As anyone required to buy a graphing calculator for pre-calculus knows, those calculators’ second-most important function was to allow their owners to play games. I can honestly say that I did almost none of this because I was a good student1 and was too cheap to buy the data transfer cable for the TI-82. However, I was definitely fascinated by my classmates’ ability to play Pong in the back of class. Or at lunch. Or in the hall.
Technology has of course continued its inexorable march since the days of my TI-82 usage (circa 1998)2, and now the proud owners of the TI-83/84 series of graphing calculators can play a version of Portal in the back of class. For the uninitiated, Portal is a gaming classic that came out in 2007 and was published by Valve after Valve hired the group of students who wrote and coded the original ‘portal’ concept in 2005. The player controls a protagonist who is “armed” with an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, which is a teleportation device that allows the player to place the entrance and exit points of the teleport. This can lead to some entertaining physics – stepping through an entrance portal on the floor with the exit on the ceiling above causes the player to fall faster and faster and faster as the player goes through the floor up to the ceiling, falls to the floor again, back up to the ceiling, etc, etc.
Anyway, all this good, clean, thought-provoking fun is available to slacking TI-83 owners everywhere thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of one Alex Marcolina (handle: Builderboy2005) at UC – Santa Cruz. I figure Builderboy2005 is going places in the future. In addition to figuring out how to program the game, he managed to shove a 2-D version of Portal into the 24kB3 of user available RAM in the TI-83. That’s efficient programming.
1 Or at least I was deferential to authority. Must be all that the fluoride in the drinking water impurifying my precious bodily fluids.
2 What, you think those graphing calculators come in handy after pre-calculus/calculus? Hahahahahaha. No. Or at least you can become a physicist without ever using one. Of course, you just graduate to more complicated crutches like Mathematica and Matlab.
3 This massive pool of RAM was only recently surpassed by a cutting-edge desktop computing device called the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. In 1977. Though you did need the optional expansion card interface to get the extra 32kB of RAM. This thing also had the same processor as the TI-83, albeit at about a quarter of the TI-83’s blistering 6 MHz clock speed. You have to love Texas Instruments’ business model.