Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Foc.us Poc.us

My trendspotter sister Kath, always with the gimlet eye out, had a recent blog post on DIY transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Channeling our mother, Kath issues a warning:

…don't we all remember our mothers telling us not to stick a fork in an electric socket?

If Ma were around today she'd be telling us not to stick electrodes into our brains.  Ma's no longer here so Trouserville will pick up the megaphone:  don't go sticking electrodes into your brains. (Source: My Rolled Trousers.)

I will add to Kath’s excellent PSA, noting that, if you’re not supposed to poke anything sharper than your elbow into your ear, it certainly can’t be a very good idea to do an amateur buzz job on your brain.

There has been real research by real scientists in real universities to determine whether tDCS can help re-carve neural pathways for those with Parkinson's disease, for example. There are some indications that this may work, though some of the researchers  have fessed up to forehead burns. 

Enter the FDAWW (Future Darwin Award Winners of the World) who have taken this preliminary research and run straight to the hardware store with it. You can see them on You Tube hooking up 9-volt batteries to wires and sticking the wires into their brains. 

And I thought that I was throwing caution to the wind when I pierced my own ears with the help of an ice cube and a darning needle.

Kath mentions that those who aren’t fully up to rolling their own can buy an off-the-shelf tDCS device from an outfit in the UK called foc.us. It goes without saying that I had to hasten my Bride of Frankenstein, transcranial way over to foc.us to see wazzup in that corner of the brain world.

Wazzup is that, with foc.us, you get to


In “stylish” black or red, and with the brand promise to gamers – the target audience - that it will:

Overclock your brain using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to increase the plasticity of your brain. Make your synapses fire faster.

Well, who wouldn’t want to increase their brain plasticity and get the old synapses firing faster?

I do whatever I can by playing Extra Challenging Sudoku and eating lots and lots of chocolate. But I don’t think I’d be inclined to strap on a slightly more current version of the device used to administer electro-shock therapy. And to do so just so that you could play a faster and meaner game of Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft? Huh?

What happens if you don’t get the placement quite right?

Personally, I think that this graphic might be well augmented by a few words of warning, but I suppose we’re dealing with the post-literate crowd here. Graphics are everything; picto-grams ‘r us.

activate foc.us

By the way, if you want to go ‘look Ma, no hands!’ with this baby, there’ll soon be an app available that will let you operate the device via Bluetooth. (Available first – of course - for iOS. Android soon to follow.) Which I guess also means that you could operate it remotely for (and on) someone else. Sheeshh…

All sorts of options. The default is 1.0mA for 10 minutes, but you can amp it up to the current and duration 2.0mA and 40 minutes.

No end to the wonders that foc.us will bring:

  • Let the force of electricity excite your neurons into firing faster

  • Excite your prefrontal cortex and get the edge in online gaming

  • Purchase the optional extra pack for total montage delivery and application control

I suppose that it goes without saying that the foc.us has not been approved by the fuddy-duddies at the FDA:

The foc.us gamer headset offers no medical benefits, is not a medical device, and is not regulated by the FDA.

Nonetheless, it’s safe:

The foc.us headset has been tested to all required regulatory standards including CE Safety standard EN60601-2-10: 2001 and EN60601-1: 2006.

Phew! That’s a relief.

And, yet, we are warned that:

The headset is not a toy, is not recommended for under 18s, epilepsy sufferers or people with implants. It should not be used in the treatment of any medical conditions.

Personally, even if I were the type who wanted to “excite [my] prefrontal cortex and get the edge” when playing Freestyle or TaiPei, I’d be a little reluctant to try this one on for size until it’s a bit further along in its lifecycle.

If I do feel my Sudoku needs a bit of a kick in the pants, maybe I’ll try Red Bull.

Meanwhile, is it even necessary to add the old “kids, don’t try this at home” caveat?

To Kath’s “Duh! Double Duh! and a hearty WTF”, may I add the variant what the foc?


If I could just get my finger on it, I’d give a tip of my prefrontal cortex to my sister Kath for this one.

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