Quartz Weekend Brief—Tech stories, e-bikes, drone warriors, mental cryptography

October 26, 2013
October 26, 2013

Good morning, Quartz readers!

There were two big technology stories this week: Apple’s launch, with the usual glitzy fanfare, of its latest suite of iPads and Macs; and the latest Edward Snowden leak, revealing that the US National Security Agency was, at least at one point, tapping the phones of 35 world leaders, among them Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Wait—are these both “technology stories?” Yes, argues Dave Winer, godfather of some of the earliest web publishing software. Before even this week’s installment of Snowdenia broke, he tore into the tech media for paying too much attention to how the iPad has been getting gradually thinner and faster and not to how the NSA has been getting gradually fatter and more intrusive. Instead of fawning over the latest toys, he asks, why weren’t tech journalists tracking where each year’s computer-science graduates were going to work?

A fair question. There are three answers. Answer one: At least some journalists were paying attention. As media critic Jay Rosen points out, a massive, two-year investigation by the Washington Post in 2010 revealed much the same things as Snowden has this year about a surveillance state growing out of control. But it was little noticed. Rosen’s thoughts on why some stories break through to the public consciousness and others don’t are worth reading.

Answer two: Winer’s right. It’s much easier to churn out coverage of an iPad launch than track down government recruitment statistics—and a lot more people will read it. In today’s cash-strapped, data-driven world, that’s a hard incentive for most media outlets to ignore.

Answer three: What journalist covering national security cares about computer-science graduates? What journalist covering technology would think to investigate government hiring? The big issues facing today’s world cut across traditional journalistic specialties, or “beats.” The desire to break down those beats is one of the reasons we created Quartz.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz that we especially liked

Can 200 million Chinese be wrong about e-bikes? Nearly 30 million electric-powered bicycles were sold in 2012, but only 53,000 in the US. Heather Timmons examines why an efficient, cheap, environmentally friendly form of transport the world over is almost unheard-of in the world’s largest economy.

Meet the reluctant mogul behind the world’s coolest hot sauce. Sriracha has become nearly ubiquitous in some countries (it’s the chief spice in spicy tuna sushi rolls) but David Tran, who created the best-known brand of Sriracha, barely knows where his customers are. Robert A. Ferdman tried to pry a few numbers out of him.

Battling the scourge of high-frequency traders. Simone Foxman explains how a new trading market (or “dark pool”) launched this week could, by dint of simply moving some servers about, neutralize the strategies that high-frequency trading firms use to make vast sums at the expense of ordinary investors.

Are you a manfluencer™? A marketer noticed a trend, invented a word, and spawned an industry. Christopher Mims delves into the art of marketing products to men who, in the wake of the financial crisis, became stay-at-home husbands.

Never mind your computer—hackers could seize control of your body next. A growing number of us, explains Laura Hood, will soon have electronic devices implanted in our bodies—to monitor health, deliver medicines, and replace worn parts or lost limbs. And we’ll control them wirelessly. Guess what happens next.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The decline of Wikipedia. Since peaking in 2007, the number of active editors on Wikipedia has declined 40%. Tom Simonite in Technology Review examines how the world’s biggest experiment in crowd-sourcing turned into a forbidding, cliquish bureaucracy, and whether it can be saved.

Confessions of a drone warrior. Killing people through a computer screen on the other side of the world can, it turns out, have much the same effect as killing them face-to-face. The story of one American drone operator’s struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, by Matthew Power in GQ.

What it was like to travel through Iran in 1976 with Andy Warhol. Polo matches, swimming pools with Persian carpets next to them, and $10 plates of caviar. Not much art, though. Warhol acolyte and biographer Bob Colacello reminisces with the Asia Society’s Dan Washburn.

You’re doing cryptography in your sleep. It turns out that the way the brain processes certain information from your senses is a lot like the way cryptographers break codes. Virginia Hughes in Nautilus takes a look at how the discovery could help neuroscientists understand unusual brains like those of autistic people.

How to cheat your way on to a first-class flight. An in-depth look at how loyalty programs operated by airlines and hotels work—and occasionally screw up, to the benefit of those knowledgeable enough to game them. By Aaron Gordon as part of the Pacific Standard’s fascinating Cheating Week series.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Sriracha samples and first-class ticketing tips to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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