There has been a stunning amount of progress in pretty much any measurable dimension of technology since 1996. We laugh at our prior naivete, pointing out that what would be a non-functionally awful computer now was considered state of the art at that time. Likewise with a Palm Pilot, arguably a precursor to today's omnipresent smartphones. Texas Instrument (TI) calculators, however, appear to have been left behind, not having made any significant advances since the newly discovered issues of of the US computer magazine Computer Shopper were published. Thus, while we groan at how awful our state of the art technologies truly were in 1996, we are reminded that some technologies have remained in relative stasis over the years.
The title text, after alluding to the fact that academia's practice of only allowing (or requiring) specific models is at the root of how TI can charge high prices for stagnant technology, reminds us that when they were new, TI calculators were relatively powerful tools if you knew how to use them. TI-Basic was a fairly versatile programming language that could be used to make anything from games to reference files to computational programs. If it wasn't for the ability to program a TI calculator to make it look like you didn't have any programs on it, I would have lost my copies of Tetris and Nibbles a dozen times over as my paranoid Chem professor went around deleting programs willy-nilly before tests.
The second half of the title text is a reminder to those of us who felt like gods for knowing how to program that power comes at a price—in this case, the power to program a calculator costs friends. Since no program yet devised can truly pass a Turing test, even the most sophisticated Chatterbot (programs designed to mimic conversation) can't quite qualify as a friend.
While many people aren't aware of them, TI does make more modern calculators in their TI-Nspire series, although they were introduced after this comic was published. The newest versions have color screens and (finally!) non-BASIC programming support through Lua.
- [Cueball is going through a cardboard box marked "MISC", and finds a catalog. Megan looks on.]
- Cueball: Check it out - old Computer Shoppers! Wow - in 1996, $3,000 would get you a 100 MHz Pentium system with a parallel port, two serial ports, a 2MB video card, and "MS-Windows"
- Megan: Nice!
- [The two are face-to-face, and they each have a separate copy of Computer Shopper.]
- Megan: And $299 would get you a Palm Pilot 100- - 16MHz, 128Kb storage, and a memo pad, calendar, and state-of-the-art address book that can store over 100 names!
- Cueball: Oooh!
- [Cueball continues to read from his.]
- Cueball: And $110 would get you a bulky TI graphing calculator with around 10MHz CPU, 24Kb RAM, and a 96x64-pixel B/W display!
- Megan: Times sure have... ...have... uh.
- [They both put down their catalogs.]
- Cueball: Okay, what the hell, T.I.?
- Megan: Maybe they cost so much now because there's only one engineer left who remembers how to make displays that crappy.