Author Archives: Xiaodai Yu

Socio-technological thinking behind browser


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Socio-technological thinking behind browser

CCTP-820 Leading by design

Professor Irvine

The Web and web browsers, Image 1

Abstract

Today we interact with web browsers all the time. In the morning, people open up Safari with their Iphones to search for today’s weather; or turn on their laptops and use Chrome to fill out the miss of news during our sleep. With using the web browsers on all kinds of electronic devices, we can say that the whole world is on our fingerprint. Browsing online has been an important part not only in people’s daily life, but also in the whole human society. The web browser was first designed as an tool, and was the only tool at that time, to connect to the Web. While with the technology developing, web browser serves more than an useful daily used tool and medium to access websites nowadays, but as a digital mediation. People might understand how to use the web browsers with simple clicks, but not the the socio-technological design idea behind it, or its transformation from a medium to a digital mediation, which changes the world we live in. In order to do so, we need to go deeper than simply judging from the surface, and de-blackbox the invisible part of it. This paper provides an overview of the history of the web and the web browsers, introduces the principles behind it and examines the socio-technical design thinking and its impact behind web browsers.

Introduction

Web browser, is an internet-based application used to access and view websites on multiple electronic devices (Techterms). According to the statistics conducted by StatCounter, the major web browsers that we used today are but limited to: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, UC Browser and Internet Explorer. And also as shown on the web browser global market share graph on StatCounter, these six web browsers make up around 92% of global desktop browser usage (StatCounter).

The main function of web browsers is to access and view websites. And as Ron White explained in his book How Computers Work, the brief process behind the “clicks” is that it processes the HTML or the hyperlink, which is the web source, and then request through router to the site server, then display the webpage in the browser window (White, 2008).

From the users view point, we can only see visible user interfaces on web browser windows, such as the search bar, the address bar, the bookmark drop down list etc, while other parts are remain “blackboxed”. It’s hard for us to explore and examines the social and technical design thinking behind it by only examines from the user interface, since web browser is not only a thing but a product of its socio-cultural milieu. As for this reason, we start with examining the history behind web browsers as the history takes an important role in technology development and builds what web browser we see today.  

The Web

Web browsers cannot live alone without the Web. The Web was first designed and invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. As Berners-Lee states in his book Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimative Destiny of the World Wide Web, that his initial design idea of the Web is to have a open, united and global place to share and access information, as “a space in which anything could be linked to anything (Berners-Lee, 1999)” So what are the technology process behind this information-share web? According to Professor Irvine, World Wide Web is “a group of protocol layers, designed to enable intercommunications between internet servers (and services) and individual connected devices with the Internet/Web software (the “client” system, with softwares connecting to Web service) (Irvine, 2018).” Which indicates that web is not, again, a simple thing, but is created by different layers and modules. These protocol layered architecture enables the web to be extensible and scalable for new applications, because the layers made up architecture is independent which allows other applications to run on it.

The Web is designed as a hypermedia system, which allows it to include non-linear text and other media such as graphics, sounds or videos. As Irvine introduces that the “open, standard-based, device-independent” Web architecture including a network system that across client/server implementation; unlimited modulars and layers that can be added in the future; entensible for future applications; a model for interoperability for all software and hardware manufacturer and also to be scalable for new services and users (Irvine, 2018).

The client/server architecture

Going off to the client/server architecture mentioned above, it is the key architecture of the Web architecture. According to Berners-Lee, the modele of the client/server architecture has two important parts, the server side and the client side. The web server provides service to the clients. The client request a service, then the HTTP software on the server responds to the client’s file request, send the requested data packed as an HTML file. Then the graphic, sound or text rendering and displays on the web window interface at the client side as formatted content. While in this process, HTML file is an important part which enables the assumed interaction. As explained by Irvine, HTML is the core markup language for the Web, which is designed to describe hypertext and documents. HTML file is the carrier of contents such as images and texts that will be displayed on webpages. This also indicates the hypermedia design thinking behind the Web.

Client/server architecture, Image 2

The Web Browser

You affect the world by what you browse. —— Berners-Lee

People all know about the basic function of the web browsers, which allows us to search online, view websites, online shopping and watching videos. It has came a long way to what we see today. As introduced in A Brief History of Web Browsers and How They Work (Mcpeak, 2018), the brief history lists:

The earliest version of web browser is the WorldWideWeb, which then renamed as Nexus, is also designed by Berners-Lee in 1990, as an text-based application to display contents and access the Web.

Then in 1993, Mosaic was designed which was the first browser that enables the graphic content displaying.

In 1995, Microsoft introduced their first web browser – Internet Explorer

Then 1996, Opera was first introduced to the public

In 2003, Apple launched Safari, which then has dominating IOS market

Later come to closer time in 2015, Microsoft Edge was designed

For us as users, what we can see on the browsers are the user interfaces (UI), which is surface of web browser. Generally web browsers all contains the address bar where users can enter the URL, the search bar, the home button, refresh button, the back and forward button, tab management area and bookmark options.

For the users, all they need to do is couple “clicks”, then they can get whatever they want to find and can enjoy the content on the web window. But, if we see this process from a technology pointview, it also involves multiple layers and modules. As introduced earlier about the client/server architecture, web browser as a web application carrier, follows the same process and structure. The basic process is that the browser acts as the client, retrieves the hypermedia content from the server side and then displays it on user interfaces.

Generally, web browsers contains seven layers, lists from the top layer to the bottom, including the User Interface, the browser engine, the rendering engine, the networking component, the JavaScript engine, the UI backend and the data storage.

Browser layers, Image 3

The UI (User Interface) part, as introduced above, is what visible for users as they open up browsers. Let’s take a further step and take a closer look at the process of opening and displaying web page on the “code” level. As explained by White, the process of opening the page starts by directing the browser with hyperlink or typed URL. Then the browser sends the address to a network, or a cable-connected ISP (Internet Service Provider). The internet provider sends the address to the nearest DNS (Domain Name System) to find the correct number-formed  IP (Internet Protocol) behind URL. With the IP address, the browser sends a HTTP request to the web server through a router. The web server would read the address and return a signal to acknowledge that it received the request and successfully connect. Then the process of displaying starts. After successfully connected, the web server would send back files contain HTML or CSS to the browser part, which at the same time requests all the documents to compose the whole web page to send back to the browser. As all the files arrived, they will be displayed on the screen, and these files will be also stored in a cache to save time of loading and operating the same page in the future (White, 2007). The JavaScript interpreters enables the display of JavaScript animations and interactives. While the browser engine works as the middleman between the User Interface and the rendering engine. The rendering engine would read the HTML documents to make a Document Object Model tree and display the content (McPeak, 2018).

The process of opening and displaying web pages proves the layered design thinking behind web browsers as well as the computational thinking which used abstraction to display simple and easy output to the users while hiding the heavy and complicated process behind it, for a better and easier consumer experience.

Cookies and Tracking issues

As mentioned earlier that in the operating process of web browsers, the last layer situated at the end is the data storage part. This leads to the contentious feature of the Web and the web browser, the tracking, which raises privacy concerns of users. The tracking feature represents the socio-technical design thinking behind web browsers .

This “haunted-Ad” situation must has been happened to all modern people: after searching about organic coconut water on Google, with using Safari on laptop, this specific brand coconut water appears on the sidebar ads when opening Facebook with laptop, and even also on Instagram sponsored stories on your cell phone. This is a, but not the only, performance of browser tracking.

In order to figure out what is browser tracking and the process of browser tracking, we should first look at cookies. The name of “Cookie” was introduced by Lou Montulli, is acquired from the term “magic cookie”, which is designed to describe the packet of data passed between programs (Stuart, 2002).

Cookies or “cookie.txt”, as White introduced, are small pieces of information stored on devices by websites people visit. The cookies would be sent back to the website each time the user visit this website and notify previous activities on it. So that the web server would get an idea of user preference, which page is most hitted, what articles user read last time he visit, in order to provide better experience and meet the needs of the users (“What are cookies”, 2018). For example, cookies are commonly used for online shopping websites. These cookies would record the personal information that user voluntarily entered, and also the item in electronic carts. So that next time the user open up the same shopping website, the user could see the items he put in the cart last time, just in case he still want to purchase it. This is another example of browser tracking with using cookies.

How cookies work, Image 4

Cookie and Cache seems very similar as they both store data, the biggest difference between is that they serve different purpose. A cache, as introduced earlier, is a information technology to cache web HTML documents and images, as a way to reduce loading time. While Cookies track user characteristics and preferences. Tracking user preference and web activity can be seen as a way to better serve users. For example, streaming websites can have more accurate suggestion for videos, or searching engines can suggest more relevant searches, or even as simple as showing the right language for the website. This feature of web browser embodies the computational thinking, that simplify the complicated features and only present simple abstraction outputs to users.

But, this convenient feature can also be used for advertising and commercial purposes. Even though each cookie from different website takes only a small piece of the information, it is possible that they can be generated and create a profile or a unique id of the user. The “haunted-Ad” situation is possible because of the unique id provided by third-party cookies. Third-party cookies appear when websites feature content from other external websites such as sidebar or banner advertisements (“Internet Safety”). This indicates that the browser tracking feature also reflects the social design thinking of meeting social needs by simplifying the process of advertising.

Conclusion  

The web browser we use today is no longer just a simple tool, a thing, but more as a digital mediation which formed by multiple layers and modules, and embedded with the socio-technical design thinkings. The development of the Web and web browsers changed the society and people’s behaviors. Going through the history and background of the Web and web browsers, we can clearly see the architecture they follow reflect the basic technology design thinking and the evolved features enabled them to meet the social need, as a proof of the embedded social design thinking.

Works Cited

Text

“Web Browser.” P2P (Peer To Peer) Definition. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://techterms.com/definition

“Browser, OS, Search Engine including Mobile Usage Share.” StatCounter Global Stats. Accessed December 11, 2018. http://gs.statcounter.com/.

White, Ron. How the Internet Works. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007

Irvine, Martin.The World Wide Web: From Open Extensible Design to Fragmented “Appification”. November 2018

Berners-Lee, Tim. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimative Destiny of the World Wide Web. New York, NY: Harper Business, 2000.

McPeak, Alex, and Thomas Volt. “A Brief History of Web Browsers and How They Work.” CrossBrowserTesting.com. September 07, 2018. Accessed December 11, 2018. https://crossbrowsertesting.com/blog/test-automation/history-of-web-browsers/.

Stuart, Andrew. “Where Cookie Comes from.” ZATZ, June 1, 2002. http://dominopower.com/article/where-cookie-comes-from/.

“What Are Cookies?” Indiana University. January 8, 2018. Last Modified January 8, 2018. https://kb.iu.edu/d/agwm.

“Internet Safety: Understanding Browser Tracking.” GCF Global. Accessed December 9, 2018. https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/internetsafety/understanding-browser-tracking/1/.

Images

Image 1, https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1815833,00.asp

Image 2, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K-ldsd88nyhgLYYbY7ftoi9dH-M1BrDdnp60N0nqLV8/edit#slide=id.g2a04c0c44c_0_11

Image 3, https://crossbrowsertesting.com/blog/test-automation/history-of-web-browsers/

Image 4, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie#/media/File:HTTP_cookie_exchange.svg

Group discussion – Online Banking, Your Personal Financial Manager


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Dominique Haywood, Zijing Liu, Anna Yu

Talking points

  • Online banking and mobile banking history
  • General services that mobile banking provides
  • Deblackboxing mobile banking and features of it

Online Banking — Your Personal Financial Manager

Online banking can be traced back in the 1980s, when the World Wide Web started to evolve. The emerging use of online shopping promoted using credit cards online. Some banking and financial organizations seized the opportunities to invent “home banking”, which used televisions and telephones to fulfill transactions. The development and wide spread of the Internet made online banking possible. And, when Apple launched Iphone, there is a significant shift from online banking through personal computers, to managing accounts through cell phones with mobile banking apps (“Infographic: The History Of Internet Banking”).

Also, online banking can be regarded as a simulation of the real bank, where staffs help customers manage their money. Online banking served as a digital mediation of bank and cards.

Online Banking Services

The services designed into Mobile Banking Applications include viewing accounts and transactions, view monthly bank statements, deposit checks, as well as pay bills and loans. These services are designed to mediate financial transactions which have been developed from  sociotechnical systems. Mobile banking applications are created using modular and combinatorial design thinking, which enables users to access different facets of their bank accounts. Mobile banking applications are also designed with many affordances of applications in general, as well as many of the affordances experienced through modern day banking. Basic affordances that are included in mobile banking applications are the prompt for username and password as well as menu navigation. The menu in mobile banking is extremely modulary because it allows users to initiate from different aspects of the user’s bank account. One major constraint of mobile banking is that users are unable to make many changes to their bank account or associated cards. If a user needed to change her pin number, then the user would need to go to a branch of her bank. Similarly, if a user wanted to open a new account, she would need to visit a branch of her bank.  The affordances of mobile banking applications are not unique and are designed into applications across industries.

Another affordance of online banking is high security, which is also a constraint.  When users quit the app and open another, if they want to open the online banking app again, they must enter the password again. This affordance ensures the security of the app to a great extent. However, it is disturbing for some users to enter password multiple times, especially most of the online banking app require users to set a long, complicated password. Also, some online banking apps such as PNC do not allow screenshot, which protects the privacy of users’ account, while causing inconvenience at the same time if users want to share to others.

Deblackbox Online Banking

As a digital financial mediation, online banking’s basic affordance is transaction. What visible to the users are only numbers instead of real cash. In another word, online banking simplifys the behaviors of transaction and consumption to numbers, which represents computational thinking — using abstraction to hide complicated process and show simple output to users.

What is magical of online banking is that it knows clearly where the money  was spent better than the users themselves. For instance, the PNC online banking app provides categories of spent money, such as groceries, education, entertainment. Moreover, it automatically show a histogram of monthly statement. To deblackbox it, the affordance of analyzing the data and make charts proves that online banking apps have data analysis tool built in. Also, for each expense, the app categorizes it to corresponding category.

Functions that take advantage of mobile devices features

As mentioned above in the history section of online banking, the mobile banking services emerged with the invention of iphone. People shifted from online banking to mobile banking. With that bear in our minds, we can also notice that there are a lot of mobile banking functions that took advantage of mobile devices features, and used mobile devices affordances as a part of their functions.

For example, the geolocation features on cell phone devices allows users of mobile banking to access location based functions, such as finding nearby ATMs and bank branches. Another cool feature that provided by mobile bankings with taking advantage of geolocation feature provided by phones is showing the exact location where the money was spent for each transaction. It is a good tool to track and monitor the bank accounts through cell phone, since sometimes it’s hard to remember where we spent the money even when we can see the amount and the date.

Furthermore, another affordance that uses the mobile built-in features is the camera function. It will be used when using Faceid to unlock the app, as well as when depositing checks with mobile banking apps. When using Faceid to unlock the app, the front camera would automatically opened and scan the user’s face, and will unlock the app once it matches the record. And when using the deposit function, the back camera would open up, and allows users to take pictures of the front and the back of the check. The picture would be saved to the system, and the amount of the check would be saved automatically to the account.

Invisible components

The invisible components to mobile banking applications are very similar to the invisible components of traditional banking. Users rarely see how a bank teller is able to access information about a users account, this level of invisibility is also apparent in mobile banking applications. Users do not see the back end of sourcing account information or how the financial system tracks and processes withdrawals and deposits.Though the users may benefit from and rely on the modularity of banking, the process with which the modularity is facilitated remains largely unknown. Another technical ambiguity of mobile banking application is how a username is connected with an account number. The process of signing up for a mobile banking account is simple for users, but there is likely a more complex system for banks to associate a user’s account number with their unique username. Connecting mobile numbers adds another layer of complexity to the banks tracking system which is unknown to users but integral to the functionality of the mobile banking applications. For applications which require double authentication, there is clearly a high level of interconnectivity to validate a user’s identity.From a social perspective, users of mobile banking applications also may not see the checks and balances in place that ensure the safety and security of their money and information. In both mobile banking and traditional banking, users do not know how much information is shared with third parties. Overall, there is a high level of ambiguity with banking and users are only allowed a peak into their transactions.

Social Systems and Technologies included in Mobile Banking

The institutions and social systems that fostered the creation of mobile banking applications are the financial industry, mobile devices and the rise in popularity of mobile applications. Mobile banking applications are also a result of the societal shift in use of mobile devices. Cell Phones were initially solely communication devices, but have shifted to instant transaction devices. Most mobile applications now have a transaction component embedded within it whether that is purchasing goods or services, transferring money between friends and family or guiding users to places where they will have a financial transaction.

Native Design Features that impact Mobile Banking

The “buttons” on smartphones are native to the device but control the navigation of mobile banking applications. This native feature is integral to the useability of the applications and rely on the user’s understanding of the affordances of their device’s buttons. Another native feature of the smartphone that allows use of the application is the screen itself. The touch screen of the mobile phone enables further navigation of mobile banking applications. Web based native features of the applications include the “crawling” capability that has been designed into the internet as a way to find information. This native feature is essential to the interface of mobile banking because it allows web developers to connect the mobile banking application to web hosted databases and information. Without internet connectivity, mobile banking applications would not allow users to sign in to their account, initiate any transactions or view their transaction histories.

References

“Infographic: The History Of Internet Banking (1983 – 2012).” The Financial Brand, 19 Nov. 2014, thefinancialbrand.com/25380/yodlee-history-of-internet-banking/.

 

WWW and its architecture


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We encounter WWW, aka the World Wide Web in daily bases. In the morning, we open the web to look for today’s weather, and read through daily top news to fill out the miss of news during our sleep, and get a basic connection with the  world. We would even comment under the news or posts to express our opinions. We use WWW every day, but what is WWW? According to Professor Irvine’s introduction, World Wide Web is “a group of protocol layers, designed to enable intercommunications between internet servers (and services) and individual connected devices with the Internet/Web software (the “client” system, with softwares connecting to Web service) (Irvine 1).”

By saying the Web, it doesn’t only refer to the searching engine, but more about the apps that rely on the Web layered architecture. These applications feature interfaces that have control to use internet as well as the services on the Web. Using iPhone as an example, we can see that its equipped with so many different interfaces which all rely on the Web layered architecture. For a brand new iPhone without any add-on apps. it contains basic apps including but not limit to: calendar, weather, clock, maps, notes, app store, news, books, podcast, wallet, health, music, mail, photo, message and FaceTime. All these application can not be function without the Web. The interfaces above include the touch screen, GPS, data storage, the keyboard, the camera, searching engine, voices assistants, streaming service, etc. All these are examples of “client” software for interacting with servers on the network.    

Going off to more specific uses of the Web and its architecture, we can take a look at the Web browser. As listed by White, It starts to open a page by directing the browser to a hyperlink or a URL. Then the browser software will send this address to a network or to the internet service provider, which then will be sent to the nearest DNS. The DNS will return and offer the IP to the client’s browser, who will then send a request through router to the site server. Then the site server/ the proxy server would received the request and open up the page.

 

Work Cited

Martin Irvine, Intro to the Web: Extensible Design Principles and “Appification”

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

 

Brief analysis of the Internet


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People nowadays use the Internet all the time. There was an activity in my undergrad communication class, where the professor asked us to take a challenge and not using internet for 24 hours, and take down the experiences. The initial purpose of this activity was to let us feel the real life and be grateful to what nature offers us. It was shock to see how helpless us modern human were living without the Internet. We couldn’t see how important it is in our lives until we live without it. The whole world, all the information and knowledge is a easy click away.

We as users and consumers of Internet, see the Internet, or the web, as a totalized entity as it ought to be. But, as Professor Irvine argued in the instruction essay, “the design of the internet as a complex, modular, scalable, and extensible system”. Which,  “provides our best case study for understanding a complete sociotechnical system by using “design thinking” and “system thinking” (Irvine, 2).” In sociotechnical perspective, the Internet is a complex system, which including different layers of modules and combined by different subsystems and elements, rather than a simple, singular interface. Though for the easy of using experience, the complexity is always designed to be hidden.

The Internet is formed by both hardwares as well as softwares. As listed in Irvine’s article, the major interdependencies of sociotechnolocial system of internet includes computer industry, which is the devices and PCs; digital media companies who provides the media services; telecommunication policies and regulations that rule and manage data. Which is another suggestion of the complexity of the Internet.

Graphic: Martin Irvine, 2017

Shifting and analyzing the Internet in a architecture point of view, as Schewick introduces, the Internet is designed in “abstraction layers“, that there are two classes of components of network architecture, “the computers or devices that are ‘on’ or ‘attached to’ a network and those that are ‘in’ a network (Schewick, 50).” By saying so, the devices are “on” the network are those who use the service of internet to communicate with others; while for those who are “in” the network are those who “implement” or build the network, as a connection between computers and the network. Based on the observation above, internet is never a simple totalized technology, but a combination of modules and systems.

Martin Irvine, The Internet: Design Principles and Extensible Futures

Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

week 10


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Last week we talked about the long history of digital interfaces. Going off the the topic of the first computer, which was designed as a fast but giant calculator for business and government use. By that time, computer as a calculator is a single medium, whose purpose is to calculate complete math.

But the modern computer nowadays, Kay argues that these computers are “no longer considered a single medium, but a medium for other media processed by user-actived software (Irvine 11). So, based on our experience as well as what kay and Manovich states, modern computer is a representative of metamedia, which is “a platform housing many existing and new media—was realized (Manovich 162).” Indeed, that for now, the use of computer is more than doing calculation, we can even create new language or media with computers. Also Kay calls computers the first metamedium whose content is “a wide range of already-existing and not-yet-invented media (Manovich 44).

As Manovich says, “the computer metamedium is simultaneously a set of different media and a system for generating new media tools and new types of media. In other words, a computer can be used to create new tools for working with the media types it already provides as well as to develop new not-yet-invented media.” So, with combining old and new media, computers can access internet, seeing videos, making music, making film, coding etc. These interfaces are those old media augmenting with new media. Based on this observation, we can conclude that modern computers are not only “mediums” but “metamedia”.

Going through the history of digitals and computers, we can see how computers are transferred from simple medium to metameida. And I wonder how it will goes in the future. Maybe it will transferred to what we have seen in fiction movies, the “Jarvis”, that we don’t need to depend on platform anymore, and we can swipe the web pages in the air.

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces: History of Design Principles (essay).

Week 9


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Sometimes when people are trying to compare the old/ first computer to the latest ones, they only see the huge difference in the actual sizes, but the transaction of its function and the design thinking behind them is merely considered. Back to the old days, the huge, room-sized computer was designed after war time for military and government use. The main purpose of computer was to calculate, which as Professor Irvine mentioned, only used for what we called “number crushing”. Though the interfaces and function of the first computer seems dumb, but these designs and ideas lead to the program innovation of “remediation machine”, which is basically the general structure of nowadays computers.

As introduced by Manovich, the “remediation machine” is what referring to “a machine that expertly represents a range of earlier media (Manovich)” that based on GUI software. It allows digital computers to integrated before-computer media such as video, audio and painting features while still keeps the same function and appearance. This development allows computer to be exposed to more nontechnical users, and turns it into “a personal machine for display, authoring and editing content in different media (Manovich)”.

Same idea is shared by Douglas Engelbart, who believes that modern computers are not simply used fro business or government, but should be used “as aids for core human cognitive tasks that could be open to everyone (Engelbart).” Which, as he also believes, that with the help of computer, human can face more complex problems and nailed it better than simply a computer alone. He states that “by ‘augmenting human intellect’ we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems (Engelbart).” I think this idea overlaps with the reading of computing thinking in some way, that both of the augmented intelligence and computational thinking are designed aiming to enhance human behaviors instead of replacing humans.

Engelbart, Christina, ed. “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework – 1962 (AUGMENT,3906,).” Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework – 1962 (AUGMENT,3906,) – Doug Engelbart Institute, www.dougengelbart.org/pubs/augment-3906.html.

Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, pp. 55-106

week 8


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As a person who had experience with R studio and Tableau in the past, it’s not so hard for me to pick up memories and do the Python practice. I can still experience the struggle of those who doesn’t have background of coding, because the computing/programming language is different from our everyday natural language. As Evans says,  “Computing changes how we think about problems and how we understand the world”. This reminds me of a joke that popular among computer science students: “how do you react to the following question? Go buy a watermelon, and if you see tomatoes, get two of them. CS people would come back with two watermelons.”

Despite the joke, I do think that computing language can simplify tasks in our lives. The computing language is the language that we as human can use to communicate with machines, and give them specific tasks to do. As human, it’s easier for us to give command instead of doing actual things. For example, those tasks can be performed more accurate than we do with our bare hands.

And that’s why we created the computing language. We can see the overlap of computing language and everyday language. For example, here in Python we used we input “message = ‘Hello’; which mirrored the action of what we think inside our brain, like the message you prepare to say; then we input “drawName(message);”, where the word “draw” has the same meaning with literally drawing on board or show the word in our everyday language.

Just as Wing illustrated in Computational Thinking article, “when your daughter goes to school in the morning, she puts in her backpack the things she needs for the day; that’s prefetching and caching. When your son loses his mittens, you suggest he retrace his steps; that’s backtracking.” Where we can see that computational thinking is developed from our everyday life, and computational thinking is implanted in our everyday life thinking system.

Work cited

David Evans, Introduction to Computing: Explorations in Language, Logic, and Machines. Oct. 2011 edition. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Creative Commons Open Access: http://computingbook.org/.

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

Week 7


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In this week’s reading, Denning and Bell mentions about Shannon’s information theory, which focus on information transmitting. As Dennning and Bell states, that information can be transmitted without involving the meaning of the message, which, meaning of the message that these information formed are irrelevant. Shannon introduced a information system for information transmitting accurately, that “…encoding converts messages into signals, and decoding converts signals back into messages” with the help of a “codebook” to convert messages into signals and convert back into messages in this process (Denning and Bell).

With this model bear in mind, I’d like to use shard pictures as an example. The online shared pictures are formed by pixels. In the transmission process, it was the pixels who got sent through online channels, but then it decoded into a whole picture on the other side, instead of hard-understanding pixies or codes. Another good example would be radio. The radio are formed by all signals, which is the “code” in our scenario, then decoded at the receiver part, which are the listeners.

But, information on the other hand indeed is meaningful for us. According to Floridi, “‘Meaningful’ means that the data must comply with the meanings (semantics) of the chosen system, code or language in question (Floridi).” So use language as an example. The message,aka the sentence that formed the message that we send everyday, are formed by meaningless single characters. These has no meaning individual, but it is “meaningful” to us humans when they are combined and formed into sentences or articles. Going off to the examples I mentioned above, shared pictures, even it’s formed by pixies, are still visually meaningful to use; and the radio signals as well, we can hear and understand the information and message that carried by the signals, which that is meaningful to us too.

Peter Denning and Tim Bell, “The Information Paradox.” From American Scientist, 100, Nov-Dec. 2012.

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

Week six, affordances and constraints of books


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Week six, affordances of book

 

It’s interesting to examine our daily life things with affordance, and it’s also interesting to see how affordance, interfaces and constraints would be meaningless without “human beings”. As Norman states in his article The Psychology of Everyday Things, affordance can be explained as “strong clues about how an object should be used. provided by the object itself or by its context (Norman 1988).” For example, when we see the knife, judging by the sharp edge on it, we know that can be used to cut or stab things even when we didn’t know what a “knife” was.

 

So going off to the books. As Professor Irvine says in the introduction paper, people “usually respond favorably to seeding things with an optimal human from factor- shaped, size, weight-for its use (Irvine).” Books were designed to fit our body features. For the physical aspect, the size and the weight of a book should be affordable for our relatively weak (comparing to other species or robots) hands and arms. Books are designed to be carried in bags, so the size and the weight couldn’t be too large. Another important affordance is that people, even babies who doesn’t have much social experience, knows how to open a book, regardless of whether they can understand it or not. Other than that, the covers of the book are designed to protect the book, and also to be labeled so that we can easy find the book we want.

 

Also, as Professor Irvine mentions in the paper, books also have “great affordances as cognitive interfaces. They provide a consistent grouping of two-D substrates for representing all of our sign systems that can be drawn or printed on a surface (Irvine).” Books are designed to be easily for us to read and to understand the signs and symbols on it.

 

Books, especially the hard-copied ones, also have constraints. As Norman states in his article in 1999, the constraints are “limits”, which is the opposite of the “affordance” (Norman 1999). The physical constraints of the book is that it’s hard for people to “search” things with the pages. And the affordable size or, the “capacity” is also the limitation to the amount of information that we need.

 

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Affordances and Interfaces.”

Donald A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design.” Interactions 6, no. 3 (May 1999): 38-43.

Norman, Donald (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-06710-7.

 

week 5


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Anna Yu

Mediology can be really hard to be understood for daily people who doesnt have a philosophy background. It, according to Debray, doesn’t only focus on one specific thing, but more about analyzing the “higher social function (Debray 1999)” and aiming to find the relationship between these functions and mediums. Thus, the relationship between general basic technologies and the culture.

I’m not quite sure if I understood it right, but I think mediology can be applied to examine how people’s behavior and thoughts changed or improved when they were introduced to new technologies. An idea that I can think of, based on my understating, would be a ancient understanding of the world in China, the “Tinayuandifang”, which means “the sky is a round and the earth is a square”. This idea was developed about two thousands years ago, which is far before the invention of technologies. But with the modern technologies, we nowadays wont think about the earth is the same way. We learned that we are not alone (as least not the only planet) in the space, and we learned about the outer space.

With this example in mind, I read about Professor Irvine’s idea that “culture and technology  are co-produced or co-consitiutive, and thus form a necessary system of co-medication (Irvine)”. Nowadays people believe the existence of “space” and “science”, as see them as normal, necessary factors in our lives, at the same degree that we believe in culture and religions. So, in some way, isn’t it possible to assume that we modern humans are created by the technologies we created?

And, the mediations would have no meanings if they are not back up by culture and societies. For example, the cross symbol wouldn’t be the “Christian cross” if there is no culture nor religion background behind it. Which caters to the co-medication system. Thus, it’s important for us to consider both the culture and the technologies in design thinking progress.

Regis Debray, What is Mediology?. Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

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