Introducing Stormy the Cisco Spark Weather Bot!

If you want your daily forecast delivered to your Cisco Spark Space this might be the bot your looking for.

I have been working on Stormy for the last month and its been a fun little project but I now believe its time to release Stormy into the wild. While Stormy is not terribly sophisticated he does deliver the weather daily with access to over 200,000 cities world wide. Thanks to Stormy has access to your favorite cites.
Now, I don't believe for a second Stormy is about to change the world but its one of those handy bots that you can use to get your daily forecast delivered or as the example above shows simply ask a quick weather question. He knows no math, nor can he create a meme but he knows weather!
I am currently in the final testing stages for Stormy if you would like to try it out before it goes into the depot. Just search for Stormy inside of Spark and add it to a Spark Space or add to a conversation. He is simple to setup and just requires you to provide a city using the /city command. If you are in a Space versus a 1:1 make sure to @ mention Stormy to set your city or chat with him. See below for setting the city in a Spark Space:
If you would prefer to see temperatures in Celsius use the /unit command to update your room settings to metric. To change it back to fahrenheit use the same command with the imperial key word. The city and unit settings are on a per Space basis so if you want daily forecasts for multiple cities you can create a team and add Stormy to rooms for each city you want to see a forecast for.

This is version 1.0 of Stormy so please feel free to request features or make comments here on the blog or use the /feedback command in a room with Stormy to provide feedback. He will from time to time be unavailable for questions as I work out the final kinks (nice way to say bugs) but that should be limited.

 In future blogs I will talk more about what makes Stormy tick.


Cisco Spark bot for monitoring Spark bots. Say whaaat!

The last few weeks I have been working on and testing a new Cisco Spark bot that monitors all my other bots using a RESTful API. Its a relatively simple bot and thanks to an existing Nodejs project from Qawelesizwe Mlilo that was built  to monitor websites I was able to make a few simple changes so it is now a Spark bot that monitors other bots using a RESTful API. Qawelesizwe original project is called node-ping and is posted on GitHub. It has a number of files but the main module is node-monitor which is its own node module available on NPM. I made changes to a couple of the files on the original project with the largest change being removal of the email module to replace with my own Spark message module.

How it Works
This bot works by monitoring a website through the HTML status codes which it pings using a time interval(this is set in the websites.json file). This is very handy because if you are using Express with Nodejs all the status codes are taken care of for you, all you need to do is build a new route on your bot to handle the inquiry from the monitor bot(see the code later in the post). The monitor bot looks at the status code response and adjusts the status of you monitored bot accordingly and sends a Spark message when it changes. If you already have an existing website for your bot that is hosted with the same bot application you could use that as well, but I choose to create a new route so in the future I can deliver more JSON data with my response for future features.

Coding the Monitor Bot
The changes I made to the original node-monitor module are pretty minor. I added a new attribute to the constructor to describe the current bot state. I defaulted all bots to down state. Below is a exert of node-monitor file showing the constructor change.

Once this was done I took the rest of the node-ping sample code and added the ability to send Spark messages using a bot account instead of using email(boo, no one likes more email) and also adjusted the events to relay up and down status so when a bot comes back up the monitor bot lets me know and stops sending me Spark messages.

Sending a Spark message instead of an email used the file below. Make sure to place in your own bot token and adjust the events.js file for where you place this file.

The final change for the bot monitor application was adjusting the server.js file to add the new event for when a monitored bot comes back online.

The last change you will need to make is on the bot you want to monitor. If your using Express see below. The change involves setting up a new route to respond to the request from the bot monitor.Seeing as you may or may not use an actual website to monitor I created a REST response. In my case I give a quick JSON response but in future versions I am planning on generating some data to respond with, like rooms configured and up time stats that can be logged.

This is just the start of my monitor bot which as you can see has some rough edges but it works and just today it alerted me to a down bot which I had to address. One thing I want to do in the future is a daily bot monitor report delivered in Spark to let me know how my other bots are doing. Right now I have no way of knowing if the monitor bot has gone down so a daily report will help there as well, unless I build a bot to monitor the bot that is monitoring all my other bots, but then how would I know if that bot then went down. I know another bot........

If you want to check out the original Monitor module here is a blog post that describes it. Also here is the GitHub site.


XMPP to Spark Bot - Presence Upgrade and Simplification!

Last September I first published my XMPP to Spark bot based on Nodejs that I created to consolidate my collaboration tools. Over the holiday break I made some upgrades and also simplified or I should say reduced the amount of code and modules required. The official Cisco Spark SDK is pretty large and bulky for the purposes of this bot so in the new version I have created a couple of simpler methods to enable its removal. This bot doesn't use webhooks and a bunch of other Spark API's so it was much easier to just create a couple of new methods. This bot is about getting others to use Spark versus a migration or integration tool but with expanded development it could be made to serve both of those purposes as well.

Below is the main server file. I haven't done a lot of commenting inside my code but you will notice I have a bot monitoring service for some experimenting. I am just monitoring and posting my cloud containers CPU up-time to a bot account in Spark. Eventually I am thinking about sending these updates to another monitoring service which posts updates and alerts on bot issues. You will also notice that I have added the ability to translate presence from Spark into XMPP. It is simple and readable. Presence only updates if my Spark presence/activity changes.It is defaulted on startup to "inactive".

This is a simple and fun personal bot to experiment with. Presence is new inside the Spark API and if your building a personal Spark bot the easiest way to get access is through the "get my own details". The "status" label gives your current presence.

Have fun coding!

Getting Started with Spark API's for Non-Coders

Once considered the domain of the technical elite, application programming interface or API's are now more open and available than ever but it's not the API's themselves that are increasing viability. It is an ever increasing ecosystem of platforms that are helping us plug API's into, together and around us that have changed the way we look at how we can get stuff done and allowing the average user access to the forbidden fruit.

When I recently presented at a conference in Seattle I wanted a group of non-coders to realize that API's are something worth taking a closer look at. I thought what makes more sense than to categorize their use into ever increasing levels of complexity. I come up with four levels.

Level 1 - Easy peasy lemon squeezy (that is British for, "yes, its f@#$%^ easy")

Level 2 - A little harder but my 10 year could still work it out

Level 3 - I might need some help, please standby

Level 4 - Please help me I just had a brain hemorrhage

Level 1 is base level, can't get any simpler out of the box. While most of you might overlook the fact this is using API integrations the Cisco Spark Depot is simple easy to use click and go API and bot integration. There is no coding, you can access it straight from the Spark application from within a room and there is not too much to think about.

Level 2 is getting a little harder by using a API broker. Now when I say harder I mean you have to go outside the application and visit a website. So in reality not too hard. But there are some steps to get you integration working but sites like IFTTT and Zapier make it pretty easy to get your applet/zap/whatever you want to name it working.
  • IFTTT - This is the easier of the two examples to work through. If This Then That makes setting up integrations pretty simple with click and go work flows.
  • Zapier -  Along the same lines as IFTTT but allows more complex work flows and trigger scenario's.
Level 3 is more complex but not beyond the skill level of most IT pro's. While the works flows at level 3 are a mix of drag and drop and there is some coding to create more complex scenario's and integrations. If you want to take a look at some try:
  • Gupshup - This site along with hosting your chatbot across multiple platforms has the ability to also host Javascript code to perform more complex API interactions. While the hosting and initial integrations are taken care of most of the hard work will be done with your hosted code.
  • - Now part of Google this cool NLP platform has a lot of prebuilt NLP domains for you to use to get you started. It also has the ability to host the integration to Spark to leave you to do the business logic which it has the ability to integrate with using Webhooks. This is close to a level 4 but seeing as it does some of the hosting work for you it's making your life easier getting it a level 3.
  • - This is an interesting platform that does drag and drop integrations along with the ability to host custom code. It makes your life easier by doing the hosting for you and providing some nice drag and drop integrations. 
Level 4 is custom code. The most complex of the 4 levels that requires a in depth knowledge of programming although you would be surprised what you can write with less than expert knowledge. Some of the interactions with technical non-programmers over the last year or so have highlighted the fact that people just don't know where to start when it comes to this level. If you have never tackled programming before it is a challenging endeavour but not impossible. The fact there is so many paths you can take can put some people off but sticking with it will in the end bring results. Some of benefits and challenges are:
  • Ultimate in business logic customization
  • Ability to use open source frameworks and platforms (Nodejs, Node-Red, Spark Flint, etc.)
  • Access to all sorts of API providers (Google, Facebook, Salesforce, etc.)
  • Language and platform flexibility (Javascript, Python, .net, Java, etc.)
  • Lots of hosting choices (AWS, Heroku, Azure, etc.)
  • Too much choice leading to analysis paralysis.
Having choice of course is a good thing and while level 1 and 2 are much simpler you would be surprised what sort of integrations you can create. Give it a go and it may inspire you to move on to levels 3 and 4.