(This is a short piece I wrote a while back about Keita Suyama, the Japanese modder I mentioned in yesterday's news.)
TOKYO – You might say Keita Suyama is obsessed with modifying Macintosh computers. His office is strewn with various tools, electronic parts, and partially disassembled computers. He grinned sheepishly as he talked about his most recent project — a black flat-panel iMac. (More after the jump.)
"I'm not entirely satisfied with the way it came out," he said, but his face was that of a proud parent. Turning the white iMac black entailed disassembling the entire computer, removing the paint on the inside of the clear plastic shell with paint thinner and repainting it — a technique that Suyama perfected when creating blue and orange versions of the new iBook. "I can't really recommend doing it. It was really tough," says Suyama.
In fact, once he had put the machine back together, it wouldn't start up. "Actually I don't think it was my fault," he explains. "This kind of thing has been known to happen with some of the first flat-panel iMacs, but you can't exactly send in a black iMac for warranty service and say it just stopped working." Since spare parts for the iMac were not available at the time, he had no choice but to buy a second machine for parts in order to fix the first.
He started innocently enough — upgrading hard drives and memory on desktop machines – but then found himself taking apart his PowerBook 520c and then his PowerBook 2400.
"At first it was a little scary — like I was doing something I wasn't supposed to. But luckily I work near the electronics district in Tokyo, so I was able to practice with some used computers, and I found it wasn't as difficult as I had thought. Eventually I started modifying new machines as well."
Suyama works at his father's company designing and fitting hearing aids, but he spends much of his time using, writing about, and modifying his Macs. His tendency to work on his projects at the office has earned him the nickname "Japan's least hardest working man." In reality his job demands that he spend long hours at his office, and he works on his projects whenever he has free moment.
His company web site only occasionally refers to hearing aids. Suyama uses it mostly to display his recent projects and Mac related news. He regularly travels to the US — sometimes for trade shows or symposiums in his field, but more often than not it is to attend the two annual Mac Expos. He posts detailed reports about the shows on his web site, but the real center of attention is usually his latest modification.
Listening to him talk, you can tell he loves what he does. Even the smallest detail can be the source of a project or a section for his web site. He spent weeks trying out various possibilities for cooling the new iBook, even going so far as to use a thermographic camera and scientific thermometers to obtain accurate readings. He tried out a variety of third-party external fans, as well as ones of his own design. Suyama's love of detail and precision shows up in many of his projects. To see how loud the fan in the new flat-panel iMac was he took it to an Eckel Industries soundproof chamber (the result was a quiet 36db).
Suyama gives a variety of reasons for why he does what he does. "Part of it is just a desire to make things more convenient and more personal," he explains. "Once you buy something, it's yours. If you can change it to make it work better for you or look more attractive, then why not do it? I suppose part of me also likes to surprise people and to do something that has never been done before." After thinking a bit more, he continued. "The truth is that I'm not really sure why I do it, but I can't seem to stop."