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TI-Nspire Hack Enables User Programming

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the done-and-done dept.

Handhelds 88

An anonymous reader writes "Texas Instruments' most recent, ARM-based series of graphing calculators, the TI-Nspire line, has long resisted users' efforts to run their own software. (Unlike other TI calculator models, which can be programmed either in BASIC, C, or assembly language, the Nspire only supports an extremely limited form of BASIC.) A bug in the Nspire's OS was recently discovered, however, which can be exploited to execute arbitrary machine code. Now the first version of a tool called Ndless has been released, enabling users, for the first time, to write and run their own C and assembly programs on the device. This opens up exciting new possibilities for these devices, which are extremely powerful compared to TI's other calculator offerings, but (thanks to the built-in software's limitations) have hitherto been largely ignored by the calculator programming community."

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88 comments

TI announced a new firmware release today (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307330)

It fixes some battery reporting issues and other minor bugs. All users are strongly encouraged to upgrade.

ti in the past never really supported assembly/c (1)

yincrash (854885) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307426)

ti-82,83,85, and 86 all truly only supported t-basic
all of the crazy stuff was implemented by hobbyists

Re:ti in the past never really supported assembly/ (4, Informative)

Dwedit (232252) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307632)

The TI83 and TI86 had an ASM command for running assembly-language code without requiring a hacked memory backup. (on the original TI83, the ASM command was 'Send(9', but later models used an actual 'Asm(' command.)

Re:ti in the past never really supported assembly/ (4, Interesting)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307656)

What's more, TI actually released assembly programs that would install new features on the calculator. I have a TI-86 from years ago and just recently installed a TI-provided statistics package that gives me the various distributions, test, etc.

Re:ti in the past never really supported assembly/ (1)

LogarithmicSpiral (1463679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307686)

True. It is also possible to program in z80 asm for at least the 83/84. I messed around with that a bit. Just download the appropriate software, assemble the code on your pc and send it to the calculator. It's really great if you can get an emulator working so you don't have to constantly mess with the TI linking software for every debug/test, and of course the possibility of bricking your calculator inherent with assembly. Ah, good times.

Re:ti in the past never really supported assembly/ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307652)

The TI-83 did support user assembly code execution. It was somewhat hacky support (you used the command Send(9pgrmPROGNAME rather than the clearly more obvious Asm(prgmPROGNAME command on later models), but it was available and documentation was provided by TI.

Additionally, TI released software development kits for later models (TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus, TI-89, TI-92 Plus) to support user programming in assembly language and C. That said, they've really taken a step backwards in user-level coding on the TI-Nspire. Neither do they support execution of anything other than TI-BASIC, but the BASIC programming language is extremely limited.

Re:ti in the past never really supported assembly/ (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314500)

I've never seen a TI-82, but I had a TI-86 and my friends had TI-85s and TI-83s, and I can assure you that they did support assembly language programming. They didn't natively support C, but if you had a compiler that produced Z80 assembly on another platform then you could compile there and copy the code across.

WHY? (2, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307428)

WHY do they do that? I could see if they had either some expensive dev tool you had to use to make your own powerful apps, or if they were selling a much more expensive calculator that had all the programming options unlocked, but in this case I don't see any profit in it for TI to not let people program them?

Re:WHY? (4, Informative)

bacontaco (126431) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307532)

For many courses and standardized tests, only a few kinds of graphing calculators are allowed to be used. By allowing outside code to run on their calculators, TI risks losing their place on this list (and thus, sales) since those that administer these courses/tests might find out that TI's calculators allow outside programs to run that allow problems to be solved more easily.

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307586)

We used to enter equations and formulas using the program editor. They weren't actual programs, but by editing what had been entered, you had an unlimited supply of space to store info.

Not allowing user programs cuts this out. It's actually in the best interest of educators. It greatly reduces cheating. In particular, it takes away the advantage some students have over others for learning how to cheat with their calculators. And yes,

Re:WHY? (1)

trapnest (1608791) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307624)

And yes,

Re:WHY? (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307736)

Funny, I remember writing BASIC programs for my TI that helped me do my homework. Instead of doing the same tedious problem 10 times, I quick wrote up the equation, took inputs, displayed the output. Of course, in order to do this, I had to understand how to work the equation...

If cheating by storing information on these calculators is really such a big problem, why not just have the students use simple four-function or scientific calculators? They're dirt cheap, can't store programs, and won't give anyone an unfair advantage.

Your concern is irrelevant in this case anyway, since the Nspire can run BASIC programs, so students could still program in equations.

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307850)

If cheating by storing information on these calculators is really such a big problem, why not just have the students use simple four-function or scientific calculators? They're dirt cheap, can't store programs, and won't give anyone an unfair advantage.

My school solved it by having the teacher issue graphing calculators along with the test.

Re:WHY? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307960)

My school solved it by having the teacher issue graphing calculators along with the test.

Your school had a budget, at least at some point. ;)

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308118)

When I was in school, they just forced us to clear the memory on the calculators. Free and effective.

Sucks if you wrote a lot of programs, but then I guess you should have been clever enough to back it up.

Re:WHY? (2, Interesting)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308372)

Except that's where a carefully written fake UI program that pretends to wipe the calculator memory when the teacher goes through the menus comes in handy. Special key combo, calc drops into the real UI, and all of your stuff is intact.

(Or, if the calc's an HP 49g+ or 50g, you can just move everything off to an SD or MMC card, pocket the card before going into the class, and after resetting and going to your desk, insert it.)

Re:WHY? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308984)

TI could fix that by simply providing a hard reset button. They could use a signed OS but instead of refusing to run a modified version, just have the ROM (not updatable) bootloader display "HACKED" on the screen.

So, the teacher hits hard reset. If he/she sees "HACKED" come up on the display, that calculator is banned from the test.

Enthusiasts who need to take a test just back everything up and restore the signed factory default firmware. When done, back to hacking.

From an ethical standpoint, actively preventing people from doing perfectly safe things with hardware they own is questionable. The way around that is to just make the hacking plainly evident without preventing it.

If the teacher is not going around hard resetting each calculator, then the concern over hacking on a programmable calculator is pointless in the first place.

Of course, if we want to go to the extremes, students could potentially core the thing out and insert their own homebrew CheatOmatic in the approved looking case anyway. That will work no matter what TI does.

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31309062)

Wasn't there a recent finding of encryption key for the TI calculators to allow homebrew kernel to be loaded the same way as the official firmware is loaded?

Re:WHY? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309312)

Yes. However, had it not been necessary to load a homebrew kernel, there is a MUCH better chance that either nobody would bother or that they would keep it to themselves if TI asked nicely.

By making it absolutely essential to hacking the thing, TI made sure someone would bother and would be sure to spread it far and wide.

In the process they also removed any reasonable presumption that the key would be used only for cheating.

Re:WHY? (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309456)

Nobody is going to bother modifying the OS when all the math/cheating/etc. functionality is available in programs that don't. Unless you count hooks as "modifying the OS." And they do have an app for teachers (I think it's called TestGuard) that you run over a link that disables certain functionality on the student's calculator. Of course, countermeasures have been made against that, but the newer 84+ OS's have a similar functionality built in if you hold L+R+ON or something on bootup.

Re:WHY? (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311758)

Keep in mind that I've read plenty of stories of people shoving TI-89 motherboards and LCDs into TI-83 cases to cheat on tests. So, the extremes have been gone to, even using 100% TI parts, no homebrew anything. (It's not hard, though, as the TI-83 uses the exact same physical case as the TI-89. The only problems you'd have are that the buttons wouldn't match up with their actual functions, and the LCD is higher resolution, and an observant teacher may notice that something's "off.")

Also, you could wire the reset button to another pin on the CPU. The stuff I'm talking about doesn't even involve the OS at all, it's done purely in user software, sometimes even in BASIC (although the good ones are assembly, because you can break out of any BASIC program, using a standard key sequence, IIRC) - a program that simulates the entire UI of the calculator's OS, and behaves exactly like the calculator would when being reset, showing an empty calculator at the end of the reset.

So, in such a situation... your user program checks for, say, the serial link to go active. The serial link is connected to the reset button, of course. When it goes active, the resulting interrupt (I'm not sure if serial traffic causes an interrupt on a TI, this is just an example - you could poll it, for that matter) will cause the app to go into its simulation of a cleanly reset device.

Re:WHY? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31312220)

All the more reason it's silly for TI to block homebrew hacking on their devices. They can easily enough permit unencumbered hacking while having a reasonable level of cheating prevention. None of their current measures will stop the sorts of things you're talking about anyway.

Re:WHY? (1)

incongruency (1683022) | more than 4 years ago | (#31325932)

Except that that overlooks the fact that most teaches will use the "Clear RAM" function to quickly wipe a TI, and that archived programs are saved from this wipe.

Archive programs, let teacher wipe calculator, un-archive programs, and there you go.

Get off my lawn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31311204)

When I was in school, your sliderule had to stay in its scabbard during a test.

Frankly, I never thought that made any sense, same with advanced calculators you punks have today. The whole point of schooling is to help you learn to think and to use the tools you will need in adult "real life". It just does not make any sense to restrict this. Want a car analogy? Tell the kids in shop class they can't use sockets and so on to do car repairs on a troubleshooting and repair test, they must use their fingers only. A kid studying cabinetry, oh no, you can't use that bench saw or the router, you have to tear the wood in half with your bare hands and use your teeth for trimming the laminate.

I think academics get too pompous for their students good sometimes. If it is a tool that you will be using and need on into real life, go ahead, use it, that is what it is for in the first place!

Re:WHY? (3, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308394)

I did this for all my Mechanical Engineering courses. I figured for some tests I would spend upwards of 20 hours programming... It just ended up being my way to study. By time I tested all scenarios, worked out problems by hand to make sure that my equations worked and debugged it some more, I had the equations memorized.

It did save my ass a few times when I made a stupid sign mistake ON the test, but my debugged program gave me the right answer. Went back and double checked my work, and found the sign error.

I also had it print out every step of the solving process so in a pinch (time running out) I could just copy from my calculator screen and get credit for full work.

500 lines of code gets quite tedious after a while on a TI-89 screen.

Re:WHY? (2, Informative)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310460)

what will happen is that the smart kids will write the programs and the dumb kids will copy them from the smart kids (or from the Internet) and then just run them and copy the results (including the "working" displayed by the program), thus learning nothing.

Re:WHY? (2, Insightful)

ChrisMP1 (1130781) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310614)

So what? They're already dumb -- either they cheat on the test and learn nothing, or they cram for the test, forget it the next day and learn nothing. You know what they say about leading horses to water...

Re:WHY? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31325812)

...and they will sometimes manage to appear just as smart as the...smart kids. Not a great thing if you're among the latter.

Re:WHY? (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310924)

Ha. Good luck with that. If you didn't know what you were doing and didn't know my own acronyms, there was no chance in hell you were going to use my programs.

You may be able to figure it out, but by then the test was over.

Re:WHY? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314544)

If it's possible to pass the test just by entering values into programs someone else wrote without understanding them, then the people passing the test will find that all jobs they are qualified for are already fully automated by the time they graduate.

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31355378)

Is your opinion then that schools should skip straight away to maths that can currently not be solved automatically by computers? No intermediate tuition, where you learn what a computer can do by doing it yourself first?

Oh, and don't come with any of that "the talented and interested kids will do it voluntarily anyway" since (1) tuition shouldn't only be suitable for those who develop an interest and show talent early and (2) they too have difficulties planning far ahead and will repeatedly take a shortcut "just this time" when there's something else that is interesting too at the same time...

Re:WHY? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31356654)

Wait, we're talking about schools now? The discussion was about someone's Mechanical Engineering course... I don't think they have those in high school.

But that's not really the point. Understanding what the computer is doing is an entirely different thing. You can't fake that by pressing buttons. Don't make the students repeatedly solve problems that could be automated, give them the answer and make them prove that it's correct, showing their workings. Most of the maths exams I had from about age 14 had questions in this form, and they're a lot better at testing understanding.

There's some value in making sure that children can do basic arithmetic, because there are a lot of situations where it's faster to work something out in your head than to even start pressing buttons. There are very few situations where anyone needs to be able to solve differential equations without a computer. Sure, at age 18 I had to solve some of the equations for putting a rocket into orbit and it was interesting, but if I do anything like that now I will fire up Octave and be a lot more confident of my results. The difficult bit is creating the equation that describes all of the forces and their relationships. Actually solving it is tedious mechanical work that is better done by a computer in a mechanics course.

In a pure maths course, you also shouldn't be solving differential equations, you should be understanding why the rules that you apply to solve them work - something that was completely omitted from my pure maths A Level. Teaching people to apply rules without understanding them is not really a good solution to any problem.

Re:WHY? (0)

Rennt (582550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309252)

Strikes me that [self] learning to program a calculator is probably a better test of aptitude then most of assessments given to students.

In fact, educators may as well accept that programmable devices are here and integrate them into the curriculum. You could have programming assignments during the year to ensure that students were not just copying, and by the end of year assessments students would have some pretty awesome tools to work with.

Of course, this might require teachers to "learn" something, so I'm not holding my breath.

Re:WHY? (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307570)

Either it is reflexive control freakery or, more likely, it has to do with the demands of standardized testing.

TI's calculator division makes its money(and justifies its margins, I'm not sure that the price of a TI-83 has fallen to anything except inflation since I had to buy one back in secondary school) by being the de-facto standard calculator for education. Sure, a few of the hardcore nerds in engineering still have their HP somethings, and anybody doing real crunching will graduate to a full computer running one of the mathematical packages; but TI is it everywhere else.

The Wikipedia page mentions several features aimed specifically at educational testing: "The TI-Nspire also features a "testing mode" LED indicator, designed to stop potential cheating, informing test supervisors that the calculator is still denying access to saved files and possibly restricting geometry features on the handheld during the test. It also features a timer. At the end of a test, the supervisor is required to check the calculator's timer to see if it has not been removed out of "testing mode"." Essentially, because it is commonly used on tests, the educational customers who drive most of the sales(directly or indirectly, some districts purchase, some mandate, some just encourage) would really like the calculator to be a "trusted" black box capable of doing only what it says on the tin, not doing arbitrary computer tasks(like storing notes, or doing symbolic integration and differentiation when the kids are supposed to be learning that).

If it is possible for people to write their own stuff, in something more than a crippled little scripting language, it becomes possible to subvert these testing controls.

Re:WHY? (3, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307684)

This shows an interesting sliding window of sorts as to where the cutoff between allowed and not-allowed tools come into mathematics.

Day used to be when we had to look up values in a Log table and be able to find roots by hand etc. Using a calculator for that back then would clearly have been cheating. Nowadays that's exactly why we have the calculators on a test, so we're not bogged down doing grindy math and can get to the task of computing derivatives and solving for x, and that has become the banned feature.

I suppose ten years from now we'll have moved on and be working on more advanced mathematics, having left all of algebra to our calculators on the test...

Re:WHY? (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307848)

*Generic robotic female voice that does all PA announcements in the future*

"All Turing qualified expert systems, sentient hypercomputers, and copies of Mathematica version 26 or higher, must give their binding asset to the College Board's Standard Code of Ethics for the Assistance of Puny Humans before being allowed entrance to the test chamber..."

Re:WHY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307922)

based on my experience with some few of TI's managers, I would say reflexive control freakery. Can't say much more, NDA.

Re:WHY? (1)

Bri3D (584578) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307958)

Not only that, but there are actually two entirely different TI-Nspire models (Nspire and Nspire-CAS) that differ only in software (and cost).

So if it were to become possible to flash one firmware to the other, TI would both lose money and anger standardized testing organizations (most allow only the NSpire and not the CAS, and rely on the different labelling on the hardware to ensure students are using the approved unit).

Re:WHY? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309228)

Interesting. There's the answer then! They could make the thing boot anything you like, but the bootloader disables the "testing mode" LED if it's not the TI blessed firmware. Problem solved.

Had they done that, the hack would be no issue at all. Because they refused, they now have a real problem.

Re:WHY? (1)

leighklotz (192300) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309750)

... Sure, a few of the hardcore nerds in engineering still have their HP somethings... The TI-Nspire also features a "testing mode" LED indicator, designed to stop potential cheating...restricting geometry features on the handheld during the test. ...Essentially, because it is commonly used on tests, the educational customers who drive most of the sales... would really like the calculator to be a "trusted" black box capable of doing only what it says on the tin, not doing arbitrary computer tasks(like storing notes, or doing symbolic integration and differentiation when the kids are supposed to be learning that).

So, what you're saying essentially is that HP calculators are used by people who actually do engineering, and TI calculators are used by people who are required to fit the artificial restrictions of standardized tests.

Re:WHY? (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310386)

When in the real world are you going to be doing anything beyond basic math in your head anyway?

Why not just recognize that and allow full calculator use on these exams?

Re:WHY? (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307584)

Limited calculators for exams. That's really it.

Re:WHY? (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311922)

WHY do they do that? I could see if they had either some expensive dev tool you had to use to make your own powerful apps, or if they were selling a much more expensive calculator that had all the programming options unlocked, but in this case I don't see any profit in it for TI to not let people program them?

Your inability to program it is what makes it acceptable for certain standardized tests. If the proctor of an exam can reset your device to factory fresh condition, they can be sure that you don't have anything in the device that would give you an advantage over others. If you can modify the firmware, you can add all of the programs you want to a reset device.

If the test administrators begin to require other calcs, TI loses money.

Understand now?

LK

No more typing 80085 and 7734! (1)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307438)

Well, I mean, I'll still do it, of course . . . but for manly reasons, as opposed to just feeling like I have some power over the machine.

TI-89 (1)

bit trollent (824666) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307450)

I knew the TI-89 was awesome, but when I bought it over 10 years ago I had no idea that in 2010 it would still be the best graphing calculator in the world.

It solves algebra problems.
It keeps a useful history of your equations.
It's user-friendly.
You can write simple (but graphics based) games in BASIC while you sit in class.
Or you can play pretty impressive assembly games while you pretend to do your homework.

The TI-89 is what a graphing calculator should be. It's sad to see that TI has gotten greedy.

Re:TI-89 (1)

davidbrit2 (775091) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307814)

Spoken like somebody that hasn't used an HP 48GX or 50G. ;)

The TI-89 is nice in terms of software, but that OS was never designed for a system without a QWERTY keyboard. The 92 is much nicer to use.

But I'd still rather have my HP!

Re:TI-89 (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309490)

The catch being, they don't let you use 92s on SAT/ACT etc. because of the QWERTY. The 89 is the same OS, with a keyboard that's allowed. Although they might not let you use an 89 in the near future, either...

Besides, after awhile you can type pretty fast on an ABCDE anyway.

Re:TI-89 (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311118)

Queue HP vs TI flame war in 3 .. 2 .. 1 ..

P.S.
I'm a HP48SX w/ 2x 128K RAM card 2 man myself. Ah, the good 'ol days of hacking Voyager, and dis-assembling ROM entry points...

Re:TI-89 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307998)

The TI-89 is what a graphing calculator should be. It's sad to see that TI has gotten greedy.

I don't think that it is that TI has gotten greedy. It's more that their target market is education, where the realities are that their customers expect limited functionality devices. They don't make anything less restricted as the market for really powerful, highly programmable calculators is fairly limited, and often is better served by a full-fledged PC anyway. (If only because the data that your using is already in the computer and you don't have to re-enter it into the calculator.)

Re:TI-89 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308340)

If they are aiming for the education market, why haven't prices come down?
An 89 is still about the same price, even adjusted for inflation, while I can get a more capable device for half the price. From TI, no less!

On the plus side, they do seem to be including a tad more storage than 15 years ago.

Well, I just looked up the Nspire board and it is practically just an OMAP system-on-a-chip with a bit of circuitboard for the keymat and a header for the LCD. TI is screwing our schools.

Re:TI-89 (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310504)

TI is charging so much for the things because they have a near monopoly.
Most schools have designed their lesson plans around the TI calculator and therefore require the purchase of TI calculators by their students.

When I was in high school, I was one of the first group to be allowed to use graphics calculators in the math classes, specifically the Casio CFX-9850G. Great calculator, still have one, used it all the way through University too (well in the one math unit where I was allowed/needed graphics calculators)

Re:TI-89 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308152)

And you can put the guts in the shell of an 86 with few noticing the difference because they just look at the color of the keycaps.

I still love my TI-89T (1)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307470)

It may have an outdated processor and limited memory but I still love TI's previous flagship CAS calculator, the TI-89 Titanium. Best part about it: it has tons of 3rd party and user generated apps in TI-Basic, C and assembly. It's probably still the best calculator there is for engineering professionals (unless you prefer rpn...in which case, HP is the best)

Re:I still love my TI-89T (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307598)

Im still pimping my ti-89 (regular) that I bought my senior year of HS 2002.. I still think it rocks

Re:I still love my TI-89T (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307774)

You kids and your new fangled TI-89s. In my day, all we had were TI-85s, and they did everything we needed and more! I once plotted an entire 40 mile trip to and from school, in the snow uphill both ways.

Re:I still love my TI-89T (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308028)

You kids and your new fangled TI-89s. In my day, all we had were TI-85s, and they did everything we needed and more! I once plotted an entire 40 mile trip to and from school, in the snow uphill both ways.

You kids and your new fangled TI-85s. In my day, all we had were Casio 3 function calculators (division didn't exist yet). They did everything we needed and more! I once wrote the message "boobies" entirely with numerical values! And I enjoyed it!

Re:I still love my TI-89T (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314604)

Bah! I got mine a year later, so I got the TI-86. More RAM, but apparently the bank addressing made everything much slower. I'd have swapped it for an 85 given the opportunity; waiting for calculations to finish was far more irritating than having 16KB of unused memory instead of 48KB would have been.

What's the point? (0, Troll)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307520)

We have so many cool devices to program for these days.. And hacking a calculator is about as exciting as hacking a microwave (yeah yeah, particles are excited in a microwave, but you know what i meant).

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31307728)

We have so many cool devices to program for these days.. And hacking a calculator is about as exciting as hacking a microwave (yeah yeah, particles are excited in a microwave, but you know what i meant).

I think I'm misunderstanding your comment. You think hacking a microwave wouldn't be cool? Really?

If you can't think of ten fantastically awesome things to do with a rogue microwave beam in ten seconds, I believe you may already be dead on the inside.

As for hacking calculators, anything that promotes creativity and pushes boundaries of what's possible under constraints is automatically interesting, as far as I'm concerned.

Re:What's the point? (4, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307778)

It's the fact that it is such a limited piece of hardware that makes it interesting. These people are hackers in the most flattering sense of the term, they take resources that they have and make something more. They get their kicks by seeing what different things they can make calculators do that they were never supposed to, and by besting TI in all things calculators. If you can't see the value or fun in any of that, then quite simply you just lack a proper hacker mindset and I feel sorry for you.

Re:What's the point? (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308940)

It's the fact that it is such a limited piece of hardware that makes it interesting.

Well... either that, or the fact that it is such a limited piece of hardware is what makes it so frustrating.

People who have never used a programmable calculator -- or who have never had to do much college math -- don't understand how much better they are for doing math. They are purpose-built devices designed to aid complex calculation. Yes, you could probably install a computer algebra system on an iPhone and get pretty much the same capabilities, but a calculator has actual buttons to do all those operations. They also have big libraries of code available to run common formulae for statistics, engineering, chemistry, etc. Modern calculators are very good at letting you get problems done faster.

Imagine a calculator with chemistry software installed, so that when you're doing complex problems in chemistry class you don't have to stop and compute out the molar mass of each compound; instead you just punch in the chemical formula and the calculator returns the mass for you. That's not really cheating. You won't get very far in chemistry class just knowing how to compute molar mass. But every time you add up the mass of a complex formula there's a chance you could make a small error, get the mass wrong, and get the wrong result for the problem. The calculator helps you avoid that.

Now imagine a calculator with a CPU as powerful as the iPhone's, but which is specifically designed so that it doesn't allow users to write that chemistry software.

Re:What's the point? (2, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310274)

It's not the concept I have a problem understanding, it's the target. Compare this with, say, Nintendo DS, iPhone, or XBox hacking. Once you crack the security on these devices, you get access to:

DS - 3D accellerator hardware, cool touchscreen stuff, NES style controller,
iPhone - too much cool stuff to list (though not as appealing now that there's an officially supported SDK),
XBox - a powerful (at the time) console that can handle network functionality and play video, or
Calculator - a bunch of buttons and 100 or so monochrome pixels.

No doubt it was fun for the guy who cracked it to allow it to run custom code.. But I can't think of anything you could do with a handheld calculator that would really improve upon the capabilitie it had when it left the factory. So basically what I'm saying here is that it's cool someone cracked it, but I'm having a hard time understanding why there would actually be a home brew community rallying to this platform.

Re:What's the point? (2, Interesting)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311496)

The thing with the nspires is they are completely worthless. Complete crap, sure they do arithmetic fine, but besides that they do nothing. What this crack does is allow people to program it, without it there wasn't even the possibility of any sort of "homebrew" community for this calculator.

I still don't think you are getting the concept here though. Unlike programming on other platforms, programming on calculators isn't so much a means to an end, it is the end. People don't program them because they want to do fun things with them (though that often is a side effect), they program them because the very act of doing so is fun. The platform provides a very limited set of resources and very tight constraints on things that you want to do, it's this challenge that makes it so popular.

You point at the crappy hardware and say, "Why?". We point at the crappy hardware and say, "That's why."

Re:What's the point? (1)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311704)

Eh, fair 'nuff. Personally, I'm more into the algorithm than the implementation. Then again, I'm not a "hacker", I'm a CS nerd.

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31311498)

I pity the fool that never used a graphing calc... check out ticalc.org if its still around, back in my day that was the place to see what hacking the calc was about

Re:What's the point? (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31311512)

I take it someone didn't RTFA. ticalc.org not only is still around, it is the article. It, and several forums are still very active now, perhaps even now more than ever. All of the fun goes on on irc though ;)

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308022)

I have absolutely no desire to own any other of those devices (iPhone, netbook, whatever). Those other devices tend to be way, way too distracting. I would never rely on those devices - or even my computer at times - to do math and science stuff because I know I would wind up just browsing the web. Some of the limitations of calculators are a blessing, such as the lack of Internet access. Of course, with this hack being released (and I do have a TI-nspire CAS calculator) this would allow the development of video games (a distraction). However, the decision to play a game is not that easy since I would have to close the document in order to play (you can only have one file opened at a time). As opposed to other devices' multitasking capabilities which would enable me to leave my documents open and do other things.

Typically, I would have my Word document open but minimized for hours while I waste time watching videos on YouTube (hell, I'm doing that right now). On my TI-nspire, for some reason, I don't always feel like closing a document just to open another. Not to mention I wouldn't be able to access the web, which I don't want to have at all times. That's why I still use calculators (that and the TI-nspire is a great work of engineering, despite manufacturer-imposed programming limitations).

Game Boy Color Emulator (5, Informative)

allynfolksjr (931229) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307802)

Seems the developers have had some projects stored away until Ndless was released:

http://www.ticalc.org/archives/files/fileinfo/426/42630.html [ticalc.org]

From the program description: "gbc4nspire is a Game Boy and Game Boy Color emulator for the TI-Nspire and TI-Nspire CAS, written from scratch in ARM assembly"

Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Re:Game Boy Color Emulator (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31320192)

Certainly great when you have to "study"...

Exciting New Possibilities? (1)

pcardno (450934) | more than 4 years ago | (#31307926)

I'm pretty sure in every other story like this we lambast the original programmers for their sloppy coding and demand the heads of the managers in charge.

Any chance someone has documented the exploit that was left so that other programmers can learn how to not make programs in future? Or are bugs in software acceptable when we can all install our own crap on the device in question?

TI-Calc love (1, Interesting)

bartoku (922448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308320)

I loved my TI-83 in high school, what great calculator. The TI-83 was also a great portable gaming device and my first introduction to assembly programming. I still carry my TI-89 around with me as I have yet to find a good substitute (not that I have looked very hard). But I wonder with the ubiquity of mobile phones how long it will be before it is more economical to have student download a graphing calculator app for their iPhone/iPod/Android device.

The latest smartphones appear to have way more processing power than the latest TI Calculator offerings, plus the phones are near competitively priced with contracts and much more practical uses beyond class than a $150 calculator offer. Seems the software is were it is at, but heck I had a TI-89 emulator for Windows. Granted on an exam it might be difficult for a teacher to curb cheating via instant messenger, but my philosophy has always been if you can cheat on an exam it is a poor exam--or at least have different forms of the exam to deter instant message cheating with in the same class.

TI sucks for restricting the TI-Nspire from running native code, but I can imagine reasons why they would do so. Often the calculators that students are able to use on exams and standardized tests are restricted to curb cheating. I remember having to put tape over my TI-83's IR port during the ACT exam. Really these exams should be on computers now days with a basic calculator built in to the program.

Re:TI-Calc love (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310432)

Really these exams should be on computers now days with a basic calculator built in to the program.
Of course doing exams on computers opens up huge cans of worms of it's own.

Plus there is STILL no good method for entering equations on computers (and at least the exams i've done as an EE student required loads of working that was heavy in equations). point and click entry is slow, latex has a steep learning curve and isn't really used anywhere else.

Re:TI-Calc love (2, Interesting)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310628)

Plus there is STILL no good method for entering equations on computers

I recommend LyX [lyx.org] , a front-end to latex. When I was in college I was able to take equation-heavy notes real-time in class. My notes usually looked much better than the professor's official class notes as well. LyX does have a learning curve, but you can always remap the keys to whatever you are used to.

Re:TI-Calc love (1)

bartoku (922448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31310678)

Hmm, For the computer based exams I was mostly thinking ACT, SAT, and most AP type exams were a TI graphing calculator is overkill anyway. The GRE was entirely computer based and it is far higher level then those exams and no calculator was allowed for the math anyway. They had special testing stations setup to go take the GRE, no reason ACT, SAT, and AP exams could not employ the same technique. The biggest problem for exams on computer in a college setting would seem to be supplying the computer lab for the exam is all.

As for EE exams I could have made it through my undergrad exams without my TI-89. Entering and dealing with the large exponential numbers is a lot easier on those calculators of course, but a properly written exam could determine if the student understands the concepts without any real numerical calculations. The exams could ban calculators altogether, that way and avoid cheating. But really even if I had my iPhone and EE friend sitting on the other end it would have easier to know the material than cheat. Granted solving linear algebra problems without the lovely matrix functions on my TI-89 would take a bit longer.

I am still thinking EE exams could be done on computer, although the partial credit we all depend on might be harder to earn. You would be allowed scratch paper to hammer out your equations and a built in calculator to run the numbers. The only entry would be a number. Granted there are the occasional graphing or diagram problem, but I have seen all of those done digital in online homework; from simple RCL circuits to transistors and what not. I had online homework that allowed basic equations entered into the input field and the javascript would do the math.

I had 100 level physics courses: mechanics, electromagnetics, thermodynamisc, and quantum mechancis, that had online homework where the problem were broken into pieces to help you learn the material. There would be 5 to 6 sub questions that led you to the answer, something like that could be provided with the avoidance of to much help to give partial credit on a computer exam. Heck all those physics courses used scan trons for exams anyway. They had three test forms handed out, but that would be easy to circumvent by sitting two people away from your friend. All you would need to do is rig your TI with some wireless and transmit (1.A 2.C 3.B...) but again I trust myself more than a friend and knowing the material would probably be easier than cheating.

But really there was never any time to cheat on an EE exam. By the time you would type the question to your outside friend or your inside friend typed the answer to you, you should have solved the problem already. I am still maintaining that only poorly written exams and stupid subject matters can be cheated on (I am looking at you Biology).

Re:TI-Calc love (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314640)

If you can find one, pick up an APL keyboard, then complain that there's no good way of entering equations on computers. Failing that, the AMS syntax that LaTeX, AMS-TeX and OpenOffice use is not particularly hard to learn. OpenOffice is the best way of learning it, because it has both a pointy-clicky interface and a window showing the text representation (which you can also edit), so you can start using the pointy-clicky mode, then move to the editor window when you know a bit of the syntax, and fall back to the pointy-clicky interface for things you can't remember how to do. Or you could read the documentation, but that's a bit unfashionable these days.

We need a cheaper calculator (2, Informative)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#31308408)

High schools and colleges need to get together and encourage industry to make a much-cheaper calculator that is "good" through college math courses that non-technical majors typically take AND good through AB/AP/etc. high school courses as well as all common college entrance exams.

In practice, this would mean 2nd or 3rd semester Calculus.

Think "one laptop per child" but a calculator. This shouldn't run over $40 in America.

Of course, the whole idea of a hand-held dedicated student calculator that students have to spend $80+ on will be moot in a few years. Schools and testing centers will provide calculators for on-site use and students will have "calculator apps" on their cell phones for homework.

Re:We need a cheaper calculator (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31308698)

See the Casio fx-115MS. Cost me $10, used it for the last 8 years, and I think it still costs $10-15. I've dropped it, sat on it, and otherwise abused it more times than I can count and it still works without so much as a battery replacement. Does all of the mathematics needed to get through a full Chemical Engineering curriculum's worth of exams (can't do some of the tougher stuff, but no reasonable professor requires calculations on exams that must be done with a graphing calculator. For homework I just used Maxima or the like if necessary).

Re:We need a cheaper calculator (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 4 years ago | (#31309022)

Seconded. I have a Casio FX-115ES. It's $15 right now from Amazon and it's way more calculator than most high school students should need. Very rugged, solar powered, nice all around.

In no way does it replace my HP 50G, however, which I paid >$100 for and still cling to, even though I haven't had occasion to do much complex math in a long time.

Classes that require students to buy a TI-84 are bad classes, IMHO. At my local community college, none of the calculus classes require calculators. Many instructors forbid the use of calculators on tests. That's right -- all calculators are forbidden.

That said, a good calculator is a tool. It can help you understand how various classes of problems work, and it can help you do those problems faster. If you actually take the time to learn your calculator's functions (something that is admittedly nonintuitive, since many of them don't come with manuals anymore) and even learn how to program it (something few TI-84 owners actually do), you will see what powerful, useful devices they can be. You might find that you do not at all regret paying the cost of one textbook for a calculator that will come in handy throughout your school -- and potentially, professional -- career.

But if that's not the kind of thing that appeals to you? By all means, spend the $15. Casio makes a good calculator.

Re:We need a cheaper calculator (1)

LtGordon (1421725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31312286)

Honestly, once you get beyond the "cool factor", a $15 TI-30 or equivalent scientific calculator is more than enough to get you through even Calc I. Having a calculator show you the graph of a function can be useful, but is by no means necessary to learn the material in the first place.

I'm a crusty old bastard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31312156)

but (thanks to the built-in software's limitations) have hitherto been largely ignored by the calculator programming community

Translation: Fred Wilkins from Nebraska is simply chuffed.

What's the point of standalone calculators? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31312244)

Nowadays you always got a computer running, which has more screen space, keys, processing power and features anyway.
Even my mobile phone can do everything a standalone scientific calculator can do, and more. Since there is a great calculator/math software for it, and since it runs Python and JavaScript anyway. Amongst others.

What are the reasons you still limit yourself to standalone calculators? (Honest question.)
To me it’s as pointless as having a standalone mp3 player. My phone has great sound and lots of space. The software is whatever I choose anyway. :)

Re:What's the point of standalone calculators? (1)

fucket (1256188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31312572)

Does your phone have a Sqrt() button?

Re:What's the point of standalone calculators? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315042)

Oh hell yeah. It has advanced graphing, programmability, statistics and integration function, tons of constants, etc. And I haven’t even talked about writing small scripts in python yet. :)

About a week after I got the software, it I plotted my first 3D function (interference of two waves on a surface) on it.
To raise the bar of what I can do, I’d have to install Mathematica on it. ;)

Which isn’t possible with this phone, but its bigger brother, the N900 can do that, as it can install Windows in a VM. (half serious here. ;)

Exams for example (1)

krischik (781389) | more than 4 years ago | (#31313528)

What are the reasons you still limit yourself to standalone calculators? (Honest question.)

How about not being disqualified for cheating in an exam. Besides: in an exam where time is on the essence real buttons rule.

Re:Exams for example (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315190)

How about not being disqualified for cheating in an exam.

This is where the educational system of your country limits you. Math is not about doing stupid repetitive stuff that a machine can do. It’s about understanding the whys, and the implications. A calculator, or even the best computer, can’t help you there. Because a computer can’t do creativity and ingenuity. The real essence of mathematics.
My guess (or rather hope) is, that this is why we had no rules on calculators in school (a decade ago), and I had both a graphing and a programmable calculator.

Besides: in an exam where time is on the essence real buttons rule.

Agreed. But my computer has more buttons, and they are programmable to an endless number of levels. :)
Same thing with a phone with a touch screen.

Somehow I understand why in your situation, a standalone calculator is the best choice.
But it‘s not exactly because it’s an advantage, is it? ;)

Re:What's the point of standalone calculators? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314702)

My father was the last person to use my TI-86. It's sat on my shelf unused for a few years (I'd not used it since I finished school; university exams didn't allow it), but he needed to do some calculations and was doing most of the work on paper. The calculator's form factor was more useful to him while he was doing it.

If I'd been doing the same thing, I'd probably have used Octave, but he was more comfortable with paper. You can think of a stand-alone calculator as a numeric coprocessor for the paper-and-brain machine. Switching from paper to a calculator is much easier than working with paper and a computer.

A mobile phone has the same size, approximately, but doesn't have the useful buttons.

Needed: Eclipse Plugin For TI Calculators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31318674)

In the last few days, I've realized a need: an Eclipse plugin for programming TI calculators. The stuff put out for them by TI is outdated and not all that great in quality, probably because TI is a hardware company, not a software one.

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