Donut Vision: Google App Engine Experiments 2

Some (well, very few) of you may remember my previous post on Google App Engine. Developing a GAE app using JSP was a trip down memory lane, using a technology that has seemingly been left unchanged since 2001.

I recently began a project that involves using Vine and Twitter to sort through video clips. I decided to build on Google App Engine again. This time I’m using Python. My initial hacking has resulted in Donut Vision–a search portal for donut videos on Vine. Hey, don’t laugh. These guys are trying to build an actual business off of the same type of sites–Presumably with cokehead money.

Using Python (GAE’s original language) has been an absolute pleasure. On GAE, it really does seem much faster than using Java. GAE’s built in webapp2 framework and Django templates make building sites and APIs a breeze. I swear not having to type brackets has given me some kind of minor productivity boost–Or not. But placebo is a real thing.

My general “get off my lawn” nitpicks with Python are mostly due to it being a weird hybrid of a dynamic language, yet strongly typed. This gives PyDev in Eclipse a problem performing autocomplete since it really doesn’t know what type you’re referring to in most cases. PyDev and Eclipse is a decent combination due to the convenience of deploying to GAE within the IDE. I’d switch to something else with better autocomplete support, though.

As for the details of how this works, it’s really pretty simple. There’s no Vine API yet, so I simply use the Twitter API to search for Vines with relevant hashtags and pull the URLs out of them. Originally I was using Vine’s new embed code to display videos, but I eventually resorted to grabbing the URL of the MP4 file in the S3 bucket it’s stored in to have more control over the video when playing it with video-js. I expect Vine to shut down this method since I’m just running up their AWS bill with no benefit to them–not even a link back to the Vine app. Hey, if Vine provides a proper API, I’d use it.

Oh also, in my earlier post I stated that Google App Engine is not available in China. This is only partially true. The default appspot domain is indeed blocked in China. Yet, when putting my custom domain,, through I get nothing but green status. Yes, I’m boldly sparking a democratic revolution one French Cruller at a time. So, if you want to serve Chinese customers via GAE, just map a custom domain to it.

I’m seriously considering using Google App Engine as a backend for a new game. The only problem is cost estimation. I have constant paranoia of real-world usage patterns running up my bill. Especially with improperly indexed datastores, you can rack up charges pretty fast. Still, simply writing an app and uploading it to Google’s cloud is significantly easier than fiddling with Amazon Web Services and Beanstalk. If you haven’t checked it out since the early days, GAE is worth another look.

Oh, also the latest version of GAE has sockets support. It’s still experimental, but this may lead to GAE being suitable for real-time applications such as multiplayer game servers.

Email Haiku

If there’s one way to tell if a person is insane, it’s from their Yelp reviews. The longer the review, the crazier the Yelper is. In fact, this is pretty much the rule in all social situations–people who talk too much are usually nuts. Constant babbling is covering for some deeper psychosis.

It’s a combination of this discovery and my well-known addiction to Twitter that I’ve developed a new rule in business communication: Email Haiku.

An email should not be longer than 5 sentences. When responding, an email certainly should not be longer than the original message. The length of the incoming message is an indication of how much the sender is willing to read. No matter how excited you may be to respond to a particularly juicy message, rambling on will drive the reader to either table the message for later (and likely never get back to it) or think you’re a wackjob. If you enjoy talking as much as I do, you probably know that going on and on just gives you more rope to hang yourself with. Keep it short.

Twitter has forced me to edit my thoughts down to 140 character chunks, which when applied to Email Haiku makes it possible to pack a lot of meaning in those five sentences. If you’re not a Twitter junkie, become one. It doesn’t matter if nobody reads your meaningless tweets. It helps you become terse. When the art of brevity is mastered, you’ll find that your email response rate increases as does your general efficiency of communication.