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Newsletter - July/August 2005


Hello, and thank you for subscribing to the ticalc.org bimonthly newsletter.

For the past month, I've been playing around with what I should write about in my editorial. I had finally narrowed it down to two ideas, and I decided I would write one once work was finished and I was away at Cape Cod. However, tragedy struck early in the week, when my laptop's hard drive suddenly died. Fortunately, I was able to recover just about all of my important data, but I was not able to do any of this before I came home, with five days left in August.

During the debacle of my laptop and worrying about all the time I was losing to catch up on work, I tried to think of some stable technology products I have used. The first thing to cross my mind was my TI-89. I bought my HW1 89 in 1999, which at the time, contained AMS 1.00. My first set of batteries had lasted more than a year, though granted, I didn't play too many games at the time. The only issues I have ever had with my 89 have been with programs that I've installed that either caused a segmentation fault or called an illegal instruction, thus forcing me to do a hard reset on my calculator. I may have lost some high scores at the time, but with the ease of backing up all my data on the computer via the Graph-Link, it was easy enough to restore all my data to my 89.

Overall, I think my 89 has been reliable, and from my experiences with the other Texas Instruments calculators, I can extend my statement to them as well. Some may argue that if the whole calculator crashes from running some assembly program, then it's not too reliable, but I disagree. When you run an assembly program on your calculator, there are no guarantees that your calculator will return safely to its previous state. However, this factor is determined more by how the program is written than the calculator itself. Yes, the operating system could have more safeguards to catch errors such as segmentation faults and illegal ROM calls and return the calculator back to its normal state, but at the same time, the programmer could test the program more at runtime to make sure such errors don't occur.

Could there be improvements made to all of the calculators' operating systems to help error handling and fatal system crashes? Of course. But when considering how each Texas Instruments calculator functions right out of the package with its advertised features, I would have to say that they are extremely reliable. Especially when compared to my hard drive.

As always, if you have any comments, criticisms, or flames about the newsletter, feel free to send an email to newsletter@ticalc.org. Last month, I received the most responses to the newsletter since I started writing, and not only that, they were generally very engaging about the content. I highly encourage you to challenge my words, show me another viewpoint about an issue I'm writing about, because I learn from your comments as well. It's also nice to receive a pat on the back every now and then!

Until next newsletter, keep developing!

Jonathan Katz


Last Month's Question: What kinds of resources should be available to help people to become better programmers on the TI calculator platform?

I don't know if this would really help people become better programmers, but it would be nice if there were more data manipulation tools for source code, so they could concentrate more on the actual coding. For example, when I write graphics-heavy games, I often find myself spending more time running pictures through iStudio and splitting up the columns of ".db" statements into different forms for my sprite routines or map routines or something than actually drawing the graphics or writing code. This also happens with long lists of numbers, even if they're already in a file - there's just no easy way to import them directly into an editor, so I'm stuck spending hours entering data by hand, which of course gets very repetitive and boring. I've been thinking about writing some programs to handle tasks like these, but I don't know if they'll ever get started. - Donald Straney

I personally think the main issues that need to be addressed to help people become better programmers are:

* the lack of a debugger (which Kevin Kofler is fixing),

* incomplete documentation (I'm partly to blame for this, since I'm supposed to help out with the TIGCC docs),

* the lack of a freeware signing key for Flash apps on the 68k,

* access to more of the internal routines used by the CAS/OS

- Bhuvanesh Bhatt

In a nutshell, it would be a complete, collaboratively made, detailed, smooth, informative, and refined tutorial/reference file/website on all Z80, C, and TI-BASIC, open for all and easily downloadable for those who have choppy dial-up. I don't have the time to make it myself, but using some open-source software such as Wikipedia could make it possible. - Ben Yu

This Month's Question: In your opinion, are Texas Instruments graphing calculators reliable?

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

Jonathan Katz


Question:How can I find out if the operating system for my calculator model has been updated??
Answer:There are two really easy ways to find this out. The first method is to visit Texas Instruments calculator website. TI has made a webpage that shows all of the latest operating systems available, and it is located at (http://education.ti.com/us/product/apps/latest.html). The other way to find out is to keep checking out the latest news at ticalc.org!

Jonathan Katz


Five Ways to Functionally Improve your Physique with your TI-83 Plus.

1. Always go for the max(BURN).

2. Work those abs(). You can only get positive results over time!

3. The key to exercise is to Repeat. Don't let your condition fail!

4. round(BELLY) always rounds up. Do some floor exercises to trim your floating points.

5. If all else fails, go for augment(PECTORAL) surgery. Just be careful of the risks.

Michael Vincent


Email: bmoody@wpi.edu

Interview Log
JonFor a long time, VTI has existed as the emulator of choice, but it had no competition. However, in the past couple of months, we have seen TiEmu come out for the 68K calcs and now your emulator, TilEm, for the Z80 calculators. What inspired you to start working on this project, in light of the presence of VTI?
BenjaminWell, first of all, as a Linux user VTI has always been rather unsatisfactory; it runs under Wine, but that's a huge pain to install, and never works perfectly. Beyond that, none of the available 83+ emulators were really complete. When I started working on TilEm, it was already a fairly good emulator for the 83 and 83+, and it has a very nice modular design which made it easy to add the changes I wanted. Even Windows users were falling behind a bit, since VTI 3 was never finished, and I guess part of the idea was to combine some of those features with something like what VTI 2.5 already offered -- but to be cross-platform, of course!
Jonyou talk about some of the history as to how TilEm started, such as why you chose to continue Julien Solignac's project, and the role he has in it today?
BenjaminWell, Julien wrote the bulk of the emulator back in 2001, and brought it up through version 0.925, which was a fairly stable and complete emulator for the 83 and 83+, with some limited support for the 86. Later he added various smaller improvements, such as grayscale and variable linking. Romain Liévin also wrote a patch adding the external linking support. The last version Julien released was 0.952, in December of 2002, and nothing further happened for almost two years.I started writing a few small modifications myself in early 2004, nothing particularly noteworthy. Then eventually I realized that no one else was going to continue the project, so I picked up the pieces and put together 0.960 over the course of that summer. This version added 4 new calculators, including the newly released 84+ and SE, along with all sorts of other improvements. Since then, I've been steadily adding more features, trying not to completely destroy Julien's beautiful design.
JonAre you planning to extend support to any other calculators or add any new features?
BenjaminI've occasionally considered trying to support the 81, just for completeness, but there's very little information out there about it and almost no demand. I suppose as long as I'm still working on it I'll continue trying to support the new versions of the 83+. I have no plans at the moment to support non-Z80 calculators.As for what features I'd like to add, well, I have a huge backlog of bugs to fix. Other than that, improving the grayscale and interrupt system are definitely up there, and I'd also like to clean up the debugger, adding more memory views and perhaps a source view. Brandon Sterner suggested support for external plug-ins, which I'm considering adding in the next few releases. Otherwise, I'm going to keep adding what people ask for -- I certainly have enough of that to keep me busy!
JonAre there any other projects you are currently working on, or is TilEm your main project?
BenjaminI have a few other programs I'm working on intermittently; there's a cross-platform app signing program that's nearing completion, and I have a handful of other small development tools that I may release someday. Otherwise, my main project is keeping up with classes.
Jon: On that note, where are you currently going to school, and what are you majoring in?
BenjaminI'm currently a sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the lovely city of Worcester (pronounced without the middle syllable), Massachusetts. I'm majoring in math, thinking about a minor in CS, unsure about what lies ahead, but moving along nonetheless.
JonWhat originally got you interested in programming?
Benjamin: I've been programming for a while -- started with Logo in first or second grade, I think. I absorbed C and C++ through the marvelous, sadly no longer existent, ACE computer camp during middle school. Since then I've been programming everything I can get my hands on. But I do it because it's fun, of course.
JonDo you have a favorite programming language?
BenjaminIt depends on the purpose. I enjoy Z80 assembly, certainly -- controlling the hardware at that level is something everyone should experience -- but it tends to get tiring after a while. I do a lot of programming in C, but who likes C? For smaller projects, a mix of Perl and Emacs-Lisp, which are both beautiful languages, despite their deficiencies.
JonWhat do you like about the ticalc.org community, and is there anything you would like to see added to the site?
BenjaminIt's a wonderful bunch of people, full of interesting ideas, and I've had a lot of fun being part of it for the past n years. I personally have no problems with the site as it is, except perhaps the mailing list archives, specifically the lack thereof.
JonFinally, is there anything else you would like to add?
BenjaminWell, I'll be around for the foreseeable future, and I love to hear any comments about programs I've written, am in the process of writing, or should have finished writing four years ago.

Jonathan Katz


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