Author Archives: Tianyi Zhao

De-Blackboxing the Health Features of Apple Watch

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Tianyi Zhao


Apple Watch, firstly launched in 2015 and having evolved to the fourth generation in 2018, is the smartwatch designed and marketed by Apple Inc. As a young and featuring product of Apple’s ecosystem with well-designed physical appearance and practical functions, Apple Watch has already highly praised and favored by customers. The success of Apple Watch depends on its unique design principles and theories. The thesis examines Apple Watch Series 4 from the overall system view, modularity, affordances and constraints. Then the paper will focus on the health function by analyzing its interface and internet within other Apple devices.

I. System View and Modularity

“Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.” – Paola Antonelli, 2001

And here comes Apple Watch.

Smartwatch, removing the sparkling diamonds, precious metals and intricate features of the mechanical watch, shows as an integral whole so that it seems undetachable as a black-boxed device. However, when we look inside Apple Watch, it is a complex system with a relational structure of “interconnected, interdependent or mutually constitutive elements,” which is decomposable into many subsystems, and each can be managed semi-autonomously from the whole system. (Irvine, 2018)

By leveraging with the modular design principle, it is simple to unveil the complexity hidden by the various designs. Inside Apple Watch with the elaborate design and the tiny body, the system can be surprisingly broken down into eight main modules, including the components like case, display screen, S4 chip, the Digital Crown, three heart sensors, speaker, microphone, battery, removable bands and etc. which are “orchestrating” the combined modules into a system. The main modules and features show as below:

Case – Made of aluminum with three choices of colors: space grey, silver and gold.

Display Screen – There are two screen sizes 44mm and 40 mm. LTPO OLED Retina display with a resolution of 368 by 448 (44mm) and 324 by 394 (40mm). Support Force Touch with 1000 nits brightness.

S4 Chip – The processor with 64-bit dual-core processor. It is the complete System in Package (SiP) with the entire system fabricated onto a single component, empowering Apple to pack multi-functions and capabilities into a tiny body.

The Digital Crown – Made of aluminum with a built-in titanium electrode to measure heart rate by touching with a finger. During navigation without obstructing the display, the haptic feedback delivers a precise, click-like feel as user scrolls.

Heart Sensors – There are two kinds of sensors—electrical and optical sensors. The two electrical heart sensors include Digital Crown Electrode on the side and Back Crystal Electrode to generate an electrocardiogram and send to user’s doctor in real time. The optical heart sensor, equipped from the first generation, is for user’s quick check.

Figure 1. Heart Sensors on Apple Watch Series 4


Speaker & Microphone – The speaker is on the left side with a large area. The microphone is relocated to the right side for reducing echo.

Battery – built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery, guaranteeing up to 18 hours.

Removable Bands – There are abundant colors and materials of watch bands that can be changed and slide into the band slots to satisfy the need of personalization.


II. Affordances and Constraints

Donald A. Norman defines affordances as the “perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used.” (Norman, 9) Apple Watch, designed as a wearable technology, is convenient for users to carry everyday with tiny size and light weight. As for the detailed components, to ensure the effectiveness, their affordances have been designed more perceivable and discoverable. The display screen affords to be touched, meanwhile where to touch depends on context specifically determined by the user interface. With a textured grip and as an extrusion on the exterior side, it is clear for users that the Digital Crown can be both rotated and pressed; also, the red circle on the top of crown, which indicates the electrocardiogram, guides users to touch with finger. Likewise, the flat button, located under the Digital Crown, is easily to be recognized by being slightly curved. It is obvious that the affordances of Apple Watch also reveal the indispensability of visibility, which emphasizes that systems are more usable when they clearly indicate their status so that the possible actions can be performed. (Lidwell, 202)

Oppositely, constraints “limit the possible actions that can be performed on a system.” (Lidwell, 50) Besides the convenience, the absolutely minuscule screen of Apple Watch, to a great extent, restricts user interaction. Firstly, information presentation and data input are highly limited. To guarantee the information delivery accurately and in time as well as to maximize reader’s understanding, there are only keywords showing on each alert or notification. The lack of keyboards forces users to fully depend on voice dictation. Secondly, the tiny size causes the emergence of the “fat finger problem.” When users put their finger over the watch screen, for the most time it covers almost 30 percent of the interaction space. Then, Apple Watch performs as an accessory or companion of iPhone instead of a standalone product. The heavy dependence is embodied in the mandatory pair with an iPhone if the user would like to explore more functions besides clock. At last, the limited battery life is also a significant issue. The maximum of 18 hours can hardly satisfy the daily need, especially for the people who usually stay outdoors for a long time. Apple Watch is marketing itself as a good companion to “help you stay even more active, healthy, and connected.”1 But the restricted battery life cannot help abide by its value.


III. Health Function

Apple Watch becomes more than a time-telling wearable, but rather a message notifier and consumer medical device. Health and fitness have been the new selling highlights to attract customers. In this part, the author will study how user interact with Apple Watch during workouts and the graphic design principles for application icons.

A. User Interaction

Due to the limited space and tiny body, there are many interactions of health function being blackboxed in Apple Watch, simplifying the user’s daily life. “Now, with the potential of Health Records information paired with HealthKit data, patients are on the path to receiving a holistic view of their health. With the Health Records API open to our incredible community of developers and researchers, consumers can personalize their health needs with the apps they use every day,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer. The analysis of how Apple Watch achieves it includes gesture interaction and semiotic icons.

1.Gesture Interaction

Since Alan Kay proposed the concept of “metamedia” interfaces, the awareness – that displays are not simply passive representational substrates of results or states but can be designed to take input as instructions or choices back into a computing process – has prevailed. Apple Inc. goes further than the creation of iPad in 2010. It has reinvented watch with interactive display and built-in modules and functions to maximize human-computer interaction, which optimizes user experience effectively. It not only contains the gestures “swipe,” “tap,” and “press” like smartphone does, but also recognizes physical gestures including wake-up and sleep, fall detection, heart rate monitoring and automatic workout detection. The technology hidden behind is the utilization of accelerometer – which measures changes in motion – and gyroscope – which detects the rate of rotation along three different axes.

Quick Wake-Up and Sleep – Apple Watch can be simply activated by raising user’s wrist or press the Digital Crown; likewise, it goes to the sleep mode when user lowers wrist. The design that accurately detects the rotation simplifies the process when users are doing sports or in any other motion.

Fall Detection and Emergency – The accelerometer and gyroscope, collaborating with a long-time research and its own algorithms of Apple Inc., work together to achieve fall detection. The accelerometer can measure 32 Gs of forces, which empowers Apple Watch to assume a big impact spike that a hard fall can create. Simultaneously, gyroscope is in charge of measuring the rotation rate and visualizing the different ways it does this rate by leveraging three-dimension analysis. It pictures “an axis going horizontally across the screen (the X axis); another one going vertically up the display (the Y); and finally a third sticking straight out through, and perpendicular to, the screen (the Z).” (Rob Verger) If there is a hard fall detected, the system immediately sends out a severe fall alert so that user can call for emergency help or ignore the warning. If the user is moving, Apple Watch waits for user’s response. However, if the watch detects that user has been immobile for about a minute, it will call emergency services and send a message to the emergency contacts with current location automatically.

Figure 2. The Alert Interface after Apple Watch’s Fall Detection


Heart Rate Monitoring – As each beat of the heart transmits an electrical impulse, Apple Watch can accurately read and record these impulses by combining the circuit between the user’s heart and both arms with three sensors. Apple Watch starts and continues to capture and record heart rate whenever user wears it. When Apple Watch detects unusually high or low heart rates or irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation, it alerts the user to the irregularities, so that in-time action will be taken.

Figure 3. Reading Heart Rate with Digital Crown Electrode


Figure 4. Real-time Heart Rate Result


Figure 5. The Alert Interface When Irregular Heart Rate Detected


Automatic Workout Detection – Apple Watch is capable of detecting user’s activities, including walking, running, swimming, elliptical and rowing. The user gets reminders to start a workout and end one with an assumption of the specific workout type when the watch senses the user’ current activity status, during which it gives credit for the exercise the user has already started. Based on personal experience, the operation procedure is so easy and comfortable for the user that he/she would not be distracted when warming up or cooling down.

Figure 6. Reminders of Start and End Work Out



2. The Graphic Design of Icons

On the Home Screen of Apple Watch displays all applications downloaded on the watch, which show in circular shape and are the adapted version of applications on the smartphone. Because of the limited screen size, there are quantities of restrictions of Home Screen icons design. Generally, there are three main rules for Home Screen icons design – simplicity, focus point and similarity.

Figure 7. Home Screen Icons Collection


Simplicity – The icon includes a single element that concentrates the essence of the application in a simple and unique shape. For example, the icon of Phone app is designed with the element of phone; Workout app is obviously displayed with a person in motion; and an envelope signifies the email app effectively.

Figure 8. Icons of Phone, Workout and Email


Focus Point – The icon succeeds capture user’s attention and clearly identifies the application with a focused point. Among the examples discussed above, the phone, a person in motion and the white envelope perform as the focus points to guide user to understand accurately.

Similarity – Application icons on watch OS should maintain similarity to the iOS version. This principle requires designers to make an association between them by using a similar appearance and color palette, which helps user recognize fast and correctly. For instance, the iOS icon and watchOS icon share the same blue background. However, the brand name has been shortened from “Booking” on iOS to “B.” on watchOS to reduce user’s visual pressure on such small screen.

Figure 9. iOS icon vs watchOS icon



B. Apple Ecosystem with Internet

Having been struggling to invent and upgrade for year, Apple Inc. has already established an ecosystem with featuring products. Apple Watch, focusing on health functions, has not only practically expand market in sports and fitness lovers but also optimize common users’ healthy life. In both hardware and software levels, Apple Watch realizes real-time detection and record user’s exercise status and health conditions by building an internet with other Apple devices, like iPhone and MacBook.

Hardware Internet – The first thing when the user gets a new Apple Watch is to pair with an iPhone by scanning the animation on the watch. After setting up the watch via iPhone, the user can start use it with the Bluetooth connection with iPhone. Likewise, Apple Watch can also pair with MacBook to simplify the usage, for example, MacBook can automatically wake up when the user is wearing the paired Apple Watch.

Figure 10. The Pairing Process of Apple Watch and iPhone


Software Internet – Connection via Bluetooth enables Apple Watch to record and update the fitness and health conditions. The HealthKit – an Apple designed bundle that takes a collaborative approach to building a personalized health and fitness experience, including activity, mindfulness, nutrition and sleep – provides a central repository for health and fitness data on iPhone and Apple Watch. In other words, Apple Watch is an activity detector and data recorder, while iPhone serves as a data manager. The internet distributes different works to Apple Watch and iPhone. Conversely, the complementary relationship deepens the significance and indispensability of Internet.

Figure 11. Monthly Data Collection of Heart Rate

Many people believe Apple Watch help them cure iPhone addiction and cultivate a better behavior to improve self-management. However, inside the over-tight Internet with iPhone, Apple Watch becomes an accessory instead of a standalone product. For a better performance, Apple Watch should be within the Bluetooth range, and the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi need to be enabled permanently on the phone.  Personally, I deem that there are two ways to make Apple Watch to be an independent product. Firstly, Apple can take full advantage of iCloud in the process of setting up and syncing. There is no need to pair with an iPhone, but with the user’s iCloud ID; similarly, the data update can also be achieved via iCloud instead of Bluetooth. Secondly, Apple Watch should be differentiated from iPhone, because it is tedious to receive the same notifications twice, both on the watch and on the phone. Rather, the third-party applications can be eliminated from the watchOS, and adding the missing apps – such as Notes, Podcasts, Voice Memos and etc. – is necessary. Apple Watch can never be separated from the over-dependence with iPhone with the lack of essential apps and the redundancy of repeating functions.



Apple Watch has been one of the most featuring Apple products since its debut in 2015. The design principles hidden inside the tiny body are various and complex, empowering the wearable more multi-functional and practical. De-blackboxing Apple Watch in a system view, it is surprising to explore the complexity with many subsystems or modules. Modularity allows users to manage the complex whole structure of the watch by breaking its functions into separate and interconnected components. It is quite clear to understand how display screen, chip, battery, heart rate sensors, the Digital Crown and etc. work together as various sub-components. Affordances and constraints generated by elaborate designs diversify and help Apple optimize the watch to satisfy the users’ demands by annual evolvement. Health function, as the most attractive selling point, transforms Apple Watch from time-reader to the “ultimate workout partner.” The user interaction is based on multiple gesture detection, collaborating with the built-in algorithms. The graphic design on the home screen icons also simplifies the daily use and process, associating with the health and fitness highlights. At last, as a key product in the Apple ecosystem, users enjoy the convenience brought by its dependence with iPhone. However, the over-tight Internet predicts that the future market share Apple Watch will be totally tied to the prevalence of iPhone. Thus, here I propose two solutions that upgrading with the utilization of iCloud and focusing on differentiation from iPhone in some functions, which will help Apple Watch to change the embarrassing positioning as an individual product and embrace further breakthroughs.


Works Cited

Allison, Conor. “And finally: Apple Watch Series 4 detects AFib with 98% accuracy, says Heart Study.” Wearable, Sep. 16, 2018.

Bower, Graham. “iPhone dependence is killing Apple Watch. Here’s how Cupertino could fix it.” Cultofmac, Apr. 19, 2018.

Hale, James Loke. “How Does Apple Watch Health Work? Here’s Everything The Device Can Do For Your Well-Being.” Bustle, Apr. 19, 2018.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Affordances, Constraints and Interfaces.” 2018.

Kaufman, Lori. “How to Rearrange the App Icons on Apple Watch.” How-to Geek, Dec. 17, 2015.

Lidwell, William., et al. Universal Principles of Design. Rev. and updated ed., Rockport Publishers, 2010.

Michaels, Mary M. “The Apple Watch Case Study: What we can learn and apply from an affordance analysis.” Human Factors International, 2015.

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books, 2003.

Jeffries, Adrianne. “Why There Aren’t More Apple Watch Apps, According to Apple Watch Developers.” Motherboard, July 21, 2015.

Verger, Rob. “The Apple Watch learned to detect falls using data from real human mishaps.” Popular Science, Oct. 2, 2018.

Wallas, Paul. “Apple Watch; UI and UX Review.” Medium, May 28, 2017. Accessed on Dec. 12, 2018.

Apple Developer. Accessed on Dec. 12, 2018.

Group Project_Taobao

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Xiaoman Chen, Tianyi Zhao

Please kindly find the Slides here

Apple Website and its Appification

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Tianyi Zhao

World Wide Web (WWW) is an assembly of protocol layers, including HTTP and various web service protocols, enabling intercommunications between Internet servers and individual connected devices with web software. Apple website have implemented many design rules of web. For the web hypertext and hypermedia system, the network deliverable files are encoded for web browsers. It is the latest HTML 5, an independent file definition metadata structure, that realizes “a flexible nesting of content and structure layers, embedded media types, interactive functions…” (Irvine 3) In the graphical interface, it is clear to identify and linked-encoded displayable objects because the keywords are colored or marked with icons, indicating they are active for users. On the introduction webpage of iPhone, it is obvious that users can get access to further details by clicking “learning more” and order online by clicking “Buy,” which have been colored in blue and underlined. If we continue to scroll down, here comes a stream video. The little triangle button under the headline indicates it is playable.

Figure 1. Hypertext on Apple website 


Figure 2. Hypermedia on Apple website


As for the URL of Apple website, it comprises of five parts with different meanings. The “http” indicates that Apple website is one on the World Wide Web using HTML. The “://” notifies the browser that the actual URL follows next. The “www” obviously identifies the website is a part of World Wide Web. The “apple” as the domain name is quite unique so that it can only indicate Apple Inc. as the company registered with. The “com” means business. For Apple website in different countries, the URL ends with the a top-level name referring to the specific country, such as “cn” for China.

With the rising of application, more websites have developed their applications with the carriers of various mobile devices. As the application version of Apple website, “Apple Store” is pre-installed on every iPhone, serving as a part of Apple ecosystem. Appification, fragmenting the web browser’s integral functions, allows developers more easily monetizable by maximizing the focused interaction and preventing users being distracted by other functions like website does. For example, “Apple Store” app is designed for user purchasing so that it has pruned away unnecessary functions such as Apple Leadership and Job Opportunities. For the interface design, however, the “Apple Store” not only owns all the features as an app, but also keeps the similar user experience in the function of “Discover” as browsing on the website. Paradoxically, this similarity is based on the websites’ evolving by absorbing the advantages of apps. To attract users and fix their attention, headlines and pictures become bigger; one-page sites are emerging, making it easier for users to scroll than to click on the navigation item and wait for a new page to reload; and shorter content, like only a sentence or several keywords, makes users easier to read and digest. When you open Apple website and “Apple Store” app at the same time, you will find they look the same. So the relationship between websites and apps is interplay and drivers for mutual evolvement.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Intro to the Web: Extensible Design Principles and ‘Appification’.” 2018.

White, Ron. “How the World Wide Web Works.” How Computers Work. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007.

Janna, and Lee Rainie. “The Future of Apps and Web.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, March 23, 2012.

Internet of Things and its Applications

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Tianyi Zhao

There were many myths in my understanding on Internet previously, like “the Internet is the computer” and “the network refers to a single identity.” However, the Internet is performed as an “orchestrated combinatorial complexity” with multilateral involvers including actors, agencies, forces, etc. in complex physical and material technologies. (Irvine 9) Thus, “on the Internet” means that I am taking part in a “network of networks” and through my online activities I am calling upon different actors in a complex network that is mediating and transmitting information for me. Reviewing the history of the Internet and technical parts, I am more interested in the future application of it on sociotechnical system. Besides connecting computers, what else can Internet combine together?

My internship in SAP acquainted me with Internet of Things (IoT), an emerging field that builds a network of physical devices, vehicles, home alliances, etc., which enables them to collect and exchange data. It is a typical and clear explanation of how the Internet works, complex and multi-layered. The application of IoT is various, including smart home, smart healthcare, building automation and farming automation. China, as a rising country with booming economy and modernization, dedicates in applying IoT technology on urban management. Indeed, IoT has provided strong technical support on urban public affairs management, including real-time monitoring, risk management, and emergency prediction. It becomes more convenient to acquire real-time information. In Beijing, IoT has been widely applied to and plays a significant role in parking and lighting management. Specifically, urban public affairs management can leverage with IoT to carry out refined management of a certain block or even a certain road. The department is empowered to supervise the sprinkler operation remotely by installing all kinds of sensing equipment on the sprinkler trunk. In other words, the total amount of water sprinkling today and the number of roads being sprinkled can be viewed in real time, which not only improves work efficiency but also helps in resource conservation. Many cities in China—such as Wuxi, Hangzhou and Chongqing—have already issued related policies to promote development and application of IoT technology in urban management.

Figure 1. IoT Application for Smart City



Furthermore, IoT is still on the way of evolving, which is divided into different branches for now. First, the launching of smart speaker points out a new direction on which IoT has been combined with artificial intelligence. Smart speaker is replacing the significant place of wireless router and smart phones, establishing a new channel for human to give order to and interact. The second one is driverless vehicles. The robot cars can automatically navigate appropriate paths and drive the passengers to the destination. It is worthy expecting the coming Waymo, the first driverless car service, which is going to be launched by Google next month. Moreover, Internet of Everything has been raises as an extension of IoT, connecting human, procedures, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable.

Figure 2. How Waymo’s Self-Driving Car Works




Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures.” 2018.

Peter, Craig Martell. Great Principles of Computing. MIT Press, 2015

Corbett, Erin. “Waymo Could Launch Its First Driverless Ride Service in December.” Fortune, Nov. 13, 2018.

Interactive Affordances in GarageBand for iOS

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TIanyi Zhao

We are living in the world fulfilled with “digital culture,” a unique social and cultural experience that tightly combine with computational technologies. Being continuously optimized in the interaction design to afford more tasks, PCs, tablets and mobile phones are empowered to well function in every aspect in our daily life so that there is a tendency that people would rather create and edit on digital media than the analog media. For example, more music arrangers are willing to produce without an “analogue” sound on the applications. GarageBand for iOS, a featured digital audio workstation developed by Apple Inc., is a good example with implementations of the affordances of digital interactive design.

In her book Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice, Janet Murray raises four representational affordances of the computer—encyclopedic, spatial, procedural and participatory. First, GarageBand interprets the encyclopedic property well. With the Sound Library, users can instantly get access to a considerable and expanding collection of free loops and instruments. Besides, users can leverage with diverse genres and styles to personalize the organization of audio tracks. Furthermore, with a synthesizing library consisting of abundant audio patches, users can morph among different sound effects in real time. For a music arranger or composer, amateurs or professionals, the preset and continuously being updated database is a heaven that can satisfy various demands for source materials.

Figure 1. The Sound Library of GarageBand for iOS.


Second, the special affordance has been perfectly applied to the interfaces of GarageBand, especially on the interfaces of different instruments. The picture following shows the interface of modern drum, emulating the real ones with virtual drum heads and placement. Without any tedious explanation in text, the GUI guides users to produce different sounds by simply tapping different areas and drum heads, creating a hyperreal space and simulations for users.

Figure 2. Interfaces of Drums


Third, GarageBand is also a procedural medium. On the interface Track Controls Panel interface, it is clear to see that all the tracks are executed in bars as an organizing framework, which “reinforces our tendencies toward linear or unisequential design.” (Murray 53) However, each track can be ordered multi-sequentially. For example, the guitar track can be recorded for the first 4 bars and then set as an endless loop. Also, users can add or delete tracks in any bar as needed. So in GarageBand, the melody and composition can be altered easily, as bits in computer, in such procedural design.

Figure 3. Track Controls Panel


At last, the participatory property of GarageBand helps users in social participation. The finished song can be shared with different social media, such as Facebook, YouTube and SoundCloud. The more amazing feature is that GarageBand supports real-time performance of a band. The bandleader creates a jam session and then other members can join. With their own iOS device, each band member can play a musical instrument and compose automatically when connected in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces: History of Design principles.

Murray, Janet H. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. The MIT Press, Cambridge. 2012. (2018)

Week 9_The Historical View of Computing with Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces

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Tianyi Zhao

The historical track of conceptional designs of computer and interfaces is quite clear and behaves as continuum. We have been living in a digital environment where computers and human-computer interaction are ubiquitous so that we take them for granted. In retrospect of the history of the computing with symbolic-cognitive interfaces, there were many excellent designs. Besides Jean Mielot’s writer-scribe and Augustino Ramelli’s book wheel, I would like to begin with an example of Suanpan—a Chinese abacus firstly recorded in 190 CE. The design of two beads per rod in the upper deck and five beads per rod in the bottom deck is used for both decimal hexadecimal computing. Suanpan, as an initial computer device interface from ancient China, intuitively shows the process and final result of computing by toggling the positions of beads, which has been utilized widely in business accounting in China for centuries, even still used in some small pharmacies now. Without the electricity power and screen in the past, beads became the only interfaces to be interpreted to its own meaning system—calculate by moving the beads up and down and read the result though the final positions.  (Question: is Suanpan a kind of artefact of both output and input?)

Figure 1. Suanpan, China’s abacus. 


When it came to the twentieth Century, the ideas of modern computing gradually took shape. In the late 1930s, the militaries of the United States and United Kingdom began to seek for an electronic machine to calculate ballistic firing tables and to crack ciphers until the birth of ENIAC in 1944—the world’s first general-purpose computer. (Denning & Martell 5) Soon after, Memex debuted in Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” in 1945, which used the desktop metaphor and screens. Inspired by the invention of Bush, Douglas Engelbart furthered to the next level— “augmenting human intellect” that computers can aid people’s daily life for core human cognitive tasks by leveraging with CRT display, mouse, windows, network and memory storage as “a whole computer system.” (Irvine) Douglas’s contribution indicated a new direction which was the concept of screens serving as both output and input interfaces. So then came Alan Kay with his Dynabook and his coined term metamedium in the 1970s. Similarly, the Xerox PARC with its commercial implementation— such as graphical “desktop” with multiple “windowing,” icons and languages — guided Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for their further commercial computer applications.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces: History of Design principles.

Peter, and Craig H. Martell. Great Principles of Computing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015.

Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” Atlantic. July, 1945. (2018) (2018)

Python and Coding Application

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Tianyi Zhao

The Python program on CodeAcademy and this week’s readings are a perfect couple. Albeit this is my first contact with program coding, the finely designed and elegantly concise interface of Python immediately raised my interest. As a challenge-taker and a practitioner who prefers to get acquaintance with coding without any theoretical basis, I started Python online program before the readings. The beginning was quite boring until the section of function, coding a cost calculator for traveling and dice rolling game. The two highlighting tasks fuse the program languages learned so far together, which deepen my understanding of the coding, especially after reading David Evan’s contribution.

Unlike natural languages we speak every day, languages utilized in programming computers should be simpler, unambiguous, regular, economical, and with powerful means of abstraction so that it can be read and written for human beings as well as executed by computers. (Evans, 37) Python is an interpreter featured in its instructiveness, built-in support for objects and imperative control structures. The first point that impressed me the most is the rule of “importing a module.” Only when the programmer does the generic import, Python knows the specific definition that is going to be utilized. For example, Python cannot work out “sqrt(25)” until “math” module is imported previously. These modules are a kind of built-in languages in Python, which makes Python easily coded and widely understood.

Figure 1. Before importing the “math” module

Figure 2. After importing the “math” module

Additionally, the conditional and control flow of Python, enabling our code to make decisions, are also interesting and practical. During the two tasks, “if” statements are used dominantly in single layer and multi-layers. There is no doubt that the application reflects the rigor and concision of Python by coding “if” “elif” and “else.” Ending with “return,” an execution of a procedure finishes. “Return” statement is Python’s unique way to decide the result of procedure application.

Figure 3. “If” and “return” statements in Trip Planning Task

Figure 4. Multi-layered “if” and “return” statements in Number Guess Game

Besides the specific programing languages acquired in Python, I figure out the computational thinking is as significant and creative as design thinking. Computational thinking involves in solving problems, designing system and understanding human’s behaviors. (Wing 33) So will it be employed in biomedical field so that we can decode our genes and re-encode them to build ourselves whom we would like to be or to prevent diseases? Wilfred Chen Group from University of Delaware has tapped into an emerging field called DNA computing. Similar to the binary in computer programming, there is a code in DNA comprising four components which determining the output—proteins. By designing “logic-gated” DNA circuits with the DNA code, the researchers aim to applicate the technology to deliver effective ant-cancer drugs and even to product biofuels. Personally, I think someday in the future human’s DNA could be re-coded rationally, and the technology will be open to the public, applied legally and morally. I hope the application will never be a tool for the rich and the powerful to dominate the world.

Figure 5. DNA Coding


Works Cited:

Evans, David. Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Languages, Logic, and Machines. Oct. 2011 edition.

Wing, Jeannette. “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49, no. 3 (Mar. 2006): 33-35. (2018) (2018)

ICT Practised in People’s Daily Online

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Tianyi Zhao

Under the fourth Information Revolution, we are bitterly struggling in the era of information overload. It has been quite a long time as we take information theory and meanings—which have been deeply practiced and fused in our daily life through various mediums— for granted so that we sometimes underrate or even totally have no idea about their functions and potentials for improvements. Being coined for the first time by Claude E. Shannon in 1948, a communication system serves as the simplest kind of information system. This essay will briefly analyze People’s Daily Online, one of the largest comprehensive internet media sources in the world from China, by leveraging with Shannon’s communication system model and audience’s understanding of information as semantic content.

In his “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Shannon depicted a comprehensive communication model. Normally, there is always a draft version of news article from a journalist and then sent to the chief editor of newspaper for confirmation. The written text shown as sequences of letters or digitals can be regarded as message source. When being input to the website background programming and published online, the text is encoded, converting messages into signals and uploaded online. The channel used to transmit the signals from transmitter to receive should be the news website background operation platform based on Internet. After being transmitted in data packets and then interpreted in some kinds of website software, audience can easily get access to any articles on the website by clicking the hyperlinked headlines. It should be noted that the simple “click” action is not such simple, but it includes the process of decoding, converting signals back into messages. The following two pictures as below show the differences between before and after decoding. At last, we, the audience, are the destinations that the message is intended.

Figure 1. Before decoding (Source: view-source:

Figure 2. After decoding (Source:

Additionally, how readers deal with the information they receive as semantic content is also interesting and meaningful. Luciano Floridi discloses that there are two varieties—instructional and factual information—”when data are well formed and meaningful.” (Floridi 27) Based on news’ characters, it is obvious that news is a mix of instructional and factual information because media behaves as both a fact deliver and a tool for political propaganda and thoughts controlling, in which People’s Daily Online is an expert. When we browse this website online, there is no lack of negative news of the United States, such as gun shootings, discrimination against Chinese, drug trafficking, etc.. However, positive news in China exaggeratedly covers the entire website layout. On the one hand, the articles People’s Daily Online indeed state the facts, from either the USA or Mainland China, on the level of factual information. On the other hand, the standards of news selecting and presentation mode implicitly deliver the instructional information that Chinese people should not go to the USA for tourism, study or work for personal safety, and Mainland China is always the best place for living. So these are the two senses of semantic content readers can translate from the People’s Daily Online.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.”

Shannon, C. (n.d.). A mathematical theory of communication. ACM SIGMOBILE Mobile Computing and Communications Review, 5(1), 3–55.

Floridi, Luciano. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. 

Peter, and Tim Bell. “The Information Paradox.” American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012. (2018)

Week 6_ A Brief Analysis of Books’ Affordances and Interfaces

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Tianyi Zhao

Books have been one of the most universal and typical artefacts for over three hundred years. Similarly, as affordances and interfaces are significant and indispensable characters to artefacts, they have been parts of human built world for thousands of years. This short essay will briefly explain how affordances and interfaces adopted on books and their remediation to digital forms.

The affordances on books are quite various. Based on Herbert Simon’s statement, the “inner” environment of an interface should be appropriate to the “outer” environment. As for the “inner” environment design, Jiajie Zhang and Vimla Patel argue that from the perspective of distributed cognition, affordances in internal space can be divided into biological, physical, perceptual and cognitive affordances. (Zhang & Patel 338) I figure out that books belong to the mix-affordance artefacts. First of all, the physical structures and form factor of books are finely designed for different types. Besides the fact that all the books are “portable” and “stored locally,” the size of pocket books perfectly and intentionally affords to our coat pocket; and the classic collections– hardcover, gracefully designed with large size– can stand for quite a long-time storation. Another example is the pup-up books for toddlers. Traditionally, we treat books are “two-dimensional substrates for our representing all of our sign systems.” (Irvine 2) However, pop-up books are breaking the boundaries of space. They are three-dimensional and movable books with abundant types– animated books, transformations, tunnel books, etc.. Even some book artists have leverage it for artistic creation.

(Tao Hua Yuan Ji at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Colette Fu.                                            Source:

Moreover, books have shown cognitive affordances as well, which are provided by cultural conventions. For example, the spines of the books written and made in ancient China were on the right hand. The texts should be read from right to left vertically. It afforded to the Chinese characters and were also “good” enough to fulfill users’ expectations so that a unique habit was cultivated until last century.

Compendium of Materia Medica, printed version, Cangzhou, China.                                                                                                              Source: )

The digital remediation of books has changed my study habit a lot. Apple iPad Pro, launched in 2017 and simply works with Apple Pencil, finally realized the transformation of pixel-based interactive screen interfaces. They are light (only weigh around 1.5 pounds) and portable like books. No matter the book has only 50 pages or 1,000 pages, the weight is never a conundrum since they are digitally stored in the applications. Besides, the screen size is much larger than books so that user’s reading experience has been improved with the adjustable display brightness and book-like page designs. The two sizes– 10.5 and 12.9 inches– have satisfied the different demands; for instance, the larger one is always favored by artist students as sketchbooks. The environment when reading is no longer limited as books. The display brightness empower to read in darkness, and the zooming function liberates the reading distance to eyes, which are highly restricted when reading books.

(Reading with iPad Pro. Source:

As computational and digital technologies inherit from the past ones and develop as continuum, I believe there will be a new subversive artefact to revolute our current reading habits, which will break through the dimensional limitation by leveraging with artificial intelligence or virtual reality technologies.


Works Cited 

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.”

Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2016): 333-341.

Week 5 Reading Reflection

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Tianyi Zhao

The statement that technology and culture are inseparable from each other is quite refreshing to me. I was the one that tried to explain how technology had affected our society or culture, and now I can not only stand on the opposite and argue against this traditional cognition in “system view” after this week’s reading.

A sociotechnical system, according to Professor Martin Irvine, “is a system of interconnected agency and co-dependency.” It is irrational to treat technology and culture as two distinct domains in systematic view. Similarly, Bruno Latour contends that even the simplest techniques belong to sociotechnical group, and the most primitive level of forms of organization cannot stand alone without technical gestures. For example, fingerprint registration has been quite universal on citizenship identification. Whenever going to renew the ID card or applying for a visa, recording fingerprint is needed and becomes one of the most significant method for identification. Here in the example, the fingerprint scanner is technological, which is meaningless until utilized in identification in social level. Another example is the Face ID on iPhone, which is a black-box that only user’s face being scanned and the corresponding functions being activated, like unlocking the iPhone or online payment. Any usage of technology follows a social goal.

(Face ID needed when log into the bank account mobile app)

Furthermore, technology is never neutral or independently determinative. (Irvine, 5) By forming a network system, technology is not isolated from the organization. Régis Debray also argues that “one can stick to the interaction within a system.” Amazon Kindle is a typical instance. Kindle is a technical artefact through which the process of search, download and read can be achieved, while the contents of user has read is in the cultural aspect. Likewise, camera serves as a mediation which is in charge of the technical part, and the photos, the outcomes, reflect cultural phenomenon or the user’s purposes in society.

The sociotechnical thinking requires the comprehend that “culture and media technologies are co-produced or co-constitutive” and finally form a co-mediation system. (Irvine 2) The technology/society dichotomy that separates them into two different nodes is needed to be transformed, as both are indispensable components in our cultural and social systems.


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory (with a De-Blackboxing Method)

Debray, Régis, “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Latour, Bruno. “A Collective of Humans and Nonhumans — Following Daedalus’s Labyrinth,” in Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, pp. 174-217.