- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2000

Charles Dickens wrote in his 1841 novel "Barnaby Rudge," "Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort." That statement makes Dickens look like Nostradamus, considering how many of today's technologically pampered humans would rather vegetate with a sitcom or soap opera than exercise the billions of neurons in their craniums.

Josh Reynolds and his company, Brain.com, want to help. The inventor of the mood ring has exercised his noggin to offer the latest advice and news on an organ that is made up of 85 percent water but filled with hope, dreams and unparalleled imagination.

Brain.com

Site address: www.brain.com

Creator:

Brain.com, released in November 1999, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cognitive Care Inc., a neuroscience company focused on concerns that patients, consumers and the medical community have regarding memory, neuro-behavioral diseases and general cognitive health. Brain.com is the consumer side of the company, Cognitive Care the medical industry side.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site to provide news and information, products and technology related to the health and fitness of the brain to our visitors. Breakthroughs in research on the brain are increasing rapidly. Our site is dedicated to those who want to learn more about, protect and improve … ours most precious resource: our brain," says Kedric Francis, editor of Brain.com.

Word from the Webwise:

Brain.com's primary mission to become the "Internet destination for all those interested in the brain and brain health and fitness" mostly succeeds through a nice selection of news and information.

Starting with the slickly designed front page, visitors can access latest reports on the brain, including reports titled "Women Use Whole Brain to Listen, Men Use Half," "Art Smart: Kids' Art Reflects Inner Emotions" and "Psychedelic Room Helps Dementia Patients."

Articles' sources are an eclectic mix, ranging from biochemists to the Reuters wire service to BioMedNet (an on-line resource for biological medical researchers) to unattributed, free-lance writers.

One section especially loaded with information taking the average human weeks to read through is "Brain Topics," which breaks news features into categories such as artificial intelligence, memory, and disease and disorders. This section explores 20 health problems with concise modules covering symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, research and links to further investigate a particular disorder. A look at Huntington's disease, which is characterized by the degeneration of brain cells, provides the latest research breakthroughs and information from the National Institutes of Health.

Visitors who register get access to message boards, a free newsletter and have a much easier time enjoying the "Test My Brain" section. This highly entertaining and interactive part of the site offers six timed challenges to explore intelligence, mental performance and memory.

After painlessly installing software downloaded from the site, I found out through individual reports and charts that what I lack in brain speed I make up for in focus.

Other areas quietly thrown into the site contain the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary, an A-Z health guide to medical conditions and chat rooms featuring hot topics such as attention deficit disorder and Alzheimer's disease.

Ease of use:

Brain.com looks great and can occupy many hours with lots of great information and simple navigability. Unfortunately, some very obtrusive advertising messages obscure its credibility.

The site cannot decide if it wants to be an authoritative medical Internet source or a giant infomercial. I took one quiz and was immediately reminded that a certain vitamin supplement could increase my brain power and I should buy a revolutionary new program called ThinkFast which happens to have its own section on the site for peak mental performance.

I understand many dot-com companies are failing in today's financial climate, but Brain.com needs to give some of the heavy-handed sales tactics a break.

Also, some sections that are "coming soon," such as "Communities" and SAT and GRE test preparation areas, make the site feel a bit incomplete. It makes more sense to just not mention the content until it is ready.

Finally, will someone in the Internet world please get rid of the seizure-inducing advertising banner that tempts individuals to "Shock the Monkey and Win $20"? I have never seen a more annoying art element.

Don't miss:

Determine who's the smarty-pants in the family with a five-minute intelligence-quotient test. The slightly intrusive registration process may turn off some folks, but this "fluid intelligence" test measures one's mental flexibility and adaptability against the scores of millions of others.

Brain.com's privacy policy clearly states it will not misuse the information collected, but asking for favorite baseball teams and income levels before determining a consumer's intelligence level seems like a marketer's dream for potential misuse.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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