Friday, May 15, 2009


I am currently reading William Gibson's Spook Country (amazon). One of the key characters, though he actually has shown up briefly, is the center of alot activity. His name is Bobby Chombo.

In fact, that's a professional name, his real name as we find out is bobby ferguson. We find out that he has taken the name of Chombo due to his fascination with a program called Chombo, developed by Berkley University. His ability to use Chombo allows him to become the driving force behind "locative art". He also appears to be using it to track a container that has been moving in secret around the world.

And although this is a book of fiction, I thought the description of Chombo was almost too realistic not to have some basis in reality:

It implements finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations, on block-structured, adaptively refined rectangular grids.

So, I took a look around and sure enough, there actually is a program called Chombo. This is what the Chombo website says it does:

The Chombo package provides a set of tools for implementing finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations on block-structured adaptively refined rectangular grids. Both elliptic and time-dependent modules are included. Support for parallel platforms and standardized self-describing file formats are included.

Chombo provides a distributed infrastructure for parallel calculations over block-structured, adaptively refined grids. Chombo's design is uniquely flexible and accessible. Any collaborator will be able to develop parallel applications to solve the partial differential equations in which she is interested with far shorter development times than would be possible without the infrastructure. Very careful design and documentation allows said collaborator to enter the software at many levels. She will be able to use Chombo to investigate deep technical issues of adaptive mesh refinement algorithms or to simply adapt the example applications to solve different scientific problems.

See the website's domain on that url; .gov. Seeing as Spook Country is the closest of Gibson's book that I have read that is close technology-wise to today. From cell phones to iPods, etc. In Necromancer, there was more extrapolation of where technology was going. This is more about today, though. So I'm guessing there will be more gummint conspiracy included in the book

The funny thing is that chombo means something completely differently to me. From wikipedia:


Long and short of it is it's a word from Mahjong (麻雀). It refers to mistakenly claiming you have one a hand when in fact you don't have a complete hand. It has expanded from Mahjong to include mistakes in general. I am assuming the word comes from China, as there are two ways to write it: 錯和 and 沖和. (see this)

Funny thing is that the word chombo has been unconsciously bubbling around my head, so that one day at work in discussing an issue on a project in which I am working, I inadvertently used the word chombo. The person I was talking to looked at me as if I had grown horns.

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