HAMNET Report 25th July 2021

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination System is reporting on two tropical Cyclones threatening Japan and China this week.

Tropical Cyclone CEMPAKA, with wind speeds up to 140km/h was active in the North West Pacific, threatening more than 2 million people along the coast of China on Thursday. Twelve deaths had been reported and 100 000 people displaced in Zhengzhou City. The highest rainfall since record-keeping began, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region, caused two dams to collapse, affecting 16000 people.

This cyclone is causing heavy rains in the Northern half of the Philippines too. Adding to their misery, they weathered a magnitude 6.8 earthquake along their Western coastline on Friday at about 11pm our time. It occurred at a depth of 100km, but exposed nearly 13 million people to injury within a 100km radius. It comes as no surprise then that their prominent Taal volcano is at alert level 3, defined as “restive magmatic activities”, and that the volcano area measured 95 volcano earthquake activities on Friday. Nearly 15000 people have had to move away and take shelter elsewhere.

And Tropical Cyclone IN-FA, with wind speeds up to 176 km/h was bearing down on Japan and thereafter the coast of China, threatening 11.5 million people at much the same time. Red warnings were issued for high waves and moderate rainfall in the Ryukyu Islands in Southern Japan.

Severe weather was also reported in Pakistan and India, where monsoon rains caused flash floods, casualties and damage, as well as in Iran, where heavy rainfall has been experienced in the last week, causing flash flooding, casualties and damage to buildings. Search and rescue operations are ongoing. The same is true of the Indonesian part of the Island of Borneo, where 27000 people were affected, and 15000 buildings damaged by heavy rainfall since the 13th July, with more rain still to come.

And this is all over and above the devastation across Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland in the last week. The missing people of Germany are not all accounted for yet.

Meanwhile South Africa has had its coldest spell this winter so far, with 19 low temperature records in parts of the country surpassed on Thursday and Friday nights. You asked for snow this winter? You’ve got it!

The National Weather Service in the US plans to communicate the severity and potential impacts from severe thunderstorm wind and hail better by adding a “damage threat” tag to Severe Thunderstorm Warnings starting on July 28th, 2021. Severe Thunderstorms deemed “destructive” will activate a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on smartphones, says Spencer Denton, writing in Action News 5.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area. Wireless providers primarily use cell broadcast technology for WEA message delivery. WEA is a partnership among FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless providers to enhance public safety.

WEAs can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service. WEAs are messages that warn the public of an impending natural or human-made disaster. The messages are short and can provide immediate, life-saving information.

HAMNET members in South Africa were treated to a very interesting lecture on a virtual platform, given by Peter Myers, of SmithMyersCommunications in Scotland, on Wednesday evening. Mr Myers described their “Artemis” system, which allows rescuers to poll any or specific cell phones that may be in a search area, and pinpoint their position, either by using their GPS transmissions, or by triangulation. Radio equipment installed in Leonardo rescue helicopters acts like a cell tower, which is recognized by cell phones of unresponsive victims after an accident or natural disaster, and responded to automatically by the cell phone. These pings trigger the system in the helicopter, which progressively narrows down the search area as it flies within 35km of the phone, until searchlights or infra-red cameras on the helicopter can spot the victim.

The system in the helicopter is used where there are few or no cell phone towers in the search area. In an urban area, there are enough cell towers usually to be able to pinpoint the location of a victim and his phone by triangulation without assistance.

So your smartphone will become your rescue aid, even if you are unable to speak to use it, for whatever reason, and this kind of technology, in an ideal world, should be fitted to all search and rescue aircraft initially and perhaps to sea rescue craft too.

The equipment shown in the lecture fits inside a medium Pelican case, and needs external antennas in the cell phone frequency bands.

Thank you to Ian ZS1OSK and Michael ZS1MJT for facilitating this talk on a virtual platform for us.

Those of you with the letters “CW” for Continuous Wave, or Morse Code, embossed on your hearts will be happy to hear that the Indian Express newspaper reports Police in Pune are keeping Morse code as a robust stand-by communications mode.

The report says that in the era of satellite communication, which involves transmitting signals into space and back, and internet based systems transferring gigabytes of data in a flash, police have kept alive the age-old system of Morse Code – a primitive but effective method of sending messages in the form of dots and dashes.

Every Sunday, an operator with Pune Police’s wireless wing sends a Morse Code message to the office of the Director General of Police, Maharashtra. While this is their way of paying tribute to one of the earliest modes of telecommunication, it is primarily a way of maintaining a robust stand-by mode of message delivery in case all other means of communication fail.

Pune City police have recently started a series of tweets featuring the communication systems used by the police and their evolution till date. On Sunday, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta tweeted, “As an ode to the beginning of wireless communications, the Commissioner’s Office still uses Morse Code to transmit Messages every Sunday.”

This is news that gives one a good feeling, in a world and country full of drama, weather and illness. To borrow an expression: “May the Morse be with you!”

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

HAMNET Report 18th July 2021

India and Europe have both suffered severe rain storms this week, with flooding, destruction of houses, and some loss of life.

In India, on 12-13th July, heavy rain caused floods, mudslides and landslides in Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand (northern India), resulting in casualties.

In Himachal Pradesh, the Indian Disaster Management Division (NDMIndia) reports three fatalities, and up to eight people missing after a number of landslides occurred in Boh Valley and Kangra District. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing as national disaster response teams have been mobilized to the area. In addition, several houses have been damaged by floodwaters of the Manjhi River in Dharamshala City.

On 14-16th July, heavy to very heavy rain was forecast over Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Greg Mossop G0DUB IARU Region One EmComm Coordinator has reported that unprecedented heavy rain caused widespread flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with over 120 deaths and hundreds more people unaccounted for. The rains which started on Wednesday caused rivers to burst their banks and the water converged into major rivers like the Meuse, Mosel and Rhine causing damage to bridges and other infrastructure such as power and telecommunications networks.

The Dutch Amateur Radio Emergency Service (DARES) was on standby from Wednesday evening as the first reports of flooding came in, with an initial attempt to establish a point to point link from the Provincial capital of Maastricht to the north of Limburg province; this was halted due to heavy traffic as citizens followed calls to evacuate low lying areas. DARES members were in contact with members of the Belgian Emergency Amateur Radio Service (B-EARS) to co-operate and co-ordinate their work.

The European Civil Protection mechanism was activated and emergency groups across the region reported their Governments sending extra assistance and supplies to the areas where damage was worst. The surge in flood water was continuing to make its way North leading to further evacuations and the Radio Amateur Emergency groups started to get more focused requests with B-EARS being asked to provide a backup VHF link between the emergency call centre in Brussels and the province of Hainaut through Friday while DARES had four stations active in the Limburg area ready to respond if an issue occurred.

The most loss of life and damage has occurred in Germany where over 1000 people remain unaccounted for and the loss of mobile networks has slowed the effort to locate people while many others are without power or homes. The emergency communications unit of the DARC is handling enquiries for amateur radio support in the worst hit areas but this is not always easy to achieve as members in the area have been directly affected losing equipment or their homes.

Emergency communications groups in the affected, and surrounding countries, are ready to respond to requests made and are working well together, co-ordinating their response as needed. This emergency will last for some time as infrastructure is repaired and the threat from damaged dams and more rainfall is reducing.

In the light of this week’s civil unrest in this country, it is appropriate to mention that, over the past three decades, there has been significant growth in the body of research into the effects of relative overexposure to news, particularly negative news. And the past 18 months since the onset of the Covid pandemic, as well as varying levels of civil unrest have resulted in further studies looking at that impact in an era where society has even more exposure, due to a combination of the 24-hour television news cycle, and the doom-scrolling of news and images on social media.

According to one such study, published in November 2020, authored by professors from the Universities of Arkansas and Purdue in the US,  “psychological distress may impede a person’s ability to cope with the many life changes Covid-19 has required, such as fewer social interactions and physical distancing or quarantining. Additionally, work productivity or caregiving needs may be neglected when psychological distress is present… there is also a need to empirically examine the social conditions relating to the pandemic, such as increased news coverage and news consumption that may be related to increased psychological distress.”

They continue: “During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective.” Admittedly, there is no denying that such advice may bear resonance only for those who are not directly affected. A regular exercise and sleep routine is not a simple matter for residents living in townships and suburbs that are directly affected by violence and looting.

However, beyond the thought-out articles published by reputable news sources, the studies suggest that it is important to develop a personal strategy with regards to the consumption of the constant loop of violent imagery, especially on social media. Perhaps as per the World Health Organization’s guideline on Covid related news, “seek information only from trusted sources…Seek information updates at specific times [only] during the day, once or twice.”

Thank you to Malibongwe Tyilo and Maverick Life for these excerpts from his article.

Finally, according to Phys.org on Friday, the Hubble Space Telescope should be back in action soon, following a tricky, remote repair job by NASA.

The orbiting observatory went dark in mid-June, with all astronomical viewing halted.

NASA initially suspected a 1980s-era computer as the source of the problem. But after the backup payload computer also failed, flight controllers at Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Centre focused on the science instruments’ bigger and more encompassing command and data unit, installed by spacewalking astronauts in 2009.

Engineers successfully switched back to the previous backup equipment on Thursday, and the crucial payload computer kicked in. NASA said on Friday that science observations should resume quickly, if everything goes well.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.5 million observations of the universe. NASA launched five repair missions to the telescope during the space shuttle program. The final tune-up was in 2009.

NASA plans to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, by year’s end.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency.

I wonder how many people know who James Webb was..

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

HAMNET Report 11th July 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Australia’s ABC News has an excellent article on the benefits of amateur radio in old age – which says:

[Amateur Radio] comes with all the benefits of social media but without ‘any of the downsides’ — and one of Australia’s oldest ham radio enthusiasts says it is also the perfect hobby for retirees looking to stay mentally sharp.

West Australian-based Norman Gomm took to ham radio over forty years ago and now aged 82 has no intention of signing off just yet.

As one of Australia’s estimated 10,500 licensed ham radio operators, Mr Gomm is also the president of the Bunbury Radio Club. He says it is rare that a day goes by without him spending at least a couple of hours in his purpose-built ‘ham shack’.

“I find it’s very good for me,” Mr Gomm told the ABC amid a dazzling display of flashing lights and crackling radio static. “I’m 82 years of age and you need to keep your mind working actively all the time,” he said.

“Ham radio requires a lot of cognitive skills and a lot of understanding technology, so I find that’s very good for keeping me active.”

Operating under the call sign of Victor Kilo Six Golf Oscar Mike, Mr Gomm is able to converse with fellow ham radio enthusiasts “in just about any country on earth” depending on the time of day using an internationally recognised phonetic alphabet.

“We’re bound by regulation not to say naughty things over the radio waves. and we have a code of conduct which makes us behave relatively politely to each other,” Mr Gomm said. “It’s just a general ethic among ham radio people that you behave well to each other. “So it’s got all the plusses of social media and none of the downsides.”

And the topic mostly discussed among ham radio operators? “The weather mainly,” Mr Gomm said, with a dry laugh.

“On the international frequencies, the conversation tends to be a bit limited so we stick to topics like the weather and discussing equipment, but the thrill of it lies in making contact with someone on the other side of the planet.”

Thanks to Graham VK4BB for that information.

For those of you obsessed, like me, with time and its progression, ScienceNews reports this week that an atomic clock that could transform deep-space travel has successfully completed its first test run in space.

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock, which launched on a satellite in June 2019, outperformed all other clocks in space during its first year in orbit around Earth. The clock, DSAC for short, was at least 10 times more stable than clocks on GPS satellites, which makes it reliable enough for futuristic space navigation schemes, researchers report online June 30th in Nature.

To navigate the solar system today, space probes listen for signals from antennas on Earth and then bounce those signals back. Ultraprecise, refrigerator-sized atomic clocks on the ground measure that round trip time — which can take hours — to pinpoint a spacecraft’s location.

A future spacecraft carrying a toaster oven–sized DSAC could simply measure how long it takes a signal from Earth to arrive and calculate its own position. Untethering deep-space navigation from Earth could someday enable self-driving spaceships or GPS-like navigation systems on other planets.

DSAC is so stable because it keeps time using electrically charged atoms, or ions, rather than neutral atoms, says Eric Burt, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Bottling ions within electric fields prevents those atoms from bumping into the walls of their container. Such interactions cause the neutral atoms in GPS satellite clocks to lose their rhythm.

By comparing DSAC with the U.S. Naval Observatory’s hydrogen maser “master clock” on the ground, the researchers found that the space clock drifted about 26 picoseconds, or trillionths of a second, over the course of a day. That’s comparable to ground-based atomic clocks currently used for deep-space navigation, says DSAC principal investigator Todd Ely, also at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Reporting on how science museums reinvented themselves to survive the pandemic, Emily Anthes says that, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spiral out of control in March 2020, science museums around the world were abruptly forced to close. In a matter of days, ticket revenue vanished. “It was an existential crisis,” says Christofer Nelson, president and CEO of the Association of Science and Technology Centres, or ASTC, in Washington, D.C. “The fundamental business, operational, staffing, and community service model of these organizations just went away overnight. And the question was ‘What do we do next?’ ”

The weeks and months that followed were excruciatingly difficult for science museums, which lost more than $600 million in revenue in just the first six months of the pandemic, the ASTC estimates. Many museums and science centres were forced to adopt deep cost-cutting measures; some laying off more than half of their employees.

Few science museums had substantial endowments to pull from, so they scrambled for support. They launched new campaigns for donations, applied for government loans and sought grants and support from community organizations or corporations.

As they tried to make ends meet, they also realized they had to reinvent their programmes if they wanted to survive. Over the last year, they have launched a diverse array of exhibits and offerings that are not tied to their physical buildings, and they have helped educate the public about COVID-19. Some museums have even found creative ways to meet serious community needs, providing everything from child care to fresh food.

Along the way, these institutions have redefined what modern science museums can be and how they engage with the world beyond their walls. Though many museums are in various phases of reopening, their experience over the last year may leave a lasting legacy.

Emily goes on to describe a wide variety of ways in which museums have taken themselves to the public, rather than the other way round, in an effort to keep themselves relevant, and to guarantee a future, a future when we hope there will be no more levels of lockdown and social isolation.

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

HAMNET Report 4th July 2021

We’ve heard again from Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director for HAMNET KZN, who tells me that 12 Hamnet KZN members provided communications from key vantage points along the coast for the 46Km Scottburgh to Brighton Sand and Surf Marathon on 26th June 2021, which saw 52 Single ski’s, 34 Doubles, 1 Triple and 48 runners taking part.

Race Control was situated at the QTH of Steve ZS5SH overlooking the beach, and operated by Duncan ZS5DGR and Jitesh ZS5JM.  Keith ZS5WFD was based at the finish at Brighton Beach.

Weather conditions were absolutely perfect with a moderate South Westerly and manageable surf conditions.  The South Coast had been in the grip of the sardine run with sharks having been sighted close inshore at Amanzimtoti the previous day, but fortunately no problems were encountered during the race.

Communications were maintained between positions on 145.550 MHz Simplex and no problems were encountered on 2 metres.

Eight Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB’s) accompanying the various batches of ski’s had vhf portables on S.A. Lifesaving’s commercial frequency which proved to be a challenge, what with engine noise, batteries not holding charge and limited range, to the extent that we only managed to establish contact with 4 of them.  This will be addressed before next year’s event.

Troy ZS5TWJ at Toti main beach encountered some problems with local law enforcement and had to make hurried arrangements to obtain a beach permit, or his vehicle was going to be fined and towed.  Fortunately, this was resolved.  Due to changing surf conditions the compulsory check in was waived as skis were being smashed when trying to re-launch, so keeping a tally proved difficult. Troy also noted that a number of competitors who had checked in were not on the original organisers race sheet.  This was of concern to us as it could have resulted in a possible search being launched for competitors who were “unaccounted for”.

All’s well that ends well and Keith was pleased to report that all competitors were reconciled against those that had actually started, withdrawals, and those that finished.

Keith conveys his thanks to the members that gave of their time to assist.  He notes that, with the country back to Level 4 Lockdown, it may be some time until their next event!

Thanks for the report Keith. You were lucky to get that race in before lockdown.

The ARRL letter of Thursday July the 1st notes that the massive Duga-1 antenna array that transmitted the obnoxious and infuriating “Russian Woodpecker” HF signal from the 1970s until the late 1980s is now a cultural heritage site. The array, located near Chernobyl in Ukraine, was part of an over-the-horizon radar (OTH-R) system designed to detect and offer early warning of incoming ballistic missiles from the US. A complementary receiver site was located some 40 miles away. While the system was operating, its broad rat-a-tat signal, typically at a 10 Hz rate, caused severe interference in the amateur bands. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and the end of the Cold War preceded the end of the system and the interference it caused. NATO military intelligence discovered and photographed the structure, which it dubbed “Steel Yard.”

Nearly 2,300 feet long and more than 450 feet tall, the steel beams of the radar array are in the Chernobyl exclusion zone and tower above the surrounding forest. Seen from a distance, it appears to be a massive wall or the start of a cage. As Vice recently reported, the Association of Chernobyl Tour Operators was the first to announce that Ukraine had made Duga-1 a protected heritage site. The Russian Interfax news service later reported the official designation.

“Our heritage is not only the area around the power plant but also the buildings located on its territory,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, said in a Telegram thread about the announcement. “So now we are working on identifying other objects that should be part of the list of monuments. Our goal is to prevent destruction where possible.”

The Soviet Union deployed two similar OTH-R installations — known as Duga-1 and Duga-2 — this one near Chernobyl and the other in eastern Siberia. Transmitter power levels were rumoured to be in the 10-megawatt EIRP range.

Duga-1 was the focus of a 2015 documentary, The Russian Woodpecker, by Chad Gracia. The film includes interviews with Duga Commander Vladimir Musiets and others involved in building and operating the OTH-R system. The production was a 2015 Sundance Film Festival winner in the documentary category.

Mention of Chernobyl reminds me of the unintended wild boar/pig experiment, which has taken place in Fukushima, after the area was evacuated of humans after the Japanese Earthquake and resultant tsunami drowned two nuclear reactors, causing them to release their radioactivity into the environment.

Donovan Anderson, a researcher at Fukushima University in Japan says that his genetic study of the wild boar that roam in an area largely abandoned after Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster, has revealed how the animals have thrived.

Using DNA samples, he discovered that the boar have bred with domestic pigs that escaped from farms.  This has created wild pig-boar hybrids that now inhabit the zone. “While the radiation hasn’t caused a genetic effect, the invasive domestic pig species has,” Mr Anderson explained.

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings B, paint a biological picture from a vast experiment that was caused by a nuclear disaster. The scientists used DNA to track the legacy of the event on the landscape – finding out what happens to wild animals in a radiation-contaminated area that is suddenly deserted by humans and, at the same time, invaded by domestic livestock.

Examining the DNA of the wild boar and escaped domestic pigs showed that what researchers called a “biological invasion” could be seen in the boar’s genes.

It also revealed that those domestic pig genes have been gradually “diluted” over time. “I think the pigs were not able to survive in the wild, but the boar thrived in the abandoned towns – because they’re so robust,” explained Donovan Anderson.

So, he said, while the evacuated area was the origin of this hybridisation, or cross-breeding, the hybrid pigs then go on to breed with wild boar.

This confirms yet again that, if you leave nature to its own devices, it gets on with smoothing out genetic discrepancies, and allows the fittest to survive.

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

HAMNET Report 27th June 2021

Severe weather has been battering large parts of the globe this week, mostly in the form of floods. India and Pakistan have both seen heavy rains and flooding in their northern regions, New Zealand was struck by a tornado last Saturday, France experienced heavy rain on Monday, Poland experienced heavy rain, as did Guatemala, flood warnings were issued for Belgium, Czech Republic and Romania, and Tropical Storm Claudette battered Southern and Eastern American states last weekend. At least 14 people died in Alabama, and many injuries were reported.

Meanwhile Southern Hungary and Southern Italy were warned to expect extreme high temperatures, and California experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever measured there.

Then, on Thursday the Czech Republic was struck by the worst tornado experienced since 2001, pummeling the Breclav and Hodonin districts. At least 5 fatalities were reported, more than 200 injured, many of them requiring hospitalization. Major parts of some villages were levelled to the ground, and about 120 000 people left without electrical power.

The long-tracked supercell storm destroyed numerous roofs from several hundred buildings between the Breclav and Hodonin districts, as well as uprooting trees and overturning cars. The worst-hit areas along the tornado path were reported looking like a war zone.

According to the meteorologist speaking on Czech TV, this tornado was the strongest in the Czech Republic’s history. The estimated intensity likely reached the F3-F4 scale. That means that winds could have reached between 267 and 322 km/h. Besides the tornado, very large hailstones up to the size of tennis balls struck several towns and villages including Hodonin.

Local rescue teams were receiving help from neighbouring Austria and Slovakia.

I received an email from a HAMNET member who wishes to remain anonymous who reports that, on the 2nd of June 2021 at approximately 22:00, a distress message was broadcast on a local security WhatsApp group, in Sedgefield, Southern Cape. A house was burning in Sedgefield and all initial attempts to contact the local fire brigade telephonically had failed.

Due to load-shedding and a UPS failure, the fire department’s telephone system was down. A local HAM attempted to contact the fire brigade via the fire-brigade’s VHF repeater. Unfortunately the repeater was also down due to the power-supply failure. Being situated at a somewhat elevated location, the HAM finally succeeded in making contact by reversing the repeater offset on his rig, thereby transmitting on the repeater’s output frequency.

It was established that the fire brigade was at that time busy extinguishing another fire in a home on the opposite side of town. Available vehicles were swiftly diverted to the house fire across town. The fire vehicles were still unable to communicate amongst each other. Therefore the HAM continued to relay messages between the different vehicles until all fire resources had arrived at the house-fire, the first fire having been successfully extinguished.

The improvised method of communication was not without challenges though. The individual vehicle’s operators talked over each other, as they naturally could not hear each other’s transmissions. With some patience, all critical information was however successfully relayed. Apparently only one room in the house was burnt out.

Thank you to our HAMNET friend for that report.

Phys.org is reporting that damage to Sri Lanka’s marine environment from a sinking chemical ship is worse than feared, officials said on Friday, as more dead turtles, dolphins and whales washed up on the island’s beaches.

As of Thursday, 130 marine animals have been found dead on the Indian Ocean’s beaches since the MV X-Press caught fire last month before partially sinking off the coast after two weeks ablaze.

Sri Lanka’s government believes the animals were killed by the hundreds of tonnes of chemicals and plastics leaking from the ship.

“At least six turtle carcasses washed up along the western coast on Thursday alone,” a wildlife official told AFP.

He said they had also received the first report of a shoal of reef fish dying at Hikkaduwa, a southern tourist resort area known for its rich coral reefs.

“So far we have collected the carcasses of 115 turtles, 15 dolphins and five whales,” the official said, asking not to be named.

They include a blue whale carcass found off the northern Jaffna peninsula, about 400 kilometres north of Colombo, last week. Officials are awaiting the results of forensic reports, he said.

The Singapore-registered ship was known to be carrying 81 containers of hazardous chemicals, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, when it caught fire.

Around 1,200 tonnes of tiny plastic pellets and other debris that blanketed beaches have been scooped up and are being stored in 45 shipping containers.

Sri Lanka is seeking $40 million in damages from the ship’s operators X-Press Feeders. Local police have launched a criminal probe against the ship’s captain, chief engineer, chief officer as well as its local agent. Environmentalists are also suing the government and the owners for allegedly failing to prevent the disaster.

For the music lovers amongst you missing the pleasures of an orchestral concert as a result of the pandemic, Phys.org also reports that a team of researchers at the University of Utah Salt Lake City has found, via simulation, that it is possible to rearrange musicians playing wind instruments in an orchestra to reduce the spread of disease-laden aerosols. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes simulations they ran that showed airflow patterns during orchestral performances and what they found.

To learn more about the flow of air and the aerosols in it during orchestral performances, the researchers gathered data from prior experiments showing how air moves after being expelled from different instruments. This data was put into an air movement simulation, along with other parameters, such as ventilation for the given venue.

The team then began tinkering with the seating arrangements and discovered that by making certain changes they could reduce the viral load in the air where the musicians were playing. They found, for example, that putting percussionists closer to the centre of the group and those playing wind instruments around the fringes—and as close as possible to air vents—they could dramatically reduce the spread of aerosols. In studying the data, they found that the new seating arrangement reduced concentrations of virtual viral loads by a factor of 100.

In essence then, if you must blow your own trumpet, please go and blow it somewhere nearer the window!

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

HAMNET REPORT 20th June 2021

First of all, a grand Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. I hope you are spoiled no more and no less than you spoiled your wives on Mother’s Day! Enjoy being with your families!

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, HAMNET Regional Director for KZN, has sent me a report of the 70.3 Ironman Event held in Durban’s beachfront area on the 6th of June. He says he “had a team of 7 Hamnet KZN members who assisted with communications for the event. Race control was manned by Keith ZS5WFD and Deon ZS5DD based at Pirates Lifesaving Club in front of Suncoast Casino complex opposite the old Natal Command building.  Due to Covid-19 restrictions the number of participants was only 830, which was considerably lower than the 3000 from 2019. The event was therefore categorized as “Low Risk”.

“The event consisted of a 1,9Km swim at uShaka Beach, two laps of the bike stage along the M4 Ruth First highway out to Umdloti and back which made 90.1Km, then a leisurely run of 2 laps along the promenade between New Beach and Blue Lagoon covering 21.1Km.

“Communications were maintained on 145.550 Simplex and the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club Repeater and I am pleased to report that there were no serious incidents.

“It felt really good to be out and about doing what we enjoy!!” said Keith.

Thanks for that Keith. I’m glad you were able to squeeze that in before the effect of the COVID-19 third wave began to be felt. I expect it will be a while now before we all get to help at similar events.

With America’s vaccination programme proceeding smoothly, and the number of cases not climbing from the India Coronavirus variant as much as in Europe, American Hams are gearing up for their Field Day exercise which takes place next weekend the 26th and 27th of June. Obviously distancing and exposure rules will be followed, but at least the number of amateurs on the air will increase, so look out for unexpected DX next weekend.

The ARRL Letter of June the 16th reports that on May 31, the ARES LAX (Los Angeles, California) Northeast District conducted its fifth Saturday Exercise – dubbed SatEx and themed “Return of the Operators” – which was deemed a “smashing success.” Assistant District Emergency Coordinator for the Hollywood district, David Ahrendts, KK6DA, was credited with devising a challenging exercise scenario that included deteriorating conditions and focused on building an ad hoc network of stations for the response.

The exercise began with a simulated earthquake at 08h30. Participating stations sent DYFI (Did You Feel It) reports to the US Geological Survey (USGS) and welfare messages to their out-of-state contacts through HF and VHF gateways. Stations were encouraged to use the K6YZF-11 VARA FM digipeater to connect to Winlink hybrid RF/email gateways AJ7C, W6BI and K6IRF.

At 09h00 the hospital net commenced operation on the southern California Disaster Amateur Radio Network (DARN) and stations with digital traffic were directed to ARES 501 (local designation for an emergency simplex frequency) to pass hospital traffic to the Medical Alert Centre (MAC). No infrastructure digipeaters were to be used, simulating deteriorating conditions post-event. In an ironic twist, life imitated exercise with conditions actually deteriorating on the 2-meter band after 09h00. However, without skipping a beat, stations affected asked for relays, and digipeater operators and other stations offered to act as relays and digipeaters. Their training kicked in and stations overcame adverse conditions effectively.

Hospital stations sent a list of check-ins, Hospital Status Assessments, Resource Requests, and check-outs using Winlink. Beaconed Hospital Service Levels using APRS were transmitted to the MAC station during the exercise. The MAC station responded with acknowledgements and replies containing simulated approvals and ETAs for resources requested. In some cases the traffic was sent directly to the MAC; in others, stations coordinated digipeats of messages through other hospital stations.

Reports were received of problems encountered during the exercise.

  • Powering stations remainrd an ongoing challenge. Solar panels and high capacity batteries paired with low current draw devices proved effective remedies for some stations.
  • Location. While some hospital stations enjoyed rooftop access, others had to operate at street level, often surrounded by buildings. It was impressive how the latter stations overcame their location challenges through creativity and teamwork. Digipeating through other hospital stations, for example, proved an effective remedy.
  • Antenna height and location. Several stations commented on field antenna height and/or location as challenges at their sites. Mitigation suggestions from those stations included trying different deployment systems, relocating antennas and trying directional antennas going forward

Successes evident from the exercise:

  • Operators are well trained and displayed excellent esprit de corps.
  • Traffic handling was effective in spite of challenging conditions.
  • Regular training and practice prior to the exercise helped overcome in-the-field challenges during the exercise.
  • Operators acted in calm, collected, professional manners and worked well together as a team.
  • Even without infrastructure, stations were able to pass traffic, building an ad hoc network of hospital stations.

Thanks to the ARRL for the story of this successful exercise.

Here’s a happy story of new technology helping a legally blind radio operator, Ben Murray KD8JBS, see with 20/20 vision.

Ben wears an eSight device, which resembles virtual reality goggles. The technology uses a camera to process an image in real time. The image is then re-processed through some algorithms in the glasses and then presented back to the user on two OLED screens in front of his eyes, and he can zoom up to 24x and adjust contrast.

As a radio amateur, Murray’s favourite activities incorporate a public service bent. “I enjoy hamfests and Volunteer Examiner testing sessions. I’m the VE liaison for Williams County, Ohio, and I’m the Emergency Coordinator,” he told ARRL. “I also enjoy public service activities such as festivals and parades where they include amateur radio [for] communications.”

Murray has been a ham since 2008. He upgraded to Amateur Extra class in 2012.

Clearly there’s a lot of technology built in to the headband he wears around his head with the OLED screens perched just above the centre point of his eyes, so he can see both the eSight screens, and below them for nearby awareness.

Thanks to this week’s ARRL Letter for that story.

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

HAMNET Report 13th June 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that a new report by two Canadian researchers is highlighting the growing hazard of space debris. It warns that the new mega-constellations of tens of thousands of communication satellites could pose a new kind of danger that could ultimately threaten other satellites, astronauts, our ability to use space and could even have an impact on the climate.

Recently, that uncontrolled fall from space of a large Chinese rocket booster gained worldwide attention as no one could predict where it would come crashing to Earth. Fortunately, it came down in the Indian Ocean and no one was injured.

That was just one booster.

The amount of stuff from satellites, discarded boosters and other debris in Earth orbit is huge. And this new report warns that with projects like the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation, the issue of space debris could approach a critical turning point.

In the light of that, it came as bad news that Fraser Cain, writing in Universe Today, notes that a piece of space flotsam was discovered to have hit the Canadarm2 Robotic arm on the ISS. Fortunately the damage was to the arm boom and its thermal blanket, and doesn’t seem to have affected its operation at all – a lucky break indeed. These bits of debris can be travelling at the speed of a bullet on earth, and have no difficulty in causing a penetrating injury to their target. The ISS is lucky to have escaped any major injuries so far.

In clever use of drone technology, the international ResponDrone project has integrated into its situation awareness system for emergency situations a near real-time 3D mapping solution to provide on-site emergency teams with tools that will help them better to evaluate their working environment.

The upgraded ResponDrone System will provide accurate location information to first responders, especially in relation to infrastructure, when called on to deal with a fire, flood or any other natural disaster.

ResponDrone has signed an agreement with Hivemapper to integrate its latest crowdsourced mapping technology. The ResponDrone System can now fly a mission over an area, process the collected data and turn it into an up-to-date 3D map. This is in line with the modular approach ResponDrone has adopted in the design of its platform, allowing easy expansion of the platform using state-of-the-art technology and giving first responders access to those tools.

“The need to provide precision 3D mapping to rescue teams as fast as possible has been identified by ResponDrone as a key capability toward attaining its goal of maximizing situation awareness for first responders,” said ResponDrone project coordinator Max Friedrich of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“If an ambulance driver uses an outdated map to arrive at the scene of an accident, or a firefighting crew can’t get to the scene of the forest fire as roads have been blocked due to falling trees as a result of the wildfire, the results could be fatal.”

By using Hivemapper technology, ResponDrone will serve the needs of emergency services by providing the teams on the ground with the highly focused and updated situational awareness they need.

The broader community will benefit from the updated mapping data as the impact of natural disasters will be reflected in the mapping app in near real time, which might otherwise have taken years to feature on traditional mapping platforms.

Thanks to techxplore.com for that report.

Continuing the theme of clever drone usage, here’s a heart-warming story of a drone pilot, who realised he could put an infrared camera, a spotlight and a 180 x zoom lens on his drone, and use it to search for missing animals, or animals stranded by bad weather or fires.

Professional drone pilot Douglas Thron has, since 2018, rescued critters from fires in California and Australia, floods in Louisiana, and other disasters anywhere they’ve struck. He told TreeHugger.com the Australian inferno produced multiple forms of hell – including 20-hour work days.

Thron said “It was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them.”

Thron works with individuals and associations that care for the scores of rescued animals he locates. But whenever he can, he goes the extra search-and-rescue mile to find their owners – enabling what are invariably joyous and boundlessly relieved reunions.

“It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because, frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death”, he said.

There is apparently a trailer dedicated to this man’s rescues, called appropriately “Doug to the Rescue”. View it on the channel “Curiosity Stream” on YouTube

Finally, China has released a picture this week of a selfie taken of its Tianwen-1 lander and its Zhurong Rover together on Mars. Apparently, included in the lander system is a remote camera, which Zhurong went and placed a little way away from Tianwen-1, and then went back to park next to Tianwen-1, so that the remote camera could take the picture. And Zhurong, with its solar panels unfurled like wings and its own cameras and presumably lasers installed on a head-like projection above the rover, looks a bit like a baby duck shaking its wings and trying to fly. More than one person on FaceBook has wished they had a pet that looked like Zhurong!

Look for “Zhurong and Tainwen-1 selfie” on google – I’m sure you’ll agree with them.

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

HAMNET Report 6th June 2021

As forecast, the central Eastern Cape, Lesotho and the Drakensberg received a fair amount of snow this week. High ground around Barkly East, Rhodes and Tiffindell in the Eastern Cape, and Bethlehem, Warden, Reitz and Harrismith in the Free State were to be well blanketed, and possibly areas around Newcastle in KZN and Volksrust in Mpumalanga.

Travelers are advised to take plenty of warm cover and protective clothing, and also be well stocked with food and liquids in case they get stuck along their routes, as driving in snow, even if light, is very challenging, and it is easy to lose control of a vehicle and end up in a ditch.

The whole country is experiencing cold nights, except perhaps the KZN coastline, but typical Western Cape rains haven’t really started yet. Days are balmy and still, and autumn sunsets are spectacular in Cape Town.

All radio amateurs are asked to have their radios on, monitoring or scanning their local repeaters, and keeping an ear on 3760 KHz, 7110 KHz, and 14.300 MHz, for emergency traffic. Please be available to help your fellow South African.

Brian Jacobs ZS6YZ, HAMNET Deputy National Director, has sent me an interesting tale from Division six. He reports that flying is a very dangerous hobby, even more so if you need to fly and there’s interference on the radio frequency you have to use to communicate with other pilots in the same flying area.

This happened in the Special Rules Area East in the Gauteng area where 125.400 MHz had a constant carrier that made it very dangerous and basically unusable.

This was a big concern as this frequency is used over a great area, from the south of Johannesburg to the north of Pretoria and from O.R.Tambo Airport all the way to Bronkhorstspruit in the east.

On the 7th of April 2021 HAMNET Gauteng was made aware of the situation,  and they immediately offered the skills of Team Interdiction (this being a code name for the HAMNET Gauteng interference specialist team) to locate the source of the interference.

Seventeen members of HAMNET Gauteng joined the hunt. Every night the teams went out to locate the source. About 60 man hours were spent.

Leon ZS6LMG got a strong signal close to O.R.Tambo airport cargo area and asked ICASA to assist (as HAMNET does not have the power to enter premises and has to rely on the goodwill of people to open if asked).

ICASA came out and started looking for this signal source and found that the signal origin was not at the airport but more to the west. On Friday the 16th Henry ZS6IIX used a 7 element UHF Yagi and a USRP SDR from his home and got a bearing of the source. He then used a 3 element Yagi just to confirm that the signal was not a reflection off a building or any other structures.

The signal was coming from the North West.

On Saturday at the HAMNET meeting he suggested that somebody close to the Magaliesberg area be asked to drive out there and see if the signal was coming from that side. Awie ZS6AVI, staying in the Randburg area, volunteered to drive out that way on Monday before going to work and there he found a very very strong signal at Hekpoort School (even with the antenna removed from his mobile radio).

On Wednesday Henry ZS6IIX drove out to Hekpoort armed with a R&S FH3 Spectrum Analyser, a USRP SDR, a 100 dBm attenuator, a Dell Laptop and other odds and ends. He did a RF simulation and found the source to up the mountain. He and Leon informed ICASA, whose inspector confirmed the location and contacted the owners of the site.

It turned out that the interference was caused by an Airband transmitter whose PTT locked on after load shedding and the generator had kicked in. The owners went out and switched off the transmitter.

Brian notes that the strong signal on a high site caught a lot of interference experts out, and that Team Interdiction is adjusting its protocols for engaging strong signal interference.

On behalf of HAMNET Gauteng, Brian thanks all the pilots and aviation personnel that gave feedback on the areas of interference. Special thanks are due to the ARCC Chief for collating the pilot reports and feeding it to Team Interdiction.

And thank you Brian for that welcome report from Gauteng, compiled by Henry Rood ZS6IIX. My apologies for not listing the names and call signs of all seventeen HAMNET members involved.

The amateur radio fraternity as well as the radio astronomy fraternity has lost a giant of a man, with the passing, at age 95, of Emeritus Professor Gordon Pettengill, W1OUN. He was the former Professor of planetary physics and former director of the MIT Centre for Space Research, and a great pioneer in radio astronomy.

Pettengill pioneered the use of radar for planetary astronomy applications, making ground-breaking observations of the moon, the inner planets, and other solar system objects. His work was instrumental in the development of multiple NASA missions including the Apollo moon missions and the Mariner 2, Pioneer, and Magellan missions to Venus.

Interested in matters electronic since the age of six, he acquired his amateur licence in his teens, but his studies in Physics at MIT were interrupted by
World War 2. He finally finished his Ph.D in high-energy physics in 1955.

He returned to MIT just as a special government-funded experimental missile-tracking radar system was being built there, and with it, he made break-through observations in the developing field of radio astronomy. He aimed the system at Venus, and measured its distance by radar, recalibrating the astronomical unit by three orders of magnitude. He was able to generate a 2D radar map of the moon, used by NASA to plan future Apollo landings.

In 1963, he moved and eventually became director of the new Aricebo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. He helped with the installation of the powerful radar transmitter used to measure Mercury’s period of rotation, and also described surface properties of several asteroids and comet nuclei.

There were not many awards he did not win, but he retired in 1995, and pursued his hobbies of ham radio and bird-watching. Quaintly, he is quoted as being survived by his wife, two children, two grand-daughters, and an asteroid named 3831 Pettengill!

Not many of us will be able to boast something like that.

Thanks to MIT News for this abbreviated version of his obituary.

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

HAMNET Report 30th May 2021

India is in the wars again. They are now experiencing a second Tropical Cylone, Cyclone YAAS-21, this one moving northwards in the Bay of Bengal, and striking India close to the Border with Bangladesh.

It came ashore over the northern coast of Odisha on 26th May, with flooding also in West Bengal, closing airports and forcing cancellation of train services. At least 22000 houses were damaged, 15000 people displaced, some deaths reported, and continuing heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for all the northeastern states of India. Ten million people were in the path of the storm and its peripheral wind and rain.

YAAS forced the evacuation of more than 1.2 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.

The Indian Meteorological Department said landfall began around 9:00 am (0330 GMT) and warned that it would generate waves higher than rooftops in some areas. Coastal areas experienced wind gusts up to 155 kilometres an hour and pounding rain.

“We have been experiencing heavy rainfall and strong winds since last night,” said Bibhu Prasad Panda, a resident of Balasore district in the storm’s path. “Several trees have been uprooted. The cyclone has also led to snapping of overhead electricity cables.”

A tornado that preceded the storm left two dead electrocuted as it tore through West Bengal’s Hooghly district, authorities said. Kolkata, West Bengal’s main city, ordered its international airport to shut down for most of Wednesday. The airport in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, followed suit.

“Every life is precious,” said Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik as he appealed for people not to “panic” and to move away from the coast.

A record 4,800 disaster workers had been positioned in the two states, equipped with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force said.

It just doesn’t stop for the unfortunate Indian nation.

Here’s an interesting bit of research. The website Phys.org reports that adverse encounters between police officers and young men from underrepresented backgrounds garner significant national attention around topics of social justice and have been called a matter of public health by several organizations. Now, with a new, four-year, $2.75 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, an interdisciplinary team of researchers aims to examine transcripts of police radio communications to observe what happens during these encounters and study any patterns of interaction that may lead to unfortunate or tragic outcomes.

“We’re hoping to identify signals in language, such as vocabulary and discourse, that suggest an encounter between a law enforcement officer and a male minority youth will take a turn for the worse,” said Shomir Wilson, assistant professor in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology. “Language conveys a lot of information about a person’s frame of mind, their actions, their mood and their level of comfort.”

Working with experts in human development from the University of Chicago, Wilson will lead a Penn State team to use natural language processing to draw insights from Chicago-area police scanner transcripts at a large scale. His team will also carefully examine the privacy ramifications of police communications by radio in general and the dataset specifically.

“Law enforcement officers frequently use their radios to report what they encounter, and they use a combination of standard jargon and freeform language to quickly describe situations,” said Wilson. “We want to go beyond the literal descriptions and try to infer what police are thinking and assuming during encounters. If we can do that, it’s a step toward identifying strategies that will de-escalate adverse encounters.”

The interdisciplinary project will combine research in natural language processing, computational social science, and privacy. Penn State’s contribution will include developing automated methods to sort through a large volume of transcripts, using supervised and unsupervised machine learning to explore the transcripts, and studying how incidents are structured to be able to identify distinguishing characteristics in language that may predict incident outcomes. The Penn State team will also identify potentially sensitive data and determine the best approach for sharing it with the research community while also protecting the identities of those involved.

I wonder whether it would be possible to extrapolate this kind of research to a country with 11 separate languages. In that it is quite possible that the law enforcement officer’s mother tongue is different from that of the suspected perpetrator of an illegal deed, the likelihood is high that nor the officer nor the civilian will understand nuances in the other’s use of language, and misunderstanding is highly likely. But if it raises awareness in the minds of the trained forces as to what they may be intimating while interacting with their “suspects”, it will be all to the good, and unnecessary violence may be avoided.

The ARRL Letter of May 27th reports that HamSCI is looking for radio amateurs to record time-standard stations during the June 2021 annular solar eclipse across the Arctic Circle as part of a citizen science experiment. Researchers will use the crowd-sourced data to investigate the superimposed effects of auroral particle precipitation and the eclipse on HF Doppler shift.

Participants would collect data using an HF radio connected to a computer running open-source software. A precision frequency standard, such as a GPS-disciplined oscillator, is desirable but not required to participate. Radio amateurs and shortwave listeners around the globe are invited to take part, even stations far from the path of totality. Last year’s eclipse festivals included more than 100 participants from 45 countries.

The experiment will run June 7 – 12. All participants will receive certificates as well as updates as the data is processed. This is a pilot experiment for HamSCI’s Personal Space Weather Station project, which seeks to develop a global network monitoring the geospace environment

This eclipse will be an unusual annular or “ring of fire” eclipse. This occurs when the moon is too far from Earth to fully block the sun, but will fit entirely within it. The eclipse path will cross over the North Pole, so it first will travel north and then south.

The HamSCI convenors encourage anybody from any part of the globe to go to their website, and download the software to use with their HF radio, because eclipse effects on HF don’t only occur in the path of the eclipse, and careful observation may reveal unexpected worldwide effects.

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

HAMNET Report 23rd May 2021

I’m sure that you, like me have been stunned this week to hear of the large number of civilian casualties incurred in this week’s hostilities between Israel and fighters operating out of Gaza. It is appalling to realize that it is impossible for two enemy forces, no matter which side you support, to engage with each other, without placing the lives and possessions of local civilians in jeopardy.

We have witnessed physical damage to buildings, roads and vehicles, heard reports of civilian men women and children being killed in collateral damage inflicted, and learned that hundreds of thousands of local populace have been displaced or had their homes destroyed during the offensives.

Let us hope that the flimsy cease-fire that went into effect midnight on Thursday can be made to last.

On the other side of the globe, GDACS has reported at least three major earthquakes in China since midday Friday, local time. The first was a Magnitude 6 quake at a depth of 10km very close to the Myanmar border, at 13h48 local time. There was limited public danger as a result of this one. A minute or so later a Magnitude 6.1 shock at the same epicenter, close to the Myanmar border was experienced. Population exposed this time was 423000, because the Richter scale is a logarithmic scale, and a decimal point in magnitude makes for a much stronger quake. The third quake was even stronger, a magnitude 7.4 version at 18h00 on Friday, but in a less densely populated area, and not threatening as many people.

At the time of compiling this bulletin, news of casualties had not filtered through, and I sincerely hope there weren’t any.

And, remarking on the double disaster in India this week, a blogger writing in the Times of India notes that Cyclone Tuaktae of the week was similar to Cyclone Amphan which hit Bengal last year. In both cases, disruptions were huge, but worse this time around, because of the huge Covid surge, with Cyclone Tauktae seriously disrupting operations at Covid hospitals that already have a high patient load, disrupting oxygen supply logistics, hitting vaccine cold storage, and raising the risk of Covid infection in evacuation shelters in the affected states.

In such a scenario, Central Disaster Relief has assured all help to the cyclone-hit states, including deployment of central forces and NDRF teams. This is welcome and all necessary assistance should be made available. However, over the long term, our disaster response systems need to be prepared to operate in multi-crises situations. For Covid may not be the last pandemic we see in our lifetimes with zoonotic diseases on the rise. Same is the case with climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters. Therefore, appropriate Standard Operating Procedures need to be developed to manage natural disasters in pandemic situations and other multi-crises events. The lessons from this pandemic period must not be forgotten.

The competitive swimmers amongst you will be interested to know that a one-way communications system has been developed so that coaches may talk to their swimmers while they’re in the water, without having to shout to be heard.

The Sonr system is designed to address that problem, using one-way radio communications. Invented by swimmer and entrepreneur Dmitri Voloshin, Sonr is manufactured by Moldovan company Simpal.

The system consists of two parts – a walkie-talkie held by the coach, and a waterproof bone conduction speaker/receiver worn by the swimmer. The latter device is slightly buoyant – so it will float if it comes off – and can be worn either under a swimming cap or clipped to the wearer’s goggles strap.

In order to provide the swimmer with feedback or instructions, the coach simply speaks into the walkie-talkie, with his/her voice being transmitted to the athlete’s receiver in real time. The system has a lateral range of 300 metres, plus its signal can travel up to 1 metre underwater.

Additionally, by selecting different frequencies, one coach can speak to as many as 30 swimmers at once. That said, they can still select any one of those people – or small sub-groups of them – and talk to them individually. The system can also be set to act as a metronome, providing audio signals that help swimmers time the pace of their strokes.

Thanks to NewAtlas for that information. The technique is so obvious that I’m having difficulty understanding why someone hasn’t thought of the idea before! I don’t know whether it can be used during a sports competition, but I expect the instructions would have to be encrypted to prevent other competitors from benefitting from opponent’s communications, if that were the case.

The annual American National Hurricane Centre station on-the-air test will be held on Saturday, May 29, 13h00 – 21h00 UTC. The WX4NHC operators plan to be working remotely again this year as the National Hurricane Centre plans to maintain all CDC COVID-19 pandemic protocols until the end of 2021. The yearly exercise takes place just ahead of the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, June 1 – November 30. Assistant WX4NHC Coordinator Julio Ripoll, WD4R, said the event offers an opportunity for radio amateurs worldwide to exercise the sorts of communication capabilities available during severe weather.

“We will be making brief contacts on many frequencies and modes, and exchanging signal reports and basic weather data (sun, rain, temperature, etc.) with any station in any location,” Ripoll said.

Participating stations may use HF, VHF, UHF, APRS, and Winlink, with WX4NHC HF activity centring on the Hurricane Watch Net frequencies of 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz, depending on propagation, and will operate elsewhere as conditions dictate. WX4NHC will also participate in the VoIP Hurricane Net, 20h00 – 21h00 UTC.

As for the upcoming hurricane season, Ripoll said, “Even if you are not directly affected by a hurricane situation, please volunteer to monitor and relay reports; just one report can make a difference and help save a life!”

Thank you to the ARRL letter for May the 20th for this insert.

May I end with an impassioned plea to all who are eligible, to register to be vaccinated against COVID as soon as possible? This disease is not going to go away until a majority of about 70% of us have either had it or been vaccinated against it.

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