More than a finger on the pulse

12th January 1996 at 00:00
SMARTHEART TEACHER. Heart and ECG monitor with software. Pounds 99.95 plus VAT. SMARTHEART PLUS. Version with extra features. Pounds 295 plus VAT Both for multimedia PC. Age range: 15-plus Guildsoft, The Software Centre, Lee Mill Industrial Estate, Ivybridge, PL21 9PE.

SIMNERV. CD-Rom for multimedia PC or Apple computers, 98 Deutschmark Age range:16-plus Georg Thieme Verlag, Rudigerstr. 14 D-70469 Stuttgart

Want to play doctors anyone? Well, here is a kit where you can plug yourself into the computer and really see how your heart ticks. It's not everyone's idea of a game, but it is at least easy and painless.

You just put a belt around your chest, connect it to a wallet-sized box and then to the serial port of the computer. When you start the SmartHeart Teacher software, you'll immediately see your heart rate and your electrocardiogram - a graph of the electrical activity in your heart. If your legs haven't turned to jelly yet, you can jog on the spot and see how things change.

Fortunately, I think, you will not learn if there's anything wrong with you because this isn't a professional "12-lead" ECG system. But instead, you can learn how to look after your heart, and it works by using the SmartHeart CD-Rom in the pack.

It's an average-quality "picture book" tutorial which most GCSE students could handle, though once they delve into its details it's much harder going.

A similar, more expensive package called SmartHeart Plus allows a medic to keep patient records and do more detailed monitoring. But given that the ECG isn't a major school topic, the SmartHeart Teacher package will be good enough here. It makes teaching about the heart cycle a touch more real, and the fair price puts it within easy reach.

Now if that is squeamish, do you remember the frog you sacrificed in biology? And remember the screams when someone waved its entrails under the nose of your classmates?

Well, all that carnage and perverse fun comes to an end with Simnerv. It's a program about the "sciatic nerve experiment", where you take a frog's nerve and "jazz" it with electricity. Here in this "virtual laboratory", the experiment happens on screen, and you have a storage oscilloscope and all the buttons you'd want.

You mouse-click on the stimulator and give the nerve different amounts of electricity. You can easily show how the nerve responds when you stimulate it. Or show how fast a nerve conducts and how long it takes to recover (the refractory period). And, because biologists do these sorts of things, you can tie string around the nerve and see its effect.

The program even includes film showing a frog being guillotined and prepared. Yes, it is awful, as are the rough edges on this program and its accompanying notes, but the idea behind this world's first "snuff" CD-Rom is excellent.

It's a rare example of a computer model and it makes some difficult college experiments very accessible. And it's very good news for frogs.

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