The Top-Secret, Female Computers of World War II

Top Secret Rosies DVD cover

From (The American Association of University Women):

LeAnn Erickson stands outside a memorial with three older women.LeAnn Erickson (far right) visits the World War II memorial with some of the women featured in her documentary.

When it comes to history, it is unfortunately often only the dominant voice that writes the narrative and dictates what is worth memorializing. That’s why it’s especially exciting when something new is uncovered, a different voice given the chance to tell their version of the story. More than 70 years ago, “when computers were human and women were underestimated, a group of female mathematicians helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age.” Now, their history has finally been told. This is the story of Top-Secret Rosies.

Top Secret Rosies DVD coverLeAnn Erickson (a 2010–11 AAUW Community Action Grantee) admits, “I discovered this story purely by accident.” While working on a film project about blockbusting in Philadelphia during the 1950s and 60s, Erickson was at the house of twins Doris Blumberg Polsky and Shirley Blumberg Melvin, scanning photos for the documentary, when she overheard the ladies talking.

“Now, was this taken after we moved to Mt Airy?” Polsky asked.

“No, that was taken when we were at UPenn for the Army.”

Curiosity piqued, Erickson asked them what they were talking about. Melvin said, “Oh, during the war we worked as mathematicians for the Army. We were recruited right out of high school.” Promising to come back to get their story when she was done with her current project, Erickson says the sisters “laughed as if they didn’t believe me.” But come back she did, and seven years later, in 2010, she had produced the film Top-Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII.

When the United States entered World War II, the Army initiated a national call for women mathematicians. In fact, AAUW was one of the organizations contacted for help with recruiting! Erickson tells us that AAUW “helped spread the word about this great opportunity open to college women. I was proud to be able to use the letter specifically addressed to AAUW in the documentary.” These “computers” — then the term for someone who computes, rather than our current notion of the machine — would be responsible for calculating ballistics tables for missiles being used by allied forces overseas. The stakes were high, and these women worked hard on their mission at the University of Pennsylvania from 1942 to 1946.

Erickson details the individual stories of four women in particular. Her documentary illuminates a part of history that, until now, lived only in the memories of the women involved. When asked which stories stood out during her research and interviews, Erickson revealed that there was yet another lens through which to look at this story — that of race. “I knew that the World War II era was a very different one for women and people of color, but I was still surprised at various stories the women shared,” she said. One story came from Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, who worked with Alyce Hall, the only African American in their unit. “Marlyn was organizing a going-away dinner, but Alyce pulled her aside to say she wouldn’t be able to come since the restaurant they had chosen wouldn’t serve her. Shocked at this news, Marlyn said she would find one that would.” The photo on the cover of the film includes Alyce Hall (bottom row on the left) and was taken the night of that dinner.

Top-Secret Rosies has had extensive reach in educational circles — it is being used in junior high, high school, and college classrooms, and is held in over 500 libraries across the world,” says Erickson. Her goal is to have an impact on girls in fourth through sixth grades. In order to target them, she has adapted the story for use in an iBook app with a catchy title: “The Computer Wore Heels.” Along with the app for digital books, Erickson has also created a study guide that educators can use while showing the documentary in their class.

The content and style of Erickson’s documentary have met with great success. She recalls, “The Community Action Grant made it possible for me to travel across the nation, presenting the film and leading discussions with community members, STEM professionals, teachers, and students. … The travel I’ve done with the film exposed me to people and opportunities I would not have had otherwise.” She was particularly happy to be a panelist at the 2011 U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Conference.

While filmmaking can be difficult to fundraise for, Erickson encourages anyone with a good idea and the will to go with it to “think outside the usual film-funding box,” and to be unafraid of approaching organizations who share your prospective audience. As she notes, “I did this with AAUW and have reaped the benefits of our collaboration.”

Reflecting on the documentary, Erickson says, “Heroic behavior happens all around us all the time. Regular people can — and do — do amazing things every day, things that may not seem important at the time but have a ripple effect.” She tells her film students at Temple University to pay attention to their surroundings and to opportunities that cross their paths, however unremarkable they may seem. After all, Erickson says, if we have learned anything from the Top-Secret Rosies, it’s that “there are stories everywhere, waiting to be told.”

LeAnn Erickson’s 2010–11 Community Action Grant was sponsored by six AAUW Research and Project Grants from Pennsylvania: the Allentown (PA) Branch, the Lancaster (PA) Branch, the Laura Levin/Makefield Area (PA) Branch, the Philadelphia (PA) Branch Centennial, the State College (PA) Branch, and the Valley Forge (PA) Branch Research and Project Grant.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Lauren Byrnes.

Fried Font Friday

Eggs alphabet

Somewhere in Estonia, two brothers huddled over a brazier. Beside them, a stack of discarded egg cartons. The air would be filled with the nutty scent of browning yolks and, likely, some wicked Uralic expletives. What could they possibly be up to? The explanation might seem stranger than this intro.

Vladimir and Maxim Loginov were frying eggs in the shapes of letters. As the creative duo behind Handmade Font, a company that’s produced one-off analog typefaces for companies like Coca-Cola and Disney, the somewhat surreal scene was just another, entirely practical day at the office.


Continue reading “Fried Font Friday”

‘The Writer’ Automaton: an 18th-century programmable computer?

Closeup of automaton's hands

Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721-1790) was a Swiss-born watchmaker of the late eighteenth century. He lived in Paris, London, and Geneva, where he designed and built animated dolls, or automata, to help his firm sell watches and mechanical birds.

Some consider these devices to be the oldest examples of the computer.

From the UK BBC program Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams, Professor Simon Schaffer examines a clockwork creation of Pierre Jaquet-Droz.

Haunting reminder of millions of lives lost in war as artists stencil 9,000 bodies onto Normandy beach to mark Peace Day

Silhouettes on beach

By Aaron Sharp from

~ British led project covered the famous coastline in poignant silhouettes
~ A team of 500 artists and volunteers contributed the moving installation
~ The ‘fallen’ were left to be washed away by the tide at the end of the day

A pair of British artists have created this stunning installation of 9,000 silhouettes on a D-Day Landings beach to mark international Peace Day.

The project, named, ‘The Fallen’ is a tribute to the civilians, German forces and Allies who lost their lives during the Operation Neptune landing on June 6, 1944.

The design was the brainchild of Jamie Wardley, 33, and Andy Moss, 50.

Together with a team of volunteers the pair travelled to Arromanches beach, Normandy, to create the silhouettes, which were individually drawn into the sand.

Peace Day tribute on the Arromanches beach of Normandy
Moving: The Peace Day tribute is a poignant reminder the thousands who died during Operation Overlord

D-Day tributes on the Arromanches beach, Normandy
Concept: According to artists Jamie Wardley, 33, and Andy Moss, 50, the idea behind the piece was to create a visual representation of loss on an unimaginable scale

Those taking part made the shape of a person by putting down a stencil and raking the surface to create a distinctive figure.

The shapes were then left to the mercy of the tide which washed away the ‘fallen’ after around four and a half hours.

Speaking of the idea behind the project Wardley said: ‘The Fallen is a sobering reminder of what happens when peace is not present.

‘The idea is to create a visual representation of what is otherwise unimaginable, the thousands of human lives lost during the hours of the tide during the Second World War Normandy landings.

‘People understand that so many lives were lost that day but it’s incredibly difficult to picture that number.’

D-Day tribute created by artists on the Arromanches beach in Normandy
Sand men: The team of artists and volunteers created 9,000 of the shadows which were eventually reclaimed by the sea

D-Day tribute on the Arromanches beach in normandy
Teamwork: The project was originally made of 60 people, but after locals learned about the tribute they quickly joined in

D-Day tribute on the Arromanches beach in normandy

Lending a hand: By the end of the day it is estimated that 500 people had chipped in to create the stunning beach art

‘You could see the horrific casualty of war when you stood on the cliff looking down at the beach.

‘Watching the tide come in and wash the bodies away was symbolic of all the lives lost in all wars, not just during the Normandy Landings.’

Veterans and families, including some who have lost loved ones in recent conflicts have been involved in the project.

Wardley, who has been working with partner since 2009, said: ‘We turned up to the beach with a team of 60 people but by the end we had over 500 people taking part.

‘There were people from all over the world who had heard about the event and travelled all the way to France to take part.

D-Day tributes on the Arromanches beach in Normandy
Unity: Operation Neptune is remembered as one of the great showings of wartime unity as the Allied forced launched their assault on Nazi occupied France

D-Day tribute on the Arromanches beach, Normandy
Reclaimed: The installation was designed so that the sea would wash over the bodies and wipe them from the beach in a moving reminder of the tragedy of war

Artists Andy Moss, right and Jamie Wardley
Achievement: Artists Andy Moss, right and Jamie Wardley, left said they hoped their art would remind people of the value of peace.

‘There were others who happened to be walking by and wanted to get involved.

‘It showed that people from all over totally understood the message behind it and I found it very overwhelming.

‘Some people told us that they had lost family in the Second World War and others said they had lost loved ones in Afghanistan and wanted to pay a tribute to them.

‘We finished all the stencils at about 7.30pm and everyone gathered and waited for the tide to come in.

‘The last silhouette was washed away at about 10pm and it was incredibly moving.”

The moment: Commando troops from a landing craft arrive on Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944
The moment: Commando troops from a landing craft arrive on Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944

Hiding in darkness: Royal Marines on D-Day Beach as they made their early morning landings on Utah Beach
Hiding in darkness: Royal Marines on D-Day Beach as they made their early morning landings on Utah Beach

American assault troops move onto a beach in Normandy France, on D-Day during Operation Overlord 1944
American assault troops move onto a beach in Normandy France, on D-Day during Operation Overlord 1944

These Royal Marines are captured running for cover in silence before sunrise on the crucial day
These Royal Marines are captured running for cover in silence before sunrise on the crucial day

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Carpet designer threatens cosplayers with legal action

Cosplayers dressed in fabric that matches carpet

By Gavia Baker-Whitelaw from

Sometimes, dressing as your favorite superhero or cartoon character just isn’t enough. So at Internet culture convention DragonCon, cosplay often crosses the line into in-joke absurdity. Like dressing up as a rug.

One of this year’s highlights was a pair of intrepid cosplayers who dressed up as the memorably psychedelic carpet at DragonCon’s Atlanta Marriott hotel. It was a hit—for everyone but the carpet designer, who threatened legal action when photos landed on Facebook.

Photo via Facebook

In the world of cosplay, people don’t generally expect to get into trouble for dressing up as well-known characters like Superman or Spock, even though the legal teams at DC Comics or Paramount could probably crush them like a bug. Unfortunately, the designers of the Marriott’s patterned carpets didn’t get the memo about turning a blind eye to cosplay tributes.

Apparently the carpet costumes were so popular that one of the original cosplayers offered a version of the Marriott carpet pattern for the presumably vast number of people who also wanted to dress up in carpet-themed camo gear. Seeing this, carpet designers Couristan Inc. sent cosplay suppliers Volpin Props a Cease & Desist letter. As Volpin Props explained on their Facebook page today:

Of all the things to get a Cease and Desist over, of ALL the replicas I’ve made over the years, I’ve received one from Couristan Inc., designers of the Marriott Marquis Atlanta hotel carpet. Spoonflower has pulled the design, as is their right, so sorry everyone who wanted some fabric of their own!

The absurdity is palpable.

As one commenter pointed out, “If they were smart, they would contact you to do promotions FOR them.” After all, what other carpet manufacturer has its own fandom?

A Skyscraper That Can Disappear Using High-Tech Camouflage

South Korea camouflaged skyscraper

By Kyle VanHemert from

Image: GDS Architects

South Korea recently granted construction permits for the Infinity Tower, a proposed skyscraper that can disappear with the push of a button.

If you’re one of those people who usually think new skyscrapers are ostentatious eyesores, the Infinity Tower, a 1,500-foot entertainment complex proposed for Cheongna, Korea, will offer a little bit of solace: It will only be an eyesore some of the time. Using a sophisticated system of cameras and LEDs, the building is designed to disappear with the push of a button.

The technological premise is the same one you see trotted out every so often for prototype invisibility cloaks: Cameras on one side of the building will project an image to screens on the other. Through careful consideration of viewing angles, the folks at GDS Architects think they’ve worked out how to create the most dramatic effect possible for pedestrians while remaining in the bounds of architectural and fiduciary reality. In a statement, GDS president Charles Wee said, “Instead of symbolizing prominence as another of the world’s tallest and best towers, our solution aims to provide the world’s first invisible tower.” It will also have the world’s third highest observation deck.

The design, which beat out 140 others in a 2008 and recently received construction permits from the Korean government, calls for 16 weatherproof cameras distributed at three different heights on the skyscraper’s skin. The images they capture will then be digitally processed to account for the structure’s shape and beamed out the other side across 1,500 LED strips. The facade was designed with pedestrians in mind–the arrangement of the cameras and LEDs is based on the precise angles from various viewing points around Incheon’s Cheongna district, about 20 miles west of Seoul, where the building will sit. The effect would only be activated for a few hours a day, when weather conditions permitted–the lights inside the 450-meter tall tower make after-hours invisibility impossible.

Image: GDS Architects

In certain conditions, the tower could effectively disappear.

There are other hurdles. Tests on the technology still have to be conducted. While the permits have been issued, more funding needs to be secured. Also potentially complicating the idea of a gigantic invisible glass tower: The site’s just a few miles from the Incheon International Airport.

And yet, we dare to dream. It makes sense, in a way, that a building might be easier to cloak than, say, a tank–the surfaces are bigger and broader and easier to cover with screens. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the technology here is double-edged sword. In a brief on the building’s unusual design, GDS points out that the same technology allowing the tower to melt away into the horizon will also allow it to function as a “450-meter-tall billboard screen.” Hopefully they won’t have to resort to that to find their funding.

US military scientists can identify whom to kill in a population in order to prevent the viral spread of a message

Viral marketing diagram
OK, OK, the real title is “US Military Scientists Solve the Fundamental Problem of Viral Marketing.”

Network theorists working for the US military have worked out how to identify the small “seed” group of people who can spread a message across an entire network.

Viral messages begin life by infecting a few individuals and then start to spread across a network. The most infectious end up contaminating more or less everybody.

Just how and why this happens is the subject of much study and debate. Network scientists know that key factors are the rate at which people become infected, the “connectedness” of the network and how the seed group of individuals, who first become infected, are linked to the rest.

It is this seed group that fascinates everybody from marketers wanting to sell Viagra to epidemiologists wanting to study the spread of HIV.

So a way of finding seed groups in a given social network would surely be a useful trick, not to mention a valuable one. Step forward Paulo Shakarian, Sean Eyre and Damon Paulo from the West Point Network Science Center at the US Military Academy in West Point.

These guys have found a way to identify a seed group that, when infected, can spread a message across an entire network. And they say it can be done quickly and easily, even on relatively large networks.

Their method is relatively straightforward. It is based on the idea that an individual will eventually receive a message if a certain proportion of his or her friends already have that message. This proportion is a critical threshold and is crucial in their approach.

Having determined the threshold, these guys examine the network and look for all those individuals who have more friends than this critical number. They then remove those who exceed the threshold by the largest amount.

In the next, step, they repeat this process, looking for all those with more friends than the critical threshold and pruning those with the greatest excess. And so on.

This process finishes when there is nobody left in the network who has more friends than the threshold. When this happens, whoever is left is the seed group. A message sent to each member of this group can and should spread to the entire network.

That’s a slick approach to a well-known problem. What’s got network scientists bogged down in the past is that they’ve always couched this conundrum in terms of finding the smallest seed group. Proving that the group you’ve found is the smallest really is a tricky problem.

But Shakarian and co make no such claim. “We present a method guaranteed to find a set of nodes that causes the entire population to activate — but is not necessarily of minimal size,” they say.

That suddenly makes the problem much easier. Indeed, these guys have tested it on a large number of networks to see how well it works. Their test networks include Flickr, FourSquare, Frienster, Last.FM, Digg (from Dec 2010), Yelp, YouTube and so on.

And the algorithm works well. “On a Friendster social network consisting of 5.6 million nodes and 28 million edges we found a seed set in under 3.6 hours,” say Shakarian and co. For this they used an Intel X5677 Xeon processor operating at 3.46 GHz with a 12 MB Cache running Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 6.1 and equipped with 70 GB of physical memory.

That’s a promising outcome and one that many people will find valuable. Shakarian and co say that using their approach to find a seed group on the FourSquare online social network, a viral marketeer could expect a 297-fold return on investment. Not bad!

For this reason, Shakarian and co could, and probably will, find themselves and their algorithm in demand from the legion of marketers wanting to make their product viral. Not least of these could be big internet companies such as Amazon and Apple who both have huge networks of customers and plenty of products to sell.

Expect to hear more!

Ref: :A Scalable Heuristic for Viral Marketing Under the Tipping Model

How to Recognize the Artists of Paintings


By flickerdart on Imgur:


If the images have a dark background and everyone has tortured expressions on their faces, it’s Titian.

Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens
If everyone in the paintings has enormous asses, then it’s Rubens.

Amerighi da Caravaggio

Amerighi da Caravaggio

If all the men look like cow-eyed curly-haired women, it’s Caravaggio.

Pieter Bruegel

Pieter Bruegel
If the paintings have tons of little people in them but otherwise seem normal, it’s Bruegel.

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch
If the paintings have tons of little people in them but also have a ton of crazy bullshit, it’s Bosch.

Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt van Rijn
If everyone looks like hobos illuminated only by a dim streetlamp, it’s Rembrandt.

François Boucher

Francois Boucher
If the painting could easily have a few chubby Cupids or sheep added (or already has them), it’s Boucher.


If everyone is beautiful, naked, and stacked, it’s Michelangelo.

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas
If you see a ballerina, it’s Degas.

El Greco

El Greco
If everything is highly-contrasted and sharp, sort of bluish, and everyone has gaunt bearded faces, it’s El Greco.

Jan van Eyck

Jan van Eyck
If everyone – including the women – looks like Putin, then it’s van Eyck.

How to Make a Tea Cozy with Hedgehog-in-a-Teacup Fabric

Teapot, tea cozy and teacup

A fun project for the tea-lovers among us. Also a great gift. This pattern fits a 4-6 cup teapot but you can scale it up or down as desired.

Teapot, tea cozy and teacup

What you’ll need:

  • Fabric (Note: ordering this particular fabric takes up to two weeks, so plan ahead!)
  • Downloadable pattern
  • Light yellow thread (or light blue if you’re using the fabric with the blue background)
  • 1 package of light yellow or blue Double-Fold binding. Make sure it’s Double-Fold as opposed to Single-Fold; otherwise it won’t cover the bottom edge correctly. You can use a contrasting color instead if you like.
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine — it’s much easier if you have one, but you can do it by hand too.

Don’t be scared by all the steps! There are really just four:

  1. Buy the material
  2. Cut out the pieces
  3. Sew the main part together
  4. Sew on the seam binding (the edging piece that goes around the bottom)


  • Buy your hedgehog fabric:
  • Buy your quilted insulating fabric:


  • Download the three parts of the pattern:  Left   Middle   Right
    Print them out on 8-1/2 x 11 paper and tape them together.
    Left, middle and right patterns for 4-6 cup teapot
  • Fold the hedgehog fabric in half lengthwise, making sure that the hedgehogs are matched up. (This may mean that you’re not folding down the exact middle of the fabric.)
  • Pin the pattern on the fabric so that the hedgehogs line up as in the pattern. Make sure your hedgehogs are lined up straight at the bottom. Straight as in not-crooked; no-one cares if your hedgehogs are gay.
  • Cut out two pieces carefully.
  • Cut out two pieces of the quilted fabric, making sure that the quilting lines are vertical and matched up.


  • Assemble the cozy: put one piece of quilted fabric silver side down, then one piece of hedgehog fabric facing up, then the other hedgehog fabric facing down, then the other quilted fabric silver side up. Pin through all layers. Sew only around the more-curved top edge (not across the less-curved bottom) through all layers with about a 3/8″ margin.
    Curved seam of tea cozy from inside
      Curved seam showing inside
  • Turn right side out. It already looks like a tea cozy!


  • Measure all the way around the open end of the tea cozy and add 1/2″. Cut the binding to this length.
  • Open out one side of the binding and line up the OUTSIDE of the edge of the fold with the OUTSIDE of the unfinished edge of the open end of the tea cozy, matching up the raw edges. Pin in place, leaving the extra 1/2″ free.
  • Sew with about a 3/8″ margin from the edge, all the way around except for the extra 1/2″.
    Sew banding to edge

  • Fold the binding to the inside with the edge folded in. Pin in place. Don’t sew yet!
  • Fold in the end of the binding 1/4″ and overlap it over the other end. Pin in place, THEN sew.
    Fold over the end of the binding

  • Here’s the last step! From the OUTSIDE, sew carefully RIGHT IN THE “DITCH” OF THE SEAM so the stitching catches the folded-over binding on the INSIDE.
    Sew right in the seam

That’s it! Because of the insulating properties of the lining, this tea cozy will keep your teapot warm for several hours, for realz.

Note: If you use the quilted fabric, hand-wash the tea cozy only; if you machine-wash it, the reflective coating will come off and it will be less effective. I think the Thinsulate would be OK, but the hedgehog fabric might shrink or get twisted. So just hand-wash and let air-dry!

Medieval Bling: Skeletons Encrusted in Jewels and Gold

St. Albertus skull


p.12-3 St Valerius in Weyarn_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Valerius in Weyarn (all images copyright Paul Koudounaries and courtesy Thames & Hudson)

In a forthcoming book titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, Los Angeles photographer Paul Koudounaris brings before his lens bejeweled skeletons long-lost in the catacombs of Rome. The remains were first unearthed in 1578, when they were disbursed throughout Catholic christendom as saintly relics. But according to Koudounaris, who also penned a 2011 volume on the subject, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, the true identities of the skeletons remains a mystery.

The relics, all opulent finery bleating against the stiff repose of death, reprise and damn the famous “almost-instinct” expressed in the closing lines of Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”: if love won’t survive us, at least the gaudy ornaments of material piety might. Hope everyone had a terrific Fashion Week!

p.34 copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Felix, Sursee, Switzerland

p.47 hand of St Valentin_copyright Paul Koudounaris

Hand of St. Valentin

p.48-9 St Benedictus_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Benedictus

p.50 Deodatus skull relic_copyright  Paul Koudounaris

Deodatus skull relic

p.56 relic of St Deodatus in Rheinau_copyrightPaul Koudounaris

Relic of St. Deodatus in Rheinau

p.61 St Luciana_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Luciana

p.70-1 skull of St Getreu in Ursberg_copyright Paul Koudounaris

Skull of St. Getreu in Ursberg

p.78-9 St Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Friedrich at the Benedictine abbey in Melk

p.84 St Valentinus in Waldsassen_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Valentinus in Waldsassen

p.88-9 In Stams, Austria_copyright Paul Koudounaris

In Stams, Austria

p.147 St Munditia grasps a flask_copyright Paul Koudounaris

St. Munditia grasps a flask

p.22 St Albertus_copyright  Paul Koudounaris

St. Albertus

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs by Paul Koudounaris will be released on October 8, 2013 by Thames & Hudson.