KitcheNET

KitcheNET - up-side down modded laptop with PuppyLinux

KitcheNET - An up-side down modded laptop with PuppyLinux and KitcheNET XUL app playing a Pandora station.

KitcheNET is a project which aims to provide an easy method to reuse obsolete laptops and desktops as a low power, limited feature, dedicated internet appliance for home use in say a kitchen.

Inspired by the whole Chumby sensation, I began searching for a cheap and easy solution to getting some level of internet connectivity in my kitchen. It needed to be small, quite and out of the way. I was essentially looking for a thin client or kiosk to the Internet.

Initially I was assuming this device would have to be based on a mini-itx-like board and an LCD monitor, both which are more expensive then just buying a Chumby or real Internet Appliance.

However, It wasn’t until I read “Give and Old Laptop New Life with Cheap (or free) Projects” on LifeHacker did I think to consider just using my old Dell Latitude CPx for this. Specifically the digital picture frame instructable.

Quickly see my week when i wake up

Quickly see my week when i wake up

I figured with the display panel flipped I could mount it upside down underneath my kitchen cupboards. Currently we have a hideous, vomit-beige GE spacesaver clock-radio mounted there that I hate. Not only does it look ugly, but it only gets one radio station.

But that’s really besides the point since all the radio stations around Flint, Mi are absolutely atrocious. And this is about piping personalized music stations, like Pandora, into my kitchen .

Ingredients

  • Old Laptop ( Dell Latitude CPx,  PIII, 256MB )
  • 2 Coat Hangers ( for under-cupboard mounting )
  • Barebones Pup ( eventually a KitcheNET specific puppylinux distro )
  • KitchenNET ( XUL Software )

*I apologize for the quality of these photos in advance. The G1 has a great OS, but a terrible camera.

The OS

The first thing I did was find out if a tiny linux distro would even run on this thing. I knew Ubuntu runs on it, rather sluggishly, so I did a quick wikipedia of the more mature mini-distros out there.

At first I tried Damn Small Linux and I was pleasantly surprised at how insanely fast this OS was. Even the version of Firefox they had on it was pretty fast ( for FireFox ). But unfortunately I really wanted Flash support for my Pandora stations and getting it on DSL was more of a pain then i was willing to deal with.

Next was PuppyLinux. It was about twice as big as DSL but had GTK-2 libraries and support for Adobe Flash. Firefox was a bit slower than DSL but still much faster then Windows. Plus it was very user friendly for those of us who get annoyed by Linux’s level of “user assumed knowledge”.

After testing sound, wi-fi, FireFox and flash I knew I found my OS.

I wanted the most minimalistic version of puppy to cut down on all unneccesary fat so I downloaded Barebones Pup 4.1.2 and added FireFox and Adobe’s Flash player to the OS.

What is really cool about PuppyLinux is its easy to get the whole OS installed on flash drive so you wouldn’t even need a CDROM or hard drive in the laptop. However, my laptop’s only USB port suffered prong damage during the last zombie hoard attack. So I had to suffice with a “Frugal Install” where it boots off a LiveCD and saves a subset of customized files to the hard drive.

Next I needed to make sure I could finagle Xorg to invert my screen. This took some time. Xorg worked perfect however it refused to flip my screen. So I ended up using the Xvesa server and flipping my screen on startup using xrandr. Not ideal since I couldn’t invert my mouse axis or take advantage of my video hardware but is close enough.

After switching to Xvesa I noticed my sound wouldn’t work after I would restart. After a little debugging I discovered it just wasn’t starting so I just added a start command to my startup script.

~/Startup/startup.sh

#!/bin/bash
#flip screen
xrandr --output default --rotate inverted
#start sound
/etc/rc.d/rc.alsa start

So far so good. Everything seemed to work so the next step was to make sure I could mod my laptop screen to face outwards.

The Mod

The keyboard screws gave me a tough time. Not only were there a ton, but they all seemed cemented in the laptop. Either that or I’m a weakling.

After getting most of the case off and disconnecting the LCD from the laptop, I noticed the ribbon cable wouldn’t reach the port on the board if the LCD was flipped. So I dismantled the LCD casing to see if there was any slack i could use.

About 10 minutes in and a pile of tiny screws later, I was able to un-tape some of the ribbon from the back of the LCD to give me about three extra inches to work with.

I reassembled the case with an ugly looking ribbon cable sticking out.

Next I to pried the bottom hinges off their pivot points and swapped them. Then stuck the whole piece back into my laptop chassis. Perfect.

The LCD ribbon reached the board but i had to kind of do some careful bending and folding to get it routed correctly. After I to got relatively flattened down, I tapped it down to keep it out of the way.

I powered up the laptop just to make sure i didn’t damage anything in the process. So far so good.

I reattached the keyboard and moved on to the software.

The Software

The goal of the whole project was to basically have a FireFox/XUL-only machine. I didn’t care about any other application other than a good browser and Flash. Being a XUL developer, I whipped up a very small XUL application (KitcheNET) which is just a headless browser powered by an external XOXO standard outline made up of text and links.

I wanted to minimize the input required to the bare minimum so designed the browser to be worked by only a mouse. The browser title bar doubles as a one-way “next” button to load up the next XOXO linked item in the list. The thinking behind this externally managed playlist of webpages is that you don’t have to depend on the appliance itself to provide the interface for management.

Putting It All Together

After getting the basic KitcheNET software developed and installed, I added it to my startup script so it starts soon after X does and the screen is inverted.

Mount time.

I ended up having to cut a little 3/4 inch piece of board to space the laptop from the bottom of the cupboard because it didn’t give me enough room for the power and PS/2 plugs.

Breaking out the most versatile house item ever, I grabbed two metal clothes hangers for mounting the laptop under my cupboards.

As you can see my LCD ribbon didn't completely fit under the keyboard.

As you can see my LCD ribbon didn't completely fit under the keyboard.

I straightened the hangers and bent them across the keyboard portion of the laptop so they would mount against the laptop with no slack.

I snipped and fashioned the ends into a circle with needle-nose pliers.

After a little careful placement I got the hangers mounted to the board with the laptop underneath.

After that the rest was a breeze. I mounted the board and laptop underneath my cupboards and velcro’d power pack next to it.

So far so good. I’ve been noticing a few bugs here and there, particularly with flash. Sometimes when I switch to on my my items with flash the software would die and I’d have to restart it.

Other then that I’d say this was a pretty successful prototype.

My son playing with our new kitchen kiosk.

My son playing with our new kitchen kiosk.

Future Thoughts

What i would like to do is take a closer look at some other mini-linux distros and window managers such as TWM to manage a single dedicated window for the KitcheNET software.

It would be ideal to have a single liveCD which does everything for a user and just prompts them for a username account for a web portal or a straight url holding their XOXO feed.

Some other features and thoughts i had about the KitcheNET XUL software:

  • hidden scrollbars
  • Integrate software keyboard for occasional logins
  • Create installer script to auto-create config file
  • Create an app portal for hosting apps for this and people’s personal XOXO sources
  • Cron-like item scheduling for time based events, ( ie, show weather in morning, news at night )
  • Limited command support for auto-shutdown of the appliance
  • Item loading in the background so switching between XOXO items is quicker
  • Optimized for use as a kiosk / general web app platform
  • Integration with Misterhouse to help administer an automated home
  • A RSS feed integrator showing semi-random news items stock ticker style.

Please feel free to email me (bryan AT bluelinecity DOT com) regarding this project.

Thanks!

42 Responses to “KitcheNET”

  1. PiNPOiNT Says:

    Excellent work! You’ve inspired me to do the same setup with an old tablet pc i have. It has a convenient swivel screen and also tablet pen capabilities… ideally a touch screen would rock, but none the less.

    Any suggestions for making the laptop slide in and out to make it easily removable?

    Ooohh, perhaps velcro would work well.

  2. Build An Under-the-Cabinet Kitchen PC From An Old Laptop | Lifehacker Australia Says:

    […] KitcheNET [bluelinecity] […]

  3. David Malicote Says:

    Good work man,

    I have an old PC I will play around with this when I get home. I think you really did well given the resources you had available. Keep up the good work.

  4. CARP’S WORLD » Kitchen Computer – What a Great Idea! Says:

    […] WEBSITE « Ted Nugent Gets a TV Show […]

  5. McColley.net » Blog Archive » Build an Under-the-Cabinet Kitchen PC from an Old Laptop [DIY] Says:

    […] try turning your laptop into a wall-mounted computer or one of our other favorite laptop projects. KitcheNET […]

  6. Sean Says:

    I bet the addition of a usb mouse and usb key board that you could slide in a drawer would really make this great.

  7. A Very Good Idea | Brian's Blog Says:

    […] RSS feed integrator showing semi-random news items stock ticker style. KitchenNET Ads by GoogleMazda Convertibles – Quotes, Pics, More – […]

  8. Build an Under-the-Cabinet Kitchen PC from an Old Laptop | 品味生活 Says:

    […] try turning your laptop into a wall-mounted computer or one of our other favorite laptop projects. KitcheNET […]

  9. benglish Says:

    @pinpoint – I would love to do a project like this with a touch tablet. I was looking at touchscreen addons for laptops but they were pretty pricey.

    As for a nifty slider I bet that would be a good subject for an Ikea hack! :)

  10. popurls.com // popular today Says:

    popurls.com // popular today…

    story has entered the popular today section on popurls.com…

  11. Calgary Says:

    re: all those tiny screws – I use a cordless screw driver (lighter than drill) to undo commercially installed screws. Saves time and effort.

    re: pinpoint’s suggestion to use velcro. Won’t work. Tried it when I installed under-cabinet lights as I wanted to see how warm they would be without drilling holes. Lasted less than a day.

    Great article and I loved the photographs.

  12. Curtis Says:

    I have the same old laptop. You have inspired me to make a bathroom version.

    It would be cool to look at that verizon smart phone for ideas. Maybe include Skype or some VOIP to kitchenNet

  13. Gina Says:

    That’s some cool stuff! I don’t have an old laptop, but I’ll step over directly to ebay to get one. Great inspiration!

  14. Matt Says:

    This is such a flippin’ awesome idea. I am doing this project right now with my old Lattitude D600. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. Mark Says:

    Great job Bryan! Here are some screenshots from another project, quite similar to yours on TechRepublic: http://content.techrepublic.com.com/2346-10878_11-4878-1.html

  16. Jeton Says:

    Regarding: A RSS feed integrator showing semi-random news items stock ticker style.

    I suggest you try snackr.net , it will look great on that setup :)

  17. Joshua Gabrenas Says:

    I am very interested in this and was wondering if you thought i would be able to use ub unbuntu 9 with is instead of puppy

  18. Anthony Says:

    You know, for a single window XULRunner, you may as well not bother with a window manager and just use plain X. You don’t really need windowmanager functionality if you only have one window!

    Also, take a look at linux from scratch (www.linuxfromscratch.org) – you could build a lightweight highly customized linux that only has the features you need.

    If you make sure to enable ssh, you can remotely manage the computer and eliminate the need to log in at console. I wish touch screens were cheaper – I’d love to eliminate the need for the mouse.

  19. benglish Says:

    @Anthony – That’s a great idea. And thanks for that link, I’ll definitely checkout that linux from scratch thing.

  20. makepono Says:

    Even easier if you have an old Gateway M275. Just spin the screen and set the display output to 180 degrees. They go for about $300 on eBay.

  21. Build an Under-the-Cabinet Kitchen PC from an Old Laptop [DIY] · TechBlogger Says:

    […] try turning your laptop into a wall-mounted computer or one of our other favorite laptop projects. KitcheNET […]

  22. Curtis Says:

    Anyone know of a Gesture program for linux like uMouse for windows? http://larryo.org/work/information/umouse/index.html

    You use a webcam and your hand to control your computer.

  23. Curtis Says:

    I found one HandVu
    http://www.movesinstitute.org/~kolsch/HandVu/HandVu.html

  24. Tom Says:

    Wow! Nice setup. I’d say the one thing missing is a bluetooth dongle and keyboard or a wireless setup. Totally doing this in my kitchen

  25. Tom Says:

    Also, maybe a stripped down xp running rainmeter and enigma for some feeds and awesomeness.

  26. Curtis Says:

    Interesting way to maybe interact with the computer
    http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to/video/how-to-hack-a-cheap-multi-touch-whiteboard-using-the-wiimote-162856/

  27. Dan Says:

    This is a neat hack but it may have been unnecessary. Depending on the type of video card you have and the driver you use, xrandr allows you to customize your display in all kinds of ways, including flipping it upside down. Not all drivers support all features, so you’d need to check. But there may not be any physical modification required at all.

  28. marcus Says:

    thats awesome, i am currently in the process of making a digital wall calander with the Latitude CPx, thats funny i came across this article. The only problem i have come across is getting my wireless card to work correctly. I currently have Gentoo on it. any suggestions??

    thanks

  29. Sean Says:

    Hoping to do this with an Acer Aspire One Netbook with a touchscreen kit (just for fun).

  30. Martin Says:

    Very nice project!

    Regarding Linux from Scratch: You should be aware that building linux from scratch is not for the squeamish (or for those with a lack of time and/or experience). But the good news is that somebody is already doing it for you. The “lesslinux” project (according to the author that either stands for “light, embeddable, small, scalable” linux oder “lacking elegance, stupid, scary”) has just released their first alpha three days ago, and it’s just what you need: a single-purpose distribution, based on Linux from Scratch, intended for internet kiosks and the like, giving you the firefox and nothing else. If you download the alpha, boot it on your system and send the author your hardware logs, he may create a custom “quick boot” option for your system that includes only the drivers for your hardware, so it should boot in a matter of seconds.

    Up to now, all information is only in German, unfortunately:

    http://blog.rootserverexperiment.de/2009/04/04/lesslinux-erste-alpha-zum-download/

    Short instructions:
    – download ISO from here: http://cdprojekte.mattiasschlenker.de/Public/LessLinux/
    – burn and boot
    – send the hardware logs located under /tmp/ to ms at mattiasschlenker dot de

    Cheers, Martin

    P.S.: I’m not affiliated with the project, just a fanboy! ;-)

  31. Transformando um laptop velho em um media center para a copa e cozinha « Efetividade.net Says:

    […] de TV a cabo para a copa, para oferecer parte da funcionalidade da TV da sala. Até que eu vi este artigo sobre o KitcheNET, que acabou mudando completamente meus planos a […]

  32. Blog Rodrigo Merino - Apple e Tecnologia » Projeto KicheNET Says:

    […] Hoje apareceu um artigo lá sobre um projeto chamado KicheNET (uma brincadeira com o nome, do inglês, kichen = cozinha), onde um cara pegou um notebook antigo […]

  33. benglish Says:

    @Martin – I’ll definitely check this out as well as an internet kiosk-like environment is exactly what i’m looking for.

  34. VmmInfo.com » Arquivo do Blog » Transformando um laptop velho em um media center para a copa e cozinha Says:

    […] de TV a cabo para a copa, para oferecer parte da funcionalidade da TV da sala. Até que eu vi este artigo sobre o KitcheNET, que acabou mudando completamente meus planos a […]

  35. Matt Says:

    Hey dont be dissin the Banana. Its the best station in Flint. What do you even listen to?

  36. Ian Says:

    This is a great idea! Thanks for the inspiration. I’m going to use XP with help from a program called iRotate to rotate the screen without the hardware mod. This program also allows you to rotate the display 90 degrees so you could mount the laptop on a wall and have it open like a door.

  37. benglish Says:

    @Matt – LOL, I wondered if I’d get some local fallout from that comment. :)

    I actually used to listen to Banana a lot when Eric and Carson were still on (RIP). I’m not a fan of “NickelPark Creed” and they made it easier to sit through.

    The only local station I can really enjoy is WKUF-LP 94.3. ( http://www.kettering.edu/wkuf/ ) and their Tuesday Metal Mayhem.

    Otherwise Pandora is my main music “station” because they always play what i like. I know it’s unfair to terrestrial radio but it is what it is.

  38. Sallie Draper Says:

    Just had to do this! But with a some modifications. We decided to put the monitor closer to the wall, mainly to preserve counter space. This meant that no modification to the laptop was needed. We are rrunning Windows and our video driver allows the image to be flipped. We are using an optical mouse and the Windows Accessibility on screen keyboard. Way cool!!!

    Check out my flickr set to see the mounting job – http://tinyurl.com/c9cq55.

    The last step is to mount the speakers. Just haven’t bought the velcro yet.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!

  39. vikoadi Says:

    Its cool man, and i wanna try it too!
    Sadly I don’t have any notebook to hung.=D
    hhahahahaha.

    God Jobs

  40. Lisa Says:

    Can anyone tell me how to invert the screen on a Mac? I LOVE this idea! Thanks for posting.

  41. Slacker Says:

    Man that’s too cool. I plan to have a under-the-cabinet laptop in my kitchen, too, inspired by this article.

    Instead of keyboard & mouse I’ll use Gmote (http://www.gmote.org/) for my Android phone to control the laptop.

  42. painphul Says:

    Thanks for the great idea ! I had 7 old laptops laying around and managed to combine them all to get 1 working dell Inspiron with wireless, audio and perfect functionality. I ran into a slight problem when iRotate stopped working after having accidentally upgraded the Display Drivers. But after a full reformat and a trip to the store for a cordless keyboard/mouse, all works ! I consider my project very successful ! Check it out and leave comments.

    http://s47.photobucket.com/albums/f181/2ocenT/KitcheNET/?action=view&current=IMG_0275.jpg

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