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TI vs. Calculator Hobbyists, Again 417

Posted by timothy
from the p0wning-the-market's-not-enough dept.
Deep Thought writes "Texas Instruments, already infamous thanks to the signing key controversy last year, is trying a new trick to lock down its graphing calculators, this time directed toward its newest TI-Nspire line. The TI-Nspires were already the most controlled of TI's various calculator models, and no third-party development of any kind (except for its very limited form of TI-BASIC) was allowed until the release of the independent tool Ndless. Since its release, TI has been determined to prevent the large calculator programming community from using it. Its latest released operating system for the Nspire family (version 2.1) now prevents the calculators from downgrading to OS 1.1, needed to run Ndless. This is TI's second major attack on Ndless, as the company has already demanded that websites posting the required OS 1.1 remove it from public download [PDF, in French], obviously to prevent use of the tool. Once again, TI is preventing calculator hobbyists from running their own software on calculators they bought and paid for."
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TI vs. Calculator Hobbyists, Again

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  • Why bother?! (Score:5, Informative)

    by JamesP (688957) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:29AM (#32942026)

    Go for HP then. (learn RPN!!)

    And even then, if I want to hack it, I'd go for a Palm or software in an iPhone/ Android. The processor and raphics in these things runs circles around calculators.

    I understand for some occasions (tests, etc) it has to be a calculator, but I doubt it would be allowed to run modified software.

    Time for discreet calculators is almost over.

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:35AM (#32942054)

      I understand for some occasions (tests, etc) it has to be a calculator, but I doubt it would be allowed to run modified software.

      Which represents a TREMENDOUS market for TI, one that they are not going to give up on so easily. You may doubt that modified software will be allowed, but nobody is looking at checksums before you enter a testing room. The assumption is that you have not modified your calculator, and if that assumption is shaken, it will mean the end of a lot of calculators for standardized tests. If I were to try to guess why TI is fighting these hackers, I would say that it is all about the standardized tests, where TI calculators are exceedingly popular.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Journey72 (1762034)
        Other schools may be different, but at mine, on any test that we took in math class, our teacher would reset our calculators to its factory defaults.
        • That was not the procedure on any of the exams I took in high school. We were not allowed graphing calculators in our math classes, but they were allowed in physics and chemistry, and there was just a casual inspection of the calculator to ensure it was not above a certain model number. Perhaps things have changed over the past 5 years?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Lehk228 (705449)
          they used the menu in the calculator, the on my TI-86 i had created a replica menu that lookd like the home screen of the calculator and the only differenc were a set of busy dots in the top right corner.

          i wasn't using this to cheat, but to keep the games i had from being deleted since the hours in between tests were one of the primary times i wanted to have my games with me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Gr8Apes (679165)

          Well, in many of my classes we weren't allowed anything but a pencil for a test. Everything else was provided.

          In others, you could bring a calculator, however, since they were multi-step problems, you still had to write everything out. The calculator was really only good for checking that you'd correctly manipulated the numbers.

          In a couple you could bring in anything you wanted. You were given 3 hours. The average score was under 45% with the maximum being barely 80%.

          You actually had to understand the mater

      • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:45AM (#32942096)

        we weren't allowed used any programmable calculators or calculators which could store info.

        • Back then we didn't even have calculators and it was tough to write a crib on your slide rule.

          I still have my slide rule. You never know when civilization is going to collapse and you can't get calculator batteries for your non-solar powered ones.
      • by JamesP (688957) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:46AM (#32942098)

        I graduated in 2004.

        Funny enough, in my university there were ZERO TI Calcs, we would all be in HP48/HP48+ and beginning to see the 49s... (not in US, as you may have guessed)

        But I've seen TI calcs (in France), people would use TI-92s and entry-level models, still, there was one HP48 in my class there.

        [quote]If I were to try to guess why TI is fighting these hackers, I would say that it is all about the standardized tests, where TI calculators are exceedingly popular.[/quote]

        Makes sense... Still, I'd guess they would ban the 'fancy' calculators.

        At the same time, people would not check the fact that some people had entire tests solved on their 48G+ (I had the 48G)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I graduated high school in 2005 in the USA, and graphing calculators were actually encouraged in many courses, and allowed on some standardized tests.

          At the same time, people would not check the fact that some people had entire tests solved on their 48G+

          I saw the same thing on the TI-83, and it was not just tests -- I saw people storing entire textbooks (which surprised me, since I thought the calculators had limited memory). Somehow, this never seemed to catch the attention of the teachers...

          • by jridley (9305)

            Heh, I graduated in 1982, and I was one of the few people who had a calculator. I think I paid > $50 for a 4 function calculator earlier in high school, for my senior year I bought an HP32E which I think set me back a couple hundred bucks. I worked more than a month to be able to buy it. I don't think it had any memory at all apart from the stack and the statistics registers.

            I wasn't allowed to use a calculator at all on tests in most classes. OK, I was a smart ass and brought in a slide rule, the ph

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Hellahulla (936042)

              OK, I was a smart ass and brought in a slide rule, the physics instructor let me use it, I think because he thought it was funny. It was useful as a double-check.

              Hey I did that, we weren't allowed calculators so brought my Granddad's old slide rule for a joke and was allowed to use it. Thankfully I knew how to use it and it wasn't just there as a funny looking ruler :)

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by DoctorPepper (92269)

              I graduated from high school in 1977. The very first time I saw a calculator was in "A" school in the Navy, later on that year. I bought one at the Navy Exchange, can't remember the price. It was a Casio calculator, I can't remember the model number. We used to get drunk and use it to play music on our stereo in the barracks room. Tune an FM radio to an unused frequency, lay the calculator on top, and just press the buttons. The radio would pick up the frequencies, demodulate them, and play them back.

          • By using very simple convention, you can put the entire equation program from graduation physic. Naturally the equation are useless without knowing how to use them, but still. In QM (my graduation) they allowed all books, calculator, whatever you wanted. It did not help *a bit* as long as you did not udnerstood what this was about and how to reason your way out of a paper back.
      • "This slide rule has obviously been tampered with! So said the teacher!"

        "A slide rule? Luxury! When I was a school boy we only had an abacus!"

        "Ha, that's nothing! When I was in school we weren't allowed to count using our fingers!"

        (With apologies to Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Standardized tests should never include calculators. They are to test knowledge of concepts, not button pushing skills.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jamesh (87723)

          Standardized tests should never include calculators. They are to test knowledge of concepts, not button pushing skills.

          If the calculator allows you to focus on the concepts being tested instead of basic arithmetic then isn't that a good thing? Looking up trig tables and doing the multiplication by hand doesn't strike me as a good way of testing the concepts of trigonometry. And while there are many ways of showing an understanding of the concepts other than seeing if you get the right final answer, it's by far the easiest measurement.

          If basic arithmetic is the thing being tested then by all means, ban the calculator from th

      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        There are quite a lot of schools outside US in EU that also allow various TI calculators for standardised tests. I did my finals in 2000, and one of the worst things from schools perspective even back then was customised software. They required us to give the calculators away a week before the test so that faculty could check for software changes and reset the calculators to factory settings.

    • Totally agree (Score:3, Informative)

      by crovira (10242)

      Who the [expletive deleted] would want to mess with a TI?

      You're much better off using an HP.

      RPN got me into stack architecture, FORTH, Smalltalk and lots of other things.

      • by jridley (9305)

        It's too bad HP doesn't make real calculators anymore. All of them have that cursed = sign on them. They have an RPN mode, but I don't like that they even have an algebraic mode.

        I'd buy an older one off eBay but they're pretty expensive these days. I used to have an HP15 but I haven't seen it for years now (cry).

      • I don't understand why people would want to pay for either HP or TI, they are both overpriced for what they deliver.

        A Casio FX-9860G Slim is dirt cheap, great processor, decent screen, the absolute best form factor and a complete C SDK. No native RPN, but plenty of add-ons for that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      +1

      If you use graphing calcs and own an ipod touch or iphone, I suggest checking out this [iphone-calc.com].

      Its $0.99, ands beats the pants off of the ti83/84 series (pinch zoom rocks for function graphs!)

      I did a demo in one of my classes last semester and (not surprisingly) all students which own such devices said they'd rather use this instead of a standalone calc. we're thinking of buying a set of calcs for instructor checkout during exams, thereby eliminating the need to force hundreds of our students to shell out $100+

      • by jridley (9305)

        We donated our TI calc that we had to buy for our daughter in high school (specific model required) to the high school, to loan out to students. If all those students have these calcs that they're never going to use again, why not donate them?

    • And even then, if I want to hack it, I'd go for a Palm or software in an iPhone/ Android. The processor and raphics in these things runs circles around calculators.

      Battery life in my HP 48GX runs circles around your Android. It sits in my desk, and any time I need it, it works; battery life is dependent on how long you actually use it- there's little standby drain. I cannot remember the last time I replaced the 3 alkaline AA's.

      Also, I bet your Android doesn't get faster after you've charged the batte

      • by JamesP (688957)

        Try plotting a Root locus [wikipedia.org] graph on a 48GX

        I know, the batteries on these things runs almost forever, still, it's way underpowered for some things.

        The software is great but it could be a tad better (and the 49's had a better processor, EMULATING the older processor)

  • by jlp2097 (223651)

    Seriously - why are they trying to stop this? It's not like there is a huge app store (phones) or a huge market for pirating apps (nintendo ds/psp) where they would lose money by allowing this. Can somebody explain the reasoning behind their unwillingness to allow hobbyist applications to me?

    • Standardized tests (Score:5, Informative)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:39AM (#32942066)
      There is a huge market for graphing calculators because of standardized tests, and those tests have specific requirements on the limits of the calculator's functionality. If you can modify the calculator's firmware, then you can make a run around those rules -- the inspections of calculators rarely involve turning the calculator on, and even if it did, it would be trivial to disguised hacked firmware. These standardized tests rely on a perception of fairness and accuracy, which creates a requirement for standard calculator firmware, which means that a major part of TI's calculator business is created by the un-hackability of their calculators.
      • by jlp2097 (223651)

        So by doing this they are not serving their actual customers but bowing down to the pressure of school / testing entities. Interesting indeed.

        As somebody who's not from the US I've never quite understood why TI behaved this way. But they are basically bowing down to SAT and other tests like this. Thanks for the explanation!

      • by IYagami (136831) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @10:02AM (#32942444)

        I mean, if there is enough market for a hackable calculator, then TI should sell another model which its user could load software into.

    • Cheating?

      I envy highschool kids these days. Those hoops sure would have been a lot easier to jump through if I'd had access to these sorts of tools.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by hedwards (940851)
        I'm curious as to how exactly one can use these for cheating. IIRC the SATs and most standardized tests don't allow you to have a graphing calculator. Any decent math teacher requires students to show their work, which a graphing calculator can't do. At best they can check to see if the answer you got matches what it should, but that's about it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          You can load up the calculators with textbooks and example problems, or programs that show you step-by-step methods of solving certain classes of problems (not kidding, I saw such a program implemented in Python once).
        • Think more sciency. Equations, conversions, laws, definitions, charts. Shit, a periodic table hidden in my calculator would have bumped my chemistry grade a full letter. Phase change maps, orbitals, and shit? Balanced redox reactions for any conceivable chemicals? Game over.

          As for standardized tests, it's been too long for me to know. They allowed TI-83s the 7 years or so ago that I took it though.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by hedwards (940851)
            OK, that does make a lot of sense. And you're right about the SATs, now that I think about it, the restriction was on calculators that had a QWERTY keyboard on them.

            But then again, I recall having a professor in college that let us have unlimited notes, books and pretty much everything except each other and the internet. On the basis that you wouldn't finish the test if you were making too much use.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Cwix (1671282)

          http://sat.collegeboard.com/register/sat-test-day-checklist#calcPolicy [collegeboard.com]
          http://www.actstudent.org/faq/answers/calculator.html [actstudent.org]

          Both the SATs and the ACTs allow graphing calculators. The SATs are actually more lenient prohibiting only calculators with a qwerty keypad, the ACTs ban the TI-89/92(+) Series or calcs because of the CAS (Computerized algebraic solver IIRC)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mystik (38627)

          In HS, when wee were doing matrices, I got bit by the 'show the work' requirement.

          So I wrote a program onto the calculator (TI-85) That would 'show the work' that I could transcribe to my test.

          *I* didn't consider it cheating, because If I could describe the algorithm to a computer in a programming language, I felt that I had sufficiently mastered it, and any additional assignments were simply busy work.

  • by KingArthur10 (679328) <arthur.bogard@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:34AM (#32942048)
    I couldn't have survived high school without something to keep my mind occupied. I constantly programmed on my TI-83+, and I couldn't imagine NOT having the ability to script tasks or create random programs for fun. The TI-83 got me into programming, and it's helped me hone many of my logic skills!
    • by siwelwerd (869956)
      Likewise. I first started programming when I was in high school on my TI-89. First in the horrendous TI-Basic, and then I found TIGCC. Not sure what I'd be doing today if I hadn't got interested in programming then.
      • I was interested in programming before, but high school programming on the TI-83 was very important when the teacher had to explain that concept, again and again.

        I still remember writing a game where two cannons fired at each other on a turn basis, using the physics equations we'd learned just a few classes before. I would always lose :|

  • the company has already demanded that websites posting the required OS 1.1 remove it from public download [PDF, in French], obviously to prevent use of the tool. Once again, TI is preventing calculator hobbyists from running their own software on calculators they bought and paid for.

    If I'm parsing the "their" correctly, TI is preventing hobbyists from running hobbyist software? Perhaps, but TI is also trying to prevent hobbyists from running a buggy version of TI software. A little objectivity is a good thing.

    • Why should TI prevent hobbyists from running buggy or out of date software?
      • Why should hobbyists be allowed to distribute TIs (buggy or out of date) software without permission?
        • Because they want the features that the out of date software provides? Because TI is not distributing it?

          Yeah yeah, copyright, and TI should be deified for having created some software and if they say you can't have it, you can't, even if all your friends do.
          • So, basically, "because they want to".

            Thats not a good answer.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              More like, "they want to do something else, and need the old firmware in order to do it." Why should we care about copyright if the copyright holder is not even bothering to distribute the work in question?
              • so if I make a porno with my gf for our own amusement, you're entitled to distribute it (if you can get it in the first place) because "Why should we care about copyright if the copyright holder is not even bothering to distribute the work in question?" See the problem with that?
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  you're entitled to distribute it (if you can get it in the first place)

                  If I can get it in the first place. Did you give it to me, or did I illegally enter your home and take it?

                  If you give it to me, ask me to not give it to others, and then I choose to be an asshole and give it to others, then that makes me untrustworthy, but that is about it. You cannot claim that as someone who produced some creative work, you have the absolute right to dictate that some group of people is allowed to have it, and some group is never allowed to have it. In fact, we have a requirement

                  • You cannot claim that as someone who produced some creative work, you have the absolute right to dictate that some group of people is allowed to have it, and some group is never allowed to have it. In fact, we have a requirement that copyrights expire and that creative works enter the public domain for that very reason: people who make creative works are not gods.

                    No, people who make creative works are not gods, but you seem to be confused - yes, copyrights expire and creative works do enter the public domain, but until then yes the producer (or copyright owner if that copyright has been sold by the producer) certainly has the right to dictate exactly which group of people can have the work, and which cannot.

                    Part of copyright is the right to not to distribute, and that right is just as valid as being able to distribute.

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:54AM (#32942140)
      Actually, from the sound of it, TI are preventing the hobbyists from distributing software that TI hold the copyright for and the hobbyists do not have permission to distribute - can't really see an issue there.
      • by Cwix (1671282)

        Ti is refusing to let you downgrade your OS to the one that came with the damn calculator. Even if they are 100% legal in doing it, its a dick move.

  • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @08:55AM (#32942146) Journal

    Well, not the schools specifically. But that schools are TI's primary market for graphing calculators, and they have a huge markup due to using outdated hardware, so they're going to want to push them.

    Unfortunately, schools require the calculators to be crippled to prevent their use for cheating (which could be non-math related cheating...), thus ensuring that students will learn to lean on devices that they will never see in their subsequent careers in industry or research.

    If the portable math-machine really were something that people felt they needed, you'd see iPhone apps that were actually useful: the hardware is far more capable than the piddling processors they're putting in the math-class toys, or you'd see the prices of dedicated hardware drop into the $10-$20 range that scientific calculators have been in for decades.

    Graphing calculators, at the moment, seem to have little more purpose than to bilk schools out of money from well-meaning but ill-informed "technology initiatives."

  • Write your own hobbyist OS. Someone needs to disassemble the 2.1 OS then translate it into accurate and detailed pseudo-code. After that, another team needs to take the results of the first step and write it again using the pseudo-code as the map. Once that works achieving a high level of compatibility, then focus on improvements that will better enable functions and features.

    Alternatives and other issues aside, a real hobbyist solution is to build one's own OS.

    • The calculators are locked down and check digital signatures on software, hence the problem. It is not just that the new software is missing features; the calculator is designed to stop you from adding those features on your own. Avoiding the new firmware is fine, but when someone buys a new TI calculator, it is going to come with the new firmware.
  • by yeremein (678037) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @10:13AM (#32942498)

    When I was in high school, Zshell (an exploit that allowed running native Z80 assembly on a TI-85) was all the rage. The exploit and various apps (mostly games) spread virally throughout the school. I did some Z80 assembly programming myself, and it was a learning experience arguably more useful to my career than anything I learned in high school...

    Years later at college, when my old 85 had been handed down to a younger sibling, I found I needed a graphing calculator for a physics class. I bought a TI-89 and was impressed to see TI allowed it to run native software, no hacks required. (There were still hacks, to get around a few limitations such as code size, but even these limitations were relaxed in later firmware versions.) I spent far more time programming the calculator than actually using it as a calculator.

    Now they're back in their lock-it-down mode? Shame. It always disappoints me when manufacturers go out of their way to make their devices less useful--and in this case, a less capable learning tool, for budding programmers anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lehk228 (705449)
      actually the next iteration in that family, the TI-86 allowed native execution through the ASM(PROGNAME) command.
    • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Sunday July 18, 2010 @01:17PM (#32943540)
      I think that most scientists, physicists and mathematicians are using matlab, mathematica and C/C++ to do the majority of their calculations these days. I work exclusively with C/C++ and matlab. A graphing calculator has nowhere near the capability of Matlab, but I suppose it is much more expensive for a license. However, most companies and universities will get you a license to do your work.
  • It's sad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RScullion (323613)

    It's sad that TI are having to do this. When I was at school we basically had the choice between Casio and TI85 graphing calculators. Casio were far more popular until people discovered how to run assembly mode programs (and games) off the internet. Then everybody wanted a TI. TI even supported this at first by adding assembly mode into the TI86.
    Unfortunately by the time I got to finals at university, graphing calculators had been banned because of the ability to store (and hide) extra programs and informat

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