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I asked this one:

How can I know over what distance or at what speed I can communicate?

and it was closed as "too broad". However: this was not closed:

What bands and modes will give me voice at 3,000 miles?

The only difference, I'd argue, is that the latter question specifies some details that are insufficient to answer the question. The answers are the same: you can't know.

When people ask "Is [PROPAGATION SCENARIO] possible?" without specifying relevant parameters such as:

  • path loss
  • transmitter power
  • antenna gain

Then the answers all follow this form:

Your question is unanswerable. Now, let me just say some unfocused things about radio.

These answers are almost arbitrary. Look at some of the statements made in response to that question:

For straight distance it's hard to beat digital or CW

You probably want to be able to use digital modes.

you need a satellite phone

20m is the best band

You could set up an Elecraft K-line station (500 Watts), plus a tower and a beam for maybe $10K

you'll want a huge yagi antenna on a large tower

I would say 20M is the best band to aim for.

you need high power, high gain antennas for several bands, and several years of intensive practice

your best bet is probably 40 m.

These statements are a combination of:

  • general advice where the question might as well have been "How do I make contacts easier?"
    • you'll want a huge yagi antenna on a large tower
  • folklore, opinion, or partial truth without good explanation or references, often contradictory:
    • 20m is the best band
    • your best bet is probably 40 m.
    • 80m and 40m have even more potential for long distance.

They are, in my opinion, pretty useless. Notably, none of the questions have actually discussed HF propagation in any depth. A couple have flirted with the concept of critical frequency, but that's it. None have mentioned any real HF modeling tools, or cited any references. There's not even a single link in all the answers. The closest we get to sources are "G5RV" and the names of a few digital modes.

Therefore, I propose a new off-topic close reason:

Questions on what propagation scenarios are possible must include or ask specifically about relevant parameters such as path loss, detection sensitivity, and transmit power. Without this information, objective answers are not possible. For more information, please see the help center.

The help center can then explain why these questions are impossible to answer, and give pointers to the information that would help one ask a useful question (Friis transmission equation, Shannon's law, ...)


Addendum:

Shortly after I wrote this, "voice at 3,000 miles" got another answer, despite already having an accepted answer, and being over three weeks old. It doesn't really add any new information but one more arbitrary suggestion: "find a local club. Find some used gear."

I think this further underscores why this sort of thing needs to be closed. This isn't the high-quality Q&A unique to the StackExchange format: it's an undirected discussion on HF operation. The question to any of these answers is more like "How do I get started on HF?" I'd hope that everyone will agree such a question is too broad, and I think any question that asks the same thing in different words should likewise be closed.

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I think these can effectively be closed under other categories, and don't really require a specific close reason to address. Those should be reserved for something that there is a large number of questions that fall under the category.

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  • $\begingroup$ Then why aren't they closed? $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 22 '14 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ I would leave it to deciding if the questions should be on topic. The decision about a custom close listing should come only after their on topic status has been decided. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Feb 22 '14 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ There are several questions that are some variation on this theme. Just look over propagation and antenna. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 22 '14 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ That deciding is what's happening right now. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 22 '14 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost "Then why aren't they closed" - because no one closed them. Just because something is closable doesn't mean it's going to get closed 100% of the time until someone brings it up, especially in a small SE. $\endgroup$ – Amber Feb 27 '14 at 4:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Amber they get closed exactly 0% of the times I've observed, and I'm bringing it up now. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 27 '14 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost Then your observations are suffering from confirmation bias, because there have certainly been closed posts of that nature. $\endgroup$ – Amber Feb 27 '14 at 4:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Amber perhaps you can elaborate in meta.ham.stackexchange.com/questions/168/… $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 27 '14 at 12:08
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I think that this meta question, while it certainly might have merit, is approaching the issue from the wrong direction.

As PearsonArtPhoto points out, we'd first need to decide whether questions on the form "how do I communicate over X distance using ham radio?" should be off-topic. I'd argue that, as long as they are reasonably focused, they should be on topic. If they aren't focused, then they would be candidates for closing as "too broad" or "unclear what you are asking". Requiring a newcomer to amateur radio to specify the path loss when they want to know whether they'll be able to talk to their friend using their 144 MHz HT does not make for a very welcoming atmosphere; remember, we want to cater both to newcomers as well as to experts.

Each Stack Exchange site has only three custom close reason slots available to begin with, even though more can be requested if there is a pressing need for them. We are already using one of those.

We currently have 21 users (including us three diamond moderators) who have more than the 500 rep required to cast close votes on questions. A quick check indicates that only a few of those are not especially active on the site. It takes five votes to close in order to close a question. The fact that so few of these questions attract more than perhaps a single close vote indicates to me that the community feels that they should be considered on topic.

My general opinion is that we shouldn't add a custom close reason unless there is clear consensus within the community of the site to begin with that the type of question that would be covered by that custom close reason is off topic or unanswerable, and the existing close reasons do not sufficiently capture that off-topic-ness.

By all means argue whether a given type of questions should be on topic or off topic, but let's have a reasonably well-defined consensus on that before we start discussing adding a custom close reason to cover that specific case.

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  • $\begingroup$ I thought this was the discussion. And, I don't think that people aren't closing the questions is an indication that they are valuable. I have never seen a question closed, except the most absurd examples (which seem to also get deleted). It sounds like you are arguing for some sort of laissez-faire system, but we already have that. We should be asking questions like, do these questions have value? I don't see anything in your argument about value. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost The title of your post is "Proposed close reason: impossible HF propagation questions". You argue that the existing answers to some questions are bad, and then propose adding a custom close reason that would cover those questions. As far as I can tell, you are not proposing that the questions be considered off topic and allow for discussion of that, which would seem the natural first step and which is what I try to do with my answer here. If the community agrees that a type of questions should be off topic, then by all means let's talk about a custom close reason to cover those. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 23 '14 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to argue that a certain class of questions should be considered off topic, please do so separately from arguing that we should have a custom close reason for them. If that is what you meant to argue with your post, I'd suggest editing it to make that more clear, because it appears that at least both I and PearsonArtPhoto did not find that clear enough. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 23 '14 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how that's in any way useful. If we've decided a type of question is off topic, wouldn't we need a way to then close those questions as off topic? Not only am I suggesting these questions be off topic, I'm suggesting specific ways in which we might implement that change. If that's not enough bureaucracy for you, maybe you should first start a meta-meta post on how questions proposing action having not yet decided that action is necessary are off topic, then another one about a close reason, then you can close this question. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 17:59
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In principle, on my personal Theory of How Stack Exchange Should Work, I don't think these questions should be closed on the grounds of breadth/vagueness. Just as the appropriate answer to “How do I do this?” is sometimes “Don't do that”, the appropriate answer is sometimes “It's more situational than you think.” Note those last three words. Closure (except for duplicates) is saying “you should not have asked that question here”, and should therefore be predictable to the asker (given that they have read the topic information in the help center). If the only way they could have known that the question was designated off-topic was to already understand the topic they're asking about, then that's just not fair, and unfairness causes unpleasantness.

On the other hand, most of the usual reasons for closing questions are reducible to “because they lead to sloppy answers” — answers that are vague, subjective, inapplicable except to the answerer's circumstances, agreement with a complaint rather than answering, etc. — which is an expedient solution to improve the average quality of questions-and-answers, and your complaint about the answers to the 3,000-miles question is of that nature.

So, I don't see a perfect solution that fits both of the above. Here's some ideas:

  • The best scenario I can think of is that there is a good question with good answers which other insufficiently-specific propagation questions are closed as duplicates of (because duplicate is closure but not off-topic and “not your fault”). Unfortunately, your attempt to make a canonical question exist was not approved of.

  • However, there is still a possibility: write the good answer to a question someone actually asked. (Yes, this “misclassifies” the answer under a too-specific heading, but we're working with what we can do.) Then get enough attention on how it's the better answer so that it is voted to the top. Then close other questions that are sufficiently similar as duplicates.

  • If none of the above works, and if propagation questions are a problem worth fixing, then get it to be considered off-topic and documented so in the help center. This does not mean that there has to be a close reason dedicated to it.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you think this, try going to stackoverflow.com and asking, "which programming languages or libraries will give me good websites in 3 hours?" and see what happens. Every site has in the help center pages about what's on topic, and what's not. It shouldn't surprise them if there question is closed for a reason listed there. Unless they didn't bother to read, in which case they will be reminded, when their question is closed. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'd further say that everyone thinks their question is good, when they ask it. No one expects their question to get closed (except trolls, but that's a different problem). If you require that people aren't surprised by closing their question, then you won't close anything. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost I feel like you're commenting as if my first paragraph is the entirety of my answer. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Feb 23 '14 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ It effectively is, because your argument is predicated on finding a solution to both problems. "a perfect solution that fits both of the above" can't exist because they are mutually incompatible goals. Any closing violates the first condition. Never closing anything will necessarily entertain poor questions. Which side are you on? You can't have both. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ When I say closures should be predictable, I don't mean to require them to be predictable to someone who hasn't read the definition of what's on-topic (I've edited to clarify this). $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Feb 23 '14 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ I do propose making that change: "The help center can then explain why these questions are impossible to answer". Are you merely proposing that we have this close reason, and also list the rule (and also some explanation) in the help center? If so, sounds like we are on the same page. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 23 '14 at 0:43

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