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Welcome to Cemetech! Since 2000, Cemetech (pronounced KE'me'tek) has been teaching programming and electronics and developing software and hardware. Among Cemetech's specialties are TI, HP, and Casio graphing calculators like the TI-84 Plus, TI-Nspire, HP Prime, and Casio Prizm, embedded and DIY electronics, and computer and web programming. Cemetech provides a safe, friendly space for people to learn, show off projects, and share knowledge and expertise. Our staff of friendly volunteers hang out on our forum and IRC and SAX chatrooms, and are happy to help.
Hands-On with the Gold TI-84 Plus CE (2016)
Published by KermMartian on July 29, 2016 at 11:48:31 AM CST | Discuss this article (11)

In April 2015, I first got my hands on a Radical Red TI-84 Plus CE, and wrote a hands-on review of the TI-84 Plus CE. I was thoroughly impressed with the calculator compared to the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition: although the older calculator brought a color screen to the TI-84 Plus family, it was saddled with the older, slow z80 processor in its monochrome siblings. The TI-84 Plus CE beefed up the line with a slimmer calculator, a better screen, and more importantly, a fast ez80 processor with a lot more RAM. Since then, the programming community has enthusiastically adopted the TI-84 Plus CE, with very few monochrome calculator projects released and almost no more TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition programs.

When it was initially released, the TI-84 Plus CE was available in a spectrum of 8 colors. The standard black case was called Classic, and the other options were Radical Red, Positively Pink, Lightning (light blue), True Blue, Denim (navy blue), Silver Linings (gray), and Plum Pi (purple). There are no green, yellow, or orange colors available, although the School Property version of the calculator is dark gray with yellow accents. TI's chart of TI-84 Plus CE colors suggests that six of these colors are available in stores (True Blue, Radical Red, Silver Linings, Plum Pi, Positively Pink, and Denim), Classic (black) may or may not only be available directly to schools, and Lightning appears to no longer be available. However, we saw the very first publicly-released gold TI-84 Plus CE in February at the T^3 2016 conference, and in April, TI teased two new TI-84 Plus CE colors. We correctly guessed that those colors were white and gold, and in late June, the white and gold calculators became available in stores.

Our friends at TI generously sent me a gold TI-84 Plus CE yesterday; I swiftly set to work using it, putting it through its paces, measuring and weighing it, and taking a look under the hood. I'm happy to share my findings on the gold 2016 TI-84 Plus CE calculator, with takeaways likely relevant to the white TI-84 Plus CE and newly-manufactured versions of the other colors as well.

Feel and Impressions
The most obvious novelty of this particular TI-84 Plus CE is the classy gold face behind the keyboard. It's complemented by a black LCD bezel, a black back case, and a black slidecase. The gold is indeed "classy", not just because of what it is but because of the color chosen, a pale metallic shade with a sheen like the real metal, rather than a gaudier, more mustard color. It appears to be a gold plastic rather than a gold-painted plastic, and therefore the color will not scratch off over time. The shiny black LCD bezel, matte, textured black back, and black slidecase offset the light gold well.

Without its slide case, the gold TI-84 Plus CE is 159 grams, 4 grams lighter than the 2015 Radical Red TI-84 Plus CE. Because the battery is the same and the case design appears the same, I believe the difference is a different, slightly brighter LCD. With its slide case, it is 198 grams, still about 4 grams lighter than last year's TI-84 Plus CE. The dimensions are identical, and it appears that the cases were cast from exactly the same molds. It could be my imagination (or the wear on my keypad), but the keys appear slightly stiffer, a positive attribute that makes it easier to feel when you're hitting the activation point on the keys.

Better USB Port
One of the most frequent comments on my Put Games on your TI-84 Plus CE video, backed up by my own experiences, was that the USB port didn't work well on the TI-84 Plus CE. Specifically, when you plugged a mini USB cable, the calculator would only charge, not transfer files. The first few times you used it, you actually had to push the USB cable in much harder than you would expect for it to fully click into the calculator's USB port, which eluded me and other TI-84 Plus CE owners. Happily, the new TI-84 Plus CEs have no such problem. It looks like TI changed to a new brand or model of mini USB port; both its external characteristics (below) and the view from inside the case show differences.

Upgraded SoC (CPU)
As an Electrical Engineer by training and passion, I couldn't resist briefly cracking open the gold TI-84 Plus CE to see what makes it tick. In particular, since I disassembled my Radical Red TI-84 Plus CE to take photographs of its internals, I wanted to see what had changed in the intervening year and a half. The answer, it turned out, seems to be "not much". The mainboard (apparently manufactured by Plotech, according to the silkscreen) doesn't have any obvious layout changes, although its numbering has changed. The SoC, which contains the CPU, RAM, USB controller, and other controllers, is now anchored at its four corners with epoxy, and its markings represent one of the few noticeable changes.

The new gold TI-84 Plus CE uses a newer revision of the System-on-a-Chip (SoC) than the Radical Red TI-84 Plus CE I already owned. As you can see from the photo below, the Radical Red's SoC is marked "ET2014-00 / PHFW2-010/1443", while the Gold's SoC is marked "ET2015-00 / PKC66-010 / 1549". Educated guesswork suggests that the Gold's SoC is revision 1549 of the chip design, produced in 2015, and while the older Radical Red's SoC is revision 1443, produced in 2014. It is not known what improvements have been made, but I know that inquiring minds here hope that the necessary delay cycles for RAM and Flash have been further reduced to get instruction speeds closer to the full 48MHz clock speed of the ez80 CPU inside the SoC.

Final Thoughts
The TI-84 Plus CE has already wowed the graphing calculator hobbyist community as a significant step forward in revitalizing the TI-84 Plus family. Although there are some limited grumblings about the fact that we can't create Apps for the device, the availability of C and assembly programming, libraries, full use of a fast ez80 processor, and programs that can be up to 64KB with additional data in AppVars has been very attractive. From an end-user perspective, the thin, sleek package with slightly faster math and graphing and much faster scrolling and screen refreshing makes it feel like a more modern device. I'm happy to see that the new gold TI-84 Plus CE wraps these features in an attractive new package, and once OS 5.2 and the TI-Innovator System arrive this fall, I look forward to using the gold TI-84 Plus CE to further experiment with DIY electronics and the TI-84 Plus family.

Cemetech to Cover SIGGRAPH 2016
Published by KermMartian on July 24, 2016 at 11:36:14 AM CST | Discuss this article (7)

Despite our roots in education technology news, projects, and tools, Cemetech's foci have broadened as our members' interests have broadened. In recent years, Cemetech has branched out to cover general technology. Most recently, our Technology News Editor, Alex, attended both the GPU Technology Conference 2016 and CES 2016 to explore photography, VR, and consumer electronics advances in the industry and to share his experiences with you. In the same vein, Thomas "elfprince13" Dickerson and Christopher "Kerm Martian" Mitchell will be heading to Anaheim, CA today to cover SIGGRAPH 2016.

SIGGRAPH is a unique academic conference that has shifted to be a hybrid consumer expo and pure research venue. In their own words, "The annual SIGGRAPH conference is a five-day interdisciplinary educational experience in the latest computer graphics and interactive techniques, including a three-day commercial exhibition that attracts hundreds of exhibitors from around the world. [...] Juried and curated content includes outstanding achievements in time-based art, scientific visualization, visual effects, real-time graphics, and narrative shorts." We'll be curious to see the academic advances relevant to our own work and interests, as well as to explore the latest in rendering, graphics, and virtual reality. Keep your eye on Cemetech (and the Cemetech Facebook page and Cemetech Twitter account for the latest news and updates from SIGGRAPH 2016.

More Information
SIGGRAPH 2016 conference website

Coming Soon: The TI-Innovator System
Published by KermMartian on July 16, 2016 at 1:52:57 PM CST | Discuss this article (9)

Connecting external hardware to graphing calculators has long been one of the most exciting areas the calculator hobbyist community has pursued. As far back as 1996, the venerable RichFiles SPinTerface was created, and since then, there has been the Emerson PS/2 library for connecting mice and keyboards to calculators, calculator mind control, calculator networking, calculator WiFi, and linking protocols and hardware of every description. Most recently, there has been my own ArTICL library (source on GitHub), which lets your TI-BASIC programs interface directly with an Arduino attached to your TI calculator, to control LEDs and motors, read sensors, buttons, and switches, and access everything the Arduino can do.

For a long time, the only official TI Education tools to connect hardware to calculators were the CBL, CBL2, and CBR. However, TI has recently been starting to embrace the same focus on calculators as classroom STEM tools that we have promoted for a long time, including the growing "Maker" movement embodied in things like Maker Faire. Driven by what we believe is a growing teacher demand for the ability to do something like what ArTICL does in the classroom, TI will soon introduce a new device called the TI-Innovator. First introduced to the public at T^3 2016, the TI-Innovator is a box containing a TI MSP432 Launchpad development board that can be connected to a TI-84 Plus CE or TI-Nspire via miniUSB. To crib directly from my T^3 2016 wrap-up:

The TI-Innovator is encased in a durable plastic enclosure, with three 4-pin input ports and three 4-pin output ports (power, ground, data 1, and data 2, presumably) for peripherals. It communicates over USB-over-serial to the TI-84 Plus CE and TI-Nspire CX, which leads us to believe that we could use other USB-over-serial capable devices with the new TI-OS. Actually, the TI-84 Plus CEs in the TI-Innovator room were running the unreleased TI-OS 5.2; although there were three or four new features in the OS, including new ways to manipulate strings and have timed Pauses in the OS, we'll hold off discussing specific commands until we know that they'll definitely be in OS 5.2. TI has been developing lessons for the TI-Innovator in three areas: (1) Middle school science; (2) Ten Minutes of Code for older students; (3) Fundamentals of Making.

The TI-Innovator can initially be used without any external hardware, other than a graphing calculator. The MSP432 Launchpad already has LEDs on-board, both single-color and RGB, and the TI -Innovator box also contains a speaker and a brightness sensor. When students are ready to use the Innovator with more hardware, it includes standardized CBL-style ports compatible with a random of external hardware like sensors, buzzers, and motors. TI will offer the "TI-Innovator Fundamentals Pack" with resistors, capacitors, LEDs, and other discrete components with accompanying activity guides, as well as the "TI-Innovator Science Pack" with sensors, motors, and other components that connect to these ports. The box also breaks out some of the MSP432 Launchpad I/O pins for direct use, and very advanced students can even unscrew the plexiglass cover and use the MSP432's pins directly.

We look forward to seeing what students and teachers will do with this new hardware, and congratulate TI on embracing calculator-driven electronics education. If their experiences are anything like ours over the past two decades, there's a huge potential for students to get more interested in electrical engineering and programming, and we look forward to seeing how that evolves. Finally, as soon as we have our hands on a TI-Innovator ourselves, we're excited to bring you a hands-on review of the device.

More Information
TI Education's TI-Innovator Information Page

Projects of the Month: June 2016
Published by tifreak8x on July 11, 2016 at 1:43:37 PM CST | Discuss this article (4)

Summer is in full swing, and our members have scattered to summer school, vacations, camps, or just some relaxing video gaming (Pokemon Go, anyone?). However, we're happy to see that our Cemetechians have continued to produce exciting projects, games, and programs. Without further ado, here's what people have been working on:

  • Wal-Rush CE: DJ_O has released a new version of his Wal-Rush game that uses a sprite library over the use of Textlib. Check out the topic for a screenshot of the improved performance this game now has!
  • Sprites: Sprites is a graphical library set for the CE graphing calculators, that allow BASIC programmers access to some nice sprite tools to create nicer looking programs and games. More information can be found in the topic, and you can check out a project update done by DJ_O looks like using this set of libraries.
  • Pegs CE: Ohernandez has done some code updating for his Pegs project, updating to new graphics libraries provided by the CE C libraries, and has gone in and added a level editor. Check out the topic for more information on these updates!
  • GLib CE: GLib started out as an axe library, way back in 2013. Now, TheMachine02 is working on a similar engine in ez80 assembly for the CE line of calculators. The graphics shown are quite impressive, and literately requires you to see them to believe them. Check them out in the thread and give TheMachine02 some feedback so this project continues on.
  • TI Monopoly: TI Monopoly is a temporary name until Kydapoot, the programmer working on this project, can come up with something more official. As the name implies, this will be a Monopoly like game for the monochrome 83+ line of calculators. Check out the thread for all the possible names of properties and the screenshots as the game looks right now.
  • Bejeweled CSE/CE: Unknowloner has been working on an all BASIC version of this Bejeweled like game, using what appears to be different colored dice instead of the variously colored jewels as the name would normally imply. Check out his video in the topic and let him know what you think of this progress update.
  • Project Builder online CE Compiler: Adriweb has shared that TI-Planet's Project Builder has been getting an upgrade, one where it allows you to emulate a CE right in your browser! Check the thread for a video and screenshots.
  • Prizm Emulator: gbl08ma is discussing reviving an old project, and that is one of Prizm emulation. He is currently looking for people that might be interested in this project, to gauge interest before possibly starting in, so jump over to the topic and give him your thoughts on the matter.
  • Don't touch the color: A project by Unicorn, that is inspired by Don't touch the spikes, where you guide a ball across the screen to touch the color that the ball is at that time. Check out the thread for screenshots with better explanations of the game play.
  • Escheron: Twilight over Ragnoth: Iambian showed off an impressive screenshot update for this project being worked on by geekboy and himself. It shows off the new physical attack animations and UI adjustments. He's also included information on their editors, so check it out for more of this awesome game!
  • ICE Compiler: PT_ has been working on his compiler project, releasing a version 1.0 with some limited functionality. He's added a number of things after that release, so check out the thread to get more information and check out those screenshots showing off his progress.
  • CEmu: Adriweb has posted up an update for the CE Emulator, citing bug fixes and possibly a better UI being the important aspects of the update. Check out the thread to get at the latest version of this emulator!
  • Photon Particle globalCALCnet: Several members have struggled to port Kerm Martian's WiFi calculator networking system from the Spark Core to the Photon Particle development board. Theprogrammingcube succeeded, and has been brainstorming how Arduino-style "shields" could be stacked on the Particle specifically for calculator hardware development. If you have some feedback or ideas, you should check out his topic!

What are you waiting for? Get coding on some projects of your own that we can feature next month!