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Where Are They Now? Famous Photos Edition

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The Unsuspecting Nurse

On June 20, Edith Shain passed away at age 91. Mrs. Shain is widely believed to have been the unsuspecting nurse being kissed in the famous photo snapped by Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York City on V-J Day. The identity of the sailor in the photo is still in dispute, but of all the women who have claimed to be the woman, Eisenstaedt believed that Shain was the most likely candidate.

Shain was working as a nurse at New York's Doctors Hospital on the afternoon of August 14, 1945, when the news of Japan's surrender was broadcast on the radio. She joined thousands of other celebrating citizens in Times Square, which is where a man dressed in a Navy uniform grabbed her, planted a smooch on her, and then continued through the crowd bussing every woman within reach. Eisenstaedt snapped four quick frames of the encounter, then lost the pair in the crowd before he could get their names.


Edith Shain moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, where she taught kindergarten for the next 30 years. She continued to take part in WWII commemorative events and Veteran's Day activities throughout the rest of her life.

The Officer and the 2-Year-Old


The weather was unusually hot on September 10, 1957, when Washington Daily News photographer Bill Beall was assigned to cover a local parade being held by the Chinese Merchants Association. He watched the celebration with little interested and took a few perfunctory snaps of a large paper dragon dancing down the street with the help of a dozen humans. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two-year-old Allen Weaver step off the curb to get a closer look at the dragon. Something made Beall point his camera that way and he shot a picture just as police officer Maurice Cullinane bent down to caution the tot not to get too close, lest the firecrackers injure him. The Norman Rockwell-like photograph caused a sensation when it appeared on the front page of the Post, and it eventually netted Beall a Pulitzer Prize.

Cullinane worked his way up the ranks and was appointed Washington D.C.'s Chief of Police in 1974. He retired in 1978 and later moved to Florida. As a teen, Allen Weaver worked for a while at Georgia's Six Flags amusement park before heading west with his family to California.

The Olympic Protesters

Prior to heading to Mexico City for the 1968 Olympic Games, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos met with Harry Edwards, a friend of theirs from San Jose State University. Edwards had formed the Olympic Project for Human Rights and was encouraging all African-American athletes to boycott the Olympics in order to protest the slow pace at which the civil rights movement seemed to be moving.

The boycott didn't work out, but after Smith won the gold medal and Carlos the bronze in the 200 meter race, the pair sat in an anteroom for an hour before the medal ceremony. Silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia was also present and expressed an interest in the non-violent protest they were discussing. One plan was for the duo to wear black gloves during the National Anthem, but they only had one pair of gloves between them. Norman suggested that they each wear one glove on one hand, which is why the two are raising different fists in the photograph.

However, at the press conference after the medal ceremony, Smith had a more elaborate explanation of all the symbolism in their pose. Smith said he had raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. He said the black scarf around his neck represented black pride and the black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America. Peter Norman didn't raise a fist and kept his shoes on, but he did wear an OPHR button on his track suit.

In the years after the protest, both Smith and Carlos played professional sports for a while and then went on to successful corporate careers in the private sector. Peter Norman received harsh criticism from the press and public when he returned to Australia (simply for wearing the OPHR badge) and 32 years later wasn't invited to participate in any of the ceremonies surrounding the 2000 Games in Sydney. He died of a heart attack in 2006, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos both served as pallbearers at his funeral.

The POW and His Family

Air Force fighter pilot Lt. Col. Robert Stirm had been shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and spent the next six years being tortured in various North Vietnamese prison camps, including the notorious Hanoi Hilton. He was released in March 1973 as part of a POW exchange. His wife and four children were waiting for him on the tarmac at Travis Air Force Base in California. A phalanx of press photographers were also nearby taking photos of the POWs deplaning as part of "Operation: Homecoming."

Associated Press photographer Sal Veder saw a teen-aged girl sprinting toward the crowd with her arms spread wide, looking as though she was in flight. It was 15-year-old Lorrie Stirm, who was closely followed by her siblings and her mother. The Veder entitled the prize-winning photo he'd snapped "Burst of Joy."

But Stirm's homecoming was bittersweet; three days before arriving in California an Air Force chaplain handed him a letter from his wife. Loretta Stirm had fallen in love with another man during his imprisonment and was divorcing him. Robert Stirm retired from the Air Force as a colonel and worked as a corporate pilot until he retired at age 72. All four of his children are grown and have families of their own, and each one has a framed copy of "Burst of Joy" hanging in their homes. But Col. Stirm has said he still can't bring himself to display his copy.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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