In my humble opinion, keeping control - of yourself, or your situation - is of tantamount importance. By control I don't necessarily mean "in charge" - rather, I mean being on top of things, not letting events that you have an interest in progress too far without your input. I'm sure amateur psychoanalysts (also known as "hobby shrinks") will have a good time with that sentence. That's why I could never understand people who willingly gave up control of their circumstances to alcohol or drugs. In the movies (the more modern ones, at least), it looks like everyone taking "recreational drugs" is having a great time - at least until the morality aspect of the tale enters, and the happy-substance abusers either get killed or carted off to jail. What does all this have to do with computers? Well, it seems that someone has come up with a way to simulate the effects of mind-bending drugs - using a centuryand-a-half-old technology that employs sound waves to mess with your brain. According to many of its users, binaural beats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki /Binaural-beats), as the sound waves are known, are very effective; they can be used to wake you up, put you to sleep, unleash your creativity, or even send you on the equivalent of a druginduced mental trip. Basically, binuaral beats consist of pulses of two different frequencies being played in each ear at the same time. The pulses, in the 1,000 hertz to 1,500 Hz range, have slight differences between them - less than 30 Hz. Depending on the differences in the pulses, the brain can be "entrained" ( i. e. manipulated) to generate specific moods. The technology has been around since the 1830s, but has really come into its own in the past decade, as CDquality recordings and noisecanceling headphones allow users around the world to check out what some say could be an alternative to drugs - giving you the same effects (or close to it) with none of the dependence and legal problems "real" drug use entails. One site, called i- Doser ( http:// www. i- doser. com), has really capitalized on the potential association between binaural beats and mood drugs. For about $5, you can buy a "fix" of binaural cocaine, marijuana, crack, heroin, ecstasy and all sorts of other chemicals "real" drug users take to get themselves in a mood. For example, check out the i- Doser description of its "Alcohol" dose: "Our alcohol dose is like shot-gunning five glasses of gin, in force. The effects come on strong, but mellow fast, and ease into a condition of relaxation flightiness and overexcitement. Some have even experienced pure drunkenness from a single dose. Best of all, no hangover." The first question that comes to mind is, Can this be legal? At least, that's the first question that came to my uptight, in-control mind. After an exhaustive Internet search, I couldn't find any law-enforcement issues with i-Doser. So, it appears to be on safe legal ground. The second question is, of course, Does this work? It's one thing to use binaural beats in a university lab for research, administered by people who know what they are doing, and another altogether to slap together an "aural drug" for use by thrillseekers. And since most of the i-Doser doses cost real money, I wasn't about to plunk down cash to find out. Opinions in the blogosphere appear to be mixed, with some praising i- Doser for changing their lives, and others calling it an outright "fraud and rip-off." But for the curious (don't forget what killed the cat, though) there are a couple of free alternatives to i-Doser. The closed-source commercial i- Doser program (required to play the tracks you download from the site) is actually based on an opensource program, available for Windows, OS X (PPC) and Linux, called SbaGen (http://sourceforge.net/projects/ SbaGen comes with several presets (as the binaural beat tracks are called), and there are many free sites where you can download more free tracks. In fact, there are tracks that are apparently very similar - and have similar names - to the ones offered by i-Doser. I don't know if these are a rip-off of the i-Doser files, but the i-Doser FAQ says that "IDoser uses a linked DLL based on SBaGen as its binaural beat engine," and that "until June 2007, I-Doser was distributed in violation of SbaGen's license," when an agreement was worked out with the owner of the opensource code. So, maybe those files' release are part of the settlement with SbaGen. There is also an on-line site (run by an Israeli fellow) called i-Dose (http://www.idose. - no relation to iDoser - that has tracks more in-line with the therapeutic credo of most binaural beat researchers. (The SbaGen site says that despite the author's settlement with i-Doser, this does not mean that he "approves of I-Doser's use of high-amplitude binaural beats to attempt to emulate the effects of recreational drugs - not in any way. There are very many positive benefits that can be gained through subtle use of binaural beats.") The i-Doser site has on-line tracks with names like Relaxation, Super-Brain, Focus, Mirage ("Helps with art & creative activities"), Coffee Break and others. But does it work? Well, of course I tried a few of them. First, some guidelines: You need a good pair of stereo headphones to get any effect at all; the venue should be calm, and you should be "open" to the experience (although I tried a couple of tracks while working); and you need a block of time, like a half hour for the average track, to get the full effect (although a mood shift is possible much sooner). Wanting to maintain control as I do, I decided that the safest tracks to try were the ones relating to extra energy. So I tried the streaming Coffee Break track on the i-Dose site, and a file in SbaGen equivalent to one on i-Doser called "5HTP," which "is an amino acid that is used in the brain to make the hormone Serotonin, which is your HAPPY Hormone." And - much to my shock - they worked! Yesterday, I felt more energetic after a 15minute Coffee Break, and today, I'm still "happy" - in the sense that I'm feeling "balanced" - an hour after listening to 5HTP. Now, of course, that could just mean I'm really a sucker, ready to feel what any old Web site says I should feel after taking the hi-tech equivalent of snake oil. Only one way to find out; I guess I'm going to have to do some "experimenting" (is this the first step on what they call the "slippery slope").