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SkySafari + ASCOM = Great Success

DIY equipment planetarium software
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#1 synfinatic

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Posted 19 December 2020 - 11:23 PM

So it's probably a little early for this, but I figured I'd share this incase there was someone else crazy enough to want to do this too.

 

TL;DR: I do some EAA with my EdgeHD on a Celestron Evolution mount.  Typically I'm using CWPI + WiFi Scope + SkySafari for finding targets.  I really like the SkySafari interface a lot more than the Xbox game controller I have for controlling the scope via CWPI.  But I've had a lot of issues with WiFi Scope crashing.  Anyways, I decided to write my own solution that allows SkySafari to control a scope via ASCOM.  It's a little hacky, but I'm no Windows developer so don't ask me to figure out how to do COM.  But REST??? Yeah, I can do that.

 

Enter in Alpaca- which is basically a REST proxy for ASCOM.  So now I just need to translate "telescope commands" that SkySafari sends to REST calls and ASCOM+CWPI takes care of the rest.  And that is being taken care of via some code I wrote today called Alpaca Gateway.  As you can tell, creative naming of software is one of my core competencies.  laugh.gif

 

Anyways, it's some GoLang which in theory should be able to run on your Windows or RasPi or whatever and convert Nexstar commands to Alpaca/ASCOM.  Note, because it's using ASCOM on the back end, you don't need a Celestron Nexstar mount- you just need a mount which supports ASCOM.  Well... in theory at least.

 

Anyways, it's still super early... I have some basic things working, but it's hardly complete or fully tested.  No idea what other pieces of software or other kinds of mounts might actually work.  I'm mostly just posting this because the battery on the mount died after testing all day and I'm going to call it a night. 

 

So why announce it now?

 

1. Maybe you're willing to be a beta tester?

 

2. See if there are other use cases for something like this?  Like I said, I'm testing with SkySafari & Evolution mount, but maybe you have some other combination?

 

3. Give people who aren't afraid of looking at source code a chance to take a look.  Maybe you'll learn something.  Maybe I'll learn something.

 

4. Alpaca-Gateway also includes a basic GoLang Alpaca REST client library.  Would be a good starting point for other projects.  So now you know. smile.gif


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#2 synfinatic

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 11:17 AM

Worked on it more yesterday.   Have everything but of course the most important thing working- GoTo.  Need to dig in more on the conversion from the raw bytes in serial protocol to the RA/Dec hrs/deg floating point values in Alpaca/COM.  Oddly enough, reading the position from the scope works great.

 

Once I have that working, I'll be releasing binaries for Windows and most all other operating systems, although I figure most people are just interested in the Windows version.

 

I also really need to find better name. :)



#3 hcf

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 12:34 PM

Interesting project !

I am not a windows person, but I did use Sky Safari as my GoTo interface for my DIY GoTo instead of phone app/joystick/command line.

 

It might be interesting to add an extra feature to your setup which might add value:

 

Because you have a layer between Sky Safari and ASCOM, you could interpose on the GoTo commands from Sky Safari and do iterative platesolving automatically "under the hood". So the user does  a "GoTo" from Sky Safari and you break it down to a seriers of platesolve, sync and slew commands to center the target.

 

My DIY Platesolved GoTo

https://www.cloudyni...-project-ps-g2/

 

And some ideas for doing this for existing GoTo mounts

https://www.cloudyni...ng-goto-mounts/


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#4 synfinatic

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 02:33 PM

That's a really interesting idea.   I've never done anything with any plate solving so excuse my ignorance, but don't existing plate solving solutions already use ASCOM to center the target?

 

While I can do some basic camera control via ASCOM, I can't actually transfer the images via ASCOM so I'd have to talk directly to the camera.  And if you're imaging or doing EAA you already have software which can talk to the camera and often do plate solving directly or via something like AstroTortilla.  I'd also expect that only one program can "open" the camera and read off images at a time, so I'd be worried about creating conflict issues.

 

Anyways, I know you've been looking at doing super low cost solutions (which I think are awesome btw), but one big issue here for alpaca-gateway is that it requires a Windows box because Alpaca is just a REST gateway for ASCOM which is Windows only (since it's based on Windows COM).  So while alpaca-gateway can run on a Linux/RasPi, you still need that Windows box running ASCOM to talk to your mount.

 

That said, my code could be refactored a bit so make the telescope API protocol more of a library (currently the Alpaca API is it's own module).  Then in theory you could write a Nexstar/LX200 protocol proxy which does the plate solving by speaking Nexstar/LX200 on either end (one side pretends to be the scope for SkySafari and the other side talks to the scope).  But then you'd need some kind of camera and then do the plate solving... and well I already own two ASI cameras so not sure I need a 3rd. 



#5 hcf

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 03:06 PM

Yes there exist platesolving tools on windows, but if you are using Sky Safari for goto, you would need to go back to the windows pc to do a capture and solve and center. There are a few tools like NINA which do the automatic goto using platesolve (from what I have heard) but they do  not have an interface to Sky Safari (yet).

 

You would have to get an image either from the guidecam (aligned to the scope) or the imaging cam, but that should be possible using ASCOM, and call a platesolver to solve.

 

A guidecam solution is especially interesting because you could then use it for visual, if you can package all the software into a mini PC running windows, to which Sky Safari connects, and does deadly accurate GoTos.

 

My solution is the proxy, which translates between Sky Safari and the mount as you mention. It works well for a single mount/cam solution. The reason ASCOM or Indi helps, is because with it you can use the same software for other ASCOM compatible mounts or cameras without too much effort.



#6 synfinatic

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 05:59 PM

So first, IMHO, if you're doing EAA or AP, then switching from SkySafari to Windows in order to plate solve doesn't seem like a big deal since you can't do EAA/AP from SkySafari natively and have to switch to your windows box already.

 

If you're doing visual then IMHO, you'd probably much more want a cheap RasPi than a $300 windows box driving your scope if you felt the need to plate solve.   Also, I don't know if INDI/ASCOM really helps that much... probably 90% of the go-to market for visual is either LX200 or Nexstar protocol compatible scopes.  You have to implement at least one of those protocols either way to talk to SkySafari.  Since plate solving runs on Linux, why force Windows?

 

That said, I'm not sure I buy the idea that plate solving really makes sense for visual... if you have a go-to scope, it's pretty trivial to do a 2 star alignment (or maybe just use StarSense) and then use SkySafari.  Sure, it probably won't be "deadly accurate", but just put in a wide-angle EP and adjust the scope manually.  It almost certainly would be faster than plate solving?  And you probably already own the WA EP and wouldn't need to buy the other gear.

 

Don't get me wrong... it would be pretty cool. :)   Just that it's not something I have a need for right now.



#7 hcf

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Posted 21 December 2020 - 07:28 PM

Well both the camera and mount compatibility are somewhat important. No one wants to buy a new camera for platesolving. When means you need something like ASCOM/Indi. ASIAir has added platesolved goto but it works with ZWO cameras only.

 

Windows machines are also much faster for platesolving than the Pi. And we do have the Linux and Windows camps which  tend to stay with either Linux or Windows.

 

On Linux/Indi it is easier to automate the goto using platesolving. On Windows something like what you are doing with Alpaca  could be a way.

 

Yes, it is only important only  if  you need it. smile.gif If your GoTos are accurate enough, then you dont need it.

 

 But  I find it very comfortable to put down a  EQ mount approximately polar aligned, bring up Sky Safari and do accurate GoTos without star alignment, or location entering. The mount can also be unclutched and moved by hand and bumping the mount accidently still keeps it working accurately. No encoders or StarSense needed.

 

Good luck on your project, and sorry for the off topic detour.


Edited by hcf, 21 December 2020 - 07:29 PM.


#8 synfinatic

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Posted 22 December 2020 - 12:02 AM

Yeah, I think I just don't have a need for that right now.  Necessity is the mother of invention. :) 

 

Anyways, I seem to have tracked down the bug and have it fixed.  If anyone is using WiFi-Scope and experiencing issues with it crashing, then maybe you'd want to give mine a try and see if it works better?  So far with my testing at least I haven't been able to crash it.

 

I built a Windows binary: https://synfin.net/m...ndows-amd64.exe

 

Or feel free to grab the source code off github and build it yourself: `make windows`   

 

Still need to come up with a better name though!


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#9 Sean Cunneen

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Posted 22 December 2020 - 02:27 PM

Moved to Astronomy software and computers for a better fit...


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#10 JMW

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Posted 22 December 2020 - 08:30 PM

Interesting. I spent some time learning about  Alpaca and wondered if someone would do this.

 

I used WifiScope years ago and forgot it existed. I asked the question about using Sky Safari to talk to an IP listener daemon on an ASCOM box to allow Sky Safari to talk with  ASCOM verses directly with the mount. The plan is to use SharpCap Pro for the camera, live view and calls to plate solving. I want to select targets with Sky Safari pro. I don' t need to initialize or park the mount because I will be doing it on the NUC running ASCOM. I only want to be able to select targets and do a GOTO and possibly a sync after the plate solve.

 

My mount is an Astro-Physics with CP4 controller. WifiScope works but your right about it being flaky. I often need to quit and restart WifiScope.

 

Thanks for doing this. Please share your efforts with the Alpaca community. There are been very few efforts to create a functional Alpaca program that I am aware of.


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#11 synfinatic

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Posted 23 December 2020 - 12:05 PM

Hey Jeff,

 

That's exactly my use case as well!  Thanks for the tip on sharing with the Alpaca community- I'll definitely do that.  I've even setup my code to basically expose the Alpaca API as a Go library.  Honestly, I was a little concerned that Alpaca would be buggy or slow, but my testing so far has disproven that- I have no problems querying the scope location 10/sec which is something that wouldn't be even imaginable with WiFiScope.

 

Anyways, I'll have a new official release on GitHub soon which fixes an issue with stale TCP connections not being cleaned up properly.  I do hope to add LX200 support in the near future as well.


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#12 synfinatic

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Posted 30 December 2020 - 06:26 PM

FYI, I've just released v0.0.3.  A bunch of internal improvements and small bug fixes, but the big deal is adding LX200 protocol support.  

 

Binaries for most platform are available on the release page: https://github.com/s...ases/tag/v0.0.3

 

Also, if anyone has any software other than SkySafari that they use, please let me know how it works for you and there are any features missing.



#13 Bob Denny

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Posted 06 January 2021 - 02:13 PM

PS a clarification:

 

Enter in Alpaca- which is basically a REST proxy for ASCOM.

Actually Alpaca itself is totally independent of "classic" ASCOM (which uses Windows LPC/COM as its comm scheme) Same interfaces, different transport. No need for a Windows machine anywhere. On the other hand you do get two-way proxy services on the Windows ASCOM Platform. Alpaca <-> COM.  It's just that Alpaca <-> Alpaca is totally possible without any Windows anywhere. The name ASCOM has caused confusion by seeming to be bound to Windows/COM rather than being the name of the interface standards on which the COM flavor is built.

 

I'm going to look at this ASAP, it seems interesting. I don't know some stuff like what is a CPWI and what is WiFiScope. Oh,, and I can't see a design case where platesolving somehow gets mixed in with scope control at the device level.  I'll be back with some success or questions. 

 

[edit] The windows binary link in this message leads to a 404 Not Found

 

[edit2]I can't get what this does. I looked at your GitHub project but I don't know Go and can't see how to build it (I'm on Windows with Visual Studio). Let me just ask if I can talk to an ASCOM/COM Windows based telescope from SkySafari iOS. I am missing one of more pieces from the puzzle. Now I know what CPWI is and I don't have it.


Edited by Bob Denny, 06 January 2021 - 02:22 PM.


#14 synfinatic

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Posted 06 January 2021 - 02:49 PM

PS a clarification:

Actually Alpaca itself is totally independent of "classic" ASCOM (which uses Windows LPC/COM as its comm scheme) Same interfaces, different transport. No need for a Windows machine anywhere. On the other hand you do get two-way proxy services on the Windows ASCOM Platform. Alpaca <-> COM.  It's just that Alpaca <-> Alpaca is totally possible without any Windows anywhere. The name ASCOM has caused confusion by seeming to be bound to Windows/COM rather than being the name of the interface standards on which the COM flavor is built.

 

I'm going to look at this ASAP, it seems interesting. I don't know some stuff like what is a CPWI and what is WiFiScope. Oh,, and I can't see a design case where platesolving somehow gets mixed in with scope control at the device level.  I'll be back with some success or questions. 

 

[edit] The windows binary link in this message leads to a 404 Not Found

 

[edit2]I can't get what this does. I looked at your GitHub project but I don't know Go and can't see how to build it (I'm on Windows with Visual Studio). Let me just ask if I can talk to an ASCOM/COM Windows based telescope from SkySafari iOS. I am missing one of more pieces from the puzzle. Now I know what CPWI is and I don't have it.

First, that binary was old and I removed it because there is a more recent release: https://github.com/s...ases/tag/v0.0.3

 

As for building on Windows... I just cross-compile.  With Go that's actually easy.  But yeah, don't ask me how to use Visual Studio.  In theory you just need a copy of GNU Make and Go on your system and run `make`.  Probably through WSL or something?  No clue.  I just know I can build the binary on my MacOS box and copy it to my Windows box and it works. smile.gif

 

So yeah, Alpaca is independent of ASCOM, but not really.  How many Alpaca compatible pieces of hardware are out there on the market right now?  Do your telescope, focuser, camera, etc support the Alpaca REST API?  Some day though I hope this changes.

 

So what the Alpaca/ASCOM people did was create a Alpaca->ASCOM proxy called ASCOM Remote: https://github.com/A...Remote/releases

 

So now you can talk to your existing ASCOM supported hardware via an Alpaca client.  And that's what AlpacaScope is- an Alpaca client that runs a LX200 or Nexstar protocol server.  So now you can connect SkySafari to your ASCOM compatible mount and do all your goto's from SkySafari.  

 

In theory, you should also be able to do alignments via SkySafari, but that doesn't seem to work with my Celestron Evolution mount- as far as I can tell, CWPI/ASCOM doesn't like it?  Dunno, I'm not getting any errors from Alpaca.


Edited by synfinatic, 06 January 2021 - 02:52 PM.


#15 Bob Denny

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Posted 07 January 2021 - 11:21 AM

 

So yeah, Alpaca is independent of ASCOM, but not really.  How many Alpaca compatible pieces of hardware are out there on the market right now?  Do your telescope, focuser, camera, etc support the Alpaca REST API?  Some day though I hope this changes.

 

Ha ha I understand now. You're right that not many Alpaca devices don't exist yet. However Optec does have Alpaca hardware devices, and I know of others on the way. This stuff takes time, money, and developer talent. And yes Peter Simpson't ASCOM remote is brilliant. But did you know that as on ASCOM Platform 6.5 the "outbound" proxy (programs on Windows talking to Alpaca devices such as Optec) is built in to the Chooser? For example, say you are running TheSky on Windows, and want to use a (fictitious for now) Alpaca only camera rotator. In TheSky you bring up the ASCOM Chooser as usual, enable Alpaca to add its discovered devices to the list of devices, choose the Alpaca rotator and start spinning the FOVI in TheSky to turn the Alpaca rotator. No software changes needed to TheSky.

 

 

So now you can talk to your existing ASCOM supported hardware via an Alpaca client.  And that's what AlpacaScope is- an Alpaca client that runs a LX200 or Nexstar protocol server.  So now you can connect SkySafari to your ASCOM compatible mount and do all your goto's from SkySafari.

Call me dense... What is SkySafari connecting to? What speaks Alpaca? My SkySafari appears to speak only SkyFi and as I understand from Simulation Curriculum that's not the same as Alpaca. Where does SkyFi and AlpacaScope fit in with the LX200 serial line codes or NexStar or CPWI? I'm sorry I don't get it. What I want is to be able to do GoTos from SkySafari to a Windows/ASCOM controlled mount. What if I want to control an EQMOD or Astro-Physics or Bisque Paramount (via TheSky), all ow chich are classic ASCOM compatible on Winddows?


Edited by Bob Denny, 07 January 2021 - 11:22 AM.


#16 synfinatic

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Posted 07 January 2021 - 12:07 PM

Ha ha I understand now. You're right that not many Alpaca devices don't exist yet. However Optec does have Alpaca hardware devices, and I know of others on the way. This stuff takes time, money, and developer talent. And yes Peter Simpson't ASCOM remote is brilliant. But did you know that as on ASCOM Platform 6.5 the "outbound" proxy (programs on Windows talking to Alpaca devices such as Optec) is built in to the Chooser? For example, say you are running TheSky on Windows, and want to use a (fictitious for now) Alpaca only camera rotator. In TheSky you bring up the ASCOM Chooser as usual, enable Alpaca to add its discovered devices to the list of devices, choose the Alpaca rotator and start spinning the FOVI in TheSky to turn the Alpaca rotator. No software changes needed to TheSky.

I kinda grok what you're saying and it mostly makes sense, but honestly, I don't really have much experience with the ASCOM ecosystem other than historically using it with SharpCap for EAA on my Evo.  I've never used TheSky for example or owned a GEM, filter wheel, field rotator, etc.

 

Call me dense... What is SkySafari connecting to? What speaks Alpaca? My SkySafari appears to speak only SkyFi and as I understand from Simulation Curriculum that's not the same as Alpaca. Where does SkyFi and AlpacaScope fit in with the LX200 serial line codes or NexStar or CPWI? I'm sorry I don't get it. What I want is to be able to do GoTos from SkySafari to a Windows/ASCOM controlled mount. What if I want to control an EQMOD or Astro-Physics or Bisque Paramount (via TheSky), all ow chich are classic ASCOM compatible on Winddows?

SkySafari connects to AlpacaScope (via LX200 or Nexstar protocol over TCP/IP).

AlpacaScope connects to ASCOM Remote (via Alpaca)

ASCOM Remote talks to your mount (via ASCOM).

 

The whole point of AlpacaScope is so that you can do GoTo's from SkySafari to control your mount without a SkyFi or other dedicated wifi adapter like the built in WiFI access point in a Celestron Evolution mount.  As long as the device running SkySafari (iPad, etc) can talk to your system running AlpacaScope (probably your Windows box doing all the ASCOM stuff, but doesn't technically have to be) then it should work.

 

Obviously if you have a SkyFi or the built in wifi adapter in your Evolution mount works for you (many people complain about the wifi in the Evo mount being flakey) then you don't need AlpacaScope.  Honestly, I suspect the only people interested in AlpacaScope will be imagers who are already using ASCOM to drive their scope, but would like to drive their mount via something like SkySafari.



#17 Bob Denny

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Posted 08 January 2021 - 10:29 AM

I’ve got it!!! I’m going to try this later today or over the weekend. How cool!! If AlpacaScope uses the ASCOM Chooser to pick the telescope you’re using from SkySafari, then there’s no need to directly interact with ASCOM Remote. This is exciting. What a cool idea!!

#18 synfinatic

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Posted 08 January 2021 - 11:21 AM

"If AlpacaScope uses the ASCOM Chooser to pick the telescope"  

 

So maybe I'm dumb, but I don't believe that is possible unless your scope were to support Alpaca natively or AlpacaScope were to support ASCOM?

 

Right now, AlpacaScope is pretty dumb- it just talks to your first telescope.  Honestly, would be pretty trivial to add more configurability so you could choose which telescope to use (I'd probably have AlpacaScope start up a little webserver you could talk to in order to configure it), but for now it just assumes ASCOM Remote is doing all the hardware selection/management.

 

As for AlpacaScope ever directly supporting ASCOM... well highly unlikely.



#19 Bob Denny

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Posted 09 January 2021 - 01:16 PM

My AV (basic MS Security Essentials) won't let me open either the (Windows) x64 or the 386 flavor of 0.3.3. You might want to check your system. Of course this could be a false positive but unlikely since it's saying the same trojan is present in both installers. 

 

Snap1.jpg



#20 synfinatic

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Posted 09 January 2021 - 01:58 PM

My AV (basic MS Security Essentials) won't let me open either the (Windows) x64 or the 386 flavor of 0.3.3. You might want to check your system. Of course this could be a false positive but unlikely since it's saying the same trojan is present in both installers. 

 

attachicon.gifSnap1.jpg

*sigh*   I really wish Microsoft would fix their AV engine... so many false positives (FP's).

 

Anyways, this is a known FP: https://golang.org/doc/faq#virus

 

Here's another Go app having the exact same problem: https://github.com/d...ilder/issues/33

 

For the record, I built all the binaries (including the Windows versions) on my Mac.  I'd have to ask my co-workers who are actual malware/threat researchers, but last time I checked, Windows viruses don't infect Mac's.  (not saying Mac's can't ever have problems, just that Windows viruses aren't it)

 

Edit to add:

 

I just submitted the amd64 binary to VirusTotal to have it scanned by 71 different AV engines.  Only 2 came back saying it was suspicious: https://www.virustot...d3023/detection

 

Also, I know free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it, but I'd pick MalwareBytes over pretty much any AV product out there.  I don't work for MalwareBytes, nor does my company sell an AV product.  I have however helped build a malware analysis sandbox which is used by the majority of the Fortune 100.


Edited by synfinatic, 09 January 2021 - 02:05 PM.


#21 Bob Denny

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Posted 10 January 2021 - 10:44 AM

What a shame... Well I’ll spin up a VM for the test. In any case I thought you should know. It’s crazy that it shows for both builds. It must be a pattern in the Go libraries or ??? I’m surprised with the number of FPs on Go based apps that the Go community hasn’t already submitted it.

#22 synfinatic

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Posted 10 January 2021 - 11:36 AM

Yeah, I appreciate the heads up.  I'll have to update my README so people know.

 

The fact that it shows up for both builds is a function of the Go compiler.  Go internally is quite a bit different from languages like C/C++, Python or Java, so its binaries are "weird".   Honestly, this is a big reason why I (and my co-workers) recommend MalwareBytes to our friends and family: the way it looks for malware is a lot different from traditional anti-virus and not only does it have far fewer false positives, but because it's looks at behavior rather than "signatures" it is much more effective at finding new malware and other unwanted programs like adware/spyware.  My mom kept on getting infected with pop-up ads on her desktop even though she had Norton AV until I got her MalwareBytes.

 

Unfortunately, as you can see from that report there are over 70 AV products out there- and that didn't even include MSFT Essentials.  IIRC, there are a few others not included in VirusTotal scans due to licensing issues.  There's just no way for individuals like me to track and submit false positives back to all the different vendors so they can fix their stuff.  At least right now, Go isn't popular enough (especially on Windows) for the vendors to take the time to fix it on their own it seems.



#23 synfinatic

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Posted 10 January 2021 - 12:26 PM

FYI, I've updated the README with instructions on how to build the binary on Windows.  It worked for me, at least.  https://github.com/s...uild-on-windows  (bottom of the page)



#24 Bob Denny

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Posted 13 January 2021 - 08:06 PM

Well I'm gonna have to pass for now. I couldn't find a way to get the binary to pass AV on my VM either. And I am not too keen on installing a bunch of GNU stuff and building. Sorry I am too old fashioned I guess. 

 

Anyway if I understand what you've done, it's COOL!!!



#25 Bob Denny

Bob Denny

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Posted 14 January 2021 - 11:12 AM

Actually I'll try it on a Raspberry Pi this weekend.


  • synfinatic likes this


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