Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Tribute to the TI 80-something Graphing Calculators

Rummaging thru a box of stuff in storage, I ran across my old Texas Instruments TI-85 calculator.  I had to stop and fiddle it for a moment. I grabbed some AAA batteries, only to discover that the CR1616 backup had given up… the calculator operates like new, as in factor reset… but sadly, that means a game program I wrote for it 20 years ago was finally gone forever.

Back in the early 90’s, Exeter Area High School had an advanced math course that required a TI-81 calculator. I gladly used the course as an excuse to get my hands on this relatively expensive (near $100 in 1990 dollars) but amazing piece of hardware at the time.

In short order, I added its programming language to the list of languages I had already taught myself.  I loved using trigonometric functions to create pictures. I used to program it to do my trig and pre-calc homework for me. (In retrospect, my attempt at “cheating” was a hack that I learned more from than any lecture or textbook ever would teach me… you see, in order to program the calculator to do advanced math for me, I had to thoroughly understand it, myself.)

My own TI-85, which I upgraded to
for calculus at UNH. It’s a bit dusty today.
It cost about $100 when I
purchased it in the early 90’s.

The TI-8x calculators were my “gateway drug” to my love of mobile development.  I was already developing software for PCs, but I loved the challenges imposed by yet more limited footprints and hardware capabilities. 

I kept my TI with me to the point that my sister nicknamed it a “porta-geek”…  (There was even a girl who stole it from me, thinking to wound me for the fact that I wasn’t interested in dating her. It had no effect; I obliviously assumed I’d misplaced it in my own absent-mindedness. The story came out several years later, after I’d purchased a replacement.)

The term “porta-geek” is a term I still whimsically apply on occasion to my current daily driver mobile device, my Lumia 950XL running Windows 10.  My sister’s jibe didn’t phase me, either.

By coincidence, I was also in Target’s electronics department today. I was surprised to notice that they still had several 20+ year old TI-80-somethings…  but rather than the price being lower, the prices are actually higher.

A selection of same-generation TI calculators at Target today (3/20/2016).  Notice the TI-80-somethings still going for about $100+.

I can’t really say why 20+ year old calculators should still cost more than they originally did…  clearly normal technology market forces are not in effect for them.  My spidey-sense for socialistic-driven monopoly tingles.  I’m not the only one to have noticed the… discrepancy… over the past couple decades.  ( )

That said, they were, and are great devices.

I’d love to see a Windows 10 emulator app made out of them….  maybe some day I’ll find enough spare time…  🙂

1 thought on “Tribute to the TI 80-something Graphing Calculators”

  1. Hey Jim, reminds me of my favorite HP 16C programmer's calculator which was my favorite from that era, and which I somehow misplaced or it disappeared from my desk many years ago. It now sells used for a small fortune. I still have my original HP 12C financial calculator, which I won in a contest and still use. It's so popular that HP still makes it, and I'm glad to say it's less expensive now than it was originally!Thanks for the memories of early “mobile devices” 🙂


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