GitHub Open Source Hack 2016

Hackathon

The weekend is enjoyable. Martin (My roommate in SF) and I join the Open Source Hack organized by GitHub at GitHub HQ in SF. Pretty fun. The venue is great. The pool table is my favorite. Great food all the time. However, the atmosphere is more like “just for fun” or educational than competitive, which is kind of different from what I expected.

Idea

The guy next to us has an Amazon Echo. It isn’t easy to make anything useful for it, though. We originally build an Amazon Alexa skill to report Android notifications but we find it too generic (and probably useless). After 12 hours we finally come up with the idea: Talking WhatsApp, which is basically a WhatsApp powered by Amazon Alexa such that no interaction with phones is needed. Reading and sending WhatsApp messages through pure voice commands, away from phones. Cool enough.

Difficulties

The project uses the Yowsup (non-official WhatsApp API library in Python), nodejs on Amazon Lambda and Alexa APIs. It is deployed on Heroku which saves us much effort and time but ends up spending time debugging why the web server doesn’t run. The fact is, only 1 web server is allowed at a time for free tier users while I forget to turn off my YouTube remote control homework for CSCI4140.

Even with the Yowsup library, trust me, the development isn’t smooth. The library’s documentation is far from complete and the tutorial doesn’t work. Martin has trouble debugging the Lambda and later realized there are logs.

Another problem is the use case. We realize the WhatsApp on the phone will be deactivated if the number is used by the server, limiting the usability of this skill.

Anyway, it is fun meeting other hackers, working with interesting gadgets and implementing something useful. One doesn’t simply go into GitHub HQ. This weekend is certainly one of the best weekends in my SF days.

To get your WhatsApp talking, visit the repo here: https://github.com/carsonip/alexa-whatsapp

More Reading
Newer// Slash Hack 2016
Older// Hello world!