PRI - To get the autographs of top world leaders, you need commitment, courage and chutzpah < 5min

“You have to be cut from a special mold to be a collector that’s successful in getting in-person autographs like this.” … Kaplan has been collecting the signatures of world leaders on baseballs since 1996. He was the one who introduced me to the idea of autographing-as-blood-sport. … Kaplan schmoozed Hamid Karzai’s security detail for his autograph and smooth-talked his way into then-president of Nigeria General Olusegun Obasanjo’s hotel room. He even mastered phonetic Russian well enough to convince Gorbachev’s bodyguards the baseball in his hand wasn’t a bomb. … “You either have it, or you don’t,” Kaplan told me. “You have to plan everything three steps ahead. You have to do all your research. You have find out who their defense secretary is, anyone who’s going to be with them. Most importantly, as a collector, you have to be prepared for the unprepared; I never go anywhere without at least a dozen baseballs on me, at all times. “

Vice - Inside the Intense, Insular World of AOL Disc Collecting < 5min

The discs came like a swarm of locusts, burrowing into post boxes and sliding through mail slots. They popped out of cereal boxes and appeared on meal trays during airline flights. They fell out of magazines and Happy Meals. They were stocked at the checkout counters of Best Buy, near the popcorn at Blockbuster, on bookshelves at Barnes & Noble. The ubiquity of AOL discs—those free marketing materials sent by America Online in the 90s to entice people to sign up for internet service—could be likened to world domination. ... But they were also annoying. If you didn't end up using your "50 Hours Free!," the discs would likely end up in the trash. A satirical newspaper in California, The Larely Beagle, once published a faux report about how there were so many unused AOL trials in landfills that it was contaminating the nation's drinking water. ... There's no record of how many different styles of AOL discs were distributed, but Jan Brant, AOL's former chief marketing officer, estimates that the number is in the thousands.

The Atlantic - Busting Cactus Smugglers in the American West < 5min

There are 1,480 living species of cacti, all but one indigenous to the Americas. The journal Nature Plants recently studied the level of danger to almost every species on earth––the largest study of any plant taxon––and the alarming result was 31 percent are threatened, the fifth most of any taxonomic group, just behind amphibians and corals. Loss of habitat to humans and the clumsy plodding of livestock factored highly. No surprise. But what shocked the report’s author was that the largest extinction threat comes from horticulture, specifically the illegal collection and trade of cacti. ... Last October, Chinese and German customs agents busted a smuggling ring and seized 1,250 plants, some rare and endangered cacti. As might be expected, there are few scholarly reports investigating the cactus black market. One such report, called “Prickly Trade” (the cactus world is full of egregious puns), estimated that in one three-year period people illegally plucked about 100,000 cacti out of the Texas wild or smuggled them over the Mexican border. That was in 2003. Then Internet commerce arrived. A report from 2012 monitored just 24 online cacti sellers for 1,000 purchases. These were not just any 1,000 cacti. Each was listed as an “Appendix I” specie by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which are plants threatened with extinction. To trade any of these, a seller needs a permit. Of the 1,000 cacti researchers monitored, the report found at least 90 percent had traded hands illegally.

New York Magazine - Boomin! A day in the life of 16-year-old rare-sneaker dealer Benjamin Kickz 8min

Ben brags that he’s on track to make $1 million in sales this year just from the normals who shop his collection every day online at sneakerdon.com. “What I make in one day on the website I can’t make in a month with the rappers,” Ben says, but they give him the satisfaction of working alongside his favorite celebrities. Plus, they function as brand ambassadors, offering free, well-placed mini-billboards that float across social media. ... imposed scarcity, not style, is the most reliable driver of value, he will do whatever it takes to get you the sneaker you want — a high-end, single-product TaskRabbit so monofocused on the job of finding the right shoes that he now employs four others to do things like manage his website and ship his goods while he hustles connections with celebrities and distributors.

ESPN - "Gosh, It's Beautiful." 7min

When she took it for validation to a used video game store in Charlotte, the young man behind the counter rustled open the plastic bag and beheld the game -- pristine in its cardboard box covered by much of the original cellophane -- coughing the words "Oh my god." He offered her all the money in the register for it. She turned him down. ... Before Stadium Events for the Nintendo Entertainment System came into their lives, Jennifer and her now-husband, Jeff, were scraping by. They lived in a double-wide trailer with a mouse problem and a buckling floor, so close to the Carolina Speedway that the sounds of engines from the dirt track kept them awake at night. ... It is seductive because of its rarity but also a testament to the darker side of a hobby reaching new heights of popularity. ... It isn't a good game. It's a boring game. Released in 1987 by the Japanese company Bandai, Stadium Events was made for a piece of peripheral hardware called the Family Fun Fitness mat. ... Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa thought the technology could be huge, so the company purchased the mat and relaunched it as the Power Pad. Stadium Events was then rebranded as World Class Track Meet ... what happened to the Stadium Events that had already been made? Nintendo and Bandai have declined to shed any light on the matter, leaving collectors to speculate.