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Hardware Hacking DRM Handhelds Math Programming Software Build Hardware

TI Calculator DRM Defeated 234

Posted by Soulskill
from the graphing-for-justice dept.
josath writes "Texas Instruments' flagship calculator, the Nspire, was hacked to allow user-written programs earlier this year. Earlier this month, TI released an update to the OS that runs on the calculator, providing no new features, but only blocking the previous hack. Now, just a few weeks later, Nleash has been released, which defeats this protection. The battle rages on as users fight for the right to run their own software on their own hardware."
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TI Calculator DRM Defeated

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  • Re:what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:29AM (#33095174)
    You cannot bring a laptop into a standardized test, that's why TI cares. The only real business TI has with its graphing calculators is high school (and to some extent, middle school) students, and only because the teachers are under the illusion that the calculators cannot do everything that a laptop can do.
  • Re:why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:32AM (#33095194)
    The last time this came up on /., I said that it is probably about standardized tests. A number of people pointed out that when they were in school, calculators were reset to the factory defaults before they were allowed to use them on an exam. What I have to wonder about, though, is what it means to be reset to "factory defaults" -- I doubt that there is a second copy of the original firmware that will be forced to load when the reset button is pressed. More likely, "factory defaults" only means clearing anything the user created, but leaving the firmware intact.

    Thus, if users can just install their own firmware, TI risks having the current illusion that teachers are under -- that the calculators are "less of a computer" than any other computer -- being undermined.
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:36AM (#33095216)
    The point is the fight, not whether or not a particular device has been cracked. TI (and to be fair, plenty of other companies) are engaged in a constant struggle to prevent users from exercising their right to run whatever software they want on their computers. You might construe it as, "Well you can still run the software, you just don't know how" but realistically speaking, the devices are being designed to thwart the user's attempt to install software without thwarting the manufacturer. That is a strike against us and our rights, regardless of how you phrase it.
  • Re:why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:42AM (#33095262) Journal

    Of course the simplest solution would still be for the school to have, say, 100 calculators owned by the school, exclusively to be used in tests. People don't bring their own calculator, they use the school-supplied one. It would be a one-time investment (calculators tend to work for very extended times).

    Another solution would be to only allow calculators without permanent storage. Who needs graphing calculators anyway?

  • Re:what (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Peach Rings (1782482) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:46AM (#33095284) Homepage

    What, you can still write programs for the included BASIC interpreter, you just can't run your own code on the hardware (no C/assembly allowed). So they have no ground to stand on in terms of testing integrity, and it's obvious that they're unjustly trying to control people's hardware after they buy it.

  • by flipper9 (109877) * on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:47AM (#33095292)

    What if the kids did hack their calculators, install inappropriate notes, and cheat on their exams? It would be inconvenient for the teachers to reflash/reformat/reset each calculator, and be sure that the student wasn't still cheating. The teacher's only solution would be to purchase additional TI calculators for exam purposes only. A win-win for TI!

  • Re:why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vahokif (1292866) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:49AM (#33095310)
    It's because a major selling point of their calculators is that you can use them in exams. If you can hack them to cheat, they won't be allowed any more.
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:53AM (#33095340)

    The teacher's only solution would be to purchase additional TI calculators

    Or they might wake up and realize that graphing calculators do not solve any educational goals. Then TI would be screwed, as teachers began requiring their students to actually understand math instead of just understanding how to push buttons.

  • Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vahokif (1292866) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:55AM (#33095348)
    They should sell two models with exactly the same capabilities, except one should be as locked down as possible and the other should be totally unrestricted and have a wildly different color scheme so you can tell them apart. This way hackers get to hack and examiners can be sure if they're not using the calculators to cheat.
  • Re:why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:56AM (#33095356)
    If "getting caught up in the algebra" is a problem, then you need all the practice you can get. There is nothing wrong with being required to work out the algebra in a math course, and in high school physics and chemistry courses, it is rare for the algebra to go beyond basic quadratic equations or systems of linear equations, neither of which takes a terribly long time to work out.
  • by Peach Rings (1782482) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:59AM (#33095378) Homepage

    The student learned how to solve the problems they are expected to be able to solve, which seems like a victory for education.

    Except in 1 or 2 years they'll be completely lost. How do you think someone who googled all the answers to their algebra 1 homework and tests will do in algebra 2 or precalc? Or in life?

    As for calculators, they should not be allowed on exams at all, or in classrooms. Math is not about pushing buttons

    The important parts of math are abstract, not computational. It's a good thing to get rid of the tedious computation that you mastered back in 3rd grade. Removing calculators would be an artificial barrier to learning, like making students scan through paper volumes of trig tables.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:13AM (#33095454)

    The important parts of math are abstract, not computational. It's a good thing to get rid of the tedious computation that you mastered back in 3rd grade. Removing calculators would be an artificial barrier to learning, like making students scan through paper volumes of trig tables.

    Except that students are unable to do basic arithmetic these days. It is fine for an engineering undergrad to use a calculator to save some time, but when people are graduating high school and cannot multiply two numbers, there is a very serious problem. Yes, math is abstract, but the ability to compute a result still matters -- when I was a teenager working in an ice cream store, people would sometimes give me some change after I had entered everything into the cash register, and so I was forced to quickly do some arithmetic...and many of the kids working with me could not even handle that. Now I am in grad school, and I still find myself having to do basic arithmetic -- the research I am doing is almost entirely abstract math (cryptography), but when I am standing next to a whiteboard trying to explain something, I sometimes have a need to do some multiplication.

    Considering that a high school in the neighborhood where I grew up had the dubious honor of less than 40% of its students being able to pass a basic one-variable algebra exam, there is no excuse for giving the students less practice working out problems without calculators. It would be better if they were able to at least understand the most basic math and not run to a calculator than if they were unable to do any math and need a calculator just to subtract some numbers.

  • by cherry-blossom (1863326) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:27AM (#33095518)
    Yep- How many students get through calculus in high school using a calculator only to get screwed in college calculus when they can't use one.
  • by (1265320) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:42AM (#33095602) Homepage

    How about TI design the calculator to allow people to install software, but have a hardware button to reset everything- e.g. overwite the entire flash with an original ROM? I think Gigabyte motherboards have a "dual BIOS" thing which does that. You want to bring your calculator in, too bad it gets reset to the old original ROM.

    that breaks upgradability. if you put a ROM into the calc's with a base firmware, and a problem with that firmware ever pops up, you'll have to replace/recall all those units. whereas FLASH is upgradeable, and you can just send fixes to people.

    Just because the "Mission Impossible" sort of people can cheat in your highschool's test doesn't mean there's something wrong with the test.

    there shouldn't be a test with questions that can be "Mission Impossible"'d.
    A test should NEVER be multiple choice. the only reason multiple choice tests exist these days is to speed the grading, and allow our over populated schools deal with the larger number of students without having to increase staff count. (as always, it goes back to not enough money in the education system)

    The way I see it, there's no way to cheat at a real test, ever. if you can go about answering the question by finding the answer somewhere else in the same amount (or less) time that it took the other students to derive the same answer, they've still learned something. it should take understanding of the question to know how to find the reference to the answer somewhere. (which is more than alright: I'd never expect a person to be able to derive me the one millionth point in a Mandelbrot Set by hand. but if they know enough to find me the answer, they're alright in my books.)

    whereas a shitty multiple choice test only requires you to know what of the four options the answer is, without even reading the question. there's no learning in multiple choice tests. even smart kids will often default to "the answer is always 'C'" logic from time to time, it's just a fact of life that nobody does everything right ALL THE TIME.

  • Re:what (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara DOT huds ... a-hudson DOT com> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:49AM (#33095642) Journal

    So just cut the on-board trace from the reset button. They can press it all they want at that point.

    Heck, I can see a new market niche - unresetable calculators. Hey, Ferris, you want to make some quick money to fund your next day off?

  • by tepples (727027) <> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:55AM (#33095674) Homepage Journal

    You have a right to not buy TI products.

    School systems have a right to require TI products at the high school level. Children do not have a right not to go to school.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @03:32PM (#33096990)
    Do you think that the rules of arithmetic come out of nowhere? Everything from basic add-and-carry techniques to square root algorithms can be derived in abstract math. Some of those techniques are actually very important -- the long division algorithm, for example, is used to prove significant results in number theory, and algorithms based on it (like the Euclidean algorithm) are generalized and studied in depth in ring theory.

    Once people can be shown to understand what arithmetic means, its kinda silly to require them to not use tools.

    Unfortunately, a number of high school students do not understand arithmetic and cannot do it -- their calculators become more of a crutch than a convenience.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @03:55PM (#33097146) Homepage

    Do you think that the rules of arithmetic come out of nowhere?

    Of course not. But just like a carpenter doesn't need to know rigid body physics in order to frame up a wall, your average person doesn't need to know abstract algebra in order to perform basic arithmetic.

    No, the GP is quite right. Math and arithmetic are very very different skillsets, when it comes right down to it. And for most, arithmetic is *far* more useful day-to-day (most people never see an algebraic equation after they graduate high school).

  • by Spazntwich (208070) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @05:07PM (#33097542)

    I agree.

    Also, I think it's about time we removed those damn cheating compilers from programming classes. Let students actually understand assembler instead of just understanding how to push keys.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.