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Hardware Hacking DRM Handhelds Math Programming Software Build Hardware

TI Calculator DRM Defeated 234

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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  • what (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mrphoton ( 1349555 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:26AM (#33095158)
    last time i used a graphics calculator (before I migrated to octave/matlab/maple), the whole point of the thing was that you could program it? And why would anybody spend 100$ on a calculator when you can almost get a laptop for that price today?
  • by phyrexianshaw.ca ( 1265320 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:29AM (#33095176) Homepage
    The be all and end all reason that TI want's to prevent people from installing software on these calc's is the modern education system.

    If you install something a school would consider "cheating" on your calculator, you'll get suspended. the modern system want's to forgo the checking of these devices, (as they rarely have the technical ability to even understand how they work)

    it's always a money grab. though I understand the desire to have a common platform, I also think people should be able to modify their calculators as much as they want.

    if people CAN cheat at a test, there's something wrong with the testing method. change your test, don't punish people for outsmarting the education system!
  • Niche market (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:37AM (#33095226) Homepage Journal

    Looks to me like a potential good enough niche market for some startup (or a cooperative) to build and sell a really open calculator. And I would guess said designers and builders could come from within that same community, ie, engineers/students/scientists who are already using these high end calculators. That pool of people has the necessary skillset taken as a whole. Electronic pocket calculators have been around a long time, the basic design must be well understood by now. And it seems like if you weren't trying to keep it locked down, the design would be simpler by some not insignificant degree.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:42AM (#33095266)

    the answers to common and uncommon questions are a quick search away

    If you are asking the same question year after year, then sure, that is a problem. The solution is as clear as day: ask different questions on each exam. If a student looks up the answers to previous exams on Google, and from that is able to answer new questions...then what is the problem, exactly? The student learned how to solve the problems they are expected to be able to solve, which seems like a victory for education.

    As for calculators, they should not be allowed on exams at all, or in classrooms. Math is not about pushing buttons, and if every math problem (even in physics and chemistry) a student encountered required them to find a solution without the assistance of a calculator, we would not have to water down math exams just to ensure that more than 50% of the students pass (maybe I am being a bit optimistic about the extra practice...).

  • Ahh TI calculators (Score:3, Interesting)

    by areusche ( 1297613 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:48AM (#33095304)

    I had the best time using my TI-84 on tests and the SATs. I had several physics and math programs that made completing pointless busy work so much faster along with showing the formulas most of the time! My favorite program was this "Fake Clear" program that would trap the "Memory Reset" function and allow for a user to use the wipe function without deleting any programs after typing in a set of numbers to unlock it.

    Was it cheating? Did I do something unethical?

    I don't know, nor do I care. I could recreate my steps and completely understood the math behind it.

    I've been out of school for so long now and frankly I hope that these hackers give the fat finger to TI and the College Board. I have nothing but disdain for those two organizations

  • Re:what (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:51AM (#33095322)
    As it turns out, and this was mentioned the last time there was a TI article on /., a common strategy schools use is to press the reset button on the calculator, which clears out BASIC programs and whatnot. It seems, however, that the reset button does not touch the firmware -- which is why TI is probably worried about this situation.

    I am vehemently opposed to DRM, but I would not go as far as to claim that the companies pushing DRM want to control their users just for the sake of control. These people are not twirling their mustachios and laughing to each other about their evil plots -- they have a reason for wanting to control their users, and it almost always boils down to making money. TI is worried about losing the only remaining market for graphing calculators, so they will go to any length, including undermining user freedoms, to try to maintain that market.
  • Oh wow... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2010 @10:54AM (#33095346)

    Wow... Haven't thought of TICalcs in forever. I just dug up some of my old assembly.

    Afrosoft Bounceballs [ticalc.org]

    Wow, did I really comment every line?

    And how about the binary

    Download Description [ticalc.org]

    BounceBall is an *oldsk00* pong clone. In the author's oppinion, it is very fun (obviously). The game is only 898bytes, and has extensive documentation in the source code. Good to learn by.

    I really wrote like that back in 2000?! Wow... And someone downloaded it 5 times this week?!

    It's kind of like what they said about tattoos. What I thought was good 10 years ago, I think is absolutely horrible now.

  • Re:why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TejWC ( 758299 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @11:28AM (#33095520)

    Actually, a friend of mine came up with a genius idea: write a TI-83 emulator on his TI-83.

    What he did was make it look like his calculator was not running any program (just showing the main screen) when in fact it is running a program: his emulator. The teacher could test out with a simple math calculation while under the emulator and it would work just fine. However, when the teacher tries to delete any of the programs he had or try to reset all the data, it would do so only for the emulator, not for the real TI-83 data.

    So, right before giving his calculator to the teacher before the exam, he would run his emulator. The teacher would clear the memory of the emulator, but then he would then exit out of the emulator and have all of his real programs intact.

  • Re:why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @12:03PM (#33095732)
    Awesome story. Reminds me of the Apple IIs in school where we'd make a short BASIC program that did its own command prompt, but gave you confusing responses. Great hilarity.
  • Re:why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @12:06PM (#33095758) Homepage

    They also make the same calculators in versions which are open and programmable so this is just stupid. All you'll end up doing is getting them banned from exams and then you won't want to own one so you just shot yourself in the foot.

  • Re:why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 31, 2010 @01:17PM (#33096210)

    Actually, a friend of mine came up with a genius idea: write a TI-83 emulator on his TI-83.

    A friend of mine had a similar program. His also reset the PRNG (by changing the stored seed). This is because our instructor realized all reset TI-83+ calculators gave the same answer to the rand command after being reset. Therefore she would test the what number the PRNG produced. This was the first time I saw the equivalent of the DRM arms race and how it screwed over people who were innocent, what with their other model and brand calculators giving different random numbers.

  • Re:what (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:15PM (#33096514)
    A calculator is a crutch. It teaches people not to know how to actually do mathematics and only rely on the machine.

    I really don't understand why it's even necessary to be sure any but math students understand the underlying math anymore. Since computers can do that stuff for us shouldn't we be using that time to teach our students how to solve higher level problems? And if it's the underlying math we want to be sure they know why are we letting them have graphing calculators in the test?

    Either the problem is how to be sure they know how to prove an equation (then test for that, and you don't need a calculator to do it) or the test is to see if they can solve higher level problems once the underlying equations are solved (then let them use all the tools they can bring)

    Are we afraid our engineers will run out of calculators one day? Are we afraid that something bad will happen if 80% of our engineering majors can't do higher level math when they have computers to do it anyway? If I can use the Pythagorean theorem why is the proof of it important? Is the real point of all this to just make school more difficult? A rite of passage? If school should be made difficult for its own sake why are we not using the same study time to teach things that are more likely to be useful?

    How many of us spent two years learning high level math, five years forgetting it, and then never really needed it except for the novelty of figuring out a particular problem on our own instead of using established tools?
  • by seeker_1us ( 1203072 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @02:57PM (#33096786)
    If you are trying to test calculus/physics/algebra/whatever it's pretty easy to make the actual arithmetic simple enough to do in your head or on scratch paper.
  • Re:what (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spokehedz ( 599285 ) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @03:01PM (#33096810)

    My math teacher would prohibit us from using our own calculators on tests. He had a set of calculators that he kept for when we had tests, and he would hand them out--blanked--and we had to write our own programs on them in the 30mins before the test. His thought was if you could memorize your program to type it out before the test, you deserved to use it on the test. However, most of the students used the extra time to just do the test manually because it really wasen't smart to spend the time on typing out a program you would use maybe 3 times on a test.

    Of course I got around that little restriction. I made a small PIC along with a 512KB EEPROM that would load all my programs onto the calculator through the link port that was the size of a matchbox. I could connect it, upload all my programs, and then use them on the tests. It had switches that would let me load the TI83 loadout (the calculators that he supplied) and my TI89 which I used on a daily basis. God, I loved that calc. I would still have it if not for the great coffee incident of 1999... Rest in Peace, TI89. You've done good, now it is time to rest.

  • Re:Obligatory xkcd (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pete from NYC ( 1420785 ) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @12:28AM (#33099422)
    I think the xkcd cartoon is cute, especially for us techies. On a different, related matter: In 6.251 (MIT's class on operating systems, circa 1970), the professor (Donovan) had students submit the punch cards, and the program he wrote would evaluate them with "Yes" or "No". Except one of the results was "Maybe", so he gave that student an "A". The point is: sometimes cheating (we called it "hacking" back then) required more knowledge than the task at hand. I emphasize the word "sometimes", since when other people use the hacks, they may not learn anything, although they may be more productive, which I think is the point of using artifices or helpers (whether it's a slide rule from my youth in engineering, or using canned chicken broth instead of making it myself from scratch in a cooking recipe) is that often you can reach higher heights by standing upon the shoulders of others, as Newton [wikipedia.org] said.

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.