The crazy Christmas holidays can be, well, crazy, and we all know that sometimes the little details can easily get overlooked in the midst of the mad festive rush. On Boxing Day just passed, Australian retailer Myer overlooked a little detail that they undoubtedly really wish they hadn’t, since it got a lot of mirth-mileage in the Twittersphere and the Webiverse.

It seems that someone (a someone who is probably beginning their new year queuing for an unemployment cheque) inadvertently thought to add an apostrophe in the wrong place in the Myer New Year Sales’ slogan: ‘The early bird get’s the right size’.

Oh deary me.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that it’s an atrocious slogan to begin with, and the copywriter probably deserves a place in Hell for that alone, WHAT THE CRAP WERE THEY THINKING? That’s such a random apostrophe that I don’t believe anyone on the planet could be so dumb as to think ‘gets’ needs it. For fuck’s sake WHY??? It’s so bizarre in fact that I’m inclined to think that someone with evil intentions purposely sneaked it in there just to see how far along the production chain it could go before it was noticed. And travel far it did, merrily whistling its way past the ad team creative directors, the designers, the Myer client and the printers, finally declaring its cheeky presence in seven-storey high banners throughout the Myer chain. You can see an example here on the Sydney Morning Herald site.

Em. Barrass. Ing.

The best part is, though, that having printed however many hundreds or thousands of posters and banners with the cringeworthy blunder, Myer were obliged to rectify it or look like even greater dunderheads. The signs now look like this:

Management obviously felt that the mistake didn’t warrant the expense of reprinting, so the band-aid solution was almost literally that – a black swatch of tape on every instance of the pesky punctuation point.

This leads to the almost greater crime of an ungainly kerned word in the slogan. In other words, an offence of grammar is being repealed at the expense of a crime against typography. The signs are still up everywhere and every time I see one it makes me chuckle with schadenfreude.

I was in Myer a few days ago, attempting to exchange a box of drinking glasses which had one piece missing. As I was standing at the counter, waiting to be served, the saleswoman – who was plainly aware of my presence – just wandered away somewhere without so much as a word of explanation and didn’t come back. I waited for five minutes. Another customer queued behind me.

‘Is anyone serving you?’ she asked.

‘Well, there was someone,’ I said, ‘but she disappeared somewhere over there.’

We waited for another few minutes. Finally, the woman dumped her goods on the counter.

‘And they wonder why we shop online,’ she said, leaving.

Right on sister.

I hung around for a bit longer but eventually thought, fuck it, I’ll just go get another box myself. I took the old box out of my bag and put a new, complete box in, and headed off. A security guard was not ten feet away.

The moral to this story is:

Little stroke’s fell great oak’s.

The US Military seems to have lost their new ultra hi-tech Falcon HTV-2 ‘hypersonic’ aircraft. The plane, which undoubtedly cost kazillions of dollars,1 was being tested over the Pacific yesterday when it suddenly (some2 might say ‘mysteriously’…) stopped communicating with the US Defence Advance Research Projects Agency engineers.

Now, now. I can hear you snickering there Acowlytes. A little more sympathy please. We all know how distressing it can be to lose something. Why, only last week I lost my reading glasses and it was causing me all end of grief. I remembered, however, advice my dear old Dad gave me when I found myself in such circumstances, and I herewith offer that advice up to DARPA.3

•Take a deep breath and don’t flip out. That doesn’t help.

•Ascertain that the item is actually missing, and that your Mum didn’t put it away in the cupboard.

•Check your pockets. The missing item turns up there 90% of the time.

•Don’t play the blame game. The odds are that you lost it through your own stupid actions (as much as I was predisposed to think that China stole my spectacles, it was more likely that I had misplaced them).

•Retrace your steps (you might be amazed how many stops you made between Vandenberg Air Force base and the troposphere).

•Search the obvious places twice. I mean – guys: The Pacific Ocean? Are you sure you checked everywhere?

•When all else fails, try putting up some posters around the neighbourhood. I’m totally sure that if North Korea found your plane they’d be happy to give it back, especially if you offered them a reward.

  1. Funny how the military never seems terribly impeded by financial market woes… []
  2. Oh yes, some are already saying it… []
  3. After all, we don’t want to be too hard on DARPA – they are the reason I’m able to be here chatting with you, Faithful Cowpokes! []

♫ Everybody’s talks about a new world in the morning… new world in the morning so they say-ee-ay-ay… ♫ I myself don’t talk about a new world… Hey! WTF! What are you all doing here? Weren’t you killed by the earthquakes and the volcanoes and the asteroids? Goddamnit! Do you mean to say that I spent all that money on a Vivos Underground Fallout Shelter for nothing? You’re not going to tell me that noted astrologer Richard Nolle, who predicted apocalyptic events as the FULL moon approached perigee, and who was quoted on Space.com,1 was wrong? Son of a bitch!

Yes loyal Cowpokes, it’s true. Once again, the unhinged blathering of a woo personage turns out to be categorically and unequivocally wrong. I’ll just say that again:


You can read about Space.com’s embarrassing article (which tries to pretend it’s not really quoting an astrologer), here, but for the real meat of this sandwich you need to read what Mr Nolle said, in his own waffly words:

Of course you can expect the usual: a surge in extreme tides along the coasts, a rash of moderate-to-severe seismic activity (including magnitude 5+ earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions), and most especially in this case a dramatic spike in powerful storms with heavy precipitation, damaging winds and extreme electrical activity. Floods are a big part of the picture in this case, although some of these will be dry electrical storms that spark fast-spreading wildfires.2

No doubt Mr Nolle will do what all purveyors of this kind of nonsense do when they are shown to be WRONG, and start claiming everything in the vicinity as an endorsement of his prediction, including the recent tragic Japanese tsunami.

That makes this [the date of the ‘extreme supermoon’] a major geophysical stress window, centered on the actual alignment date but in effect from the 16th through the 22nd.

Geez. Even when he hedges his bets with the dates, he’s WRONG.3 The Japanese tsunami occurred on March 11. Of course, that won’t stop him!

The March 19 SuperMoon is by far the most significant storm and seismic indicator this month, but it’s not the only one. Lesser geocosmic shock windows also up the ante for unusually strong storms4 and moderate to severe seismic activity5 (including6 magnitude 5+ earthquakes, subsequent tsunami, and volcanic eruptions). These lesser windows include March 1-7 (surrounding the new moon on the 4th), March 23-26 (bracketing the lunar south declination peak on the 25th), and from late on the 31st on into early April.7

Hahaha. Look at all that risible equivocating (I’ve enumerated all the hedging for you in the footnotes). That covers just about every possible day in March and every possible earthquake above a magnitude 5. Since the planet experiences more than 1500 earthquakes of magnitude 5 and above every year (divide that by 12 months and you get over 125 magnitude 5+ earthquakes somewhere in the world every month) Nolle can make a prediction like this with complete impunity. When you include his dates for the Super Moon, Nolle has every day in March covered except March 8 – 15 and March 27 – 30! That’s predicting 20 whole days of March might possibly have an earthquake of magnitude 5+ somewhere in the world! And he still missed March 11! Whoopsy. I guess a fucking ginormous earthquake that causes massive tidal surges and kills thousands of people is easy to overlook with that extreme spike in electrical storms and amongst all the floods and volcanic eruptions. Oh wait. None of those happened on March 19 either.8

So, let’s just see what scientists predicted for the approach of the Super Moon. John Bellini, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey:

Practically speaking, you’ll never see any effect of lunar perigee. It’s somewhere between ‘It has no effect’ and ‘It’s so small you don’t see any effect.’

Oh, lookit that. Once again, science is…



Earthquake chart purloined from IRIS with thanks. I’m pretty sure that, in the interests of proper science, they will be OK with it.

  1. Who, I hope, are still sitting in the corner with their dunce cap on… []
  2. Gee, care to add anything else to that, Mr Nolle? Just in case that wide net misses something? []
  3. I’m posting this on March 20, Australian time, so there are are still three more fudge days to go, but you know what? I’m saying here and now that in those three days nothing at all of any geophysical significance will happen. I’m sure Mr Nolle is well on his way, though, to claiming that what he REALLY meant by his predictions was that the UN would endorse military strikes on Libya. That’s the way this stuff invariably works… []
  4. ‘Unusually strong’ could mean anything more than a bit of blustery wind. []
  5. Moderate to severe? That’s really narrowing it down. []
  6. Including??? There’s a weasel term if ever I heard one – the addition of ‘including’ actually means that this sentence says in effect: “Any earth movements of any kind” []
  7. Into early April…? When’s ‘early’? April 5th? April 10th? Fuck me. []
  8. I’ll just note here for the sake of amusement, the introduction to Mr Nolle’s pages which says in part “If you were expecting some kind of sun sign nonsense, forget about it. This is real astrology for the real world, not some mystical mumbo-jumbo word salad.” Got that? No mumbo-jumbo in this town, no way! []

Y’know, as much as I’m critical of the woo-mongers mixing it up with what they perceive to be ‘science’, I’m afraid that sometimes it’s the scientists themselves that need a good fresh mackerel to the side of the head.

Take this article Chaos Makes a Scream Sound Real, from ScienceNews.

To be fair, it’s not just the scientists. There’s a combination of factors that contribute to the diffuse, nutty quality of this piece, and it’s one that you find frequently in science journalism: a scientific concept that doesn’t immediately appear to be anything remotely worth reporting to a general audience, and a journalist’s desire (or job requirement) to try and spice it up into something that does.

I’ll try and paraphrase the whole idea for you, since I can’t be entirely sure what this is exactly about from reading either the Science News article or the abstract of the paper at Biology Letters, where it was published under the title Do film soundtracks contain nonlinear analogues to influence emotion?1

Some scientists studying vertebrate communication observed that:

A variety of vertebrates produce nonlinear vocalizations when they are under duress. By their very nature, vocalizations containing nonlinearities may sound harsh and are somewhat unpredictable; observations that are consistent with them being particularly evocative to those hearing them.

What they’re basically saying is that jarring, loud or sudden sounds have a noticeable impression on an animal hearing them.


They go on to hypothesize that maybe this is the case for humans too, and that filmmakers use that trick in films.


To this end, they analyzed a bunch of films and found that there are more jarring and sudden sounds in horror films, although some appear in action films and a few appear in drama.2


Then they sum up their hypothesis with:

Together, our results suggest that film-makers manipulate sounds to create nonlinear analogues in order to manipulate our emotional responses.

(Translate that to: ‘Film-makers use different kinds of changing sounds for emotional effect’)

Er… Yup.

Now, I don’t suppose that this was likely to be an experiment that cost oodles of money, but whatever they spent on it was WAY too much, because they could simply have emailed me and I would have told them all that for free.

The Science News reporter makes a futile attempt to spin this up into something more than what I just told you, by stirring in some references to Chaos Theory (wtf?) and getting a quote about ‘crying babies’ from a cognitive biologist who was not even involved in the study (‘Screams are basically chaos!‘). She then tags the piece with an entirely irrelevant factoid about how Hitchcock’s The Birds contains sounds that were electronically generated3 and signs off with the following knowledgeable-sounding quip:

…capturing a realistic, blood-curdling cry is so difficult that filmmakers have used the very same one, now found on many websites, in more than 200 movies. Known as the Wilhelm scream it is named for the character who first unleashed it in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River.

Well, someone has been pwned here and I’m not sure who. Either the reporter hasn’t done her homework, or she thinks that no-one will notice this risible flub. The Wilhelm scream is used in a lot of movies, not because of its terrifying blood-curdling quality, but because it’s so utterly lame that it has become a game among sound editors to see if they can sneak it in skillfully enough to let the director keep it in the final sound mix.

What’s more, it’s even extremely well known for that reason as even a very cursory search will reveal. Here’s a (VERY old) YouTube compilation of appearances of the Wilhelm scream.

You’ll have noticed that many of the above clips are from the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg stable, and that’s because sound design guru Ben Burtt is responsible for ‘resurrecting’ the Wilhelm scream in Star Wars and the fun challenge of trying to get it into mixes arose among sound editors who worked with Burtt (and with some of whom I’ve worked myself, so I know of what I speak).

I’m all for the concept of popularizing science, but this kind of writing doesn’t really help anyone. It’s painting a hazy and inaccurate picture for a lay audience, can easily be demonstrated to be factually sloppy and, worst of all in my book, because of the two preceding transgressions, casts a sickly glow over the effectiveness of all other science reporting. Science can’t, and shouldn’t be, reported in the same way as entertainment. Science is interesting for what it is, and if you’re a science reporter and can’t find an appropriately absorbing way of working with the actual facts at hand for a story, you should leave it alone and go on to something else.4

  1. And I’m not about to fork out for the full article – people still aren’t getting this stuff. Listen to me Biology Letters editors: religious fundamentalists of all persuasions make their stuff available to all and sundry for nothing. THEY ARE YOUR COMPETITION! Get with the 21st Century already! []
  2. Without even doing an experiment I can tell you that there would be close to none in comedies and romances. []
  3. I’m not even sure I understand what the point of including it is – that electronic sounds are more jarring/chaotic/annoying than natural sounds? Again, wtf? It’s not true, and it’s immaterial in this context anyway! []
  4. Another disappointing consequence of this phenomenon is that the bad story gets picked up, often completely uncritically, by other popular science outlets. In this case I note that it appears in Wired Science who should totally know better. []

The Guardian reports that publisher Penguin Australia has been left with egg on its face after it was revealed that a recipe for Tagliatelle with Sardines and Prosciutto from their book The Pasta Bible, called for the inclusion of ‘salt and freshly ground black people’. 7000 copies of the book have been withdrawn.

Penguin’s head of publishing, Robert Sessions, blamed the gaff on a spellcheck program, and said that proofreaders missed it because they were probably more concerned with checking ingredient quantities.1 Sessions called the mistake a typo, but I’m thinking that these kinds of episodes, where spellcheck programs offer whole alternative words to the one that is meant, should have a new name. Wordo? Hmm… a bit clunky… Suggestions?


*Thanks to Violet Towne for spotting it in The Guardian and to my guest sub-editor King Willy for the fabulous headline.


  1. Rather than the ingredients per se, I guess… []

A local Chinese Restaurant. I’m not inclined to sample their wares.

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