back to article Texas Instruments aims lawyers at calculator hackers

Lawyers for Texas Instruments are taking aim at a group of calculator enthusiasts who posted the cryptographic keys used to modify the devices so they run custom-designed software. Over the past few weeks, TI has sent webmasters letters invoking the DMCA, or US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF), and demanding they remove …

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  1. Charles Manning

    Why bother?

    I can see it might be worth doing something with an RPN HP, but it's not even worth putting batteries in a TI, let alone a new firmware.

  2. peter tomlinson Silver badge
    Flame

    It's not a cell phone

    But it should be breakable. Another failed business who has a product and refuses to look at all the things that it can do. what a waste.

  3. _wtf_

    Lexmark Decision

    This sort of thing highlights why the DMCA is evil and iniquitous. The keys are needed if you want to load your own software that you have written to your own calculator that you have paid for. There is no legitimate reason why a company should be able to prevent you doing that.

    The Lexmark decision should apply here, it was found to be OK to reverse engineer the printer cartridges. The trouble is the hobbyists and students involved probably can't afford to tackle a big company head on.

  4. Andrew Tyler 1

    HP

    Better off with HP calculators anyways. Those TI toys are garbage. It can be a nuisance sometimes not using what everyone else uses though.

  5. Mectron

    Another Crook join the gang

    Ti just joined the (not so select) club of openly criminal organisation, wiith members such as: apple (illegal iphone/ipod lockout), RIAA/MPAA (those have simply no legal reason to exist) and Sony (massive world wide virus infection).

    TI as now lost all credibility and should not even be in business.

    no company have any right to dictate what i can do or not with a product that i OWN PERIOD.

    thos key should be publish on every single webpage on the net (like the DVD key) to show TI that they simply cannot prevent peoples from using a product paid for PERIOD.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    No different to Wii hacking really...

    This is really no different to publishing the keys to the Wii, XBox, PS3 etc... Try that and see how long you last !!! :)

    Just because it is a calculator doesn't mean the same software protections aren't afforded.

    Sure, it is yours to do as you wish with, but don't publish the keys.

  7. Mashiara

    re wii/ps3/xbox keys

    It's not different and neither should these keys be a problem, if you reverse-engineered the system to be able to deduce the keys IMO it's fair game (of course in some places reverse engineering byt itself is illegal...)

    Now if you had gotten the keys into your posession by for example breaking and entering the offices, then there's some argument about this. If you had received keys under NDA then it's simply NDA violation and standard remedies apply.

    Of course since there are huge interests at play even if they can't legallty force you to unpublish the keys they can simply say that do it or we'll make sure your life becomes incredibly difficult (nuisance lawsuits, ask the gov to do extra tax audits: dig deep enough and you'll always find irregularities, etcetc). This of course is highly immoral and for some parts illegal but it hasn't stopped it in the past.

    Besides the signing keys don't really facilitiate much in the way of actual copyright infringement:

    1. The original copyrighted software could be read all along, the signing key is just to verify it's not been tampered with, doing 1:1 copy was already possible.

    2. Large scale pirates copy games already signed, the "disk key" systems are nothing but a minor speedbump when we talk about manufacturing (they're designed to stop only casual between friends copying anyway).

    The only case where the signing keys could be used to "faciliate" copyright infringement is by making a modified OS that does not check game/disk signatures. But since the OS itself was already copyrighted distributing this modified version is already illegal, the keys are immaterial to this (also it's possible that there are implementation errors which would allow the OS to be patched while still matching the original signatures and thus this could again be possible without the signing keys).

    So basically it's about platforn control, copyright has nothing to do with it but since it has "software" the overly draconian copyright laws can be twisted to slap those who do not have huge funds to waste on principles (or have something to lose) back into their proper place as serfs. This won't stop untill the corporations and their lawyers personally start to get heavily penalized for misusing the copyright arguments for something that doesn't really have anything to do with it.

  8. fluffy

    This is NOT the same as modding a console

    This is not for the purpose of being able to play pirated games. This is so that people can run their homebrew apps on the calculators they own. What would they bootleg from the TI calculators by cracking them? The same crappy firmware that they want to get AWAY from?

    It's also a bit rubbish to just say to "use an HP instead." What makes HPs so supposedly superior? Software that doesn't suck. This is so that people can install whatever software they want.

  9. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    TI...

    They really shouldn't try anything like this. It's hilariously sad.

    Never owned a TI calculator and never want to after this. I own a perfectly good casio with so many functions I seriously have no clue what I would need a TI for... Granted doesn't do graphs but more or less everything else under the sun. Casio FX-991W. It's an older model(pre 2k iirc) but is a great device. And still running on original batteries.

  10. ratfox Silver badge
    Coat

    "Me too"

    Give me my trusty ol' HP48 any day...

    Coat [enter] take

  11. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Move the website?

    Why not just move the website to somewhere outside the US, under control of a non-US chappie (I'm sure they could find someone), and then see how far they get with their DMCA thingie.

    Or is that just WAY too obvious?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Morons of the year award.

    Wow, what an efficient way to completely alienate the most enthusiastic section of your customer base. Along with their fan driven websites, forums and freely offered support. You might as well just hand them over to their competitors on a plate, what complete idiots.

    The only business reason I can see for this is if they want people to buy "updated" products that include features that can easily be added to existing kit for free.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Its a fucking calculator for christs sake.

    Christ on an AT-AT, Ti, seriously, how about updating your crabby firmware yourselves instead of punishing people who, just out of curiosity discovered they could do a bit more with their calcs than you thought possible.

    I mean, if Ti were that bothered about this then perhaps using stronger cryptographic measures would have been a better option.

    Heres a thought, Ti, why not offer these people the option to present their home brew and if its better than the factory stock, then implement it!!!

    Heres another thought Ti, go have sex with someone and release your stress.

    Paris cos she'd be amazd that if you type in 58008 and turn ya calc upside down it spells a rudey word.

  14. John70

    Calculator

    Who cares if they want to change the way the calculator works, it's just a calculator.

    It's not like stealing their code to put into another product, they just improving the damn thing...

    They might finally get the answer to 42

  15. Hugh_Pym

    Big Business Huh!

    Hobbyist: These TI calculators are great look what I got mine to do. You should all get one.

    TI: Don't mess with my stuff.

    Hobbyist: But can't you see this is helping you.

    TI: Don't mess with my stuff.

    Hobbyist: I'm popularising your products and if you want to you can use this stuff yourself.

    TI: Don't mess with my stuff.

    Hobbyist: I can't even charge you if you want to sell this as part of an upgrade or in new models.

    TI: Don't mess with my stuff.

    Hobbyist : You're making yourselves look like idiots and pissing off your customer base.

    TI: but I'm bigger than you. (with fingers in its corporate ears) La la la la ... ad nauseum.

  16. Paul 4

    Strange

    That people are still aloud to use these for exams. Your not alowed them in MEng exams, so anyone lower than that has no need.

  17. 4a$$Monkey
    WTF?

    Calculator Enthusiasts

    I was not aware these people existed and I am now a little scared.

  18. Thomas 18
    FAIL

    I copyright...

    the number 7! thats my key for modifying my home-brew blog.

  19. The BigYin

    What copyright?

    Were the copying TI firmware? No, they were overwriting it.

    Were they copying TI trade secrets? No, see above.

    Were they making the calculators unstable and trying to commit fraud? Err...nope.

    Were they doing anything wrong? No.

    Are TI acting like a bunch of dicks? Yes.

    TI have IMHO really shot themselves in the foot. Who knows what weird/cool things this lot might magic up that TI could make use of in the future? How many people would buy TI calculators because they CAN be modded? I bought my MP3 player precisely because it could be hacked to out-cool an iPod.

    Mashiara - you're right, distributing hacked proprietary code would be illegal; but is distributing the instructions on how to hack it illegal? I don't think it should be. If it was, logically speaking passing on instructions that could facilitate any crime should also be illegal and if that was the case, then we're all guilty!

    TI can join the ranks of Apple and other corporate dicks who just don't get it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Its a calculator.. Hello?

    Its a calculator, not a supercomputer.

    Instead of getting the lawyers in they should have a hacking competition, that would increase sales - this will decrease sales!! Idiots.. Unless they think they can extract lots of money by suing.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something fishy

    So this basically boils down to 'Calculator manufacturer asks that copyrighted number be removed from website'? This is a very worrying trend, are they going to clame copyright over other numbers, perhaps smaller, more frequently used numbers? Will certain sums nolonger yeild a result but merely a request for royalties??

  22. PerfectBlue

    another abuse of a bad law

    This is yet another example of why the DMCA need to be declared illegal and taken off of the books.

    The DMCA seems to be a big business charter aimed at turning consumer purchase into rental agreements.

    You buy a DVD and you want to play it on your portable media player. You can't because it's encrypted and the DMCA won't let you decrypt.

    You buy a CD for your kid and find out that it has a curse word in it, and you want to bleep it out before they put it on thier iPod. You cant for the same reason.

    You have an Xbox and you want to load to homebrew it for a hobby, you can't because the DMCA won't let you modify a circuit board on something that you paid good money for.

    The DMCA even forbids you from doing things such as making backups(which is a legally protected consumer right under Copyright law.

    It'd like very much to see it declared unconstitutional. Though I doubt that it would happen.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Burn'em?

    They should organise a mass calculator burning event, then buy themselves linux powered netbook thingys. Then they could program any sort of calculator functions whilst watching region free DVDs!

    Oh yes, and print out the results via bluetooth. That *is* handy.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Custom firmware to do what?

    What the hell else are you going to use a calculator for?

    Are these fancy calulators that can be reprogrammed to run Strategic Air Command like the fabled Iraqi daisy-chained PlayStations?

    Couldn't the Reg have told us what type of calculators these are? Do they do graphs? or are they mummy shopping pocket-calculators? It would have been nice to know what they're reprogramming them to do that they couldn't do otherwise.

    Of course it's interesting to know HOW they did it, but I'd also like to know why.

  25. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Flame

    And the key is not even "stolen"...

    Just post it under the header of "this is is the factorization of X" on a blog and stick it to the Texas Retards.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    I can see why they are cross

    You could go into an office and reload a trojan calculator-ware that gives everyone a pay-rise.

  27. Andy 43
    Coat

    Big

    "12.5 512-bit integers" - boy that's a really big number. Amazing the things these distributed computing resources can do these days ...

  28. Mark Donnison
    Thumb Down

    Get back in your box TI

    When I was a student I used to own a programmable calculator. As calculators go it was pretty nifty, I could sit down and figure out a program that would work out simple little equations, like quadratic equations for instance. I could input my values in about the same time as it would have taken me to work it out with a pen and paper, fun but pointless. I wrote several programs for it before I got bored and continued to view it as just a calculator again.

    TI are flexing their muscles to no end, their company is not being compromised in any way, national security is not being compromised and at the end of the day their hardware is simply being used as a toy by people with too much time on their hands, who like to tinker.

    TI should climb back in their box and stop behaving like the school bully. MS and Apple have a lot to answer for, they made it seem ok for large companies to behave like 2 year olds fighting over who owns a brightly coloured bit of paper, that will not even be a memory in the morning.

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Stop

    They still make programmable calculators?

    Who knew.

    But since they do and Ti has a group of users loyal enough to support their product, when they don't seem to, perhaps they might take a leaf out of other companies books and support them, not stomp them.

    From a marketing point of view. Ti, stop digging.

    Then again maybe they have a bunch of lawyers on short time with nothing better to bill against. Texas does seem to be popular for iffy software copyright infringement claims.

    Another neat piece of the DCMA (according to Jerry Pournelle) is that if a company makes a digital recording of a performance, they hold the default copyright, not the artist. This I gather is different from the normal artist/recording company arrangement. The Capitol Hill staffer responsible has been suitably rewarded by the industry for such strong support for their cause.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    my firmware brings all the boys to the yard

    and they're like, it's better than yours

    damn right, it's better than yours

    I can show you, but I have to keep my identity secret

  31. Ajax McKerral

    The question

    @john70: It's the question to 42...as I recall...

  32. Grease Monkey

    @Mectron

    Unfortunately for your curious world view criminality is not judged by own personal opinion, but by the application of the law. The law does not seem to be in any hurry to find these organisations guilty of any criminal offences, so I think we can assume that they are not criminal.

    If of course you want to discuss morality then that may well be a different matter. many would agree that this carry on is indeed immoral. The thing is, however, that morality and legality do not necessarily coincide. Your personal philosophy may judge morality very simply, but I'm sure there would be many differences between that definition of morality and that defined by other religions and philosophies. In the end there is no court of morality.

    Taoists seem to have the best idea. Essentially working with the world the way it is rather than spending your whole time kicking against the pricks.

  33. James Henstridge
    Black Helicopters

    Do any of the calculators share the same hardware?

    The only way I could imagine these keys being used to infringe TI's copyrights is if they differentiate some models purely by the firmware loaded on them.

    If they wanted the devices to be firmware upgradeable but prevent owners of the cheaper models installing the firmware from the more expensive model, then using different signing keys for the different devices would be one way to achieve this.

    If those signing keys were reverse engineered, then it would be possible to re-sign the advanced firmware for the cheaper device in order to use it contrary to TI's license.

    Now of course this has no benefit to the customer, but is the type of thing the anti-circumvention provisions in the DMCA were designed to protect.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    What is really at stake

    "TI has the educational market squarely nailed down and they don't have anything to worry about so long as they make sure their calculators can be trusted to be resettable," Smith told The Register. "They've got all the (test) administrators knowing the TI calculators are trustworthy, and they don't want that to be undermined."

    The graphing calculator market is pretty massive; TI couldn't care less if people modified their firmware in other circumstances. If kids can modify their calculators, they can use them to cheat on standardized tests.

    That said, the way these tests are designed is pretty fail. Kids should only need a pencil and a sharp mind.

  35. Tom 11
    Troll

    What the hell is wrong with everyone...

    Hardly one of the above posts are spelt and structured correctly!

    I can assume by the veracity of your collected fuming over Texas Instruments that you 'hail from the far side of the pond'

    For a conglomeration of people so enthused by calculators, I would've thought you'd produce a higher class of drivel!

    Yes, I’ve gone for the Troll, but he is a Troll of conviction!.....

  36. Francis Vaughan

    They have a point

    In the article a very critical point was made, and it seems totally missed by all the usual freetards.

    TI have a very specific market for these calculators - they are currently allowed in schools and are accredited for use in exams. It the ability to load them with a new OS becomes widespread there will be no choice but to remove this accreditation. At this point the entire market for the calculators evaporates, and TI will probably simply stop making them. This would be a bad outcome. I have some sympathy for the teachers trying to avoid a classroom full of kids with calculators loaded with cheat sheets. (I have even more sympathy for banning any calculator, even a four function from exams, but that is another argument.)

    It is simply life. There is no right answer here. A bunch hobbyist geeks spend vastly too much time breaking the key, and as a result risk destroying the product. You can argue all you like about the ins and outs of the legality, but in the end it is going to be all about what the actual effect is.

    Only a few people seemd to have twigged that the copyright is not over the software, it is over the key. The key was obtained by essentially the equivalent of breaking the encryption, and thus probably is subject to the DMCA. And yes, all it is is a number. And, no you can't copyright a number. But you probably can copyright the expression of the key.

    If the calculators were dropped from the authorised list for exams, and TI lost a significant market (which I suspect they would) TI would certainly be in a position to sue for damages. And for once, I think they would be in the right to do so.

  37. Asgard
    Stop

    They don't have a point

    @Francis Vaughan: Calculators loaded with cheat sheets - Give me a break. With lateral thinking that was possible 20 years ago on calculators without cracking the OS. Plus any exam that can be passed with cheat sheets is fundamentally flawed because if it can be passed this way, its based way to heavily on showing just Rote Learning which isn't demonstrating the capacity to reason with data, its just testing for a capacity to store data. So its a badly designed exam and not the fault of which calculators are used.

    TI want control of their calculators its as simple as that.

  38. Robert Hill

    @Francis Vaughan

    Thank you, thank you, thank you - you saved me having to type all of that.

    Spot on, and a shame that so many on El Reg give a typical freetard knee-jerk reaction - "On NOES, you can't limit anything in any way, you big evil, fail, corporation", rather than actually look at the issues.

    If these calculators are broken and lose accrediation, then TI will simply have to update all of them to a newer OS with stronger encryption of the keys, and EVERY existing calculator that students have bought will be worthless to the students, as they will be dis-allowed in tests.

    If anything, TI gets to sell more calculators, after they get the new ones accredited. This makes me believe that the only losers here would be the millions of students that have bought TI calculators that would be banned.

    So, far from TI being evil and nasty, and far from the DMCA being used to enforce the power of corporations over freedom loving hackers - er, this seems to be about ensuring that the millions of kids that have bought TI graphing calculators get to keep using them without buying new ones. So...this is bad in what way???

    N.B. - I also have to question the rational for the original breaking of the OS - writing your own calculator firmware really isn't that rewarding - it's not like you are going to develop a new sin algorithm that is faster. No, I highly suspect the whole reason for the cracks WAS to enable the use of cheat sheets on the calculators in the first place...

  39. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    @Francis Vaughan

    But you can already load the calculators with cheat sheets, in fact you are given one at the start of your exam! (Or at least you were a few years ago)

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Francis & Adi

    Thank fuck someone else gets it. If I owned one of these calculators so that I could use it in tests, because it had been approved, I'd be pretty pissed off at the nerds that hacked it and got it dropped off the approval list.

    I know you can argue about freedom to do what you want with what you own, but you have to take into consideration the effect of your use on others.

  41. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge
    FAIL

    The point has been made

    that knowledge of the key allows the software to be modified, and thus allow potential cheating in exams, and the loss of accreditation by TI. I say, 'tough titties'.

    If someone were to publish a modified firmware on the internet, presumably this would be based upon TI's own, at which point, they would be quite justified in crying foul, the keys required to do this should not be, and probably are not, covered in the same way by the DMCA.

    On the other hand, if someone where to write their own firmware, install it onto their calculator and use it to cheat in an exam, a) it would probably be unneccessary for them to do so, as this task is prpbably harder than passing the exam in the first place and b) It is the job of the invigilator to catch that person using their calculator to cheat. I would have thought that it would be a bit of a give-away if that person was constantly referring to their calculator, whilst other students were using them only occasionally?

    I can, however, see why TI would be scared about losing accreditation but I think it is unlikely this would happen unless there were a number of recorded cases of people using ther calculators to cheat in this way. Whilst there is a theoretical loophole, I can't imagine it being exploited to any great degree.

    If TI's devices weer to lose their accreditation, then it can only be considered TI's fault, and their problem. They used weak cryptography to sign their firmware, they shall reap what they sow. If they cannot prove that it is not modified, it may be an embarrassment to them, but it should should not prevent people from legally doing so. After all, the precedent has been set with the unlocking of mobile phones.

  42. Ben Ryves

    @Custom firmware to do what?

    These are programmable Z80 or 68K-based graphical calculators. The following applies to the Z80-based TI-83+, I'm not too familair with the other models: user-installable Flash applications (so-called as they reside in flash ROM) need to be signed with a key to be accepted by the calculator. TI have released the "freeware" key so this has not been an issue so far. The operating system also needs to be signed to be installed, but TI has not released the key for this so any third-party operating systems have to be forced onto the hardware in a rather hacky manner (eg pulling out the batteries at the right time during an OS upgrade). By factoring the keys, a third-party operating system can be signed properly and can be installed easily to the calculator without any special hacks.

  43. Lionel Debroux
    Thumb Down

    They _don't_ have a point

    Even before we factored the signing keys, the seven Flash-able models of the TI-Z80 and TI-68k series were, for years, programmable way more than enough for the purpose of adding loads of cheat sheets and cheat programs and using them in standardized tests.

    (that is, unless the RAM + Flash of all calculators were forcefully reset before the test, which is far from being done 100% of the time, AFAIK).

    All that was needed is the use of assembly programs and FlashApps, all of which can take advantage of officially-documented OS-level hooks TI put in their OS. There's been a while since someone made a program that catches, upon the pressing of ENTER, the commands entered by the user, and returns garbage answers to the user (e.g 2 + 2 [ENTER] gives 123).

    Therefore, if cheating is /truly/ a concern of the standardized tests' regulation bodies, they should *never* have allowed programmable calculators in the first place (and TI calculators even less than most other, less-moddable models). They'd be full of fail if, in the light of the factoring of TI's public keys (and therefore, the deduction of TI's private keys), they decided to ban TI calculators, and only TI calculators.

    All nine keys of TI-68k calculators, and all seven keys of TI-Z80 calculators (one key is common to both families), can be obtained as *clear text* (let me re-state that: we *didn't* break into any encrypted content), from e.g. OS upgrades, boot code dumps and developer certificates. The factors of one of the keys were released by TI themselves as part of the TI-Z80 SDK.

    Developer certificates were formerly sent by TI to people who wanted to program FlashApps and test them on their own real calculators. TI's support going silent for a long while, both for developer certificate and FlashApp signing requests, thereby preventing progress, was one of the main reasons behind the factoring of the 4 TI-68k and 3 TI-Z80 FlashApp keys.

  44. Lionel Debroux

    @Robert Hill, @Fraser, @Ed Blackshaw

    @Robert Hill: the algorithms in TI's OS are not necessarily good, and the toolchain they use to compile them sucks a lot. Plain and simple. Reimplementing various core OS functions can yield massive performance improvements: the "next_expression_index" routine of the TI-68k OS (get address of the next expression in the RPN stack of data) was reimplemented to be 3 to 4 times faster; the "DrawStr" routine (guess what, draw a string onto a plane) can be made *an order of magnitude* faster for the common case. Et caetera.

    @Ed Blackshaw: +1, except that there exist decent third-party OS which are based on TI's copyrighted OS at all (even if they aim at be compatible). For TI-68k calculators, there's PedroM: http://www.ticalc.org/pub/89/os/ , featured on Slashdot years ago. PedroM 0.82, sporting a vastly expanded CAS (which handles arbitrary-precision arithmetic, unlike the builtin CAS - but the builtin CAS also can do things that PedroM cannot), should be released soon. The author posted screenshots at http://www.yaronet.com/posts.php?sl=&s=122534&p=1&h=13#13 .

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    TI should be flattered, not up in arms

    TI should be grateful that people care enough to bother doing this... Why are companies so short sighted that they alienate customers this way? Makes me wonder how far the Star Trek franchise would have gotten if they'd fought Star Trek conventions.

    Surely there's a way to tell if the calculator's been modified. Or provide standard "loaners" for tests.

  46. OkKTY8KK5U
    Coat

    Not that TI cares, but...

    ...I have used TI calculators for a long time because I like them, and this is exactly the sort of attitude that says "don't use TI stuff anymore." So I won't. TI may or may not "have a point," as has been discussed above, and of course, they're certainly well within their rights to decide that one demographic (people who use calculators on standardized tests carefully designed to test only how well one can perform on standardized tests) over another (hobbyists who like modifying things). But as a member of the latter, I suppose I'll just go elsewhere. Not, as I said, that TI will likely care.

    Mine's the one with the linux installer disc and etherkiller in the pockets.

  47. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
    Thumb Down

    calculators and exams

    Most of the exams I have had which allowed the use of calculators were of a problem solving nature.

    I recall them being particularly fiendish and evil and the main problem I would have would not have been a lack of 'rote' knowledge in which a cheat sheet would have helped.

    Rather, I found running out of time before all questions could be answered a more dangerous reality...

  48. Lionel Debroux

    Correction...

    Above, my "there exist decent third-party OS which are based on TI's copyrighted OS at all (even if they aim at be compatible)." should read "there exist decent third-party OS which are *NOT* based on TI's copyrighted OS at all (even if they aim at be compatible).", of course.

    There's also "Punix OS" ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/punix/ ), but that one doesn't aim at being (mostly) compatible with TI's OS.

    Previewing posts isn't enough for me, it seems :P

  49. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Time was...

    when TI would throw reams of highly detailed info at you on almost all their products.

    "Is this progress?" I ask myself.

  50. Asgard
    Big Brother

    Why TI want control...

    This legal action is an attempt at outright control of the way the calculators are being used. They don't want open calculators. They want to charge people for features and they don't want open competition. TI's core need for control is the same default behavior found in many corporations, which is seeking some form of control in whatever industry they are in and then seeking to exploit that control for profit. e.g. Phone companies control networks, Windows (say no more), Supermarkets control the distribution of a lot of products (and can make or break supplier companies), ISPs also show this same need of control (and show people seeking such a position to control so they can then dictate terms to us all) and so on. Even control of basic raw resources and materials is at its core that same common business need of seeking some control. e.g. Oil, Electricity, Gas, Water. When they control something others want, they have some power over others to dictate how much others pay them for what they want.

    These kinds of controlling people don't want an open world where people share knowledge and data because they want to be the people to charge others for knowledge and data. I think its fascinating how the Internet is opening up a growing divide between the vast majority of people who show they wish to share and a small but powerful minority who wish to control for their own profit and then seek to get the law changed to maintain their control and profit. So the law isn't representing what society as a whole wants, its representing the wishes of only a powerful minority in near total opposition to the wishes of the vast majority of people. Its highlighting the law is being used to oppose the majority of people. So its not what society wants at all, its only what the rich powerful minority elite want ... which is as usual control to keep their rich powerful lifestyle, while the rest of us are exploited by them for their personal gain and profit.

    Its the same controlling behavior with the music industry (and look at the trouble this lot are causing the Internet and freely sharing information). Musicians can earn a living from performances (*as they have done for centuries*) but the music *publishers and distributors* tell us MP3 is virtually the death of the music industry. Its not the death of the industry, its the death of their control over the music industry. Musicians will be ever more able to bypass all distribution and go direct to their customers yet the controllers of that industry seek extremely powerful law changes that affect us all, just so they can hold on to control. As usual their goal of seeking control is the real reason behind their endless FUD about the end of the music industry. As usual the need to control behind it all.

    Big Brother Icon because central to George Orwell's book is the endless need for a minority in power to hold onto power to control others. After all even money is power because the more of it someone has the more they can use it to dictate terms to others who need money. Such powerful people wouldn't want an open world where knowledge and resources become fairly shared out because in such a world they wouldn't have power over others.

    So TI's behavior like so many corporations all boils down to a need to control, so they can profit from control and they fear the loss of control. Their kind don't want an open world, but the vast majority of people keep showing they do want an open world, so the control freaks are fearful they are loosing out and so are seeking to control and silence the Internet (with law changes to gain power over the Internet (again showing their need to control)). Its why we all need to push for ever more openness and businesses that support openness will thrive while the control freaks will die out. The sooner the better (before the control freaks create law changes to control the Internet and in doing so, control, punish and fine us all ever more which is what is happening now).

    So sadly this is becoming a battle for freedom from ever growing control over us all. Once you see all big business and politics from the position of control, all their true goals become clear. Its why Orwell warned about ever growing control and why he was even able to foresee what is happening these days. Its about how a minority relentlessly seek to control us all and just as the Internet shows how it can connect people, the Internet is bring us all closer to having to face up to the desires of the people in power. The Internet is making their need for power and control over us ever more direct and evident. Its why we all need to fight for openness because its a fight for freedom away from the control freaks otherwise we will loose the Internet as we know it and in doing so loose ever more freedom which is what is happening now. It seems the Internet's ability to connect is forcing us all to face up to the attitudes of others, including the ever more powerful minority of control freaks. But then every control creates a pressure for change away from that control so the more they seek to control us the more they create a pressure against them. No wonder they want to control the Internet.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Re: They have a point

    Francis Vaughan wrote:

    "In the article a very critical point was made, and it seems totally missed by all the usual freetards."

    In the comments some very critical points were made, and they seem totally missed by all the usual corporate apologists.

    First of all, what mathematical wizardry in today's exams requires a full-on graphical calculator that was unnecessary for the exams of yesteryear? Given that everyone whines about falling standards, might it be that the "calculators for exams" market is some kind of solution looking for a problem, invented by your friendly corporation?

    Secondly, when you start letting paid-for legislation like the DMCA strike out at anyone who might have published anything that someone else doesn't like, you are revoking civil liberties whether you think that's great (noting your tired classification of the people involved as "hobbyist geeks", so I suspect that you think it is great in this case) or not. Do you think the UK libel litigation climate is great, too? That's where this kind of thing leads.

    Finally, I hope you have the same level of enthusiasm for tamper-proof voting machines as you have for calculators. Various states and countries don't seem to be too bothered about running elections on systems that can be modified, rigged, and so on. But I'm sure the corporations should be first in line for redress with that handy DMCA - the man in the street can just get stuffed, right? Anything to preserve artificial markets, after all.

  52. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    Soooo.....

    How many OS-replacing hacks exist for the higher-end Casio and HP calculators? And do (or would) either of those companies care? I'm guessing HP would probably shit themselfs, but they're just that way. What about Casio? I've had calcs from all three, and my fave is still the relatively low-end HP 24s that I bought in 1990 for ~$25.

    I'm kinda surprised at TI's response to this. I always saw them as more hobbyist-friendly, not hobbyist-averse, but perhaps the component side is different from the calculator side.

    Maybe they should have used keys that are of a length that's impractical to crack. At least "impractical" for the next 2 or 3 years. They seem more interested in protecting the old guard than refreshing their wares. DMCA may make it illegal to circumvent their protections, but it can't physically stop folks from figuring it out, and TI needs to remember that - at some point any encryption can be broken. If they're going to rely on encryption to protect their product they need to plan on keeping it updated, including obsoleting or de-certifying equipment that is too easily hacked.

  53. Tam Lin

    The Blackwater of high school math

    The calculator division of TI has one function: government contracting. Day after day, they are forced to take school board members on golf outings, NFL games, $200 lunches, symposiums in Hawaii, &c. All of this grueling labor is necessary if they want to be able to continue forcing kids to pay $150 for $15 worth of badly programmed Chinese parts.

    Now that's the American way, and that's why the DCMA was written.

    Amen (required by Texas law)

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Headmaster

    Ah, Halogen Days

    I was stuck with a crappy Sharp graphics while all my geek mates had fancy TI jobs fully loaded with Tetris and all manner of other shiny whizzo things, and all because of the modding community that sprang up around them. Now TI are the crap ones nobody wants and why? Cos they're shitting on the community and completely failing to allow their gear to live up to its potential (which these days is admittedly not much).

    Mind you, my crappy Sharp was still good enough to get me through my Biology Higher if you know what I mean.

  55. Random Noise
    WTF?

    12.5 integers?

    How can you have half an integer?

  56. steward
    FAIL

    There was a time when we thought that DEC...

    would be around more or less forever. They made moves as dumb as TI is making and now they're history. TI really should retract this before they become just history as well.

  57. David Kirkwood
    Thumb Down

    @Tom 11

    "Hardly one of the above posts are spelt and structured correctly!"

    Should be:

    "Hardly any of the above posts is spelled or structured correctly!"

    Kids today, I don't know!

  58. Charles Smith
    Grenade

    Home Goal

    This is a definite home goal by TI.

    I will think twice before buying their products. Was I reading that they have not updated some for years?

  59. Dan 21

    @ Paul 4

    "Your not alowed them in MEng exams, so anyone lower than that has no need."

    Assuming you meant that you aren't allowed calculators for a Masters of Engineering degree, why not? Surely by that point your ability to perform basic math is not in question, and the tests are requiring you to know what math to do?

    It is in the pure math classes that the graphing calculators are really needed- for the ability to graph and perform repetitive calculations rapidly.

    e.g. "Demonstrate, by use of a table, that the limit as theta approaches zero of the quotient of sine theta divided by theta equals one."

    Surely you can just work that out on paper/slide rule, but the TI-84+ can give you a decimal approximation for a dozen or more values of theta in about a minute of setting up the scenario. (Put the values of theta into a list, then use that list to generate another list.)

    Changing the TI-84+ firmware to the TI-89 firmware makes the device too useful for a basic calculus class- the 89 can and will provide exact answers for many trig functions, and can differentiate and integrate generally. The 84+ can only approxomate trig functions, and can approxomate derivities and areas under a curve with limited accuracy.

  60. vincent himpe

    one word :

    ROM. game over... instead of flash simply put MASK rom back in those machines.

    there can be user flash but the OS should be in mask rom.

    Every student entering exam room hands over calc to teacher. Teacher holds down 2 or 3 keys and power on. That erases user flash. Teacher hands calc back to student.

    In ROM there could be an official 'hook' to call user firmware.

    result

    - Hobbyists happy since they can mod to their hearts content

    - teachers happy since they can wipe

    - TI happy since they remain 'certified'

    Real hackers/cheats would simply solder a second flash on board and toggle the CS pins using a small slide switch... Teacher cna erase 'standard flash'.

    Student flicks switch ( under battery cover ) and powers back up. second flash is now mapped containting all his 'goodies'.

  61. Tim Spence

    I'm only interested...

    ...if you can run Crysis on them.

  62. Aaron Em

    "Most enthusiastic" blah blah.

    "Wow, what an efficient way to completely alienate the most enthusiastic section of your customer base."

    Why should TI care about the 'most enthusiastic' section of their customer base?

    No, that's an honest question. Explain to me why it makes more sense for TI to keep a bunch of cheapskate hobbyists happy, than to work as hard as they possibly can to retain their lock on the market for calculators acceptable to standardized testing organizations.

    I mean, yeah, sure, if TI's products are no longer permissible for use when you're taking the SAT or the ACT, they'll lose probably the only money left in that entire product line and have no remaining reason to keep manufacturing the things at all, but they'll have kept the hobbyists happy. So that's good, right?

    Have some perspective, y'all. Hobbyists and hobbyists' interests are indeed important and worthy of concern -- to hobbyists. From the perspective of a company as large and diversified as TI, y'all don't even exist. Feel free to rail about it all you like, though.

  63. Aaron Em

    And, honestly...

    Since when the hell does a real hacker depend on the manufacturer for *anything*, except to deliver the hardware and get the hell out of the way?

  64. VIC-20

    Copyrights that protect hardware are lame

    They are just there to keep us buying what they're selling.

    As for accreditation of the device for use in classrooms. TI would be better served by making it easier to validate the firmware that is loaded on the device. For example provide the ability for the calc to spit out a hash that the instructor could use to verify that the student is using a non-hacked firmware. If the teacher suspects anything, run the hash against a website at TI.

    In this way the geeks get to write their software. TI's interests are served by making both sets of customers happy.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    WTF

    What complete fail on Ti's part.

    When I was a school kid I had to make do with my Sharp EL-9300, I could only dream of a Ti-89. Then I got one and did all sorts of stuff to it.

    This is the same as me getting an Amstrad CPC-6128 in 1987 but then not allowed to program it?

    WTF

  66. Jim in Phoenix
    Linux

    Run for the border

    This is like selling someone a computer with preloaded software and telling them they can only use the software that's already loaded on it. It's ridiculous.

    The obvious solution for the people affected by the sleazy TI lawyers is to move their sites to hosting services located outside the US. A quick check on google turned up many affordable web hosting services in Canada.

  67. Edward 1

    It's all about the monopoly

    As others have mentioned, TI has a virtual monopoly on the graphing calculator market. While other companies make these things, both my kids were required to get a TI-83/84 series for their HS courses - other brands just would not do. At around $100 a pop times millions of school-aged kids, TI has a nice gravy train here. Honestly, I do not think graphing calculators add much to the class room and I resent being made to buy them. Once one gets into the real world, computers are everywhere and can do anything a graphing calculator can do. Given that these things have only had cosmetic updates in the last decade, one could probably program a more robust calculator into an iphone - I saw that they have some simulators for some of the old programmable HP calculators (non-graphing) already.

  68. ZenCoder

    Whats wrong wtih cheat sheets?

    The last math exam I took was open note /open book.

    Apparently my professor wanted to test whether we actually learned and understood the material rather than our ability to memorize simple formula's.

  69. /dev/me
    FAIL

    How?

    How is a random string of 512 bits copyrightable?

    I mean, something like this:

    00110100000010001000010011100010111001000000010011001100011010100000000110011111111011100011010101111111001110011111000100101000001001111010001010110010110011111010110010000010011011010100000001001010011001110100000001010001111100110001001101000000010011100000000100001110100100000001001000000101000011111110001101110001000100011001101010110100100001000000110111010001100010010011111100001000110001010111011100100101011010001101000000010001010111110001011001010001101010000001000100000001101100001101110111000010100011001111101100101110000011011011100101111001011110010000010000010001000010010110000111111111000110110110011001010110001101111001100011010001000010110111001100101010100110001000001001100101110101100100011001110010100110011000001111101001000001101011101011110111010101011110100101101111111001001011001110001111010100001101110101001010010000001100111101111011110110010110111110111010111101100000111101110010100110011100010101101101000001111111000100101010011010000010010110000001001010001101111001101011011010101111100010000001101110000000110000001110010101100100001000101010001110110011111 (c) /dev/me 2009

  70. Lyle Dietz
    WTF?

    Certified for tests?

    Not in Queensland they aren't. I managed to get away with it in one test because the teacher liked me, and we had to show working on the test anyway. All I could use the calculator for is to prove to myself that the answer was correct.

    Graphing calculators are not allowed in any test, unless specifically approved for that test. Instead I had to use my trusty Casio, which had 7 memory slots, binary, octal, and hex modes, and much more handy stuff.

    Now I'd rather have a netbook.

  71. Herby Silver badge

    Go back to HP-35's and start over!

    Now that was a wonderful calculator! It did cost $399 in 1971, and since I was an engineering student at the time I paid it. It is a wonderful thing, not a silly graphing thing that can't print out the result. It proved to be invaluable. It simply wasn't a chunky "four banger" calculator, it did scientific stuff, and had a STACK. With suitable knowledge you could actually do complex stuff on it.

    And I did. Once in Thermodynamics we had a silly day test in the fine art of interpolation. At the beginning of the class I specifically asked if I could use my calculator (it was approved!). I slugged it out and had the answers to the four problems done at the end of the "hour". Others in the class were attempting to get addition and accuracy from slide rules (still in use at the time). The results were wonderful (at least for me!). I got 100%, and the next lowest grade was in the 30% to 39% range. The instructor had interesting comments for that class (and I was in Electrical engineering), That day I was not "looked up to" very much.

    What would happen if PC required a signed operating system, and only Microsoft had the signing key (I shouldn't speak too loud, as it could happen!). No freedom for you! This is a similar example.

    (*SIGH*)

  72. William Boyle

    The Streisand Effect

    I think TI is going to very shortly learn what The Streisand Effect means. They should fire their lawyers who are pushing folks to remove this information from the net, and TI should remove the need for digital signing of software to run on their calculators. My guess is that they will sell a LOT more calculators if they simply open source the software and let people build/install specialized software that meets their needs.

  73. ForthIsNotDead
    Unhappy

    Lessons Learned

    TI went down this road in 1981 with the TI-99/4A home computer. They attempted to completely control the market - preventing game vendors from having technical information to allow them to write competitive games, and even going as far as to change the ROMs in later versions of the consoles so that only "approved" (i.e. TI) plug in cartridges would work.

    Result: The games industry ingnored the machine completely, instead deciding to code for the Vic, the C64, and the Atari range of machines.

    They withdrew the machine from the market in 1983, after having been comprehensively thrashed in the home computer wars by Commodores Jack Tramiel.

    Of course, it was a sweet victory for Tramiel, who had very nearly been put out of business by TI in the calculator wars of the 70's.

    Looks like they still haven't learned.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    There're calculators guys

    Calculators....nothing more.

    Nerds sling them from their belts and swagger around like gun fighters at the 01 Corral ...

    The only purpose I ever found for a calculator was to type in numbers that spelled words when flipped up the wrong way...meh.

  75. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @David Kirkwood

    Spelt and Spelled can be used interchangeably. Spelt in UK English refers to past tense; spelled is more common in the US due to simplification, and some might say, bastardisation of proper English.

    Correcting other people's use of language without understanding it yourself, can only result in a feeling of self-doubt and worthlessness. It’s something best avoided on “teh Interwebs”.

  76. Hugh_Pym
    Stop

    Re: They have a point

    No they don't. If they need to prove that their calculators aren't hackable so they get type approval for exams in the US then they have failed; the proof of concept is out there in the wild already. Anybody who really wants to can hack one of these devices. Due to the programmable nature of these things it is difficult to see how making them programmable in a different way would give unfair advantage, it's not like they can browse the internet or communicate with an accomplice.

    The article makes it clear that the key is crackable so stopping someone advertise the key is not the same preventing someone gaining and using it. At best it makes it a little more difficult and then only if all the people who wanted it haven't already copied it.

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    They can deduce private keys of 512 bits?

    I think the men in black glasses will be round soon 'offering' them a special assignment

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    TI - Calculates a Crock..... (wankers)

    I have a huge fight with this Texas Instruments - headed for the courts, about them producing software that is not fit for the purpose.

    It concerns mainly ME-Pro (Mechanical Engineering Professional) - which these STUPID AMERICANS write and configure for a global market - while 95% of the world uses ISO METRIC, the Davinci retards and the TI quality Control have written most of it in RETARDED US imperial measurements....

    i.e. Calculate the power in newton pound feet, of a propellor shaft, that is 32 cubits in circumference, and has an engine producing 5,500 Rankin inch radian horsepower tons per furlong, per hogs head of Pensylvania sweet crude per kilowatt knot hour with an efficiency of 75 gills per bushel.

    When I get their idiot lawyers in court I'll kick them in the nuts while I am at it.

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    @callmeshane 1

    Excellent post. Here have a pint. Oh wait....

  80. scottboy
    FAIL

    @David Kirkwood

    "Hardly one of the above posts are spelt and structured correctly!"

    Should be:

    "Hardly any of the above posts is spelled or structured correctly!"

    Actually, it should be

    "Hardly any of the above posts are spelled or structured correctly!"

    If you're going to be picky, be correct.

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