Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chief Justice appointment - Ostensibly odd

The announcement of WA's Robert French as the new appointee to the High Court, Australia's peak legal venue, surprised me for three reasons:

1) He was appointed directly as chief justice;

2) It wasn't to be NSW Chief Justice James Spigelman;

3) According to Attorney-General Robert McClelland, he was a "black letter lawyer" who "sticks to the letter of the law".

The appointment is significant to Australia in a similar way to the matter of the US Supreme Court: the High Court has the potential to be quite influential on issues of the day, often leading to parliament passing legislation to catch up, such as in the Mabo and Wik decisions on indigenous land rights.

There could be any amount of explanation for the points above. The precedent for promoting the deputy chief justice is certainly not firmly entrenched, and the decision could have been down to personal preferences of the incumbent, the age issue (mandatory retirement at 70 - a referendum outcome), or politics.

I first encountered Jim Spigelman's name when researching the origins of the NRMA (NSW's ubiquitous car breakdown service). As a university student, J J Spigelman's was one of the earliest attempts to break through the cosy boy's club of the NRMA board of directors. He was also an early activist on aboriginal rights. He, too, was appointed directly to a court's head - the Supreme Court of New South Wales - and he's widely respected. He is inevitably headed for the High Court (likely as Chief Justice); however, he may have felt he still had work to do in NSW.

As for McLelland's comment, I thought at first that PM Rudd was trying to assuage conservatives, as is his wont. But Richard Ackland's column suggests that it was simply McClelland's words that were a sop. Ackland's report of French's own words suggest rather that he will be at the judicial activist end of the scale. It's fair to say that High/Supreme Court appointees have from time to time changed their spots dramatically once ensconced. But it sounds like French has too long and strong a history for this.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blame it on computers

After years spent acclimatising to technology, senior high school students need remedial handwriting classes.

Inter alia, the Herald reports of one (private) school requiring all senior essays to be handwritten. "Handwriting is an important expression of a student's personality", says the headmaster.

He could be right, but he reminds me of a late primary school teacher who made the class use fountain pens for the whole year. We did it; things got scratchy or messy at times, and often it looked good. But I doubt anyone seriously went back to fountain pens after that year. Old technology. Less convenient, less available, more expensive.

In a similar way, that headmaster is barking in the dark - inasmuch as he expects to see personality significantly expressed through handwriting well into the future.

Technology's the issue, although writing is not an artifact begging for a solution. Although letter writing is clearly a dying art, writing in general - and writing legibly - will always be important.

The Herald asked me if I thought computers were making handwriting worse, and of course I said yes. I certainly type a lot more and write a lot less, and my handwriting has certainly got worse. But this is just a less fortunate side effect of technology, and it's futile to rail against the use of computers in general. They are tools, and ipso facto they help us achieve many things much faster. The best we may hope for is simply to maintain good legibility.

Coincidentally, the previous day someone had claimed to me that watching tv - and using computers -was making people more less intelligent.

[Most of the time I ask, the kids tell me that what they're watching doesn't excite them. Sounds like they're doing what I did when young: passively watching a lot of rubbish that is seldom actively enjoyed. But despite the multiplicity of options - multiple channels, cartoons before and after school, and dvd - they watch less than I did (by parental direction), and I've not been harmed by the experience, having grown out of it.]

I hope I'm not misrepresenting Helen's views, but I understood her to also say that other staff at her university (and not just her) complained that the maths students of today were dumbed down by computers, and as a consequence were less skilled at problem-solving: less imaginative and less able to access the toolkit of mathematical techniques. She was also suggesting studies verified this.

I would be rather skeptical of such anecdotes unless I saw the research evidence. I would be skeptical about causality issues around this, and I would staunchly maintain the status of computers in particular as a uniquely important tool - to access, process and store information of all kinds. As a tool, it takes care of the mundane, allowing people to extend themselves further in the direction they were already headed. Even those who are less inclined to extend themselves - there has always been such people - will still gain from the use of computers.

At the advent of mass television broadcasting, it was touted as a powerful educative medium. We may think that promise has been lost - missed - by the usurpation of commercial imperatives, but today it is being used to a wide variety of ends, according to inclination - even including learning. Would those who use it passively as a timewaster have spent their time much better if it were not around? Moot.

I suggest it is often easy to misread the impact of technology.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mahler vs Beethoven

I heard an interview recently on ABC Radio National with Zubin Mehta, the Parsi Indian conductor.

Mehta, asked about an orchestra's typical season, responded that Mahler - whose work has been one of Mehta's focuses - shouldn't be in everyday repertoire. By way of explanation, he said that into each of Mahler's symphonies, he had put everything he'd learnt up to that point, with the implication that it would be too dense for regular appreciation.

In talking about a typical season, the announcer opined that Mozart was something we could all listen to every day. Mehta moved quickly away from that, but felt that Beethoven's Eroica [Symphony No. 3] ought to be played every season.

We all have our musical preferences, and I've not listened to Eroica in great detail. But I wouldn't disparage the suggestion that Beethoven's 3rd could be listened to live at least once a year, with enjoyment and something to be gained from it each time.
My particular interest right now stems from the discovery that the second movement's theme provides the motif for a favourite piece of music of mine, Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen. I've been listening to Eroica today, but haven't been able to pick it out. Yet.

ABC tv now online

On Wednesday, Australia's national broadcaster launched a website, iView, which allow people to watch "most" content broadcast on ABC tv.

Prior to iView, a small number of ABC programmes was available on the web. The resolution was small and the service sometimes dodgy, even at broadband speeds. In contrast, iView is at least full-screen. There are apparently still some quirks in the service, but it's early days yet. This shows great vision on the part of the ABC.

ABC recognises some of the limitations inherent in this delivery channel. On iView's front page is a pleasantly prominent gadget which charts a rolling update of the speed at which you can receive the service. It also warns that despite the ABC providing the content free of charge, it can soak up a user's monthly data limits quite quickly (potentially incurring penalty charges at the ISP).

The ABC has asked ISPs to exclude this channel from monthly download limits, which is quite a tall order. In fact, one ISP has already done this, but I can't see this as a general trend, as there are costs inherent in bandwidth provision that could be lost if such a high-volume site was excluded.

Also, it would be fair to expect ABC's content servers to be crushed by the volume of data they were asked to deliver. However, I would expect them to have anticipated this, and to provide sufficient resources to maintain quality of service. Unless demand is far greater than anticipated which, given the ABC's public charter, would be a sign of over-succeeding.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The second X Files film

The new film, X-Files: I Want To Believe, arrived with little fanfare, and I only just noticed it at the local cinema (the Ritz). I was happier to have a look in than go for the latest in the Batman franchise, which no doubt is more cartoonish than X-Files.

Given the first X-Files film, I was surprised by what I saw this time around - as will be a lot of people. But it makes sense in context.

The tv series had always been dichotomous in several ways. One aspect was the storyline. I was drawn into on the recommendation of friends who were avid fansWhen I first watched it, the episodes were fairly self-contained, focused on paranormal stories that could have been drawn from the outlandish end of the Weekly World News spectrum. Except that the writing added a plausibility to the tabloid stories.

There's only so much of that stuff you can run, and a story arc that at first seemed peripheral built up to take over from the 'spooky' episodes. That arc revolved around alien conspiracies, but subject matter aside it was more engaging than the single-episode tales.
Even so, that arc got rather convoluted. If you want to avoid wading through it all, the episode 'The Truth' summarises it well and succinctly.

Thus, whereas the first X-Files movie built on the alien conspiracy arc, this second one was a more hermetic story at the 'spooky' end. The first was loaded with science fiction and special effects; this second was more down-to-earth, gritty realism.

Another set of dichotomies lay in the plot mechanics. At one end, plots could be fairly straightforwardly working towards resolution of a mystery. At the other end was the relationship-driven, humanistic (not in the sense of humanism per se) writing. This latter film contained elements of both, but weighed far more heavily on characters and relationships than the first. There was a lot of talkiness around belief (hence the film's subtitle) - which borders on the religious at times. 'Never give up' was watchword, but the writing's focus on relatively blind belief bordered on the clunky at times. Without a specific ethical framework to work off, the concept was adrift and shallow more times than it needed to be. This was, ultimately, an abiding weakness of the tv series.

In mitigation, the dirty, unkempt groundedness of this film was a pleasant contrast to the usual hollywood fare. The actors are fifteen years older than when they started out, which the director took full advantage of: the characters are shown as aged, and so more haggard, worn - and human.

That in itself is something fans can appreciate. Characters that move on, not necessarily bigger and better. Wiser? Perhaps a little, but in keeping with the original characterisations they're still grappling with similar issues, in a different context. As happens in life.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Climate Change Swindle swindle

The documentary refuting climate change has been officially found to be a swindle.

Martin Dukin put together The Great Climate Change Swindle, released to much controversy in 2007 and transmitted by Australia's national broadcaster (ABC) last July.

At the time of release, several of the experts shown in the film complained that they had been misrepresented, comments yanked out of context.

Now Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator has found the documentary to be dishonest. Yes, it misrepresented two experts and, of particular note, misrepresented the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the key international climate change body. And thus the documentary breached broadcasting guidelines.

Other experts have discussed the documentary's very selective use of data to make its point. A common practice of climate change deniers is to chart the change in global temperatures (or carbon emissions) between two points that suggest the opposite trend, where a more complete picture would put the extract in context of a much wider trend.

Dukin was "unavailable for comment".

New Scientist has a more detailed list of errors here, including that the programme makers admitted to making up some of the charts shown.

Michael "duffer" Duffy, the quixotic rightwing Australian broadcaster/columnist, championed the documentary at the time. I expect people such as him will tone down their rhetoric eventually, but the damage is done at the time. Such interventions in the debate are inevitably counterproductive, at the very least because they foster complacency to such a burning issue. At this point, inertia is the greatest enemy of the global environment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SQL Server: varchar to real

I was having trouble loading some data into a SQL Server database (MS). The particular problem was converting a type char to type real.

There are several ways to change data types. Typically, you'd use cast or convert functions. But everything I tried returned the same message: "Error converting data type varchar to real."

I googled to find out how other people dealt with this, but found nothing useful.

Then I tried something that worked: convert the type varchar to type money, then to type real. Easy.

Of course, this makes perfect sense if your numbers only run to two decimal places. In fact, it works to four decimal places (the same if you choose type money or smallmoney, except that the latter is stored in fewer bytes).

The options for retaining precision past four decimal places are somewhat messier. One way is to multiply the numbers by a few factors of ten, but you still have to pay attention to the range of viable values for money or smallmoney.

I'm not convinced that this issue is yet another demonstration of the unwieldiness of MS SQL Server. All databases have their pain points; this is just another one.

Karadzic caught

News just recently came in: master war criminal Radovan Karadzic has been arrested.

Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs in the 90s, has been variously described as a genocidal maniac and one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century. He was responsible for the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, killing about 10,000 and 7,000 civilians respectively, and 20,000 rapes, all in the name of carving out a greater Serbia.

He'd been on the run for about 13 years after the war in Bosnia ended. Despite substantial pressure from the international community, it was beyond doubt that Serbian politicians and the military were sheltering him.

It would be satisfying to say the international justice "system" works well, but it was likely that the biggest carrot was the European Union. Joining the union brings clear prosperity, but the EU refused to enter into discussions with Serbia until Karadzic (and his general Ratko Mladic) were handed to the UN war crimes tribunal.

Despite the long-standing vicious and paranoid nature of the Serbian authorities (as in "the whole world is out to get us, we have to kill to survive"), I expected it to be a matter of time before Karadzic was handed in. It can't be too surprising that it took so long. To be optimistic, it could send a signal to mass murdering leaders that they can't get away forever.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Television lost: The Lost Room

Recently I watched another interesting tv production of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety.

The Lost Room is a mini-series, again with a science fiction basis.

The premise, in a nutshell, revolves around a motel room and a set of objects from therein with unusual properties, prime of which is the key.

The protagonist is fending off several different groups with an interest in the objects, while trying to rescue his daughter from the room.

Central to the whole history is a mysterious temporal Event that affected the room, the objects, and potentially the whole space-time continuum.

The central tenet is unusual, the plot and characters are engaging, and it's not without its humour, especially whenever someone gets whacked with a bus ticket.

The mechanics behind the phenomena are not ultimately explained to satisfaction, but it's enough to go along for the ride as the plot gets more and more engrossing.

The full story is structured over the course of six tv hours - which normally corresponds to about six times 42 minutes in real time. The Lost Room demonstrates several advantages a mini-series has over standard tv drama. Not only is there a well-developed story which travels to a defined conclusion; moreover, it is not subject to relatively sudden termination by a tv network that loses interest. Although such cancellation can fuel the mythos and fandom behind the work - as with Journeyman, but more especially with Firefly - the brevity of the experience and abruptness of ending can leave a sour tinge of dissatisfaction. With the networks in particular.

The Lost Room was obviously designed to be self-contained, yet in its ending it fudged its future in deliberately leaving a door ajar for a second series. Perhaps if it happened, some of the dangling reasoning would be better resolved, but despite some spurious indications on the web, this 2006 series is just not going to return, .

Although Firefly leads the pantheon of sweet and brief sci-fi tv experiences (and its reputation will assuredly linger), The Lost Room is most definitely worth seeking out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flowers out of season

Flowers are out unseasonably early this year.

Until we planted ours, daphne was a flower I was unfamiliar with. They have a really lovely, subtle scent, and appear for a couple of weeks in late August. Coming at the tail end of winter, they are the first herald of the turning of the season.

This year, the daphne came in mid-July. It's hard to complain when there's daphne out, although their time is always so short.

Following closely behind was jasmine. Our bush has thrived - the first one I've planted to properly do so - and is in its first full season this year. Moreover, the scent is thankfully generous. But jasmine usually arrives in September, maybe late August at the earliest. And it's not just us - I can smell jasmine in the air around Coogee without even seeing it.

It's plausible these early appearances are due to a breaking of the drought (in Sydney, at least - large parts of New South Wales remain officially in drought). Whatever the reason, it's hard to tell what's going to happen in the garden this year. Seasons don't just shift by a month or two.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Catholic Event, and Pell's taint

Sydney is currently playing host to "World Youth Day", an assemblage of Catholics (specifically) young and old, over the course of about six days.

The streets of Sydney's central business district were choked today, rather a lot more than yesterday, with great crowds of people with conspicuous tags across their chests and ubiquitous yellow and red backpacks. There's a bit of happy clapping, a bit more singing, and they seem relatively joyful so far. Even the group that I saw shadowed by a bunch of chanting Hari Krishnas.

I also have to note that, from the Africans in Pitt St to the Papua New Guineans in Randwick, to the Chileans on the Coogee bus, the ones I have seen seem relatively confined to the middle classes.

It is all concentrated around Sydney central and Randwick, where I live, and where Ratzinger (is the catholic a pope?) will conduct a large event at Randwick Racecourse. This means that the pope will have visited the racecourse more times in a week than I will have in all the time I've lived in Sydney.

There is controversy of several kinds.

First, a number of protesters will be railing against the Catholic hierarchy's stance on issues such as birth control, homosexuality and abortion. Nothing changes on either side.

Second is the regulations put in place by the NSW government to ban people from annoying catholics. It wasn't me that asked them to do that, say church representatives. Anyway, it looks like the regulations were struck down by the courts.

Third, as usual the pope arrives into a storm of controversy over immoral catholic priests that have abused people. It's not something that will go away, as long as you mandate priests to forego their earthly and temporal natures. But the problem here is Sydney's Catholic archbishop, George Pell. A few years ago he knocked back someone's complaint about priestly sexual abuse, saying that a) the priest claimed it was consensual, and b) nobody else had complained about the priest. At the time Pell wrote that letter, he had recently received evidence to the contrary on both counts. Now, he claims that such responses were due to "honest mistakes". As if. Pell has amply demonstrated his capacity to be unethical. In fact, the priest concerned was more open about confessing his sins (albeit well after the event) to both Pell and the victim, than Pell was forthright to the victim. It's the clerical equivalent of hands in the biscuit jar. Yet Pell is in no hurry to confess his culpabilities.

People who lack sufficient ethics will out themselves eventually.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Evolution: DNA part 2: DNA exchange at the periphery

As mentioned before, human DNA is the familiar double helix shape, wrapped up inside the nucleus of each cell. The physical molecule is referred to as DNA; packaged up (with proteins) it constitutes a chromosome; normal human cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Each DNA molecule contains a number of base pairs (the unit of genetic information, somewhat akin to a byte in digital information). The human genome of 46 chromosomes has about three billion base pairs.

But the narrative is not nearly as neat as that. We have to understand bacterial DNA, mitochondrial DNA, plasmids, and how they all interact and exchange information.

The basics of human genetic inheritance are relatively simple: sex-specific cells, the sperm and egg gametes, are haploid, only containing one copy of each chromosome pair, pending unification which results in the full complement.

Mitochondrial DNA is one of the complications. This is not a part the human genome located in the nucleus: it's genetic information located in mitochondria, cell elements outside the nucleus that generate chemical energy for the cell to operate. Each cell can contain from one to thousands of mitochondria, depending on the organism type and cell type. When gametes unite, the sperm's mitochondrial DNA is tagged for deletion, so allowing mtDNA to be a marker of matrilineal descent.

Mitochondrial DNA is small (in the order of 15,000 base pairs) and circular - which is pretty much the description of bacterial DNA. In fact, it is generally agreed that mitochondria are bacterial in origin, once endosymbiotic - that is, symbiants located inside the cell that came to be part of the cell's structure. How? A somewhat harder question to answer.

Bacteria are prokaryotic - that is, they lack a cell nucleus. Their DNA consists of a single continous loop. But bacteria, too, have strands of DNA that are separate from their chromosomes. These are called plasmids, rings of DNA that are capable of reproducing independently of bacterial reproduction. Plasmids could be seen as independent symbiotic life-forms in bacteria, similar to viruses except more useful, for example conveying antibiotic res

Bacteria reproduce through binary fusion: that is, they divide into two daughter cells. In the process, the bacterial chromosome is duplicated, one copy for each daughter.

This inheritance mechanism sounds simple, as if each bacterium could be uniquely traced to an ancestor. However, there is an additional mechanism for DNA change: horizontal gene transfer (HGT).

HGT can be seen as a counterpoint to inheritance mechanisms, which could be called vertical gene transfer. HGT, as the name suggests, involves the transfer of genetic information between organisms. This too can result in the spreading of drug resistance - in fact, this was how it was first noted, as far back as 1959. There are three mechanisms for this: transformation involves the absorption of foreign DNA; transduction occurs when a bacterial virus transfers genetic information from one bacterium to another; and in bacterial conjugation, bacteria that are touching can under certain circumstances exchange DNA.

HGT is common in prokaryotic bacteria, and even happens in some unicellular eukaryotes. It would be harder to say that this mechanism impacts on multicellular eukaryotes (having cells with nuclei), the evidence does suggest this has happened. It is suggested that this would have happened in the early stages of eukaryotic evolution.

However, this story is not complete. I noted in May a study of bdelloid rotifers (small marine animals), which found they had absorbed genetic material from a wide range of organisms: animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. The mechanism is not well understood, but it must have been relatively recently in evolutionary terms - in the order of tens of millions of years, maybe.

There are a number of gaps which need explaining, in particular how these mechanisms take place, and how they evolve. I hope to fill in some of the gaps in time, as far as scientific research and my learning permit.

So it would seem that bacteria play an important role in the spreading and exchanging of genetic information - even as far as humans.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Never a dull moment

An interesting article in the Herald (here) about an American man that rode a chair attached to helium-filled balloons across state lines.

Although riding a balloon-chair has been done before, this man was well prepared, with a parachute, GPS devices, altimeter, satellite phone, and so on.

I love the quote from his wife, who called him crazy: "It's never been a dull moment since I married him."

Friday, July 04, 2008

Climate change: Rudd is not buckling - and nor is Garnaut

In the leadup to today's release of the Garnaut report, PM Kevin Rudd talked to Kerry O'Brien on The 7.30 Report (here) last night.

O'Brien tried hard to pin down Rudd on the issues. Action is urgently needed, yet the voting public is clamouring for an easy way out on petrol prices. They don't want more pain instigated by climate change action.

Rudd came out of the election with a sizable mandate, particularly in terms of his popularity level, which has remained high. That political capital can be used to invest in longterm vision, yet to date, Rudd has largely avoided the harder calls.

However, he came to the party last night: for every point pressed by O'Brien, he showed he was going to do the hard yards. And coming out of the Howard era, where misleading and lying was the order of the day, Rudd has shown himself to be scrupulously honest.

This is the best hope so far that Australia will indeed act on climate change.

(my take is that the only viable course is to trade carbon emissions, cap the totals, and then reduce allocations over time - focusing on the biggest emitters first. This will force industry adjustments; they don't have to be that painful if the industries know what's coming, so it needs to be announced soon.)

Postscript: The report is out now - available here. The language is strong and impressive, about the need to act. Emission trading is, of course, a central plank. Rudd has hitched his future on this report, and it looks good.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Evolution: speciation without isolation

A report in the journal Molecular Ecology (see here) discusses salamanders that didn't need to be isolated for speciation to occur. New Scientist reported it (here) somewhat breathlessly, saying that analysis suggested gene flow between cave and spring salamanders was still occurring for some time after the species diverged.

Cave salamanders, of course, demonstrate typical adaptions for an alternative environment, such as attenuated visual circuitry (good eyesight is burdensome to maintain), and heightened non-visual sensory systems.

I see nothing out of the ordinary in this finding. There's nothing to stop commingling even after the species adopt divergent characteristics (until genetic or behavioural differences sufficiently preclude). Simply put, as long as they can continue to breed, the offspring may or may not have the adaptive characteristics. Those that do, won't flourish in the new encironment, those that don't, won't.

It's not entirely that simple - that's a very broad approximation. In the period of interbreeding, there are a number of possible statistical outcomes.

But I'm not sure why New Scientist made such a meal of this. Any suggestions, disagreements welcome.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Climate Change: cut public transport fares

The Queensland government has reduced public transport prices.

Why? To reduce traffic congestion.

Again, a confluence of factors points to a single answer. The initiative makes the Qld government look particularly good, for seeming to address the additional issues of climate change and rising fuel prices.

The obvious answer is to draw people towards public transport.

Unless, like the New South Wales government, you've been sitting on your hands for a decade rather than invest in public transport infrastructure. Result: congestion on public transport, no extra capacity at peak, leading to the temptation to raise fares at just the wrong time.

There has been some investment in new rail links in Sydney in recent times. Pity it's not enough to anticipate and cope with increased patronage.

Perhaps it's a feature of an overly short election cycle? Right now is the ideal time to plan infrastructure that, more than increasing capacity, actually shifts burdens from road to rail and bus. All signs point in the same direction.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Television: Journeyman: excellent, with tragic ending

Journeyman was a television series of unusual calibre, that like some of the best, lived and died in tragic brevity - only last year.

I'm introducing it via a diversion to The X Files, a series that was assuredly advanced for its time, but whose appeal gradualy waned.

The X Files was, at the very least, unusual television fare. Theme, plots, characterisations, writing... most aspects either stood well above the median, or at the very least dared to be something else. I was drawn into it by enthusiast friends, and found myself watching it religiously - a can't-miss time of the week.

After a while, the episodes seemed to adopt a certain... mechanical... air. But at that point, the overarching storyline took over for me, so the combination of milieu, single-episode plot, and unfolding story kept me in thrall.

Although that background story arc never reached the pointlessly, endlessly convoluting mireof the series Lost, the X Files series ran for so long that even interest in its broad storyline waned, for me.

I'll still watch the upcoming X Files film - I can barely pass up a half-decent science fiction film, and it is X Files. If you want to catch up on the full story, it's far easier to focus on a single episode: The Truth, which catches and recapitulates all the plot points painlessly, and with resolution to all that which had been left hanging before.

Journeyman bears a few superficial congruencies with The X Files: science fiction, an episode's "mission", and a single evolving storyline.

Living in current-day San Francisco, Dan Vasser finds himself yanked into the past seemingly at random, for a number of times over a period of days, to achieve something that only becomes obvious as he works his way blindly through the periodic touching of somebody's life.
Although he's flying blind, each journey through time has specific purpose, as if he's being manipulated by someone with an overview of multiple timelines. But he never understands how or why he journeys, nor who or what is sending him.

Although Journeyman is somewhat more quotidarian than The X Files, it also has a number of advances: it is quite modernistic in feel, the production values are higher, the writing is better, characterisations deeper, and it is more emotionally engaging. It has a strong focus on Dan's family, and is particularly touching at times (despite some over-sentimentality in the soundtrack). The conclusion to episode one especially moved me; as did episode twelve - particularly poignant for me in its focus on Dan's son, close in age to my own six-year-old. Some amazing technology in that episode too, which postulated a turbo-charge due to reverse engineering of a device dropped in the past.

Journeyman has a constantly-evolving storyline, faster and more satisfying than X Files, and one which raises the stakes, episode by episode. Each time you are drawn further into Dan's world, in a clear and directed story that stands in marked contrast to the frustrating spaghetti-plotting of X Files and Lost.

Journeyman episodes can be downloaded from the net if you know where to look - they were posted free on the US network at the time (now gone from there).

I've watched 12 of the 13 episodes. Only one more to savour, and I can be sure it doesn't end cleanly. It was abruptly terminated after the 13th with no possibility of revival. Sigh. I shall scour the net for signs of the intended future for Dan and his world.