A hidden message left by a UCLA architect in 2011 was recently uncovered in Boelter Hall, where sharp-eyed passersby can spot a coded note in the pattern of floor tiles.
Near the southeast second-floor entrance to the engineering building’s Student Creativity Center, clever Bruins will notice that the odd arrangement of charcoal-grey and grey-beige (“greige”) tiles spell out “Lo and behold!” in binary code. The UCLA architect wasn’t asked to add it and didn’t mention it to anyone, but left it as a treat for observant computer-science sorts to translate.
The phrase is a tribute to the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Leonard Kleinrock, a professor of computer science who led the team of scientists that famously sent the first Internet message ever: “LO.” The 1969 message that started the Internet at UCLA 44 years ago was supposed to be “LOGIN,” but Kleinrock has long thought the accidental version ended up being much better.
“We succeeded in transmitting the ‘L’ … and the ‘O’ — and then the system crashed,” Kleinrock said. “Hence, the first message on the Internet was ‘LO’ — as in ‘Lo and behold!’ We didn’t plan it, but we couldn’t have come up with a better message: short and prophetic.”
Erik Hagen, the associate architect in UCLA Facilities Management’s Design, Project Management and Operations who drew up the designs to refurbish the space, loved that historical tidbit and looked for a way to include it in the renovation work.
“It’s huge,” Hagen said. “Everyone uses the Internet. I really wanted to pay tribute to that somehow.”
The coded message was a last-minute addition that almost didn’t make it in the building. During the design process, Hagen had played with the idea of using two-tone squares to create the ones and zeros of binary code and spell “Lo and behold!” on a kind of wall mural, but didn’t end up using it. Then in fall 2011, during construction, Hagen got a call from the contractor requesting a pattern for the floor tiles — a pattern he needed right away.
“I thought, this is our chance to stick in some binary code,” Hagen recalled. “I had the pattern, and this was a quick way to add a meaningful detail at no cost.”
But because the hidden message was added during construction instead of the design-review process, no one else knew about it. Before long, Hagen admits, even he forgot about it.
It might have stayed that way if an eagle-eyed computer science student hadn’t noticed that the 14 bars of eight tiles each could be interpreted in binary. When the dark tiles are treated as zeros and the light tiles are treated as ones, the innocuous floor tiles translate into binary code for letters, spaces and an exclamation point. The student posted his discovery on a UCLA Reddit forum in May 2013, and word began to spread.
That’s how Jane Chang, UCLA Engineering’s associate dean of research and physical resources, found out, and she noted that it all fit perfectly with the new center’s mission.
“The newly constructed Student Creativity Center highlights our school’s concerted effort to support the creative activities of our undergraduate students,” Chang said. “It is most fitting that our brilliant undergraduate students discovered and decoded the hidden binary message in the floor tile design near the new entrance.”
Even better, the tribute to Kleinrock is directly beneath Boelter Hall 3420, the very room where the Internet pioneer’s team typed the now-famous message. The room is now home to the Kleinrock Internet History Center.
Hagen designs projects all over campus, but that includes plenty of parking-lot striping and refurbishing bathrooms to make them comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.
“For the most part, it’s not glamorous stuff, so when we get a chance like Boelter Hall,” Hagen said, “we like to take advantage of it.”
Kleinrock has high praise for the Hagen’s winking message, and even used a picture of the floor on a visit to his granddaughter’s fourth-grade class to teach the students about binary code.
“I think it was a brilliant Easter egg that the architect left for folks to discover,” Kleinrock said. “The fact that he didn’t tell anyone and waited for it to be discovered was a stroke of genius. I hope the way it started out a secret will entice people to learn more about why that message is there and what it’s about.”