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Newsletter - September/October 2005


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

When I write my newsletter editorial, I try to take a topic, give an opinion, and explain why I may or may not believe it. However, due to my tardiness in getting this newsletter out, I'd rather give praise to something in the ticalc.org community that I consider to be pretty remarkable. However, I need to give a little background first.

My research at college involves sifting through a lot of data at any one time, thus I need a lot of memory to do this. However, I'm using a small, but powerful server with 1GB of memory, so I have ample memory to work with. However, since there is such a large volume of data being sifted through, I have often found myself running out of memory rather quickly.

I have done some small programming for my TI-89, and with the programs I've made and the ones I've installed, I've learned the importance of keeping programs small on limited memory platforms. It was new for me, though, to consider 1GB of memory to constitute a limited platform, and I had to recall what one of my professors said: "Memory is always a finite resource."

Throughout the years, I have had the fortune to try out some amazing programs on the TI calculators, and the way the authors of the programs used the calculators' memory to the fullest is astounding. From seeing compression tools that allow users to keep larger programs on their calculator without taking up too much archive space, to graphical programs that run smoothly and look nice, TI calculator programmers have done some incredible things with little memory.

So while I struggle to optimize the use of memory on my server, I'd like to congratulate all the calculator programmers who have shown me how much can be done with little memory. Keep up the great work.

As always, send your thoughts, criticisms, and flames to newsletter@ticalc.org. Your feedback helps me to decide what to put into the newsletter, and I'm always willing to discuss the content of the newsletter with anyone.

Until next newsletter, keep optimizing your use of memory!

Jonathan Katz


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

I own a TI-92 which I have been using extensively some 7-8 (?) years. Before I had heard of "Fargo" (the assembler program support), it crashed only once when entering some nonsense expression "y=x|x=y" or something. The crash was, however not reproducible. Later, when Fargo was installed, I learned about at least one bug: when calling a function with insufficient number of arguments, a temporary folder named NNNN (where N is 0-9) would be left behind which was only visible in the Fargo shell; the normal [Var-Link] screen suppressed such folders. Running that function-call in a loop (protected by Try...EndTry) would result in the calculator becoming unusable so that it had to be reset.

With Fargo installed, I was quite annoyed about frequent crashes of ASM programs. Many of them seemed to be due to the TI-OS moving memory blocks around if new memory was allocated (heap defragmenting or something). It was only a few month ago Patrick Pelissier (the author of "PreOS") explained to me that locking of memory blocks actually was possible :) I'm quite sure that just nobody knew that back then...

I attempted to reduce calculator crashes by writing the "Fargo Program Launcher" which installed lots of interrupt handlers for catching address errors and similar types of exceptions, which allowed hanging programs to be aborted by a shortcut. Still, that didn't always help. Without a MMU, the 68k calculators just cannot be crash-proof.

The only real safe way to make the calculator as reliable as possible would have been an external memory-extender unit (connected via the link port) with the ability to send backups to the calculator. Although some people build such kind of devices, as far as I know, none of them supported backups. - David Kuehling

Reliability really depends on the user's ability to utilize the calculator's functions. However, the shell-type input makes it very reliable even for simple four-function calculations and graphing. When the user knows how to make math programs, the reliability is doubly so. - Ben Yu

This Month's Question: How challenging do you find it to write programs for a limited memory platform?

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

Jonathan Katz


Question:How do I report a bug in a program I downloaded from ticalc.org??
Answer:Currently, there is no automated bug-reporting system on ticalc.org. If a program you downloaded from ticalc.org contains a bug, the best way to get it fixed is to contact the author of that program. If the author does not reply back, you could always attempt to fix the bug yourself! If you think that ticalc.org should have some sort of automated bug-reporting system, contact newsletter@ticalc.org and tell the newsletter editor what you think!

Jonathan Katz


Why are calculus functions built into the TI calculators?

Because they are integral to math.

On that note, Michael will return next newsletter to provide the regular bimonthly humor.

Jonathan Katz


Email: omnimaga@gmail.com

Interview Log
JonIt's not often you see a RPG on the TI calculators, yet you have already published several. What got you interested in developing RPGs for this platform?
KevinDue to my big interest in RPGs, I got lots of inspiration from other games I played on consoles and since I am a creative person, once I got a TI-83+, I ventured into programming and started making those games.
JonAny reason why you chose BASIC as your language?
KevinWell first off, when I got my calculator, I had no computer at home, so my only option was the BASIC language. I managed to work around the limitations and last year, I got my computer. However I was too used to TI-BASIC and high-level language programming that my attempts at learning ASM all failed, so I decided I will program in TI-BASIC until the end of my TI programming career.
JonDoes BASIC have any advantage or disadvantage when writing RPGs, or even graphically intensive programs?
KevinWhen it comes to graphics, this is when I start running out of pictures and memory with BASIC, and I see the program slowing down as well. That's why all my RPGs past fall 2003 use the Homescreen to draw sprites. After that time, assembly graphic libraries started popping up as well as programs that can execute archived programs, so I could work around those limitations.
JonYour latest featured program, xLIB xLIB Revolution, moves away from the RPG motif of your projects. What inspired this one?
KevinAs I like Euro, Happy Hardcore and some trance music, I had some interest in DDR music. Once I got my new computer this summer, I was now able to run "Stepmania." I tried it and started finding the game cool. After looking at an old "Racing Tunnel" engine I made, I thought "Why not using that engine to make a Dance Dance Revolution clone but instead of scrolling with the disp command use xLIB scrolling?" So I sat down, made some quick arrow graphics, modified the code of the BASIC tunnel program, and quickly made the DDR engine I have now. However, it's really the "Over the Frail Dream" song that got me back into calculator programming; I listened to it ten times in a row sometimes. :-)
JonDo you have any future projects in mind at the moment, or are you working on anything?
KevinFor the moment, as I am slowly coming back from a four month break away from calculator programming. I have no other projects planned, but I plan to add more features into "xLIB xLIB Revolution," which might give me enough time to think about new projects ideas. However I always prefer to keep my ideas secret until I get something done ;-). Besides XXR updates, I am working on my website dedicated to calculator RPGs and located at http://omnimaga.earthforge.com, which is a project that is still running and that will probably run forever as I keep adding new things to it.
JonDo you have any favorite RPGs, calculator or console?
KevinFor console, my favorite RPG is "Star Ocean II" for the Playstation, although I am a big fan of the "Final Fantasy" series. For calculators, it's "Final Fantasy: Tales of Magic 1 and 2."
JonWhat are your academic interests? Is there anything that you are currently studying?
KevinAfter finishing high school two years ago, I started a programming and web design class. Unfortunately, this was 30 hours of class, 30 of homework and 10 hours of study per week, plus my job, so I had to give up. Also I wasn't interested much in web design, and since most other classes require you to go to university out there, I decided to end school and find a full time job. I now program and do computer stuff, drawing and pixel art as a hobby.
JonWhat do you like about the ticalc.org community, and is there anything you would like to see added to the site?
KevinActually, the archives should be split into different pages when there are more than a certain amount of files. On my connection, it takes 15 minutes to open the BASIC games section for TI-83+ and if I am running out of memory, my computer will freeze, literally. Also, the comment board should be moderated more often. I remember having seen flame wars that haven't been deleted. Only those where profanity is posted are deleted most of the time. Besides that, I think the website is pretty fine now. :-)
JonAnd finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
KevinI noticed this year that the TI community was fading away a bit. I started realizing it when I saw that there were only 3 featured programs besides mines in 2005 so far. There is an article on my website where I talk about this more. I really hope to see new people coming and new great games come out soon.

Jonathan Katz


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