In the process of writing Coffee Crash, I came upon many instances where I needed to use Portuguese words or phrases and their English translations for events set in Brazil. I don't speak Portuguese, although out of necessity I picked up bits and pieces of it researching the book. As I learned, translation isn't an exact science.

Some words and phrases have different implications in different cultures, irrespective of the languages. For example, the English phrase for an overnight plane flight is "red-eye." In Brazil, however, the word for an overnight flight is "corujão," which literally translates as "big owl." The next time you want to fly overnight from the west coast of the US to the east coast, tell the airline agent you want to take the big owl flight and see the puzzled look you'll get.

Colloquial sayings don't always survive literal translation. For example, in Coffee Crash, the VP of Sales at the Brazilian company Delcese Agricola says a Portuguese equivalent of "A bird in the hand is worth two in the burning coffee bush." In Portuguese, the figurative equivalent of the common English saying that I butchered is usually expressed as "Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois voando," which literally translates as, "A bird in the hand is worth more than two flying." But in the case of Coffee Crash, the statement was actually referring to burning coffee plants, so I had to adapt it as "Mais vale um pássaro na mão que dois na cafeeiro ardente." That translates literally into the desired English, but it doesn't make sense to a native Portuguese speaker.

And languages can use multiple words to refer to something that might only be represented by a single word in another language. (A commonly cited example is the numerous Eskimo words related to snow.) In Coffee Crash, a parrot plays a role in the plot. In Portuguese, the generic word for bird is "ave," but the language also includes the word "pássaro," which specifically applies to birds of the order Passeriformes, i.e. songbirds. A parrot is not a Passeriforme, nevertheless, the Portuguese phrase "cocô de pássaro" (bird poop) is commonly used to refer to the excrement of all aves, even non-pássaros to which it technically shouldn't apply.

All this made the writing of Coffee Crash more complicated than I would have liked, but I learned a lot about Brazil and the Portuguese language in the process. Just don't ask me to pronounce the Portuguese.
Several scenes in Coffee Crash are set at the Grande Hotel in Águas de São Pedro, Brazil, a real hotel. The Coffee Crash plot includes tracking of a guest's key card accesses to door locks in the hotel.

In the non-fiction world, a hotel's door lock system may or may not have such capability. Some newer door lock systems use wireless radio-frequency (RF)technologies such as ZigBee that enables each lock to communicate with a central server. Saflok is an example of manufacturer supplying hotels with these systems.

I don't know whether or not the Grande Hotel actually uses a system with that capability. Nevertheless, the next time you check in at a hotel, you might think twice about where and when you use your key card. Big Brother could be tracking you.
During the Bright Cup press conference scene in Coffee Crash, the character Matthew Cochran mentions "espresso-bean-and-chocolate-chip cookies." In reality, there's no such thing as an "espresso bean." But then, marketers have never been bound by reality.

Espresso is a method of preparing coffee, not a specific type of bean or even a particular level of roast. Espresso can be prepared using virtually any coffee beans that have been finely-ground. Therefore, the term "espresso bean" is something of an oxymoron. Not only don't "espresso beans" exist, they can't exist. Yet the term "espresso bean" persists, primarily in the lexicon of companies selling pricey "chocolate-covered espresso beans" as a way to make them sound fancier and more appealing than just "chocolate-covered coffee beans" (which is what they are).

Nevertheless, I use "espresso bean" in Coffee Crash precisely because Cochran, the CEO of the coffee retailer Bright Cup, is a consummate marketer.
The protagonist of Coffee Crash, Samuel Decker, is a professor of microbiology at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts (a Boston suburb). I have no affiliation whatsoever with that school, so why did I pick Tufts?

In the first draft of Coffee Crash, I had Decker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (It seems like every fictional professor in the Boston area is from either Harvard or MIT, presumably due to the author's desire to present the character as cream-of-the-crop in his or her field.) But in editing and revising Coffee Crash, I realized that MIT wasn't right for the Decker character. He's not a techno-geek, and although he's not anti-technology, his relationship to technology is ambivalent, as evidenced in Chapter 1 of Coffee Crash. So I went about evaluating other universities in the Boston area, including among others, Boston College, Brandeis, and Northeastern. I knew I found the right place for Decker when I looked at Tufts, where the Biology Department is housed in a building named after P.T. Barnum, and the school mascot is Jumbo the elephant. As a writer seeking a home for a professor who's a bit eccentric, I couldn't have made up fictional details that were more apropos than those of the real Tufts University.
Instituto Butantan (a.k.a. the Snake Farm) described in Coffee Crash is a real biological research facility in São Paulo, Brazil. Among its many public health functions, the institute breeds snakes, spiders, and other poisonous critters in order to produce anti-venoms.

Although I didn't mention this in the book, a portion of the institute suffered a major fire in May 2010. Until that time, the institute had housed a collection of more than 80,000 preserved (dead) snake specimens, as well as nearly half a million preserved spiders and scorpions. The fire destroyed the entire collection, fueled by the highly flammable formaldehyde and ethanol used for specimen preservation. The fire also destroyed the institute's main research library, including its books. Fortunately, no people or living creatures were harmed in the fire, but the Snake Farm may never fully recover the  research potential of its collection lost in the fire.

More information on Instituto Butantan is available at (currently in Portuguese only).

A scene in Coffee Crash describes a method by which the U.S. National Security Agency could crack Secure Sockets Layer 128-bit encryption with the help of "an inverse adaptation of the Chinese Remainder Theorem," and by exploiting the fact that most computer generated random numbers are not truly random. (A massively distributed secret supercomputer system is also described. For more on that, see my Author's Blog post of 05/23/2012.)

The RSA public key/private key encryption method used for typical Internet applications does employ the Chinese Remainder Theorem to speed up decryption for a message's intended recipient, making the calculations about four times faster than would otherwise be the case. But the Chinese Remainder Theorem already uses inverse calculations. There's no such thing as an "inverse adaptation" of it. I just made that up.

It is true that most computer-generated random numbers are not truly random, just pseudorandom. The NSA undoubtedly knows ways in which these pseudorandom numbers differ from truly random, and could gain some advantage in attempting to decrypt an intercepted message. However, the advantage gained by such knowledge would still be quite small compared to the overall difficulty of cracking the encyption.

Unless some element of the original encryption was compromised at the outset, it's unlikely that the NSA can crack a 128-bit encrypted message in any reasonable time frame with today's technology. On the other hand, a March 2012 article by James Bamford in Wired magazine describes some of the NSA's forthcoming efforts in that realm.
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Coffee Crash describes a distributed computing system for massively parallel processing enabled by a secret module of program code built into the "Doorways" operating system at the behest of the National Security Agency.

The fictional name of the operating system is a clue that this is bogus. However, the Beowulf "architecture for clustering multiple off-the-shelf personal computers to achieve supercomputer performance" was indeed developed by Donald Becker and Thomas Sterling, as described in the book. (See

A number of real distributed computing systems take advantage of the processing power of huge numbers of personal computers. The best known of these is SETI@home (, which processes radio telescope data in the scientific search for extraterrestial intelligence. Owners of the personal computers voluntarily download screensaver-like software to enable their computers to take part in the processing during otherwise idle time on the computers.
Out of the dozens of species of plants and animals mentioned in Coffee Crash, to the best of my knowledge, only one of them is out of place in the story. By that, I mean that I used the species in a location where it doesn't belong. (I'm not counting species intentionally out of place, such as those captive in The Butterfly Palace in Yogyakarta or in the Bird Park in Foz do Iguaçu.)

The species out of place in the story is the Golden Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates terribilis).

There are many different species of "poison dart frogs" (The generic name refers to usage of the frogs' poison by indigenous hunters on the tips of darts and arrows.) Some poison dart frogs are native to areas of Brazil, however, Phyllobates terribilis is not among them. Phyllobates terribilis is from the coast of Colombia, on the opposite side of the South American continent from the area where the frog appears in the story.

In any case, few if any poison dart frogs are in the specific region where the frog appears in the story, a remote area of São Paulo State in the southeastern part of the country. (Poisonous snakes and spiders might be encountered there.) Within Brazil, poison dart frogs are mostly in the Amazon jungle region and other northern areas.

Nevertheless, I just plain wanted to use a poison dart frog in Coffee Crash, and I chose to use Phyllobates terribilis because its poison, batrachotoxin, is much more potent than the pumiliotoxins of the poison dart frogs that might be found within Brazil.
The dual endings of Coffee Crash are not dramatically different from each other. No outcome of the story changes. However, the “Forward Version” is oriented toward a wider range of possible future events, while the “Backward Version” is intended to offer a greater sense of closure and put a bit of a spin on some events that happened in the book. (Either version could become the basis for a sequel, although they would likely veer in different directions.)

I couldn't decide which one to use, so I decided to include them both.