Tales from a Modder’s Garage

by Craig "Tech-Daddy" Tate on October 15, 2008 in Editorials & Interviews

Over the course of the past few years, PC modding has exploded into a hobby enjoyed by many, and for good reason. I’ve been building mods for a while now, and if I can say one thing, it’s that it can be one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have. Read on as I tell you why I enjoy it so much, and what it takes to become a modder yourself.

Page 1 – Introduction, Building for You

“You do what to what?”

This is the typical response to my hobby… so welcome to my world! Quizzical looks… that is usually what I’m greeted with when people begin asking me about my beloved pastime. Granted, talking about computer modding to a regular “Joe” can be about as daunting as nude cactus jumping (don’t attempt this! We’re not responsible for your actions if you do, but send pics if you do anyway!), but there is a bit of a reward when, after being hit with 5 minutes of trying to explain, I simply say… “Here, lemme show you…”, and open up a web browser…


“Ohhh… OHHHH!!! Wow! That is really cool!”

Then the flood of questions start that are usually more animated, and in-depth, because now the person is thinking about what they would want to do, given enough time/materials/skill/inspiration.

Pictures open up a completely different energy and comprehension for the causal viewer. It evokes emotion. This part usually gets me to really smile, because now they are talking about their computer and wondering what they could do it, and are also getting excited. It’s an awkward moment when they realize that they just got very excited about their PC… and then I allay their fears by patting them on the shoulder and stating, “Welcome to my daily world…”

That is pretty much a cookie-cutter conversation for everywhere I’ve gone. For those that have never been exposed to modding, verbally explaining the passion can be a fruitless task. But throw out the pictures… well, that’s a whole other ball game! People latch onto visual elements better than discussion and mental interpretation. It’s an emotional trigger that will leave a larger impact than that of a simple explanation. And, in my world and style of modding, I’m a visual guy!

That’s the point right there, why modding is so much fun. It bridges the gap between a virtual world that the computer produces, and gives us a tangible, physical item to touch and experience.

I have always been a “picture-driven” guy. If I cant see it, I have a hard time working on it. Geometry – got an A! Pre-Calc & Trig… well, that weeded me out of college! Should have been a big ol’ clue right there. Working in virtual spaces help, but give me wood, paper or clay and let me mock up… that’s how I roll!

For me, modding was a near-perfect fit. My ever so petite size (6ft 8in, 275lbs), lends itself perfectly to working in tight spaces! *rolls eyes* I have a great time working on the lil’ bitty stuff like PCB’s and LED’s… go figure! Small and dainty… I am not. May I be an example for people out there thinking about getting into modding. If I can do this… so can you. Trust me on that. In the coming articles and “how in the heck do I do that?” explanations, I hope to remove some of the mystery and hesitance out there regarding modding.

Everyone can do it. You may not have “Cover Girl” model upon completion, but you will have a completely unique extension of your persona. It will be something nobody else has, and that should always be your end goal. Not to make others like your mod (and I’ll explain that in a minute), and not to win contests. You mod… for you, and you only. It is a perception issue that I have learned over the years, and it is one that I would like to instill in anyone that I lead into this hobby, “Mod for you…”

If you build for you, you will always end up with a machine that you can appreciate. If you build for others, and you keep the machine, you may end up with something that will be like a splinter in your eye. A nagging reminder to design decisions that you incorporated into the mod that you “wish you had not”. Now, you go around mad that you “listened to that person”. Or that you “did it their way”… there is never a good ending from that situation.

The one way to insure that does not happen is to perform the design and build… yourself. Take ownership and responsibility for your mod. If something goes wrong, you can eat it as an “experience builder” and not carry a grudge around against anyone. There is much more to modding, even on the simple side, that you can learn from and grow as a person. It teaches you responsibility for your actions, it teaches you to think through something before doing it (“measure twice, cut once”), it will build confidence (especially when you successfully pull off alterations on hardware) as well as the maturity to own up to a mistake that you made on the build or when something breaks.

Inspiration from anywhere…

Truer words could never be spoken about this hobby. It can draw from whatever you like. Video games? Cars? Hobbies? Sports? – the sky’s the limit! You want a computer that is covered in clouds because you like cloud watching? Do it! School alumni? Done! Favorite band? This work is limited only by your desire and imagination.

That’s appealing, but it can also be overly daunting. There is such a thing as “scope creep” and I caution people to set attainable goals. If you go too aggressive on a mod by planning too many  changes and you fail, you are less likely to want to do another mod, as the first one will have left  you with a foul taste of the experience.

But… if you stick to relatively simple mods and reach those goals, you’ll enjoy seeing the changes and be more apt to want to move up the ladder in complexity and difficulty. You gotta walk before you can run, as they say.

The “why” is a bit more difficult part to quantify. Why would a person take a perfectly functioning case and hack it to bits? Why would a person take a task (building a computer), that can be nearly compared to the stress level of an air traffic controller…why make an already potentially stressful experience even more difficult? Well… it definitely takes a different breed  (read: short on common sense, long on pride) of person to repeatedly dole out healthy heapings of this kind of self-inflected heartache. But, here is a test for you. Read the below phrase and see how you fare:

“Do you enjoy the journey or the destination?” – Ok… got your answer? It’s a pretty simple question that can be applied. You ready? Let’s see what you got!

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