Monday, April 25, 2011

iPhoneography and the Art of Spontaneity

By Dr. Gregory Robinson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English

Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson
When I was a graduate student, I played guitar for a punk band called Milk Carton.  I never bothered to learn how to play, and the band’s major gimmick was that people could throw old milk cartons at us while we performed.  We often played for crowds of less than ten people, and sometimes the milk cartons were not cleaned out very well.

Although it hardly changed the face of music, it certainly changed how I felt about creativity and art.  Every once in a while, Milk Carton came up with some songs I really liked.  It was totally by accident and no one ever really noticed.  That did not matter.  Perfection, skill, talent, and attention to minute detail all have a place in the art world, but so do freedom, spontaneity, surprise, and (of-course) complete accidents. 

This is what I love about iPhoneography, a growing movement of people who take and edit pictures on their iPhones.  Admittedly, the idea of a “camera phone” bothers me a bit, in the same way a “television toaster” or a “Wi-Fi enabled electric razor” might.  Why not just have a phone that makes calls and a camera that shoots pictures?

Hold on, my camera is ringing...

Here is why the idea still works.  Art is often about working within a set of limitations.  Sonnets are 14 lines long and have specific meter and rhyme schemes.  The “art” of sonnets is not just the meaning of the words, but the way that those words are structured by a set of rules.  Some photographers still work with pinhole cameras, which are the most basic form of capturing images on film. They could use digital processing, but they choose not to do so.  Part of what makes their art interesting is the restrictions they impose on themselves.

Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson

iPhones are limited.  The zoom is small and the lens is fixed.  Assorted apps limit them even more.  One app, called the Hipstamatic, provides a tiny viewfinder, random light leaks, and changeable lenses and films.  It mimics a real camera from the 1980s, a plastic “toy” created by Bruce and Winston Dorbowski.  The brothers were about to start mass-producing them, but an accident involving a drunk driver put an end to their dream.    Although the iPhone camera itself is capable of providing a clear, detailed image (5 megapixels was impressive not that long ago), the Hipstamatic app does the exact opposite.  It revels in imperfection. 

Digital photography never looked so analog.

These photos recall a time when you cared about the pictures you took, but did not really know how to take them.  The results are random, haphazard, and often somewhat out of focus.  At times, (like any other camera) Hipstamatic photos are complete junk.  More often than not, they are beautiful and nostalgic.  They give you the feeling of coming across an old photo in your grandmother’s attic, even if they were just taken yesterday. 

The medium is the message.

Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson

The Hipstamatic helped to start an entire photographic movement, now called iPhoneography.  There are books, blogs, dozens of Flickr groups, and hundreds of specialized apps available, all devoted to it.  The governing aesthetic in the iPhone community is that the photos must be taken and edited on the iPhone, without any help from a PC or Mac. 

In late 2010, New York Times photographer Damon Winter used the Hipstamatic app to shoot a series about the war in Afghanistan War.  It made the front page.  (  Critics went crazy, but not in a good way.

Chip Litherland saw it as another sign of the death of photojournalism, saying that the Hipstamatic shots were “dig[ing] another knife deeper into the back of its decaying corpse.”

It is nice to see that art still makes people a little grumpy.

If you would like to see a little more of iPhoneography, come check out Vegas from the Hip, an exhibit of Las Vegas images taken with the Hipstamatic app. 

The opening runs from 5pm to 8pm, Friday, April 29th at

Nevada State College Library
311 S. Water St. (BW2 building)
Henderson, NV 89015

For more information:

Gregory Robinson

Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson

Video Games Improve Motor Functions in Stroke Patients

By Dr. Tony Scinta, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

Photo Courtesy of RebeccaPollard via Flickr

From the tenacious pink ghost in Pac-man to that last stubborn pig in Angry Birds, video games have always created teeth-gnashing levels of frustration.  However, when they’re not making us curse a blue streak that could peel the paint off of a Nintendo Wii, video games may have something positive to offer.  According to a recent analysis by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto,  stroke patients who play video games can show up to a five-fold improvement in arm motor function compared to patients who undergo standard physical therapy.

Shockingly, this is not the first time that research has hinted at the potential benefit of playing video games.  To examine this phenomenon, scientists often conduct a “meta-analysis,” which is a super nerdy but incredibly effective technique that combines multiple studies, sometimes conducted over dozens of years, into a single “super analysis.”  One of these meta-analyses, involving seven studies and 384 participants, demonstrated that playing video games is associated with improved visuospatial cognition (Ferguson, 2007), which generally refers to a person’s ability to understand and work within spatial environments.  Parallel parking – or parallel “bumping into fenders,” as some people do it – is an example of a skill that relies on visuospatial abilities.

Game-playing experience also has been tied to other important functions (for example, the ability to attend to a lot of things at once, such as when navigating a busy highway), but those who are rushing to fire up their Xboxes should proceed with a note of caution:  there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Games also have been linked to increased aggression (Anderson et al., 2010), especially in the short term, and few people have ever completed their class assignments with a video game controller in their hands.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Capillary Electrophoresis Workshop Coming in May!

Currently enrolled NSHE students may participate in two intensive 2-day workshops sponsored by Nevada INBRE that will be conducted by Beckman Coulter to certify participants in the use of their PA 800 Capillary Electrophoresis equipment.

The workshop will be held
May 9th thru the 12th
from 8:00am to 5:00pm
at Nevada State College
Liberal Arts & Sciences Building
Biology Laboratories (2nd floor)

Certification opens a pathway to employment opportunities and is a valuable asset to any science-based résumé.  This program is free of charge!

Interested students should contact Dr. Andy Kuniyuki for more information and to sign up.  Please email or call 702-992-2615.

NSC Launches Innovative Math Program in Fall 2011

By Professor Aaron Wong, Ph.D., Mathematics

Nevada State College is committed to student success. Wherever possible, we seize opportunities to provide a better, more fruitful learning experience to students. For example, studies show that students who complete their remedial classes in a timely fashion are more likely to earn their college degrees. In response, multiple national initiatives (such as “Getting Past Go” and “Complete College America”) specifically focus on remediation as a central component of student success. As a result, in fall 2011 NSC will launch an innovative program that is expected to dramatically improve student success in remedial courses.

Professor Aaron Wong has developed and will be leading
the implementation of the new Math Remediation Program

Over the past year, we have been working to create a new foundational mathematics program which will be more efficient and more effective at bringing students to a college level understanding of mathematics. The process is somewhat unorthodox, but we believe that our primary mission is to educate students, and we are willing to create whatever structures are necessary meet this goal. The most dramatic change is that the math remediation classes (known on campus as MATH 093) will be taught in 5-week modules instead of 15-week semesters. This has a number of benefits to students.

Math is one of those subjects where it is very difficult to get caught up after you fall behind, and students who fall behind often spend 5-7 weeks struggling and getting nowhere, only to eventually fail the course. Even worse, when students re-enroll in the course, they waste a good part of the semester covering things they already learned on their first trip through the course.

By breaking the semester into smaller modules, students will not be put in a position to waste precious time fighting with content that they have no chance of understanding. With the 5-week modules, students can immediately go back to fully understand the material that they missed. This allows our students to constantly move forward instead of being stuck spinning their wheels. An immediate consequence of this is that students should be able to complete their remediation faster than before because they are taking full advantage of the time that they have.

There are other changes that will be implemented, including mastery learning, common exams, and several behind-the-scenes changes, all designed to maximize student learning. We are excitedly looking forward to the launch of this new program in the fall semester.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Physical Pain of Heartbreak

By Dr. Tony Scinta, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

When it comes to breaking bones, “sticks and stones” still have an edge on words, but both may inflict a very similar kind of pain.  At least that’s the conclusion being drawn by social psychologists at the University of Michigan.  They found that social rejection – for example, a nasty break-up – activates the same region of the brain associated with physical pain.

To students who study psychology at NSC, the connection should not come as a surprise.  A host of psychological studies have demonstrated a robust link between physical well-being and social, psychological, and emotional factors.  For example, students in Health Psychology (PSY 470) learn that social support is associated with mortality rates – older individuals who have plenty of available friends and family actually live longer than their less supported peers (e.g., Berkman, 1985). 

Likewise, social psychologists have long known that environmental and psychological factors can exert an influence on physical aspects of a person, but we also know that physical processes can have a meaningful impact on our perceptions and attitudes.  For example, research has shown that being physiologically aroused – sweaty palms, a thumping heart – for any reason, even exercise, can lead a person to be more physically attracted to someone else (Dutton & Aron, 1974). 

The moral of the story, aside from the suggestion to take your next date to a scary movie instead of a romantic one, is that emotional, psychological, and physioloigical factors are intertwined in surprising or important ways.  For experimental psychologists, the fun is in determining how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together.