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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]