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Feature: A Modest Proposal
Posted by Nick on 5 May 2000, 01:24 GMT

Our next somewhat late (*g*) feature is written by Ben Kalafut. It talks about what TI should include in their next calculator (or calculator update :P). In my opinion, he makes some good points and some I don't quite agree with (or they aren't vital to the functionality of said calculator), but it's still worth a read and some frank discussion of opinions.

So let's do just that. Many (many) people have complained about TI's "actions," especially since after Hardware 2.00 and AMS v2.03 came out for the 68K calculators. Talk amongst yourselves - as usual, I'll try to offer any input I can.

I have owned three different TI calculators, and I have run into frustrating "brick walls" in the use and programming of each one.
I use my calculator for math and sciences; I have no real interest in gaming or getting my calculator to make sound or bit-mapped graphics. Yet sometimes, the calculators are just as useful as a Gameboy.
Even the "powerful" TI-89 and 92 don't contain what I would like to see in a graphics calculator/computer algebra system. Symbolic manipulation is a nice feature, certainly, but programming all but the most elementary routines becomes time-consuming or impossible. Texas Instruments should probably put out programs to perform Fourier, Laplace, and Z transforms, partial fraction decomposition, tensor mathematics, functional analysis, etc, but they do not do so, and apparently, no third parties are interested.
The problem, in my opinion, is that Texas Instruments considers the graphics calculator to be merely an educational tool. This is evident in the software applications which are written, and the nature of their press releases and advertisements. TI does not seem to recognize the (potential) utility of their calculators to researchers, college students, mathematicians, and professionals.
Some improvements which I would like to see on a hypothetical calculator which TI would put out to replace the 89 are:

1) True updates. I expected a boost in functionality between AMS 1 and 2.03, and all that seemed to occur was an improvement in memory allocation. Extending the function library from time to time would be nice.
2) A faster processor. The 68000 can certainly handle numerics well, but seems to bog down on all but the simplest symbolic operations.
3) Ability to define a function with multiple outputs. For example, a Gaussian elimination decomposition should return both the reduced matrix and the "O" matrix by which one may multiply the original to change it to the reduced form.
4) A true 3-D engine. It is nice to be able to enter functions of two variables, but one should be able to view three-dimensional plots obtained from numerical methods of problem solving, view three-dimensional data plots, or plot space curves parametrically.
5) Vector field plots, Poincar‚ return maps, improved slope and direction field applications.
6) LaPlace and inverse LaPlace transforms.
7) Partial fraction decomposition.
8) Improved ability to program new symbolic functions. The "part" function is a step in the correct direction but is neither sophisticated nor specific enough to be truly useful.
9) Ability to handle tensors.
10) Ability to enter strings, matrices, lists, etc as elements of lists or cell arrays
11) Ability to overload user-defined functions, so that they may return either symbolic or numeric answers, for example. Also, the ability to input fewer than the specified number of parameters to a function and not get errors.

These are just a few suggestions. I'm sure that those who are more advanced in mathematics than I have many more. I don't expect TI to come out with a calculator that does everything that Maple or Mathematica do, but by focusing too much on secondary education it is neglecting a potential market.
TI or a third party should also put out a compiled language for the calculators. I'm impressed with TI-GCC, but TI, having a team of professional programmers, could probably develop the standard libraries and even more powerful interaction with the calculator's built-in features. TI also has the muLisp language, and could possibly release a version for graphics calculators.
Another thing that has struck me is the poor quality of programs in the math and science archives.
A lot of the programs do things that the calculators already do! Additionally, many have poor documentation and terse interfaces. User-friendliness is not a major concern. Neither is standardization or development of syntaxes which make sense to anybody but the user. For the sake of consistency I have been writing my programs so that they either state, clearly, what should be input (rather than specifying a variable name), or in the case of those for the 89 which take inputs from the command line, do so in an order and syntax which follows that of TI's built- in libraries.
The graphics calculator has great potential as a mathematical tool in the classroom, the lab, and even in the professional world, but it will never realize that potential until Texas Instruments chooses not to focus strictly on the secondary education market and programmers (perhaps at the expense of gaming) develop better, more powerful, more consistent mathematics and science software.


The comments below are written by ticalc.org visitors. Their views are not necessarily those of ticalc.org, and ticalc.org takes no responsibility for their content.

Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Dana Skinner Account Info

I was wondering if someone knows a site that I can download a Laplace transform and inverse to a TI-86.

     16 January 2004, 19:52 GMT

Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Will H.

Your points are very valid. Though I work with a TI86 only, I am constantly frustrated with its lack of the use of complex numbers for inputting into funtions and such. I believe your proposal for a more powerful processor might have some problems. Often times the more powerful it gets, the more strain it will put on the batteries. Not to mention the heat it might give off either. But I agree that a 68K processor probably isn't sufficient to perform more of the complex algebraic fuctions. The TI Community should petition Texas Instruments to redress its wrongs :-)

     5 May 2000, 01:34 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Nick Disabato  Account Info
(Web Page)

Yeah, I had a gripe with the processor thing too. You have to keep in mind that TI isn't in the budget to affix a heatsink and fan to every calculator along with everything else :) Then they have to worry about moving parts, which adds another BIG factor into the equation of actual functionality.

I drop my calculator and bang the hell out of it every day. Today I just dropped it off my desk three and a half feet onto a concrete floor. It works just fine; I've owned it for almost two years now.

The processor is fine as is - it's how the processor is _used_ that's the issue at hand here ;)

As for the whole thing about the complex numbers, I always thought cplx'es were easier to manipulate on the 86. a+bi where the complex number is in the form of (a,b).

Or are you talking about using in a BASIC program?


     5 May 2000, 01:40 GMT

Re: TI86 complex numbers
Will H.

The TI86 is very good about simple complex operations, such as the regular 4 functions. It will return the answer in an (a,b) format, where a is the real part, and b the imaginary part. But that is the extent of it's usage. For example, consider the simple function f(x)= x²+1. I have stored i as the complex number (0,1) in my memory. Obviously i is a zero of the function, but if I plug that number into the equation solver for x the calculator will give an error message. I don't understand why the calculator will return answers in complex format, but will not accept them in equations. This issue should be addressed.

     5 May 2000, 02:13 GMT

Re: Re: TI86 complex numbers
Robert Mohr  Account Info
(Web Page)

I agree. The TI-86 is very good with complex numbers, but won't use them very well equations. I've also seen that matrixes won't work in the equation solver--I'm in Algebra II, and both full support for "i" and matrixes would be very nice.

But I also think about how lucky I am to have any compatibility with "i" as my friends, mostly with TI-83+'s, get an error when trying to use "i". I love my 86, and I know it has limits which could be easily fixed by cmbining every feature.

     5 May 2000, 23:31 GMT

Re: Re: Re: TI86 complex numbers
Eric Tollefson  Account Info

Frankly, I think the problem there lies not with the calculator, but the user (concerning the 83+ and cplx's). A lot of people I know with 83+'s don't know that you have to go to mode and turn on complex numbers. A lot of people I know with 83s and 83+'s aren't very calc-savvy. Most of them just got it because it was the 'recommended' calculator to buy.

     6 May 2000, 02:26 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Re: TI86 complex numbers
omotai  Account Info
(Web Page)

I hate to go off on a tangent, but can someone please help me find an ION.INC file for v 1.4, I can't find it anywhere, and the one in the ion.zip file is screwed up and I can't fix it. Please send me one. Anyone who can help my e-mail is bustamanted@hotmail.com. Please!!!

     10 May 2000, 21:19 GMT

Re: Re: Re: TI86 complex numbers
burntfuse  Account Info

It won't use anything but real numbers in an equation! I've tried it.

     6 July 2003, 01:52 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Nick Disabato  Account Info
(Web Page)

Oh, and as for the petition, TI doesn't want to listen to a bunch of antisocial calculator nerds whose opinion doesn't hold a candle to the millions of uninformed students and educators who purchase their hardware/software en masse.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it's quite sadly the honest truth :(


     5 May 2000, 01:42 GMT

blahspam .. i love 0day n00z
Nick Silkey  Account Info
(Web Page)

collective nihilist. :)

     5 May 2000, 01:51 GMT

Re: blahspam .. i love 0day n00z
Nick Disabato  Account Info
(Web Page)

Not all of us are majoring in philosophy, filler :)


     5 May 2000, 01:59 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
jestbsemple  Account Info

I wouldn't say that. Why do you think TI's newer calcs have built in asm support? And certainly they don't have all that mem just for math. Of cource our opinion matters.

     6 May 2000, 21:28 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
luke195rs  Account Info

Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with that. The cost of developing a calculator with that type of power would be in preportions at all with the very small percentage of TI users it would benifit. Not only that, but it would make the fineshed product quite unrealisticlly expensive. I really think your asking TI too much. Let's take development one step at a time.

     8 May 2000, 06:37 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
burntfuse  Account Info

They could still put in a more powerful processor. The M32R series of processors from Mitsubishi seems like it would work. They can deal directly with floating point numbers (unlike the z80, where software has to emulate the floating point processing hardware, like on a 386 machine) and have hardware multipliers. They don't cost much,either. Battery draw still could be a problem.

     5 January 2003, 20:11 GMT

Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
TaiGuy  Account Info
(Web Page)

I don't know even half the functions of my 89, but for what I do (Algebra 2), it's a little TOO advanced (Classmates refer to it as "Hey, can I borrow Jesus?"). The Ti-83 that I have serves it's role pretty well, considering what it's meant for. I think the processor on the 89, is plenty fast, what's the use of paying for a few seconds difference in symbolic calculations, with hours of battery time?
I have to wonder... Do any Ti-Executives check up on the latest things going on in the Ti-Programming Scene? Like, does the VP of Consumer Satisfaction ever visit TiCalc.org? Even if they do, WHY don't they choose to acknowledge that the Ti-XX's can be much more than an educational tool. If I were in charge of some important division of TI's Calculator department, I'd make the most of the company's products. The overall big question we should be asking them is:

     5 May 2000, 01:45 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Joshua Hubregsen

As to the faster processor, it would be very useful. It isn't just symbolic manipulation that takes a long time, but rather the 3D graphs. Even the simplest of 3D graphs takes forever to draw - especially for contour and hidden surface methods. Also, color would be a very useful tool for viewing 3D surfaces. And if you don't use all of the functions of the 89, you're missing out on a lot of very useful stuff used in upper mathematics. I agree with the author of the feature when he says that it would be useful to have functions that could have a variable number of inputs without producing errors.

     5 May 2000, 06:00 GMT

HydroCarbon10  Account Info

The processor in the 89/92 series is plent fast for 3D and symbolic manipulation, the slow down is TI's code. The HP49G (no flame wars, please) only has a 4 MHz (maybe its 6, but that's not the point) processor, yet can rotate graphs in 3D just as fast, if not faster, than the 89 which has a 10 MHz processor. The reason...HP's code is far superior to TI's.

     5 May 2000, 17:30 GMT

Re: Processor
Donovan Smith  Account Info
(Web Page)

Although I don't own an HP 49g, I do agree that the code used in the calculator has a huge effect on the speed of the calculator. The Motorola 68000 in the TI-89 is extremely powerful for a calculator, heck the same chip powered the original Macintosh computers, but the poor code used by TI makes some things frustratingly slow. I own a Casio CFX-9850g and it whips my TI-89 in almost everything speed-wise and that thing uses a 2 MHz (or 4MHz, I'm not sure) CPU and the TI-89 runs at 10 MHz. That's not a good thing. Casio obviously optimized their code to the max. If it wasn't for the fact that my Casio doesn't do symbolic manipulation, I may not have ever bought my TI-89. It's a shame that TI wastes the potential of such a powerful calculator on sloppy code.

     6 May 2000, 04:13 GMT

Re: Re: Processor
Gen.Griffin  Account Info

its the lenght of the rom, if you look compared to a simpler one like the casio its a lot bigger, when theres more space programers get slopy, plus they get spoiled by the faster proceeser. not that i don't blame them its long and boring sometimes to program but things going slowre is what happens with al those features, for instance take a modern program, one thats say 130 megabytes and try to optimize it in macien code or assemble or what not. It takes a long time but it will run on a slower device. So optimation is good but it takes a while, and is as bout as exiting as debuging. Hopefully ti will start optimizing code with there newer flash updates.

     6 May 2000, 19:34 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Processor

The problem with this argument about longer code is that the rom is not all that big. The compiled rom for the TI-89 is only 2 MBand the ones for the TI-8x calculators are 512KB or less. It doesn't take very long to optimize code for such small programs if you know how to do it correctly.

     26 November 2000, 20:28 GMT

Re: Re: Processor
MediaMarco  Account Info

My good old Commodore Amiga 500 had a MC68000 too, and it ran with only 7.14 MHz. There were many really good lookin' 3D-Games in the 80's and early 90's which ran really fast (Someone here knowing F29 Retaliator, or Epic, Gunship 2000 or Robocop3?). They didn't use any coprocessors, because the Amiga had only 2D-Custom-Chips, so the 68000 is abled to produce nice 3D-Graphics. Not as nice as modern PC-Games, but nicer than the poor TI92 3D-graphs, which cannot handle more than +/- 15 polygons without beginning to change into a slide-show. A few weeks ago, i saw a nice assembler-3d-routine on my TI92 Plus which was much faster than TI's one. I hope they will rework it and bring out a flash update.
So long, AMIGA forever and greetings from Germany, Marco

     8 May 2000, 15:26 GMT

Re: Processor
C5r1a5z0y Account Info

Actually, the reason that the HP49G is faster than the 89 in 3D graphing is that it's grid size is 14 while the HP49G's grid size is only 6 or 8 (I forget which). If you change the 89's grid size to 6 or 8, it will graph as fast or faster than the HP49G. Even so, I agree that the 89's basecode could be optimized. It should probably also be written in Assembly instead of C because this too would increase the speed.

     6 May 2000, 22:12 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
(Web Page)

I agree! I don't do 3-d graphing a lot because I don't have any classes that require it. When I do experiment with it though, I have to wait forever! As a comparison, the Handspring Visor uses the Motorola Dragonball processor, which is something like 68500, or something (somebody want to check this?), is based on the 68k processor in the 89. With software, it is possible to overclock/underclock my Visor at will. NO JOKE! I have a funny feeling that TI could have done this with the 89 - no problem, just a few system fixes. This would be the best application of the processor - underclock during easy problems, overclock during 3-d graphing or complex symbolic manipulation problems. Sweet!

     5 May 2000, 22:59 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Kenneth Arnold Account Info

Totally agree -- even 68020 would have made me happy. Why? Set a couple of Makefile variables and a couple of config options, then a few simple architecture drivers, recompile, and you got Linux on your calculator. And Linux doesn't crash and erase all your data when you run some slightly misbehaved game. That's what I hate about the TI-89.

But instead, I think Linux can be ported to the 68020, but it'll be much more work and might require virtualizing the processor (I sincerely hope not, but to get enforcable protected memory...).


     5 May 2000, 23:26 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Rejun2000  Account Info


I hate it when ppl think that 'this OS will make this machine never crash'. It doesn't work that way.

The reason your computer can recover from a program crash is that the program has been designed to let the OS have a great deal of power over it. To get something like that on your calculator you not only need an OS, you also need to completely redesign your programs (mostly interupts, which means ASM not C) and even then if a program is low level enough it could corrupt the OS!

I hate to point it out, but if you port any OS (all of them COULD be ported) it won't make a calc more stable it will just give it a shiny new look.


     17 July 2002, 04:01 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Gary Moorhead  Account Info

It doesn't get any better. In my Calculus BC class it is reffered to as my "brain."

     5 May 2000, 07:55 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal

Don't forget that there are many people out there that study math beyond Calc BC. You need so much more than that to do, say, basic science or engineering. Sure, 89 can take many an integral, which is nice. But ideally what I would want to have is a pocket version of Mathematica so that I'm not tied to my computer when working out problems. Also, it would be a very nice feature to include the ability to handle special functions (Bessel, Legendre, spherical harmonics), as well as integral transforms. But I don't see it getting implemented anytime soon.

     6 May 2000, 04:32 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
cpu_man  Account Info
(Web Page)

I would think TI doesn't acknowledge their graphing calculator as more then education tool because parents wouldn't buy them. Like think about it they want to buy a calculator for their kid, not something they can play games on...

     5 May 2000, 12:04 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
g4danny  Account Info

Honestly, I am not convinced parents succeed in "not buyng their child another toy" with purchasing TI calcs. See how many games are around, then some large amount of simple office tools (calendars, various viewers...) and then the simple programs people make to learn programming, but they only repeat work that dozens of people have done many times before. Most people really don't get further with their programming skills than that, so even these program writing attempts are just playing with the toy.
Personally, I am right at that stage of just beginning to do something more useful than deSolve(x"=0,x,t). My first attempt will be creating a medium scale dbase of all undergraduate physics. Tables and keywords, so that I don't need to keep in mind laser interference on grating or proper form Clausius equation all the time, if I only need it twice a year. For this I thought I would first learn Study Cards or some other simple db software available - but some functionality (engine in the calculator, while data can be sucked from a notebook upon request) has not been implemented yet as far as I know. Well, either I really do something about it, or the TI-89 remains just an expensive toy.
My point is that it's about us, buddies, what we can get from our black boxes, the TI may suck from marketing up to SW development, still we can have great tools. We only have to make them. No use saying that "somebody should do something about it". Period. I agree with the featured text, many of those things would be nice to have around. But we, the college scientific and engineering candidate, really form (guessing) ~5% of the market, whereas SW development of integral transform tools etc. is more expensive than those spreadsheets and text/picture editors/viewers altogether! Hey, I got an IDEA: let's build another kernel on our own! Someone's praised the old Amiga drawing speed, Mathematica and MatLab are what we want to get - the link is set.

Grin :o> 4 Danny

     12 July 2003, 13:18 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Robert Mohr  Account Info
(Web Page)

I understand exactly what you are saying. If you agree with Taiguy, click on "Web Page" and tell TI what you think.

     5 May 2000, 23:38 GMT

Re: Re: Feature: A Modest Proposal
Josh Willison

You must understand, kids who want a Ti say its a cool calculator that can do everything mathmaticle/scientific. Kids conveinetly leave out the part that they can play games. If Ti promotes its gameplay capabilaty, how many kids will get their calculator??

     6 May 2000, 03:43 GMT

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