Colliding galaxies, an insight into Milkomeda’s formation?

12 July 2009

Eventually our galaxy will collide (or, if you prefer, merge) with the Andromeda galaxy forming a new body some are already calling Milkomeda.

But this photo of four galaxies colliding — by the way — at speeds of up to two million miles (or 3.2 million kilometres) an hour, may be indication of what to expect when Milkomeda does form.

Originally published Sunday 12 July 2009

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The chances of colliding with a star are a million to one

18 February 2009

My recent mentions of the eventual merger/collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, giving rise to “Milkomeda”, has prompted some reader questions about the likelihood of a star from Andromeda colliding with the Sun, during the “merger”.

One thing to remember is the collision is billions of years away, should it even happen, but the chances of stars from either galaxy colliding are extremely remote given the astronomical distances between them:

As with all such collisions, it is unlikely that objects such as stars contained within each galaxy will actually collide, as galaxies are in fact very diffuse – the nearest star to the Sun is in fact almost thirty million solar diameters away from the Earth. (If the sun were scaled to the size of an American quarter, 24.26 mm (0.955 in), the next closest quarter/star would be 700 km (475 miles) away.)

Originally published Wednesday 18 February 2009.

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Lost in space, the final days of the Solar system

11 February 2009

We already know it is likely our galaxy, the Milky Way, will merge (a subtle way of saying collide actually) with our, for now, distant neighbour Andromeda, forming an entity called “Milkomeda”.

It is also possible however that our Solar system will see out its days completely alone somewhere in the cosmos, if it is somehow ejected from the Milky Way during the Andromeda “merger”…

The future is never certain, though, and alternative endings can be written. There is a slim chance that the whole solar system, sun and all, might be thrown out of Milkomeda intact. Out in the emptiness of intergalactic space, the planets would be safe from marauders. There they could continue to circle our darkening star until their energy is eventually sapped and they spiral inwards. One by one as they hit the black-dwarf sun, a few final flares will rage against the dying of the light.

Originally published Wednesday 11 February 2009.

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When galaxies collide well be living in Milkomeda

28 January 2009

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is destined to “merge” with our giant neighbour, Andromeda, in about five billion years.

Currently both galaxies are approaching each other at speeds of 120 kilometres (km) per second, and “Milkomeda” is one name that has been dubbed for the combined entity.

Before the collision occurs though both galaxies will fly past each other twice, occurrences that could possibly result in the Sun, and its family of planets, being drawn into the Andromeda system.

There is also a remote 3% chance that the Sun will jump ship and defect to the Andromeda galaxy during the second close passage. “In the night sky, we would then see the Milky Way from a distance,” says Loeb.

Just to put the distances into some perspective, moving at a rate of 120 km per second means covering about 3.8 billion km per year. The planet Neptune is some 4.46 billion km from the Sun, so we are talking about some very, very, vast amounts of space here.

Originally published Thursday 28 January 2009.

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What will happen when Antares explodes?

13 January 2009

If search engine queries here are anything to go by, the prospect of Antares, a red giant star located in the constellation of Scorpius, exploding seems to intrigue some visitors, so I decided to learn more about the imminent (anytime in the next million years, that is) Antares supernova.

In a word though, it will be spectacular.

While it will be unmissable in the night sky, the remnants of Antares may – for a short time – be visible during the day, and even alien astronomers in distant galaxies will temporarily see our galaxy, The Milky Way, outshine many other galaxies that are visible to them, as a result of the explosion.

Despite the galactic light-show the explosion of Antares will not however pose any direct danger to Earth.

There are fears that an exploding star, or supernova, could threaten our planet by way of debris from the blast, or that the resulting radiation and gamma rays could destroy Earth’s ozone layer, in turn triggering a mass extinction.

It has been found however that a supernova needs to be within 26 light years of Earth to cause any sort of harm, and Antares is some 600 light years away.

The only possible risk lies in the glare that any supernova could generate, which may be blinding, according to Dr Nick Lomb of the Sydney Observatory.

Antares isn’t the only potential supernova-star in the stellar neighbourhood either, and Eta Carinae, about 8000 light years away from Earth, could also explode at any time.

Originally published Tuesday 13 January 2009.

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Workafrolics work harder but live longer

29 October 2008

And following on from the workafrolic piece last week, comes news that hard working, conscientious people, may live a little longer than other people, according to a Marie Claire article. Why? Mainly because they are so busy working they have little time for excesses and taking life threatening risks.

Nearly 9,000 took part in the study to analyse personality and lifespan and lead researcher Dr Howard Friedman concluded: “Highly conscientious people live on average two to four years longer.” “There is evidence for several sorts of reasons. Conscientious folks are less likely to smoke, drink to excess or take too many risks.” He added: “But it is also true that conscientious folks lead life patterns that are more stable and less stressful.”

New Scientist subscribers can view the original source article here.

Update: The Marie Claire article is no longer online.

Originally published Wednesday 29 October 2008.

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Is Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a workafrolic?

22 October 2008

Workafrolic is the latest buzzword of a neologism to pique my curiosity and it will no doubt lead to an obsession in due course. Richard St. John author of Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky and Rich defines a workafrolic in a recent interview with The Telegram

Successful people work hard, but they love it. They’re “workafrolics”, St. John says, because they have fun working.

Australian graphic designer Sonya Mefaddi provided a slightly more real life definition in an article in the SMH MyCareer liftout last weekend (18-19 October 2008, page 3):

If I am out at a club with friends, I often think I’d rather be at home working.

Never thought I’d say this, but her words strike a definite chord with me. At this point in time anyway.

Update: The Telegram article is no longer online.

Originally published Wednesday 22 October 2008.

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A review of the Sony Ericsson C902 Cyber-shot phone

27 September 2008

The crew at Sony Ericsson recently gave me one of their newest mobile phones, the C902 Cyber-shot to call my own for a couple of months.

Given my love of taking photos, I’ve been waiting for a chance to try out the phone’s five mega-pixel camera up at the nearby UNSW campus (where I have a stack of shots from my digital camera to base comparisons on), but to date Sydney’s topsy-turvy weather has thwarted me.

August is statistically Sydney’s driest month, but a clear sunny day, ideal for the outdoor shots I want, continues to elude me whenever I plan to be on the uni campus. Never mind, maybe next week.

Back to the C902. Mobile phones have continued to evolve far beyond being a simple telephone, and the C902 is the latest in this line of development. I have more than the means to simply phone or text home to say I’m running late, sitting comfortably and unobtrusively, in my shirt pocket.

I can send and receive email. Surf the net (reminding me that I need to create a dedicated mobile device stylesheet for disassociated), participate in conference calls, organise my calendar and tasks (I’ve long since dispensed with a paper diary), film and view video clips, listen to the radio or MP3s, and of course take photos.

It’s certainly a stylish piece of equipment, and the black finish complete with the silver-grey trim, makes for a uber-appealing tool that permits me to take off into the wide blue yonder for days at a time without having to worry about being out of the loop.

Anyway a few observations to date:

Battery life

So far I have no qualms with the C902 battery. Mobile phone battery life is truly a case of “your mileage may vary” with any phone though. Some weeks my usage has been higher than others, and I’ve needed to recharge the battery after three days.

Another week passed before a recharge was required, with only a few short calls, but the phone was on stand-by the whole time.

Reception

I’ve found reception to be very clear, and even if I’m walking alongside a busy road, or in an area where reception is not so strong, I can still hear a caller’s voice quite clearly.

Mind you I haven’t used the phone away from inner Sydney yet, so can’t comment on reception in rural, or more remote, areas.

Keypad

The keypad is rather compact, and sometimes I press the wrong key. My current phone is a Motorola MOTOKRZR K1 and I find its keypad easier to use. I do have oversize hands though so this may not be a problem for everyone.

I also appreciate that that “clam shell” type phones do have a little more handset real estate, or room, to allow for slightly wider keypad buttons, as opposed to “candy bar” type phones such as the C902.

Text messaging

Despite my fat fingers text messaging with the C902 is simple and straightforward. I especially like what I call the “multi-choice predictive text function”. The C902 will offer several suggestions as to which word, or part of, you wish to use, as you are typing. This took some getting used to, but now I am finding it quite useful.

Screen Icons

I was a little confused by some of the icons appearing on the phone’s screen display, particularly a U-shaped like red arrow. Was it some sort of warning?

A browse of the phone’s manual failed to turn up a legend, or explanation, of screen icons. I have since deduced however that the icon is a “withheld”, or missed call, indicator.

Another initial puzzle was an “H” icon 1 which was present on some occasions but not others. I noticed it would vanish from the screen if I stepped into a lift, or was in an underground car park, so I assume it is a “strong signal” indicator.

Security

One little gripe I have is with phone security, or lack of.

While the C902 does feature a keypad lock, this really only guards against accidentally dialling a number while the phone is in your pocket or bag. In comparison the MOTOKRZR K1 has a PIN activated phone lock, meaning I can’t do anything with the phone until I tap in a PIN code.

It’s an extra layer of security I appreciate. If the C902 does have such a phone lock, its activation eludes me.

Computer synchronisation

I was quickly and easily able to synchronise the phone to my laptop by way of the C902’s “PC Suite” software, which is included on the DVD that comes with the phone.

I can transfer photos and videos from the phone to my local drive, manage my contacts/phone book, appointments, and task lists, and best of all, send SMS text messages via the computer keyboard, something I appreciate no matter how big a phone’s keypad is.

Summary to date

Aside from the points I make about understanding screen icons and security, I am enjoying using this phone.

A “quick reference” page in the operating manual addressing points such as screen icons and phone security would be useful, as I consider these primary to the phone’s use, as opposed to, say, the camera, which strikes me as being a secondary function, and something I would expect to have to read more about before using.

Further reading and reviews

A few other Australian bloggers are also trying out the phone, Jen, Ben Barren, and Neerav Bhatt, so between us you’ll end up pretty clued-up on the C902.

Originally published Saturday 27 September 2008.

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The page 69 rule for determining a book’s quality

19 September 2008

That’s right. If you’re trying to read a lot of books, how can you decide what’s worth the time investment, and what’s not? The idea is as follows: flip open a novel at page 69. If you like what you read, chances are the rest of the book should be ok.

A lot of things happen at the point of 69. (Some of them aren’t suitable for inclusion in this blog). Man walked on the moon. Bryan Adams had a summer. Evel Knievel died at the age of 69. And so, ironically enough, did Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian academic to whom we owe a (strictly innocent) relationship to the number 69. His theory of how to choose a book goes like this: first of all, read page 69. If you like it, then chances are you’ll like the rest of it too.

And therein lies a tip to authors. Make page 69 awesome, and you’ll be home free.

Originally published Friday 19 September 2008.

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Twit Face route your Facebook status updates to Twitter

18 August 2008

Dylan Davis published a method of routing the Facebook update statuses of both you and your friends to Twitter a few days ago as a Facebook note. I thought this was something people might be interested in trying out, and Dylan was happy to let me republish his update status routing recipe. Enjoy!

Here’s a recipe for routing all your and your friend’s Status updates from Facebook to Twitter. See also my post about doing the same with Ecademy and other services.

Things you’ll need:-

  • An Open ID
  • An RSS feed for just your Facebook status updates. Go to your profile, click on minifeed, see All. Click on Status Stories. There’s a Subscription link bottom right.
  • An RSS feed for your friends’ Facebook status updates. Friends – Status updates from the drop down at the top of the page. There’s a Subscription link bottom right.
  • A dummy Twitter account. Create a new Twitter account and follow it from your main account.

Route your Facebook updates so when you post it also posts to Twitter.

  • Login with your OpenID into Twitterfeed.
  • Create a new entry. Put in your main Twitter account ID and Password and the RSS for your status updates.
  • Update 30 minutes, Include title only, Include Item link, Prefix each Tweet with FB.

Now each time you post a status update on Facebook, within 30 minutes it will create a Tweet from you on Twitter with a link back to your profile on Facebook.

Route your Friends’ Facebook updates so when they set their status on Facebook, you can read it in Twitter.

  • Login with your OpenID into Twitterfeed.
  • Create a new entry. Put in your dummy Twitter account ID and Password and the RSS for your friends’ status updates.
  • Update 30 minutes, Include title only, Include Item link, Prefix each Tweet with FB.

Now each time any of your friend’s post a status update on Facebook, within 30 minutes it will appear in your Twitter Friend’s timeline with a link back to their profile on Facebook.

You can use the same basic technique for any service that has one or both RSS feeds. It works better with services that include the name of the poster in the title. So Facebook, Plazes, Jaiku but not Pownce. AFAIK, Twitter is the only service with an API for updating a status externally and a 3rd party RSS to post service. Which means Twitter ends up as the best aggregator for all your services.

So the next question is which service you should use as your main update. I’m finding myself doing most of my updates on Twitter with occasional updates on Facebook and Ecademy to keep my profile on those services fresh.

Thanks again, Dylan.

Originally published Monday 18 August 2008.

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Arthur C Clarke’s Newspad RSS news aggregator

30 May 2008

Author and futurist Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting the emergence of a number of technologies, including a tablet-like device called a “Newspad”, which could serve the latest news stories from electronic versions of newspapers.

So far more has been said about comparing the Newspad to PDAs or Tablet PCs, but the Newpad also worked in a very similar way to today’s news aggregators, or RSS feed readers.

In the novelised version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, (chapter title “Moon Shuttle”, pg 66-67) Dr Heywood Floyd, chairman of the US National Council of Astronautics, spends time reading on his Newspad, while traveling to the Moon.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.

Not only did Arthur C. Clarke predict PDAs and Tablet PCs, he also foresaw the emergence of news aggregators, and RSS technology.

Originally published Friday 30 May 2008.

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Gilligan’s Island conspiracy theory alternative synopsis

18 April 2008

The story about a seemingly random group of people setting off together on a three-hour cruise somewhere around the Hawaiian Islands, has, if you’ll excuse the pun, never held much water.

It’s quite clear some people expected the “cruise” to last a little longer than three hours.

First there’s Ginger, the movie star, who was carrying more luggage than any sane person would take on a three-year voyage.

Then there’s Mr Howell, the millionaire, and his brief case stuffed with “thousand dollar bills”. And what about the professor and his stash of scientific paraphernalia?

What possible utility could any of this have had during what was meant to be a three-hour cruise?

Gilligan’s Island fan Adam-Troy Castro has written an interesting dissection of the (still) popular TV show, and he may have unearthed the actual purpose of the “three-hour cruise”.

Mr Howell, rather than Gilligan, was in fact the pivotal player here.

One of the glaring questions that’s bothered us for a quarter of a century is: Since the snobbish Howell can presumably afford to buy his own yachts, why would he be interested in a “three-hour tour” aboard a dinky little charter vessel owned by two ex-navy men? And why would he take along a briefcase filled with thousand dollar bills, when one of the perks associated with great wealth is unlimited credit?

To be shipwrecked on an (apparently) unchartered and unknown island, means the Minnow, the cruise boat, had to be a long way from the main group of Hawaiian Islands, so what had they gone out to look at in the first place?

Certainly not the local reefs, since there’s no scuba equipment aboard. And certainly not the local shoreline, since when the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was not only unable to make it to port, but was blown outside Hawaiian territory. It must have been an unusual distance from shore to begin with. And still, no normal tourist site, let alone one miles from shore, can possibly explain the amount of money Howell brought with him.

It’s obvious something incredibly below board was planned, and cash stashes and superfluous scientific equipment, don’t really leave too much to the imagination.

Howell chartered the Minnow to make a multi-million-dollar drug buy. He’d paid off Gilligan, and the Skipper too. He’d brought along the necessary cash. He even brought along an extensive wardrobe, just in case the coast guard showed up and he had to leave U.S. territory in a hurry. And just to make sure he wasn’t ripped off, he brought along an expert to evaluate the merchandise he was getting.

So who was in cahoots with who though? Apart from Mary Anne, it seems everyone else was in on the drug buy.

Mary Anne appeared to be a bona fide tourist intent on some sightseeing, and the “gang” felt that not allowing her to board the Minnow, which to all intents and purposes was a tour vessel, would have looked suspicious.

Mary Anne, a Kansas farm girl … had won a Hawaiian vacation in a contest. Howell and his cronies must have let her on board because failing to do so would have raised undue suspicion among harbor authorities; they probably intended to dump her body at sea.

In a twist to proceedings however, Mary Anne was not exactly who she appeared to be either…

Vacations given away in contests are always for two people, not one! And Mary Anne, who claimed to have a fiance back home, had no real reason to be travelling alone. Therefore, she must have been maintaining a false identity as well – and since everybody else on the Minnow was frantically putting on a show for her benefit, she must have been putting on a show for theirs. The conclusion is inescapable. Mary Anne was a Fed.

The producers of Gilligan’s Island didn’t follow through with the planned fourth series, thus leaving the story… unresolved. Therefore the alternative synopsis advanced by Mr Castro may be quite plausible.

Originally published Friday 18 April 2008.

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Five Questions: Duncan Macleod, TV advert blogger

10 September 2007

Five Questions is where I talk to bloggers about their projects and some of the other things they are doing. I ask {Q}uestions, and hopefully get some {A}nswers.

TV ads: are they a necessary evil, an outright distraction, or do they make for useful intermission breaks? Not all TV ads are forgettable though, and some are almost an art form says Duncan Macleod who reviews TV ads for his blog TV Ad Land.

{Q} What prompted you to become a TV ad reviewer of all things?!

{A} I started Duncan’s TV Ad Land back in 2003 in response to requests at conferences for copies of TV ads I’d been using as illustrations. I was aware that passing around digital copies of the ads could be breaking copyright law and so undertook to show people where to find the ads on the internet for themselves.

I was already working on a blog focusing on my research on generational change and thought it might be an interesting side line. What started out as an occasional post on Blogger has turned into a domain name duncans.tv with five blogs, read by approximately 5000 people each day.

{Q} How much time a week would you spend doing research, and watching TV, for the blog?

{A} I do my research and writing for TV Ad Land in the evenings and the weekends. Ironically I don’t get to sit down and watch TV much — it’s going on in the background.

Most of my information comes from press releases, emails and other web sites. All up, counting the posts I write on TV ads, print ads, music videos, popular culture and faith, I spend between 10 and 20 hours a week blogging.

I maintain a few blogs in my work with the Uniting Church during work hours.

{Q} In your opinion what makes for an effective TV ad?

{A} I’m interested in the ads that tell a story, providing plot and characters, like the Ikea Tidy Up series. Even better are the campaigns that show some kind of character development, like the Geico Cavemen series that morphed into a television series.

And then there’s humour — the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously — like the Big Ad from Carlton Draught. Just like at the movies, music makes all the difference to the way we engage with the ad.

The recent Tooheys HarvesTed ad, in which a guy grows clones from his hair, puzzled a lot of people. But people were drawn back to the ad time and time again by the Yama Yama track.

{Q} What sort of things do you think ad makers should avoid doing when producing commercials?

{A} Effective creative teams have to work out how much information is required in the thirty seconds. Is the ad about developing interest, curiosity, loyalty, pride or love? Or is it about giving people facts and figures that they must remember?

There’s been a bit of debate over this question in relation to a recent ad for the Honda CRV in which a guy constantly changes clothes as he walks through a Sydney street. More and more we’re seeing TV ads that attract viewers to online sites that can provide the details required.

Another tension faced by advertising teams relates to irreverence. The Nandos Fix Patch and Gum ads struggled to win wide support when they showed a working mum using the fictitious nandos-fix patch and gum in a strip club before taking her family to Nandos.

The ads are funny, but have left a bad taste in the mouths of many parents I’ve spoken to. Very few people get the joke.

{Q} So are TV ads underrated creative genius, or merely a distraction TV viewers must tolerate?

{A} Some TV ads are appalling and deserve to be muted. They’re loud, hard sell and unimaginative. But we’re seeing the growth of the television commercial as an art form, a short form of the short film.

The only problem for the people behind the scenes is that they go uncredited. In most cases we’re not sure who the actors are.

As I research for Duncan’s TV Ad Land I try to tell the story of the people behind the scenes: creative directors, art directors, copywriters, film directors, producers, editors, directors of photography, visual and special effects teams, colourists, sound designers, composers and of course the actors.

Many of these people are involved in long form film work. The director of the movie Halo, (coming out in 2009) is Neill Blomkamp, known mostly for his TV ads for Nike (Evolution and Crab), Citroen Transformer, Gatorade Rain and Adidas Adicolor Yellow.

My challenge now is how to connect the popular culture angle back into my original work on generational values and spirituality.

When I talk to groups about Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y I find the TV ads, print advertisements and music video are great illustrations, texts for discussion. The Virgin Blue Get What You Want in Todd’s Life provides a way to talk about the dominant culture of choice, change and variety.

My brief with the Uniting Church in Australia has included helping people explore what faith might mean in an environment driven by consumerism. Do we ignore the lessons of the advertising world and settle for poor marketing? I suggest not.

But at the same time it’s important not to be sucked into the danger of continually presenting faith as a product that can be bought now and discarded later.

Thanks Duncan!

Originally published Monday 10 September 2007.

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The Prestige, a film by Christopher Nolan, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale

30 November 2006

First an aside, I wonder if The Prestige was the team behind 2005’s Batman Begins deciding to apply their collective acting and producing talents to a completely different story? We have Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and director Christopher Nolan, all from Batman Begins, present here.

The Prestige traces the unhealthy obsession (is any obsession healthy though?) friends turned rivals, Alfred Borden (Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), have with each other’s magic acts, and the ends one will go to, so as to out do the other.

Caught up in this rivalry is Scarlett Johansson as stage assistant, Olivia, who becomes romantically involved with both men during the course of proceedings. And though I knew David Bowie was also in the movie, I didn’t recognise him as Tesla, an American inventor competing with Thomas Edison.

Originally published Thursday 30 November 2006.

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Culture jamming street signs as a means of political protest

7 May 2005
Altered road sign suggesting Australia is a refugee island?

Saw this on the way to work the other morning. Along Epsom Road, in the Sydney suburb of Rosebery. I don’t know how long it has been there, or how long it will remain. I wonder what the exact point is. It could mean a number of different things when you think about it…

Originally published Saturday 7 May 2005.

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Is this Erroll Bottrell’s statue in Centennial Park Sydney?

1 January 2005
Erroll Bottrell's name at base of statue column

I don’t know who Erroll Bottrell is, but he’s carved his name into eternity… on the base of a statue in Sydney’s Centennial Park.

But the statue is a strange sort of ornament all up. It sits on top of what might be a ten metre high pseudo classic Greek column, making it kind of difficult to see. It’s one of several similar objects located near Busby pond in the park, but bears no inscription or plaque explaining what it is, or why it’s there.

Folly statue column, Centennial Park Sydney

It reminds me a little of the classic English landscape folly, being an “architectural construction which isn’t what it appears to be”. Something built for a bit of fun only. Maybe this is an Australian variation of the idea? How very eccentric.

Perhaps Erroll Bottrell designed these ornaments, and inscribed his name into the base for posterity’s sake. Maybe he was just another visitor to the park, who was handy with a carving chisel, one he just happened to be carrying at the time.

Update: Here, possibly, may be some information about Mr Bottrell.

Originally published Saturday 1 January 2005.

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