The Latest | Southern California breaking news and trends

KPCC DIGEST AM (Sep. 25)—Light lifts sound, students hack their iPads, legless lizards are living near LAX, how to return everything

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1. Lightbulb moment: Calif. physicist uses light to retrieve archival sound (KPCC)

For his work with fragile archival recordings, California physicist Carl Haber has received a $625,000 "genius grant" from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The 54-year-old experimental physicist employed precision optical measuring techniques used in particle research to pull audio from crumbling cylinders, discs and tinfoil, bringing alive the voices of the dead — from Alexander Graham Bell to a now silent Native American language.

2. Glitch delays delivery of thousands of unemployment checks (KPCC)

Tens of thousands of jobless Californians are still waiting to receive their unemployment benefits, due to a computer problem with the state’s updated payment processing system.

State Employment Development Department officials say they're working to address the issue. As of Tuesday, 80,000 people were waiting for their unemployment claims to be processed. The problem occurred over the Labor Day weekend, when the state launched a system upgrade.

3. And we would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling adults (L.A. Times)

The school district giveth, and the school district taketh away. In a matter of days, 300 students at L.A.'s Roosevelt High School breached the security of their new school-issued iPads to access the Internet at large.

Officials at the LAUSD have immediately halted home use of the Apple tablets until further notice. The incident, which came to light Tuesday, prompted questions about overall preparations for the $1-billion tablet initiative.

4. Legless lizards are the new snakes (KPCC)

The elusive California Legless Lizard may look similar to a snake to the untrained eye, says California State University-Fullerton reptile researcher James Parham, but biologically there are some key differences — for starters, legless lizards have eyelids. "They can blink at you," Parham explains.

A new study found 5 different species of the pencil-sized creatures spread throughout the region, including one variety living in 300 acres of protected land right next to LAX.

5. Asian population boom in Irvine boosts local real estate market (KPCC)

Irvine is one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation, thanks, in no small part, to its appeal to Asian homebuyers attracted to the planned community’s wide boulevards, open space and whirl of new construction.

The last decade has seen a boom in Irvine's Asian population. Asians account for 39 percent of the city's population, up 10 percent from the decade before, according to the 2010 census. They've helped turn Irvine into the fastest-growing major city in California.

6. The store that lets customers return whatever they want (NPR)

L.L. Bean has an astonishingly lenient return policy. The company has taken back a live Christmas wreath that had turned brown and a shirt ripped by a rescue crew after a car accident. As a business practice, it's expensive. As advertising, it's cheap.

Steve Fuller, L.L. Bean's chief marketing officer says the company's system is a model of nonjudgment, explaining that if a customer believes "her zippers should last a longer time, we'll respect that and we'll refund her money or give her a new product until she's happy."

7. 129 people have been indicted in 'Operation Smokin' Aces' (KPCC)

129 people linked to street gangs that claim allegiance to the Mexican Mafia have been indicted as authorities attempt to cripple the notorious prison gang's Orange County wing. County and federal grand juries are alleging crimes including murder, drug trafficking and extortion.

Court documents say the the Mexican Mafia received payments from OC gangs in exchange for freely committing crimes in primarily Latino neighborhoods. Those who refused were put on lists that often resulted in violent retribution.

8. State lawmakers take over Los Angeles City Council (KPCC)

Because of term limits, Sacramento veterans are increasingly seeking local office. Seven of the L.A. council’s current 15 members formerly served in the state Assembly or Senate.

Some say that experience could lead to the sort of back room dealing that's common at the State Capitol, rather than focusing on what’s best for their districts. Others say experience in the state capitol brings discipline to local government.