TI Lashes Out At Their Biggest Fans


Texas Instruments has issued a DMCA notice to United TI, a group of enthusiasts. They had been cracking the keys that sign the operating system binaries in an attempt to gain access and possibly expand on the features. This seems, at least a little counter productive to us. Texas Instruments doesn’t sell the operating system separately do they? These people were buying their product and expanding on it. There is no difference in their income, except possibly a gain as people flock to the one they can modify. Maybe they are charging more for an expanded feature set that is crippled in the OS.

[via slashdot]

44 thoughts on “TI Lashes Out At Their Biggest Fans

  1. The /. speculation was that if a TI calculator can be hacked, it can’t be trusted on a standardized test. Then their exclusive deal with the College Board to permit the use of TI calculators on the test is in jeopardy, and then their market share goes away.

  2. This article lashes out pretty bad against TI. Please keep in mind what they have to lose here. It’s not about keeping software proprietary.

    It’s keeping their calculator OSs standardized so they can keep their approval for national tests such as the ACT/SAT. I.e. a TI-89 is not allowed on them, but if some hacker can force an 89 OS onto the 83, then that would mean the TI-83 couldn’t be used either.

    I’m all for hacking something, but TI stands to lose their entire market share because of this. Keep in mind your ethical responsibilities. Hackers have it too. A site like hackaday should hold it in much higher regard.

    1. TI should be happy that we like our calculators and they should also respect our user rights. If this becomes a big thing, schools will buy calculators from TI specifically for tests, increasing TI’s sales.

  3. Some colleges let students use graphing calculators during testing? My profs wouldn’t even let us use our own scientific calculators – we were always given scientific calculators to use during tests.

    In high school, though, we had all kinds of tricks to hide files and programs so our teachers wouldn’t notice them if they checked or tried to wipe our TIs, but nothing that could be considered a “hack”. If schools are concerned about cheating with graphing calculators, they need to prohibit them entirely.

  4. There were a couple of “fake” memory clear programs we used in high school to hide stuff. It was basically a fake shell complete with menus for resetting memory. It looked like it cleared, but an escape sequence would take you back.

    I can definitely see the reasoning behind the standardized test argument. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that kind of exclusivity either. If this can continue underground though, I am all for it.

  5. Have things changed? When I took the SAT, the TI-89 was allowed. IIRC, the ACT allowed me to use a TI-89 as well. This was 2002.

    In any case, the keys are in the open now (see wikileaks), so TI stomping on a bunch of enthusiasts will do them very little good.

  6. Charper, I have no ethical responsibility to ensure the income stream of Texas Instruments.

    However, I do have rights of ownership over property that I purchase legally. The DMCA here is used as a club to attempt to force individuals to keep from tinkering with hardware that they are the clear owners of. TI cares not whether the individual has rights to modify their own objects. They don’t even seem to care that this type of hardware “hack” is not covered by the DMCA. Their sole point is to use threat of legal action to prevent legal behavior.

    I think it’s TI that should worry about it’s ethical responsibilities to not sue your customers frivolously just to retain market share.

  7. At my college we are allowed to use graphics calculators during the exams and even on some all the notes and books that you’d want. -All these are useless and you only will lost your time- you need to have learned what they are asking and know how to do it, and quickly!.

    Never will be able to finish it no mater how well you know the matter, and I’m quite sure that neither they will.

    If a calculator will make the difference, then these tests are really bad and certainly isn’t meassuring what you know and what are able to do.

  8. It was possible to load machine language programs, store all kinds of data, notes, etc in the TI-85 a dozen years ago. That knowledge wasn’t new back when I was taking standardized tests, yet the TI-85 was not banned. The proctors sometimes wouldn’t even bother wiping the calculators before the test, so I’d play Jezzball after the test was over. But I never needed to store cheat sheets in the calculator anyway. The point is, someone could, and it didn’t affect the testing rules. You just weren’t allowed something with a QWERTY keyboard. They don’t care about you taking something IN, they don’t want you to sneak the questions OUT! There was a scandal a couple years back when some kids on the east coast were sneaking questions out for kids on the west coast.

  9. Graphical and even algebraic calcs were banned from exams when I was doing my education in the UK, and all graphical/programmable calcs were banned in uni education. You got a basic calc with cos/sin/tan/inv functions and thats it, you needed to know the subject to pass it, a graphical calc could help you cheat to get better marks but you’d still not pass if you didn’t know the content.

  10. If a math test is easily defeated by a calculator, they’re testing incorrectly. My Calc teacher in highschool allowed us to bring whatever we wanted for tests. Of course, the test didn’t actually use any numbers, so a calculator was zero help. Same thing was true in college, in the beginning of diff-eq. Then, about half-way through the course, the professor said “And now I’m going to teach you how to use your calculator to do everything you learned”. Thank god for eigen vectors in the TI-85.

    PS: I still have my working TI-85, that just turned 15 years old.

  11. @moose: you don’t think you have an ethical responsibility to avoid putting more than 25,000 people out of their jobs over something that probably has no utility past being just a neat hack?

    “Gee, I wonder what I can do today. I can A) buy the right tool for the job, or I can B) contribute to destroying a company that employs a lot of people with families.”

    Yeah, no ethical dilemma there.

  12. how about drop the standarized test altogether. and instead of highschools teaching for standarized test and federal money, schools could then teach for life application, which would foster a desire to learn.

  13. as for the nonesense of putting TI out of business. Please think before you post. It took one person months to crack the key. the people created a computer network like SETI to make the process somewhat faster.

    if TI does not want to be harm, TI will keep its employees and have work on better encryption.

    Hacking and Cracking forces the marketplace to function properly, but forcing quality and invation from otherwise lazy corporations.

  14. No, the point is, once collegeboard and the people behind the ACT see that the TI’s can be hacked, they won’t trust TI anymore. Even when TI fixes the problem, it will take a long time to recover that trust, because confidence in it has died.

  15. United TI is wasting their time. This was done on all the different versions years ago. Then, most TI communities shunned it though. Not only where keys broke and binaries dumped, but there where a couple lower level operating systems written.

  16. “Maybe they are charging more for an expanded feature set that is crippled in the OS.”
    This is exactly what they’re doing. I go to school at UT Dallas, which is right down the road from TI. Some of my instructors have held top-level positions there. I specifically remember one talk about economies of scale and why the $10 calculators have the same chips as the higher end ones. Chip fab requires a massive investment, so it’s more economical to make one chip for everything than design, build, and test a whole line of chips.

  17. I don’t have a moral responsibility to keep TI in business. Neither do I have a moral responsibility to keep the health insurance industry in business. If they aren’t competitive enough to survive how is that my fault?

  18. hey Johntron I go to UTD as well :)

    As a fan of installing alternate firmware on about everything I own (even my DS has an alternate firmware, all it does is bypass the warning screen…), I dislike this bullying with the DMCA. Maybe I would have dusted off my TI86 if this took off.

  19. If they are worrieed about kids taking the questions out of the testing room they should ban watches as well as the caculators with a qwerty keyboard. Casio just released a camera watch that would take easy picturs of the test.

  20. One of the reasons TI uses to justify the DRM is that the OS implements copy protection for apps, and that if people modified the OS they could install pirated apps. (I don’t know anyone who buys TI calc apps anyway…)

  21. Wow, in my school we are not only allowed to use TIs, teachers don’t mind the programs at all. I asked them several times and the reply always was “If you can be bothered to write it and use it, it shows that you understood the material anyway”. They even (supposedly) allow hardware modifications, so I am trying to use a wireless transmitter along with it, so far things have been slow…

  22. My college let me take my TI-89 into beginning and intermediate and college algebra without ever once checking it or clearing it. I never once cheated on them, and I 4.0’d those classes.

    Of course I very much understand that if I do cheat when I get to calc I’ll get slaughtered, so I’m not willing to cheat on anything.

  23. I am graduating college this Qtr. We were not allowed to use the TI-89 for calculus, which is for obvious reasons, it can do calculus. In my engineering classes though the 89 was welcome, mostly use of any computer program or calculator was ok as long as your methods were properly documented. It’s not like once you end up with a job you can’t use a computer to help out…

    I understand TI’s outrage over this though, the 89 and 92 were banned form a lot of classes because of their capabilities, of the 2 colleges i’ve been at neither specified anything other than TI calculators for testing use where a graphing calc was allowed.

  24. I wrote apps in the Calc’s basic to help me on tests.
    But then I couldn’t write the app if I didn’t know the subject matter.
    But I can partly understand why they don’t want firmwares hacked as they could loose a large market share if the 83 was banned from tests they don’t make as much profit on basic scientific calcs as they do the graphing calcs.

    Though I have to agree john’s post they put too much emphasis on tests and not enough on practical application.

    I’ve met exchange students from Japan and their public school system which is very testing centered does leave them more ill prepared for the world then the US system.

  25. The ti-86 may be outdated, but it has one of the best ram restores ever. You can physically reset the ram and still recover it, as it goes into the processing portion of ram, which was grossly overestimated by TI (not that I’m complaining) if you’ve heard of pterodactyl, this is what it uses too.

  26. people are worried about calculatorss? ha. i went to school for fluid power at the local college. only 13 schools in the us teach this program and mine just happens to be #1 in the program.
    i did not ever use a graphics calc. i had my laptop and an excel sheet to do all my calculations.
    point is if you can write the app you know the material.
    of course there are those that would just borrow apps from others and never learn anything. i was however not allowed to use the laptop during test. not that any of the material was hat difficult. we’re talking practical math for power applications.

  27. Its sort of like saying that you can buy a screwdriver but then its illegal to use the screwdriver for anything besides unscrewing things. TI has no right to tell people what they can and cannot code. They bought the damn calculators so they can do what they want with their property. If TI doesnt like that people are making so many modifications then why dont they start making the calculators less crappy so people wont need to.

  28. RIP Aaron Swartz. This is an example (albeit an old issue / topic) of what Aaron fought against, only to be defeated and end with his death.aum svaha to the late Aaron Swartz. bom bhola to Richard Stallman.And jaya jaya to H+ ! When the curious mind lusts for wisdom, legal threats are an effective distraction. When curious minds are distracted this way, let us who witness it become furious and even more curious. Ethics are illusory but the idle mind needs fodder for endless arguments. Never mind the distractions by those who threaten the curious. Carry on the good work! Cheers to Bunny Huang for drawing attention to this. My obeisance to the EFF! Remain Curious! Continue to share! How many more discoveries will be silenced due to legal threat? Perhaps too many. But the silencing will be known and others will carry on the work of such martyrs for knowledge. Thank you to all who have shared your discoveries openly, despite the threats of lawyers and condemnation of those who prosthelytize.

    I will continue to focus on that which is curious, after invalidating any residual need I may have to judge TI for this unfortunate event. I imagine that texas instruments may have been acting upon the advice of their lawyers. Even if those in charge believe in the benefits of such research into their products, they are still going to follow the advice of their lawyers. I am however, not familiar with all the details of this event so that may not be the case. TI has been a supportive resource in my auto-didactic efforts. Through the generosity of their samples program I have built many tools that I use regularly (Goodspeed’s ‘430’ designs) and prototypes that have furthered my education.

    The fruit of my efforts to attain knowledge of the electroverse is a product of those in the community who have contributed their discoveries openly. Unfortunately the actions of TI, which is just one (old) example out of the now countless more cases, results in the stifling of education. I do not believe that I am personally going to lose a great deal of wisdom from this particular incident, but the overall effects have made obtaining educational information much more difficult, if not impossible. The closing of a large peer to peer community resulted in the educational material I provided to no longer be accessible to the hundreds who shared it and many hundreds more who have no other source for such specific specialized research information.

    But alas, I have let myself become distracted by the sorry state of our holy land, the internet. It is time to fire up the soldering iron, warm up the ol’ analog scope & let my knowledge lust bring me to my next curious discovery. Thank you all for your time and contributions. Thank you for existing. Thank you for sharing. We may all have opposing views, but at least we have a community. Perhaps someday soon I will find a community that openly shares all information without prejudice to how it is obtained or fear of how it will be used. I’m certain such a community will be hard to find but I trust my curiosity will lead me there. For now, I will keep documenting my work. Bset wishes.

    RIP Aaron Swartz. You continue to inspire so many even after leaving your old form. Your life’s work and reason for death will be in my head and heart always.

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