except for the oohs and aahs heard around the world when Apple launched the iMac, people seem fairly indifferent to how their computers look. We spend time and money personalizing everything in our homes, from our wall colours to matching appliances. But for some reason computers have escaped the scrutiny of style-sensitive users.
There are some exceptions. Over the past few years, an underground collective has found inspiration in the redesign and decoration of their own machines. The craft, called computer modding, is slowly capturing the attention of the mainstream as people realize their computers need not look like utilitarian hunks of metal and plastic.
Just like those hot rod enthusiasts who spend all weekend standing around looking at cars and enviously comparing inner specs, modders can tweak the performance of their computers as well as add personality to the outer shell.
The worlds of computing and outfitting cars collide directly in James "Corg8d" Anderson's latest creation, Heavy Metal. After spending years re-tooling cars, he turned his CPU into a $50,000 hot rod with a red chrome body, custom chassis and go-kart wheels. (You can see him drive it at http://www.twistedmods.com/article.php?artid=268.)
Modders have turned their CPU towers into rocket ships, aliens, asteroids, jukeboxes, backpacks and even a faux fetus power-pack inspired by The Matrix.
My favourite is a wooden case with chrome instrument panels surrounding a beer fridge built into the computer itself. Many of the others are covered with leather or fake fur.
Tokyo designer Katsuya Matsumura is famous for turning his Dynabook into a three-quarter-size anime Japanese schoolgirl. The styrofoam body is detachable, and the PC itself is located in her back, beneath her long, flowing hair.
The redesign work considered the finest by modding enthusiasts tends to show off the computer's interior instead of hiding it away, just as many hot rods have cut-away bodies so you can see their gleaming chrome engines. These CPU boxes have windows and plastic panels with neon lights, cooling tubes, fans and stencils to highlight the hardware modifications.
A modder named G-nome, inspired by vintage British sci-fi, spent seven months hand tooling plexiglass, stainless steel shower hoses, chrome and vinyl piping used to cool the system when it's on. It gives off an eerie green glow and is touted by many as the "best case-mod ever."
A new company in Sweden is offering gorgeous monitors, keyboards and mice made entirely from ash or beech timber.
In an effort to spread the movement, a handful of East Coast modders are launching a company called Modders Inc. to supply users with original designs for their computers.
Technology commentator Clive Thompson calls case-modding the "signature folk art of our times," because these computers are being re-tooled by individuals instead of on assembly lines.