You know how it is, sitting in front of that boring beige computer box all day. Makes you want to cut a big hole into it so you can see...

Share story

SAN JOSE, Calif. — You know how it is, sitting in front of that boring beige computer box all day.

Makes you want to cut a big hole into it so you can see the innards working. Or maybe you want to turn it into an aircraft carrier, a “Star Wars” spaceship or a pint-size motorcycle.

What’s that? Thought never crossed your mind?

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

You’re just not with it — it in this instance being “case modding.” You know, case modding — modifying a computer’s case to show off its hardware or to turn it into something it’s not. Think of it as the geek’s answer to tricking out a car.

“It’s more that sense of customizing. That sense of personalization,” says Russ Caslis, 32, something of a case-modding guru from Sunnyvale, Calif. “It’s kind of an extension of yourself.”

This is a man who has done the aircraft carrier and “Star Wars” thing. And that motorcycle? He’s working on it.

Caslis has installed a computer in a picture frame and put one in a console that resembles an old barroom Pac-Man machine. (See

“Most of it happens, like, at night,” says his wife, Yulia Caslis.

Yes, it is yet another subculture born of the digital age and promoted through the Web. There are case-modding superstars, heated debates and the requisite online razzing of anyone new to the game.

After all, serious case modding goes back years — like five or six.

Caslis doesn’t expect everyone to get his fascination with transforming everyday objects into fully functioning computers. He does it for himself — for himself and for the admiration of kindred spirits.

“Most of my friends are obviously people I work with,” says Caslis, a system administrator at Good Technology in Santa Clara, Calif. “They don’t think I’m too nuts for doing this. My family? They don’t quite get it.”

What’s to get? Case modding is a hobby built on one-upmanship and the fascination with packing real computing power into ever-smaller crannies. Building a custom machine can take months of trials, errors and late nights.

Caslis prowls toy stores looking for objects that will make a nice computer case — with some modifications.

His aircraft carrier started as a $20 toy. He gutted the inside and installed a mini-motherboard in the ship’s nearly 6-3/4-inch-wide hull. He added LED lights, airplanes, antennae, a program to play the national anthem and a mouse that looks like a tugboat. Lapsed time: four months. He uses it primarily to run DVDs.

“On the one hand I’m thinking, useless,” says Yulia Caslis, 24, a bank teller. “On the other hand, cool.”

No, she wouldn’t mind if her husband moved some of his creations out of their apartment. But she realizes this is his art, his passion.

“I guess they have some sentimental value to him.”

And it is not all fun and games. Caslis recently published “Going Mod: 9 Cool Case Mod Projects” (Wiley, $24.99). It takes modders through the basics of tools and techniques and examines nine projects.

It’s full of tips for modders, of course. But perhaps nothing in it shows Caslis’ brilliance as much as the book’s dedication.

“This book is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Yulia,” it begins.

You want to cut up computers and build them out of toys at your house? Think about your dearest loved ones — the ones who have to put up with your hobby.

Then start working on your dedication.

Mike Cassidy is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.