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Case 35

Sparrow Breaks Free

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A messenger informed Abbess Jinyu that several of her monks had devised a clever new method for storing information in the Cloud. The monks were excited by the possibilities and wished to develop the technology further. The abbess sent back this message:

An egg hatches, and
Sparrow Clan has emerged.

The new clan labored night and day and produced a working prototype. All attended the demo, and soon the Sparrow Clan was celebrated throughout the Temple. The clan’s head monk received another message from the abbess:

Sparrow breaks free from the shadowy forest.
All eyes behold her ascent.

At this time a prospective client was entertaining bids for a new social networking application. The head monk arranged a tea with the client, at which he argued that his clan’s new software would be an ideal foundation for the proposed system. The client agreed, and the contract was awarded to the Sparrow Clan. Old Jinyu sent her congratulations:

Soaring alone over distant fields,
Sparrow nabs the worm
while her flock still slumbers.

The system was delivered, and enjoyed great success.

Months passed. Many came to use the application, including developers who were intrigued and inspired by its novel use of the Cloud. Although they did not possess the Sparrow Clan’s software, the fundamental approach was easy to discern.

Word reached the abbess that a Birds of a Feather session had convened at a recent conference, and the attendees had begun work on a standard API for this new type of Cloud interface. The next day the head monk opened his mail to find this warning:

Yellow leaves tumble through the air.
The flock is stirring.

The Sparrow Clan had no interest in the new API, which it regarded as over-engineered. They continued to employ and develop their own approach with each new contract won. Yet cryptic notes continued to arrive:

A hundred sparrows can peck an eagle blind.
Every nightingale loves her own song best.
One bird cannot hatch an egg.

The Sparrow Clan’s software continued to evolve, accumulating some impressive new features, but as a consequence it was now hopelessly incompatible with the new API specification. The head monk had no concerns (Let the other temples enjoy their primitive implementations!) but still he dreaded opening his mail each morning. Jinyu’s tone grew ever darker:

The grown falcon does not dine on flies.

Temples which had adopted the new API continued to collaborate, producing various extensions and enhancements. Commercial ventures were spun off, competition escalated, and soon a blizzard of glossy brochures were printed up and dispatched by carrier pigeon to all corners of the Empire. Even the abbess received a few, which she forwarded on with this note:

A little fledgeling sang thus to me:
snow has fallen.

Across the Empire, governors and generals clamored for systems built with the newer technology. Every temple in the bidding crowed that its solution was standards-compliant—or rather, every temple but one.

In a secluded courtyard of the Temple of the Morning Brass Gong, a meeting was held to discuss the fate of the Sparrow Clan. Their libraries had become liabilities, since (unlike their competitors) they could not interoperate with the immensely popular commercial extensions. Clients who had adopted the Sparrow’s technology in its early days were now demanding upgrades to the commercial solutions—but since the interfaces were so different, the cost was prohibitively high. Contracts were being cancelled. Worse, the temple’s reputation had suffered.

That evening Jinyu sent a final message to the clan’s head monk, written on a square of rice paper that had been folded around the blade of a seppuku knife:

The flock is gone south.
Lone sparrow has his white field.
Now the hawk descends.