Quartz Weekend Brief—The birth of the universe, Greek pharmacists, weird creatures, fast fashion

March 21, 2014
March 21, 2014

Even if they find Malaysia Airlines flight 370 by the time you read this, few mysteries will have gripped the entire planet for two weeks like the fate of this one missing plane. But there’s another mystery that we just got a little closer to unraveling.

Space here precludes a full explanation of the B-mode polarization of the cosmic microwave background. Broadly, it means we’ve seen an echo, unfathomably faint—like the shadow that a fly passing in front of a lightbulb might cast on a wall a mile away—of what happened in the first quadrillion-quintillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

The pattern in that echo tells us four things. It’s the first direct evidence that the universe went through an early period of inflation—super-fast expansion that would explain why today it’s pretty uniform—and puts some bounds on how that inflation happened. It’s new evidence for Einstein’s century-old theory of gravity, General Relativity. It tells us something about the basic forces that hold sway over all the stuff the universe is made of. And, by giving evidence for inflation, it bolsters a theory that our universe is just one of a potentially infinite number, all with their own slight variations on the laws of physics.

Some of these universes may be indescribably weird, with more dimensions than ours. Some may be like ours, but contain only cold, aimless dust. Some may contain stars, and Earth-like planets. Some may contain life.

And some may contain aircraft.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

How the internet actually works. David Yanofsky and Tim Fernholz take you down the series of tubes that is the internet’s backbone, and explain how the companies that control them jockey for advantage—and why, when your Netflix freezes up, there’s actually no way of knowing whom to blame.

What you could learn from Chipotle. Not how to make tacos, but how to motivate employees and find talent. Max Nisen dissects the methods the fast-food chain uses to pick out promising managers and promote them all the way up from the burrito-rolling station.

The world’s first billion-dollar cannabis business is… somewhere in England. GW Pharmaceuticals is based outside Salisbury. Its shares are up over 700% since May. John McDuling explains how the vagaries of US drug law may make it the first company to get FDA approval for a cannabis product for the American market.

The logic behind Greece’s truly ridiculous number of pharmacists. Greece has 17 times as many druggists as Denmark. The country’s debtors want them culled. Matt Phillips analyzes the strange economic policy that produced this avalanche of apothecaries, and argues that Greece should be allowed to keep them.

The slow death of the microwave. They’re in 90% of American homes, but their sales have been steadily falling. Rob Ferdman digs into what the climb and decline of the microwave tells us about eating trends, lifestyle habits, and the relentless rise of the microwave’s nemesis, the toaster oven.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

What Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden. Carlotta Gall spent over a decade reporting from Afghanistan. In the New York Times magazine, she describes her hunt to find proof that the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, was helping bin Laden hide from the US, and the remarkable discovery she finally made.

This might be the weirdest creature ever. The tardigrade or “water bear” is a tiny eight-legged creature that can survive six times the pressure in deep oceans, temperatures hotter than boiling water or barely above absolute zero, Fukushima-level radiation, and days in hard vacuum. Matt Simon’s piece in Wired leaves out just one thing: How the hell did it evolve?

What’s wrong with being mentally ill? Psychiatry is being criticized for finding ever more things wrong with healthy people. Psychiatry professor Joseph Pierre argues in Aeon that the profession is in fact finding more ways to treat real problems; the trouble is stigma. Why, he asks, is it OK to be physically, but not mentally ill from time to time?

Where “fast fashion” really came from. Chains like Zara and H&M are known for rushing trendy, copycat designs into mass-market stores. But anthropologist Christina Moon, writing in Pacific Standard, details how Korean immigrants in Los Angeles have over the past 15 years built retail empires on “fast fashion”—and now their kids plan to make their parents’ businesses even bigger.

What it’s like to live with dementia. “How come I can still write? Could I be faking dementia?” In Slate (reprinted from the Georgia Review), Gerda Saunders reflects on the gradual deterioration of her own mind, in a haunting, eloquent essay punctuated with “Dementia Field Notes” that chronicle her daily moments of confusion and loss.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, weird creatures, and fashion designs to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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