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Tihle: A new emulator targeting TI graphing calculators (taricorp.net)
160 points by jonhcalc 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

Great read and great work. TI’s move to disallow developing native applications is not good. By definition, these calculators are educational devices, not walled curated platforms. While I admit programming is a secondary function on these calculators, a large community of folks (including myself) learned to code on these relatively accessible machines and many took those skills forward to help build really cool and useful things for the world.

While I agree with your sentiment, a big part of why the TI-84 is so ubiquitous is because they're required for standardized tests. I suppose their reasoning is that supporting assembly programs makes it trivial to break/fake the test mode on their calculators.

That said, they didn't even use test mode when I took the SAT, so I don't know.

It's been a while since I've taken the ACT or SAT, but it seems unnecessary to me to allow graphing calculators at all. I'm pretty sure you can get through any 4-year engineering program without ever using more than a good scientific calculator on an exam (and that's all you're allowed to use on the FE/PE exams), so it ought to be more than sufficient for high school algebra or trig.

I would actually take it a step further and say that graphing calculators aren't even that useful in instruction, especially now that students all have computers and can run Desmos, MatLab, or whatever. I had a TI-86 in high school, and the only class in which I found it indispensable was A.P. Statistics. Maybe I'm being narrow-minded, but I always thought those things were a bit silly and gimmicky and sort of resented that my parents had to buy me one for school.

I don't know if it is common, but that's exactly what my engineering school did : no graphical calculator allowed through all the cursus. They would provide a "basic+ calculator" (a basic calculator with square, square root, and some "advanced" math but not a lot) to each test and you'll have to deal with that.

I hated it while in school, but retrospectively i think it was a pretty good idea actually :)

It seems like calculators exist for the features they don't support more than the features they do support.

The proper fix is to store user data and run user code only when removable media is inserted. The calculator could hardware-disable flash writes when removable media is detected, and then do a full reset when removable media is removed.

Ideally it would be an SD-card plugged in at the top edge of the calculator. The area around that connector could be clear plastic, with visible circuit traces running to the CPU.

If they came out with something like this I bet someone would just start selling modchips.

It'd be less likely than with the currently selling calculators. Are we seeing modchips now? I don't think so.

Of course it is always possible to fully replicate the calculator. I'm sure there is a Chinese factory that could do it. Stopping a trademark violation like that is the job of the port inspection and customs enforcement people. The situation becomes like illegal drugs, but with much lower demand and much more difficult production.

Simply replacing the chip is some serious electronics work. These aren't socketed DIP chips. They aren't even BGA. TI puts the bare naked silicon chip right on the board, bonds wires from it to the board, and then covers it with a blob of black glue.

My suggestion of clear plastic makes this even harder. Modifications would need to look normal. The part of the board between the SD card socket and the CPU should have a minimum of clutter and a colorful boarder box, making it easy to see where one should look for modifications.

I still remember before test mode, when the teacher would just come around and do 2nd, +, 7,1,2 and that would reset the calc to factory settings. It became mandatory to have the USB adaptor to reload apps.

The Ti83 is how I learned to program.

Interesting...is that roughly uncapturable by an application, sort of like ctrl-alt-del in windows?

No, you could simply write a program that you ran ahead of time that would simulate the correct screens in response to their inputs and make it look like the calculator was reset when in fact it was not.

This is trivial to solve: the testing centers can purchase and maintain whatever model of calculator they wish to.

The TI-84+ doesn't even have a test mode. You can have data that survives a RAM clear by grouping and ungrouping the data.

IIRC holding the left and right buttons and pressing the power(?) button did put it in a special test mode.

For my engineering college tests I wasn’t allowed to use my TI84, I had to use a non programmable model.

> By definition, these calculators are educational devices, not walled curated platforms

Note that some TI calculators are specifically branded as restrictive enough to be compatible with standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT.

The 83+/84+ line has been ACT/SAT certified for over 15 years while enabling this open educational vector. TI’s policy change is a recent one from this year.

Supposedly, it was in response to this video going viral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JIPqcK3wwY

Although it features an outdated OS (up-to-date OSes weren't even vulnerable), TI made a move to protect the reputation of exam mode. :(

Since that video is in French and the screen is too small for me to seen what he’s doing on the calculator (I’m watching on a phone), could you TL;DR summarize?

Not GP or French-speaking but what I got through auto-translate of the autosubs was tl;dw: When in exam mode one can access notes that it isn't supposed to allow (seemingly by performing the actions to create a new TI-BASIC “program” with the name of one that existed before entering exam mode, containing the notes).

The teacher says that a student came and demo him that it’s possible to retrieve custom programs even in exam mode. Then there is a demo of it.

I had quick look. It appears to hold cheatsheets.

Possibly among other things.

I also learned to program on these things. Figured out how to make my BASIC program lead me to the TIGCC and machine code and ultimately took me from messing around with programs to falling in love with them.

Wow, seeing Phoenix instantly brought on a heavy wave of nostalgia. Back in high school I was the kid who bought a USB link cable for my TI-83+ and distributed games to people. An effective way to get in the good favor of the jocks.

I'll have to give this a spin!

The most interesting part about this page was the audio version of the page. I really enjoyed that. Would love to see more authors record their essays so we can hear it in their voice!

I agree wholeheartedly and have considered this a lot. I've wondered if it could be a thing for people to start doing this for their (most important) blog posts, but I suppose it is in some way exclusionary—to participate you no longer have to simply present your thoughts clearly, but to have the confidence and competence to narrate it, too, or have the money to pay for someone else to do it.

This is pretty cool. I still use a TI-89 Titanium regularly, as well as a TI-89 Titanium emulator on my phone. I remember spending hours writing code for my TI-84SE in middle and high school. I loved that it was so easy to see and use my code in my hands, and to share with others. I remember learning TI BASIC and z80 assembly on it. My favorite achievement was writing a networked (over the TI cables), raycasted FPS for the TI-84SE. Performance was awful, but it felt amazing that it was at all possible.

This is a big blast from the past. I can't wait to try running some of my old code on this emulator.

If you're familiar with the AMS environment from the TI-89, you might be interested in a project I put together a while ago to emulate the TI Voyage-200 (a variant of the TI-92):


Which runs great under Emscripten:


Are there any good TI-like calculators one can still buy that aren't from Texas Instruments?

Casio makes arguably better calculators, with more features and are cheaper. TI has a monopoly because that's what teachers know.

Casio's fx-7000G was the first graphing calculator. I had one and in the late 80s and then the much nicer looking fx-7700g in the early 90s. FX-7000G had 422 bytes of RAM (one BASIC token used a byte) and the 7700 had about ten times as much. I was able to program it to draw decent fractals; Mandelbrot set took about 1/2 an hour, Martin Fractal, Sierpinski Triangle, etc. Much more fun than GCSE and A-Level Maths.

I managed a few simple games but there was no way to read keyboard input without pausing execution so they had to be turn based. The best game was probably a simple reaction timer which waited a random time then told you to press AC, and when re-run let you know your approximate time for the last run.

I also used the memory for storing my timetable for the week and and notes for tests, but I was always too nervous to use the stored test data. Also the laborious effort of entering in text had embedded the small amount of text into my memory well.

That was an amazing machine for its day. I remember exploring parameters by graphing equations on a plane on the way to an APS meeting with my advisor sitting next to me in awe.

Yes! old memories .. I remember my casio fx501P where I start writing my first software and the TI58c of my nearby mate, much powerful but with a poor battery, havvy, and almost unusless for long time calculactions, my little casio always was winning against the texas!

Any recommendations? I was thinking of buying one for my shop. That or buying a graphing calculator app for my phone (which I could also use recommendations for).

Check out https://www.numworks.com/features/ which seems like a super fresh take on calculators (eg. can program python)

The article mentions Python on TI calculators and a quick web search reveals at least one Casio one ships with micro python (although as the page you linked says numworks was the first to offer it, so maybe there are other innovations that haven't spread).

You could use C with the TI-84 Plus CE. That gave direct hardware access to the memory-mapped display. Python is no substitute for C. Languages like C are far better for getting a feel for how computers truly work.

The desmos app is better than any graphing calculator I've ever used.

It doesn't seem to support complex numbers. It might be good enough for lower-level algebra, calculus, and real-number math, but it's highly crippled for DSP which uses complex exponentials heavily.

Very few calculators support complex functions in a nice way in my experience.

If you want to do complex number arithmetic then a simple Casio scientific calculator is fine. For graphing you basically have to be on Wolfram alpha or similar.

Back in the early '90s the Sharp 9300 did. Great little machine- totally overrun by TI.

Bit before my time

I have one of the modern, newer color Casio graphing calculators (a Prizm FX-CG10.) I believe it's from 2012, the very newest one (the FX-CG500) is from 2017.

GP is right, Casio does have more features for cheaper (compared to TI.)

My mini review of the FX-CG10 (I've had it for around 8 years): fun to write little programs for when you have no other computing devices around, various very nifty features, pretty durable, UI is pretty intuitive, color is super nice to graph multiple things at the same time, nicer than a normal calculator for plain calculations (easy to visualize parens/division/etc), spreadsheet is very nice to have.

It does not have a CAS (computer algebra system), but it does have a few features that people might associate with one, such as (IIRC) some form of a simplifier, both for equations and numbers (so the result of the calculation 3/9 can be displayed as both 1/3 and 0.333 with the press of a button.)

My only gripes are the buttons (which can feel somewhat mushy) and, occasionally, the screen brightness (outside, on very sunny days, can be a little annoying)

Apparently the newer FX-CG50 is basically the CG10 with a moderately faster CPU and a smaller form factor, so nothing too revolutionary. The CG500 is a mostly-touchscreen version of the CG50, which seems weird to me. Never used it. I would guess that your two best choices for modern graphing calculators are the CG50 and the TI-NSPIRE.

That said, in general I'm not sure if I'd really recommend a graphing calculator to anyone period. It could be a useful tool if you were a math teacher, but most anyone else I think would be better served by a simpler scientific calculator or a laptop. Really, a graphing calculator is for operations like graphing and spreadsheeting and so on that are much, much better on a laptop. If you don't need the more advanced operations, then definitely go for a scientific calculator: you'll save a hundred bucks and get clickier keys, a clearer screen, unlimited battery life...

I'm trying to think of a profession that would really benefit from a graphing calculator, and I really can't think of one aside from math teacher/student. Ultimately, if you need frequent complex calculations (such as for a shop), you're probably better off with the improved ergonomics and display of a simple scientific calculator. And if you really do need graphing and spreadsheeting, then a laptop is probably the way to go.

Aside from academic use, a graphing calculator is one of those weird bridge devices, like a phablet or a netbook or a 20" laptop (in my opinion.) I would love to be proven wrong though, so anyone reading this, feel free to comment about your own graphing calculator workflow :)

As far as modern scientific calculators I know personally, the TI-30XS is decent, with clicky keys, for $15 (but has an annoying scientific notation issue, you always need parens.) The TI-36X is the upgraded beefy version with fixed scientific notation. I used a Sharp EL-531XBGR years ago and enjoyed it, non-clicky keys (which is a bit of a disappointment) but had tons of features and seemed to be built well. Looks like its 2020 replacements are the Sharp EL-W535TGBBL and Sharp EL-W516TBSL, but you can get anything really, make sure it has WriteView though, that's how you get the nicely displayed parens/division/exponents.

Special mention goes to the generic Chinese-made scientific calculator that has been taking dollar stores by storm. It's an excellent option, honestly, and it costs around $2 a piece in bulk and $3 in dollar stores. Has all your trig functions, combinatorics, nth roots... runs forever off of two tiny cell batteries, and can take a beating. If you just need something to use occasionally, to lend, or you just think you need one, it's perfect. If you're looking for something for serious use, well, it does not have as good ergonomics as the $20 TI-36X but it is incredible for what it is. (It appears to be a copy of the Casio FX-300MS.) Here's a photo: https://i.imgur.com/x7uB5g8.png - it has a million rebranded brand names, to find it just go to any dollar store to get it for $3, or type "graphing calculator" into Amazon until you find something that looks like it (will probably be more like $5 on Amazon.) I got mine for €2.99 (normal price) in the Netherlands.

One thing I would not recommend is a TI emulator for your phone. 2/10, never again. It's slow and painful and the emulators aren't great.

Whoops, wrote a page. Anyway, good luck on your calculator journey - they're fun little machines! And feel free to comment here weeks later once you've ordered something. HN can use more calculator talk :)

Just wanted to note that the TI-84 has the same features as the Casio you described (simplification, color, a basic spreadsheet) if anyone wanted to know. Of course, brand-new it costs twice as much, but if you already own one...

The HP 49/50g are excellent.

numworks offers a calculator that is the same price, but with a modern processor and UI. Bonus: you can actually customize the OS because the code source is available.

Seeing projects like this from time to time always brings renewed interest to the TI graphic calculators. A while back I wrote a Forth-based operating system for the TI-84+[0] which uses the TiLem emulator[1]. I didn't want the software to bit-rot as well, so having a Nix build file would ensure the OS and emulator stay working into the future.

[0] http://github.com/siraben/zkeme80

[1] http://lpg.ticalc.org/prj_tilem/

This is so nostalgic!

I personally learned to program on a TI 84+ Silver Edition in 10th grade. I got _so good_ at writing TI-Basic on the calculator, pressing 2nd->catalog & scrolling to a specific command... because you didn’t type function names or keywords, you selected them from a list.

I even put some games & programs on ticalc.org — I just checked, and they’re still around! One of my apps is “zz” at the bottom of this list... man, the good ole days:


Now the TI calculators have banned user code, I wish there was some alternative device available that uses the ez80 processor.

Yep. The C compiler is fascinating. You get sizeof(int)==3 and sizeof(void*)==3 with that compiler. Alignment and padding do not exist.

This is so cool.

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