Intel Hardware Hacking

I’ve been reading about a potentially serious vulnerability in Intel processors. To summarize, security researchers have discovered a way to access Intel CPUs System Management Mode (SMM) and run rootkits. A rootkit is a tool that allows an attacker to completely take over a computer system and do whatever they want with it and usually the only way to get rid of it is a complete rebuild of the system. SMM is a diagnostic tool designed to help chip designers and runs at a higher privilege level than the Operating System, so once in SMM an attacker can run programs whether you like it or not. Worse, SMM can made completely invisible to the target PC so something could be running there any you’d never know it. This attacks your computer’s hardware instead of it’s software, and once a malicious program is there it’s free to do what it wants, and can possibly even save itself in your hardware so it loads on startup.

In short, if successful an attacker could take complete control of your system and bypass every security measure you have and you’d never even know it, much less be able to do anything about it.

It’s not that clear how widespread this vulnerability is but it’s fair to say it affects a large proportion on Intel-based computers produced in the last few years. This is more than just PCs and laptops but servers, network devices, and security devices as well.

An undetectable rootkit is definitely a very, very bad thing so serious efforts are under way to fix this The good news is that it looks like traditional methods will have to be used to load it on, so installing security updates and having good anti-virus software is still your best defence. It’s not as if anyone can take over your computer no matter what your precautions, it’s just that if they do penetrate your computer’s defences the potential for damage has gone up substantially.

What is most concerning about this for me is not the fact that it bypasses security so thoroughly, although that is a major worry. in truth there are already many other much easier ways to gain control of systems for fun or profit as many people do not install security updates or have antivirus software installed. This type of attack, while powerful, isn’t suddenly going to bust things open. The sophistication of this attack will prevent widespread exploitation by anyone but the most clever and knowledgeable of crackers at least for now. The very sophistication however is the problem in that anyone who has the skills to gain this method will have the skill to exploit it to its fullest potential. The danger is more in it’s stealth than it’s power: as a rootkit installed using this method is completely undetectable a sophisticated attacker could exploit it so subtly that the victims may never have a clue that they’re been attacked.

For now there’s nothing you can do about this except what you hopefully do already: install security updates and buy good antivirus software. For now the race is on to see if Intel and the security industry can come up with a fix before this is widely exploited.

For the curious more information can be found here:

popular pension pilfering

Fred Goodwin is under assault because he has the temerity to refuse to give up his pension after the failure of RBS, which I think is completely justified. What are we to say, that we can remove somebody’s life savings because he/she has been found guilty in the court of public opinion? The man has a pension guaranteed by contractual obligation, and simply because the bank did badly does not mean there is any legal or moral justification to try and take it away. If he did a bad job then take away his bonus, even charge him with a crime if he committed one, and if he is convicted then maybe there’s a case. If not, then fire him and let him retire – on his pension.

If the government pursues this case and wins then it will set the precedent that if someone does a bad job that all they’ve worked for their entire life can be taken away from them with the stroke of a pen which, besides being an infringement of human rights and diabolically vindictive, would not exactly encourage people to take positions in the UK. Bonuses are there to encourage hard work and success, and pensions are there to make sure that people can retire without being poor. If we take away these benefits or make them subject to popular whim then we will be ensuring that the best and the brightest go elsewhere in the world to make their fortune which would destroy the UK finance sector.

How much money has been spent on this argument already? OK, the guy has a £16 million pension, does that mean that the government is going to spend millions to make him give it up? In the midst of the world’s worst financial crisis in a century are we really saying that arguing about one man’s pension no matter how big is a good use of the government’s time?! All the parties are pandering to public opinion and not one of them is saying what needs to be said which is that this is a waste of effort! This is cowardice of the most pathetic kind, and I’m ashamed to see Gordon Brown, who is not exactly blameless in this matter, telling the world that he’s going to set the dogs on one man simply because of the front page of The Sun. It is simply not fair or equitable!

If you are looking to blame people for this crisis you will have a long list as there are many people who jumped on this band wagon and many other people who didn’t stop it rolling. The FSA is the government body responsible for managing financial institutions and they were asleep at the wheel. I certainly didn’t hear any of the political parties shouting that there needed to be reform and controls when things were good, and now they’re clamoring for punitive measures against those they were supposed to guide. It’s pathetic! Have the courage to say we screwed up. In a witch hunt everybody’s glad to be burning their neighbors because it keeps other neighbors from looking their way and it’s no different with this matter.

If I were Sir Fred when Gordon Brown asks him to give up his pension my response would be “you first.”

Thinking Critically About Climate Change

That global temperatures are rising over time isn’t really in dispute, neither are the serious consequences that rising oceans and weather changes could bring. Just about everything else about climate change is in dispute, however, including the causes and solutions. While carbon emissions are the cause of the month there are a myriad of other possible causes and climatologists are a very long way from being able to prove any of them. There are several assumptions and logical fallacies that are common in most people’s thoughts on climate change which need to be addressed if there is to be meaningful action.

The Problem With Climate Modelling
Regular science is conducted by forming a hypothesis that fits data and then manipulating variables to test that hypothesis in a controlled experiment. There’s simply no way to conduct a controlled experiment on the whole planet earth and no way to scale it down, so what climate scientists do these days is create computer models that explain known data. Essentially it is reverse science and it is still very new. As computing power increases scientists can create more sophisticated models, yet all models require large amounts of reliable data which is simply not available. The failed launch of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory highlights this problem and is a serious blow to climate research as it was supposed to provide badly needed information to help plug big gaps in climate theories. Reliable and regular temperature measurements just started 100 years ago, anything older than that is largely based off scientific study of ice cores, tree rings, and other inferential data which isn’t that reliable or complete. The rates of which glaciers are receding have only been regularly measured in the past 20-30 years. The data with which to form a complete history of climate simply isn’t available and never will be until someone invents a time machine, and this further limits climate research.

In order to create an accurate computer model that explains past and and predicts future climate change then we must have a complete understanding of all factors that affect the climate, a deep understanding of their interaction, and a massive amount of consistently reliable historic climate data, none of which we have at this point. The science is in its infancy: the computer models used are basic and our understanding of the climate is very incomplete which is why some scientists are trumpeting that we are all doomed and others say they don’t think there’s anything to worry about. It will take decades before climate science becomes reliable and sophisticated enough to trust, so basing global strategy on this alone is foolish in the extreme. The climate scientists are not even in the same church, let alone singing from the same hymn sheet. This is not a dig at climate scientists as what they are doing is very important and they are progressing fast, but they have decades to go before we can really trust their results.

Correlative Fallacy
Current greenhouse-theory concerns are based on is a correlation between increases in CO2 and other gasses and the increase in temperature. Al Gore stands up and shows the world a chart which shows increases in global temperature paralleled by increases in CO2 emissions, and it looks compelling and obvious. There is danger here because it draws us into the trap of believing causality due to correlation. A correlation simply means that there may be a relation between 2 factors, not that there is. Temperature increases can be correlated with increases in sunlight, or increases in fuel prices can be correlated to an increase in the number of women dying their hair. The first correlation we know is true because it has been scientifically proven, the second is just a coincidence. Correlation does not imply a causal link between two factors, and assuming one without any proof is a mistake.

Correlations can be explained in so many ways. Let us take the relationship between the rise in global temperature and industrialization as an example. One possibility is that it is the increase in global temperature that allowed industrialization to happen as a longer growing season allowed fewer people to grow more food freeing up other people to invent technology and manufacture goods, another possibility is that the output from industrialization is causing the climate change or adding to it, or maybe it is simply a complete coincidence and one has no effect on the other. There’s simply no hard evidence to show a causal link.

If you look at correlations between the output of industrialization and increases in temperature it’s a substantial list: in addition to CO2 there have been large increases in Methane, Nitrous Oxide, CFCs, waste heat, particulate matter pollution, deforestation, and massive urbanization. All of these can be correlated to the earth’s heating trend the same way as CO2, so shouldn’t each have the same weight? Why the focus on CO2 exclusively?

Assumption of single global warming cause
Humans like things neat and tidy; we like simple cause and effect, for instance “if we reduce greenhouse gasses we will reverse climate change”. It’s a linear statement. Using Greenhouse Gas emissions as an example we can see that not only have we tried to reduce the possible theories to one we are trying to simplify it even more by focussing on carbon dioxide emissions to the exclusion of Methane, Nitrous Oxide, water vapor, and the other greenhouse gasses. There are many possible causes of climate change both man-made and natural:
– greenhouse gas emissions
– carbon dioxide
– Methane
– Nitrous Oxide
– Water Vapor
– CFCs
– Ozone
– Waste heat from electricity generation and heating systems
– Changes in Solar radiation
– Small changes in the earth’s orbit
– Albedo changes due to deforestation and widespread construction causing the earth’s surface to absorb more heat
– Natural climate cycles

The true cause of global warming could be any of these, or far more likely a combination of them and/or other factors we don’t understand or even know about as yet. Focusing on one part of one possible cause as we are doing with CO2 means we lose our big-picture view and limit our options in dealing with the problem. With greenhouse gasses it is far easier and faster for us to curb methane, CFC, Nitrous Oxide, and Ozone emissions than to curb our CO2 emissions, and these could be done far faster and cheaper without restructuring the whole global energy economy, yet these aren’t even mentioned in the press for the most part. This tunnel-vision is not only counter-productive but also downright dangerous as it could cause us to spend vast resources to solve what may be a non-existent problem, or only one part of a real problem.

Assumption of Human Causes
One repeating belief is that climate change is being caused by direct human intervention, and while there is a strong correlation between the increase of industrialization and the increase in temperature this does not in any way mean that it’s true. Man-made climate change is a compelling and emotional subject, and is in a way comforting in that if humans caused it humans can fix it. There is an abundance of evidence that shows that the earth goes through normal cycles of heating and cooling, and that heating eventually causes an ice age. Although scientists believe these changes to be gradual it is not impossible that these cycles can surge for reasons that we don’t understand. If this is true then it is counter-productive to focus on man-made atmospheric changes, and it would be wise to look at broader solutions.

Denial of Technological Solutions
Many hardcore environmentalists seem to have the firm belief that only by stopping whatever we are doing can we stop climate change. Our civilization has grown to the levels it has through extensive technology, and technology requires energy. It is impossible for us to drastically reduce the by-products of technology as we are entirely reliant on it to support the earth’s massive population. Even if we crash-stopped industrial production, drastically reduced consumption across the board to the very smallest amounts needed to sustain life we would still be producing more pollutants than we did 50 years ago just to feed and provide the basics to billions of people. Like it or not the solution is more technology, not less.

Time Pressure Fallacy
There is a very strong cultural feeling that time is running out, that we are on a course for destruction and unless we take immediate action all will end in disaster. This belief is based on the results from computer models which by climate scientists own admission are incomplete, unreliable, and don’t account for other factors. While it is possible that there is the potential for disastrous climate change the exact opposite is also possible as there’s no evidence to support either conclusion. Yes, glaciers are receding and yes global temperatures are rising, but both of those have been happening for awhile now so why is this moment that critical?

I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about or that we should do nothing, I simply questions the wisdom of investing massive amounts of time, effort, and money to try and fix a problem that may not exist in the first place, or if it does we don’t understand properly. Before we go off half-cocked we must realize that any solution to human emissions is going to be extremely expensive in time and resources and we must make sure we have a reasonable expectation of success. It is vital that we consider all alternatives, including doing nothing.

Consider what we do know:
– Global temperature has been rising over a long period of time
– there is a correlation between recent human industrial development and an increase in the rate of rise in temperature

This isn’t much to base spending vast amounts of time, effort, and money on transforming our entire energy economy and transportation system on, especially considering that we haven’t yet developed the technology to do it., and that’s just to curb CO2 emissions.

Let’s look at more of the possible causes of climate change and their individual solutions to understand the scale of the problem:

Greenhouse Gas emissions:
– CO2: solution: completely transform energy economy, re-engineer every mode of transportation, vastly reduce energy consumption. Concrete production is a large CO2 polluter so no new construction can be allowed. Invent and implement an efficient way to sequester several trillion tons of carbon in a way that it won’t pollute our ground water or cause other detrimental effects.
– Methane: reduce all meat production, change the human diet to reduce human methane production (no more refried beans for you!)
– Nitrous Oxide: completely stop all jet transport until they can be re-engineered to eliminate NO emissions. Eliminate NO production in electricity generation
– Water Vapor: not much we can do about that to be honest
– CFCs: stop the remaining sources
– Ozone: We need ozone to avoid dying of skin cancer.

Waste Heat from Energy production, Transportation, Industry, and Heating/Cooking
For the most part we produce all the above by digging stuff up and burning it. Some of the energy is used for the work we want to do but most of it is radiated away as waste heat. There’s no way to completely stop this, even if we were able to switch to entirely efficient means of energy production there’s still home heating, cooking, and industry that will produce waste heat.

Particulates released by industry and transportation: burning things releases particulate matter into the atmosphere. These could be affecting the climate in an number of ways. On one hand they could be darkening the earth’s surface, for instance causing icebergs it to absorb more sunlight and melt, on the other hand they may be reflecting more sunlight back into space and reducing the earth’s temperature so reducing particulate emissions may actually accelerate climate change. Is one type of pollution helpful and another not?

Assumption is the Mother of All Screwups
We are making 2 assumptions here: One that global climate change is being accelerated as a result of pollutants from industrialization, and two that we can reduce the amount of these pollutants to levels where they were decades ago. The first has already been covered, the second is just as important and complex. There are two subcomponents to the second assumption: that we can reduce our pollutant output to a level that is pre-industrialization and that we can clean the biosphere over 150 years of industrial output in a few decades.

Simply reducing the output of industrial pollutants (this includes the whole list, including CO2, methane from cattle production, waste heat, etc, etc) is an enormous task: CO2 alone is a massive job requiring huge changes in power generation, transportation, and production of food and goods. Not only is the call for energy rising because of the increase in technological devices available, but the number of people on the planet who need food, clothing, and want the same technology is growing at a huge rate. We are had-pressed to provide enough energy for the earth’s burgeoning population, much less making it all non-polluting. Renewable sources are good but the technology is not where we need it if we are to make it all green, and it will also cost enormous amounts of money to do and take a very long time to do it. And that’s just electricity production, if you talk about transportation you have the same exact challenges to solve. If we want to reduce methane we will all have to vastly cut our meat production. Cutting waste heat production will require technology we don’t have as it will mean we will have to stop cooking our food and heating our homes entirely.

There is also the problem of international cooperation: technological solutions will require massive investment by all countries, and the ones least likely to participate are the developing nations as they will have trouble affording it.

So is reducing our industrial pollution to pre-industrialization levels an attainable goal? No: with current technology it would be a challenge to reduce to 1990 levels, much less 70s even if we could get the whole world to try. Renewables will help but at the end of the day we will still be talking coal. Fission is one way, however there is a finite amount of material in the ground and once we use it up that is truly it. Fusion is what we really need, however investment in the technology is completely insufficient and the technology isn’t really moving forward that quickly. Fusion solves so many problems it’s amazing we don’t have a Manhattan-project or Apollo-style effort going. It’s completely non-polluting, there’s an essentially infinite supply of fuel, and there are no by-products that could be used for weapons.

Any effort to try and scrub the biosphere of over 100 years of pollutants is a very tough job and at current technology levels we can’t even scratch the surface of the problem. Fortunately methane and NO tend to break down naturally, so long-term CO2 sequestration is the biggie here, which has not been sufficiently studied. We don’t know how much it will cost, whether CO2 that we pump back into old oil fields will actually stay there and not cause worse problems, or how we can even do it in the first place.

I am not opposed to action at this stage, I simply disagree with making an assumption on the cause and ignoring other possibilities. Climate change could very well be caused by human factors, it could be natural, or a combination of the two. Without understanding the problem implementing the right solution is impossible and any efforts could be counter-productive. We should act not by instigating a crash program to overhaul our energy infrastructure but by studying the problem and investing in research and development of technologies that can enable us to fix the problems that may exist. The climate observer satellite failed, let’s build another one fast and and make it one of many advanced climate-studying orbiters. Let’s build a very large computing base to aid climate research and give the scientists the means to improve it, and let’s pour money into researching the technology that can really make a difference: fusion power, carbon sequestration, energy storage for micro-generation, methane and NO reduction. These are all long-term goals, and they also assume that industrial pollutants are the cause, so at the same time let’s research and develop geo-engineering techniques. These will reduce global temperatures no matter what the cause of climate change and are the only available short-term solution to climate change.

I’m not a climate change denier, and I certainly don’t believe that if we leave it alone everything will be fine. What I am saying is that action without good information, good technology, and a good plan is bound to be a very costly failure and would simply be repeating the mistakes of the past where we have acted without understanding the consequences. Correlation is not proof and it’s time that governments and the people that they serve realize that. I am concerned about catastrophic climate change and I certainly don’t want to see massive upheaval and loss of life but the answer to it is not to invest trillions of dollars to reduce one single greenhouse gas now with uncertain results when we we could spend billions on geo-engineering now to stabilize the climate and go for a permanent solution later that definitely will work.

Let’s Research, then plan, then act, and not the other way around!

when you think you’ve seen everything…

I’ve been living in NYC and London, 2 of the world’s biggest tourist destinations, most of my life. As you can imagine I’ve seen some really weird things, and after you see so many weird things you kind of develop a weirdness baseline, or a sort of bell-curve where unless it’s out on the tails of the odd curve you don’t really pay that much attention to it. It’s not that your definition of weird changes, it’s that you learn how far weirdness can go and you become less interested in lower levels of weirdness. I still notice things that are weird but routine weird doesn’t really get on the radar. I know the living statue of a sphinx is there, and if someone asks later if I saw one I would say yes, but I’d never bring it up unless the subject of kicking living statues’ heads in came up as it’s something I’d like to try someday if I could do it without fear of prosecution. Somehow I don’t think that “I was just minding my own business when this nutcase in a tiger suit jumped at me claws-first! I felt my life was in mortal danger so naturally I had to feed him his own testicles before individually crushing each of his vertebra,” is going to work with the police.

Occasionally I see something that trips my weird threshold. Like the time I saw a Irish bagpiper and an African drummer try to jam together at the 42nd st. uptown 1 subway platform. I can only assume that both of them showed up to the same patch and rather than argue tried to get along. People stopped and watched out of sheer horror. More recently I saw an obviously disturbed man, about 6’5″ wearing pink tights, heavy make-up, and leather boots, which was weird but sad.

Today I saw something weird enough that I had to look. I was out for a walk to get some air and some lunch and I saw someone ahead wearing a cloak and deerstalker cap, ie dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Usually in Covent Garden when you see that it usually means that person is going to spin around and try to pawn a leaflet of some kind off on you, or try and hound you into donating to a charity. In other words it’s not weird, but annoying. The reality in this case was far different; as I walked by I realized to my astonishment that this was a Japanese woman wearing a traditional Kimono, toe socks and flip-flops, with the cloak and deerstalker cap over it all. To use the word mismatch barely even begins to convey the horribleness of this combo. It was impossible not to stare, and I was so surprised I even broke stride. What made her think this was an intelligent combination of clothing I cannot fathom. My only regret was I couldn’t get my camera phone to work in time.

I’m overjoyed to know that the world still has some amazing things in store. Can’t wait until tomorrow!

Entropa! Pissing off a Bulgarian near you

With great fanfare Entropa, a piece of art commissioned by the Czech government to commemorate their stint in the seat of the EU presidency, was unveiled in Brussels and until then it was not discovered that it was a monumental, and hilarious (to me), con. The Czech government commissioned David Cerny to select an artist from each of the 27 European nations to depict their country, then as far as I can tell turned their back on the whole thing. This is a huge mistake when you consider that Cerny is famous for trying to shock people and at the least tries to make everything he does controversial. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, he likes to stick it to the establishment and I think it’s a good thing, however if you are a government wanting a piece that will be politically acceptable and encourage goodwill throughout the world then I can’t think of a more disastrous choice.

I mean, what were they thinking? This is the guy who was arrested for painting the soviet WWII memorial in Prague pink in 1991, who sculpted St. Wenceslas riding a dead horse, and has had his works banned in different parts of Europe for various reasons. Don’t you think you might chose someone else, or at least monitor progress? It’s apparent that the Czech government did nothing of the kind as it would have been apparent to anyone who looked at the official document before the unveiling that something was seriously awry.

I mean, would a Bulgarian who values his/her life have depicted their country as a hole-in-the-floor toilet? Or a Romanian their country as a Dracula amusement park ride? Would any Swedish artist who wanted further employment outside of the food service industry send an Ikea box?

I have one word for the Czech government: OVERSIGHT!

David Cerny is quoted saying that he knew the fraud would be discovered but “wanted to see if Europe could laugh at itself”. Given that the Czech ambassador to Bulgaria has been summoned “for an explanation” I think the answer is no.

Personally, I’m laughing my ass off and I hope it comes to town.

A bus and a coin

John Edgley, aircraft designer and engineer, recently described the UK to me as a “museum culture”, where old technology and culture are prized over the new. Nothing typifies this to me more than the Routemaster bus and the two pence coin. The routemaster (pronounced root-master) is the iconic old bus that you see in so many movies set in Britain. To many both in and out of the UK they are as much the face of London as the red phone box, and attempts to take them out of service have been met from so many quarters that they have been kept on way past their retirement age. The reality is that the very characteristics that make them so prized as a tourist icon make them a lousy bus. Sure they are picturesque but they are loud, cramped, stuffy, you can’t see out downstairs which causes motion sickness, and the open back that you can jump on and off so romantically is also extremely dangerous when your clothes snag and you are unromantically dragged 20 feet until your clothes rip and you promptly get hit by a taxi. Negotiating up the spiral staircase to the top level while the thing is moving guarantees a bashed knee or elbow, and there’s no space up there anyway. Let’s face it, as a piece of public transportation they suck, yet if you try to argue that you’ll have an mob on your hands.
The two-pence coin of Mary Poppins “feed the birds, tuppence a bag” fame is another example of a throwback. Back when one pence could actually buy something having a coin between 1 pence and 5 pence made perfect sense. The US had a 2 cent piece in the mid-late 1800s but discontinued it long ago as there wasn’t much demand. The British 2 pence piece however didn’t come into circulation until 1971! Brought in when the British system changed from the shilling system to the decimal system, so it was outdated from its very inception. They cost far more to produce than their actual value so they cost the taxpayer money and are big and chunky so they take up a disproportionate amount of space for the amount they are worth. Vending machines won’t take them for the most part either. They are a useless drain on the system and should be withdrawn from circulation, and they aren’t even historic, yet people act as if it’s part of the national character.
People in Britain are fairly resistant and distrustful of change, and rather than admit they just don’t like the idea of getting rid of old things they make up all sorts of excuses. I’ve had people give me the lame statement that getting rid of the routemaster and the two pence coin would impact tourism! Britain is a fantastic country steeped in history and culture and rightly has a tremendous draw to tourists, they won’t stop coming because of a bus and a coin. The routemaster and the two-pence coin are both outdated and make life more expensive for both locals and tourists alike, let’s get rid of them.

British Weather, the ultimate slimy, stinking mess

I’m sitting here at my computer looking at tomorrow’s Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, or TAF for short. These are very important for determining whether you fly which is good, just think about flying which is bad, or fly and soon realize it would have been a much better idea to stay on the ground which is really, really bad. These forecasts are a wonderful example of pilot jargon that was developed in the days of telegraphs and teletype as they convey a day’s worth of weather information in one or two lines. They are a fine example of a data communications anachonism in today’s internet age when if you want to know the weather in West Bend, Oregon you can get it straight from the satellite along with the last 50 years of minute-by-minute dew point records. There have been efforts to get these forecasts amended to plain language but they have endured in their current concentrated form mostly I think because Pilots like them. I know I do because when I see the mystified faces of my friends and family when I show them one if gives me a smug feeling of superiority because I’m part of a part of an elite fraternity; a group of intrepid men and women who can decipher the magical code.

It’s a code that can make you gleeful or morose, and they can change pretty radically in the UK because all of its weather forces. Today has been a disgusting, slimy, semi-frozen morass of a day. It started off wet and cold, developed into wet and cold, and then later developed to become wet and cold and dark. I wouldn’t have needed to fly today to get into the clouds, all I would have had to do is step outdoors. I’m waiting for the midnight forecast to come out that will cover all of tomorrow as I’m hoping beyond hope that I can get some flying time in before I go away to New York for Christmas.

It’s here, I’ll put it below so you can read it and I can feel a smug sense of superiority when you go “huh?”

LONDON/STANSTED EGSS 132323Z 1400/1506 10010KT 6000 -RA BKN005 BECMG 1400/1403 VRB06KT TEMPO 1400/1506 2000 BR BKN002 PROB30 TEMPO 1410/1418 BKN010 PROB40 TEMPO 1421/1506 1200 BKN000

They’re not all this long. Usually when it stretches 2 full lines it’s bad. My favorite abbreviation is NSW, for No Significant Weather. That’s always nice to see. I’ll break it down for you:
EGSS – the international code for Stanstead, an international airport NE of London near where I fly from

132323Z – this forecast was sent out on the 13th of December at 2323 UTC, ie 11:23pm Greenwich Mean Time

1400/1506 – the forecast is from 00:00 UTC on Dec 14th to 06:00 on the 15th

10010KT – winds 100 degrees 10 Knots, that’s just fine

6000 – visibility 6000 meters, about 4 miles. That’s kinda minimal, but it’s perfectly legal

-RA – Light rain (no shit sherlock, it’s been -RA all day)

BKN005 – Cloud Broken (almost overcast) at 500 feet – don’t take off unless you have a full instrument rating and an airplane with lots of expensive instrument landing equipment

BECMG 1400/1403 VRB06KT – between 00:00 and 03:00 winds will become variable 06 knots

TEMPO 1400/1506 2000 BR BKN0002 – oh great, for a 30 hour period between midnight and 06:00 Monday there will be temporary periods where visibility will drop to 2000 meters in mist with broken clouds at 200 feet – Don’t fly unless you have a full instrument rating and a multi-million dollar computer guided blind landing system

PROB30 TEMPO 1410/1418 BKN010 – there’s a 30% probability that temporarily between 10am and 6pm tomorrow the cloud will raise to 1000 feet. Wow, you could fly in that if it wasn’t for the bit above

PROB40 TEMPO 1421/1506 1200 BKN000 – there’s a 40% probability that between 9pm tomorrow and 6am Monday that visibility will drop to less than a mile and the cloud will be literally down at ground level. – don’t fly unless you have x-ray vision. the difference between PROB 30 and PROB 40 in the UK is that PROB 30 means it isn’t likely to happen but could, and PROB 40 means that it probably will, it’s just the met office don’t have the courage to say 60% because the weather in the UK is so hard to predict

In other words tomorrow is going to be another filthy, stinking morass, a complete toxic waste dump of a Sunday fit only for ironing and swearing.

What is it with the weather in England this year? My flying group had 17 days of flyouts planned and we actually got to do 6 with the rest canceled because of weather. Time after time it’s something. Last Sunday it was mist, the weekend before rain. Cmon! What do I have to do here?! Gimme some love, goddammit! All I ask is for is just one decent weekend day, and instead I get a weekend where as far as I know the sun has gone to the pub for a beer. I am not a mushroom!!

You know what, I think we can condense the forecasts more no problem. Rather than expand it I can concentrate tomorrow’s forecast into a much more efficient space:

EGSS 132323Z 1400/1506 CMPLT SHT

Rome day 2

Our second day in Rome started the way the first had ended: with the sound of excited teenagers making a lot more noise than was strictly necessary to accomplish the task of leaving their rooms, walking down 2 flights of steps, and leaving. Still, it did get us out of bed and downstairs for the complimentary breakfast of your typical continental hotel: bread and croissants, slices of cheese and meat, fruit and of course coffee.

There must be some legal explanation as to why the coffee in Italy tends to be so consistently good, because humans aren’t consistently good at anything unless they absolutely, positively have to be. The fact I’ve never had a bad cup there means that there must be a law sending you to jail if you accidentally run the press for too long, or the threat of social ostracism or something. Some sort of evil fate must await those who fail the java standard. I’m tempted to brew a bad cup there to see what happens. I have the feeling that within 2 minutes I’d have a swat team smash through my windows wearing Armani hazmat suits and dispose of my poor attempt in a gold-plated styrofoam cooler while giving me an IV drip of Lavazza espresso.

Fortunately we finished breakfast without incident as the coffee was good and we quickly got our stuff and hit the town for our day in the Vatican. As we felt tourist trap withdrawal symptoms we decided to carve a route right through the heart of the ripoff restaurants and hit as many sights as possible on the way. One of the first things we hit was the Pantheon, which I have to say is my favorite thing in the whole city. It’s an incredibly well-preserved example of Ancient Roman engineering and the best word I can think to describe it is magnificent. Not only is it staggeringly beautiful it is also an incredible scientific and architectural feat. When you think of the roman forum, the coliseum, the Parthenon in Athens, and so many Egyptian temples they are all restored ruins. You only get an idea what Karnak looked like because they’ve spent tens of millions restoring it. The pantheon, other than a few touch-ups, is as sound as the day it was built. If you look it up in an encyclopedia the word repair doesn’t even come up!

Built in about 125ad, the pantheon is a massively influential building in design, technique, and materials. The dome is constructed of concrete and gets thinner as it gets to the top to reduce weight, something that wasn’t replicated for almost 2000 years after its construction. The dome rests on a structure that is strong and stable enough to have lasted almost 2000 years and isn’t even showing its age. The inside gives you an incredible sense of space, something you don’t get in architecture until the gothic cathedrals so many centuries later and shows how far ahead of their time the Romans truly were.

After suitable amounts of gawking it was on through Piazza Navona where we ducked in a shop where everything has been made my monks. I’ve had chartreuse which is a liquor made by monks in the mountains of France. They make it out of 130-something herbs and boy does it taste like it. It has a flavor like someone blended lots of vegetables, dehydrated them to intensify their flavors, and then added 180 proof moonshine. When you drink some it feels like it will either kill you stone dead or cure what ails you. Or it may do both in reverse order.

This previous experience of monk-produced goods wasn’t the best primer for going into a shop where you have an enormous variety of mostly food and drink that have at least been within shouting distance of a monastery, but in we went anyway and we weren’t massively impressed. Rightly or wrongly it seemed as if all they’d done was bought bottles of cheap wine and liquor, soaked the labels off, and added their own. And the stuff that didn’t look like that tended to be extremely unappealing. I’m all for monk-made stuff: they brought us modern beer brewing techniques and liquor distillation which is all good by me as I sit here with a glass of Greenore Irish single grain whiskey. Loathsome liquors like Benedictine and Chartreuse are not representative, nor were the items in this store, so we left.

As we wended our way northwest of Piazza Novona the tourist businesses thinned out in favor of more residential places until we got to the Ponte Sant’Angelo: a footbridge across the Tiber which is to Rome what the Charles Bridge is to Prague although not nearly as busy. On the other side is Castel Sant’Angelo, another ancient Roman building originally built as a mausoleum that has lasted mostly because it was transformed into a fortification in later centuries. To the left the road leads straight to Vatican City and Piazza San Pietro via the wide Via della Conciliazione.

The Vatican is is clearly built to impress, and it does. My first impression was of many different styles of building having been plonked down without any real idea to make them work together. Ahead of you is St. Peter’s basilica which is one style, and it has an Egyptian obelisk in front of it placed on a clashing, very non-Egyptian plinth. Spanning to the left and right are large curved open structures in yet another style, the effect of which is to envelop you in architectural confusion. It’s impressive but to me not beautiful. Yet another indication we picked the right time or year to visit Rome was that we only queued for about 5-10 minutes to get into the basilica.

There are several ways we could have gone at this point: we could head to the basilica directly, go down to the crypt which will then lead you into the basilica, go up the cupola at the top of the basilica for the city views, or be radical and go straight to the Vatican museum to see the Sistine chapel. We chose the crypt first. It was an immaculate example of massive amounts of top-quality white marble all in the same place, but to be honest I found it a bit boring. I mean, it’s a place to entomb dead people, it’s not going to be rocking. Progress was a bit slow while everyone read plaques about popes you never heard of (and never will again), but eventually we climbed the steps into the center of the basilica. I have to say it was worth being bored for 20 minutes or so while we shuffled our way through crypt because when you pop out right in the middle the sight really makes an impression.

No bones about it, the basilica is an impressive piece of monumental architecture. It was designed and built to show the power and grandeur of the church and it certainly does that in spades. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping it would show the beauty as well, and it just doesn’t. Cathedrals like St. Paul’s in London and St. John the Divine in New York are impressive and beautiful and they do it just with their shape, not the decoration whereas the structure of St. Peter’s basilica just seems like something to hang mountainsides of marble and mines-full of gold leaf on. Still, it’s definitely worth a visit.

We decided to hoof the 500 or so steps up to the top of the cupola and this was the only real line we stood in the whole time we were in the Vatican. The first 200 or so steps get you to the bottom of the dome where you can look down into the basilica where you were 20 or so minutes ago. The whole wall around is lined with nearly identical mosaics of a boy’s face, which is a bit weird. His eyes are wide and his mouth open as if in surprise and dismay, a look unfortunately common with boys in the catholic church. I’m not sure if he’s unhappy about what was about to happen, what just happened, or what was about to happen again.

As you go up to the cupola from the dome level the staircases get narrower and twistier, and at one point you have to bend your whole body to the right as the walls actually curve. It creates an optical illusion that is really disconcerting as you feel like you’re toppling over but it doesn’t last long, and then you finally get to a stone spiral staircase which takes you to the cupola and great views of the city. Rome is not a vertical town, it’s definitely got the urban sprawl thing going. The view is worth the effort, but I wouldn’t bother if it’s raining. The walk down served to emphasize just how many stairs we did on the way up; if we’d gone down any more I would expect to have reached Indonesia.

By this time it was mid-afternoon. We’d walked miles, explored tombs, and climbed to the highest point in the city and back down again. In other words, lunchtime! Vatican city restaurants are not famed for their value for money, but they are at least decent. We just picked one that was close to our route to the Vatican museum and plonked ourselves down. When it comes to money my view is that when you are on vacation you just have to stop caring how much everything costs, within reason of course. A trip is an investment of sorts. You’ve already put in airfare, hotels, transportation, guidebooks, tickets to sites, etc, etc all to spend a few days in a certain place. Spending an hour trying to save 10 euros is an incredible waste of your investment, you could have spent that hour making your trip worthwhile. If you’ve got a good guidebook and it recommends a cheap place that’s not far off your route then by all means go for it, just don’t spend loads of time scurrying around looking for a place where the carbonara is 1 euro less than the other identical places on the street places because your time is money. The place we picked was just fine, and compared to London just about everywhere is cheaper anyway. I have to say it was a welcome break and we recharged ourselves with pasta and beer.

The Vatican museum is part church, part Louvre. It’s incredibly holy and holy-shit at the same time. There’s corridors chock-full of frescoes, rooms full of paintings and sculpture, and closets full of knick-knacks from little bits of carved ivory to brass scientific instruments all interspersed with chapels seeming at random of which the Sistine chapel is one. They’ve done an amazing restoration job on Michelangelo’s masterpiece. I didn’t realize that before he did that he had never painted anything and that he got the job because his detractors hoped he’d discredit himself. Instead, he created one of the world’s greatest artworks. I’m surprised he didn’t paint himself giving them the finger.

I remember when I saw the Mona Lisa. It was a complete, utter disappointment because you couldn’t get near it and it was covered by tinted glass to protect it from flash photography. Add to that it’s pretty small; you’d need to stand directly in front of it to really see it and you can’t because: a) it’s roped off, and b) there are hoards of people raptly gazing at it for hours on end. I was expecting something similar with the Sistine chapel and I was completely right, except that since it’s on the ceiling it doesn’t matter how many thick-headed rubber-necking nitwits are in there with you, you have a perfectly unobstructed view that’s worth any wait to see. They could fill the room with raving madmen and it wouldn’t detract from the experience. What does, however, are all the Vatican security going “shhhhhhh!” every time anyone opens their mouth. Yes, it’s a place of worship, but they’re charging money to see it so in my view if I want to say “man that’s amazing!” I should be entitled to without disapproving Italian rent-a-cops frowning at me. Still a great thing to see.

After the chapel we quickly got tired of looking at cases of assorted blessed doo-dads and we wanted a bit of a break before heading out for my birthday dinner, so we escaped the Vatican and traipsed back through the windy streets back to our hotel and crashed out for a bit. Dinner we had at Casa Bleve, an enoteca near the Pantheon that is wine shop out front and restaurant in back, and is good in both roles. The service was impeccable with the Italian menu perfectly translated by the English-fluent staff. The food was very modern but still Italian in nature in that it let the food speak for itself. We started with a mixed anti-pasti platter for 2 which was partly different meats wrapped around different cheeses, and the rest was a selection of specialties like beef carpaccio (raw beef, really tasty) and other things I can’t remember except they were tasty. After that I had roast quail with potatoes and vegetables and it was scrumptious. The quail was crispy, juicy, and just the right gaminess. Claire had lamb that was about as rare as I’ve ever seen it, it wasn’t as good as the quail but still tasty. For dessert I had a mixed platter that had a little bit of everything like mousse, ice cream, a bit of tarte, with some nice tangy fruit reduction to go with it. They brought us a glass of champagne to start, we had a bottle of wine with dinner, and the brought a dessert wine with the sweet stuff that was to me almost better than the dessert itself. The service was attentive but not overdone and with a slight sense of humor. It was a memorable meal on a memorable day. If you want to splash out on a nice meal Casa Bleve was a good place to do it.

After this we strolled (more like rolled) past the moon-lit Pantheon and through the ancient cobbled streets back to our hotel where the teens were of course still wide awake.

On a evening in Roma – day 1

It’s every London traveler’s worst nightmare: I’ve got a flight to catch and the M25, the highway that runs around the city, is backed up. The fact that it wasn’t in the radio traffic report was either really good or really bad: they either didn’t report it because it was relatively minor and they’d rather devote more time to interviewing blithering idiots or they didn’t report it because they feared admitting the severity of it would trigger mass suicide and they were desperate to avoid liability. Fortunately it was the former and we soon got through it and were able to put our foot down.

We had decided to splurge and use air miles to go club class on British Airways, so once we dropped off our bags it was straight through security so we could ensconce ourselves in one of Heathrow terminal 5’s 10 billion BA club class lounges. We went to one in the north side and were promptly but politely told it was a first class lounge and we needed to go to the club class lounge which we did, who promptly told us we needed to go to the south club class lounge to be close to our departure gate, which of course turned out to be on the north side of the terminal. Schlepping commenced and ended up with us at long last comfortably seated on sofas with nice drinks and nicer food.

I have to say that club class or above is the way to go if you can swing it. No screwing around trying to find 2 seats together in the terminal, no having to get in stupidly long queues full of wound-up parents managing manic proto-adults or having to elbow your way to the bar past stag parties trying to outdo the hen parties in unruly drunkenness. Instead in the lounge all is calm, serene, and above all, free. Actually it’s complimentary which means that you’ve already paid for it but why quibble? There are large piles of bacon sandwiches. Good bacon sandwiches! Large bottles of good whisky and spirits are lined up in back of rows of clean glasses and decent wines are lined up in temperature controlled buckets. The fridges are packed with quality beer and cold sodas. Your flight is announced not only for your convenience but so you remember the reason you’re there is that you had planned on going somewhere.

It’s amazing how much 6 inches makes when traveling by air, because that’s about all the extra width you get when in club class as opposed to economy, but it really makes a difference. Instead of having to fight with your neighbor for the high ground of the armrest you both have one. Instead of having to spend hours with your arms rigidly pinned to your sides for fear of an escalating elbow-war you can stretch out a bit. After all the grub I’d scoffed at the lounge I couldn’t enjoy the chicken korma in-flight meal but my wife Claire said for airplane food it was pretty good. They bring fresh bread rolls and all the drinks you want.

The taxi driver we had for our trip into Rome city center proved categorically that the clinically insane can be warm and friendly. In fact, that seems to apply to most drivers in Rome. I’ve never seen 2 lanes accommodate 4 cars at highway speeds before, and I wish I hadn’t as I was in one of them; the one driving on the shoulder next to the central reservation. Having grown up in New York I’ve certainly had my share of white-knuckle cab rides, but generally the drivers there are businesslike and have some desire for self-preservation. When riding in a cab in Rome you get the feeling what the taxi driver creed there is the same as a Klingon warrior’s: “today is a good day to die”.

Fortunately our time was not then and we made it safely to our destination, at least as close as a car could fit. From there it was a short walk over narrow cobbled streets past the Trevi fountain to our hotel, at least what we thought was our hotel. It turns out it was part of a chain and the one we were actually booked in was a short distance away. We were told it would be 5 minutes before the driver would get there to take us and we should go and have a look at the Trevi fountain for awhile. Let’s see, he’ll be here in 5 minutes so come back in 20. That’s Italy!

Our hotel was neither the best nor the worst I’ve been in. It was comfortable enough but no frills. The only flaw was that is was full of teenage tour groups from all over the world who fully enjoyed shouting at each other day and night. Still, it was pretty central and was a good base from which to sally forth into the city, which we did after a brief unpacking session.

The first thing that you notice in Rome is that the city has a very low sidewalk to street ratio, and that the concept of pedestrian right-of-way is well understood but completely ignored. There’s pedestrian crossings and crosswalks which the Romans do actually for the most part obey, but they aren’t everywhere and there are some places where to get across you either have to walk half a mile out of your way to find a crosswalk, or take a deep breath then pick your moment and run like you are Indiana Jones escaping a collapsing temple.

Providing you survive getting across Via del Corso, thereby going from the ridiculously touristy Trevi fountain area to a slightly less touristy area that locals could bear to let themselves be seen in you will then notice that in Italy everyone has style. The whole place exudes it. When you step on a cobblestone you can see style oozing up through the cracks. Even the bums look good. It’s impossible as a tourist to be a part of that, you just have to accept that you are separate from it. It’s like there’s 2 parallel universes in any very touristy place: there’s the reality of the tourist who wants to see sites and absorb a different culture, and then there’s the reality of the local person who at the end of the day just wants to get by you. Tourists are so absorbed with all the new sights, sounds, smells, and in Rome the overriding desire not to get smeared over the hood of a Fiat that they don’t really see the people around them. The Romans on the other hand have been dealing with tourists for over 2,000 years and are by this time genetically predisposed to simply tune them out. It’s like me when I navigate my way through Covent Garden market on my way to the tube every night after work: intellectually I know the tourists are humans, I just am so tired of having to squeeze my way past nutwads who don’t think to get out of the way before they go into gawk mode that I just don’t care. They become living, moving, unpredictable traffic cones and it becomes a game weaving around them. I suspect the Romans thought of us the same way especially since Rome has so many gawk-worthy sites.

Leaving our hotel in search of culture, enlightenment, and above all food turned left onto via Quattro Fontane which quickly becomes via Sistina, a street with a great variety of shops. A good deal of them were shoe shops, mostly closed thankfully as they would have seriously tempted my wife’s resolve to seek out sustenance as soon as was realistically possible. We both saw seriously good possibilities for future aquisition of sartorial accessories along this stretch of road and filed it away for later. We both saw things we liked in windows and best of all the prices of many of the shops were less than an Apollo moon landing.

The shops thin out after a few blocks and soon you find yourself strolling casually along a nice stretch of picturesque street. Don’t get excited at this point if you’re new to Rome as just about everywhere in the historic city center is picturesque. A good guideline for Rome is that if you find yourself in an area where you aren’t thinking about camera angles you should start thinking about your personal safety. Anyway, soon you reach the Spanish Steps, in Italian the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, which I personally think look at their best at night. On any night when gigantic pieces of ice do not rain from the sky you will find romantic couples blocking your way all along the generous proportions of what is described as the longest and widest staircase in Europe. There’s a restaurant at the top we didn’t go to as the prices made our eyes hurt, but the views from the top looked fantastic and apparently it’s gotten good reviews so it would be a good choice of place to splash out if you’ve got something to prove or want to propose.

At the base of the steps is some of the most expensive shopping in Rome, but once you get a short distance away from it you get an interesting melange of shops where you alternately wonder where a decimal place has been miscalculated to where you desperately hope where a decimal place has been calculated. In the first type of place I often see things I like but have to talk myself into buying something because it’s so cheap I think there’s something wrong with it and in the second I back out slowly with my hands in plain view while holding my breath for fear of getting charged for the air. Interspersed with the shops and boutiques are the entrances to the local residences and plenty of bars and restaurants. It’s an area with something for everyone and we loved it.

After a bit of window licking and note taking for future reference we found an Enoteca Antica, a bar-restaurant that was recommended by our best friend the Lonely Planet. Inside was a very Italian-rustic feel with lots of wood and fresco-looking decoration that all worked to make you feel comfortable and ready for some good simple cooking. The staff were very friendly and spoke enough English to get past my non-existent Italian. They had a very extensive wine list with both extremes of prices the majority of which you can have by the glass. If I said I could remember what I drank I’d be lying because I can’t remember Italian wine regions but I can certainly remember the food as it was some of the best I’ve ever tasted, bar none. I started with Gnocchi pomodorro e basilico, potato pasta with a simple tomato and basil sauce and it was excellent. The Gnocchi was light and perfectly cooked and the sauce was full of good tomato flavor. Claire had meat ravioli with mushrooms and it was mouth-watering, even for me who prefers mushrooms to anywhere else but in my food. It was my second course of pork rib that really blew my mind. It was so tender I could eat it with just my fork, and the flavor was staggering! It must have been slow cooked for a week to become that savory and mouth-wateringly delicious. Fabulous.

After a truly excellent meal it was time for a leisurely stroll back to the hotel via the Tiber river where we had the unexpected opportunity to burn off some recently indulged calories. The night was more beautiful than you can expect for November in Europe, the sky was mostly clear with just some wispy clouds, and it was warm enough that a light jacket was plenty. The moon was out and hovering directly over the river, casting a luscious ambiance over the historic fortresses and bridges on the opposite side. As we walked under the huge trees lining the river we were happy to realize we were completely alone, no other tourists or locals had thought to venture this direction. This stretch of the river was ours and ours alone.

Actually, it turns out we had company: about 10 million starlings that make the center of Rome their winter retreat. During the day they go far and wide foraging for tasty morsels like olives and grain, but in the evening they like a sense of community and a frightening number of them shack up together for the night. In trees. Along the river. We gradually became aware of the racket of an enormous number of birds squawking above us.

We had company, lots of company with full digestive tracks.

As we walked felt some sort of impact on my head. Any thoughts of it being a nut were quickly abolished when my fingers encountered what was undoubtedly starling-shit. I immediately made that noise that is part blech, part gaaa, and all yech as I flung the offensive excrement off my offended extremity, followed by several choice words. I also may have invoked a deity in a non-religious context.

Once the first one had let go all the others got into the act like teenagers who just saw their friend get away with something naughty and a torrent of avian feces began to drop around us. There was nothing to do but leg it until we were out from under the tree cover, pelting down the lane as we were pelted by guano, alternately shouting words of encouragement to each other and swearing at the squadrons of feathered fiends poo-bombing us. Once clear we both agreed that a shotgun concession at that point would be a runaway money-maker.

After this unexpected exertion we had to replenish our calories so on the way back to the hotel we were forced to stop for a gelato. We swung back via the Trevi fountain, which was built in the 18th century mark the end of an aqueduct. The baroque edifice is situated in a fairly close square surrounded by pure touristiness. I fully expected not to like this overdone monstrosity but when I tried to put that expectation into practice I realized I couldn’t as I actually like it. It may be way too big for the space and also rediculously over the top but it’s also creative and graceful, and some of the touches are fantastically imaginative. Looking at the corners you see that the fountain is designed to look like it’s grown out of the facade of the building behind it as if it grew organically by the will of a god. At night it’s lit from below making the water seem to glow as it flows out of the fountain’s many chutes and flutes.

Our hotel may have been full of a billion loud teenagers from 5 continents all trying to get into their respective olympic screaming teams but after midnight amazing they all went to sleep, so I guess they were all exhausted from their exertions and everyone in the place performed a coordinated crash.

The cost/benefit of education

Around the western world there’s a critical lack of engineers. Governments are concerned because they see skills shortages effecting local industries and taking business away. Many see lack of interest as the cause of dwindling numbers, but I disagree. The reason that engineering degrees aren’t as popular as management or business degrees aren’t because people are lazy or that they wouldn’t LIKE to be engineers, it’s because the cost/benefit ratio is less favorable than management or business. To become an engineer and get paid a decent, but not high, wage, you need a masters degree. So that’s 8 years of costly university education and when you come out you aren’t making a fortune. A person can go into management or business with just a bachelor’s degree and it doesn’t even have to be in those areas.

Compare engineering to IT. There are few university degrees in IT, anyone I know who has a computer sciences degree who works in IT say that most of the comp sci curriculum is useless and that they learned most on the job. You can get certifications and qualifications by self-study and make as much or more than an engineer with 8 years+ of university and still be doing interesting work. There’s an awful lot of very smart people in IT who would be great engineers, so why aren’t they? Because the costs/benefit breakdown of being an engineer as opposed to being in IT is not favorable. It’s not lack of interest, it’s just not that appealing.

Engineering schools use advanced mathematics as a weeding-out mechanism. Why? Is someone good at calculus going to make a good engineer? Not really, it just shows they’re good at math. Most engineers never use much advanced math once they get out, and even if they do they have to re-learn how to use it so why make it such a huge requirement? Engineers will tell you that they learned most of what they needed to on the job.

If you want more people to become engineers you don’t have to lower the bar, just change the system so that people can become one without spending a fortune in time and money, and then pay them better at the end. That will improve the cost/benefit prospect.