Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kitchen Computer!

Warning: this post may contain geekiness! (and does not contain any pretty pictures of food, though it should enable easier making of pretty food pictures in the future)

I've been wanting some sort of kitchen computer for a while - I get a lot of my recipes off the internet, and we don't have a printer (plus it's easier just to read off the screen - no formatting issues and usually pretty pictures too), and I also like to challenge myself with fiddly, complicated things which can mean I spend a long time in the kitchen - and it can be nice to have entertainment.

I got a new laptop about a month ago, after nearly four years with my trusty old Dell (the new one is a Dell too, in case you're wondering - it's fantastic but I digress). There were two main problems with the old one; the hinges were completely shot (it had been permanently open with a lot of support from a large quantity of duct tape for quite a while before I finally replaced it); and the processor couldn't keep up with my super-needy multi-tasking habits (as an illustration of how I use my system, I currently have four Excel docs, four Word docs and a browser with 31 tabs open).

 The sort of juxtaposition of items that occurs in Mrs Cake's house

So, I decided it would be a perfect kitchen computer. A kitchen computer doesn't need hinges, and I shouldn't need more than a couple of browser tabs and maybe a Word document at a time. Also, Mr Cake has reinstalled Windows for me, which may help slightly with the lag issues I was having.

First step was to pull it to pieces and figure out how to make it work. I undid the hinges and took the case off the monitor, and realised that it would be pretty easy to make a relatively small, flattish unit simply by rotating the uncased monitor over the keyboard. Because I use Xmarks, which enables syncing of bookmarks and/or tabs across different computers, and will couple my kitchen computer with a wireless mouse, I decided a keyboard was unnecessary. It would be tricky to use while working in the kitchen, anyway; it would either be vertical on the wall or on my work surface, so not ideal either way. And there's always the on-screen keyboard on the odd occasion I do need it!

The next step was to figure out how to case it. I thought about it a bit but couldn't figure out any satisfactory way of making my own case in a way that would look presentable enough (and be strong enough) for me to make it a permanent feature of the kitchen wall. So, I rang my dad. He told me to bring my laptop with me when I went down last weekend for the high teas, and while we were busy baking he whipped up this lovely little case, which perfectly fits my specifications. The special needs were; it had to hold the monitor in front of the base unit so they could be mounted together; the top had to be open so I can plug in the power cable and a usb mouse dongle; the back had to be mostly uncovered and leave a small gap for ventilation; and it had to be as light as possible to make wall-mounting possible.

To mount the laptop, I first needed to rotate the display. This is easy, though - a trick I learned years ago accidentally, and which makes a great, easily reversible April Fool's Day prank if you work in an office: Ctrl + Alt + down arrow inverts the screen (the side arrows make it go sideways and up arrow brings it back to normal). If you do this before shutting down it will reboot in the same orientation.

I removed the battery (it was spent anyway, and it will lighten the load) and used duct tape to secure the wireless aerial (which was wrapped around the monitor before I dissembled the case) around the bottom of the laptop. The keyboard has been ousted to allow the monitor to sit neatly and snugly in the new case, and I used some more duct tape (conveniently silver, as is the laptop) to cover up a couple of unsightly formerly internal components which were peeking over the top of the monitor. The piece of plastic which served as a hinge cover - and also has the power button in it - was modified by my dad so that it no longer has the hinge cover parts - it also is now just a flat piece of plastic. The monitor is just small enough that the power button is accessible at the top of it.

I probably won't actually make these super awesome Mr Potato Head pops but they look cool...

I have yet to give my new toy a proper workout (maybe next week when I've recovered from the weekend?) but am very pleased with the setup, and it sits nicely on the kitchen wall.

If you happen to have a spare laptop in your possession I reckon this is a pretty good purpose - if you think it will be useful to you and you can bribe someone to make you a case (or indeed, if you have the skill and tools yourself). I haven't made this a precise step-by-step guide as laptops vary greatly so the tweaks you'd have to make to yours would likely vary greatly from what I've done anyway - but if you have any questions please feel free to ask away. Be warned; though I know where things go I might not know the names of the cables. I like to think I only teeter on the edge of Geekdom. ;-)

Though this somewhat geeky show is my favourite...


  1. But how do you use it without a keyboard?

  2. I bookmark recipes on my real laptop, and sync bookmarks, or email them to myself, or put them into my recipe document which is shared across the network. Shortcuts to everything, and I don't want to type on this. On the odd occasion I need to sign back in to something or whatever I can use the on screen keyboard with the mouse. :-)

  3. Impressive,good work.

  4. Far out I so want one! Geeky is the new cool. Wear the badge with pride! It's incredible how much the internet has revolutionised recipe hunting though huh? I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I couldn't google a recipe :)

  5. Thanks guys!

    And Nessie, I totally agree - I especially love having other bloggers' experience to work from; so helpful to have photos of different stages of recipes, different outcomes, and other peoples' experience documented and so accessible!

  6. Wow, so this is the kitchen computer.. I'm so impressed (and also slightly envious - I want one!!). I don't think I have the skills to put one together but I'm kind of wishing I had held onto that old laptop :)

  7. The laptop-pulling apart is really easy - but the wooden frame is (I think!) the tricky part. I'm sure it won't be long before the market is flooded with reasonably cheap options for kitchen computers, though - some netbooks are so cheap now and they're pretty well suited - just need a tablet one! I've seen the iPad set up as a wall-mounted kitchen computer...

  8. hey! this post didn't come through my feed.... unless Adam read it first and thus I didn't see it?! Good work, Rosa! Very ingenious :)

  9. Thanks Michelle - odd that it didn't show up!


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