Numlock News: June 16, 2020 • Ponzi, Pokémon, Gold

By Walt Hickey


Police in Switzerland are attempting to locate the individual who left a package full of gold bars worth 182,000 Swiss francs, or $191,000, on a train to Lucerne. The parcel was left on the Swiss Federal Railways train back in October, and investigations since have failed to turn up an owner. The authorities decided that the only way to get to the bottom of this efficiently was to announce in June they’d found some treasure on a train and the owner had five years to claim it. Shockingly, they now have lots of leads.

Stephanie Halasz and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Crypto Ponzi

Last year Quadriga CX — a cryptocurrency trading platform — said that with the unexpected death of their founder, the password to access their digital currency assets died with him, an unfortunate accident that imperiled millions of dollars of digital currency. The Ontario Securities Commission, following an investigation, begs to differ: the regulator alleged in a report that Quadriga was a Ponzi scheme operated by Gerald Cotten, the founder said to have died of Crohn’s disease complications at age 30 while volunteering at an orphanage in India. About 76,000 investors from around Canada lost a collective $169 million CAD ($124.2 million USD) and about $115 million of that loss can be attributed to Cotten’s fraudulent trading. At the time of its founder’s mysterious and not at all shady death, the platform owed $215 million CAD to clients, only $34 million of which was recovered. Now, I’m not the conspiratorial type, but we’re positive that “Crohn” isn’t the surname of a darkweb hitman, or “An Orphanage In India” isn’t the name of a discreet yacht in international waters, right? We checked?

Nichola Saminather, Reuters


To get a vaccine for Covid-19 out to hundreds of millions of people, you need more than just the vaccine. You also need those little vials to store them in, and the needles with which you inject a vaccine. On the order we’re looking at, production on those reserves needs to start now if they’re going to be ready by the end of the year. That’s why the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority just awarded a $204 million contract to Corning so it can equip four factories in New York, New Jersey and North Carolina to churn out vials of their pharmaceutical-grade Valor glass, a proprietary improvement on the specialized borosilicate glass used to package drugs and vaccines safely. BARDA also awarded $143 million to SiO2 Materials Science to expand syringe production for similar reasons.

Katherine Ellen Foley, Quartz

Team Rocket

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania intercepted 206,000 counterfeit Pokémon figurines in the last month. The regular Officer Jennys hauled in one shipment of more than 86,400 figurines in May that would have had a street value of $604,000, and the latest seizure of 20 boxes containing over 120,000 MissingNos from Hong Kong would have retailed for $840,000 had they been the genuine article. They do not indicate in the press release whether they were led to the nefarious deeds by a ten-year-old from the Kanto region travelling with two companions, so I can’t rule it out. In 2019, CPB seized 27,599 shipments containing counterfeit goods, with an aggregate estimated retail price of $1.5 billion. Have they considered, and bear with me, that actually they were just shipping 206,000 genuine Ditto figurines and they goofed this one real bad?

Hannah Pollock, Penn Live


Mass transit ridership crashed around the world, but new research is calling into question whether trains and buses are the petri dishes once feared. Ridership on bus and rail is down 74 percent in New York compared to pre-pandemic levels, down 79 percent in Washington, D.C., 83 percent in Boston, and 87 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, a number of new studies are turning up preliminary evidence that the end is not nigh for mass transit: a study of 150 infection clusters in Paris found none that originated in its transit system, and a similar study in Austria found none of its 355 clusters from April or May were traced to transit. Hong Kong has 7.5 million dependent on public transit and pre-pandemic had 12.9 million riders per day. Still, Hong Kong saw less of a dip in straphanging, and in the city there have been just 1,100 cases.

Janette Sadik-Kanh and Seth Solomonow, The Atlantic

Ad Revenue

Global advertising revenue is poised to drop 7.2 percent — $42 billion — to $540 billion amid cancellations of events, changes in consumer behavior and tightened budgets. In the United States, ad revenue is projected to drop 4.3 percent to $213 billion. That sounds better than the global picture, but you’ll never guess what’s keeping things afloat: when excluding the political advertising driven by the 2020 federal elections, it’s a 17 percent dip. The difficulties are projected to be confined to 2020 alone, as a global economic recovery plus delayed big-dollar sporting events — the Olympics and UEFA Championship mainly — would put 2021 global ad spending to $573 billion, just $9 billion shy of pre-pandemic level. See? Not all falling apart, at least the slimy politicians and the people in charge of making you see ads are able to work together. That’s something.

Georg Szalai, The Hollywood Reporter


Ultraviolet light is great at killing bacteria and deactivating viruses, and you may be seeing a lot more of it — or rather, not seeing a lot more of it, because your eyes are unable to detect photons at such small wavelengths — in commercial uses to come. Germicidal UV uses UV-C rays, which are less dangerous than the UV-A and UV-B you want to avoid on the beach. Around 500 hospitals use a bot from Xenex Disinfection that roams the halls, decontaminating surfaces with UV light. And listen, it’s a little more sophisticated than just strapping a blacklight to a Roomba, and I know that because a Xenex robot apparently costs approximately $125,000 to buy. It’s that high cost that has so far kept the bots in hospitals — places where money is fundamentally not real — but demand for commercial-grade U.V. tech may push the price down. A more simple UV pushcart ranges in price from $55,000 to $145,000, out of range for many applications, but new advances — such as a UV-C wavelength that is specifically calibrated to boil COVID — could make this easier.

Julie Halpert, OneZero

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Correction: A previous edition cited a story that has since been corrected; a Xenex robot costs approximately $125,000 to buy, not to operate daily.

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