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Last spring one of my co-workers went to college campuses to recruit prospective “young mainframers.”
Young mainframers? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
My co-worker, Tim, explained that our company, a major software vendor, is seeing its mainframe workforce rapidly approaching the age of retirement. Tim said IBM and most other firms whose businesses depend on mainframes are also dealing with this industry-wide problem.
Since the 1980’s, PC’s and UNIX machines were supposed to have taken over the computing world, relegating mainframes to the scrap heap alongside rotary-dial telephones, suitcase-size boom boxes, and Plymouth Reliants. Indeed, most mainframes from that era have been consigned to the scrap heap – only to be replaced by bigger and faster mainframes.
Today the number of mainframes is estimated to be 10,000. Since 2000, the processing power of mainframes has quadrupled in terms of MIPS. According to IBM, the top 25 world banks run mainframes, 80% of the world’s corporate data resides or originates on mainframes, and 71% of global Fortune 500 companies are mainframe clients.
And what about those applications that were supposed to have been migrated off mainframes?
As one mainframe veteran put it, “We started sun-setting some of our mainframe systems so long ago, the sun’s rising again!”
While reports of the death of the mainframe “are greatly exaggerated,” to quote Mark Twain, the same cannot be said about the mainframe workforce, whose average age is measured in minutes from retirement.
To replenish the thinning ranks of the 3270-keyboard jockeys, companies have started recruiting young talent to be trained in the technology of the mainframe. They’re counting on an ‘Inter-Generational Transfer of Expertise’ from old mainframers to young mainframers before the sun sets on those old mainframers.
I caught up with one of these young developers to get a sense of what enticed a new college graduate to cast his lot with the venerable mainframe.
Francisco Esqueda graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a computer engineering degree in May, 2009. His education included development languages like Ruby, Java, and HTML, among other technologies, and he honed his skills with summer internships working with web applications and PCs.
Although he “had no real concept of what developing for the mainframe was like,” he accepted a position as a mainframe developer.
“My mother had reservations at first,” he admitted. “She was shocked to see that I would be working with the same languages and tools that she had started with in her career: Assembler language, REXX, JCL, ISPF. She was worried that working with ‘that stuff’ would be a career dead end.”
Francisco comes from a family where conversations about bits and bytes were as much a part of dinner as bread and butter—or as much a part of dinner as Apple and spam (to keep the prose computer-related).
His mother retired in 2000 after a 25-year career in IT, during which she became CIO of a large oil company. His father, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, is an associate dean at the The Pennsylvania State University, Berks campus. His older sister and brother are also degreed electrical engineers.
According to Francisco, his mother would have never predicted that the mainframe ‘stuff’ that she left behind ten years ago would be the foundation of his budding career.
“She changed her mind after she researched it,” he continued. “She learned that companies are still committed to the mainframe, and there were new initiatives. And she liked the training program I was offered.”
Francisco recently completed a two month training program that covered the z/OS operating system, Assembler language, DB2 database, VSAM file structure, and CICS (“kicks” to those in the know), among other topics.
“The interface is not good, it’s cryptic,” he said. “It takes a while to get the hang of it.”
As far as he knows, Francisco was the only Penn State computer engineering graduate of the 2009 class to take a job working with mainframes. Most of his fellow graduates ended up working in Web-centric systems. After graduation he joined 20 other recruits, most of them recent graduates, in the mainframe software engineering training program of a large software vendor.
Did Francisco feel compelled to take the mainframe job because of the state of the economy? In other words, was the mainframe job the only show in town?
“I had two other offers,” he explained. “One was working on a UNIX Web server but I liked the training program and the idea of working for a software company.”
Several companies that depend on mainframes obviously think training young mainframers can help resolve the mainframe skills shortage. Francisco seems to agree with them, and is apparently convinced that there’s a future in working with the platform of big iron. In September he returned to his alma mater, Penn State. He went there to recruit “young mainframers.”
ALSO SEE: Are These Developer and IT Salary Figures Accurate?
AND: Finding The Coding Zone: Your Perfect Trifecta?
Although Edward J. Joyce no longer logs onto the mainframes at CA, Inc., where he is a principal software engineer, he is still a young mainframer at heart.
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Young students are in greater-than-ever need of sources of comfort. Caring for animals provides one of these sources. It makes sense—caring for an animal builds an array of social and emotional and character competencies. But bringing in animals to interact with students isn’t feasible for most schools. A more widely available option is plush toys.
A lot has been written about the value of these toys for young children. They help them develop sensory skills. Children also derive comfort from cuddling stuffed animals and build social skills by involving their animals in pretend-play scenarios.
Some schools have “keep calm” corners with stuffed animals as part of the décor, and many children can use them for self-soothing. In some classrooms, teachers have designated certain plush toys as “comfort helpers” and give them to students who are showing signs of upset or anxiety about upcoming classroom routines or activities.
Another option is for students to be able to go and get one when needed with various sign-out and usage-time procedures in place, so that a few plush toys can go a longer way among more students. More acceptable for older elementary students are finger or hand-animal puppets.
But what of young children who are still working on self-regulation? Or who would benefit from the tangible feel of a living animal more than the tactile reassurance of the stuffed animal? There is another emerging option, and it has been hiding in plain sight: animatronics, something top toy makers have understood for many years.
Imagine a toy the size of a small dog that looks authentic, feels like a stuffed animal, and “breathes” along with young children. Further, imagine that this dog has a prosthetic leg (evoking empathy and resilience) and wears a service vest (denoting power and self-control). In 2023, Breathing Bouncy, an animatronic service dog, arrived on the scene, embodying all of the aforementioned attributes. Bouncy also denotes an optimistic ability to overcome setbacks and succeed against the odds. The toy is available for use in both English and Spanish.
The “Breathing” part of the name signifies, in particular, Bouncy’s value as a “co-regulator,” in terms of both helping regulate young children’s breathing and allowing them to care for Bouncy. The toy is produced by Ripple Effects, a company that creates applications of SEL using technology. The company also provides support materials that explain how to use Bouncy and his backstory.
Schools can purchase a Bouncy for $450 or can opt for a $1,349 classroom kit that includes a Bouncy along with supplemental digital and physical components for 25 students. Because Bouncy and related toys are designed to reduce the effects of traumatic situations due to Covid and other difficult experiences that can interfere with academic achievement, schools may be able to use Every Student Succeeds Act or related funds to obtain these resources.
Research from my Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab examined young children’s preference for live characters on an SEL video series, Talking With TJ, versus animated versions of the same characters. The results were clear and consistent: Students identified strongly with both, including with regard to questions such as how much the characters were liked, how much students believed the character cared about them, and how helpful they perceived the characters to be.
This would be no surprise to teachers like Anita Compart, an early childhood special educator in Des Plaines, Illinois. In 2023, she was one of many teachers looking for ways to help their young charges cope with all the uncertainties and stresses of life and learning. She saw that her students were engaged by Bouncy and loved to care for it. She also saw that when children held Bouncy against their chest and stomach, their breathing gradually slowed to Bouncy’s more relaxed pace.
Companionship and Support
Bouncy is the vanguard of this emerging technology, which should dramatically increase young children’s access to sources of calming and comfort in schools (as well as other settings). In these times, when there does not seem to be an impending letup in stress and crises, it can become a feasible standard procedure for every early childhood and elementary classroom to have a live, plush, and/or animatronic animal for companionship and support.
New Book by BU Researchers Teaches Natural Selection to Children Research-based effort presents complex concepts in storybook form
Deborah Kelemen, a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychological and brain sciences, and her research team have published a children’s picture book that introduces the concept of adaptation by natural selection to kids ages five to eight. Photo by Cydney Scott
Conventional wisdom holds that natural selection is too complex for young children to grasp and so should not be taught until middle and high school. The problem with that wisdom, as Deborah Kelemen’s research has shown, is that by middle school, kids’ intuitive biases have taken hold, making it even harder for them to understand the concept. So Kelemen, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychological and brain sciences, and her research team wrote their own research-based book about natural selection, How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses, and aimed it at children ages five to eight. Then, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Kelemen tested the children, who listened to the book about the fictional anteater-like piloses and found that they got it.
“Kids are smarter than we give them credit for,” says Kelemen, who directs BU’s Child Cognition Lab and studies child development.
Tumblehome Learning, Inc., a Boston-based publisher of children’s science and engineering books, published How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses in June 2023, with glowing blurbs from Steven Pinker, a Harvard University psychology professor, and Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, both experts on the study of children’s learning.
“Evolution by natural selection is a notoriously difficult concept to understand and this may underpin some of the anti-science views that have become increasingly prevalent,” says Gopnik. “Kelemen has shown that giving young children a simple but ingenious picture book can get them to genuinely understand the concept and that this early understanding is long-lasting. It’s a great, simple, inexpensive idea that could have long-lasting effects, and it would be marvelous for science if every child heard the story of the piloses.”
A big draw for Tumblehome, says chairwoman Penny Noyce, was that Kelemen had grounded the book in research on how kids learn. “We didn’t find another book like this,” says Noyce. “It fits into a niche for us—helping scientists reach a broader audience with books for children.”
For a first-time children’s book author without an agent or a publicist, Kelemen has been enjoying surprising success. After she appeared on the popular BBC radio show Start the Week and on the BBC World Service Newshour in early July 2023, her book sold more than 1,000 copies in a single month—a record for Tumblehome, says Noyce—and it’s already in its third printing.
Kelemen, who shares author credit with the Child Cognition Lab, says profits from the book will go to distributing the book to schools and to further research. How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses is the first in a series of books on evolution for kids that Kelemen and the Child Cognition Lab are creating.
On September 18, 2023, Kelemen and her team kicked off a three-week-long, BU-sponsored crowdfunding effort to get the book, which costs $17.95 at Tumblehome, into the hands of teachers and kids across the US who might not otherwise be able to afford it. They set their initial fundraising goal at $2,500, but with close to $2,000 in donations pouring in before the official launch, they have already doubled their goal, to $5,000, and are fast approaching it.
Kelemen says she views her book as a tool in her mission to improve science literacy in the US and abroad. “This anti-intellectual stance that’s happening in this country and across the world is a serious threat,” she says. “People are trying to invalidate scientific evidence by the loudness with which they shout. If you want to fight back, and spread scientific literacy, buy this book.”
BU Research sat down with Kelemen recently to talk with her about how she and her research team came to write their first children’s book, why she thinks kids should be introduced to natural selection at an early age, and why she told the illustrator not to make the piloses human-like.BU Research: Why did you and your team write How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses?
Kelemen: There are no evidence-based classroom books for young kids about natural selection. It’s a mechanism that explains why animals have these incredibly specialized body parts and why we have such amazing biological diversity on Earth. Students find it hard to understand the concept when it’s taught in high school. Children are naturally brilliant at generating explanations, but they create explanations that conflict with how evolution actually occurs. What this means is that the lifelong difficulty many people have with understanding one of the most important scientific concepts begins in early childhood.
In biology, natural selection is like the frame that structures your house. Everything else in biology makes sense in light of it. There wasn’t a book geared toward children’s misconceptions. So my team at BU wrote one.Can you tell us about the story?
It’s about a fictional animal called the piloses whose environment changes. They eat millibugs, which keep them healthy and strong, but as the climate gets hotter, their food goes underground and the piloses species goes from having mostly wider trunks to mostly thinner trunks because the ones with thinner trunks can reach the food and are healthy enough to have many babies. Kids naturally learn the logic of adaptation by natural selection through the story. It unfolds logically, step by step.Why did you invent the piloses? Why not just write a book starring, say, giraffes—animals that kids know and can recognize?
We always work with realistic but fictional characters. It’s a developmental psychology trick. When children are learning something new and challenging, you don’t necessarily want them to bring potentially confusing background assumptions to bear on it. So you teach them about something they don’t know anything about. If we used giraffes, they might think, “Well, they needed long necks to reach food in the trees so they grew long necks.” But that’s not how natural selection works. We thought, “What’s the simplest story we could tell? What traits would the animal need to make the story work?”You’ve said that you’re frustrated with a lot of the regular children’s science books that are out there—that they’re too flashy and interfere with actual learning.
We know, based on research, that all those bells and whistles are a distraction. It gets adults very fired up. Children like looking at them, but they don’t actually learn from them. If you want to create learning material, which our book is, you can’t go with the bells and whistles. The whole notion is you’re going to sit down and read the book with a child. Children like that. We always read the book to the kids when we were testing it.Why?
Partly because this was all developed in a research context. You want the adults to point to the pictures in ways that elaborate the story, whereas children reading by themselves, they’ll just kind of whip through it. We know that joint attention with somebody else facilitates learning.Why did you insist that the publisher not alter the story in any way and that the illustrator, Chen-Hui Chang, who redid your lab’s original drawings, not make the animals too cuddly—and that they couldn’t be human-like?
Again, because the book was carefully designed in a research context, we discovered what threw children off. Nothing has been changed that could influence children’s learning. By the time it came to publishing, it was really important they didn’t mess with the story or the illustrations. We knew small changes could make all the difference to what children took away from the story.
The animals couldn’t be human-like because you can’t have them looking at each other in ways that suggest they would help each other.Why not?
If the animals are anthropomorphized, one of the things children will say, when the ones with wider trunks can’t get to the food, is why don’t the animals with thin trunks help them? If animals are proxies for human beings, then if you’ve got a friend of yours who’s starving to death, you’d try and feed them. But these are just animals going around and trying to fill their bellies. Life is hard on the meadow.Why are you so concerned about teaching young kids about natural selection and not waiting until they’re 13 to 18 years old?
This is such a counterintuitive idea and 13 to 18 is too late. By elementary school, children are cementing their own intuitions that are the roots of scientific misconceptions seen in high school kids and undergraduates. You need to plant the seed early. This is not the full explanation of natural selection, but it is something that does counteract the natural way kids explain animals’ body parts—that animals grow what they need, that everything transforms so that it gets what it needs. That’s not how it works. Populations change over time. It’s a gradual process. In subsequent books in our series, we will show how the same gradual process in Piloses can lead to even bigger evolutionary changes, like new species.You didn’t have books like this when you were a kid, but you learned natural selection.
I had dinosaur books. That was my fascination. I don’t think I learned about natural selection until I was in high school or university, and it’s effortful then.Why is this crowdfunding campaign so important to you?
We want to offer teachers—particularly those in underserved schools—direct access to simple materials that can help them accurately teach the basic principle of natural selection to children. We also want to get the word out that this is something that kids can learn and that it is good to start early. Researchers in developmental psychology or education often create materials that can really help kids and teachers, but once the research is over, no one ever gets to use or see the materials again. We want to make sure that does not happen with the piloses and that books, books, and more books are sent out to support science literacy throughout the United States.
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French Cuisine for the Young and Broke Alum’s cookbook gets shout-out from Entertainment Weekly
Eléonor Picciotto says when she started writing her cookbook, she “had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the more I wrote, the more ideas I got, and it became a real, concrete project.” Photo courtesy of Eléonor Picciotto
Picciotto’s culinary inventiveness and her love of fresh, healthy, French-influenced food inspired her to write French Cuisine for the Young and Broke, a cookbook of fast, easy, and healthy recipes, which she self-published earlier this month. It’s already gaining attention: Entertainment Weekly singled the title out in its December 9 issue as the “best name for a cookbook,” and over 200 people attended the cookbook’s launch party in Manhattan.
French Cuisine takes readers through the entire dining experience—from appetizers to desserts—and provides easy-to-follow instructions for 150 recipes using minimal, inexpensive ingredients and equipment. In addition to tried-and-true recipes such as marinated chicken, Picciotto writes step-by-step directions for French crepes and a shockingly simple 10-minute soup.
Picciotto says her experience at BU helped motivate her to write the book. “My friends and I formed a supper club at BU where we would take turns hosting dinner every week,” she recalls. “One night I was running really late and I was in charge of dessert, so I rifled through my fridge to see what I could find, and all I had were apples.” Mashing cooked apples with a little bit of cinnamon, she rushed off to the party. Her friends raved, to her surprise.
“I found myself observing how my friends ate, and they didn’t seem to have a sense of how to combine and prepare ingredients,” Picciotto says. “When someone orders a pizza, it’s $12, but for the same price you can have an amazing meal, and you don’t need unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. It doesn’t take hours to create a dinner.”
Picciotto began writing the cookbook after she tore a ligament and broke her femur as a member of the BU ski team during her sophomore year. Doctors prohibited skiing for the next 18 months and ordered her to rest for six weeks in a thigh-to-ankle cast. She soon went stir-crazy.
“I’m an energetic person, and if I didn’t start a project soon I was going to kill someone,” she says, laughing. “My friends reminded me that I love to eat and I love to write, so they suggested that I write a cookbook. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the more I wrote, the more ideas I got, and it became a real, concrete project.”
The book took a year and a half to complete. Writing the recipes was tedious, Picciotto says, because she had to remind herself to make every step as clear as she could. Her friend Ben Timmins (CAS’11, COM’11) took photos for the book and another friend helped design it.
Many of Picciotto’s recipes are inspired by her day-to-day diet, family and friends, and the great restaurant meals she has had. A lot of times, she looks through her fridge to see what ingredients she has, and improvises with those. “Within a week I try to get down the right measurements, ingredients, and taste,” she says. “It usually takes about three times to get the perfect recipe.”
She blogs about cooking from home, and is currently working as a marketing intern for a well known Manhattan-based jeweler, but will be moving to Geneva soon for a full-time job with a Swiss watch company. But for now, she cooks dinner almost every night and is on call for friends who need dinner ideas.
“Whenever I’m tired, I remind myself that I shouldn’t have to spend money on something that is less good than what I could make,” she says. “I want to know exactly what I’m putting in my mouth.”Salmon Tartar
This recipe takes only 15 minutes and requires no cooking. Picciotto writes that it is best served as a simple appetizer with blinis or toast. Diced cucumber, ginger, and tomatoes, can also be added. Makes 2 servings.Ingredients
1 pound of very fresh salmon
½ a grapefruit
2 tablespoons of diced red pepper
1 teaspoon of mustard
2 teaspoons of olive oil
Some aneth (dill)
A pinch of salt and pepperTo prepare
Take the piece of salmon, remove the skin, and cut the flesh in dices.
Dice the avocado and grapefruit. Make sure you remove both skins.
In a large bowl, mix the olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Add the diced salmon, avocado, grapefruit, and pepper to the bowl and stir them all together.
Serve by filling a cup with the salmon mix and flip it upside down on the plate. Serve very fresh.
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AMNH’s new climate change installation features a dynamic media wall to keep up with ever-evolving data. © AMNH/D. Finnin
Walking under the belly of the fiberglass model of a blue whale, or circling the fossilized remains of T. rex, a visitor to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City gets a glimpse at parts of the world—and moments in history—they might not otherwise experience.
Its collection includes more than 33 million specimens and spans scientific disciplines. There are several exhibits dedicated to human culture, but it’s easy to lose yourself on a museum tour, when hour after hour passes in the company of diverse species, many of which lived long before we walked the planet.
But the Hall of Planet Earth, which reopens July 7 following significant renovations, is different. The first major update since it opened in 1999, it’s set to refocus on something uncharacteristically contemporary and human-centric: climate change. While other spaces in the museum encourage visitors to meander through space and time, the renovations in this hall demand people think deeply about our current moment—and the dynamic processes that brought us here.
The display is referred to as the “meta-message.” © AMNH/D. Finnin
“I think many of us share the belief that this is the most important environmental century in the human species,” says Mike Novacek, the museum’s senior vice president and paleontologist. Earth has already experienced five major extinctions, he says. But humans were present for exactly zero of them. Unfortunately, our good fortune has run out. Many experts (though by no means all) believe we are now in the midst of a sixth extinction.
As human activities have generated an unprecedented release of greenhouse gases, the average temperature of the planet has already risen 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901. Human society, and with it concrete jungles, gasoline engines, and intensive agriculture, has spread to far corners of the globe, reshaping it in the process. Along the way, it appears biodiversity is rapidly disappearing, as research suggests mammal species are dying up to 100 times faster than seen in the past. (At least 69 species of mammals and 400 other invertebrates have gone extinct since 1900, according to the Washington Post.) Whatever statistics you cite, it’s clear the balance that took nature millions of years to strike has unraveled in a single century.
These facts produce a strong reaction, from fear to disbelief to frustration. But, Novacek says, the situation presents an unprecedented opportunity for science and science education—one the American Museum of Natural History felt it must capitalize on. “We have… an ironic opportunity to see a major Earth event unfolding before our very eyes,” Novacek told PopSci in late June, as recorded ocean waves played in the background of the as-yet-unfinished gallery.
Back in 1999, when the hall first opened, scientists were aware of climate change, but it was not yet a pressing political or moral issue. Edmond Mathez, the museum’s curator emeritus in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, says he and his collaborators decided the hall should emphasize fundamental laws governing Earth’s climate, like the relationship between our planet and the sun. Some information on human-driven change was provided, but it wasn’t of central importance.
Curators realized the museum’s “treatment was lacking,” Mathez says, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire report in 2001. It concluded that more than half the change in global temperature seen since 1950 could be connected to human-caused emissions. As scientists collected and analyzed more data, subsequent IPCC reports concluded that figure is closer to 100 percent.
When coupled with the curators’ belief the public needs reputable sources on the topic of climate change now more than ever, this overwhelming evidence convinced the museum staff it was time for a change. But transforming the exhibit to reflect this fact—and making it engaging to visitors from pre-K to old age—would require almost two years of concerted effort.
Visitors can interact with hands-on data visualization. © AMNH/D. Finnin
Visitors can enter the Hall of Planet Earth from two entrances. One door faces out onto Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, which is mostly good for taking selfies with the bronze statue of the former president. (Roosevelt, incidentially, made his first donation to the museum at age 13. It was a red squirrel skull). The other entrance branches off from the Rose Center for Earth and Space and its artsy but walkable white Cosmic Pathway.
However you approach, the 36 55-inch screens, which work together to project a single message about climate change across the room, are rather difficult to miss. “The rapid rise in CO2 levels caused by human activity is warming our climate,” the display may read, accompanied by an image of smoke plumes and a subtle corresponding graph of carbon dioxide levels. In a dimly-lit room full of ancient rocks, this decidedly digital approach feels like a departure from traditional museum design. But museum staff say integrated internet was imperative: The unprecedented rate of climate change would render any printed plaques obsolete within a year, if not sooner.
To tackle history in the making, the natural history museum turned to Vivian Trakinski, director of science visualization, and Lauri Halderman, vice president of exhibition. In collaboration with scientists, user experience engineers, and educators, the design duo created and prototyped new features for the hall. “I think it starts with the data—with the evidence,” says Trakinski. “Essentially what we’ve done is try and create a context in which we can keep updating that information and tell the story as it’s unfolding.”
Beneath the multi-screen digital display (internally called the “meta-message”), there are three sections of interactive material. In each case, users are encouraged by buttons, sliders, and lights to play with climate change data with their own hands.
One segment addresses the most fundamental of climatic questions: what it is, and how it works. Here, for example, the museum addresses things like the carbon cycle and Earth’s relationship to the sun.
A second looks at the consequences of global warming humans beings are already experiencing. “There’s enough evidence of climate change now, through the observed data that we didn’t have to emphasize predictions and forecasts and modeling,” Trakinski says. “It really enables visitors to see that climate change is happening now, in their lifetime.” It’s here, for example, that the curators address Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City (though not on the museum itself, as it was relatively unscathed), as well as some solutions that have cropped up in order to cope with this and other disasters.
But it’s a third section, called “Warming Worlds,” that feels like the biggest technological and educational feat. Each of the three data visualizations here starts out at the broadest level, but interested visitors can dial in to the most minute data points. At first glance, one of the maps looks like a simple representation of the observed global temperature since 1880 (11 years after the museum opened, when careful weather recording began in earnest). With a little finessing, however, you can break down the individual variables contributing to climate change, from volcanic activity (which typically cools the planet) to greenhouse gases (which crank the thermostat up). What starts out as an over-familiar line—we already know the temperature is rising—transforms into a malleable tool with new insights to offer.
Curators hope the interactivity of the exhibit will help visitors get a grasp on the data. © AMNH/D. Finnin
And those insights really will be new. The museum intends to update the data as new information is released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, or other climate data creators. In many cases, this will happen on a yearly basis, as annual temperature averages are made public.
Similarly, the meta-message can change with the news. If another Hurricane Sandy-style event occurred, for example, curators could incorporate that into the programming. These missives will also likely be adjusted in the short-term in response to visitor feedback, which Halderman and her team will doggedly collect in the next few months following the exhibit’s re-opening. Best of all, many of the methods that went into the redesign will be made public and shared with other museums seeking to tackle similar subjects.
No matter how newsy or screen-centric they might get, the museum’s belief in the primacy of its collections will never waver, according to staffers. “We don’t want this to be a place where people come and watch TV,” Halderman says. When you’re elbow deep in the climate change data, the digital devices can feel as though they’re ready to snuff out 3D objects. But that’s hardly true in the wider Hall of Planet Earth, which is replete with geological specimens and a brand-new globe showing the process of convection.
The hall also features a new exhibit about mantle convection. © AMNH/D. Finnin
Circling this brand new model Earth, which serves as a centerpiece for the revamped hall, many of the museum’s messages about climate change become clear. It’s a physical specimen you couldn’t see anywhere else, but it was carefully crafted (and prototyped and recrafted) with cutting-edge digital tools. Partially encased in plastic, it’s transparent, the mustard- and ketchup- colored convection currents barely contained inside its melting borders. The globe appears chaotic, almost alive.
Looking at the sphere, it’s clear that dynamism—defined as the characteristic of constant change, activity, or progress—was always a part of the Hall of Planet Earth, and Earth itself. It’s just that, as humans exert more influence over the planet than ever, recognizing these dynamics is increasing important.
Brendan Leeds’ passion led him to create a tech platform that aims to improve a highly fragmented sector.
Clipboard Hospitality co-founders Brendan Leeds and Tipu Sultan (Image credit: Belinda Vitacca Photography)
Growing up in a high-profile family of media executives, Brendan Leeds remembers dinner time conversations about rate cards and big clients. It wasn’t something he was interested in, and he certainly felt like the odd one out, with his father and two older brothers both in the industry.
“For 10 years of my life I was told ‘when are you going to get a real job’? Leeds says. “I’ve always needed the acceptance of others and be a people pleaser…so it was thing. But I always thought: why isn’t it viewed as a legitimate industry with career prospects? We want to change the perception of the industry as a fragmented, transitional industry.”
Clipboard – a global jobs, training and career platform across all areas of hospitality – has already attracted around 50,000 users and 8,000 businesses and has secured around $1 million in investment from some big names in business, such as Jayco owner and multi-millionaire businessman, Gerry Ryan, and technology entrepreneur and VRC chairman Neil Wilson. Leeds and Wilson are also members of Clipboard’s board. The company’s projected revenue over the next three years is upwards $5 million.
“My father was the CEO of StarCom – a worldwide media agency – and my brothers went on the same career path. So growing up, we would sit around the table, and all I heard was things about the industry… and that perhaps pushed me away from it.”
“But one thing I did learn from my father was that I always wanted to have something for myself… something made from my own sweat and tears that I could call my own. Just to see what he did, and he’s a massive influence in my life, not only as my father, but as a business leader.”
Pitching the business to investors was difficult, but Leeds says his toughest investor audience was his father, Paul Leeds.
“I have pitched in front of multi-millionaires; I have pitched in front of Janine Ellis. The hardest person to pitch to was my father. He was our first investor.
“I was lucky to have that support…but it made me think, how many people in this industry don’t have that?”
– Brendan Leeds
“One thing I would say about the Australian capital raising economy is that it isn’t like overseas. It’s very conservative. I’d stand in front of these big investors and I’d just talk about my passion, the industry I’ve worked in for 20 years. I would be real and talk about the real challenges and the real opportunities in hospitality.”
“The other aspect I look for is data. How do they maximise content and data. The other thing is specialisation. So, if you look at Clipboard, it ticks all those boxes,” Wilson says.
“What I particularly like is the specialisation in the hospitality industry, because I think the business issue around fragmentation focuses on individuals but also organises them to know where they fit in that environment, but also what opportunities exist for them career wise.”
Leeds began working in the industry as an 18-year-old while studying marketing at university. The job was meant to be temporary, however he says it wasn’t long before he “fell in love” with the people and the culture of the industry and the numerous career choices within the sector. By the age of 20 he was managing venues and he travelled to London, where he worked his way up to manage fine dining establishments.
Leeds eventually returned to Australia, where he established a venue at the historic Melbourne property, Ripponlea. One evening in 2023 over a glass of wine with friend and now Clipboard co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Tipu Sultan, Leeds vented about his staffing issues and other challenges of the hospitality industry. Sultan – who has a background in technology – and Leeds began discussing how these issues might be fixed.
“We started a conversation around: ‘how could we evolve this industry, not so much from a B to C, or customer facing or internal operations [perspective], but why can’t we do a LinkedIn for hospitality?’” he said. “We thought: why can’t we target a niche market and allow a creative, talented and ambitious sector to showcase their brand and grow a network globally? What can hospitality be an identifiable and legitimate career choice?”Hospitality, technology and wellbeing
After over a year of planning, capital raising, research and data collection, Clipboard was due to launch its commercial platform in 2023, however the global pandemic derailed its plans. All Clipboard partners and sponsors said: “we’re not spending a dime right now”. “It didn’t stop us – but it made us think about what the platform should look like,” he says.
Clipboard’s main three focuses are hospitality, technology and wellbeing. The wellbeing focus, including offering training and support to hospitality staff and organisations, was a priority from the beginning, however the pandemic highlighted the need for better support of the hospitality sector when it comes to mental health.
“The wellbeing pillar of the business really came about because of an experience that I had.
“In 2008 before my son was born, a lot of things happened – from toxic relationships to business – and I was in a pretty bad space. The first thing I did is I broke down and I looked at myself in the mirror, and I knew I had to tell someone. I was lucky to have that support…but it made me think, how many people in this industry don’t have that? I lost friends and associates during COVID from this – I knew it had to be an important part of what we did.”
Mental health challenges are common among employees in the hospitality industry. Many people Leeds says are not as lucky as he is, and don’t come through the other side. A whitepaper by Skills For Life (sponsored by Clipboard): Mental Health in Hospitality – the need for industry specific solutions – reported that 61.8% of hospitality workers experienced mental health conditions. 91% of hospitality workers said they
“The hospitality industry is fragmented and transitional and the romantic story is: ‘well why can’t you have a successful career in hospitality?’”
“It’s not only the bar tender or the chef. It’s the PR company, it’s the interior designers, it’s the marketers, it’s the tech entrepreneurs who might build the next Mr Yum.”
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