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Quartz Weekend Brief—The year on Quartz, Christmas with Ebola, perfect stock picks, the graphene question

By Quartz Staff

Like every other website in the last few days, we’ve published our best-of lists: Our best long reads, our most powerful essays, our most interesting “things.” Of course, we want you to read them all when you next have a spare couple of days. But they’re only a tiny—and not very representative—portion of what we publish every day. Reading them won’t necessarily tell you what Quartz is about. So what is Quartz about?

That’s an ongoing conversation we have with ourselves. One of our guiding principles is our “obsessions”—the topics we follow closely that mark big shifts in the global economy. This year we’ve been obsessed, among other things, with Alibaba’s IPO, Hong Kong’s revolution, Ebola, the next billion internet users, Modinomics, and the future of TV-watching. We launched Quartz India—a stand-alone site that is an obsession in itself.

But our journalists also have their own unofficial obsessions, some of which emerge only if you follow their writing closely. Matt Phillips, for instance, is obsessed with the economic history that makes countries outliers—why Greece has so many pharmacists, Spain so many elevators, Germany so few homeowners (and so much reliance on cash), Ireland so many delinquent mortgages. John McDuling is obsessed with where the music industry is going. Gwynn Guilford is obsessed with jellyfish.

And besides our obsessions, Quartz is also about something else—a mindset, an ambition to be creative and have fun with what is often stodgy business and economic news. That’s why we collected descriptions of every European economy in haiku form, used pop culture to explain Thomas Piketty, reclassified the US’s top engineering schools as Hogwarts houses, used data to prove that New Yorkers should really stop complaining about New York, produced a top-ten chart of Luxembourg tax-avoidance schemes (ranked in order of byzantine beauty), explained the on-demand economy in verse, turned venture-capitalist Marc Andreessen’s epic first six months on Twitter into charts, gave Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nouri al-Maliki report cards (summary: could do better), and wrote a banking scandal story template because we’re as sick as you are of reading endless stories about bank scandals that all look alike.

We don’t know what we’ll obsess about in 2015, but we’ll try to keep that sense of creativity and fun. And as always, we’d love to hear from you what you think we should be paying attention to: Tweet at us @qz, or write to us on hi@qz.com.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Wanted for 2015: new words. Robots, hackers, drones, and algorithms are an increasingly ubiquitous part of our lives—and our discourse. But these words, says Scott Smith, are also far too vague; we need a new, more subtle language to distinguish, for instance, the drones we use for taking selfies from the ones we use to fight wars.

The dude map. Dude, bro, pal, buddy… People in different parts of America prefer different words to call each other by. Nikhil Sonnad made an interactive map of dudedom and brohood, based on a dataset from forensic linguist Jack Grieve.

Christmas on the Ebola ward. If there’s one thing we are betting you’ve never seen, it’s a Santa elf in a hazmat suit. Maia Baldauf, stationed in Liberia with the charity International Medical Corps, took pictures as her fellow medical workers slipped on Christmas costumes in an attempt to bring a little cheer to a clinic haunted by the fear of death.

The perfect investor. You could have turned $1,000 into $179 billion if you’d picked the best performing stock on the S&P 500 every trading day of 2014. Of course, you’d be far more likely to win the lottery. David Yanofsky rounds up the stocks you should have picked with perfect hindsight.

China, land of prohibition. In its quest to steer the economy, root out corruption, and suppress dissent, Xi Jinping’s government banned a lot of things this year, from the sinister (“unapproved journalism”) to the bizarre (“unapproved performances of the national anthem”). Heather Timmons provides a roundup.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

The human costs of modern war. War memoirs are an ancient genre, but the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have led to a bookshelf-full of narratives, each rediscovering with new, jagged detail war’s eternal truths. Michiko Kakutani writes a sweeping yet sensitive overview of them in the New York Times.

You might soon be ditching that keyboard. Recent advances in voice-recognition technology hold the promise of computers so good at understanding speech, they’ll do an even better job than humans, as Jack Clark reports for Bloomberg.

The retraction debate that’s rocking science. The number of scientific papers being retracted each year because of flawed research is shooting up, leading to fears that science is “broken.” No, says Jill Neimark in Aeon: What’s happening is that the internet is making research more open and transparent—but the culture of science needs to adjust to suit it.

A theory of national instability. We’re bad at predicting revolutions and crises, because what we think signifies a stable nation—a strong central government or a calm history—often masks volatility. In Foreign Affairs, Nassim Taleb and Gregory Treverton apply the theory of “Black Swans” to state failure, and argue that noisily governed places like Italy and Lebanon are much more resilient than their more centralized counterparts.

The ultra-thin material that can do everything—in theory. John Colapinto in the New Yorker reports on graphene, a one-atom thick material that could make computers faster, clean up nuclear waste, and heal human paralysis. Amazing as it is, scientists haven’t yet found a way to make it commercially viable.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, stock picks for 2015, and scientific retractions to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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