Ben Heck goes old school

In the hacktivist community, where people repurpose software and hardware for their own enjoyment, Ben Heck (short for Benjamin Heckendorn) is a veritable god.

Some of his accomplishments over the years include:

• Packed Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PS3 consoles into battery-powered laptops and portable cases.

• Created a one-handed Xbox 360 for a soldier injured in Iraq.

• Created a "Portal" shirt from the video game where a hole in the front of his shirt showed an image of what was in the room behind him.

• Built a portable, hand-cranked cell phone charger from a flashlight.

• Built a device to automatically change the games on his Xbox 360.

• Making portable devices out of last generation video came consoles, like the NES.

His list of accomplishments is long, and while Heck is usually more than happy to sell his inventions he's also usually happy to share the instructions with his legions of fans.

But while Heck's influence on high technology is considerable, his latest project - the resurrection of a "low technology" could be his biggest yet. Heck, with the help of other modders, is looking to bring back pinball, designing and building custom pinball machines for the rich and famous.

There's definitely a niche there. Stern Pinball, the last and only company making pinball machines with the demise of Williams, Gottlieb and Bally, has been struggling to stay afloat. Some of their recent commercial games include licensed Tron: Legacy and Transformers games, but the company has recently shifted its focus from arcades and gaming centres to private collectors who want pinball games in their homes. To that end the company is continuing to make and market classic machines.

As well, the company is going digital as well, licensing its table designs for video adaptations. For example, a Pinball Arcade app for phones and tablets that will start off with four classic tables from pinball's golden era.

For Ben Heck to get involved in the pinball world at this stage in the game is somewhat astonishing, although if anything Heck is eclectic (he once released ironic country music album) as well as a deft hand with a soldering gun. It's also a good thing for pinball, and could help generate more interest in games the same way he's breathed new life into defunct consoles by making them portable.

The first original game Heck is developing is called Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland, and will feature hand-drawn artwork from John Popadiuk. Preorders start in January, and the number of limited edited machines produced will probably depend on the level of interest.

Interest is already high, given Heck's first few forays into pinball machines - a machine based on the television series Lost and something called Bill Paxton Pinball .

The really interesting part of all this is that Heck is creating a "homebrew" pinball industry by showing people how to build their own pinball machines, from flippers to bumpers, hardware to software.

To follow this project, and generally be amazed by one man's skills and imagination, be sure to bookmark


Bill C-11 probably no big deal

Canada is both celebrated and condemned as the country with the loosest laws involving digital copyright in the developed world, where almost any kind of activity falls into an immense grey area that the federal government is looking to resolve.

Part of that effort is Bill C-11 - formerly C-32 until the last election was called and the legislation died on the table.

There are a number of changes to copyright laws in the act, both good and bad. For example, schools will have more freedom to use copyrighted materials for educational purposes than they do under the current legislation, which is a good thing. For another, the government has committed to upholding the concept of digital locks, which would make it illegal to break any kind of digital security built into copyrighted material for any reason - which, depending on how you intend to use that material, is not a good thing.

However, the debate may be academic, as even the Conservative Party doubts that the legislation will actually be enforced.

As recounted at tech pundit Michael Geist's blog, a member of the public wrote a letter to Conservative MP asking why the public shouldn't be concerned over the rule changes regarding digital locks. The reply was revealing, to say the least:

"If a digital lock is broken for personal use, it is not realistic that the creator would choose to file a law suit against the consumer, due to legal fees and time involved."

While a letter from an MP is not the same thing as a legal precedent, and people breaking digital locks and sharing or profiting from that material are at a higher threat of criminal charges, it's a fairly significant acknowledgement of the concept of fair use.




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