5 Cool Chatbots: Feb 2017 Edition

ChristopherBot (Facebook)

Never forget your homework again

I have to include this bot first; it’s received a lot of press over the past few weeks, and rightly so. A great little concept from a 14 year old schoolboy who was forever forgetting about his homework. He created a Facebook messenger chatbot in Ruby and hosted on Heroku to help him (and you!) keep track of work that’s pending.

ChristopherBot

Read more about ChristopherBot on the BBC and try it out over at christopherbot.co. You can view the code (mainly Ruby) over on GitHub – annoyingly good code from someone so young! He puts me to shame..

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AppHarbor, Heroku, Git, and the Sweet, Sweet CI Process

The background: I thought that my Mobile TFL Bus Countdown site might be suddenly very popular for a very short time (for about a weekend perhaps) and didn’t want to pay for the potential sudden jolt in hosting costs from my own servers. As such, I developed it locally using git as VCS, pushed it to my newly acquired Appharbor account, and just saw it suddenly available to browse at rposbo.apphb.com

The pitch: For your own small website/app you probably edit it locally on your PC, maybe you even have source control like a good dev, you’ll compile the code and then you’ll copy it to your hosting provider, probably using FTP/ via a web interface/ SCP/ SSH.

Then at work you’re probably shouting about how awesome CI builds are and how to introduce continuous deployment as part of a branching and build strategy.

You might even use Azure or EC2 at work, maybe for your own little home projects too. Maybe you’ve learned a bit of git but your office uses TFS (ugh) or SVN (meh).

So why not do this for your own stuff? For free? In the cloud?

Imagine the ideal workflow: make some code changes –> commit them to (D)VCS –> push them to a (remote) repo –> the push kicks off a build the committed project (git hook) –> run any associated tests, then if they pass –> deploy the app to the cloud.

That’s exactly what Appharbor and Heroku do! Let’s start with the pretty one:

Heroku

Heroku says it’s a “cloud application platform” for running scalable Ruby, Node.js, Clojure, and Java sites/apps. To create and deploy a new site is, apparently, as easy as:

$ heroku create
Created sushi.herokuapp.com | [email protected]:sushi.git

$ git push heroku master
-----> Heroku receiving push
-----> Rails app detected
-----> Compiled slug size is 8.0MB
-----> Launching... done, v1
http://sushi.herokuapp.com deployed to Heroku

So here the flow is: write some code –> commit to git –> push to Heroku –> code is built –> code is deployed. Done.

heroku homepage

The Heroku website is fantastically full of all the information you’d want to get started, and their pictorial representation of how their solution works and the various levels of databases you can buy are geek-awesome:

heroku databases

“This app needs a BAKU DATABASE!! GRRAARRRR!!” Go and have a look and bask in the beautiful piccies and animations. No wonder this is (apparently) the place to go to write and deploy cloud hosted Facebook apps.

Thanks to Heroku I’m finally beaing pushed to learn Ruby, but haven’t managed anything quite yet, hence no demo of the Heroku flow – wait a few more posts and I’ll have something Ruby-fied and certainly some Node.js as I’ve been meaning to get into that for a while, possibly even Clojure (sounds fun) and Java (old school!).

Next up is one for the .net crowd:

appharbor

Appharbor sells itself as “Azure done right” which confused me. The website itself is verrrry low on information so I just assumed it would deploy my app to Azure. Turns out I was wrong:

appharbor chat on twitter

Despite my being pedantic over their homepage tagline I took the dive and just signed up. Only once you’ve done this do you get to see the money shot – the intro video; a new MVC app in Visual Studio to EC2 cloud via git + appharbor in a matter of minutes:

Now I have my account and I have a great intro vid I just hop into my code directory;

git init
git add .
git commit –m "init"
git remote add appharbor <git repo url appharbor gave me>
git push appharbor master

And that’s it. Committed code is checked out on their servers, built, any associated tests are executed, if everything passes then it gets deployed – and you can see all this from your Appharbor account:

appharbor deployment

(mine didn’t actually have anything to build, as it was a single html page and that really basic asmx web proxy I wrote).

In conclusion; you now have absolutely no excuse to not write and deploy whatever applications you feel like writing. There is no hosting to worry about, no build server – it just works. Use Appharbor for your .Net and use Heroku as an excuse to look at their pretty pictures and learn something that’s not .Net.

I know I will.

Comments appreciated.