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TI vs. Calculator Hackers 463

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-never-ends-well dept.
Nyall writes "So a bunch of TI calculator programming enthusiasts got together to factor the keys Texas Instruments uses to sign the operating system binaries for the ti83+ (a z80 architecture) and the ti89/v200 (a 68k architecture) series of calculators. Now Texas Instruments is sending out DMCA notices to take them down."
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TI vs Calculator Hackers

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  • Worst move ever, (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Icegryphon (715550) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:33AM (#29491973)
    If TI really wants to sell them calculators they would push the hobbyist market more.
    Instead they stifle the enthusiast groups, but whatever I never really got into TI programming and hacking anyways.
  • Exactly. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:36AM (#29492009) Journal

    If they want to be as successful as HP calculators, they need to do more to encourage more enthusiasts...

  • Re:Wikileaks link (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:39AM (#29492045)

    And thousands of people will mirror it....

    What will they do with people outside the US where the DMCA does not apply?

    The ease of which students can make their own programs is one of the reasons my college asked us to buy TI-brand calculators and not Casio (which is the other choice they give.. hp is not supported at all :-p)

    Meh...

  • by qoncept (599709) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:41AM (#29492061) Homepage
    I really have to wonder what dope modded the parent post as insightful. Enthusiasts aren't any manufacturer's target audience. There are (say) 10 million kids who need a graphing calculator for college or high school, and (say) 100 that are hacking them. Claiming those few are the key to success is just plain wrong.
  • by Xtravar (725372) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:43AM (#29492111) Homepage Journal

    1. Get a USB traffic sniffing application
    2. Run the TI driver on a Windows XP VM and record the traffic as you transfer files.
    3. Write your own driver with libusb-win32 and pray that it works
    4. Become hero to the TI community!!!

  • by sunking2 (521698) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:52AM (#29492231)
    This is exactly why they are not a big fan. The reality is there is very little difference hardware wise in the lesser and more expensive models. If all you need to do is upgrade some software to get your cheaper model to behave like the more expensive then TI loses a ton of money. It's all about trying to get people to upgrade to a model with a higher profit margin.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:53AM (#29492247)

    While the TI engineers would probably be happy to share the info, a bunch of management suits still living in the 1960s want to keep everything secret and in-house because they're sure They Know Best as to what everyone wants. Well we all know where this sort of blinkered thinking leads - users eventually just give you the finger and move elsewhere especially if a large part of your core market is the very type of hacker (in the old sense of the word) that they want to stop.

    And who are they kidding anyway , these are just fscking calculators! They can't even argue that installing new stuff on them is going to lose them any income anyway. Its not like the average user upgrades his calculator OS every year!

  • by evanbd (210358) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:58AM (#29492309)

    Those few calculator hackers (there are a lot more than 100 of them; they're a minority, but not that small a one) aren't just a few users. They're busy writing games and other useful programs. Those programs appear on just about every TI calculator out there, and plenty of people who aren't even remotely enthusiasts or geeks are using them. The enthusiasts have a disproportionate influence on how popular the platform is, because they make it more useful for everyone.

  • Re:Wikileaks link (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VernonNemitz (581327) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:03PM (#29492377) Journal
    TI is certainly mistaken about the reach of Copyright Law in this matter. Out of all the code in a calculator, which they might copyright, then according to that Law, it is:
    A. Fair Use to publish two numbers!
    B. Not Applicable if the numbers were never in the calculator code!
  • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:03PM (#29492381)

    The TI calculator division is all about placating teachers and standardized testing agencies. If it's too easy to install custom software in a relatively undetectable fashion, then the calculators won't be approved for testing and classroom use.

    It's not TI that's the control freaks - it's the teachers.

  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:21PM (#29492637)

    This isn't about 3rd party apps. This is about signing for the OS.

    TI doesn't care what programs you write, in assembly OR TI-Basic. They do care if you overwrite their OS.

  • by LarrySDonald (1172757) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:35PM (#29492811)
    The point isn't that they're the target market, but that they are somewhat useful and completely harmless. I hacked on every calculator I used (you have to do something while watching the dry as paint lectures and they're an allowed tool in school. Hey, perhaps I do think this English lecture needs some mathematical analysis, who are you to judge?) and I have no earthly idea how exploring their deeper workings did any harm at all to the maker. Also, this is the group that will (I've noticed) be asked what calculator you should buy. I bought all that were allowed in school pretty much, so that won't help you, but I was also the go to guy for 20 and by extension hundreds for "Ok, so what's the deal here? What should I buy?". It's crazy. I'm not sure what they're trying to prevent. They sell hardware and pretty much that only. They're not razorblade - they charge full price for the hardware they sell. What's the point in even trying to prevent people from doing what they feel like with it? Of course they have certain amounts of right to do so, just as we have every right to not buy their crappy locked down platforms, but it's hard to see where alienating the enthusiasts, which by secondary steps will alienate a ton more who asked them "So what about TI?" and got the answer "Assholes sued me for trying to write a better point graph fitter. Don't buy it" while gaining nothing useful.
  • by Deathlizard (115856) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:36PM (#29492817) Homepage Journal

    I've been working with Ti calcs and the Ti community for years, and Frankly, I feel that Ti have been giving us programmers a slap in the face.

    First off, they keep resurrecting the Ti-82 series of calcs with endless versions and case updates while killing off more capable OS designs like the 85 series. I have a feeling the 92 series (which inclueds the 89, 89ti, and Voyage 200) is next.

    Then, they remove program editing from their windows app as well as letting it stagnate with documented link bugs still included.

    Finally, they release the Nspire. The Nspire is such a leap backward from their previous calcs that they actually had to make a version that emulates the 83. (again with the 82 love) It has a neutered programming language. no draw support. no 3d support, removed math functions, no proper input or output channels, ETC. I don't know who this calculator is going to appeal to. K-12 don't want it cause its more expensive than an 83, Higher education doesn't want it cause it's neutered vs other calcs in it's class and programmers don't want to touch it cause it's basically useless with no SDK or useful programming language to speak of.

    I could probably talk about the SDK and it's lack of updates and support as well, but I'd rather let the Ti Flash community programmers do the talking here.

    I'm not a fan of the key facoring, because it's just going to make Ti clamp down on the community that keeps their calc business (and my hobby) alive, but I don't blame the Ti Community, Not when Ti listenes more to a 9th grade teacher whining about little Johnny playing games on his calc instead of the professor or engineer thats using his calc as a cheap portable way of processing a complex algorythm or data probe accqsition device.

  • by UncleTogie (1004853) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:40PM (#29492865) Homepage Journal

    TI doesn't care what programs you write, in assembly OR TI-Basic. They do care if you overwrite their OS.

    Funny, I don't remember agreeing to a EULA when I first opened the box and powered it up. Their right to ANYthing concerning their equipment ended when I bought it.

  • Re:Exactly. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by virtualXTC (609488) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:42PM (#29492893) Homepage
    I still have my HP48G (sitting right in front of me). I can't stand working with non-RPN calcuators.
  • by fermion (181285) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:42PM (#29492901) Homepage Journal
    It is about teachers and standardized testing, and that is one of the reasons why the software in the TI calculator needs to be secure. But it is unlikely the primary reason. Prior to use on test, TI has an application that clear the calculator to essentially factory state. This application only runs from the calculator installed, and cannot be transferred to other calculators. This calculator could be modified to actually reinstall an OS, which would be time consuming, but the safest thing to do for testing. Control freak teachers do run the application. Most don't. Real control freak teachers don't even let students use a calculator because there is nothing a calculator can do that a students should not be able to do faster. It takes more time to put in the equation of a graph or table than to just find the roots or the regression equation by hand. The problem is those middle of the road teachers that have sympathy for the students who can't add two integers, but still want them to, at least in some cases, manipulate variables by hand.

    The desire to keep the code secure is in a fact a desire to insure sales. For instance, the TI application for the computer is not free, and, IIRC, not site licensed. If the ROM were available, like it is on most of the HP calculators, then someone could easily develop an OSS application and make drive TI sales away. I know that some applications are available, but they require a calculator to download the ROM, and the solutions are not as elegant as the HP calculator.

  • by I'm not really here (1304615) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:44PM (#29492921)
    If it's that much of a concern, why don't the schools have a set of TI calculators that are available for standardized tests? Stagger the testing properly, and you don't actually need one for each student. This way, the student has their own calculator, can do whatever they want with it for homework, etc, but for testing purposes, they are required to use the school's TI hardware and software.

    If the school is concerned with the costs involved, I'm sure they could work a deal with TI to receive the "in-class only" calculators for free or at cost. I mean, if you think about it, free (pirated) copies of Windows is the main reason for the success of the Windows operating system... most likely, having easy access to TI calculators in school would get students comfortable with them, and would likely boost TI's market share... it's a win-win situation, and TI can wholeheartedly support the hack/homebrew crowd at the same time without worrying the teachers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:48PM (#29492975)

    The TI calculator division is all about placating teachers and standardized testing agencies. If it's too easy to install custom software in a relatively undetectable fashion, then the calculators won't be approved for testing and classroom use.

    It's not TI that's the control freaks - it's the teachers.

    if you can program a machine to solve a problem for you...i say kudos...even if its on a test.

  • by ThePyro (645161) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:48PM (#29492979)

    One of the reasons that TI signs things is to provide a form of copy protection for the 3rd-party applications which are sold via the online store. The calculator operating system will not run a flash application for which it does not currently have a license. The operating system binary is signed so that you can't tamper with it in order to disable the copy-protection. A modified operating system could potentially run flash applications without a license.

    As far as user-created software goes, TI doesn't really care what you run on the calculator. It's only non-free flash apps that concern them.

  • Re:Exactly. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:50PM (#29492999) Journal

    If I were to teach a math class at any level, there would be no calculators of any sort needed.

    That's how the good ones teach, anyway. A calculator would have been of very little help in most of the no-calculator exams I took. It was more useful on the homework, but you still had to show your work.

  • by HeronBlademaster (1079477) <heron@xnapid.com> on Monday September 21, 2009 @01:10PM (#29493285) Homepage

    If it's too easy to install custom software in a relatively undetectable fashion, then the calculators won't be approved for testing and classroom use.

    They're already disallowed by many teachers because students learned they can simply type their notes into the calculator. (Who needs to remember equations when the calculator stores them for you?) The TI-89 and TI-92 are not allowed in ACT tests because they're designed to allow note-taking (the 92 more than the 89, but still). (That particular requirement made my parents buy a new TI-83+, even though I already had a TI-89.)

    Honestly I've always disagreed with resistance to calculator use. Why can't I use a calculator to do calculus, or physics? The hard part isn't remembering the equations, anyway; the hard part is remembering which equation to use. Storing the list of equations in the calculator doesn't magically make you know which equation to use, it just helps you remember what the equations are in the first place. Sure, you could probably type notes into the calculator telling you which to use when, but all that effort is going to make you learn it anyway, so it most likely wouldn't make a difference.

    I always hated losing points because I transposed two numbers or something somewhere in the calculation (which would not have happened had I been using a calculator), or because I'm simply terrible at doing math by hand. I honestly have no idea how I got a 4 on that AP Calculus test.

    If I were hiring someone for a position that required a lot of math, and he proudly declared that he never uses a calculator, I don't think I would hire him. I would want my employees to use calculators - even if only to check their work.

    Um... end rant.

  • by Hatta (162192) * on Monday September 21, 2009 @01:11PM (#29493311) Journal

    Personally, I'm appalled that kids are still using the TI-83, and it still costs about $100. I used a TI-83 in high school, almost 15 years ago, and it cost $100 back then too. Haven't we had any advances in calculator technology since then?

    Someone needs to get the DOJ on these guys for anti-trust violations. This is clear evidence of an abusive monopoly.

  • Re:Wikileaks link (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Monday September 21, 2009 @01:13PM (#29493343) Homepage Journal

    what makes the TI calculators better than, say, Pi Cubed (and a few other apps) for the iPhone?

    Primarily the fact that it is a calculator and not a phone. The TI-89 has better numeric capabilities, great graphing ability, and a nice display. It can also run for months on a single pair of AA batteries.

    That, and it doesn't cost more than $800 a year to operate.

    Is it the interface, dedicated keys? RPN?

    Yes, yes, and no [wikipedia.org]. I can't imagine trying to use a tiny little touch screen for any serious calculator use.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @01:31PM (#29493565)

    Or students should be expected to be able to do the problems WITHOUT a calculator.

    You kids standing on that green patch on my property: you know what to do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 21, 2009 @02:19PM (#29494273)

    I'm not sure about you, but I have not had much success getting libusb-win32 to work with x64.

  • Re:Math (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mckinleyn (1288586) on Monday September 21, 2009 @03:27PM (#29495233)
    Then sign up for an account, get good karma, read daily, and go on a flamebait-hunting spree. Or, sign up for an account and turn off sigs.
  • by zymano (581466) on Monday September 21, 2009 @03:54PM (#29495581)

    I fucking own it. i will install anything i want on it.

    Everyone has a right to the inner workings of something they own god damnit.

  • by Perky_Goth (594327) <paulomiguelmarques@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Monday September 21, 2009 @05:07PM (#29496583) Homepage
    I bought (well, my parents) two calculators when I needed them because I could install whatever I felt like at the time. Without it, I probably wouldn't have cared.
    On the other hand, I see that what you sell is basically what I bought 10 years ago, so that tells me a lot about your business sense.
    However, stagnated companies usually die, no matter how much they squelch. At least the OMAP is cool.
  • by rdebath (884132) on Monday September 21, 2009 @06:14PM (#29497347)

    I haven't looked a 'high end' calculators in years, I use computers all the time. I kind of knew they were still around but really, these machines are terrible!

    My expectations were, a modern cheap processor ... like the arm, possibly underclocked for power consumption; well looks like the HPs have that. An infinite amount of memory; well probably 64M each of RAM and flash. That's infinite for a calculator. And a small, but usable screen, probably 320x200x16(4) grayscale, (colour's supposed to consume a lot more power). And a pair of USB cables that allow you to connect to a PC or an external flash drive. The PC software would let you copy the entire calculator and run and program it on the PC (emulator) or the actual hardware.

    Well, These TI's with a z80 processor, sorry you only use a z80 mask nowadays if you're a complete skinflint, "high end" gear uses processors that are easier to program. The 68k sounds reasonable; but it's probably a powerhog compared to the Arm (most 32bit+ processors are).

    Probably the thing I'm most shocked about is the screen, those 132x64x2 displays are at least 15 years old and have never been big enough for a reasonable graph. But here we are stuck in the 90's or even the 80's.

    Quite simply these machines should be two chips, a screen, a load of buttons, usb connector and a battery.
    They should no longer be expensive; but are being sold for about the same prices as the smaller netbooks. Or this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GP2X_Wiz [wikipedia.org]

    They are all so very disappointing.

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