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UCLA

Boelter's Buried Secret

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By Alison Hewitt

Published Oct 1, 2013 8:00 AM


Boelter Hall floor tiles contain a coded tribute to Professor Leonard Kleinrock, “Father of the Internet.”

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Photo by: HauChee Chung

Pop quiz: What does Boelter Hall have in common with the plot of The Da Vinci Code?

Answer: Hidden messages.

In the case of Dan Brown’s mega-bestseller, the mystery centers on a 2,000 year religious conspiracy. The hidden message in UCLA’s engineering building also focuses on a transformative event in human history, but unlike the book has the added benefit of being undeniably true—the birth of the Internet.

The Boelter Hall message is a coded note in the pattern of the floor tiles near the southeast second-floor entrance to the engineering building's Student Creativity Center. Erik Hagen, the associate architect in UCLA Facilities Management’s Design, Project Management and Operations who drew up the designs to refurbish the space, arranged the charcoal-grey and grey-beige (“greige”) tiles to spell out “Lo and behold!” in binary code.

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The floor plan showing the binary code tile design.

The phrase is a tribute to the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Leonard Kleinrock, 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 the system crashed after only the first two letters were transmitted. Hagen’s tribute also exists due to fortuitous circumstance.

During the design process, Hagen had played with the idea of spelling “Lo and behold!” by arranging the building's windows into a pattern, but didn't end up using it. Then in fall 2011, during construction, he 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,” Hagen recalls.

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. That's the way things might have stayed 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.

With perfect symmetry, 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.

The Internet pioneer has high praise for 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. It is, to use a phrase popularized by the digital revolution Kleinrock ushered in, "a brilliant Easter egg," he says.

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