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Newsletter - July 2000

The ticalc.org Newsletter
July 2000 - Volume 3, Issue 7


Letter from the Editor
Calculator News
Ask ticalc.org
Interview with David Ellsworth


Thanks for reading the ticalc.org Newsletter!

This month saw the fourth birthday of ticalc.org. Thanks to all our readers for making us so successful! We hope to continue this tradition for many years to come.

The Program of the Month awards will start up again on ticalc.org. Programs will be selected in four categories: TI-82/TI-83/TI-83+, TI-85/TI-86, TI-89/TI-92/TI-92+, and Computer Utilities/Miscellaneous Programs. All programs released this month that are designated as Featured Programs will be eligible.

For this month's interview we have located the ever-so-famous David Ellsworth, also known as eXocomp. Among other things, he is the creator of Fargo for the TI-92, former ticalc.org member, Super Bowl Commercial star, and legend within the TI community. Be sure to check out what he has to say.

Thanks for reading the ticalc.org Newsletter!

Editor's note: apologies for the slight delay in sending this newsletter. I figured it was worth an extra day to add David's interview instead of sending it earlier without it. Hope you enjoy it!

Eric Sun


Lots of interesting stuff released this month. First, the new rom version for the TI-89 and TI-92+, AMS v2.04, has been released. You can find more information, including a list of working programs, at http://www.ticalc.org/archives/news/articles/34669.html.

With the new rom version has also brought some discontent throughout the community. A new TI-OS is currently being developed by Francois Goldgewicht, Jean Canazzi, and Niklas Brunlid, among others.

A huge number of notable programs were released this month. Highlights include DoorsOS II v0.97, YAS v1.0 by Aaron Curtis, Graphics Studio by Corey Taylor and Rusty Wagner, etc. etc. etc. Everything's at ticalc.org, as usual.

As the summer months roll by, we'll undoubtedly see bigger production in the coming months. Until next 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: Why does everyone seem to be more and more angry after each new ROM version for the TI-89/92+?

A: The problem for most programmers and users lies in the fact that often assembly programs written for earlier rom versions usually do not work with new roms. Sometimes there are also new restrictions on the calculator (for example, there was a 8KB limit for AMS 2.03 and a 32KB limit for AMS 2.04). These limitations have been overcome, but many users feel that it is just an added burden to have to fix all their programs each time a new rom version comes out. Ideas to remedy this have been thrown around for months; among these is a new project to try and construct a new TI-OS.

Eric Sun


Email: davidell@ticalc.org

Interview Log
Eric How did you first get involved with the TI Community?
David I owned a TI-85 for a long time before discovering the TI community. It was only after buying a TI-92 for Christmas in 1995 that I had the idea to search online for TI calculator programs. At the time I was using AOL, and web access was only a fairly new feature added to the AOL client! Searching for files meant searching AOL's file archive. That's when I first found ZShell. I was shocked that somebody else had hacked the TI-85! Up until then I had been operating under the assumption that I was the only one. And I've got to admit, it wasn't entirely a pleasant shock. Part of the joy that came to me from hacking the TI-85 came from the belief that I was the only one doing it. It wasn't long before I found the newsgroup bit.listserv.calc-ti. Heck, I hadn't written Fargo yet, but I did have something I wanted to contribute. During my experimentations on the TI-85 and TI-92 calculators, I had found a good number of bugs, peculiarities, undocumented features and interesting tricks. So, I made a list, and posted it.
Eric What were your original goals for Fargo, and did you expect such success?
David I wanted no less than to make Fargo perfect. I wanted it to be so good that it would become the de-facto standard for TI-92 ASM programming, and nobody would ever need to write another shell for the TI-92. I expected it to be a success. I knew it would be a success -- and that's why I wanted to make it perfect. I didn't want something flawed to be widely circulated, making backwards compatibility a troubling issue. That's why I kept Fargo in private beta for so long. In hindsight, that was definitely a mistake. At a certain point in my quest for perfection, I became stymied. I let Fargo stagnate for a month, and eventually, beta tester number one leaked it in a public release. So the sample programs went uncredited, and everything was run in Supervisor mode! Ugh. Of course that didn't stop it from being a success.
Eric What made you leave the TI scene?
David Basically, I lost the flow. Around the time I released Fargo 0.2.6, my computer broke down. I was unable to work on Fargo. By the time I got a new computer, I had lost the rhythm. And to make matters worse, up until the time my computer broke down, I had been working on all sorts of Fargo II design plans. I had a vision of perfection; I was going to give Fargo advanced memory management capabilities, and do it an an extremely elegant way. But I got bogged down in the plans, and couldn't get into the flow of implementation. I had so much lost the flow, that even after getting myself a TI-92 Plus module, I didn't work on implementing a new Plus-compatible Fargo. I was bogged down with the complexities and plans of making it cross-compatible. So, of course Rusty Wagner came along and wrote PlusShell! This dismayed me even more. This was something I wanted to do! Now, I'll give Rusty Wagner the credit he deserves. He did a fine job making PlusShell. But I knew that I could do better. I just wasn't inspired to go ahead with it. I seem to do my best programming when I'm working from a rough vision, and designing as I go along. I'll have something runnable early on, and it continues to be runnable many steps along the way. Often this means that something I have halfway through will be entirely rewritten, piece by piece. It's when I start to make a grandiose, encompassing design plan that I can easily get tripped up. The only thing that can bring me back at this point is a stroke of inspiration, usually precipitated by something. And those things are dreadfully unpredictable! So I'm still not entirely convinced that I'll never go back to Fargo, but it seems likely. Nobody is interested in a new cross-compatible version of Fargo anymore, right?
Eric What have you done since leaving the TI Community?
David Lately I have been working with video capture. The DivX ;-) MPEG-4 codec is very cool, but there are things that nobody bothers to do, and that many people do wrong, when encoding an AVI to post. I've been working on customizing some open-source programs to my own needs and working out a system whereby I can encode captured video in the best quality possible. I have used this to make an extremely high quality 4MB AVI of my 1998 Super Bowl commercial, and I plan to collect various commercials I like, captured from TV and encoded as DivX AVIs, and post them on the web.
Eric Has TI calculators influenced your career at all?
David I think the most lasting influence my involvement with TI calculators has had, is that it has given me better self-knowledge about how I work best, and what to avoid when working on a programming project targetted at public release. And of course, I learned new things, like 68k asm, and the higher arts of reverse engineering and embedded programming.
Eric Where do you think the future of TI calculators lies?
David I'm probably not the best person to ask. I haven't kept up with the TI scene for a long time. But frankly, I think the blur between calculators and palmtop computers will continue to fade. FLASH technology is becoming more and more ubiquitous. And open-sourcing is beginning to become adopted by some leading companies. I think this should naturally lead to miniaturized computing devices that are designed to be customizable to an individual's needs, and, moreover, can be programmed by anyone who has the know-how.
Eric Do you still use TI calculators?
David Unfortunately, I lost track of my TI-92 in a recent move. I haven't yet been able to find it in any of the boxes. I do use my TI-85 pretty often for bitrate calculations and hexadecimal math, but I don't have any ASM shells loaded on it.
Eric Any tips for assembly programmers today?
David Yes -- always look for new optimizations! You might be surprised how many cycles you shave off. :-)
Eric How was the Super Bowl Commercial Experience? :)
David Well, it was quite a ride. :-) My agent promised me fame and riches. She was right about one thing, though: I did get the part! I was at the shoot all day, for 15 minutes of filming time. The filming I enjoyed immensely. I love acting! For the rest of the day, I got to practice various techniques of pacing and sitting down. I got to experience the Zen of walking back and forth between the freezing cold indoor set and the blazing hot sunny day outside. Then it came my turn -- I got to act! What was funny, is that I did much more than they expected. They gave me a list of redhead nicknames to speak; so of course I acted each one out. (The other thing they had me do was give extemporaneous answers to some questions about my red hair.) Later they told me they had only intended me to say the nicknames, but that that what I did was even better. And they might have more for me to do later -- could I read cue cards from this distance? Yes. Sounded interesting -- I might get some lines of script to to act out! So then came more waiting. I got to refine my pacing technique. I became overbearingly familiar with the lot in which they were filming. Finally it was brought to my attention that I could actually watch the footage as it was being filmed, in a small rear-projection screen. So that's what all those people were doing! Arrggh. I ended up doing overtime (for which there was extra pay) in the supposed likelihood they'd call me back for more filming, which didn't happen. So I got to wait another hour (for which there was no pay) while my mom drove over to pick me up after I called her using a cell phone graciously borrowed from one of the crew. By then it was dark and cold, but a very nice member of the crew let me stay inside one of the trailers while I waited. In the end, I did make a good sum of money for one day's work -- about $3000! It wasn't the $15000 my agent promised me, but hey, exaggeration is part of the job description.


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