Just a week ago, it was announced that Azure Text Analytics API has added 16 more languages that can be parsed for sentiment analysis, Greek language being one of them (currently in preview). So, I thought I could give it a try to see how well it’s working with some random Greek phrases. Well, I have to say that the outcome was pretty neat!
update 12/6/2018: this article has been updated for Kubernetes 1.9.6 on Azure Kubernetes Service
This article will demonstrate how to implement a continuous integration/continuous deployment pipeline for a multi-container app using Azure Kubernetes Service and Azure DevOps (Visual Studio Team Services) Build and Release Management.
- service-a: a Node.js app that serves as a web frontend which connects to service-b and mycache
- service-b: a .NET Core app that sends a simple text string to service-a that contains current machine’s hostname
- mycache: a Redis cache that holds an integer called “requestCount” which is set and requested by service-a
Really excited to share the news that on April 14th I got certified as a Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator, a certification offered from the Linux Foundation. This is an online, hands-on and practical exam that tests whether the candidate has the knowledge and experience to perform common tasks on a Linux server, in the following areas and weights:
- Essential Commands – 25%
- Operation of Running Systems – 20%
- User and Group Management – 10%
- Networking – 12%
- Service Configuration – 20%
- Storage Management – 13%
Certification is valid for two years, after that you have to renew. For more information regarding the exam format, the curriculum and recommended ways to study check the official LFCS page here as well as the official handbook and certification preparation guide. Personally, I used a Centos Azure Virtual Machine as well as Windows Subsystem for Linux as environments where I could practice the various commands (you really need to do a lot or practice, as the time during the exam is really limited). I also watched the excellent course “Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator” from Sander van Vugt which really brought my up to speed with the exam’s requirements as well as freshened up my Linux skills. You are also encouraged to practice using vi (basic stuff in navigation and editing was enough for me) as well as learning to efficiently use man pages. If you’re planning to take the exam, you should practice, practice and practice, best of luck!
The C# BotBuilder SDK supports a really cool thing call FormFlow. With this, you can write a C# class which is used as a base for a dynamically generated series of question/answer pairs, in order to fill the properties of this class. For instance, do you want to create a burger ordering bot? Just add a enum for BreadOptions, an enum for Toppings, a choice of SauceOptions etc. This is a really cool feature of the C# BotBuilder SDK which allows you to quickly develop a chatbot with predefined rules and flow. As the Node.js BotBuilder SDK lacks this functionality, I tried to replicate it since I needed it for a simple project I’m building. Meet formflowbotbuilder.
A few days ago, I was pitching Bot Framework to an interested party, when a question came up: “Does the Bot Framework support AIML files? We have a lot of them and we are wondering whether we could use them”. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what AIML is, so I decided to run a quick search.
Turns out that AIML stands for Artificial Intelligence Markup Language and, as Wikipedia nicely mentions it, it is an XML dialect for creating natural language software agents. AIML was used to power Alice Bot back in 1995 (this was one of the first chat bots available to the public). Moreover, AIML powered a discussion with Captain Kirk of Enterprise (ho there, Star Trek fans!). Alice AIML files are open source, you can find them here.
Update (2/1/2018): Blog post and GitHub code has been updated with instructions on how to connect to CosmosDB using Table Storage API.
Azure Table Storage Service is an inexpensive, highly available NoSQL key-value store. It can store petabytes of structured data, supports a flexible data schema and Azure team provides a REST API. Furthermore, Azure CosmosDB has a Table Storage API, so the same code can also be used here. So, I thought, why not extending my Azure Services for Unity library with support for access to Azure Table Storage Service from any Unity game? Well, here we are, our latest commit to the repository contains access methods for the service.
Yeah, title is long but nevertheless you get the point of what I’m going to describe. So, to cut a long story short, last weekend I attended a hackathon where my teammates and I built a PoC of a movie quiz chat bot. At the end of the hackathon, we attempted to “dockerize” it and host it on App Service on Linux (currently on preview). This blog post documents the process.
- Great video intro (+demo!) of chat bots and Microsoft’s Bot Framework, an easy and flexible way to create an awesome chat bot
- You can develop a chat bot in many ways, check here for the Bot Builder Node.js SDK
- Check out my blog post about building a chat bot for Greek startup ParkAround
- App Service is Azure’s PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering, it supports Windows and Linux (preview). Check here for App Service on Linux documentation
- You can deploy apps as files into App Service, if you want to deploy a Docker container check here for Docker containers on App Service on Linux
In this blog post we’ll discuss how we built a Bot for ParkAround using Microsoft Bot Framework and hosted it in Azure platform.
ParkAround is a prominent startup in Greece which allows you to book your place in hundreds of car parks in the cities of Athens/Thessaloniki as well as the airports of Barcelona and Malaga. We worked with ParkAround to build a Bot that allows the user to book a parking spot at the airports of Athens and Thessaloniki. You can currently chat with the Bot on Facebook’s Messenger platform, whereas support for other channels (e.g. Skype) will be rolled out in the next few weeks.
Bot has the name of “Mitsaras, the parking assistant” (“Mitsaras” being the folk/friendly name for “Dimitris”) and you can chat with it here: https://www.messenger.com/t/parkaroundbot. Beware, bot currently uses Greek language only since it targets Greek audience for now. So, don’t get confused if it’s all Greek to you!
To develop the bot, we used Microsoft’s Bot Framework which allows you to create a bot that will interact with various conversation channels, such as Messenger, Skype, Slack and other services. Bot Framework supports a REST API and has two SDKs, one for .NET and one for Node.js. As most Microsoft SDKs nowadays, both of them are open source. If you aren’t acquainted with Bot Framework SDK, please take a look at the extensive documentation in order to better understand the code segments listed below. Also, ParkAround is a BizSpark startup, so we naturally chose Azure App Service PaaS platform to host the bot, so we can easily scale up/out if needed.
Last but definitely not least, before we continue with bot’s internals, we should mention that this work is a collaboration between myself, my colleague Sophia Chanialaki and ParkAround’s CEO, John Katsiotis.
During the past few months I’ve pushed some updates to my Azure Services for Unity library. The goal of this library remained the same: use Azure App Service Easy Tables and Easy APIs easily from a single codebase without any additional Unity addins, I really want this to be a plugin free experience. Here, I’ll summarise some of the main updates in the library. For an intro to the library and an intro on Easy Tables and Easy APIs, check out my original blog post here. Moreover, check here for how to access Azure Table Storage Service from within a Unity game.
tl;dr – Azure and Unity, really?
Azure Services for Unity is a small library (currently in beta) that provides you an easy way you to access an Azure database and/or APIs (hosted on Azure App Service) via the Unity game engine. You can use it to save highscores, status messages, send messages between players and much more. As there are no plugins involved, library is cross-platform and can run everywhere that Unity runs (editor, standalone players, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows Store Apps). Of course, it is completely open source and free to use. It was last tested on Unity 5.3.4f1. Current version 0.0.13.
Update: for some additions and fixes to the library check out my newer blog post here
Update2: check this blog post for an addition to the library that allows you to access Azure Table Storage Service or CosmosDB with Table Storage API.
Azure App Service is quite an interesting cloud platform to develop web and mobile apps. One can easily create web apps that scale, create mobile apps backend and integrate with existing services either on the cloud or on-premise. App Service also has a very simple mechanism to store data and use various APIs, called Easy Tables and Easy APIs, respectively. Those can be rather helpful to game developers that want to create a backend for their game. In this blog post, we’ll describe a small library that allows a game written in Unity to access them.
Creating an Azure App Service and database
We assume you have an active Azure subscription. If not, refer to the last paragraph on this blog post to find out easy ways to get one. First, you’ll need to visit the new Azure portal at http://portal.azure.com.