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I've been struggling for a while to explain Ei's abilities. This is because I am a Star Trek geek, and by their very nature, Star Trek geeks cannot leave well enough alone. We have to know how warp drives work, how a transporter does its thing, how a subspace communicator is constructed. Hell, the tech manuals even talk about the waste recycling systems on the damn ships.

So, I've been trying to simplify things down to a small set of powers and abilities that form the character. I finally realized tonight that, fundamentally, Ei has two essentially unrelated powers.


The first power is casting system calls and utilities. This is when he uses gdb (as already shown IC), or any of a host of other spells, like kill (what it sounds like), fsck (not what it sounds like), wait (a particularly fun one1), etc. This is really just your typical verbal spellcasting, except that the spells are "themed".

In fact, he's calling on the spirits of ancient systems to do whatever the spell specifies, and each spell consumes a certain amount of caffeine. I think. I do pretty much know that caffeine factors in somewhere, because it's just too perfect that way.

That may mean that he's technically not a wizard (I'm not a fantasy person), but I don't really care that much. To me at least, "wizard" is a hacker title as much or more than it is a magical person.


The second ability is more interesting. It's an intuitive (i.e. performed only by thought), completely effortless power over electricity.

Essentially, he can control the current moving through any electronic circuit. He can't construct new circuits or modify existing ones (which seems to be a large component of C-kun's power), but he can create, drain, and route current.

With simple devices (where "simple" basically means anything that doesn't have true software), he can turn them on and off, manipulate voltages going through them, etc. He can make music by varying the voltage running through a speaker; he can scramble targeting and guidance systems. He can fry many electronic devices.

When you get to something with real software--stored in and loaded into rewritable memory--things get more interesting. By adding or removing current within the computer's circuitry, Ei can modify RAM contents directly and send read/write commands to hard drives. Thusly, he can rewrite software on the fly...

...but to really take advantage of that, he has to know the software inside and out. There's a word for this:
grok: /grok/, /grohk/, vt.

[common; from the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein, where it is a Martian word meaning literally ‘to drink’ and metaphorically ‘to be one with’] The emphatic form is grok in fullness.

1. To understand. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity. For example, to say that you “know” LISP is simply to assert that you can code in it if necessary — but to say you “grok” LISP is to claim that you have deeply entered the world-view and spirit of the language, with the implication that it has transformed your view of programming. Contrast zen, which is similar supernal understanding experienced as a single brief flash. See also glark.

2. Used of programs, may connote merely sufficient understanding. “Almost all C compilers grok the void type these days.”
In short, Ei groks Unix, so he's able to delve into its guts and manipulate it.

I'm actually rather surprised it's that simple.

(Actually, there's a third power, pseudo-immortality. But that's probably also driven by the ancient systems.)


1 If you have a Unix system handy, type "man 2 wait". If your wait(2) manpage is phrased properly (it is on Linux), you'll get what this spell does; if you think long enough about what the wait function does, you'll see why it's so fun.

Comments

nuvan
Mar. 30th, 2004 03:14 am (UTC)
so what story is this exactly?