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Newsletter - January/February 2005


Hello, and thank you for subscribing to the ticalc.org bi-monthly newsletter! The momentum from 2004 has certainly carried over to 2005, as it seems that the new year is already building momentum of its own. The POTY ("Program of the Year Competition") had a lot of entries in 2004 (We had to have two first rounds for the 68K calculators!), and the competition was indeed close. And with the quantity of files being submitted, it seems like there is a lot of potential for another heated battle for POTY at the end of the year.

On that note, ticalc.org has conducted a search to hire two more people onto the staff. Applicants had the option of submitting an application during the first couple weeks of February, and the ticalc.org staff is currently in the process of deciding on whom to hire. While this is going on, the file archive queue might be very large, but I ask everyone to please be patient. Your files will be looked at and processed at some point, and if it is taking more time than it usually does, it is because we are doing some internal reorganization on the website. When Morgan and Joey were hired, the file queue was almost 1400, but once they got started, that queue was emptied within a week.

So, what is in store for this newsletter? After a few years since his last interview, the man behind running ticalc.org has stepped up to give us a few words about what is going on in his life. That is correct, this issue features none other than Magnus Hagander! For those of you who are interested in web development and running your own server, I highly recommend reading this interview, as Magnus shares a few pointers on how he runs ticalc.org.

Now, it is time for my little bi-monthly pitch. I always like to encourage community participation when writing the newsletter. Sections like "Food for Thought" cannot be published unless there is some community involvement. You should not be discouraged and think "My response will probably be rejected," because that only limits the ideas that will be posted in the newsletter. So please, if you have some sort of an idea for the newsletter, or have something you want to publish in it, don't hesitate to email newsletter@ticalc.org.

Anyway, I think that is enough of me talking for now; onto the newsletter!

Jonathan Katz


Last Month's Question: How important do you think graphics are in the development of programs for the TI calculators?

"Graphics are like accessories for a pet. You don't need them, but having some is always nice. You shouldn't have too much though, because you will waste your space. Graphics basically add beauty to a well-made (and only a well-made) program. However, common sense would tell that it's usually about the program, not the graphics. Some programmers would end up using most of their time making the sprites and pictures, and later giving up because it takes so much time." - bencwyu@hotmail.com

This Month's Question: How important is it to have software-based calculator security?

E-mail your thoughts to newsletter@ticalc.org, and your response may appear in the next newsletter!

Jonathan Katz


Question:What does a ticalc.org filearchiver do??
Answer:The filearchiver is responsible for putting the files up on the website. What happens when a file is submitted is that it goes into a queue with other files until a filearchiver begins to process it. When a filearchiver processes a file, first, the archiver looks to see if the file is uploaded to the correct directory. Then, the archiver looks to see if the file contains inappropriate content, such as bad language, corrupt files, or illegal content. If everything checks out, the filearchiver approves the file, and the file will show up soon on ticalc.org. Screenshots that are uploaded with files are processed separately after the file is approved. Sometimes, a file is reported by someone from the community to have a problem after it has been approved for ticalc.org, in which case a filearchiver backtracks and removes the file from the website.

Jonathan Katz


Q: Why did the TI-89 stop calculating trig functions?

A: The owner had loaded a Bible eBook and the calculator decided it didn't want anything to do with sin.

Q: How do you determine if a Casio calculator is useful?

A: Throw it against a brick wall and then place it on a stack of papers. Remark that it makes a most useful paperweight.

Michael Vincent


Email: mha@ticalc.org

Interview Log
JonIt has been several years since you were last interviewed for the newsletter, so to start off, can you give a brief summary of what you have been up to in terms of being editor-in-chief of ticalc.org? What does the community see what you do?
MagnusNormally, it consists of keeping things floating: Helping the other staff members out with tough decisions etc, and attempting to coordinate the discussions we have internally. This part is not directly visible to the community, other than in the secondary effect that things around the site run smoothly. Apart from that, I also do server administration and development work. The server admin work shows up as the server not going down, and the server development work shows up as new features, such as the download stats a couple of months back. Unfortunately, the time for server development hasn't been all that large lately, but it comes and goes.
JonCan you tell us a little bit about the server?
MagnusSure. It's boxy and it sits in a rack. It has, as most servers, a couple of CPUs, a few sticks of RAM and a bunch of disks. Oh, and there's a cool LCD display on the front!
JonAs of the moment, how much space do the file archives take up on the servers?
MagnusIt's not very much at all, since the TI calculator files are generally small. A total of 893Mb in a total of well over 30,000 files. Of these files, over 200Mb are Windows utilities.
JonWhat languages do you like to do development for the server in, and do you have any future plans for server-side development that you wish to share?
MagnusThe production stuff that's out now is written in C and in Perl. The scripts that face the users are all Perl scripts executed as CGI. The file management interface that is used by the file archivers is the only major system still written in C. We are currently looking at migrating some things to C# running on the Mono platform. We have some test systems up and running, and this is probably the way we are going to be moving in the future.
JonAny particular reason why the site is moving over to C#, to those in the community who are interested in server-side development?
MagnusWe felt the need to move away from what we had now to something that permitted more rapid development. Perl has done a lot of good things, but it can be hard to maintain in some situations. The main choices to look at were Java and C#, though we briefly looked at Python. However, we wanted to go with compiled languages. Since our current policy is to only use open source software on our server, this ruled out Java, since the open source versions of Java are not as mature as we need at the moment. Also, I have been using C# in my professional life for a couple of years now, and I'm pretty fluent in it.
JonWhat do you do in terms of developing PostgreSQL, a very popular open source database?
MagnusSo far I've mainly done work on the Windows port that's out with version 8.0, as one of the primary developers on that. I also do small updates here and there, and I've recently started helping out in maintaining the server systems for the project itself.
JonAnyway, let's shift gears a little bit. There is a rumor out there that you are a world famous sailor. Do you have any thoughts on this?
MagnusTo semi-quote someone I can't remember whom it was: Yes, for sufficiently small values of "world," meaning not at all famous outside friends and family, but I do quite a lot of sailing, yes.
JonCan you tell us a little bit of how you got into it, and what, if any, sailing events you participate in?
MagnusI've sailed pretty much forever. My parents did since before I was born, and I've just picked it up and continued. I don't participate in many events at all. It's only leisure sailing and the eventual for-fun-with-a-group-of-friends races. The only one I regularly participate in outside that is "the 24h race" twice a year, which is about 50-80 boats. But it's still just a for-fun race.
JonDo you have any other hobbies?
MagnusNothing major, unless you count computers of course. I do spend quite a lot of time on those things...
JonAny plans on selling your autographed TI-85?
MagnusNo, not at the moment. You should never say never, though.
JonAny plans on buying a new TI?
MagnusNo plans, really. The TI-85 will do what I need it to do. If I need more advanced stuff, I turn to a computer.
JonAny plans to get back into calculator development?
MagnusNo, I've pretty much closed that chapter and moved on to other things. I'll leave it at the pre-release of Zshell 4.5 still running on my calculator, which I think is the only copy around.
JonSo, what do you like about ticalc.org, and what would you like to see for it in the future?
MagnusI like the fact that the site has managed to keep up a fairly active community, even though there have been dips. There are a lot of files being uploaded all the time, and there has been plenty of news posted. I also still like our design. While it has several years of good service behind it, I see no reason to change it in the visual way.As for the future, who can tell? The most important thing is to keep updating our content. I'd like to see some more work continued on our static content. There are a couple of fairly small projects and one or two big ones I've been thinking about or starting work on, but in general I'd say that part is much up to the community, and those on our staff that do the day-to-day work.
JonFinally, anything else you would like to say?
MagnusIt's been an exciting number of years, and I really appreciate having worked on ticalc.org during this time. While I'm not as much involved in the day-to-day business of the site these days, I'm very happy that things are moving on and staying alive. I don't think anybody expected it when we started the site up back in those prehistoric days, and I'm very impressed both by the work of our staff and the dedication of the community.

Jonathan Katz


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