I am currently in the middle of reading Dan Brown's book The Lost Symol, and I ran into something that has completely changed my mind about him as an author. I don't think I will ever buy another book by the man.
First off, I know all about the talk, the web sites, the controversy over his books. I once ran into a web link that listed all the things he has supposedly gotten wrong in previous books. But I tried to avoid listening to the Internet hype and enjoy his books. Unfortunately, his latest mistake is one I cannot ignore.
The following excerpt (which I will show you) is a scene where this "computer expert" is trying to find out where the physical location of a document (on the web) is based on it's IP address. An IP address (for the uninitiated) is basically the address of a resource, be it a web page, a computer, a modem, etc. That's a simplification, but hopefully you get the idea. This person has been described as being top notch, a leading expert in her field. Here's what Mr. Brown writes:
Strangely, the file's location was not displaying as a traditional Web address but rather as a numeric Internet Protocol address. "I can't unmask the IP," Trish said. "The domain name's not coming up. Hold on." She pulled up her terminal window. "I'll run a traceroute."
Okay, stop there. Traceroute IS an actual command that can be run on a computer. Mr. Brown did enough research to find that much out. The next section though (a few paragraphs ahead) is where the problem lies.
What the hell? Her trace had stopped before reaching the document's server. Her ping, for some reason, had hit a network device that swallowed it rather than bouncing it back. "It looks like my traceroute got blocked," Trish said. Is that even possible?
This last statement is where the problem lies. You see, while traceroute is a valid computer command, it's a very basic one. Any IT professional worth their salt at least knows about it, and 99% of them would know how to run it. And this character Trish is so computer savvy, she designed (read this as programmed) her own web search tool (which is how she found this secretive document). Wouldn't she have better tools at her disposal for discovery than a simple traceroute command?
What's worse is the fact that if you google "block traceroute", you'll find out just how easy it is to perform this task. You see, there are different ports (think portals or doorways) for every type of computer communication. Certain types of email for example, use port 25. Traceroute also uses a specific port. All you have to do is block or turn off that port (on a firewall or the web server itself), and no data will ever be allowed through. This is actually a common security practice, to turn off ports that you don't want to be used. Trish should know this, if she is as computer savvy as the author describes. She shouldn't be wondering to herself whether it's even possible to block a traceroute command.
Now, I can understand when an author makes a mistake. It happens. But in this case, Mr. Brown took the time to research computer terms enough to use a valid command in his story. But he couldn't take the time to make sure he is using it in the proper context, with believable results? He couldn't take the time to make sure his computer expert character knows what she is talking about? That's inexcusable, considering how easy it is to find this information out. There are also other ways he could have handled this, without it being so wrong. He could have generalized about the tools she was using, indicating that they were her own personally designed tools. Then when things didn't work, it would make more sense that she is completely surprised.
Maybe it bugs me so much because I am an IT professional by trade. But I think it's more than that. He is supposed to be a celebrated and experienced author, and this is a pitiful mistake that should have been corrected.
How do you feel about mistakes you find in books you read? What would it take for you to decide not to read any more of a particular author's books? And am I being way too nitpicky here?