My well-received four-page column, Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech, continues in this most recent issue of Dennis Publishing’s Custom PC Magazine with a review of the Fuze case for the Raspberry Pi, my progress with uncovering the secrets behind a piece of computing history, and a guide to designing and producing your own custom circuit boards.
First, the review. I’ve already covered the Fuze for Linux User & Developer, with the review scheduled to appear in Issue 133 in print following its early publication to the site, but here I concentrate less on an objective review and more on my subjective experience of the device.
If you haven’t seen it, the Fuze is an all-in-one machine which turns the Raspberry Pi from a bare circuit board into a fully-fledged microcomputer complete with built-in keyboard. Designed to evoke nostalgia for Acorn’s original BBC Micro, the metal chassis is well-made and includes a prototyping area at the top for constructing circuits which connect through a bundled buffered general-purpose input-output (GPIO) interface board.
Designed primarily for education, the Fuze is expensive – thanks largely to its creator’s focus on local manufacturing coupled with the inclusion of numerous electronic components and handy educational project guides – but undeniably impressive. Some issues I ran into while I was writing both features have since been addressed, following an extremely productive phone-call with the Fuze’s inventor, and it has become my go-to device when I need to do some work with a Pi.
For the regular vintage computing section, something a bit special. I recently helped out at the Wuthering Bytes festival in Hebden Bridge, which was organised by my friend Andrew Back – among others. I picked up something special from Andrew: an LJ Electronics Tina microcomputer, something computing museums around the world have scratched their heads over. Ex-RAF, the device appears to be a teaching system – but includes break-outs for everything from the keyboard to the TTL-level display, and built-in software including BASIC, assembler, telecommunications and even a machine-code monitor.
I’m currently working to restore the machine, and to find out some more about its history. The company which created it still exists – as LJ Create, rather than LJ Electronics – so they’re my next port of call. Unfortunately, one of the ROM chips – the one which holds the machine code monitor – is corrupt, but Andrew also gave a second machine to a friend of ours, so I’m hoping to get a clean dump and finish restoration in the near future.
Finally, a tutorial on designing your own printed circuit boards. Based on my experiences making the Sleepduino, an Arduino compatible night-light and white-noise generator, I walk the reader through using freely available software and cheap commercial PCB printing services in order to build custom devices. My software of choice is Fritzing; while it has its detractors, who quite rightly point out it’s relatively restricted and somewhat slow, it’s a lot easier to get started with than any other cross-platform PCB design tool.
All this, plus a bunch of other interesting stuff which I didn’t write, can be found at your local newsagent, supermarket, or on the digital nets via services like Zinio.