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Salt Lake City: impressions after several months
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Review: My First Day With Vonage, Excellent!
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Vonage Customer Review: One month with Vonage, and...
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Dial 'M' for Maverick


Vonage In Print News

Dial 'M' for Maveric

August 11, 2005

By Ben Steelman

She has form-fitting jeans and three-toned hair, and she might pass for Jessica Simpson if you're extremely nearsighted or under the influence of a controlled substance.

If you're not nearsighted, you'll notice the metallic keypad just north of her bellybutton.

She's a telephone. You talk into her hand.

She's the handiwork of Christopher Dols, a Carolina Beach-based computer whiz. He's one of four contestants in "Pimp That Phone," a national competition sponsored by Vonage, the broadband phone company.

"The whole idea is to extreme your phone," Mr. Dols said.

He and three other designers were each given a bottom-of-the-line, '70s vintage, hard-plastic touch-tone phone, plus a check for $ 500 to cover parts and other expenses.

From there, they had six weeks to turn it into an "uberphone," a distinctive and original work of art - which, however, must still work as a phone.

For Mr. Dols, the answer was to think outside the box - and inside a 6-foot tall department store-style mannequin.

That's not a huge leap for the instructor at Cape Fear Community College, who regularly dresses up computers to look as little like little blinking boxes as possible.

"Black box - yech!" Mr. Dols said.

"Every term, I help six to 10 people build their own brand-new computers, and I help them personalize what they do."

For example, why just stick a fan in the back of your PC? Why not install a water-cooling system, with tubes coiling around the electronic innards.

Mr. Dols used one such system in one of his masterpieces, a larger-than-life-sized, hand-tooled replica of the demonic puzzle cube from the Clive Barker horror film Hellraiser.

"Go to Clive Barker's Web site (www.clivebarker.com)," the maker said with obvious pride. "It's on there."

More recently, he's drawn notice for "Death of an Idol," a computer case (he's still waiting to wire the inside) that's a digital work of art.

Picture a half-sized, old-fashioned, varnished wood coffin, the kind Dracula might love. Through a glass window, however, you see the reposed head and blonde locks of a certain iconic fashion doll. Don't say the

"B" word; Mr. Dols has a healthy respect for copyright restrictions.

"I mean, I could put a Bratz head on it," he said. "I could put Bill Gates' head on it."

Mr. Dols, who moved to the area from Colorado in 1998, has been modifying computers for "as long as I can remember," but grew serious about the hobby only four or five years ago.

As such, he's part of a lively underground of "PC mods."

For years, hardcore geeks would modify, or customize, their personal computers, repainting them in Day-Glo colors, adding neon lights - anything to erase their mass-produced, corporate origins.

Gradually, "modding" spread to servers, stereos, TV sets, just about anything electronic.

What makes one a serious modder?

"Number one, knowledge," Mr. Dols said. "Knowing what you're doing, knowing what the dangers are. Number two is tools."

Among the essential gear are items like a Dremel 400 XPR for cutting, sanding, polishing or grinding, plus a laser cutter for delicate etching work.

"I'd never thought of modding a phone," Mr. Dols said - at least until five or six months ago, when he was approached by a representative from Arnold WorldWide, an agency working for Vonage.

"He's very well known and good at getting grassroots interest in his enterprises," said Brooke Schulz, Vonage's senior vice president for corporate communications. "He's got a unique style, and he combines the technical and the fantastic in his designs."

In large part, Mr. Dols caught Vonage's eye with the creative Web site for his upcoming television show, Ms. Schulz said.

Called Mod the Machine, it's intended as a sort of PC spinoff of such cable hits as Pimp My Ride or American Chopper.

In the pilot episode, two teams build themed PCs for the children's wing of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Mr. Dols serves as executive producer, along with director Ray Brislin and host Nikki Goodlett, while Mr. Dols' wife, Barbara, and 7-year-old son, Drew, helped out with the sets.

A pilot has been shot, and Mod the Machine is now being shopped around to several networks and advertisers, according to the series' Web site (http://modthemachine.tv).

Meanwhile, there's a contest to win.

"It's not a whole lot of technical stuff," Mr. Dols said, "just a lot of rewiring."

The working bits of a telephone all fit on a couple of small boards, so it was no big deal to fit them into the mannequin's torso, along with an Internet hook-up. Mr. Dols hardwired caller ID into place. In the last phases, he'll run lines up the mannequin's raised arm, to a speaker in the palm of her hand. (The name of his project: Talk to the Hand.)

The real challenge turned out to be the surgery on the mannequin's torso, which is made of a form of Fiberglass known as Tiger Hair.

"The smell - whooo!" Mr. Dols said.

Then, of course, the mannequin - who looks about as lifelike as one of the Hilton sisters - had to be dressed.

"The clothes were a nightmare," Mr. Dols said. "I am not a female fashion person."

Eventually, he found most of what he needed at Rave, a fashion store in Westfield Independence mall.

"I told them I was shopping for a niece," he said. "If you say you're shopping for a mannequin, it sounds a little weird."

He also shopped online, where he found mannequin herself - price tag: $ 120 - and her wig.

Mr. Dols is now putting the finishing touches on her in his garage, on a quiet back street well off Carolina Beach's main drag, working against a Monday deadline. A self-confessed night person, he usually labors till about 2 or 3 in the morning.

During the day, the mannequin stands in the Dols living room, surrounded by plants, a disused Lava lamp and some of Drew's toys.

"The sad thing is," Mr. Dols said, "when the contest is over, she becomes the property of Vonage. I have to give her up."



 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

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