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April 2001 Newsletter (April Fool's Edition)

The ticalc.org Newsletter
April 2001 - Volume 4, Issue 4


Letter from the Editor
Calculator News
Ask ticalc.org
Interview with Magnus Hagander


Hi, and thanks for reading the ticalc.org Newsletter!

It's been a pretty interesting month...lots has happened in the TI scene, and many interesting programs were announced and released.

We're pleased to announce the new ticalc.org CD Project, in which CD images of our archives will be given away for free with TI-Graph Links. We're still working on it, so stay tuned.

Texas Instruments redesigned their home page for the first time in many years. Their calculator pages have now been incorporated into their new homepage at http://education.ti.com.

This month I've interviewed Magnus Hagander, ticalc.org's Editor-in-Chief. In addition to his current duties as ticalc.org's system administrator, Magnus is also an accomplished TI programmer, having played a significant role in the development of ZShell. He has lots of interesting things to say about the past, present, AND future (as well as a behind-the-scenes look at ticalc.org), so give him a read if you're curious.

Eric Sun


This month, there've been lots of interesting programs released, as usual.

The biggest announcement this month in the TI-89/92+ world was Thomas Nussbaumer's new MR3D project, which uses his recently-released FAT Engine. His program will create a Doom-like game for the TI-89 and TI-92+. Screenshots can be found at http://tict.ticalc.org.

TI has released an early beta of a new concept app, the Symbolic Math Guide, which helps students learn about symbolic manipulation. A new TIGCC and TiLP were also released this month.

Eric Sun


At ticalc.org, we often receive many of the same questions. In this column, we hope to address some of these questions for a broader audience. If you'd like to submit a question, please email it to ask@ticalc.org.

Q: What's wrong with this newsletter?

A: Just for the heck of it, I've ROT13'd it. ROT13 is a simple encryption method that rotates the alphabet by half its length, i.e. by 13 characters. But of course, if you're reading this, you already know all that and have found yourself a ROT13 translator. Or maybe this has already been translated into English already. Or maybe you're just fluent in ROT13. Or something.

Eric Sun


Email: mha@ticalc.org

Interview Log
Eric How did you get started in the TI community?
Magnus Well, I got a TI-85 to upgrade my old TI-81 back in 1992 or 93. Since it had a link port, I started off by hunting the net for programs - there weren't many around. I ended up on the Calc-TI list run by TI, where "all the action" was back then. That's where I got to know people like David B and Dan E. Then the TI-85 was hacked to make it possible to run ASM programs on it, and things really took off from there...
Eric How did you get started in TI programming?
Magnus In math class, back on my old TI-81. I started out by writing programs that would help me solve questions on ordinary math tests. Since the calculators were normally reset before the test, I had to write the programs during the test itself - once I got to know what could be done, that was often a time-saver anyway. And it made it a requirement to know the calculator pretty well, or writing the programs would just take too long. When the first ZShell came out, I figured I wanted to try out writing ASM code for it, mainly for fun. It turned into TexaNoid, and it was most of all an experiment in Z80 assembly and what you could do with the TI-85.
Eric How did you get started in ZShell development?
Magnus Well, I worked with Dan from version 2.something - since I was one of the few active ASM programmers, I had a lot of feature requests. We actually had a version 3.5 "almost going" with full library support etc, but it was later cancelled. Dan did all the coding on that one. Then he decided he did not have the time required to maintain the program, and asked me and Rob T to step in and pick it up from there. Rob had done some good work in finding what was required for supporting ROM version 9.0 (which was not supported in version <4.0). We redid some of the internal parts of ZShell to make it work with this version (we also got in 10.0, since it was very similar to 9.0), and did some optimizations. Release 4.0 of ZShell was, I think, the release that actually "set it off." It supported the new version ROMs, which represented a large amount of users. Once the users came, we also got a lot more developers, and things just rolled on from there.
Eric Do you still work with TI calculators?
Magnus Well, not very much. I still use my old TI-85 now and then (it still has the never-to-be-released almost-working pre-beta of ZShell 4.5 loaded), but not very much. I don't do any ASM coding on it any more at all. I do BASIC programs now and then when I need a specific issue fixed, but no "general programming." I've also got an engineering sample edition of the TI-83+ Silver Edition sitting around. It has a pre-release OS and I haven't used it all that much, but it seems pretty good so far.
Eric What were the beginnings of ticalc.org like?
Magnus Back then, there were a couple of big sites operating. There was "The Unofficial TI Calculator Home Page" (still available in our History section) by Chris, The Official ZShell Home Page (the FAQ is in our History section, the site itself is not) by Henrik and the ZShell Fan Page by me (sadly, not available in our history section). There was also a huge list of smaller TI sites that was maintained by Amitai Schlair. One day, those of us who worked those sites, as well as some other major players in the TI arena (such as Dan E) got a mail from this guy, Isaac Salpeter (I had already been working with Isaac on some other TI related projects - he wasn't completey unknown), asking what we thought about joining all these sites together into a single "complete" site. We were all very interested, and Isaac ended up registering the domain name and setting up a Linux server running from his room at Florida State University. A couple of months later, ticalc.org was opened up (It took a lot of work to fix up the site well - and everything was done manually back then).
Eric How did ticalc.org eventually move to the current location in Sweden?
Magnus Well, basically, one day we ended up being unable to reach ticalc.org. We worked hard trying to figure out what really happened with no luck. A couple of days later, Isaac turned up (he had been away) and informed us that FSU had cut our connection without warning. At that point, I set up a virtual FTP and WWW server on one of our NT machines at SolNet, and Isaac sent me a ZIP file of most parts of the site as it was at that time. This was a working stop-gap solution, but it allowed only me to do any work on the site. A while after that, I managed to get hold of an old 486-machine that I could take and make into ticalc.org, once again running Linux and making it possible for others to update the site again. Most of the hardware has since been replaced, but the base system is the same.
Eric What's a typical day like for you, as the ticalc.org system administrator?
Magnus It is very different, usually depending on how much time I have to spend on it. The first step is always to check the monitoring logs that things are actually up and running. This is done as part of my normal work, since it is monitored and backed up by our main systems here at SolNet. Then it's time to read the mail on the staff mailinglist - this can range from 2-3 mails up to 30, for a single day. Since I'm in Sweden and a large part of the staff is in the US, a lot of discussions happen when I'm asleep, and I have to catch up on it. Then I make sure I log in to the box and check that our nightly scripts have done their jobs right, and do a preliminary check of my @ticalc.org mailbox. Unfortunately, I normally don't have the time to read and answer all the mail I receive from"ordinary people" - I try to batch those together and do them during a weekend or so. Some, I just never get the time to answer, unfortunately.
Eric What happens when something breaks?
Magnus That depends a lot on what it is. Take for example the case of "major breakage", when the system drops completely off-line (this has happened a few times - I think we've had 3-4 complete crashes and 2-3 "operator errors" that caused this during the time we've been at SolNet). If I'm at work, I hear the loud siren go off when one of the monitored systems go offline, and I can immediately go in and hook up a monitor to the box and see what happened. Usually in this case, it's just a reboot to get things back up and running. Once it was a hard drive that went down and had to be replaced. If I'm away from the office, my phone starts beeping with text messages - first from our automated system (if I'm standby), then one by one from the members of our staff as they notice. Depending on the situation, I either go straight in, wait until the next morning, or have somebody who is on-site go take a look, guiding them over the phone. When smaller things happen, usually the first of the "root-password staff members" that notices it can make at least a quick-fix to get thingsrunning again, and we can later look things through to determine what actually happened. In the event of such things as "operator error turning off SSH access to the box," I usually get a phone-call from said person (hey, you know who you are...). In this case, only staff access is blocked off, and the main site runs as usual, in which case it gets a lower priority. All in all, very few of these things actually happens, so most of the administration takes very little time. Most of the time I actually spend on the site I do coding on our backend system, such as the file archive management system and the news system.


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