Hello Worlds

Hello! I’m Ruthie and this is my first Octopress-powered blogging framework for hackers blog ever! I’ve had blogs since I was in 7th grade (Xanga and Livejournal reprsent!), and most recently kept up an active one (on Tumblr) when I was doing ethnographic fieldwork in the Maldives. Naturally, I was incredibly excited to start blogging again as a full-stack web development student at the Flatiron School, learning Ruby, Rails, SQL, Javascript, HTML, CSS and more over 12 weeks in summer 2013.

A little bit about me –

I’m originally from New York City, though my parents are from Israel and I’m a dual citizen of the U.S./Israel. I think this shaped me in a way relevant to coding, in the sense that I grew up very agile in terms of locating between a few different fields and quickly shifting between them (something that’s proven very helpful in terms of problem solving), and very comfortable in ambiguity, uncertainty, and abstraction as a result. I used to write a lot of poetry, and I remember struggling to accurately express personal meanings between relationships of ideas and words, given the intersections of meaning between certain words in one language that sound like words in another, etc. As a result, I’m very interested in language, the spaces between a creator and a person who interacts with their creation, and the creative work that happens in that gap.

I thought a lot about those questions when I was a student at Princeton from 2008-12. Whenever I struggle in one field, I always find it helpful to apply learnings from another, and I think when I am in between a few different ways of thinking and drawing frameworks from one into another is probably one of my most creative, productive, and effective ‘states’. I sought to understand the ways that people attach personal meanings to objects, ideas, spaces, products, and services, across a range of fields, from my major in Anthropology, to my certificates in Film/Video Production and Environmental Studies, to international relations, politics, history, narrative, game theory, art history, prose poetry, etc.

I’m very interested in how people engage with information that challenges them, and have had the opportunity to explore that question across a range of areas, from developing ways for students to engage more deeply with the Princeton University Art Museum on campus or with community leaders across the United States via civic engagement break trips; to my junior paper which looked at outsider narratives of the Buffalo Creek coal mining disaster in journalism, law, sociology, psychology, fiction, and documentary; to my senior thesis on climate change in the Maldives; to my internships at the International Water Management Institute in India, where I conducted a consulting project, interviewing stakeholders and aggregating data to provide insights about how audiences engage with their scientific knowledge products and ways to develop those products to better align wth diverse needs, and at Climate Central, where I worked on a user-generated climate content platform for a new media journalism organization. In the past, I’ve focused on art and environmental change/resource management as two areas that I think people are especially challenged to engage with, with significant global interconnections, but I’m interested in this exploration as a broader framework.

At Princeton, I had the opportunity to make some films which were pretty significant to me. After I worked on water management in India in summer 2010, I traveled to Israel and created a film about collectors of protective Jewish jewelry (think talismans, amulets, etc). In some ways, it was an attempt to understand my grandfather better through the lens of the jewelry he collected and why he collected it. My mother grew up in Jerusalem and her family went to the market in the old city every weekend, so they collected a lot of different things, including this jewelry. Much of this jewelry is inscribed with different codes which represent anagrams of prayers (anagrams being more protective against the evil eye because of their codedness than putting out the full prayer). Go coding! For other pieces, the shape or color makes some reference that becomes protective. The jewelry has an interesting history. Both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews were big on amulets and superstition, but the Middle Eastern Jews were the ones who became the silversmiths in their communities and these amulets often became imbued into jewelry as a result. Anyways, in an attempt to understand what this jewelry means to my grandfather, I spoke to a number of other collectors, curators, creators etc of this jewelry, and eventually made a piece that explored their motivations as well as the relationship between my mother, my grandfather, and me. The summer after that, I took my learnings from that project, and explored the collaborative filmmaking process via a film about bellydancing in Fairbanks, Alaska. That was really interesting and I had the opportunity to connect to an inspiring community of women in Fairbanks. At the same time, I grew a bit disheartend with the idea of collaborative creation. Getting into coding and open-source now, I’m getting re-inspired! I’ve also done smaller projects and more experimental stuff, like performance art videos of myself that formed part of a multimedia exhibit that became my visual arts senior thesis at Princeton.

Another really important element of my time at Princeton was my senior thesis. I traveled to the Maldives in summer 2011 to explore the ways that people engage with climate change in a place often called “the first country that will disappear due to sea level rise.” When I arrived, I found a community of young people becoming increasingly civically engaged with their country, which was under a dictatorship for 30 years until the revolution in 2008 which led to the first democratically elected president (and main proponent of making the narrative of climate change in the Maldives known around the world), President Mohamed Nasheed. A few months after my departure from the Maldives, in February 2012, there was a coup/change of power that led to Nasheed’s Vice President Mohammed Hassan Waheed to become President. The process leading up to the coup and following its ocurrence was interesting in light of the tensions I observed coming to a head while I was in the country. What I didn’t find in this community or elsewhere was much engagement with climate change, which was at first surprising – we think of climate change as a somewhat abstract thing in the future (though with all the environmental disasters that have occurred over the past year, perhaps this abstraction is changing), but in a country we imagine to be so immediately affected by climate change, we might expect a more visceral relationship. When I found that people didn’t have much to say about climate change explicitly, I started speaking with members of this community, seeking advice on what they thought were interesting things for me to study that were happening in the country at the time. I realized that I was actually very interested in them as individuals and as a community, what drives and inspires and challenges them. I observed two major forces when I was in the Maldives – looking elsewhere to locate yourself, and imagining yourself and the country in other ways. I found myself starting to engage with these processes as well. These observations shed light on why Nasheed, who emerged from this community, chose the narrative of climate change as a way to make the Maldives known in the world, and these processes also shed light on the ways that this narrative is compelling to the climate change community in seeking to understand the abstractions of climate change.

These projects were really important to me, in the ways they helped me codify some of my approaches to independently structuring a project full of uncertainty, abstraction, moving global trends, and challenging concepts.

After graduating Princeton, I started working as a research analyst on the digital strategy team of an advertising agency, and eventually was promoted to a more client-facing role for a new pharmaceutical account. This was a great learning experience, and I’m excited to draw my learnings from it in my next role. I left that role at the end of April, and starting Flatiron School at the beginning of June.

I have been drawing on the learnings from those experiences and others as I start to learn progamming. This course has been referencing so many different parts of my life and ways of thinking, and I’m really excited to continue this exploration through summer 2013!