Skip to main content

The Yin and Yang of Actions and Events

Today, in our telcon we invented something. It is not often that we can claim that; but today we did.

There are, it sometimes seems, people who think that everything is an event. There are others (including a lot of philosophers) who think everything is an action. (Well, everything that people are involved with anyway.)

Well, they are wrong.

In human communication, the only way of getting someone to understand something you want them to is by saying something to them: by performing one or more speech actions. In the SOA we interpret this by committing to a view that participants in a service interaction denote the actions to be performed by exchanging messages. I.e., an appropriately formatted message that is effectively communicated between participants counts as an effort to perform an action.

But, not all messages encode actions. Some encode events. For us, an event can be defined as something that happened that someone has an interest in. We can encode a description of an event as a message, in exactly the same way that an action can be so encoded.

So, what is the relationship between events and actions?

If you look at the message that denotes the action, you can call it an event (the event is the performing of the action). On the other hand, traditional speech act theory would encode an event as a speech action: an inform of the change.

Personally, I do not like the smushing together of events and actions in this way: each is a first class idea, not to be subordinated by the other. But they do seem to be very closely connected; almost two sides of a coin -- a yin to a yang.

So, we now have two fundamental 'things' being communicated: actions and events. Incidentally, an event can be used to communicate a real world effect - one of the cornerstones of the SOA Reference Model. And that is our invention for today.

Popular posts from this blog

Comments Should be Meaningless

This is something of a counterintuitive idea: Comments should be meaningless What, I hear you ask, are you talking about? Comments should communicate to the reader! At least that is the received conventional wisdom handed does over the last few centuries (decades at least). Well, certainly, if you are programming in Assembler, or C, then yes, comments should convey meaning because the programming language cannot So, conversely, as a comment on the programming language itself, anytime the programmer feels the imperative to write a meaningful comment it is because the language is not able to convey the intent of the programmer. I have already noticed that I write far fewer comments in my Java programs than in my C programs.  That is because Java is able to capture more of my meaning and comments would be superfluous. So, if a language were able to capture all of my intentions, I would never need to write a comment. Hence the title of this blog.

Sub-turing complete programming languages

Here is an interesting intuition: the key to liberating software development is to use programming languages that are not, by themselves, turing-complete. That means no loops, no recursion 'in-language'. Why? Two reasons: any program that is subject to the halting problem is inherently unknowable: in general, the only way to know what a turing-complete program means is to run it. This puts very strong limitations on the combinatorics of turing-complete programs and also on the kinds of support tooling that can be provided: effectively, a debugger is about the best that you can do with any reasonable effort. On the other hand, a sub-turing language is also 'decidable'. That means it is possible to predict what it means; and paradoxically, a lot easier to provide a rich environment for it etc. etc. An interesting example of two languages on easier side of the turing fence are TeX and CSS. Both are designed for specifying the layout of text, TeX is turing complete and CSS

On programming languages and the Mac

Every so often I dig out my Xcode stuff and have a go at exploring developing an idea for Mac OS X. Everytime the same thing happens to me: Objective-C is such an offensive language to my sensibilities that I get diverted into doing something else. All the lessons that we have learned the hard way over the years -- the importance of strong static typing, the importance of tools for large scale programming -- seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the Objective-C community. How long did it take to get garbage collection into the language? I also feel that some features of Objective-C represent an inherent security risk (in particular categories) that would make me very nervous to develop a serious application in it. As it happens, I am currently developing a programming language for Complex Event Processing. Almost every choice that I am making in that language is the opposite to the choice made for Objective-C -- my language is strongly, statically typed; it is designed for parallel exe