Behind-the-Scenes at IKEA

Mental Floss: “Nineteen behind-the-scenes secrets of IKEA employees.” Among the gems: “The winding walkway is known lovingly among employees as the Long Natural Path or the Long Natural Way. According to a 2011 New Yorker article by Lauren Collins, the pathway is supposed to curve every 50 feet to prevent shoppers from getting bored.”

“There are multiple quick routes through the store, both for safety reasons and stocking reasons, and they’re open to the public. But they’re not advertised, so you’ll need a keen eye for secret passageways … If you’re the passive-aggressive type of shopper, you’re bound to be disappointed at IKEA. Employees are given specific instructions to let the customers come to them if they need assistance.”

“Lovers’ quarrels are so common in the store that at least one psychologist told the Wall Street Journal she has her bickering clients construct the Nornäs coffee table as a relationship-building exercise.”

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The Same Old Story

The Atlantic: “Storytelling has a shape. It dominates the way all stories are told and can be traced back not just to the Renaissance, but to the very beginnings of the recorded word. It’s a structure that we absorb avidly whether in art-house or airport form and it’s a shape that may be—though we must be careful—a universal archetype …

Storytelling is an indispensable human preoccupation, as important to us all—almost—as breathing. From the mythical campfire tale to its explosion in the post-television age, it dominates our lives. It behooves us then to try to understand it. Delacroix countered the fear of knowledge succinctly: “First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.” In stories throughout the ages there is one motif that continually recurs—the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within.”

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Late & Great: Richard Sapper

“Richard Sapper, an industrial designer whose sleek, precision-engineered prototypes spawned the Alessi espresso maker, the Tizio lamp and the IBM ThinkPad, died on Dec. 31 in Milan,” The New York Times reports. He was 83.”

“Mr. Sapper also designed for Mercedes, Fiat and Pirelli; conceived an ergonomic executive chair and computer monitor arms for Knoll; and invented teakettles that whistled in two keys, emulating an American locomotive. But he was especially revered by coffee connoisseurs for his lustrous stovetop Coban 9090 espresso maker, a graceful stainless-steel, single-piece machine that was introduced in 1979 by Alessi, the Italian housewares manufacturer.”

He once said: “I am very interested in objects that move and change character. That’s the main theme of the Tizio, for example, or even the ThinkPad, which opens and reveals itself like a box of cigars. The Coban also has this nature — it makes noise, steam comes out of it, you see the condensation drops form. It starts to live.”

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Discovery Weekly: The Spotify Experience

“Automated music recommendations are hardly new, but Spotify seems to have identified the ingredients of a personalized playlist that feel fresh and familiar at the same time,” reports Quartz. “That’s potentially a big advantage over competitors like Pandora, Google, and Apple, which largely have the same bottomless catalog of music but take very different approaches to picking the best songs for each user.”

“We now have more technology than ever before to ensure that if you’re the smallest, strangest musician in the world, doing something that only 20 people in the world will dig, we can now find those 20 people and connect the dots between the artist and listeners,” Matthew Ogle, who oversees the service at Spotify (said) recently. “Discovery Weekly is just a really compelling new way to do that at a scale that’s never been done before.”

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Open Content

The New York Public Library is releasing “more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public-domain items from the library’s special collections in downloadable high-resolution files — along with an invitation to users to grab them and do with them whatever they please,” The New York Times reports.

“We see digitization as a starting point, not an end point,” said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage re-use … It’s the old library mission: Take it and run, and make it your own,” he said.

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Under Armour’s Healthbox

Wired: “Under Armour was founded on a simple idea: Make athletes better. To do that, it’s turning human performance into a big data problem. The company is betting on the notion that the right hardware, the biggest dataset, a lot of machine learning, and powerful motivational tools can make everyone better, faster, and stronger. It’s betting that technology doesn’t exist solely to make us lazy, to bring everything to our door with the push of a button.

The centerpiece of that bet is a $400 kit, announced today, called Healthbox, that provides a scale, an activity tracker wearable, and a chest strap for measuring heart rate. The company also is updating Record, its mobile app, making it a 24/7 real-time barometer of your fitness and health. These tools, combined with three apps Under Armour has purchased in recent years, provide the most comprehensive ecosystem of fitness products yet made.”

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