RETRO-GASM: The Fuze electronics kit for the Raspberry Pi
Electronics! Metal! Screws! Resistors! Buzzers! Basic programming! Nostalgia!
Back to Basic
It gets better. Inside the case you’ll also find a 4GB SD card pre-loaded with an OS that boots straight to the desktop and guides you to - get this - a Basic interpreter. So even if you’re not particularly interested in electronics, you can spend endless hours reliving your youth by hacking away in Basic.
Well, almost. While many of Fuze Basic’s functions and commands will be instantly familiar to forty-something folk, it’s a modern dialect that borrows plenty from later languages, but includes plenty of old stuff too.
Today, a few LEDs, wires and switches; tomorrow, THE WORLD
There are line numbers and even
GOSUB commands, but there seems an emphasis, particularly in Fuze’s Project Cards - a decent, PDF-based Basic learning resource - on using
DEF PROC, familiar to BBC Micro owners, to define subroutines instead. All without line numbers.
It’s a curious mix. The
EDIT command calls up a full-screen editor, into which you can enter code without line numbers. But to key in a program at the command prompt, as we used to back in the day, and you do need line numbers. Enter
LIST and you’ll see line numbers added, though they’re absent when you go back to the editor.
It would be churlish to complain about this apparent inconsistency. Consider it a way of keeping the old-style Basic buffs happy while simultaneously steering newcomers toward a more modern way of coding with functions.
Fuze boots straight to the desktop
This allows structures like
IF... THEN... ELSE can stretch over multiple lines, with indentation used to mark out sections, the way they do in languages such as C and Python. C’s
SWITCH... CASE syntax has been added too. Some of the graphics commands come straight from the likes of Logo.
FOR is no longer accompanied by
NEXT but by
REPEAT, which flings the program counter back the start of the start of the loop mechanism for which Fuze Basic adds a new command,
CYCLE, to the familiar
UNTIL, though because these are used at the start of the loop there’s no need for
But most of the classic Basic commands and functions –
CLS, DATA, DIM, LET, LIST, LOAD, PRINT, READ, REM, RESTORE, RUN, SAVE; CHR$, LEN, MID$, PLOT, RND, STR$ – are all present and usable as you’d expect.
Fuze’s Project Cards provide a Basic tutorial
Fuze Basic is a commercial version of Gordon Henderson’s Return to Basic interpreter. If you’ve used the popular WiringPi system, you’ll be familiar with Gordon’s work. He promises to retrofit the features available in Fuze Basic, which is essentially RTB 2.0, into RTB, which is currently at version 1.0.4. Gordon has a more detailed reference guide here; the one bundled with Fuze is essentially just a list of commands and syntax.
The WiringPi connection is handy, because it means Fuze Basic is ready equipped with a number of GPIO-related commands for reading and writing to specific pins, both digital and analog. That allows you do control electronics projects prototyped on the Fuze’s breadboard right in Basic.
I’d also have liked to see the GPIO breakout board marked with more information than pin numbers. It really should make clear which are the I2C, UART, SPI and CLK pins, for instance. There is an overlay card with colour-coded pin information included, but it lacks a key to those colours. I know what they all are, but a newcomer won’t.
Old-style holes-in-the-case ventilation
The Reg Verdict
Merely as a Pi-less case, the Fuze will set you back £70; £90 if you get it with the breadboard and a PSU too. Pay £130 and you get a wireless mouse and the electronics components kit in addition to the rest. The top-of-the-range, £180 Fuze saves you from having to buy a Pi separately and install it.
It’s undoubtedly cheaper to buy your own bits and add them to the basic Fuze case, which certainly makes for a tidier set up than the customary "strewn wires" Pi configurations. As I say, that will surely appeal to schools, as will the Fuze’s resilience.
Binary Distribution has missed a trick or two, mind. I’m not keen on on-screen documentation, so I’d have preferred to have the Fuze Project Cards pre-printed, ideally as part of the Basic reference guide.
And it’s a bit daft, I think, to have a large casing that’s able to present just one USB port. It wouldn’t have been hard to integrate a powered USB hub of sufficient welly to drive some extra USB ports and the Pi itself, not least because the micro USB power feed is the Pi’s one weakness.
Of course, the established Pi users has all this gear anyway, so nostalgia aside, there’s not much to the Fuze for them. Better, then, to think of it as a modern computing or electronics kit you can present to a nipper or eager-to-learn adult newbie for Christmas. Or as a great way to put the Pi safely into schools. ®