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Modding guru Ben Heck hacks his way through the Engadget Questionnaire


Every week, a new and interesting human being tackles our decidedly geeky take on the Proustian Q&A. This is the Engadget Questionnaire.

In this edition of our weekly question and answer session, Ben Heck -- the master of mods and host of The Ben Heck Show -- discusses the paradigm shift of personal assistants and how E.T. was saved by a Speak & Spell. Head on past the break for the full lot of responses.

Modding guru Ben Heck hacks his way through the Engadget QuestionnaireWhat gadget do you depend on most?
Does a computer count? Not a very interesting answer, but it is the key to everything. I'm a die-hard desktop kind of guy.

Which do you look back upon most fondly?
My Atari 800 of course. I still have it. I should hook up a crappy 1980's station for it one of these days, complete with an old CRT and rabbit ears.

Which company does the most to push the industry?
These days, clearly Apple. By virtue of everyone copying them, they must be pushing things the most. Although, I do feel Microsoft doesn't get nearly enough credit in the grand scheme of things. I mean Windows 95 was a watershed moment in computing; even a Linux person would have to admit that.

What is your operating system of choice?
I run Windows 7, 64-bit on all my stuff.

What are your favorite gadget names?
Gosh, I've never really thought about that.

What are your least favorite?
I still think Wii is a terrible name, especially with a U tacked on the end. Also, an Android is a robot with human characteristics, not a phone.

Which app do you depend on most?
You'd be shocked how few apps I have on my smartphone. Honestly, I probably use text messaging the most, since it's a direct portal to my local contacts.

What traits do you most deplore in a smartphone?
These days, size and durability. Phones are getting pants-bustingly big, and you still have to treat them like a fragile piece of glass. The bigger they get, the more weight they carry in a drop, the more surface area to break.

Which do you most admire?
I really like the features offered with Ice Cream Sandwich. When you take a photo, there's a static icon of the share link you use the most (right now for me it's email) and an easy drop-down menu for more. Tabbed browsing on Chrome ICS is really nice too.

What is your idea of the perfect device?
I really think we're getting hung up on touch / gesture and letting other stuff fall to the wayside. I would think -- or hope -- the next paradigm shift in computing would be machines that act like personal assistants. Like Siri meets Kinect voice commands.

With voice recognition and Google website data, why can't I tell my computer, "Locate and install the latest version of ReplicatorG," and it does it in the background while I get other things done?

One might say, "Well, that'll be easier when desktop OSes are all app-ified," but I'm sure I speak for a lot of desktop users when I say I don't want that in my OS.

"I would think ­-- or hope -- the next paradigm shift in computing would be machines that act like personal assistants. Like Siri meets Kinect voice commands."

What is your earliest gadget memory?
The Speak & Spell was very impressive as a kid; I mean it talked and helped E.T. get home! I am also pretty sure the first computer I ever used was a VIC-20 in elementary school.

What technological advancement do you most admire?
The internet is pretty awesome. I know that sounds vague, but I remember a world without it, and it was a very different place. Although, people were more social back then.

Which do you most despise?
Maybe smartphones? It turns everyone anti-social. People have their faces glued to them at all times and why the heck does a 10-year-old need one?

What fault are you most tolerant of in a gadget?
Lack of polish / features. I'll see a device, whatever it is, and think, "Well, it would be nice if it had such and such, but for that price I shouldn't complain."

Which are you most intolerant of?
Slow speed. Don't waste my time, gadget!

When has your smartphone been of the most help?
They are always very useful when traveling, since it's your only portal of communication. Maps, email, schedules ... What's that app that keeps track of the trains in the Bay Area? That's useful when I visit.

If you could change one thing about your phone what would it be?
A real keyboard. Goes back to wasting time, something onscreen keyboards and stupid autocorrect are guilty of.

Unfortunately, with phones it's "Slim shape, real keyboard and good phone -- pick two."

What does being connected mean to you?
Having my phone / computer on and "connecting" with people on social networks, forums, groups and communities like element14.

When are you least likely to reply to an email?
Two major red flags for me:
• Really long emails.
• No capitalization, all upper or lowercase, bad spelling.

When did you last disconnect?
I don't even remember! Last summer, a bunch of friends and I went on a fishing trip, yet still we used an iPad over AT&T to watch the real-time Mars landing.

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