Project VILMA

Sometimes, I get home and just wish I could say to my virtual machine in the cloud, “magico presto, turn on!” and it’s on and ready for me to remote into and do things. I wanted to do things to make that happen, but time and procrastination happens to many. Thankfully, there was an upcoming developer gathering that I used as the catalyst to actually build a system that would work, almost like magic.

So, last Sunday, the Port of Spain chapter of GDG (Google Developer Groups) held a developer event, #GDGPOS #DevFest. They reached out to the local developer community for interesting projects and I responded with a proposal to build something that would work in the way I described.

gdg-presenters
GDGPOS Presenters

My proposal got accepted and I spent a few weeks building out the idea. My whole solution involved using my Google mini to turn my virtual machine on or off.

To do that, I created a Google Action on the Google Actions console. I had played around with Actions before, but this would be different. I have been making most of my conversational agents using Microsoft’s Bot FrameworkBot Framework, so a lot of the concepts were familiar to me, from things like Intents, to Utterances and even the use of webhooks. For this action, I largely had to focus on just one Intent – the one that would hear a command for a VM state change and execute. Overall, the system would look like this:

VILMA-diagram

  • Creating the action

So, I created this custom Intent that took me to Dialogflow, Google’s interactive tool for building conversational interfaces. There, I created a custom intent, ChangeVMState.

ChangeVMState would receive messages and figure out if to turn a VM on or off. The messages could be in a range of formats like:

  • turn on/off
  • power on/off
  • shutdown/start up the vm

They would resolve to the ChangeVMState intent. All messages sent to ChangeVMState was then forwarded to my webhook. I deployed the webhook as a function in Azure.

The code to execute the functions is pretty straightforward. One function receives the request and queues it on an Azure Storage Queue.  Azure functions provides a really simple infrastructure for doing just that. 

I mean, this is the whole method: 

The item being put on the queue – the desired VM state – is just a variable being set. 

Another function in Azure will then take up the values in the queue and will start or stop the VM based on state. Again, a pretty simple bit of code. 

I’m using the Azure Fluent Management SDK to start/stop a VM

So, finally, after the VM is put into the desired state, an email is sent either saying the VM is off or that it’s on and an RDP file is included. Ideally, I wanted to have the Google Assistant I was using notify me when the VM got up and running, but I just couldn’t get push notifications working – which is why I ended up with email. 

Thus,  I ended up with a Google Action, that I eventually called VILMA Agent (at first, I was calling it Shelly-Ann).  I could say to my Google Mini, “OK, Google, tell VILMA Agent, turn on” and I’d get an email with an RDP file.

The code for the functions part of VILMA is up here on GitHub

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“Pacers”

In my running group I declared I was going to do this year’s UWI Half Marathon in 11:00 minute miles. My friend roundly berated me for aiming so slow, us having run together and him just knowing I can do a bit better.

Nothing’s wrong with that time if that’s where your training and skill have taken you. But he was like, you do the thing at 9:00 last year and reach 11:00 this year?! LOL, he was right. But I had a bag of excuses, less time to train, distractions, tiredness.

The man said don’t come and talk to me if you run this thing at no 11.

I had a fairly safe race planned. Because truly, my training wasn’t where I wanted it this year (also, lol, this is usually the case). But I planned to play some nice chill music, run at 10:30 for the first half and then try and maintain an even 10 on the way back down.

I started off too quickly.

By the time I got to my first half-mile, with my chill music playing, Endomondo told me I was at 8:something a mile. 🙂 Not good – based on my safe outlook on the race. A little after the mile, I realized I was not going to play this according to plan at all.

This is just after mile 5. Me and the pacer became friends this day.

I ran with the pacer. The 9:00-mile pacer. I saw him coming up with his jolly, flag self just after the first mile, I did a quick self-diagnostic check and determined I felt good at that pace and just went with it.

Pacers feel like the best thing innovation to the UWI half in a long time! They aren’t there to win, not there to get a medal, just there to be a beacon, and not even a silent one. Dude was hailing out people he knew, encouraging his growing following and just being literally a living flag of hope.

So, I ran with the pacer all the way to the half-mark. He had to turn off for a bit and I did not sustain my 9:00. I ran too fast, I ran too slow, but I had enough gas and my new music kicked in at the right time. I listened to both recent hip hop albums from Congress Music Factory that seem to be perfect for running as well as spiritual sustenance.

But all that delight started to wane at mile 10. It became a familiar slog as the sun came up, my muscles’ tiredness became more vocal and essentially, I started to lose focus. My pacer buddy came back, like a good Pied Piper with his merry crew. But this time, I couldn’t answer his call.

By mile 11, I did get to that 11:00-mile pace, with a single goal: keep running. Or jogging. But not walking. I knew from experience that the walk would feel REALLY GOOD, but do a lot of damage to my momentum. So I kept running and by mile 12 got the surge I needed to finish the race.

I ended up having a really decent average pace of 9:17-mile. Not a bad result.

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-28 at 7.45.16 PM

PS:

At the end of the race in the runner’s tent, I was waiting for a massage. Next to me sat this “elderly” dude. He told me he’s been running for longer than I’ve been alive. His race time? 1:37:00.

 

Danger Zones

TL; DR

I’ve built a map of the location updates from the Ministry of Works and Transport of Trinidad and Tobago based on flooding and where was/is impassable. You van view it here.

“Technical” details

That tweet above is kind of how I got the idea in my head to build out an example of the approach.

When I sat down to do create a version of a good approach, I had all kinds of options in my mind. Should it be rendered on the client or server side? React or Angular? Should I use Google Maps, Leaflet & MapBox or something else? How would I generate the data?  Should I try and parse some tweets? What’s the fastest way to get data? Who has the data?

Since I didn’t want to spend all evening in analysis paralysis, I just dove in and began pulling things together. I had recently set up a new dev environment, so my regular tools for some ideas weren’t restored yet. No node, npm or React was set up. So I started downloading packages, installers and tools.

And then I remembered glitch! I literally paused mid environment setup and jumped onto searching in glitch. Glitch is like online development environment that comes prepackaged with the resources you need to get up and running with with minimal fuss. Now, you have to have a sense of what you want to build and what tech to use. Which I did. A few searches later, I found a great starting point, something that already had the Leaflet stuff built in.

Having the base I wanted, I needed to get the content of these tweets represented as geojson:

Again, numerous options, parsers to write and just ideas swirling around. But while spelunking online for stuff to use, I found geojson.io – a WYSIWIG for generating geojson. I had to handcode the stuff, switching between Google Maps, Open Streetmaps and Waze but I just wanted an early result.

And I got it: a map that presents the information that @mowtgovtt tweeted about the state of impassable regions in the country.

 

Funky Azure Functions

Let’s talk about watering plants.

When I was younger, in my family, I was assigned the task of watering the flowering plants around the house. Thinking back on it now, there was easily 50 plants of all shapes and sizes. So, I would have to shuffle around the yard, bucket in hand, dipping and watering. Some plants would get two dips, others one. I couldn’t use the hose, because that might damage the roots of the younger plants. I hated it.

Ever the creative, I used to come up with outlandish ideas to solve the predicament. Sadly, I never implemented any of them. Thus, I was left to water these plants by hand.

Last week, for Caribbean Developer Week, I came up with a demo, featuring Azure Functions, that is the nearest to a solution to my plant watering needs back then that I have ever come.

I built three Azure Functions:

  1. Setup Waterer
  2. GuidEnqueuer
  3. Plant Waterer

Setup Waterer actually created more Azure Functions. Those would be Timer functions, each potentially able to run their own schedule.

GuidEnqueuer, alas poorly named, but good at pretending to be a plant food source, would receive an Http post and enqueue it. Plant Waterer would pick this up and display on a console. No actual plants benefited from this demo.

As I gushed previously, I created the Setup Waterer function on top of the Azure Fluent SDK and it worked fine. Functions making functions. That’s what I wanted to show really, and things worked well.

The code is available on my repo here.

Cloud, fluently.

So, I really dig the Azure Fluent SDK. It feels incredibly intuitive. Once you have familiarity with the lay of the land in terms of resources in Azure, then following on from examples of using the Fluent SDK looks as easy as using linq to get data access queries done.

It looks like the team behind it is ensuring the SDK stays up to date with Azure resources as they are released. Prior to being introduced to Azure Fluently (my name, lol), I was trying to find a way to create Azure Function applications on demand.  One of my recent Stack Overflow questions was in that vein.

But then along came this SDK. Now, I could do something like this:


IAzure azure = GetAzure();

var newName = (fnNamePrefix + DateTime.Now.Ticks).Substring(0, 19);

var storageAccount = azure.StorageAccounts.List()
 .Where(x => x.Name.Equals(storageAccountName))?.First();

MemoryStream stream = CreateZip(indexJs, functionJson);

var functionUrlZip = UploadZip(storageAccount, newName, stream);
 stream.Position = 0;
 var websiteApp =
 azure.AppServices.FunctionApps.Define(newName)
 .WithRegion("East US")
 .WithExistingResourceGroup(resourceGroup)
 .WithExistingStorageAccount(storageAccount)
 .WithAppSetting("WEBSITE_USE_ZIP", functionUrlZip)
 .Create()
 ;

Which lets me programmatically create an archive of the bits for a function (JSON), upload it and then, create the actual function. Notice, this function is powered by that experimental feature -> pointing to a zip file for your web app (WEBSITE_USE_ZIP).

I could have used this creation step to instead get the function’s publish profile and then upload the files via FTP to the newly created app as well.

This versatile way of engaging with Azure Resources, from a creational/management perspective is really compelling and I’m looking forward to using it more in the future.

#TheFutureIsFluent

 

See a flood, tweet a flood

Brandon was a student of mine in 2016. He did the Cloud Technologies course as an elective in his GIS programme at UWI.

During the course, one of the assignments is to develop a proposal for a cloud service. The proposal should address service model, delivery model and deployment. It also needs to talk about how each of the 5 characteristics of cloud services would be delivered.

Brandon and his team proposed flood identification as a service.  That is, it would grab user generated content and use that to identify if floods are happening in real time. After the proposal, he continued refining the proposal and is now testing it. He published this video to explain how it works:

I dig how he used a Twitter bot to receive the feedback as well. I hope his findings reveal a productive solution.

Good job, Brandon!

Hello World 2.0

Hey,

Last year, I saw this:

And I thought, “Aye, I would love to contribute to that!” So, I sent a session proposal and it was accepted!

Now, I get to join an impressive lineup of my peers and share on technologies I find to be exciting, relevant and impactful. I’ll be talking about topics I’ve been working with for a while now, including chat-bots, AI, language understanding and other cloud services.

What’s also groovy is that for this week, there’s a pretty sweet discount on attendance:

Registrants can save 40% on attendance. All Access tickets will be priced at $2495 TTD + VAT and a 1 Day Pass at $1495 TTD + VAT. This means that registrants can get a Full Access ticket for less than the cost of a regularly priced 1 Day Pass.

You can get more details of the conference here.

I saw the guys at Microsoft Build do this, and I loved the idea, so I’m doing a version of it here, it’s a “Convince Your Boss” template that’s amazing:

Convince Your Boss!

Dear <Insert Manager/Boss/Supervisor Name>

I’m really glad that we’ve been exploring ways for me to stay current with all the new technologies that could significantly make how we work more efficient, robust and competitive. I think I’ve found a place that helps us advance those goals.

In May, the signature gathering of ICT minds in TT and the region is happening, it’s called ICT Pro TT and it looks amazing. There’ll be talks from local luminaries, researchers and professionals in the ICT space, talking on Cloud, BI, AI and Leadership. 

They’ll be joined by award winning professors, international speakers and representatives from IBM, Google and Microsoft who will share a breadth of experience and expertise in some of the same areas we are considering for our next steps.

But one of the best reasons for me to attend is that this will provide a place for me to find and mingle with the community of seekers in our local ICT space. I want to see and hear from my peers who are actively trying to advance the nation by building great companies and organizations that are data-driven, willing to make new things and learn along the way.

Normally, we’d have to consider the expense of travel, accommodation and other amenities to access all this goodness in one space. ICT Pro TT helps remove all that and brings the value here. Thus, I’d love if you strongly consider having <Company Name> send me to this event.