A Zen Riot

In 68, some students at Sir George Williams University, protesting what they perceived as racism, occupied and subsequently destroyed the Sir George Computer Center. I knew several of the people involved, and recently discovered that another friend had been in the Center at the time, although he was, at the time, unborn; he was there in utero!! This discovery triggered my memory of the event, which had a curious meaning for me. This memoir has nothing to do with race or politics. It may have something to do with Chaos theory, but probably not even that.

I was working a dull office job at the time. Students everywhere were occupying buildings, for reasons ranging from the noble to the idiotic. I had other concerns, and took little but a nodding interest in this latest incident. One day, however, I heard that "all hell had broken loose" at the Hall building, so I rushed over to rubberneck.

At the time I had a great love of computers, similar to the love one might have for, say, Angelina Jolie. In other words, I was never allowed to get close. They were distant, awesome, mythical creatures, which I longed to some day touch.

As I approached the Hall Building, it seemed to be snowing heavily. But not with real snow: the air was filled with computer cards: Hollerith cards as they were known. The students were tossing them out the windows by the thousands! For me, the charging police and, now, smoke from the building, was secondary. I stood, up to my ankles in the Holy Writ!

I reached down, picked one up, to see if I could fathom the meaning in these cryptic documents. Only one short line of computerese could fit on a card. The one I read said:


I was thunderstruck. The statement seemed patently false, yet packed with arcane wisdom. I was filled with wonderment, as one might be hearing a Zen Koan, or even seeing a burning bush! I wandered off, the violence behind me forgotten. I would ponder the five mystic symbols for days. I can still see the card, the punched holes, the very typeface. I had a achieved a kind of satori.

Years later, I found the meaning of X=X+1. In a way banal, and comprehensible, but fundamental! Those symbols turned out to possess vast power; changing my life and everyone's life as much as another five symbols: E=MC2.