Overthinking: March 2009 Archives


March 27, 2009

Sorry about the lack of content last week—was at IETF and just didn't have time to write anything. I should have some more material up over the weekend. In the meantime, check out this photo of the bathroom sink at the Hilton where we were having the conference:

That thing to the left of the sink is an automatic soap dispenser (surprisingly, powered by a battery pack underneath the sink). Now notice that the sink itself is manually operated. Isn't this kind of backwards? The whole point of automatic soap dispensers and sinks in bathrooms is to appeal to your OCD by freeing you from having to touch any surface which has been touched by any other human without being subsequently sterilized. But when you wash your hands, the sequence of events is that you turn on the water, wet your hands, soap up, rinse, and then turn off the water. So, if you have a manually operated sink, people contaminate the handles with their dirty, unwashed hands, which means that when you go to turn the sink off, your just-washed hands get contaminated again. The advantage of automatic faucets, then, is the automatic shutoff, which omits the last stage. By contrast, having the soap dispenser be automatic doesn't buy you that much because you only need to touch it before washing your hands. There's probably some analogy here to viral spread in computer systems, but for now let's just say that this is how security guys think.