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Wikimedia Commons

Meet the Real Rosie the Riveter

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Wikimedia Commons

In true, iconic fashion, the persona of Rosie the Riveter preceded the person. There was no single Rosie, actually, but several—and two in particular who shaped the legendary image we now associate with all the American women who worked factory jobs during World War II, and bolstered both the war effort and their own economic and social power in the process. Unlikely as it may seem, the story begins with a song. 

The character was first mentioned by name in a 1942 tune  called “Rosie the Riveter” by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. The song quickly gained popularity and was played by many big bands of the day, most notably one led by Kay Kyser. It tells the story of a woman working in a factory during wartime.

All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a
male will do
Rosie the Riveter

After the tune became a hit, Rosie came to represent the millions of women who had joined the industrial labor force. The U.S. government used Rosie as a propaganda tool, a symbol of civic duty, and a vehicle to glamorize enlisting in the effort.


The Rosie we most readily call to mind today is the work of J. Howard Miller, a Pittsburgh artist who was hired by the Westinghouse War Production Coordinating Committee to make a series of upbeat posters for its buildings in 1942.

Miller found his inspiration for the “We Can Do It!” poster from Geraldine Hoff Doyle, a 17-year-old metal-stamp presser at American Broach and Machine Co. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who was snapped by a wire service photographer while working in a (now iconic) polka dot bandana. Doyle left that job two weeks later to work at a soda fountain and went four decades without knowing she was the basis for the powerful, bicep-flexing Rosie in Miller’s poster. Miller’s image was only on display in the Westinghouse factory for two weeks in 1942, and the powerful woman was never specifically called “Rosie” (how the poster became known as Rosie is a bit of a mystery).

As the Rosie character’s propaganda role grew, real life Rosies entered the narrative: In 1944, actor Walter Pidgeon discovered Rose Will Monroe, a riveter at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., and recruited her to star in a film promoting the sale of war bonds. Rose Bonavita was a riveter at he General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in North Tarrytown, N.Y. She set a record by driving 3345 rivets in an Avenger torpedo bomber during a single overnight shift and received a commendation letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Through it all, Doyle remained oblivious to how she had inspired Miller’s poster. When the Rosie image resurfaced as part of the feminist movement in the 1980s, Doyle finally learned about the role she had passively played in winning World War II.

It’s somewhat unclear how this particular piece of artwork rose to prominence; according to some reports, Miller’s image was rediscovered in the U.S. National Archives in 1982. It appeared that same year in a Washington Post article and on the cover of Smithsonian magazine in 1994.

From there, Doyle’s likeness became synonymous with powerful women, and while she did have a chance to see the meteoric second rise of the “Rosie” image before passing away in 2010, she told the Lansing State Journal in 2002, "It's just sad I didn't know it was me sooner."

The Other Rosie 

Doyle wasn’t the only artistic Rosie who inspired American women to keep up the industrial fight. During World War II there was another famous depiction of Rosie, this one based on Mary Doyle Keefe, a 19-year-old telephone operator and neighbor of painter Norman Rockwell. He painted Keefe as Rosie the Riveter in 1943, one year after Miller’s Rosie posters went into circulation. Rockwell’s Rosie ran on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, complete with quite a bit of artistic license—Rockwell transformed the petite Keefe into a strapping, musclebound Rosie holding a rivet gun on her lap and using a copy of Mein Kampf as a foot rest. While Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster was largely unseen at this point, by the time Rockwell depicted his riveter with a lunch pail emblazoned with “Rosie,” the character was well on its way to becoming entrenched in the American psyche.

"Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie's body," Keefe said in a 2012 Hartford Courant interview. "I was much smaller than that and did not know how he was going to make me look like that until I saw the finished painting."

While she did experience a bit of teasing after the issue hit newsstands, Keefe said she didn’t mind much. “It didn't bother me. I was slim and trim,” she told the Courant in 2001. “Just the idea of being able to sit for Norman Rockwell was a nice thing to do.” Rockwell had told her ahead of time that she probably wasn’t going to like the painting, which he styled after Michelangelo's depiction of the prophet Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel.

Keefe received $10 for her two mornings of modeling work. Twenty-four years later, she received a second bit of compensation: A letter from Rockwell apologizing for the burly depiction.

“The kidding you took was all my fault,” he wrote, “because I really thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

The painting would later be used by the U.S. Treasury Department to help sell war bonds. Keefe died last week at age 92. 

Given Rockwell’s status as a titan of Americana painting, how did Miller’s poster become the definitive depiction of Rosie? Thank copyright law. Rockwell’s image was copyrighted, while Miller’s poster was not, clearing the way for it to become a phenomenon.

It’s fitting that the true story of Rosie isn’t actually about one woman, given how it’s taken on a new life to represent something universal. Keefe and Doyle remain intertwined through a name, and a legacy. Although neither woman actually worked as a riveter, both represented their generation and—perhaps to everyone’s surprise—many generations since. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.