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Like ‘human hair in the ocean’: Why ham radio still has an enduring appeal

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As many as 1,500 people in Newfoundland and Labrador are amateur radio operators. (Paul Colbourne)

Larry Horlick still marvels when he thinks about what happens when he turns on his ham radio.

“I’m taking my voice and that radio is converting it into an electrical signal and the amount of electrical energy that he is receiving is so minuscule,” said Horlick, a Coley’s Point resident who is one of a group of radio enthusiasts in Conception Bay North.

“It is like a human hair in an ocean and that fascinates me to this day.”

Amateur radio was around for nearly a century before the internet, and to this day is the only form of communication that does not depend on a network.

David Parsons first got the bug for amateur radio when he received a pair of walkie-talkies as a child. (Paul Colbourne/CBC)

Even in a world of smartphones, Facebook and texting, ham radio still holds a mystique for many people. More than two million people around the world still use the technology. Of the estimated 40,000 users in Canada, as many as 1,500 live in Newfoundland and Labrador.

An amateur radio user can connect with anyone practically around the world. The only countries that do not allow amateur radio operators are North Korea and Yemen.

The legacy, and appeal, of Marconi

If amateur radio has a prophet, it surely would be Guglielmo Marconi, the communications pioneer who in proved — in St. John’s — that radio waves follow the curvature of the Earth by bouncing off the ionosphere.

No longer did telegraph wires or “ground waves” bind communication. Now it was possible to talk to anyone in the world who also had a transmitter and receiver.

“When other hams discover you are from Newfoundland, they want to know about Signal Hill,” said Horlick, referring to the place where Marconi received a wireless transmission in December 1901.

Guglielmo Marconi proved that radio waves follow the curvature of the Earth.

Carbonear ham radio operator David Parsons agreed the allure is strong with colleagues.

“A friend of mine visited me last year and that is one of the things he had to do — go to Signal Hill and see where it all started,” Parsons said.

Right in the middle of the action

Geographically, Newfoundland is in the centre of a lot of amateur radio activity, because it happens to be between Europe and the rest of North America.

“We’re centrally located — you’ve got everything all around us here,” Parsons said, pointing to a screen to see which parts of the world are likely to be reachable. “It’s a really good spot for radio.”

For many enthusiasts, amateur radio is a hobby.  They log their daily “QSOs,” or contacts. While talking to other people around the world, they exchange weather, call signs or other information.

There are contests on who can make the most contacts over a certain amount of time. Some even talk to astronauts on the International Space Station.

Amateur radio operators like Parsons have made contacts around the world, including this station in Norway. (Submitted by Torgeir Strisland)

However, this hobby has a serious side as well.  In the event of natural disasters or other emergencies — when more conventional forms of communication go down — amateur radio operators are called on to help.

In the summer of 2017, for example, damage to  fibre optic cables meant that internet and phone services failed in much of Atlantic Canada.

Parsons and other amateur operators helped keep communications open. They were on alert to help ambulances and other emergency personnel locate people in distress or to just relay information from one station to another.

After an earthquake struck Nepal, amateur radio operators relayed requests for help around the world. (Omar Havana/Getty)

The incident proved that a communications system that gets taken for granted can be vulnerable.

“The internet, the world wide web, is just that. It’s a web of interconnected signals that are transmitted by satellite,” said Parsons, adding that the chance of failure becomes greater as the world becomes more interconnected with Wi-Fi, satellites and cellular towers.

A simple form of communications

The beauty of amateur radio is its simplicity: one radio talking to another.

“All you need is a power source, a transceiver and an antenna,” said Parsons. “Power can be in the form of a car battery, a gas power generator or solar panels.”

Parsons has also helped out with other cases farther from home.

During the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Parsons helped relay radio traffic from Israel and sent it to stations in the United States.

Parsons points to a screen showing which parts of Earth are covered in sunlight. The information can help determine where signals can most easily travel. (Paul Colbourne/CBC)

Parsons and Horlick both belong to BARK — the Baccalieu Amateur Radio Klub — which operates in the Conception Bay north area. The club holds an annual field day every year where about a dozen local operators use only generated power to make contact with hundreds of other operators worldwide.

The Society of Newfoundland Amateur Radio — or SORNA — is another organization that is trying to recruit new members through education and community outreach.

Becoming an amateur radio operator, though, it is not as simple as buying the equipment. After all, a ham radio is capable of operating in the commercial radio spectrum, where ships and air traffic controls operate.

Parsons operates his ham radio. (Paul Colbourne/CBC)

Operators require a licence, and the licensing process is a verification of your skill.  

“You really got to know what you are doing, so you do not interfere with their operations,” said Horlick. “That could be very dangerous.”

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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