took 101 seconds to reach Earth, sent at the system’s maximum bit rate of 267 megabits per second (Mbps). Capable of sending and receiving near-infrared signals, the instrument beamed an encoded near-infrared laser to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, where it was downloaded. Each frame from the looping video was then sent “live” to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the video was played in real time.

Uploaded before launch, the short ultra-high definition video features an orange tabby cat named Taters, the pet of a JPL employee, chasing a laser pointer, with overlaid graphics. The graphics illustrate several features from the tech demo, such as Psyche’s orbital path, Palomar’s telescope dome, and technical information about the laser and its data bit rate. Tater’s heart rate, colour, and breed are also on display.

Do bear in mind, it is only about 120 years ago, that Marconi and his pals were battling to get an RF signal from England to Newfoundland!

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

HAMNET Report 17th December 2023

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, he of HAMNET KZN has sent me a report of the Upper Highway Trail Marathon held last Saturday. He says:

“Saturday 9th December, HAMNET KZN once again partnered with S.T.A.R.T Rescue to assist with communications for this annual event. S.T.A.R.T (Specialised Tactical Accident Rescue Team) consists of Netcare 911, Rescuetech, K9 Search & Rescue and their Horse Unit. 10 HAMNET KZN members were deployed, 2 of whom are active members of the S.T.A.R.T Rescue team.

“A Joint Operations Centre (JOC) was established at the beautiful finish venue of Camp Orchards in Hillcrest that was manned by Provincial Director Keith Lowes ZS5WFD for HAMNET and Justin Wright ZS5JW for the S.T.A.R.T team members.  HAMNET made use of the Highway Amateur Radio Club’s 145.7625 repeater situated in Kloof which gave excellent coverage of the whole route taking runners through 7 nature conservancies, 6 river eco-systems, 3 waterfalls and some of the most beautiful trails in the area.

“111 runners started the 42Km race at 05H30 with 5 Water Points, whilst 400 runners started the 17Km event at 06H00 with 2 Water Points en route.

“Weather conditions were ideal with cloud, overcast conditions and light rain for the duration. I am pleased to report that there were no serious medical emergencies.

“This was our final sporting event for the year, [so] thank you to my HAMNET KZN team for their dedication and loyal support during the year. You may take a well-earned break with your families but please remain vigilant and be available should a call for HAMNET’s assistance be received during the festive period.”

Thank you for the report Keith, congratulations to the KZN team on your regular and efficient handling of sporting events; and congratulations to you too, on a recent birthday. Hope you have many more like it!

On Friday morning the 15th of December, an unexpected HAMNET simulated emergency exercise was launched. At 06h30 that morning, local time, HAMNET National Director Grant ZS6GS released a report that an imaginary earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale had struck South Africa at 04h35 that morning.

Widespread destruction had ensued, leading to chaos and multiple injuries. HAMNET operators were to “survey the area” they were currently in and report to the “local authorities” via a central Operations Station. If no Ops Centre was available, they and anyone else on air were tasked to establish one.

All central operations stations were required to relay the reports to the National Coordination Centre.

Local repeaters for local Central Ops stations were to be used, with backup by HF, or digital modes such as Winlink, JS8Call, or VarAC; but DMR, IRLP or Echolink were forbidden, because the internet had failed during the exercise.

HAMNET’s current emergency frequency bandplans were to be employed.

Imaginary situations were to be created, including numbers of injured, damage to major structures or infrastructure in their area, as well as requirements for support. Strategic buildings such as hospitals and police stations were to be included, and a report compiled to be sent via radio to another operator or control station, using the IARU Region 1 messaging format for messages.

On all occasions, radio transmissions were to include the fact that this was an exercise and that no action was required.

After their stint was over, and the exercise closed, operators were to email their participation to the National Directorate, for reconciliation between messages sent and those received.

In the Western Cape, the Disaster Control Centre station at the Disaster Risk Management centre in Goodwood ZS1DCC was activated by 07h00 by ZS1MJT, who then fielded reports from a variety of suburbs, mostly on VHF FM frequencies, but also including APRS monitoring, with message handling as well.

By about 10h30, the chatter in Div 1 had died down, and Michael ZS1MJT collected the messages received, and closed down the control station.

It will be interesting to hear what activity took place in other divisions, and how religiously HAMNET members stuck to the script.

Thanks to Grant ZS6GS for choreographing the exercise. I sure hope we never do have an 8.7 magnitude earthquake in our land!

Now, how many of you believe, like me, that doctors are useless communicators? In interviews with patients who had seen other professionals, I was often astonished at how little the patients had been told by their doctors.

Reporting from the Boston School of Medicine, medicalxpress.com says that teaching is an integral communication skill central to the practice of medicine. The art of teaching extends beyond disseminating information. The skill directly translates to health provider-patient communication, the success of which is positively correlated with improved patient outcomes.

“Teaching is a large part of medicine—patient education is critical to providing high-quality patient-centred care. Education helps patients understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of their treatments and allows them to be better participants in their own care and in shared decision making,” said author Susan White, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

In an effort to foster near-peer inter-professional teaching and teamwork, the school has developed a curriculum using medical students as teaching assistants, called Educational Fellows, to work with students studying to become physician assistants (PA’s).

“Our Educational Fellows curriculum allows medical students to learn the art of teaching (pedagogy) and learning theory and to practice what they had learned in working with PA students in the classroom,” explains White, who also is director of the Physician Assistant program at the school. “We expect that the Educational Fellow experience will make those medical students better prepared for patient education.”

White and her colleagues present their experiences and lessons learned from establishing this program that 1) introduces select medical students to PA students in the context of a near-peer teaching framework during pre-clinical training; 2) trains the medical students in best practices of teaching and learning; and 3) provides an additional source of instructors for introductory science courses.

White believes the program could be modified for other training programs that use peer-peer or near-peer teaching for tutoring or as teaching assistants.

For example, PA students might work with students in nursing or physical therapy to provide tutoring or assistance in a lab setting, or Ph.D. graduate students might be teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. She hopes that all graduate-level programs in medicine will adopt the curriculum better to prepare their graduates to teach and educate their patients, whether it be bedside nurses teaching patients home care skills, or surgeons explaining a complex procedure.

Well, HAMNET members are skilled communicators. I’m sure we could teach doctors a thing or two.

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

HAMANET Report 10th December 2023

Reliefweb.int has reported that after a long period of drought, heavy rainfall hit the countries in the Horn of Africa in October and November 2023. The arid soil could not absorb the water, resulting in devastating floods in many areas.

The floods in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan have been particularly destructive. The people of East Africa waited in vain for the rainy season for several years, before the climate phenomenon El Niño brought abundant rainfall. The floods are a typical consequence of long periods of drought: The water cannot soak into the completely dried-out upper layers of the earth and eventually runs off in sometimes torrential streams. Weather forecasts predict even more rain in the coming weeks, meaning further flooding is expected.

In Somalia, over 450,000 people have left their homes and fled to higher ground. Two hundred and forty thousand people have evacuated in Ethiopia, and 150,000 in Kenya, where over 100 people have died. In the entire region between Sudan and Tanzania, over 3.1 million people have been affected by the disaster in one way or another.

The damage is enormous: in Kenya alone, the water has drowned over 2,000 farm animals and flooded large areas of agricultural land. There is **limited access to drinking water and **food, and many people have lost all their household items and valuables, making it a challenge to meet even the basic needs of those forced to evacuate. There is a risk of disease outbreaks. Members of vulnerable groups need accommodation and access to essential services.

There is an 80% probability that the effects of El Niño will last until at least May 2024. These effects could mean that those who have evacuated cannot return to their homes and earn a living for a long time. The last El Niño phenomenon in 2019 brought flooding and landslides, it affected 330,000 people in Kenya alone and 160,000 of them had to leave their homes. That number of people has almost already been reached again this year, after just a few weeks.

GDACS has been reporting since Tuesday this week on a new tropical storm named MICHAUNG which formed over the western Bay of Bengal on 3 December very early in the morning (UTC) and started moving north-west toward central-eastern India. On 4 December at 6.00 UTC its centre was located over the sea approximately 85 km east of the border between Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh States, with maximum sustained winds of 102 km/h as a tropical storm.

On the forecast track, MICHAUNG was forecast to make landfall over the area of coastal City of Nizampatnam, central-northern Andra Pradesh State on 5 December very early in the afternoon (UTC), with maximum sustained winds up to 92 km/h.

Over the following 48 hours, very heavy rainfall and strong winds were forecast over the northern Tamil Nadu and the whole Andra Pradesh States. Storm surges were also forecast over the central and northern coastal Andra Pradesh State.

According to media reports, at least 16 people died in Tamil Nadu State due to severe weather-related incidents, as heavy rains affected Chennai and surrounding areas. In Andra Pradesh State, authorities evacuated over 9,000 people to 236 relief camps in eight coastal districts and were preparing to evacuate 28,000 others.

Hamsci.org has reported that Dr. Nathaniel Frissell W2NAF, Lead Organizer for HamSCI and assistant professor of Physics and Engineering at the University of Scranton, has announced that its latest paper, “Heliophysics and Amateur Radio: Citizen Science Collaborations For Atmospheric, Ionospheric, And Space Physics Research And Operations,” has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Astronomy and Space Science*.

The paper reviews the history of amateur radio and science back to 1912, with the greatest emphasis on results that have emerged in the last decade. Dr. Frissell stressed the importance of this work by noting “This paper is the result of expanding and combining two white papers submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) 2024-2033, which helps the United States to establish research priorities for the next ten years. As such, this paper not only reviews past results, but also provides recommendations for amateur radio – professional science collaborations in the future from both technical and community-building perspectives.”

*Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences is a multidisciplinary journal that unravels the mysteries of the universe and explores planetary science and extragalactic astronomy in all wavelengths.

Yesterday, the 9th of December was an interesting day for those of you, who have wondered about comets, or who know what happened in 1911 or 1986. Those were the years in which the most famous comet of them all, Halley’s comet, came closest to earth as it swung by the son on its 75 year orbit. When close to the son a comet travels very fast and leaves a long dust tail that can be visible.

When a comet swings out away from the son, it slows down, and reaches its furthest point, called its aphelion very slowly. Well, yesterday Halley reached aphelion, 37 years after perihelion, and now starts the long trek back to swing past the son in the year 2061.

Because its dust tail gets less as it leaves the son, it becomes less and less visible, and was last seen in the Very Large Telescope in 2003 as a magnitude +28 object. That is frightfully dim.

A very clever chap born near Stuttgart in Germany in the middle fifteen hundreds, called Johannes Kepler, published his three laws of planetary motion, which are still valid today to calculate why Halley is where it is, between 1609 and 1619. It is astonishing that such intense mathematical ability was already available even before Isaac Newton was born. The equations are very complex for idiots like me!

HAMNET National Director Grant Southey ZS6GS has sent a note of greetings and thanks to his regional deputies as the year winds down.

He thanks them all for the hard work and dedication shown during the year, and expresses gratitude for the work done to make HAMNET a better organization. While wishing all a pleasant break, he reminds them that disasters and incidents do not have holidays, so all need to be ready always and prepared for any eventuality that may arise.

On behalf of the general HAMNET membership, I’d like to thank Grant for continuing to steer the ship in a forward direction, and greet him and all the regional staff on your behalf.

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

HAMNET Report 3rd December 2023

Commercial air crews are reporting something “unthinkable” in the skies above the Middle East.

Brian Jacobs, ZS6YZ, our Deputy National Hamnet Director drew my attention to an article by Matthew Gault in vice.com, which notes that novel “spoofing” attacks have caused navigation systems to fail in dozens of incidents since September. 

In late September, multiple commercial flights near Iran went astray after navigation systems went blind. The planes first received spoofed GPS signals, meaning signals designed to fool planes’ systems into thinking they are flying miles away from their real location. One of the aircraft almost flew into Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, air crews discussing the problem online have said it’s only gotten worse, and experts are racing to establish who is behind it.

OPSGROUP, an international group of pilots and flight technicians, sounded the alarm about the incidents in September and began to collect data to share with its members and the public. According to OPSGROUP, multiple commercial aircraft in the Middle Eastern region have lost the ability to navigate after receiving spoofed navigation signals for months. And it’s not just GPS — fall-back navigation systems are also corrupted, resulting in total failure.

According to OPSGROUP, the activity is centred in three regions: Baghdad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv. They have tracked more than 50 incidents in the last five weeks, the group said in a November update, and identified three new and distinct kinds of navigation spoofing incidents, with two arising since the initial reports in September. 

While GPS spoofing is not new, the specific vector of these new attacks was previously “unthinkable,” according to OPSGROUP, which described them as exposing a “fundamental flaw in avionics design.” The spoofing corrupts the Inertial Reference System, a piece of equipment often described as the “brain” of an aircraft that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other tech to help planes navigate. One expert Motherboard spoke to said this was “highly significant.” 

“This immediately sounds unthinkable,” OPSGROUP said in its public post about the incidents. “The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance— especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened.”

Thanks for the interesting, if worrying, report, Brian.

Danie ZS1OSS, of HAMNET Western Cape has reported on the latest City of Cape Town/Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant disaster exercise which was held last Thursday the 29th at the Disaster Risk Management Centre in Goodwood. He notes that HAMNET is always present as an observer, noting how things pan out, learning where the communications weakness might be, and ready to provide amateur radio ideas to aid communications during the exercise, or in a real disaster. Danie was joined by Ian ZS1BR as HAMNET representatives, monitoring the “action” and the associated communications. It turned out not to be necessary to activate our radio room upstairs in the building during the exercise. Thanks for the report, Danie.

Writing in Science News, Jake Beuhler says that nesting chinstrap penguins take nodding off to the extreme. The birds briefly dip into a slumber many thousands of times per day, sleeping for only seconds at a time. 

The penguins’ breeding colonies are noisy and stressful places, and threats from predatory birds and aggressive neighbouring penguins are unrelenting. The extremely disjointed sleep schedule may help the penguins to protect their young while still getting enough shut-eye, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Science

The findings add to evidence “that avian sleep can be very different from the sleep of land mammals,” says UCLA neuroscientist Jerome Siegel

Nearly a decade ago, behavioural ecologist Won Young Lee of the Korea Polar Research Institute in Incheon noticed something peculiar about how chinstrap penguins nesting on Antarctica’s King George Island were sleeping. They would seemingly doze off for very short periods of time in their cacophonous colonies. Then in 2018, Lee learned about frigate birds’ ability to steal sleep while airborne on days-long flights. 

Lee teamed up with sleep ecophysiologist Paul-Antoine Libourel of the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre in France and other researchers to investigate the penguins’ sleep. In 2019, the team studied the daily sleep patterns of 14 nesting chinstrap penguins using data loggers mounted on the birds’ backs. The devices had electrodes surgically implanted into the penguins’ brains for measuring brain activity. Other instruments on the data loggers recorded the animals’ movements and location.

Nesting chinstrap penguins grab seconds of sleep at a time, perhaps so they can stay alert enough to defend chicks and eggs from predators, and to ward off aggressive neighbour penguins. Nesting penguins had incredibly fragmented sleep patterns, taking over 600 “microsleeps” an hour, and each averaging only four seconds, the researchers found. At times, the penguins slept with only half of their brain; the other half stayed awake. Altogether, the oodles of snoozes added up, providing over 11 hours of sleep for each brain hemisphere across more than 10,000 brief sleeps each day. 

Some marine mammals and other types of birds have strange or restricted sleep patterns too, often when staying alert is important. Dolphins can sleep with half their brain at a time, letting them remain vigilant for over two weeks straight. To stay wary of predators, mallard ducks can sleep with one half of their brain at a time too, and elephant seals dramatically reduce their sleeping hours while out at sea. But the sheer number of microsleeps seen in chinstrap penguins is unprecedented among animals, Lee says.

“It seems that the penguins do not have any time where they decrease their vigilance,” Libourel says. “just a slight increase of microsleep-bout length around noon.”

The sleep pattern may help the penguins balance the brain’s need for rest with the demands of nesting. Predatory birds like brown skuas patrol penguin colonies looking to plunder undefended eggs and chicks. “Penguin parents should be vigilant all the time during breeding to keep their offspring safe,” Lee says. There’s also constant commotion and noise in the colony disrupting sleep. Such extremely interrupted sleep may reflect the penguins’ flexibility in handling the stressors of raising chicks.

The many micronaps did appear to be at least partially restorative to their brains, since the studied penguins were able to function well enough both to survive and successfully raise their chicks. It’s unclear if the penguins’ sleep pattern changes after the breeding season.

“Sleep seems to be very diverse and flexible among species,” Lee says. “I believe that there are still many things unrevealed about animal sleep. By studying their sleep behaviour, we can understand how animals have evolved to achieve brain restoration.”

Hmm – 10000 micronaps a day, he says. I think my sleep pattern during interminable Varsity lectures was much the same!

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