Fun with TI Graphing Calculators.

posted by DonDula @ 23:30 PM
October 18, 2008

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Here’s some info for anyone who wants to add a little more fun and functionality to their boring old TI graphing calculator.  Calculators have come a long way over the years and aren’t just used for crunching numbers anymore.  Almost every high school math class requires you to purchase one of these expensive graphing devices, that you will probably only use for only a couple of years.  It would be nice to get more use out of a device that costs roughly the same amount as a handheld gaming system.  What a lot of people don’t know is that there are many more ways to use one of these powerful devices, aside from them helping you fail geometry. 

 

Back when I was in high school I can remember trading games on my TI-85 with a couple of kids in class that somehow got them on their calc.  They weren’t anything special just a simple Snake and Tetris game.  These games were however exactly what I needed to pass the time in many boring math sessions (which looking back now I probably should of paid more attention).  Wanting even more calculator fun, I went out and special ordered a graph-link cable from radio shack that would let me connect my calc to a computer and transfer files.  This was before TI started bundling them with some of their calculators, and back then the cable alone ran about $100.  Once I connected the calc to the computer, I was able to download all kinds of homebrew games and apps that were programmed in assembly language.  Some of the things people were able to develop were just insane.  No more would I have to settle for boring old snake, I was able to play Wolfenstein and Super Mario Brothers clones, watch gray scale video clips, use the calc as a telnet terminal, load custom user interfaces and even generate sound files (which you were able to listen to by getting a 3.5” to 2.5” headphone jack convertor and plugging in headphones to the bottom of your calc).  I’m also pretty sure I was the first kid in any high school to put a porn movie on their calculator.  The only limitation to these early calculators was the limited amount of memory.  The TI-85 only had about 28k of ram that was user accessible, so only a few programs could be stored at one time.   

 

Some of the early TI calculators were using a 6MHz Z80 processor which is the same processor found in the early Gameboys.  Towards the end of high school I picked up the brand new TI-89 which was able to solve complex algebra equations by just inputting the problem.  This calculator got me through the rest of high school math because all I had to do was enter any problem and it would solve for any variable I told it to.  The TI-89 is no longer allowed in most high school math classes or on standardized tests, due to its complex algebraic solving capabilities.  The TI-89 was TI’s most powerful calculator at the time.  It had a 32-bit Motorola 6800 processor running at 16MHz, almost 1 megabyte of ram and a high-res 160 x 100 pixel LCD screen.  With this advanced hardware, homebrew developers were able to create software that looked like it could have been developed for a Gameboy.  The website ticalc.org has been around for about 15 years and has one of the largest file archives for all things relating to TI calculators.  If you have a new TI calc and the TI connect link cable, you can head over there and load up your calculator with a ton of great games and apps.  If you don’t have the cable you can buy one on Office Max’s website for about 11 dollars. 

 

Below are a few screen shots of some games and OS shells that I loaded on my TI-89.

 

Winodws 95 user interface

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