TI-83 Gets CircuitPython Upgrade

Graphing calculators are an interesting niche market these days. They’re relatively underpowered, and usually come with cheap, low resolution screens to boot. They remain viable almost solely due to their use in education and the fact that their limited connectivity makes them suitable for use in exams. The market is starting to hot up, though – and TI have recently been doing some interesting work with Python on their TI-83.

Rumor has it that TI have been unable to get Python to run viably directly on the TI-83 Premium CE. This led to the development of the TI-Python peripheral, which plugs into the calculator’s expansion port. This allows users to program in Python, with the TI-Python doing the work and the calculator essentially acting as a thin client. The chip inside is an Atmel SAMD21E18A-U, and is apparently running Adafruit’s CircuitPython platform.

This discovery led to further digging, of course. With some hacking, the TI-Python can instead be replaced with other boards based on Atmel SAMD21 chips. For those of you that aren’t in Atmel’s sales team, that means it’s possible to use things like the Adafruit Trinket M0 and the Arduino Zero instead, when flashed with the appropriate CircuitPython firmware. It’s a tricky business, involving USB IDs and some other hacks, but it’s nothing that can’t be achieved in a few hours or so.

This is a hack in its early days, so it’s currently more about building a platform at this stage rather then building fully-fledged projects just yet. We’re fully expecting to see Twitter clients and multiplayer games hit the TI-83 platform before long, of course. When you’ve done it, chuck us a link on the tip line.

[Thanks to PT for the tip!]

Global CALCnet: Your TI-83 Just Acquired Internet

Global CALCnet lets you connect your TI graphic calculator to the Internet and use your favorite services like instant messaging and Internet relay chat. It also provides the option of worldwide multiplayer functionality for games ported to the device such as Scorched Earth and Tetris. We looked in on [Christopher Mitchell’s] CALCnet in December when it was being used to create local area networks with the adding machines. He’s taken that up a notch with a helping hand from Arduino. An Arduino board is used to connect the serial communications from the calculator to an Internet connected PC via the Arduino’s USB capabilities.

Think this will waste a lot of time in schools? Unlikely since an Internet connected computer is integral for this system to work. If you have a computer in front of you why waste time on the calculator network? Still, how hard would it be to build a WiFi module that can directly connect them to an access point? That may be a moot point as the Slashdot article that pointed us to global CALCnet also links to a calculator port of DOOM. It runs quite well, as you can see in the video after the break. This is a must-have for anyone owning a TI Nspire that can run it.

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GameBoy Color In A TI-83


[Mark] had a broken TI-83 graphing calculator and an overwhelming urge to play Pokemon in math class. The solution to his predicament, obviously, is to hack a GameBoy color into the body of his TI-83. He gutted the calculator and connected the front buttons to the contacts on the GameBoy. After some cramming and taping bits together, he got it all working. Now he just needs to find a way to make the cartridge a little bit less conspicuous.

[via Make]

TI-83 Intervalometer

The headline How to Make Time Lapse Video With Your DSLR didn’t really grab us. Honestly, you pay that much for a camera and it can’t do time lapse out of the box? Well, we nearly missed the real story: [Chris Martino] was using a TI-83 to act as the intervalometer for the camera. The calculator has a 2.5mm audio jack for it’s data port and the camera has an identical port for the shutter trigger. The TI-83 runs a program with a FOR loop to act as the timer. When the loop completes it sends data to the port, and the voltage triggers the shutter. The rate isn’t very exact and varies depending on the charge left in the batteries. [Chris] estimated 10000 program iterations ends up being about 26 seconds between pictures. This technique has been tested on 84, 86, and 89 series calculators too. There are a couple example time lapse videos embedded after the break.

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Modded TI-83 Calculator

[Christopher] sent in his modded TI-83 calculator. (Hit the read link, a bug is broke the one I tried to embed) Besides the uh, racing stripes, he added a PS/2 port (though I see drivers for this mod are up on ticalc.org) and an integrated (cpu controlled) RGB backlight. The backlight is controlled with a programmable AND array that’s slaved off a pair of the CPU I/O lines. Just to top everything off, I poked around and found that you can overclock these puppies, as well as expand their memory. I’m hopeful that wetsanding and varnishing the thing 10 times smoothed out the paintbrush lines, but an inexpensive airbrush would yield much smoother results.

Upgrading At Least One Component Of A TI Calculator

Even though Texas Instruments were the first company to produce an integrated circuit and a microprocessor, their success as a company in the 60s and 70s was not guaranteed. At the time there wasn’t much demand for previously non-existent products like these, so to drive some business they built the first hand-held calculator, a venture that they are still famous for today. Since then, though, they’ve become a bit of a punchline for producing calculators with decades-old technology but with modern price tags, so while this business model was quite successful if you want a calculator with a few modern features you’ll have to take a DIY approach like this calculator retrofitted with a LiPo battery.

The modern battery pack, with a lithium polymer battery at its core, includes all of the circuitry needed to integrate it seamlessly into the TI-59 calculator, which is all available on the project’s GitHub page. This calculator originally used a 9V battery, so the new battery pack includes a boost converter to match the 3.7V from the new battery to the needs of the old calculator. It doesn’t stop there, though. The pack is rechargeable from an included USB-C port, has a built-in charge controller, and is housed in its own custom-built case that fits neatly into the calculator where the old battery would sit.

While this wouldn’t be a drop-in replacement for more modern calculators like the TI-83/84 and TI-89, a new case and a different boost converter would solve the problem of the AAA batteries dying during exams. It might make the calculators non-compliant with various standardized testing requirements, though (which TI was also instrumental in developing) so you may want to verify with your testing standard of choice before modifying a calculator you need for an exam. But if all the rules are off, why not add Wi-Fi to it too?

Overclocking And Watercooling The TI-84, Just Cause

The TI-84 is an enduring classic – the calculator that took many through high school, college and beyond. A hacker’s favorite, it’s been pushed to the limits in all sorts of ways. The crew at [Linus Tech Tips] decided to join in the fun, overclocking a TI-84 Plus and adding water cooling to boot. 

The TI-84 uses a simple resistor capacitor circuit to generate its clock, making it overclocking it a cinch. By changing the resistor value in the circuit, the clock can be made to run faster. The team have some issues with pads delaminating from the PCB, but manage to sub in a trimpot which lets the clock be changed on the fly. A boost of 10MHz over stock gets the calculator operating at 26MHz, with notably quicker performance in the TI port of Doom 2. Without accurate measurement of CPU temps, it’s hard to say whether watercooling the calculator is justified. However, the team do a great job of entirely overengineering the solution, with a custom-made cooling block hooked up to a massive spherical reservoir.

With the stability issues inherent in overclocking, and the unwieldy watercooling tubes, it’s not a good hack in the practicality sense. It is, however, quite amusing, and that’s always worth something. TI calculators have long been targets for hackers, and you can even get them online if you so desire. Video after the break.

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