So you're a programmer deciding where to invest your energy. What's a better idea: the latest Apple device, where hot new games can mean big bucks and millions of users, or a calculator introduced 10 years ago?
Most go for iPhones and iPods. But another community thrives in its own way. These are the folks who spend hours trying to elevate their Texas Instruments calculators to a level far surpassing their modest roots.
Among their achievements: adding new features, creating new operating systems, connecting the calculator to keyboards and other hardware, playing a video excerpt from "The Matrix," and even running Nintendo Game Boy video games. Not bad for calculators such as the $100 TI-83 Plus, introduced in 1999 with a Z80 processor running at 6MHz, 24KB of memory, 160KB of flash memory, and a 96x64 pixel display.
Why all this work for projects that realistically are not going to reshape the future of computing? Much of the motivation parallels mountaineer George Mallory's rationale for climbing Mount Everest: "Because it's there."
TI's graphing calculators are programmable, affordable, and widely used in schools--a lot more approachable than a Himalayan peak. That doesn't mean they're easy. The calculators must be programmed in assembly language--a slightly more human-readable version of the very basic machine code the calculators execute, but hardly something more easily read and debugged such as C or Java. … Read more