Software Review: Here's looking at you

There is probably nothing as fascinating as the human body - how it grows, functions, absorbs information and protects itself.

human disk 88 (photo credit: )
human disk 88
(photo credit: )
Human 3-D and Medical Dictionary, a DVD-ROM in English by Mega Systems, for PCs with Windows, sold by Contmedia ( only in the US, for all ages, $29 plus $6.59 shipping and handling. Rating: **** There is probably nothing as fascinating as the human body - how it grows, reproduces, functions, moves, absorbs information and protects itself. Although there certainly are expensive software packages meant for medical students and used to teach anatomy and physiology, there aren't many disks meant for the general public, both children and adults. Thus, when I saw this disk advertised on a US Web site, I contacted the company, which sent me the DVD-ROM even though it is sold, so far, only in the US and cannot be obtained here. Even though it is unavailable directly to Israelis, I thought it was worth reviewing as people who know more about their bodies are more likely to take care of them. I also recalled reviewing nine years ago the excellent Hebrew-language CD-ROM Halonot el Guf Ha'adam (Windows Toward the Human Body), and Hamasa Hamufla el Guf Ha'adam (The Wonderful Journey to the Human Body) produced in 2000, both by the non-profit Center for Educational Technology (CET) in Ramat Aviv, both of which ran on Windows 95 or 98. As a basis for comparison with this foreign disk, I tried installing the Israeli ones on my computer and found - to my great dismay - that they wouldn't run and my hard disk didn't even recognize them. So my only alternative was to look at my published reviews of the two programs, which both received the top five-star rating. The new Mega Systems program is good, but unfortunately, it is not great like the two Israelis programs going back nearly a decade that were produced with help from science-education experts from Tel Aviv University. However, CET has apparently not issued new versions operable with today's Windows XP or Vista, so they are lost to the world. The 2000 program focused on such topics as growth and development; protection, transport and energy and sub-topics in the form of questions, such as "How does food build the body?" and "What happens in adolescence?" which were introduced orally by a narrator along with film clips, stills, diagrams and simulations, with links to Web sites. One could watch a child's milk teeth fall out and be replaced by his permanent set; the X-ray of a baby's hand turn into an adult one, fingernails growing and a little girl's face morphing into that of an old woman. Users could use the mouse to twirl skeletons and other organs and view a journey through the circulatory system from the vantage point of a red blood cell. There were 29 visual presentations, 43 sub-topics, 114 scientific terms whose explanation can be clicked from blue-toned hypertext or from a dictionary and 134 still photos or diagrams. The 1999 disk also offered a medical dictionary with scores of terms and lots of video clips (such as an X-ray of a person chewing and swallowing a piece of food; the delivery of a baby; animated sperm swimming toward an ovum and trying to penetrate it; red cells coursing through blood vessels; and a speeded-up comparison of boys and girls turning into adolescents). But almost a decade later, the Mega Systems DVD-ROM steps back somewhat. One can't manipulate body parts with the mouse, only watch some of them rotating in place in the fixed, 10-second video clips. The anatomy section has only 13 major topics (from upper and lower extremities and blood to the lymphatic, endocrine and respiratory systems. The physiology section covers 14 themes from bodily functions to the reproductive system. The disk includes just 13 video files, 26 3-D images plus photo files, along with nine guided tours of basic bodily functions, cell physiology, an overview of organic systems, medical devices (showing only an X-ray and an electron microscope) and others. There is little emphasis on the differences between male and female bodies, and the program embarrassingly calls the final tour "From Birth to Dead" rather than "Death." There is an icon on the top of the screen linking to a special Web site, but when you try, it is only "under construction." However, one can adjust the font and the speed of narration. Hypertext terms in color can be clicked to obtain more information. There is also a separate A to Z medical dictionary with more than 113,000 medical terms, which is much larger than those in the Israeli disks, and 11,000 illustrations. Click an icon, and the narrator pronounces the words. All in all, it is somewhat disappointing. There must be other programs out there with 3-D images and videos of the human body, but I haven't come across any, so if you're interested in the subject, consider the Mega Systems one. In the meantime, I'll remember fondly CET's Hebrew-language CD-ROMS and hope they'll rerelease them for Israeli computer users.