Feature: A Modest Proposal
Posted by Nick on 5 May 2000, 01:24 GMT
Our next somewhat late (*g*) feature is written by Ben Kalafut. It talks about what TI should include in their next calculator (or calculator update :P). In my opinion, he makes some good points and some I don't quite agree with (or they aren't vital to the functionality of said calculator), but it's still worth a read and some frank discussion of opinions. So let's do just that. Many (many) people have complained about TI's "actions," especially since after Hardware 2.00 and AMS v2.03 came out for the 68K calculators. Talk amongst yourselves  as usual, I'll try to offer any input I can. I have owned three different TI calculators, and I have run into frustrating "brick walls" in the use and programming of each one. I use my calculator for math and sciences; I have no real interest in gaming or getting my calculator to make sound or bitmapped graphics. Yet sometimes, the calculators are just as useful as a Gameboy. Even the "powerful" TI89 and 92 don't contain what I would like to see in a graphics calculator/computer algebra system. Symbolic manipulation is a nice feature, certainly, but programming all but the most elementary routines becomes timeconsuming or impossible. Texas Instruments should probably put out programs to perform Fourier, Laplace, and Z transforms, partial fraction decomposition, tensor mathematics, functional analysis, etc, but they do not do so, and apparently, no third parties are interested. The problem, in my opinion, is that Texas Instruments considers the graphics calculator to be merely an educational tool. This is evident in the software applications which are written, and the nature of their press releases and advertisements. TI does not seem to recognize the (potential) utility of their calculators to researchers, college students, mathematicians, and professionals. Some improvements which I would like to see on a hypothetical calculator which TI would put out to replace the 89 are: 1) True updates. I expected a boost in functionality between AMS 1 and 2.03, and all that seemed to occur was an improvement in memory allocation. Extending the function library from time to time would be nice. 2) A faster processor. The 68000 can certainly handle numerics well, but seems to bog down on all but the simplest symbolic operations. 3) Ability to define a function with multiple outputs. For example, a Gaussian elimination decomposition should return both the reduced matrix and the "O" matrix by which one may multiply the original to change it to the reduced form. 4) A true 3D engine. It is nice to be able to enter functions of two variables, but one should be able to view threedimensional plots obtained from numerical methods of problem solving, view threedimensional data plots, or plot space curves parametrically. 5) Vector field plots, Poincar‚ return maps, improved slope and direction field applications. 6) LaPlace and inverse LaPlace transforms. 7) Partial fraction decomposition. 8) Improved ability to program new symbolic functions. The "part" function is a step in the correct direction but is neither sophisticated nor specific enough to be truly useful. 9) Ability to handle tensors. 10) Ability to enter strings, matrices, lists, etc as elements of lists or cell arrays 11) Ability to overload userdefined functions, so that they may return either symbolic or numeric answers, for example. Also, the ability to input fewer than the specified number of parameters to a function and not get errors. These are just a few suggestions. I'm sure that those who are more advanced in mathematics than I have many more. I don't expect TI to come out with a calculator that does everything that Maple or Mathematica do, but by focusing too much on secondary education it is neglecting a potential market. TI or a third party should also put out a compiled language for the calculators. I'm impressed with TIGCC, but TI, having a team of professional programmers, could probably develop the standard libraries and even more powerful interaction with the calculator's builtin features. TI also has the muLisp language, and could possibly release a version for graphics calculators. Another thing that has struck me is the poor quality of programs in the math and science archives. A lot of the programs do things that the calculators already do! Additionally, many have poor documentation and terse interfaces. Userfriendliness is not a major concern. Neither is standardization or development of syntaxes which make sense to anybody but the user. For the sake of consistency I have been writing my programs so that they either state, clearly, what should be input (rather than specifying a variable name), or in the case of those for the 89 which take inputs from the command line, do so in an order and syntax which follows that of TI's built in libraries. The graphics calculator has great potential as a mathematical tool in the classroom, the lab, and even in the professional world, but it will never realize that potential until Texas Instruments chooses not to focus strictly on the secondary education market and programmers (perhaps at the expense of gaming) develop better, more powerful, more consistent mathematics and science software.



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TI92's cover some...

Binky
(Web Page)

TI92's cover some of these points:
You can do 3d graphing on a TI92.
Matrices can be lists/cells or whatever you explained up there in one of your points.
A TI92 is more powerful, and not everyone has reached the 'brick wall' in TI92's. That, or they have become overcomed.
A TI83/85 don't have merely as many functions, due to memory probably. The EOS for those calcs can't handle the TI92 EOS's stuff.


5 May 2000, 01:46 GMT


Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal

Sebastian Reichelt

About CAS extensions: TI probably just can't put any extended operations, like function analysis, into their calculators (especially TI89), because that means that TI89s might lose the privilege of being allowed on AP Calculus tests. If you think of a calculator as a mathematical device (I do  mostly), you have to consider the fact that allowing too much operations enables everyone to cheat like crazy. That's why we are not allowed to take any programmable calculators to school in Germany, and I think it's a good thing.
If you are looking for some function analysis, by the way, check out 'Sebastian's Calculus Package' in the 'TI89 BASIC Math Programs'. It is pretty good at some stuff, for example sign charts (even of discontinuous functions, derivatives of functions, and so on). I have a little update on sign charts, but I can't get it on my PC because my link cable broke. Anyways, it might be some of what you are looking for.


5 May 2000, 01:56 GMT


Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal

Vejita
(Web Page)

Hey, those are all great suggestions. I like do a lot of stuff by hand but I wouldn't frown on improvements like that for automation. But, I would like to point out one thing: this is a calculator at a fair price. If we want big programs, huge prices, etc, then there are different mediums. If you ask me, they have done a great job on including what they can in a small portable system at a fair cost. They HAVE left room alone for us to utilize. If you want very nice programs, the computer is there. If you want portability with ability to help speed up functions and some advanced capability, thats what they give. And about the programming and stuff, its assembly. They aren't going to write in abilty to easily code in C or something to that extent, too much time and resources wasted(and even if not, why do it just for fun).
Corey Taylor


5 May 2000, 02:13 GMT


Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal

Chris Wong

I definitely agree with the things Ben points out. My current calc is a TI86, and as a grade 13 student (yes, grade 13) it has been a lifesaver on several occasions. However, I am familiar with the capabilities of the 89/92 series and I have to believe that there is more TI can do to create a calculator platform designed with highlevel mathematics and engineering in mind. Yes, we could all use Mathematica if we really needed zillions of functions, but its cost and reliance on a computer are limitations in that it is not a portable system. What TI needs to do is take everything they have learned from creating graphing calcs and bump it up a few notches so that the result is a calc that is suitable for use in industry and not just secondary school. Processor speed and how many KB (megs?) of RAM are tertiary issues; what is needed is a calc with actual applications in the working world.


5 May 2000, 02:19 GMT


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