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High Tech

On the science and tech companies hoping to cash in on cannabis, which has been legalized for recreational use in two states and decriminalized in some form in many others:

For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.

AUTHOR:Mat Honan
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5177 words)

Life of a Police Officer: Medically and Psychologically Ruinous

The intensely challenging job of law enforcement is linked to many health issues. Erika Hayasaki met a former officer who tried to protect her high school friend and learned the effect her death had on him:

Police officer Brian Post recognized the 16-year-old girl lying face down in the grass at the Whispering Pines apartment complex in Lynnwood, Washington. He had gotten to know her in recent weeks, helping her obtain a restraining order against her abusive ex-boyfriend. Now, here was Sangeeta Lal, unconscious, with two bullets in her chest.

PUBLISHED: March 14, 2014
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2679 words)

This Old Man

On life as a nonagenarian:

I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more—which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now—late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier op cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 17, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5062 words)

The Unique Merger That Made You (and Ewe, and Yew)

In more than 3 billion years of existence on Earth, this merger happened once—and resulted in the complex life we have today:

There are many possible explanations, but one of these has recently gained a lot of ground. It tells of a prokaryote that somehow found its way inside another, and formed a lasting partnership with its host. This inner cell—a bacterium—abandoned its free-living existence and eventually transformed into the mitochondria. These internal power plants provided the host cell with a bonanza of energy, allowing it to evolve in new directions that other prokaryotes could never reach.

If this story is true, and there are still those who doubt it, then all eukaryotes—every flower and fungus, spider and sparrow, man and woman—descended from a sudden and breathtakingly improbable merger between two microbes. They were our great-great-great-great-...-great-grandparents, and by becoming one, they laid the groundwork for the life forms that seem to make our planet so special. The world as we see it (and the fact that we see it at all; eyes are a eukaryotic invention) was irrevocably changed by that fateful union—a union so unlikely that it very well might not have happened at all, leaving our world forever dominated by microbes, never to welcome sophisticated and amazing life like trees, mushrooms, caterpillars, and us.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 6, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4112 words)

The First 48 Makes Millions While the Innocent Have Their Lives Ruined

Once you're charged with murder on A&E's The First 48, you're guilty for life - even if you're innocent.

In July 2009, 18-year-old Cameron Coker's life was ripped apart for future viewing by a national audience. Coker, who'd previously been convicted of dealing drugs, was now the prime suspect in the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy at an apartment complex just east of Highway 6. For this homicide case, Harris County Sheriff's investigators had company: A film crew from the A&E show The First 48 was there to show the nuts and bolts of the investigation. Entering its tenth season, the series was based on the premise that the first 48 hours of a police investigation are the most crucial. After that time frame, potential evidence goes missing; crime scenes become contaminated; witnesses disappear.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 29, 2014
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4301 words)

The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

An excerpt from Starkman’s new book, on the difference between access journalism and accountability journalism, and why the business press failed to do enough to shed light on the problems leading up to the financial crisis:

Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public, to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 7, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3727 words)

Last Words

Researchers are attempting to identify suicidal people using data gleaned from suicide notes:

A computer databank may sound like a soulless repository for something so personal. But Baker sees it as a place where important remnants of Brian’s life—his words—have a place. Working with a research team at CCHMC, Pestian is looking for clues in language that can help reveal when a person is bound for self-destruction. In the complex, confounding mystery that is suicide, an early detection system like that could be revelatory. “This means the world to me,” says Baker.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 2, 2014
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3252 words)

Bad Blood

A Russian dissident is murdered with radioactive poison:

The doctors treated Litvinenko with a heavy dose of antibiotics. And yet his body continued to break down. Three days after admission, he was being fed through a tube. His hair was falling out, and Marina gathered it in little bundles from his pillow and pajamas. As the medics tested Litvinenko for AIDS and hepatitis, he kept telling them: I’ve been poisoned. On November 11th, ten days after he fell ill, he gave an interview to the BBC Russian Service saying he’d suffered “a serious poisoning”, and implying that it had been carried out by an Italian associate, Mario Scaramella, his lunch companion at the sushi bar that Wednesday.

The next morning, further medical reports arrived. The doctors had run an array of tests. One was for radiation exposure: it came back negative. Instead they found something more complex — and more surprising. Some kind of exotic chemistry, some strange poison, was in his blood. Immediate attempts to identify it left them baffled.

AUTHOR:Will Storr
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9072 words)

There's a Whole New Way of Killing Cancer: Stephanie Lee Is the Test Case

Stephanie Lee, a 36-year-old Iraq War widow with two children is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and told she has just a few years to live. A group of pioneering cancer specialists at the Icahn Institute at Mount Sinai use genetic data to figure out alternative treatments to "the standard of care" that could give her her life back:

His name was Ross Cagan. He did not work for Schadt; he worked as a professor at Sinai. But they met every week, and after Schadt called on October 1 to tell Cagan about Stephanie Lee, he listened to Cagan's idea for her. A month earlier, Cagan had started doing something that he said "had never been done before." He started creating "personalized flies" for cancer patients. He took the mutations that scientists like Schadt had revealed and loaded them into flies, essentially giving the flies the same cancer that the patient had. Then he treated them. "Why a fly? You can do this in a fly. You can capture the complexities of the tumor."

A day after Cagan spoke with Schadt, Stephanie became the fifth person in the world to have a fly built in her image—or, rather, in the image of her cancer. In an ideal world, Cagan would have created as complex a creature as possible, burdening the fly with at least ten mutations. He gave Stephanie's fly three, because "Stephanie is on the shorter course. We're making the fly as complex as possible given her time." By October 11, however, Cagan already had "one possible drug suggestion for her"—or one possible combination of drugs, since he always tests at least two at a time. "In this center, the FDA will not allow us to put a novel drug in patient. To get a novel drug into a patient, we have to do a novel combination of [known] drugs. We have to use novel drug combinations that people have never seen before."

PUBLISHED: Nov. 20, 2013
LENGTH: 60 minutes (15090 words)