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!]

Repairing a Vintage Sharp MemoWriter

As you may know, we’re rather big fans of building things here at Hackaday. But we’re also quite partial to repairing things which might otherwise end up in a landfill. Especially when those things happen to be interesting pieces of vintage hardware. So the work [ekriirke] put in to get this early 1980’s era Sharp MemoWriter EL-7000 back up and running is definitely right up our alley.

There were a number of issues with the MemoWriter that needed addressing before all was said and done, but none more serious than the NiCd batteries popping inside the case. Battery leakage is a failure mode that most of us have probably seen more than a few times, but it never makes it any less painful to see that green corrosion spreading over the internals like a virus. When [ekriirke] cracked open this gadget he was greeted with a particularly bad case, with a large chunk of the PCB traces eaten away.

The corrosion was removed with oxalic acid, which dropped the nastiness factor considerably, but didn’t do much to get the calculator back in working order. For that, [ekriirke] reconnected each damaged trace using a piece of wire; he even followed the original traces as closely as possible so the final result looked a little neater. Once everything was electrically solid again, he covered the whole repair with a layer of nail polish to adhere the wires and add a protective coating. Nail polish might not have been our first choice for a sealer, and likely not that particular shade even if it was, but sometimes you’ve got to use what you have on hand.

After years of disuse the ribbon cartridge was predictably dry, so [ekriirke] rejuvenated it with the fluid from a permanent marker applied to the internal sponge. He also made some modifications to the battery compartment so he could insert rechargeable Ni-MH AA batteries rather than building a dedicated pack. There’s no battery door in the enclosure, so removing the batteries will require opening the calculator up, but at least he has the ability to remove the batteries before putting the device in storage. Should help avoid a repeat of what happened the first time.

If you’re a fan of a good restoration, we’ve got plenty to keep you entertained. From bringing a destroyed Atari back from the dead to giving some cherished children’s toys a new lease on life, fixing old stuff can be just as engrossing as building it from scratch.

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Custom Calculator Rolls D20 So You Don’t Have To

There are a number of sticking points that can keep new players away from complex tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Some people are intimidated by the math involved, and of course others just can’t find enough friends who are willing to sit down and play D&D with them in 2019. While this gadget created by [Caleb Everett] won’t help you get more open minded friends, it will take some of the mental gymnastics out of adding up dice rolls.

In its current form the device saves you from the hassle of not only having to roll various combinations of physical dice, but adding up all the faces after the fact as well. In the future [Caleb] plans on adding more advanced software features which will allow for tricks not possible with real dice, such as increasing the likelihood of rolling numbers which haven’t been seen in awhile. Now that the hardware is put together, he’s free to dig into the software side of things and really get creative.

Inside the 3D printed case of his calculator there’s a Adafruit Feather M0 Express, a 128 x 32 OLED display, and a 2200 mAh lithium ion battery that lets him go mobile. The keys, which are Cherry MX clones, are wired directly to the digital pins of the Feather board as [Caleb] found that easier to wrap his head around than doing a matrix. This ended up working out as he had enough pins, but does stifle future expansion a bit.

Even if you aren’t into the sort of tabletop gaming which would benefit from an automatic dice roller and tabulator, we think [Caleb] has come up with a very neat form factor for similar pocket sized gadgets. It reminds us of the Handlink from Quantum Leap; before the prop department swapped it out for a jumble of gummy bears later on in the series, anyway. Since he’s shared the link to the OnShape project, you can even tweak the design a bit without having to suffer through modifying the STLs.

Many of the electronic dice we’ve seen in the past have tried to emulate the size and appearance of traditional dice, so it’s interesting to see this approach which goes in the opposite direction entirely. Critics might say that at some point you’d be better off just using a software application for your smartphone, but we’re not in the business of complaining when people produce interesting pieces of hardware.

Finally, An Open Source Calculator

Microsoft has released the code for the Calculator app. This move is the latest in Microsoft’s efforts to capitalize on the Open Source community. Previous efforts have been the Open Sourcing of an extremely old version of DOS, and shoehorning Linux into Windows somehow in a way that’s marginally more user-friendly than spinning up a VM or popping over to your Linux partition. Oh yeah, Microsoft bought Github. Can’t forget that.

The release of the code for the Calculator app means now you too can truly verify all your calculations are correct. To build the Calculator app, you’ll need a Windows 10 computer and Visual Studio. You might think that this is the same code that’s been shipping for 30 years — it’s a simple calculator, right? Not so: the Calculator for Windows 8 had a strange and odd bug where the square root of 4, minus two, did not equal zero. Floating point is hard, kids.

Of special interest to the community, it’s now possible to disable telemetry sent from the Calculator app to Microsoft servers. Yes, the Calculator app knows you forgot how to divide, and wow man, six times nine, you needed help with that?  Fortunately, telemetry can be disabled in developer’s builds by disabling the SEND_TELEMETRY build flag. Now Microsoft won’t know you don’t do math so good.

At the time of this writing, we could not be bothered to contact Microsoft to find out when the pinball game or Ski Free will be updated and Open Sourced.

Pocket Forth Invades Your TI Calculator

TI certainly have certainly seen off rivals such as HP or Casio to capture the lion’s share of the calculator market. The TI-84 is a real staple, and with as many units as there are out there, hacking them is a given. However, selecting an operating system for the machine can be a hassle. TI-OS is proprietary and doesn’t really want to let you do everything you’d like to. There are alternatives, but many of them won’t let you easily use your calculator to be — well — a calculator.

[Siraben] has zkeme80 which is essentially ANS Forth (mostly) with extensions for the TI hardware. You can easily extend the system, of course, because it is Forth. You can also use the machine for its intended purpose easily.

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1973: When Calculators Were Built Like Computers

Should you ever pick up [Steve Wozniak]’s autobiography, you will learn that in the early 1970s when his friend [Steve Jobs] was working for Atari, [Woz] was designing calculators for Hewlett Packard. It seems scarcely believable today, but he describes his excitement at the prospects for the calculator business, admitting that he almost missed out on the emerging microcomputer scene that would make him famous. Calculators in the very early 1970s were genuinely exciting, and were expensive and desirable consumer items.

[Amen] has a calculator from that period, a Prinztronic Micro, and he’s subjected it to an interesting teardown. Inside he finds an unusual modular design, with keyboard, processor, and display all having their own PCBs. Construction is typical of the period, with all through hole components, and PCBs that look hand laid rather than made using a CAD package. The chipset is a Toshiba one, with three devices covering logic, display driver and clock.

The Prinztronic is an interesting device in itself, being a rebadged 1972 Sharp model under a house brand name for the British retailer Dixons, and that Toshiba chipset is special because it is the first CMOS design to market. It was one of many very similar basic calculators on the market at the time, but at the equivalent of over 100 dollars in today’s money it would still have been a significant purchase.

Long-tern Hackaday readers will remember we’ve shown you at least one classic calculator rebuild in the past, the venerable 1975 Sinclair!

Button, Button, Who’s Got the (One) Button?

We often think that less is more, but what can you do with a device that has only a single button? [Volos] wondered the same thing and he built an Arduino with a single button and a display. After doing some obvious things  (like a counter or stopwatch) he decided to make a calculator.

You can find the source code online and he used a library from GitHub to handle the reaction to single presses, double presses, and long presses. Is it ideal? Probably not. But if you only have a limited amount of space or pins, it can make the difference between a feasible project and one you can’t finish.

His original projects also included a Flappy Bird clone. The OLED display is only 64×48 so that’s not a lot of room. The packaging of the tiny Arduino, the battery, and the display in a good looking case, was pretty impressive. So the device might be usable for something.

Of course, the library will work with any program and there’s no reason you can’t have more than one button and simply multiply their functions with the same strategy. There’s a sample on GitHub that shows how you can create two OneButton objects connected to different hardware devices.

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