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July 2000


Why Limit Yourself To One Topic When You Can Do Two?

Fast Graphics and Internet Firewalls

Recap of a Presentation at SCOUG's General Interest Group

by Dave Watson

This is to provide some of the key points and URLs and such for those who requested it, for those who were away from the General Interest Group Meeting on July 15, 2000 for whatever reason, and for the record.

We discussed two general topics, and two sub-topics within each. I believe both topics deserve further attention by this group and I hope some of you will find time and interest enough to pursue some of these subjects, and will inform the GIG of your progress at some future date.

On the topic of fast graphics, of the DIVE interface and applications that make moving pictures, we demo'd the installation and setup of the WinTV GO card from Hauppage and the associated Warp drivers from Abbotsbury Software, and the Flash plug-in for Netscape from Innotek. We briefly introduced two software alternatives for securing an always-on Internet connection -- Internet Gate Proxy/firewall, and Injoy Firewall.

So what's the deal with graphics?

Your monitor paints itself with the data sent from the RAM in your graphics card. No magic. Much like a television. The difference from television is that the analog visual events we see on TV are converted to electrical impulses and sent more or less directly to the CRT for display. With computer graphics, we are encumbered by the need to calculate the placement of each element of the picture. With a static cluster of text like this mail, that's not too demanding. When you add fine grained detail, like in a photograph, or add motion, like in a movie, the calculations become more challenging. If you can't do it fast enough, you either slow down the motion or take out details, leaving you with the slow, simple images of the not so distant past.

The graphics accelerator in modern graphics cards takes some of this processing load, and the increases in speeds of CPUs, RAM and busses have led to rapid improvements. The computer software defines how the picture is laid out, sends it to the video memory on the motherboard, where it is transferred to the graphics processor on your card, and then out to the monitor. This requires efficiencies in many components -- the video RAM, the graphics engine, the system bus, the memory bus, the CPU, and of course the software.

Windowing software systems put enormous loads on the processing of graphics images. Thus, many video games were written for DOS long after Windows and Warp became popular, since DOS lets you write directly to memory, and windowing systems intercede with their own buffers and processing for the parts of the screen not supporting the game or other app. Recent improvements have also included a proliferation of protocols to expedite the data transfer to the card. These involve sizzling amounts of co-processing on the graphics card, and software routines (APIs) to relieve the application's processing requirements. DIVE provides Warp with the API hooks to support these graphics intensive programs.

So, let's put them to work. There are several drivers available on the IBM device driver web site for TV cards I've never found in local stores. A great article in the VOICE newsletter for July 2000 and a sale at Fry's Electronics piqued my interest. The article by Bill Esposito says it's easy to install and works well. I tried it and I agree.

Install the WinTV GO card from Hauppage, insert the external cable between the sound output on the card to the line in on your sound card, and start the computer. Get the free Warp drivers from Abbotsbury Software Ltd (the wcast.zip file has the drivers and some utilities). Unzip to a directory of your choice, then open an OS2 window and change to that directory and run minstall. The multimedia installer runs and asks you a couple of questions it should have figured out for itself. It installs the software and tests your system. Next you go to the Multimedia Setup in your System Setup and use the WCAST tab to configure your preferences. I used US region for the rabbit ears demo, but use USCATV with cable at home. Everything else was okay. Now, right click on the divetv icon and create a program object on the desktop, with the parameter of wcast 1 2 and you're ready for your fave programs in a window on your desktop. It has a DIVE interface option which apparently requires setting up a separate app (wtv.exe). But, it worked okay with the basic graphics and I haven't tried the DIVE capability yet. If anyone does, I hope you'll report to the list.

Next, I tried the latest beta Netscape plugin for Macromedia's Flash. Flash is a low-bandwidth animation protocol to spruce up web pages. The animations are developed by commercial apps such as the Macromedia Director program which costs hundreds of dollars, but the plugin is free for Windows and Mac. No such luck for Warpheads until this new plugin from the wonderful folks at Innotek whose "public beta 3" plugin is just out. The information on the site was helpful, and I also saw a good article on the Macarlo website, and you can find lots about the Flash world on the Macromedia site.

The installer was effortless. You restart Netscape and look at the About Plugins page and there is a new listing with a button. Click this to get an apparently unnecessary setup notebook. We also found a nifty "Easter egg" on the About page. Watch the credits scroll for a minute, and at the end a red dot flashes up for a second. Click that dot to get a Flash demo. I have read of general success in using this plugin, and a few problems. The betas keep coming out, so I expect they'll have it running smoothly about the time Macromedia comes out with their next version. These betas have an expiration intended to remind the user to upgrade. It claims to remain functional after expiration, simply giving a single reminder each time it is invoked. Now if we can just get a Warped developer tool!

Firewalls

Finally, we briefly discussed two software firewalls available for Warp to supplement the excellent Linksys Cable/DSL Router presentation that preceded us. (Also see the recent VOICE article on using the Linksys device with Warp.) Internet Gate from Maccasoft and Injoy Firewall from F/X Communications are both available as shareware on Hobbes (search for firewall). Internet Gate starts at $19.95 and InJoy Firewall at $30, with both having higher prices for versions with more features and more connections.

When you dial in to an ISP and get a temporary IP address, browse a while, and hang up you are a "small target" and are unlikely to be hassled by the legions of vandals and thieves that increasingly share the Internet with us. When you get cable or DSL, you're always on and become more likely to be scanned and get a followup visit from the bad guys. You can find a lot of good info and a test for your system at Gibson Research.

All these products include a Network Address Translation (NAT) capability to allow you to use a network of systems simultaneously on a single Internet connection as well as the security features. The Internet Gate is a proxy tool which filters various services like web and hail looking for misbehavior. The Injoy and Linksys products use filters where you can close out ports or addresses. There is no clear evidence that one is better than the other, and certainly none are invulnerable. Maybe we can get a hacker flyoff on these products down the road somewhere. Try them out and see what you like. And let the group know what you find. We were also advised that the new Warp TCPIP 4.1 includes a filtering capability built in which can give some security features for free. We should look more closely at that in a future GIG discussion.

Remember, we're all Generals at the General Interest Group. Contact Supreme General Tony for future topics, or feedback on these. Encourage your friends to join the General mail list, and let's talk!