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People of the elephant

Posted by batate on June 23, 2004 at 9:29 AM PDT

The "elephant" article that java.net published last week was probably my favorite that I've ever written. Your responses made me work. After hundreds of blogs, e-mails, forums and phone calls, I'm still amazed that it struck such passionate feelings from my audience. (In an amusing twist of fate, Amazon chose that week to report that my new book, Better, Faster, Lighter Java, had not yet shipped, though they were taking orders. Rather than answer each blog in a boring tit-for-tat, I'm going to make more amuzing but practically useless gross generalizations. These are the groups of people that responded to my article.

  • Some just like chicken better. Call this the tribe of chicken hunters. And I say, "More power to the chicken!" Some called me to ask me how to move from a diet from elephants to chicken. I learned that more and more people are learning to hunt chickens. Spring Chickens are now taking off and downloads are in overdrive. Hibernating chickens have never been stronger, and Kodo-chicken is having spikes in orders. Like their prey, some chicken hunters are not as always as bright. That’s OK. You don’t have to be to eat a chicken. Others are brilliant, including those that wrote the manifesto about changing our diets from elephant to chicken. Still others are purely pragmatic, seeing chicken as a way to save time, money and effort. Recognize this tribe from the elephant-sized footprints on their chest. Make them eat an elephant again at your own peril. I firmly believe that most of us will be chicken hunters soon.
  • Some are grudgingly still working with elephants, but are having a difficult time. Let's call this the starving hunters. They stare longingly at chicken, but this tribe's betting everything on landing an elephant. They say that they just don’t have time to learn how to hunt chicken, and you can manage and deploy elephants on a much larger scale. They need some of the other parts of the elephant, too. Smugly, they ask, “Have you ever seen a chicken with a 14-foot tusk?”. Sure, they may take a casualty or two to the hunt, but the benefits outweigh the risks, and they believe that nothing but an elephant will save them, anyway. Recognize them by their battle scars, the racing eyes, and the vaguely frantic conversational style. Don't try to comfort them with alternatives. They probably do need the whole elephant. They may not know it yet, but they’ll probably be chicken hunters soon.
  • Some don't care at all. They live in elephant hunting grounds with no other game, and are making the best of it. Call them the happy hunters. They’d adopt quickly if other tastier game moved in, or the elephants moved out. They know their station, and are pragmatically doing everything in their power to make elephant easier to eat. They actually like elephant. And it's been so long since they've eaten anything else that to them, it doesn't feel like eating an elephant. They speak a different language, and don't really care when someone says something bad about their elephants. They shop at SAMS for drums of chocolate sauce, and they use sophisticated elephant cannons that would pulverize other game. They don’t care; they’re hunting elephants. Recognize them by the radios that blare “Don’t worry, be happy,” and their nation's flag, that has a big grey border around a rising sun, with a motto around the perimeter that says "It tastes like chicken."
  • Another group lives for all things elephant. Call this tribe the mighty elephant warriors. Their sworn enemy is the tribe of the chicken-hunter. To them, elephants are sacred. They are actually misunderstood, and they actually taste like manna from heaven. When I wrote my article, this tribe said that I was really just talking about EJB entity beans, or stateful session beans, or something else. They insist that if I'd really gotten to know their elephant, things would have turned out differently for me. But now, it’s too late; I’ve insulted their elephant. They get a mighty spiritual boost from elephant. They brag about being able to eat an elephant one bite at a time, but they’ve been gorging since adolescence. They've studied the hunt all of their adult lives, and can bring one down with a Swiss army knife and a toothpick. And it's infinitely easier than bringing down a dinosaur, the sacred beast of their ancestors. They may talk about hunting other game, but they will always come back to the elephant. They love everything about the elephant, and some of them actually want to outlaw elephant evolution. Of course, you may want to be a mighty elephant warrior, but most people that try to pass the initiation get trampled into the ground. A few survive the experience and join some other tribe. Recognize the elephant warriors by the "elfant-4-u" bumper stickers on their hummers.
  • Another tribe just wants to pick a fight. Call them the cannibals. Don't try to recognize them. Just turn around and run.
  • Then there are those that hunt other game. The biggest is the tribe of the whale hunter. They’re so intensely loyal that some are still trying to hunt whale in fresh waters! Some have heard distant tale of whale-lock-in, so all land-based hunters fear them. The visual-Shrimp hunters distain the whale hunters, and look back fondly on the shrimp-hunting days. You can recognize them easily, because they’re more of a cult than a tribe. Find the leader, and the billion whale hunters will be right behind.
  • This tribe has actually never seen an elephant. Call them the cloud people. They are genetically superior, and have actually evolved to a higher plane. Cloud-people were already making advanced Smalltalk when chicken hunters learned that the first letter in chicken was C. They hunt unicorn. They’re completely brilliant, but often completely impractical. There are rumors that some of the cloud people actually started the tribe of the chicken-hunters, but that claim has never been proven. Few will ever be lucky enough to meet a cloud person. If you do, you'll recognize him by the eerie soft luminescent glow from their hair and skin from years of slow radiation.

And what do you think?

  1. Is EJB an elephant? I'm not just talking about EJB persistence. Throw in the rest of it too. Is it easy enough to digest and understand? Can you buy it in parts, or would you even want to? Can you effectively decouple everything that you need to, so that you can eat it one bite at a time? Is it easy to teach, learn, maintain, and support? Above all, how does it compare to other solutions out there?
  2. Are there other elephants out there that you're already dealing with today? Do you see any other large, unwieldy game, trotting around on the horizon that may grow to elephant-like proportions?
  3. If you think that there are some real elephants lumbering out there, how will you choose to cope? Will you choose to go to a lightweight container? Will you radically switch programming paradigms, or move over to .NET? Will you instead just try to work harder and smarter?
  4. What's your tribe? How would you characterize it?
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