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How can we be more vigilant not to "pseudo-help" people and bring them (or others) into danger that way?

Background:

Lately, someone asked a question about a Katherine antenna (Kathrein is a well-known manufacturer of many antenna types), and insists on that being clear. In the comments, it was revealed he was referring to airport approach guidance systems.

Two things:

  1. That person should not be phase-calibrating aeronautical safety equipment.
  2. Encouraging enthusiasts to work "beyond their current horizon to broaden it" is the right thing to do; the damage they could cause is pretty limited. In the grey area where questions are about radio technology, but not necessarily about ham radio (and here, clearly not about ham radio), this can go wrong.
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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I just added the featured tag to make this more visible. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Dec 20, 2021 at 14:43

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You raise an interesting idea. It seems to me that it would be reasonable to propose that we, as a community, and moderators in particular, evaluate the potential ramifications of the question being asked.

Take the question that Marcus highlights. Is it possible that this is an amateur experimenting with this type of antenna in the spirit of point #2 (working beyond his horizon) to learn more about how aeronautical safety systems work? Certainly. As long as he's not transmitting, this seems completely fine in most jurisdictions (though not all) and doesn't introduce safety issues for anyone.

On the other hand, if this person is somehow responsible for maintaining such equipment and is asking how to tune it here, that's truly frightening.

With these extremes in mind, it seems reasonable that we could endeavor to ask (via comments) for more context so that we can offer useful guidance... which might be, "You shouldn't be doing that at all."

We are, as a group, pretty quick to point out when something isn't legal. I agree that we should equally point out when someone is doing something unsafe.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to drag this across the interwebs, but google/linkedin the asker's name to see his position. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2021 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ Mm.. Maybe? However, frequently people are using aliases, so I have to wonder two things: Is this practical, and at what point are we crossing over from being helpful to policing. I don't know the answer. $\endgroup$
    – David Hoelzer Mod
    Dec 17, 2021 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ absolutely, and we should not be policing. I guess as a community we can, however, sometimes take a slightly firm stand; I "come from" EE.SE; we get people asking how to repurpose a microwave oven as remote weapon or mounted below a chair (not kidding, both happened), we get people asking how to repurpose a TV tower + transmitter that they had access but no documentation as repeater for two-way radio, and multiple questions of the type "I touched 400V, it didn't kill me, so I was surprised, and tried again; It seems voltage doesn't actually kill you??"; I'm somewhat drifting into the camp of $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2021 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ "use your brains when reading a question, and do the good thing. Answering competently is not always the right thing.". In my roles in SDR and consulting, I've talked to acute paranoid schizophrenic folks; they honestly and out of the deepest depths of their hearts asked me about shielding rooms, or setting out a "cancellation transmitter" for mind-control waves. One had a 80-pages Word document describing his research on the mind-control satellite control software works. Sometimes it's really more important to address the human than their question. Just be a bit aware. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2021 at 18:56
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The problem is that almost any skill or knowlege can misused. Years ago in the UK there was a serious discussion about making chemistry teachers and academics responsible for the chemical misdeeds of their students. I think that the goverment of the day had the idea that after some chemistry lessons some little horror would use their skills to make a bomb.

I asked a student if we should lock up the english teacher of anyone who wrote a poison pen letter or a blackmail letter. The student turned to me and suggested that maybe they should consider locking up the maths teachers of all drug dealers. He pointed out that to be a successful drug dealer a person would need to be good at maths.

In the end the goverment saw sense and the stupid idea died. It is impossible to predict the use and misuse of some ideas. If someone was to ask me about caveity resonantors and frequency multiplication then it is morally OK to answer even if they then go and build their own version of "the thing" and violate the rights of someone else.

But if it is clear that they want advice on how to do bad things then I think we should refuse to answer. For example if they ask how to build radiocontrolled bombs or their own version of "the thing" then we should refuse to answer the question.

For those of you who do not know about "The thing" it was a clever Soviet made bug which was powered by a beam of microwaves. It had a resonant part which changed as a function of the sound pressure and it retransmitted a modulated harmonic of the radiation used to excite it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for chiming in! Marcus' post was inspired by a real question on ham.SE in which someone was puzzling over basic antenna maintenance procedures being done on an instrument-landing guidance system at a large airport. I believe Marcus is cautioning us against helping someone attempt a task with many other people's lives at stake when the task is beyond the person's abilities. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Jan 5 at 20:49

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