The quest started, I guess, a couple of summers ago, when I got this notion in my head to replace the kitchen TV with a computer monitor. Of course, people balked at my radical new concept in kitchen technology. After all, how many people even have televisions in their kitchens?

But ours is a dine-in type kitchen, complete with a kitchen table. This is where we usually entertain guests that must have some table to use, for example, to play cards or role-playing games. It is a convenience to have a TV available for when everyone else is taking their turn at the game so that you can look up and watch whatever happens to be on. Plus, it’s a convenient location for a source of weather information during breakfast in the morning.

Connecting a computer to the television seemed a natural step. The internet would provide more information than we would ever need from the kitchen, and the benefit of not having to trek up to the computer room and warm everything up just to look up directions or a recipe was significant.

So I started assembling parts for the kitchen computer. At first, I had a 14-inch monitor on the shelf connected to one of the four Media-GX systems that I bought at OnSale for about $40 each. It turned out that there was some kind of problem with the motherboard or processor, and the computer kept eating my hard drives, amongst other less annoying problems.

Mary Ann's new system, inpiecesThe kitchen corner monitor sat dark for quite some time, until our recent visit to a computer show to look for a computer for Berta’s sister. We found a Celeron 633 with a 20GB hard drive and 128MB of ram for just over $400. Quite a good deal, in my opinion. So we bought two.

I found a spare 17-inch monitor (we all have those sitting around, right?) and replaced the 14-incher. The old monitor will go with her sister’s new system.

In the midst of preparing the house for the arrival of the baby, I’ve been doing some house work. In an effort to get all of my wires up off the floor, I ran a few sets of wire down from the computer room through the closet in the foyer into the basement. From there, I punched a hole up into the kitchen wall, where I installed a new network jack. The network wire connects to the router that is hooked to our DSL modem. The bottom line is that all of the computers in the house can now share files and connect to the internet at 640kbps.

I bought a cheap print server a Best Buy and hooked it to the printer in the computer room. Previously, it had been hooked to a computer that we had dubbed the "server", even though it only ran Windows 98 (as does the new kitchen computer). Since the fan on that Pentium 200 system seemed to be on the blink, I thought it best to be able to turn that system off. Using the print server made that easy. Installation was painless and successful.

Finally, I had to hook the satellite to the system. It was a tricky prospect, but I had worked it all out for the previous kitchen computer, and the same logic applied. Using an ATI All-In-Wonder 128 pro, I was able to tune TV stations on the computer and display them on screen, no problem (except for when I tried it under Windows 2000 server, but that’s another story). Since the satellite signal must be tuned by a satellite receiver, the signal had to come from somewhere else, in spite of the cable tuning capabilities of the ATI card.

No, the big box is a trashcompactor.  The little one to the right is the computer.Previously, I had used an X-10 video sender, which sends video point to point via radio waves, but that gave undesirable results when the microwave ran, which is a frequent occurrence in our household when habitating the kitchen. Otherwise, it worked pretty well. This time around though, I ran a coaxial cable from the satellite receiver on the bedroom TV directly to the computer system. Of course, I fed the lines through the basement and attached a nice wall plate to the terminator in the kitchen, just like the network wire.

Changing the station on the bedroom receiver from the kitchen was a simple matter of using a X-10 remote sender, which does the same thing for infrared signals as the video sender does for TV signals. A transceiver picks up the IR transmissions from a remote control in the kitchen, sends it via radio to the transceiver in the bedroom, where it is converted back to IR and shot toward the satellite receiver.

The remote control itself is a work of technology. It’s an X-10 mouse remote. (Getting the feeling I like this X-10 company?) The remote can not only turn my satellite receiver, but when its RF receiver module is hooked to the kitchen computer’s serial port (which it is), it can move the mouse, click, start applications at the touch of a button, type numbers into applications, and turn the lights on and off. Most of the house is wired with X-10 lamp modules and switches, so the remote can control them, also.

In the previous kitchen computer’s incarnation, I had purchased in IR keyboard. The wireless keyboard transmits to a module that sits on top of our trash compactor. When used with the mouse remote, you can sit pretty much anywhere in the kitchen and operate the computer. Now all I need is a bigger LCD monitor.

Crafty desktop wallpaper, eh?The new system runs great. I configured the computer with Windows 98 and all of the software to make things run smoothly, them made a backup image. I also made some amusing wallpaper for the desktop that matches the actual wallpaper of our kitchen. Berta installed some recipe software that I’m sure will get much use, since she spent half a day entering the contents of all of our cabinets into it.

Future plans for the kitchen computer include installing a phone line so that the voice answering modem that I bought last year can be used to take messages and keep them in a central location. Also, I would like to install the X-10 home automation module that has been sitting dormant in the basement for a couple years. It would be nice if the porch light could come on automatically when it gets dark.

Perhaps much farther in the future, I might like to add a second touchscreen LCD monitor to sit near the stove. That would be more useful for cooking than running back and forth across the kitchen to read the tiny print of a recipe.

All in all, I’m happy with my kitchen computer experience, and if you’re crazy enough to try it yourself, I highly recommend it.