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Newsletter - March 2001

The ticalc.org Newsletter
March 2001 - Volume 4, Issue 3


Letter from the Editor
Calculator News
Is Assembly for 68K Dead?
Ask ticalc.org
Interview with Sebastian Reichelt


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

After falling a little behind in January, ticalc.org has been pretty active in February. There's been lots of new programs released, a few milestones, and some other miscellaneous news here and there.

This month we passed 15,000 files in our archives. We thank everyone for their support as the web's largest TI calculator archive gets even larger.

This month I've interviewed Sebastian Reichelt, a prominent member of the TIGCC team and webmaster of ticalc.org's newest hosted site, http://tigcc.ticalc.org/.

Eric Sun


Many new programs were released this month. Most were updates and ports of existing programs, however there were a few notable new programs as well.

Jason Ho broke onto the TI scene with this first major program, Alien Invasion. If you haven't tried it yet, it's a shoot-em-up game similar to Phoenix. Thomas Nussbaumer is currently developing a new gaming engine for the TI-89 and TI-92+ that will make 3D graphics a whole lot easier for programmers. Check it out in our archives (FAT-Engline Demo). Thomas has also released the TICT-Explorer, a GUI for the TI-89 and TI-92+.

Other notable releases include Dying Eyes and Joltima ports to the TI-83+, feats that were enabled by working around the size limit for programs imposed by Texas Instruments.

Eric Sun


Back in the day, advanced calculator programming was pretty restrictive for most users. After all, it required rudimentary compiling tools, various obfuscated include files, and worst of all, a knowledge of assembly language, which isn't exactly the easiest programming language to learn. Thus, it used to be that if a program was coded in assembly language, it was probably worth the time it took to download and put on the calculator.

Now, with the explosion of the TIGCC Project, more and more programs are being coded in C for the TI-89 and TI-92+. And with good reason- the environment is more friendly, the compilation is easier, and best of all, C is a heck of a lot easier to learn than assembly.

As TIGCC gathers more and more steam (which I fully expect to happen), assembly coding for the TI-89 and TI-92+ will steadily decrease. I can attest to that first-hand with my experience adding to the ticalc.org archives and the recent classification of the assembly files to DoorsOS and no-stub files (most of which were made in C).

In most ways this is a good thing- powerful programs can be easily made, and thus there will be a huge number of new programs released for the TI-89 and TI-92+. Assembly tends to be harder to learn, and thus we usually have the same people releasing everything. C, however, is much more ubiquitous, and thus can be mastered easily for the calculator. An example is Jason Ho, who, with little experience in calculator projects in the past, immediately embarked on Alien Invasion, which has turned into an instant hit.

All this good stuff may come at a cost, however. Since TIGCC makes assembly so much easier, the number of "bad" programs in our assembly folders will undoubtedly increase as well. Until now, for most games, "BASIC" has been virtually synonymous with "bad" while "Assembly" has been synonymous with "good." This will probably change.

Another problem: what would happen if TIGCC suddenly could no longer be used? As we become increasingly dependent on TIGCC, perhaps assembly knowledge could eventually die out. What if some new crazy development at TI made C programs really slow, or even useless, and the TIGCC maintainers were too busy or didn't want to update the program? Would that mean the death of most TI-89 and TI-92+ assembly programs?

Don't take this as a discouragement for using TIGCC; I think it's a great program and have the utmost respect for its maintainers. I'd even encourage its use; however, I'd caution people to depend on it so much.

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 won't this assembly program work on my TI-89 or TI-92+?

A: Some assembly programs require a shell such as DoorsOS or UniversalOS, while others do not. If you're attempting to run a program and get an error message, you might want to try installing a shell. To reduce these problems, I have separated the TI-89 and TI-92+ assembly directories into nostub (no shell required) and DoorsOS (shell required) categories. More information can be found at http://www.ticalc.org/archives/news/articles/4/47/47030.html. Hope this eliminates some confusion.

Eric Sun


Email: sebastian@tigcc.ticalc.org

Interview Log
Eric How old are you and what level of education do you have?
Sebastian I'm 17 years old; I'll be 18 soon. I attend the Gymnasium, which is the highest of three types of schools in Germany. I'm in 12th grade; in Germany that means that I still have a year and a half to go if I want to go to college. I spent the last school year in Ithaca, NY, finished high school, but only got an honorary diploma as an exchange student.
Eric What do you plan to do after you graduate?
Sebastian I plan to study computer science at college. If I need to specialize in some way, this is probably going to be physics. After that, I just want to start working as a programmer and see what opportunities I get.
Eric What calculators do you own?
Sebastian Just a TI-89 HW1, which I needed for my AP Calculus class in the US.
Eric Do you plan to get any new calculators soon?
Sebastian No. We are not allowed to use them in Germany, for several reasons: First, it's easy to cheat, and students who are more experienced in the use of these calculators have a great advantage over those who are not. And second, they are just too expensive for everyone attending some higher math class to buy.
Eric What do you use your calculator for most?
Sebastian Now I use it mainly to test my own programs, and sometimes to play games at school (no, not during classes, that would really show). When I first got it, I immediately started programming it in BASIC, but I almost exclusively made math programs. By the time I ordered a Graph Link, I had about 80 math functions and programs on my calculator.
Eric What was the first program you ever wrote?
Sebastian This was actually a pong game, which I made the day after I got the calculator. It was really slow due to the fact that it was written in BASIC.
Eric How did you learn to program?
Sebastian I don't actually know much assembly. I had learned to program in C++ at school; that's why programming in C was rather easy. I still prefer Pascal over C a lot.
Eric Do you have any tips for new assembly programmers?
Sebastian Learn C. ;-) Seriously, though: Once you have learned the language, writing programs in C on the computer sometimes becomes even easier than writing BASIC programs on the calculator.
Eric Do you have an idol TI programmer?
Sebastian I can't name anyone specific. Zeljko Juric, Thomas Nussbaumer, and Rusty Wagner are definitely my idol programmers, but it's hard to say which one I admire the most. Maybe Rusty, because with his VTI he is one of those that provide the basic foundation for almost all other programs. TIGCC is also such a foundation for a smaller part of programs, but of course my part of TIGCC is somewhat outside these basics. These were actually provided for by Xavier Vassor when he made the linker.
Eric How did the TIGCC Project get started?
Sebastian When I found ticalc.org (I don't remember how), the project was already at version 0.6 or something. It was really hard to find, too. I once saw that Aerox demo on the TurboSoft website and read that it was written in C, but I couldn't find that C compiler. When the first news item about the TIGCC Library came out, I realized where I had to look. I found that tigcc.exe, the command-line compiler, wasn't working correctly. In fact, I had an outdated version because there were two versions in the ticalc.org archive. I also wanted to be able to compile things with one simple click like I was used to; that's why I decided to make an IDE. When Zeljko Juric said that his library, the IDE, and the compiler itself should be distributed in one package, I also made a setup program because the setup used by TIGCC was somewhat hard to use (command-line also, with two similar program names of which one was the right one). Since the release of TIGCC was actually illegal because Jean Canazzi had lost the source to the compiler modifications, I redid those modifications with his help, and made further modifications; that's how I became more involved with the project. I don't know whether Jean Canazzi or Xavier Vassor had the original idea to create TIGCC; it was probably Xavier. The one who really pushed it further was definitely Zeljko Juric, though.
Eric What are the future plans for TIGCC?
Sebastian A symbolic debugger using VTI is planned, since the lack of a debugger is currently the greatest disadvantage of TIGCC. Eventually I want to include a sprite editor in the IDE. If many people want to do symbolic manipulation in C, I might try to write a parser so that expressions similar to those in TI-BASIC become possible, but this was just an idea and I don't want to deal with it right now.
Eric What projects are you working on now or plan to work on in the future?
Sebastian Currently TIGCC is the only project related to calculators that I work on. I still want to finish that AUTOmatix game some time when TIGCC is as far as it is supposed to get. But who knows how much free time I will have by then.
Eric What do you think of TI's protections and limitations on their FLASH software for the TI-89/92+?
Sebastian Many TI calculator users and programmers will probably flame me for this: I think the actual limitations on FLASH software (i.e. FLASH Apps) are not a really big problem. If I buy a calculator, I don't expect that companies or private persons other than the manufacturer itself can make applications for it. But what matters a lot more in my opinion is that TI is neglecting and denying the existence of a programming and gaming community around their calculators. While I can see why teachers might be concerned about students playing games on their calculators in class, preventing this is the teachers' responsibility, not TI's. It is a known fact that student don't even need to play games not to pay attention (including me). This is why I hate TI's effort to prevent grayscale from being used, and also their limitations on program size, while they still allow assembly programs to be written.


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