Despite what some people think of them, I really liked Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Yeah, it's all fluff, but it was entertaining fluff. I steered clear of Digital Fortress, though. Don't know why, I just had a feeling I wouldn't like it.
Well, my darling daughter bought me Digital Fortress for my birthday. With her own money. Because she knew I liked Dan Brown's other books. So when your daughter buys you a book with her own money, you read it, and you like it. End of story.
So what did I learn from this book? A few things (spoilers, some of them):
1. The EFF is a bunch of naive do-gooders who have no clue what kind of carnage would be wrought if the government couldn't spy on us.
2. The NSA clearly needs to be able to listen in on all of the world's electronic communications any time they want to, for purely noble reasons. They would never abuse this trust.
3. Bits, bytes, alphabetic characters, alphanumeric characters, and ASCII characters are, oh, pretty much all the same thing, right? For instance, this is an 8-bit key: "APQRDX34".
4. The villian is named TANKADO. His shadowy accomplice is called "NORTH DAKOTA". All of the most talented cryptographers at the NSA will fail to recognize the obvious anagram here until the last chapter. Anagrams are hard, I guess.
5. Computers at the NSA have this futuristic feature where with a couple of keystrokes, the user can "lock" their terminal so that nobody can use it unless they enter the user's password. This technology is so mind-bendingly high-tech that it requires a half-page of explanation.
6. Passwords at the NSA are all fixed-length keys of 5 alphanumeric characters, case-insensitive.
7. The NSA is an overwhelmingly male-dominated organization. However, if you are a female who is also the most brilliant code breaker who ever lived, you can work there if the director thinks you're hot.
8. If the power in the NSA Crypto division goes out, the backup power will only be sufficient to keep the main codebreaking computer running. All other power, including doors, door locks, and lights, will be unusable.
9. However, if the power door locks are not functioning, all doors in the most secure facility in the world can be forced open with a little muscle. As a general rule, all men in the NSA are strong enough to open them. The lone woman is not.
10. If the main NSA database loses power, all data contained within it will be lost forever.
11. Given a cryptic phrase written by a scientist including the words "prime" and "difference", a room full of mathematicians and crypographers and scientists will not notice that these are mathematical terms until disaster is less than 10 seconds away.
12. When riding a Vespa scooter across oil-slick pavement at 50 miles an hour, frantically pumping your brakes will allow you to stay upright for dozens of yards and then continue riding once you are through.
13. In Spain, all punk rockers are dumb, illiterate stoners, but they speak flawless English with an American accent.
My girl bought this for me, so I read it, and I thanked her. I'm such a good daddy.
And you know what else? It was still better than Cryptonomicon.