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Handhelds Programming Software

TI-Nspire Hack Enables User Programming 88

Posted by Soulskill
from the done-and-done dept.
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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TI-Nspire Hack Enables User Programming

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:00PM (#31307330)

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

  • ti-82,83,85, and 86 all truly only supported t-basic
    all of the crazy stuff was implemented by hobbyists
  • WHY? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v1 (525388) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:11PM (#31307428) Homepage Journal

    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? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bacontaco (126431) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:24PM (#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? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:28PM (#31307570) Journal
      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? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by v1 (525388) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:41PM (#31307684) Homepage Journal

        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? (Score:4, Funny)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @03:03PM (#31307848) Journal
          *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..."
      • by Bri3D (584578)

        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).

      • by sjames (1099)

        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.

      • ... 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.

      • by jonwil (467024)

        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?

    • by selven (1556643)

      Limited calculators for exams. That's really it.

    • by Lord Kano (13027)

      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

  • 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.
  • 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.

    • 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!

      • 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.
      • 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...

  • 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)
  • 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).
    • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@gm a i l . com> on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:53PM (#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.

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        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 operat

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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 butt
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          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 w

          • 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.
  • by allynfolksjr (931229) on Sunday February 28, 2010 @02:55PM (#31307802) Homepage
    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.
  • 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 (Score:1, Interesting)

    by bartoku (922448)
    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 proce
    • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jon Abbott (723)

        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.

      • by bartoku (922448)
        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 t
      • 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 bac
  • 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 h

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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 u

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        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 instructo

    • by LtGordon (1421725)
      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.
  • 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

    • by fucket (1256188)
      Does your phone have a Sqrt() button?
      • 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

    • 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.

      • 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 cal

    • 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

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