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ATPM 11.08
August 2005


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by Tom Bridge,

John Hart,

The last few years have seen personalization of computers go to new and amazing levels, from custom case modification to stickers, to colored Apple logos. John Hart of Muppet Labs is on the cutting edge of the Mac modding scene, repainting laptops and desktops, adding custom equipment, refinishing the entire machine from top to bottom. ATPM caught up with John recently to talk about his influences inside the Mac community and the modding community.

ATPM: How did you get your start modding the Mac?

John Hart: One could say I kind of fell into modding. The movie Hackers gave me the bright idea to paint my computer, and that was over ten years ago. Since then, I’ve always customized my machines. Over time, the desire to produce better work led me into more complex pursuits.

ATPM: What mods have you done to your own computers? What’s your best innovation so far?

Hart: In regard to my own computers, I’ve spray-painted them, installed window kits, neon tubes, put guts in replacement cases, and done a myriad number of custom paint jobs.

ATPM: Who’s been your best inspiration so far?

Hart: I wouldn’t say who, but rather “what.” The what would be custom cars. California’s low rider and hot rod culture has always been a big influence. Within that culture, people like Von Dutch, Craig Fraser, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, just to name a few.

ATPM: Talk to me a bit about how the car culture is flowing into the computer culture, creating a crossover between Monster Garage and the Mac Development labs. It’s a big change for the computer industry, to say the least.

Hart: Well, at the most basic, it seems in my opinion, that street racing and computers have influenced each other. Its entirely possible it happened without either culture realizing it. In both arenas, you see lots of customization, neon, and flash. It doesn’t necessarily make the car or computer faster, but it’s a level of personalization that lets the owner take his possession to the next step. For me, it was more an outgrowth of my art education, and my love of car art. I’ve always loved flames, and intricate pinstripes, two-tone body work, and all of the flash associated. More than anything, the old school look of stuff a la American Graffiti. So, when painting computers, I tend towards that style. My belief is that if a car can look that cool, so can a computer. I think that anything that covers customization is going to blend a little. Just so long as people remain creative, we’ll see lots of interesting ideas.

ATPM: Where do your best modding ideas come from?

Hart: It’ll sound funny, but the best ones are the ones that come to me in the shower. I’m standing there committing hygiene, and things just pop into my head. Hardware stores are also great for strange ideas.

ATPM: Give me a brief biographical sketch of your Mac life.

Hart: My Mac life began, technically, when my mother purchased one of the original Macintosh’s. I was awed by the thing, and was drawn to it. Not long after, I was gifted with an Apple //e. This was followed by a string of Performas and other PowerPC machines, leading up to my current collection of G4s and such.

Professionally, I’ve never been anywhere else. I’d never owned a PC until last year (still don’t really use it for much). Since high school, I was a print and art geek, so college was spent studying graphic design, while doing vigilante Mac repair on the side. When the opportunity presented itself, I took the leap and got into being a Mac Tech on a professional level. I spent several years in a shop in Richmond, VA, and now work out of a shop in Bethesda, MD.

ATPM: What are you most proud of, mod-wise?

Hart: Honestly, I’m proud of them all. They are all examples of something I wanted to try. But, if I had to pick two, I’d have to say that my Tiki Mac project, and the Hello Kitty iMac are two of my favorites.

ATPM: If you had an unlimited budget for a mod, what would you do?

Hart: An unlimited budget would afford me some pretty good options. In the D-I-Y category, pulling together my Fish Tank Mac Mini would totally happen. In terms of having things fabricated, I’d be going to metal shops and would have cases custom cut, and then either anodized, or powder coated. Custom neon would also be an option, since paying to have tubes made wouldn’t be a problem.

ATPM: What’s a basic mod consist of for you? What kinds of mods are easy for people to do themselves, in their spare time, and what kind of things do people have to “send out” for, so to speak?

Hart: I consider a basic mod to be anything that changes a machine from stock. It could be as simple as putting color behind an Apple logo. Obviously, I don’t consider covering a machine in stickers to be modding, but the definition is open to debate. Where my work is concerned, my mods are usually entire case paint jobs, which is more work than most people would consider basic.

Deciding on what would be be easy for most people is a bit of a gray area, because some people have different skill sets, and I hate to over-generalize. But, if I had to say, installing neon tubes into towers is pretty basic, spray-painting isn’t hard, but takes a little practice, and even putting color behind your iBook’s Apple logo isn’t hard, assuming you aren’t afraid to take your machine apart.

If I were going to recommend something to be “sent-out” for, I’d have to say that things like case cutting, highly detailed painting, hardware modification to parts other than the case, riveting, anodizing, and powder coating would be good examples. My rule of thumb is that if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, talk to people who have experience. They may be able to help you. Of course, if you’re fearless, or in my case, willing to throw caution to the wind, almost anything can be done in-house, or figured out. I’m a “learn by doing” kind of person, so I have plenty of mistakes to call on, when trying to figure out the right way of doing something.

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Reader Comments (2)

Marsha Arsenian · August 17, 2005 - 11:16 EST #1
Wow! cool lime green. I have several computer parts (i.e., monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, etc.,) that I would love to see in a leopard design. Do you do this or sell the paint? Thanks, Marsha
ATPM Staff · August 17, 2005 - 23:53 EST #2
Marsha - you should click the artist's Muppet Labs link near the top and ask him yourself.

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