Food, glorious food

I have not been inside a restaurant for a million years. Well, not exactly true, but it feels like that. The risk of contagion in confined spaces is too great to allow people to dine indoors so, where feasible, businesses have been providing outdoor services. That’s OK when the sun is shining (and unusually for Ireland it has been sunny recently) but outdoor dining is not strong in the culture of a people whose primary topic of conversation is the imminent rain.

However, the problems with indoor dining when it comes to Covid are not due to the rain-resistant roof, but more to do with the proximity of other diners and the reduced flow of air to take contaminants out of harm’s way.

Nevertheless, it looks like the government’s strategy with regards to the reopening of indoor dining is to base it on the vaccination (immunity) status of the diners. I don’t hear any talk about restaurant capacity, airflow, etc. The medical status of the diners is a factor, of course, and limiting your clientele to those who are at less risk makes sense. But there should also be guidance regarding the environment into which these lucky people will be placed.

Something simple would work, like the maximum number of people per square meter (I’d guess 0.25), no table to have more than 8 people, and no table to be more than N* meters from an open window/door with noticeable airflow. These would be based on sound medical/scientific principles, and yet simple enough for the average person to comprehend. More importantly, simple enough to be calculated and applied by the typical restaurateur.

We shall see how things pan out over the coming days.

* I have no idea what N should be.

Eggs and baskets

About a week ago a large chunk of the Web vanished for a few hours as Fastly experienced a major outage in their Web cache service. Popular sites like Reddit, the BBC, Amazon and much of the UK government online services suddenly presented blank pages. There was much finger-pointing for days afterwards, then Cloudflare goes down last Friday (more fingers pointing) and today with many of those fingers finally holstered we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of an Akamai outage. Fingers out and reloading!

The thing about these services is that they are mainly caches: intermediary services that optimise the delivery of content from the origin sites. Unfortunately, when they go down, the origin sites do not just go back to some kind of sub-optimal delivery, they go back to nothing. Caches and content delivery networks are not just a means of optimising delivery, they have become the actual means of delivery, and so many major sites on the Web are totally dependent on them.

Expect more baskets to tumble and eggs to break.


I woke this morning to the news that Ireland’s health service was hit by ransomware, crippling a vital component of our society in the middle of a global pandemic. The first reported casualty of this evil deed was a maternity hospital. As the day goes on we will find the consequences of this attack will expand to include more hospitals, medical clinics, doctors’ surgeries and particularly worrying the Covid-19 processes (testing and vaccination). Some or all of these will have to go offline. Much will have to move to alternative mechanisms, such as pen and paper!

Undoubtedly any ransom demand will be rebuffed. To accede would simply raise a flag saying “we pay” and invite more attacks. No, this will have to be taken on the chin, even though the cost of repairing the damage could be some orders of magnitude more than any ransom.

The ramifications of this attack could last weeks or months, and the cost could be massive. In the meantime there will be questions about how the criminals got in and how prepared (or not) the health service was to deal with such attacks. There will be a lot of questions about backups, aging equipment and potential data exfiltration.

It’s a bad day.

Cookie monsters

“We value your privacy…” Yes, sure you do.

If they valued my privacy so much, they would simply not be using the 100s of tracking cookies on their site. My privacy is not valued, nor is anyone else’s. We’ve known this for a very, very long time. In recent times the biggest culprits of personal data harvesting have been forced to make this more obvious because of the EU’s privacy laws, particularly GDPR. They now have to display to visitors their use of cookies, and seek clear consent to proceed on that basis.

Nevertheless, I have observed that many major sites are flouting the law by not making the consent process clear, by using opt-out instead of opt-in, and by not providing any kind of “reject all” (even if that only applies to non-essential cookies). Indeed, it would seem that they have adopted a strategy of presenting a massive “cookie notice” overlay that has a big “I accept” button and a refinement process that is so convoluted that almost nobody will go through it. The “I accept” button is essentially coercion.

It would also seem to be the case that some sites have already dropped cookies into your browser while they are presenting the big cookie notice and waiting for your consent!

This has to stop.

I trust the CJEU and the various associated national data protection agencies will be slapping more fines as time goes on, and hopefully the message will get through.

Money, money, money

The potential for physical money to be the vector for the virus has encouraged every capable society to shift towards card-based payment, preferably contactless at the point of sale. As a consequence I, like many other people, stopped using cash.

In fact, it has been about a year since I last used cash, and I’m getting to like it. One downside of this is that now all of my transactions are being tracked by someone. With the demise of cash comes the demise of privacy.

So now I predict that there will be a growing popular demand for a true digital cash technology, one that has all the convenience of traditional cash, the added benefits of personal accounting (not to mention the added hygiene), and without loss of transactional anonymity. That’s going to be quite a challenge.