Thanks to Picochess I have been messing around with the Raspberry Pi a lot lately. For those who are not familiar with the Raspberry Pi it is a tiny, cheap computer, about the size of a large box of matches, which is aimed at the education and hobbyist markets.
They are meant to be messed around with, they have pins exposed which can be connected to an ever expanding universe of LEDs, motors, displays, etc. The idea is that you get your hands dirty and learn about electronics and computing. They are so small that they can also be embedded into other gadgets to create all manner of cool projects.
I am a software engineer by trade, but I haven't done any electronics since I left school, and when I started messing around with the Raspberry Pi for Picochess, well one thing lead to another and now I have a growing collection of electronic components. It's addictive!
Messing around with a Raspberry Pi is great, but you soon find that you need a USB hub, a good USB power supply, keyboard, mouse, display and whatever other bits you are tinkering with. You quickly end up with a mass of cables and gadgets, which becomes a bit of a faff every time you have to clear your cool project off the dining table just because your family want to eat, again.
Then one day I was listening to the Raspberry Pi Today podcast (episode 10) and it talked about something called FUZE. The FUZE is a case for the Raspberry Pi which contains a keyboard, a powered USB hub, a GPIO breakout board, a selection of electronic components (LEDs, switches, resistors, etc) and even a space for a breadboard. It immediately looked like a very neat solution for experimenting with the Raspberry Pi and being able to move the whole lot around in one go.
At around the same time, my daughter told me she was doing some Scratch programming at school and the FUZE looked like a great first computer for her to complement her school learning, try some electronics and play around with a robot arm.
I ended up buying one FUZE for me and one for our daughter, of course being a Brit of a certain age I had to get the FUZE Special Edition because it reminded me so much of my school days using a BBC Micro.
I have to say that they have worked out brilliantly! The package is very well put together, as well as the usual Scratch and Python it also comes with a customised version of BASIC and a set of project cards, it really encourages you to start tinkering straight away.
Our daughter was amazed that she now had her own computer and she loves to work through her book on Scratch with her dad. Meanwhile, the dad in question (me) has a nicely self-contained workstation for experimenting with his Raspberry Pi, and my wife gets to use her dining table, again.