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Jake Harms doesn't claim to have invented the idea of placing an aquarium inside a vintage iMac computer. But he thinks he may be the only person to make a successful business of it.
The aquarium is a niche item that has found a market among Apple computer fans and fish-tank collectors. Harms, an Omaha resident for the past eight years, has made and shipped 200 of them, mostly in the past year. He said he can't make them fast enough to keep up with demand.
Harms made the first aquarium for himself in 2007 because he likes to tinker and had seen a similar aquarium on the Internet. He had the same kind of computer, an Apple G3, in his garage.
“I thought, I have one of those,” he said. “I could make that.”
He gutted the computer and carefully measured the interior space where a tank would fit. His prototype looked good. When a friend saw it, he wanted one.
So Harms made another. And another. And another.
The 28-year-old entrepreneur sold his first iMac aquarium in 2008, but it took off early this year after it was shown on kickstarter.com, a web-based company for entrepreneurs seeking financial backing. Kickstarter.com challenges inventors to set a monetary goal and get pledges for their products within a set period of time.
“It's like a pledge drive, a fundraiser,” Harms said. “I set a goal of raising $5,000 and I got $9,800.”
He's had orders from as far away as Europe, Australia and Asia. One of his customers was an Apple executive. Interest in his product has been almost evenly divided between those who want the completed iMac aquarium ($299) and those who want the do-it-yourself kit ($199) to make an aquarium using their own computer shell.
Apparently, those old G3s have been too cool to throw away.
When it unveiled its iMac G3 in 1998, Apple boasted that the back of it looks better than the front of any other computer. The G3 had a translucent candy-colored shell over its gum-drop-shaped monitor. The available colors — aqua, dark blue, smoky gray, white, orange and red — were impressive to kids like Harms, then in middle school in Wilcox, Neb.
But like most products Apple has offered, the style of the G3 would change again. (The G4, which debuted in 2002, looked like a flat screen that swiveled above a smooth, white dome.) That makes the G3 an antique of sorts, not because of its age as much as its rarity.
When Harms finds stashes of G3s at schools, recyclers and from online friends, he banks them in a storage unit.
The unit is full.
When he gets the computers, they have plenty of signs of being “loved.” He finds scratches, stickers and cracked and broken bits of plastic.
He spends, on average, five hours with each computer, gutting it, buffing and polishing the shell, fitting it with a 3½-gallon clear plastic tank, water filter, rope lighting, power cord and switches to control the lights and filter.
He's a one-man show, working in his garage for a couple of hours a night. Friends who drop by comment on the dentist-drill sound his buffer makes on the iMac shells. But the result is a new-looking computer. Harms contracts with a fabricator to make the clear tanks fit exactly inside the computer and Harms applies a seam sealer to ensure no water will leak.
By the time he's finished, he's generally standing in a pile of plastic dust and surrounded by hundreds of screws the size of an eraser head.
Harms has more ideas for the iMac shells.
Late model Macs have the Apple logo on a flat almost-square side that would make an ideal clock face. There would be no need for numbers, Harms said, just add larger black hands to a battery-operated mechanism and let the imagination provide the numbers. Harms said that's the way Apple thinks — keep it simple.
Another idea is to make a lamp from the G4 and G5 iMacs, whose monitor swivels on a dome-shaped base.
Last week, the Harms' garage was filled with boxes of iMac G3s outfitted with aquariums. They're the inventory that Harms and his wife, Stephanie, were moving to Wilcox. The Harms' hometown will be their next home base.
While in the Omaha area, Harms has worked as a printer for Isodisc and he and Stephanie have built another side business, Capture Photography and Videography. They plan to focus on that business in Wilcox, start a family and send out more Apple aquariums.
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