Numlock News: April 21, 2021 • Crowdfunding, Smuggled, Plutonium

By Walt Hickey


Sotheby’s just wrapped up its twice-yearly Modern & Contemporary African Art auction, selling £2.7 million ($3.7 million) worth of art to participants from 34 countries. The category is a new one at the auction house, created four years ago, but in the interim it’s logged 80 record-breaking sales, about 70 percent of which went to African collectors. While sales of African art are still less than 1 percent of global art sales at major auction houses, the category is on the rise, increasing 30 to 50 percent annually from 2017 to 2019.

Ciku Kimeria, Quartz

Sorry The Ice Cream Machine Is Broken

In about 13,000 McDonald’s there exists a vexing machine that is notorious more for its failure to function than the iced cream products it is responsible for producing: the Taylor C602 digital ice cream machine. According to McBroken, which monitors the status of America’s ice cream machines, at any given time anywhere from 5 to 16 percent of McDonald’s locations are rocking a busted ice cream machine. The reason? The machines are magnificently complicated instruments, costing $18,000 each, with two hoppers and two barrels capable of producing both shakes and soft serve simultaneously, brilliantly designed to avoid the aggravating daily disassembly required by typical ice cream machines. The caveat is that they’re designed to be a black box repairable only by authorized distributors, and if any part isn’t working the whole machine is useless.

Andy Greenberg, Wired


From 2012 to 2014, a trove of 2,500 antiquities valued at $143 million were seized in a series New York raids from Subhash Kapoor, an art dealer now incarcerated in India on smuggling charges. Monday saw the return of 33 of those objects to the ambassador from Afghanistan, with the looted objects worth about $1.8 million total. Since August, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan district attorney’s office has seen the return of 338 objects to seven different nations, with more to come once transportation issues are resolved.

Tom Mashberg, The New York Times


Australia and New Zealand have formed a bubble, with the nations allowing residents to visit the other country without a quarantine. It’s a win for both countries, each of which have successfully managed their coronavirus outbreaks compared to peer countries. In 2019, 1.5 million Australians visited New Zealand, constituting 40 percent of all visitors, while the same year about 1.3 million New Zealanders visited Australia, making up 15 percent of all their visitors.

Ashley Westerman, NPR


Waterdrop, a Chinese startup that just filed paperwork to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, is a combination medical insurance marketplace plus crowdfunding site, basically GoFundMe if they caved and said, “screw it, let’s actually just become a private insurer rather than a de facto insurer.” In China, where the population is aging, this is a pretty good business: as of last year, Waterdrop raised $5.7 billion donations from 340 million people, controlling 65.4 percent of the crowdfunding marker in China, enormously popular in large part because it doesn’t charge processing fees and makes its money from the medical insurance business it runs on the side. As of 2020, they had 12.6 million buyers, with (as of 2018) most of its new customers coming over from the crowdfunding side of the ledger.

Zeyi Yang, Protocol

Super Lame

Monday, a soccer Super League was announced, with major clubs lining up to take part in a financially motivated highly-controlled operation that would upend the structure of European soccer. Anyway, that ticked lots of people off, and all the English clubs chickened out extremely publicly, with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur all walking back their commitment to a group that is very quickly falling apart. A snap YouGov poll of U.K. fans found overwhelming opposition to a European Super League, with 79 percent of fans opposing the Super League, including 78 percent of fans of the six teams eyeing an exit from the Premier League. Just 14 percent of fans supported the new league, which is not exactly the kind of numbers you want to see, with 89 percent responding they believe the league was motivated by financial gain compared to just 3 percent who think it was fan desire.

ESPN, Connor Ibbetson, YouGov


The Hanford reservation in Washington state produced plutonium during World War II and the Cold War, and is the site of 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks, with the largest of the three subterranean storage chambers contaminated with an estimated 105 pounds of plutonium. In 2017, a tunnel partially collapsed, prompting authorities to check out how the trenches were holding up — the answer was “pretty bad!” They were at risk of collapsing and spreading radioactive contamination into the air. About $4 million and a bunch of concrete later, and we’re all good. Well, not really good; about $2.5 billion a year is spent stabilizing and attempting to clean up the contamination at the 580 square mile site, and until final cleanup plans are made that will presumably continue for the thousands of years necessary to have it rendered no longer radioactive.

The Associated Press

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