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The News Tribune

    The interviewer was supposed to send me a hard copy of the following interview after it went to print, but for whatever reason that didn't happen.  You can however read the full article below or see the original in the news tribune Soundlife section here,

The computer mod squad 

BILL HUTCHENS; The News Tribune
Published: August 7th, 2005 12:01 AM

Your car-guy dad probably spent – or spends – hundreds of hours tinkering with his ride, customizing every last detail to his heart’s content.

These days, there’s a new object of obsessive tweaking and tuning. If you’re into computers, especially high-powered gaming machines, you might also be into “case modding,” tricking out the container that holds your PC’s guts and brains.

Inventive case modders around the world are turning their backs on drab assembly-line beige computer boxes in favor of their own creations.

Whether by design or accident, case modders borrow some terminology from car enthusiasts.

“They actually use the terminology ‘soup up their rig,’” said Jason “sight|i|picture” Harper, co-owner of LAN Party Northwest (, which organizes events for gamers so they can compete against each other, connected in a Local Area Network. “And they’re not talking about their car or their truck. They’re gonna soup up their gaming rig.”

Harper, a Sumner High School graduate who lives in Marysville, has seen a range of case mods. When the craze began several years ago, a mod might have consisted of a clear box with lighted tubes and fans. More recently, modders have found unconventional containers for their rigs.

“One person brought in a (radio-controlled) Hummer to one of our 60-Man LAN parties,” Harper said. “The very next LAN party, he brought that Hummer and a Mini Cooper.”

Marc “LaughinJack” Gilbert is the modder who built those rigs. The 35-year-old Bothell resident said he spent about three weeks building the Hummer, a computer he drives through the front doors of LAN parties he attends.

“I stripped the insides and mounted the motherboard,” Gilbert said. “After that, it’s really just a matter of putting the power supply and the fans in.”

Gilbert is one of several modders who have shown off their creations at gaming events hosted by LAN Party Northwest.

Modders will make PC cases out of just about anything they can get their hands on.

There are beer-keg PCs, fish-tank PCs, coffee-maker PCs, engine-block PCs, microwave-oven PCs, sports-themed PCs, hamster-cage PCs. And, at a LAN Party Northwest event, at least one PC was housed in a Mirage Casino-themed shell alongside Macintosh computer innards.

A German modder did away with cases altogether and simply sprayed polyurethane foam on naked computer parts. The bulbous and bubbly end result could float but wasn’t 100 percent watertight.

A recent issue of the quarterly Make magazine featured a guide for turning your old Atari 2600 console into a high-end gaming computer.

Troy Fryfogle, 36, runs the Web site out of his home in rural Michigan. A husband, father and meat-department manager at a grocery store, Fryfogle started modding by putting a window and colored light tubes in a computer case.

His most recent creation is a little more radical.

“I’ve got a Hannibal Lecter mask, so I’m going to fix him up like Hannibal Lecter and wheel him into QuakeCon,” Fryfogle said of the rig he finished a few weeks ago, a gaming machine installed in a mannequin. (QuakeCon is a huge four-day celebration in Dallas of all things id Software, the company that makes the Doom, Quake and Castle Wolfenstein games, among others.)

Fryfogle’s statue PC rolls its eyes, which are controlled by a button on Fryfogle’s keyboard. Another button makes red lights shoot out of the mannequin’s head, a nod to Fryfogle’s motto: “Mod it ’til it bleeds.”

“I think it’ll turn some heads,” Fryfogle said of the machine that cost him about $1,800 and half a year of off-and-on tinkering to create.

Getting started is just a matter of overcoming your fear of cracking your PC box, he said.

“It’s more intimidating than difficult,” he said. “If you’re intimidated by opening your computer in the first place, don’t mod. But if you don’t mind cracking it open and doing a little poking around, you’ll probably enjoy modding.”

Fryfogle has about 40 do-it-yourself guides posted on his Web site.

Modding can become an obsession.

Look at the cars parked at Harper’s home for monthly LAN Party Northwest gaming nights, and then look at the players’ computers. “You can tell where their money is going,” Harper said.

LAN Party Northwest hosts monthly “gLAN” gaming events (so called because they take place in Harper’s renovated garage) as well as two large LAN events each year in Everett. Gamers from all over the country have shown up at their 400-Man LAN events. The next one is Sept. 2-4, and Harper said he expects to see some wild case mods entered in the event’s case-mod contest.

While outrageous design is appreciated, so is clean organization and smart problem solving. Many gamers “overclock” their systems, pushing their rigs’ brains to the limits. The extra activity tends to heat up computer innards, so some modders have gone as far as installing radiator-like water cooling systems in their computers, Harper said.

Mod it up

Want to mod? Look for helpful guides and galleries at Got mod?