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March 13, 2011

Is there nothing an iPhone (or Droid) can't do?

micro-NMR and smartphone.jpg

Neo-luddites are fond of dismissing the latest technological gadgets and innovations as little more than time-wasters and toys, but many of us are finding them indispensable, especially our smartphones. As it turns out, they're not just convenient -- they may even save the life of someone you know.

Medical experts agree that early detection is often the key component to surviving cancer, and researchers have now come up with a way to use a smartphone -- in conjunction with some remarkable hardware -- to spot cancer.

How remarkable? How about a $200 micro-NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) device that can diagnose cancer in less than an hour?

In 1961, Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

We've practically reached the point where magic has become mundane. This may not be magic, but it's still amazing.

Posted by Mike Lief at 11:23 AM

March 11, 2011


The West Coast of the United States, from Point Conception in California to the Oregon-Washington border, is imperiled by a tsunami, with residents advised to move away from the shore and to higher ground. Those of us between the Mexican border and Point Conception are under a tsunami advisory, less serious, but still a bit nerve wracking. It's supposed to hit Santa Barbara around 8:17 a.m.

The video and images coming out of Japan after the 8.9 quake are awe-inspiring, a reminder of the dangers facing those of us who live on the Pacific Rim, especially along the coastline.

Posted by Mike Lief at 02:42 AM

March 05, 2011

"Southland" captures the grit of policing

I've been watching "Southland," the TNT drama about cops patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles; it's one of the best depictions of policing I've seen, at least from my perspective as a prosecutor.

The Wall Street Journal calls it gritty, and that's a good description.

Canceled by NBC, picked up by TNT and released from the pressure of achieving broadcast network ratings (as well as freed from the constraints of standards and practices), the show has freely delved into how stressful and unglamorous the job actually can be, showing the emotional and physical toll crime takes not only on the victims, but on the cops who have to deal with the violence and its aftermath.

The Journal's on-the-nose description -- "gritty" -- is perfect; this is the antithesis of the antiseptic, often-idiotic "CSI" Las Vegas/Miami/New York/Hawaii-style procedurals. People get hurt; sometimes the bad guys get away with it; and that's life in the big city.

Southland 1.jpg

It features one of the best title sequences I've seen: The episodes begin with a sepia-tinted vintage photo of an old-school L.A. cop peering over the sights of his pistol (above), a series of what appear to be authentic crime scene photos from the past 80 years fading in and out, accompanied by a plaintive, simple instrumental track, then a brief peek at what's to come; action, then freeze frame, with a sardonic voiceover telling the viewer in essence that no cop knows what this shift will bring.

The acting and writing are top notch, and there's at least one actor who caused me to do a double-take. Remember C. Thomas Howell, the former '80s heartthrob? That pretty boy is long gone. He's back as an alcoholic, manic, socially inappropriate, grizzled LAPD officer, lean, grey haired, haggard, with a lined and furrowed face that looks like jerky marinated in whiskey and cigarettes.

It's a remarkable transformation. The rest of the cast is quite good, especially Michael Cudlitz (Bull Randleman of "Band of Brothers") and Regina King.

The season finale is Tuesday night, and with TNT on the fence whether or not to renew it, make sure to catch the almost-certain "Southland" marathon, before the coroner hangs a tag on its toe and wheels it away forever.

Posted by Mike Lief at 06:02 PM