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11 Upstart Religions Rooted in Pop Culture

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Fans of movies, books and even animated mice have translated their love for specific brands of pop culture into cults, organizations and federally recognized religious groups, with varying degrees of seriousness and success.

1. The Sect of Gadget Hackwrench

Golly. If you’re going to worship one of the main characters from Disney’s long-canceled Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Gadget is probably the best option. A group of Russian individuals, apparently ignoring the fact that her inventions usually failed at particularly inconvenient moments in nearly every episode, decided that the animated begoggled tinkerer was worthy of more than mere admiration.

Membership activities for the Sect of Gadget Hackwrench include plastering large Gadget stickers all about Russia, singing to and playing music for a Gadget poster under the cover of night, having group meals (attended by said poster), and maintaining utter devotion to a cartoon mouse. Followers, when asked “But… why?” say Gadget Hackwrench is “strict, cute, optimistic and her level of technical knowledge is unachievable for a mortal being.”

2. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude

Maybe you think building a religious sect from the philosophy of a fictional movie character is silly. Yeah, well, y’know. That’s just, like uhh… your opinion, man. And 150,000 ordained Dudeist priests would disagree.

The self-proclaimed “slowest-growing religion in the world,” based on Dude Lebowski from The Big Lebowski, is just like Chinese Taoism, “before it went all weird with magic tricks and body fluids.” So sit back, abide, and whatever you do, don’t call female Dudeists “dudette.” That’s not cool.

3. Matrixism / New Matrixism

Do you have your own hacker alias and a lingering suspicion that our world is a simulated reality? You may be a Redpill. That’s OK! The terms of Matrixism clearly state that students of the science and philosophy of the Matrix need not renounce any other religious views (or sports, or even pornography) in their quest to become the One. So go ahead and ponder the semi-subjective, multi-layered nature of reality, have a sandwich with Neo, but try to brush up on your quantum physics basics and elementary calculus skills before deciding if you really want to know whether the matrix is real. This 1968 Matrix Theory textbook, an official “tool” of Matrixism, should help. For deeper philosophical reading, see The Promulgation of Universal Peace, which New Matrixists cite as the earliest explicit reference to the Matrix—way back in 1911.

4. Jediism

If you’re thinking of becoming an ordained clergyperson of the Jedi faith, put away your childish dreams of lightsaber battles and Obi Wan cosplay. According to the official site for The Temple of the Jedi Order, “We are real Jedi… George Lucas' Jedi are fictional characters that exist within a literary and cinematic universe.” True Jediism is for those who wish to be instruments of peace and as such all practitioners must agree to live by the Jedi Creed and an adapted list of beliefs from A 2001 census in Australia recorded 70,509 self-proclaimed Jedi Knights, but nearby New Zealand holds the record for highest per capita rate of Jedi citizens, with 1.5% of the population listing themselves as such in 2001.

5. Arceism

The Arceism Facebook Page

If you choose Pokémon, you can also choose to join the semi-serious (mostly-not) community of polytheists who worship Legendary Pokémon as deities and believe the world was created by Arceus, who was emerged from an egg in a place where there was nothing. Collecting Pokémon memorabilia is also strongly encouraged.

6. Society of Cylon

Cylonism is a sort of philosophical takeaway from Battlestar Galactica. Odds are most members of the Society of Cylon more closely resemble the thirteen humanoid models than the robotic Centurions (or the reptilian race of creatures who created them), but at any rate there’s no focus on the destruction of humankind; rather the Society focuses on the responsibility of all sentient beings to secure a healthy future for the human race, with a focus on scientific progress and the advancement of “liberty and knowledge of humanity.”

7. Church of All Worlds

It turns out that a book about the first man from Mars to make his way to Earth can change the world, or at least the way some people look at it. When Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961, there was no expectation that a fictional church founded in the novel would be recognized in real life by the federal government six years later as a legitimate religion. The Church of All Worlds is a neopagan organization based on spiritual and social concepts outlined in Heinlein’s work, emphasizing “living in harmony with Nature, self-actualization, deep friendship and positive sexuality.”

An interesting subsidiary group had a few minutes of fame in the 1980s after creating unicorns by manipulating the horn buds of (goat) kids. Ringling Brothers adopted a few and took them on tour.

8. The Church of Ed Wood

The followers of Woodism look to the life of late film director Ed Wood for guidance, seeing him as a savior and a religious entity. And if you’re wondering: Yes, they are “TOTALLY serious,” or so claims a pop-up on the church’s site, Created in 1996 by Reverend Steve Galindo, the Woodists just want to “lead happy, positive lives.” And if 3,000 global members of the Church of Ed Wood can’t convince you that this is a Real Thing, that’s okay, too. Galindo says, “We don't expect you to believe in Woodism. We expect you to respect the OUR belief in Woodism.”

9. Juggalo Faith

A 2011 FBI report might call them a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” but fans of Insane Clown Posse call themselves juggalos and each other family. But sharing a love for face paint and (alleged) random acts of vandalism isn’t enough to classify a group as a religious organization. For that, there’s, a group of Faygo soda-baptized ninjas who carry the quasi-mystical message of the Dark Carnival to juggalos everywhere. The site features regular sermons and counseling from a group of volunteer “reverends,” who just want you to know that the message of the Carnival, behind the horrorcore and onstage Tila Tequila assaults, is “the gospels of Jesus Christ.” ICP’s stance on this message wavers a bit, saying liner notes from The Wraith: Shangri-La and lyrics in both "Miracles" and "The Unveiling," while overtly religious, aren’t “hidden messages.”

10. Festivus

OK, so the Seinfeld-inspired observance isn’t so much a religion as it is a holiday, but a strange legal precedent means that if you happen to be serving jail time, you can probably air your grievances in court to get better food. After a plea in the name of “healthism” failed, California inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was awarded double portions of kosher meals after arguing his case for better dinners as a requirement for followers of Festivus. He’s since served his term and, thanks to a Festivus miracle, has been released. No word on whether he practices the Feats of Strength every December 23rd.

11. Missionary Church of Kopimi

While file-sharing isn’t precisely grounded in pop culture, it’s highly likely that the majority of files shared are culturally popular. The Church of Kopimi, a congregation comprising filesharers who would rather not face jail time for downloading Napoleon Dynamite, gained recognition by the Swedish government in 2011. According to Isak Gerson, the founder of Kopimism, “information is holy and copying is a sacrament.” The group’s sacred emblems are CTRL+C and CTRL+V. Despite its official registration, Kopimi isn’t expected to halt any government crackdowns on illegal sharing sites like The Pirate Bay.

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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.