Scientific Calculator Whipped Up In Python

Scientific calculators were invaluable to most of us through high school and college, freeing us from the yoke of using tables to calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions. Once out in the real world, it’s no longer necessary to use an education board approved device to do your maths – you can do it all on your PC instead. For those keen to do so, [AstusRush]’s latest Python work may be just the ticket!

Far exceeding the capabilities of the usual calculator apps, there’s plenty of useful features under the hood. Particularly exciting is the LaTeX display, which shows equations in textbook-quality human-readable format. There’s also a graphing suite, and capability to handle matricies and vectors. LAN chat is implemented too, useful for working in teams.

It’s a useful tool that may suit better than a full-fat MATLAB install, particularly at the low, low price of free. This is one calculator that CASIO will have to keep their nose out of!

Broken HP-48 Calculator Reborn As Bluetooth Keyboard

Considering their hardware specification, graphing calculators surely feel like an anachronism in 2019. There are plenty of apps and other software available for that nowadays, and despite all preaching by our teachers, we actually do carry calculators with us every day. On the other hand, never underestimate the power of muscle memory when using physical knobs and buttons instead of touch screen or mouse input. [epostkastl] combined the best of both worlds and turned his broken HP-48 into a Bluetooth LE keyboard to get the real feel with its emulated counterpart.

Initially implemented as USB device, [epostkastl] opted for a wireless version this time, and connected an nRF52 based Adafruit Feather board to the HP-48’s conveniently exposed button matrix pins. For the software emulation side, he uses the Emu48, an open source HP calculator emulator for Windows and Android. The great thing about Emu84 is that it supports fully customizable mappings of regular keyboard events to the emulated buttons, so you can easily map, say, the cosine button to the [C] key. The rest is straight forward: scanning the button matrix detects button presses, maps them to a key event, and sends it as a BLE HID event to the receiving side running Emu84.

As this turns [epostkastl]’s HP-48 essentially into a regular wireless keyboard in a compact package — albeit with a layout that outshines every QWERTY vs Dvorak debate. It can of course also find alternative use cases, for examples as media center remote control, or a shortcut keyboard. After all, we’ve seen the latter one built as stomp boxes and from finger training devices before, so why not a calculator?

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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!]

That TRS Jack On Your Graphing Calculator Does More Than You Think

It’s not Apple IIs, and it’s not Raspberry Pis. The most important computing platform for teaching kids programming is the Texas Instruments graphing calculator. These things have been around in one form or another for almost three decades, and for a lot of budding hackers out there, this was the first computer they owned and had complete access to.

As hacking graphing calculators is a favorite for Maker Faires, we were pleased to see Cemetech make it out to this year’s World Maker Faire in New York last weekend. They’re the main driving force behind turning these pocket computers with truly terrible displays into usable computing platforms.

As you would expect from any booth, Cemetech brought out the goods demonstrating exactly what a graphing calculator can do. The most impressive, at least from a soldering standpoint, is their LED cube controlled by a graphing calculator. The electronics are simple, and just a few 595s and transistors, but this LED cube is taking serial data directly from the link cable on a graphing calculator. Of course, the PCB for the LED cube is designed as an Arduino shield for ease of prototyping, but make no mistake: this is an LED cube controlled by a calculator.

If you can send serial data to a shift register from a graphing calculator, that means you can send serial data to anything, bringing us to Cemetech’s next great build featured this year. It’s an N-gauge model train, with complete control over the locomotive.

There’s a lot more to controlling model trains these days than simply connecting a big ‘ol variac to the tracks. This setup uses Direct Cab Control (DCC), a system that modulates commands for locomotives while still providing 12-15V to the tracks. There’s a good Arduino library, and when you have that, you can easily port it to a graphing calculator.

Cemetech is one of the perennial favorites at Maker Faire, and over the years we’ve seen everything from the Ultimate TI-83+ sporting an RGB backlight and a PS/2 port to a game of graphing calculator Whac-A-Mole. It’s all a great example of what you can do with the programmable computer every 90s kid had, and an introduction to computer programming education, something Cemetech is really pushing out there with some hard work.

Open Source Calculator Teaches Us About Quality Documentation

Graphing calculators are one of those funny markets that never seem to change. Standardized testing has created a primordial stew of regulatory capture in which ancient technology thrives at modern retail prices while changing little. The NumWorks calculator certainly isn’t the first competitor to challenge the Texas Instruments dynasty with a more modern interface (and a design from this decade), but behind it’s subtle color pops and elegant lines lies the real gem; a fantastically well documented piece of open source hardware. The last time we wrote about the NumWorks, it was to demonstrate a pretty wild hack that embedded an entire Pi Zero but it’s worth drawing attention to the calculator itself.

Hackaday readers traveling to the NumWorks website might spy the section at the bottom of the page titled “Developers” with tantalizing links like “Hardware,” “Software,” and “GitHub.” These lead to a wealth of knowledge about how the product is put together and sources to build the enclosure and firmware yourself (the PCB schematic and layout sources seem to be missing, though there is this handy gerber viewer). However merely posting sources is a low bar NumWorks far exceeds.

How is the firmware put together? Here’s a handy architecture guide! Why did they choose C++ and what tradeoffs were made to fit everything in a resource constrained embedded system? Here’s a design guide! How exactly does the math engine take in text, comprehend the expression contained therein, and evaluate it? There’s a document for it! There’s even a multi-platform SDK setup guide.

Firmware documentation is old hat; we’ve come to expect (or at least hope!) for it. For us the most interesting documentation is actually for the mechanical and electrical systems. The EE guides start with part selection (with datasheet links) then move on to walkthroughs of major areas of the schematic. At this point is should be no surprise that the board has pads for a completely standard 10 pin ARM debug connector and documented test points for UART, SPI, and an SD card.

The mechanical pages read like a quick primer on design for injection molding and tricks to reduce assembly errors (called “poka-yoke“). Ever wondered what that funny frame plastic models come in is called? The NumWorks calculator’s buttons are made in one, and it’s called a “sprue”. There are pages describing each piece of the housing one at a time.

Treat yourself to a reading of NumWorks’ excellent documentation. And if you need a new calculator, maybe consider the open source option.

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Graphing Calculator Dual Boots With Pi Zero

The nearly limitless array of consumer gadgets hackers have shoved the Raspberry Pi into should really come as no surprise. The Pi is cheap, well documented, and in the case of the Pi Zero, incredibly compact. It’s like the thing is begging to get grafted into toys, game systems, or anything else that could use a penguin-flavored infusion.

But this particular project takes it to the next level. Rather than just cramming the Pi and a cheap LCD into his Numworks graphing calculator, [Zardam] integrated it into the device so well that you’d swear it was a feature from the factory. By exploiting the fact that the calculator has some convenient solder pads connected to its SPI bus, he was able to create an application which switches the display between the Pi and the calculator at will. With just a press of a button, he’s able to switch between using the stock calculator software and having full access to the internal Pi Zero.

In a very detailed write-up on his site, [Zardam] explains the process of getting the Pi Zero to output video over SPI. The first part of the battle was re-configuring the GPIO pins and DMA controller. After that, there was the small issue of writing a Linux SPI framebuffer driver. Luckily he was able to find some work done previously by [Sprite_TM] which helped him get on the right track. His final driver is able to push 320×240 video at 50 FPS via GPIO, more than enough to kick back with some DOOM.

With video sorted out, he still needed a way to interface the calculator’s keyboard with the Pi. For this, he added a function in his calculator application that echoed the keys pressed to the calculator’s UART port. This is connected to the Pi, where a daemon is listening for key presses. The daemon then generates the appropriate keycodes for the kernel via uinput. [Zardam] acknowledges this part of the system could do with some refinement, but judging by the video after the break, it works well enough for a first version.

We’ve seen the Pi Zero get transplanted into everything from a 56K modem to the venerated Game Boy, and figured nothing would surprise us at this point. But we’ve got to say, this is one of the cleanest and most practical builds we’ve seen yet.

[Thanks to EdS for the tip]

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Hackaday Links: September 3, 2017

The TI-83, TI-84, and TI-86 have been the standard graphing calculators in classrooms for two decades. This is the subject of an xkcd. Now, hopefully, there’s a contender for the throne. Numworks is a graphing calculator that looks like it was designed in at least 2006 (so very modern), and apparently, there’s a huge community behind it.

Juicero is shutting down. No one could have seen this one coming. The Juicero was a $700 press that turned proprietary, DRM’ed juice packs into juice and garbage. It was exquisitely engineered, but it turns out very few people want to spend thousands of dollars per year on DRM’ed juice. Oh, since the Juicero phones home, those $700 presses probably won’t work in the future.

Are you in the Bay area? Do you need test equipment? There’s a gigantic auction happening somewhere around San Jose. [Dave] tipped everyone off to this one, and this auction is pretty freakin’ spectacular. Spectrum analyzers, signal gens, a ‘mega zoom’ oscilloscope, and 4-channel, 500 MHz scopes for $50. There are a thousand lots in this auction. It’s nuts.

Everybody loves PCB art, and [Uri] has a guide for designing custom, functional electronic circuit boards. The toolchain used in this guide is Inkscape and KiCad, with blinky hearts, blinky pandas, and other blinky PCBs.

This one is a little out there even for us. Here’s how you build your own AA batteries. It’s a dozen #10 copper washers, a dozen or so #10 zinc washers, some cardboard, vinegar, salt, and some heat shrink tubing. The assembly of this battery is exactly what you would expect, and yes, it does work. Here’s the thing, though: The very crude tests suggest these batteries have a capacity of about 800-1000 mAh, which is far more than we would expect. Who has a programmable load and wants to do a few experiments? Also, these batteries are ‘rechargeable’ by taking them apart, sanding the crud off each washer, and adding new electrolyte.

[Jan] has made a name for himself stuffing synthesizers into tiny little microcontrollers. The latest project is the Infinity37, a polyphonic synth with MIDI, envelopes, and a whole bunch of cool stuff. Check out the video.

[rctestflight] is building a solar powered aircraft. It’s has a beautiful wing studded with solar panels. The latest flight was four hours, long enough to make piloting a plane through some FatSharks extremely tedious. Future developments will probably include a MPPT charging solution, and probably an autopilot.