Month: June 2013

CS Reductions in Law

I know very little of the workings of law. Some of my friends work in, uh, law-related stuff and discussing their jobs with them sometimes sounds to me like they’re basically saying “law, law, law, appeals, contracts, law”. It’s Greek to me, as they say.

However, one of my favorite branches of computer science is Complexity & Computability (lumped together for this discussion), in which a major tenet is using reductions to prove that one set of problems is in the same computability category (say, NP) as another class of problems. (In short, that’s one major facet of the NP set, that much of it is provably “the same order of difficulty”).

It was pointed out to me today the equivalent to this in the process of law, where basically precedents are relied upon (or reduced from) in order to justify a certain response to a new situation.

I found this just beautiful – how a concept I thought inherent to CS (or to computation in general, but then CS should be short for “computation science” anyway) is applicable in the totally different realm of Objection! Sustained!

“Law and Order” will never be the same.


Character Development

Belonging to the pee-standing-up half of people, I’ve never taken shame in enjoying the “stuff blowing up” genre of movies. Dialogue and plot can be win or miss, but the standard of things exploding has been steadily improving, to a point where you can be sure that even if a film will be a complete dud, the vague faint adrenaline rush created by the depiction of fictional action should be enough to carry out a film. 

As I grow older, slower, and wearier, I’ve found my interests shifting. “Die Hard 5” (a disappointing movie even to the franchise fans as myself) being a clincher, action is ho-hum by now. As the past decade has seen TV series rise in quality to a level on par with the cinema, new dimensions of quality have arisen, inherent to format of multiple episodes (and seasons), such as (my personal favorites) overarching development of plot or characters over time.

Plot developments seem to be tricky, as by standard practice some climax / resolution is generally expected towards a series end, and this is contingent upon knowing before-hand the length of the run. Production priorities are not solely artistic, and thus a series’ main focus is usually closer to ‘let’s try to squeeze one more season out of this’ rather than ‘OK, time to wrap things up nicely’. Indeed, episodes (not to mention entire seasons) are rarely written that much in advance. Consequently, while some series offer superb plot arcs (“24” being an old-school prime example) within a single season, it is very hard to sustain suspense over several seasons while maintaining quality writing. “Prison Break” and “Lost” were some of the first major-league series to run into this problem; hit successes in their first seasons, it was too difficult to consistently rise up to the same standards as the first season had. The results were meandering, lack-a-daisy subsequent seasons, much criticized for the plot getting out of control.

Character development brings a softer, more subtle touch – and one that can be developed with less regard for untimely ending (or unforeseen continuation) of a series. “Lost” was epic in its depth of both character multifaceted personalities and motives, and inter-personal relationships. In contrast to a plot (which we expect to be ‘resolved’, including any mysterious unexplained phenomenons previously thrown at us), characters and relationships can get arbitrarily more complex, as long as their creed is at least perfunctorily backed up.

Breaking Bad is another series in which the character development seems indeed to be the best thing about the series. A relatively slow-paced turn of events, in which the prime motivations are the humane characters, which cause you to easily identify with them. This is true both for the supporting cast and primarily for the two protagonists, whose gradual maturation in light of the unfolding story leaves you wondering – could that happen to me?

On with Season 5, I say; how many shows leave you cheering for and identifying with a druggie teen and a murderous, dying chemistry teacher?