CLOSE
Original image
Apple

15 Secrets of Apple Store Employees

Original image
Apple

Apple has 265 retail stores in the United States, employing roughly 100 people at each one. That’s a lot of Apple Store workers with stories to tell about the culture and customers of one of the world’s most iconic retail boutiques. Here are a few things you might not know about your friendly Apple Store employee.

1. THEY WISH YOU KNEW YOUR PASSWORD.

One of the biggest complaints Apple Store employees have about customers is their lack of knowledge for their own personal data. Many people come in needing help with a device or their storage but don’t know their Apple ID or password, which throws a wrench in the process. “People say to you, ‘Figure out my password,’” says Ben, who worked in a Minnesota store for five and a half years. “But if I could figure out your password, what would be the point of having one?” Save yourself (and employees) some time and make sure you know your login information before heading to the store.

2. THEY HATE WHEN YOU USE THE STORE COMPUTERS FOR YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Those demo devices? They’re for you to use, but they’re not your personal gadgets. “People would make phone calls or they’d change the wallpapers,” says Eric, who worked as a specialist in a Florida Apple Store for two years. “They’d have video chats with friends on Skype for two hours. One guy would come in and write music for his so-called album on one of the computers.”

If you do use the Apple Store devices for personal business, be sure to sign out or risk an embarrassing Facebook update or a new profile picture. “We’ve seen a number of social media accounts left logged in and we’re like, ‘We can have fun here,’” Eric says.

3. THEY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE LYING.

“Lying is never a good idea at the Apple Store,” says James, who spent five years in Apple retail working almost every job. “We know you’re lying, and we have a lot of control to bend the rules to make things work for you, but if we know you’re lying we aren’t going to bend rules.” Whether you dropped your phone in the toilet or had the screen replaced elsewhere, they’ll find out sooner or later. It's best to be upfront. 

4. IF YOU’RE MEAN, THEY’LL DRAG THEIR FEET.

“Be humble, be understanding, and don't be entitled,” advises one Apple Store employee via Reddit. Indeed, Apple Store workers can choose to be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on your attitude.

“If you act like a huge jerk people will go out of their way to put as many roadblocks as possible in the way,” says Bruce, who left his job as a specialist at an Indiana Apple Store last year. He says if you get huffy with an employee, you’re asking to play the waiting game. “They’ll walk into the back to ‘see what they can do,’ but really they’ll just sit back there and make you wait.”

On the flip side, Bruce says, if you’re exceedingly nice, employees will go out of their way to help you. “I had woman come in once and her laptop had died and it had a slideshow of pictures of her mother who had just passed,” he says. “She was putting together a slideshow for the funeral and she came in at 8:30 and store closed at 9. I stayed until 10:30 helping her, making a slideshow, putting it on a DVD, and sending her off with it.”

5. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

“The vast majority of the time, the biggest problem is user error,” says Ben. “They’ve done something wrong or they don’t know how to use the device.”

6. THEY LOVE SEEING VINTAGE DEVICES.

It’s not all about the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Most employees have seen their fair share of super old Apple gear. “I had one lady who brought in an Apple IIe,” Eric says. “I used that in middle school.” Products that have not been manufactured for more than five are labeled “vintage” and anything that was discontinued more than seven years ago is “obsolete.” Apple Store employees can’t order parts for these gadgets, but they don’t mind giving them a once-over. “It’s amazing what people will keep,” Eric says. “It goes to show the support and the viability of the products Apple produces that you can see things that are 10 to 12 years old [and] people are still using them.”

7. THEY SEE LOTS OF NAKED PICTURES.

As a general rule, if you don’t want anyone to see it, don’t put it on your computer. “Sometimes you have to transfer people’s photos and all the pictures show up on the screen as you do it,” says James. “I’ve seen whatever you can imagine.”

8. GETTING YOUR SHIRT IS A BIG DEAL.

Landing a job at an Apple Store isn’t easy. “They like to say it’s easier to get into Stanford than to get hired by Apple,” James says. Indeed, a single open position can receive hundreds or even thousands of applicants. Those who get called back go through multiple rounds of intense interviews, and if they land the job, it’ll be weeks of training before they’re released onto the floor of an Apple Store unsupervised.

When a newbie is finally deemed “ready,” he or she is rewarded with an official Apple shirt. “That was kind of like a rite of passage,” Ben says. “Like, ‘Okay, now you’ve arrived. You’ve done with your training now you get to go out on your own.’” But shirts aren’t to be worn outside the store, mostly for branding reasons. Plus, advertising you work in an Apple Store is an easy way to get pestered by the nearest guy with a malfunctioning iPhone.

“One time I put a jacket over my Apple shirt but I unzipped it and someone saw I was an Apple employee,” says Bruce. “He came over and was like, ‘Hey man, I got a problem with my phone, can you fix it?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m on lunch.’”

9. REFERRALS ARE KEY.

When it comes to getting a job in Apple retail, referrals are everything. “The closest way to guarantee an interview is to know someone and be referred by someone,” says Ben. “Apple takes those very seriously. They’ll pay employees a referral bonus if they hire someone you refer, like an extra $500 or $1000. If it’s a corporate employee it might be several thousand.”

Apple trusts its employees know when a person might be a good fit within the company culture. Some workers used to carry around special referral cards. If they encountered an exceptional waiter at a restaurant or a wonderful salesperson, they’d give them the card and invite them to apply for a job.

10. THEY CLAP … A LOT.

Morale and enthusiasm are huge parts of the culture at Apple. When employees start their training they go through the ritual of being “clapped in,” according to Ben. “When the new employee walks in the room everybody would clap for them for a long time,” he says. “Almost an uncomfortably long time.” It’s a show of support to get new hires excited about the job. And departing employees are “clapped out.” “On my last day, every Apple employee stopped whatever they were doing and started clapping,” Ben says. “Of course, customers are like, ‘What’s going on?’”

Here’s an example of someone being “clapped-out”:

11. APPLE’S CUPERTINO HEADQUARTERS IS KNOWN AS “THE MOTHERSHIP.”

Apple Store senior staff, like the geniuses and creatives, are flown there for training, all expenses paid.

12. LONGTIME EMPLOYEES GET AWARDS.

Workers who make it to their five-year anniversary are given a plaque signed by Tim Cook. One, signed by Steve Jobs, was going for $2,000 online a few years ago. And on their 10-year anniversary, employees reportedly receive a glass block etched with the Apple logo.

13. CUSTOMER MISTAKES WILL GO UNCORRECTED.

It’s not an iWatch, it’s the Apple Watch. But a good Apple Store worker will let your mistake slide. They don’t want to be rude or embarrass customers. “So many people call the iPod Touch the iTouch,” says Eric. “But trying to correct it is a fruitless effort.”

14. WHEN IT COMES TO WOULD-BE THIEVES, THEY KILL ‘EM WITH KINDNESS.

Apple Stores don’t put security tags on their devices, but that doesn’t mean walking out with a gadget will be a piece of cake. “Our loss prevention [tactic] is being friendly and engaging people in conversation,” says Ben. “We’re trained to stand certain ways, to always be facing the front and to greet every person.” This ensures customers know they’ve been noticed and are being watched, which helps deter theft.

15. THEY’VE WITNESSED APPLE MIRACLES.

For every disgruntled customer, there’s another walking in to restore your faith in humanity. Bruce tells the story of a student whose computer shut down with all his schoolwork on it. Without the funds to purchase a new device, he was out of luck until a stranger overheard his woes and surprised him with a $3500 new computer. “He cried,” Bruce says. “Every once in a while you’ll meet someone who is just a genuinely good human being and you’re like, ‘Not everyone is a total jerk.’ It makes going to work the rest of the day a little bit better.”

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES