The Human SOA

June 21, 2007 § 4 Comments

Recently, I’ve to endeavoured to understand more about the relationship between our body and mind – the mindbody. Whilst reading up on the more scientific terriority attempting to explain this relationship, and moreover how the two parts communicate, I’ve encountered a fascinating area of science concerning a communication mechanism we have inside us.

Put as simply I can perhaps carelessly put it: our cells, making up our various organs, have various receptors on them, each configured to bind to various information carrying messengers that are produced elsewhere in the body. These information carriers, also known as ligands, have a wide ranging effect on our various inner systems. Endorphins are an example: secreted by the pituitary gland, our various organs react in differing ways upon receiving this substance. The culminating effect is that pain is relieved, and we are put in a mental state of well-being.

What I found interesting whilst pondering this intricate, yet conceptually simple model of communication, is that it mirrors a pattern of design we use in software engineering called the Service Orientated Architecture (SOA). I’ll concede now that it’s a little audacious of me without any medical background to attempt to marry up a process in the body with a paradigm in a completely different field, but I will attempt to do so nonetheless with an uncharacteristically steely determination.

The SOA, in the traditional sense (I’m not referring to REST, WS-* Standards, or any direct technical implementation of SOA) has at the heart of it a rich communication mechanism. I’ll take the common example of a SOA that uses a message-bus for this purpose. Various services hang off this bus, listening out accordingly for various messages. Upon receiving a message, they’ll probably do something important like maybe insert some data into a database, and then might communicate a message back out on to the bus.

Well, lets switch over to the body’s equivalent. The message-bus is quite simply the bloodstream – the way most stuff travels round the body. The messages themselves, instead of being binary packets of data (though they are indeed packets of data – compose of peptides rather than ones and zeros), are the pre-mentioned ligands.

In software SOA’s, in order for a service to listen out for a particular message, you need to set up a subscription. For an organic organ, this is mirrored by the constituent cells needing to house receptors at their surface. This is so the receptors can interact with passing ligands. Similar to making a subscription, each receptor will interact with only a specific legand. Once the ligand and receptor have binded, information consequently trickles down from the outside of the cell into its inside, and thus into the organ. Similar to ‘services’ in the software version of an SOA, the organ then does what ever it wants to. In the case of morphine (carrying endorphine like peptides), or cannabis, the result is that our organs do things such as get us high. In the case of the peptide Cholecystokinin, or in it’s abbreiviated form CCK, our body is able to co-ordinate to do the various things necessary in order to digest food.

In the diagram below, I’ve attempted to model the process of our ligands, receptors and organs interacting during the digestion of food as an SOA

sao

The messages travelling in a good SOA should be event based, and preferabley have some business significant meaning. In the above model, our event (the CCK peptide) is that some food has arrived in the intestine. What’s happening here is the message is being published by the intestinal service, and other services that have subscribed (via their receptors) will pick the message the message up and then do something interesting with it. It’s the mechanism of pub/sub message exchange, rather than direct point-to-point communication. Personally, I find it easier to envisage how such a system could have come about through evolution; our body produces organs that through over time have learnt to respond to our inner-messages, giving us some positive advantage that helps us suceed in the ruthless world that is natural selection. As an interesting aside, in software systems where the messaging breaks down (i.e. we loose messages, or messages get corrupted), the body has it’s equivalents through a variety of illnesses. Viruses can be corrupt messages, docking with cell receptors for unscrupulous means.

So there we go, the human SOA!

Well, HIPs has gone all Pete Tong

June 16, 2007 § Leave a Comment

So I wrote a couple of months ago about the imminent arrival of Home Information Packs (HIPs). Surely I could proclaim with a high degree of certainty that with less than a month to go and after more than a decade of planning, that this new law would finally make the positive difference it was designed to do.

RICS, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors have chucked a spanner into the works at the last minute. Fed up of being ignored, they’ve taken the government to task about the lack of consultation. They’re also angry that the new leglisation would introduce a new set of home inspectors (energy assessors): fundamentally, this means that a whole new raft of certified professionals would be stepping on the surveyors exclusive turf. What I perceive RICS also finds puzzling, is that current surveyors would not be given the opporunity to take up some additional form of training, which would enable them to perform the necessary inspections that the HIP mandates.

Ofcourse RICs may have a point here. If current surveyors can perform the necessary inspections instead of extra people being required in the process, wouldn’t this make the HIP construction more efficient and perhaps a little cheaper? It’s difficult to make an definitive opinion without knowing what exactly is involved in the training for energy assessors, but it does not bode well if the government is in the docks for incompetence.

So where are we now? Well the government has put back the HIPs start date until August 01. If this were the only change they are making to the legislation, then I would see this as only a minor complication – frustrating to some sure, who’s businesses require a firm timescale so that they can make plans, but on the whole I would see the new initiative as being in a relatively healthy state. Unfortunately, they’ve put in a couple of extra adjustments. Firstly HIPs would now only be applicable to houses with more than four bedrooms. One of the first questions to be fired at ministers, was ‘what exactly constitutes a four bedroom property?’. Suddenly, people will start saying they have three bedrooms and a study in order to avoid forking out. It’s a little bizarre.

It gets worse. The other, more significant change is that you no longer have to physically have the HIP in order to market your property, as long as you’ve ordered it. This would be very difficult to enforce, and would seem to make the HIP meaningless in the majority of circumstances. If buyer X really desires a certain house, in a competitive housing market he or she is not going to hang around for some discredited paperwork to show up. Furthermore, with the fine of not having a HIP in place at the time of sale a lot cheaper than the actual price of the pack, it’s perfectly possible to envisage estate agents and solicitors advising against paying for the HIP.

It’s terrible that for the second time with this legislation the government has persuaded people to undergo expensive training, only for their newly acquired skills to be rendered redundant. Perhaps naively, I’m a little disheartened that the government, the people we employ, can be so inept at following big projects through. I may be lacking an objective viewpoint, sustenance of moral etiquette when I say this, but I have thought for some time that the housing minister Yvette Cooper reminds me of the old idiom a ‘rabbit caught in the headlights‘.

It would be unfair to persist with my tangent of labour-bashing without mentioning that I consider the Tories to have acted pretty disgracefully too. Reading the shadow housing ministers objection to the new law, which consists of mainly unfounded gibberish sprinkled with jaded partisian statements, it’s evident that the Tories have never really had anything interesting to say on the matter, a claim that you could not direct at RICS. They failed with an attempt to block the new packs introduction, ironically days before RICS forced an intervention.

We will have to wait and see what happens with HIPs. I now agree with the majority consensus that it’s hard to see the struggling packs ever seeing the light of day.

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