Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Google App Engine File Permission Oddity

I'm posting this in the hope that it may help any poor souls who are struggling with a Python Google App Engine application at the moment. Google App Engine is a web application framework created by Google that allows developers to write Java or Python web based apps and host them on Google infrastructure. I'm working on a project using GAE and ran in to the situation that my application worked perfectly in my local development environment, but running hosted would return a blank page with no error message. Unfortunately there was also nothing in the logs, nor did any of the postings that turned up in my searches seem to help. At any rate, the problem breaks down to two issues:

1. Python scripts must be executable

That is the UNIX executable permission bit needs to be set for the Python script to run. I can't find anywhere in the docs that states this, but it seems to be the case. So Linux or Mac users, make sure you chmod +x your scripts before deploying.

2. Deploying a script with different permissions doesn't change the on server permissions

I ended up having to rename my script file because the permission change wasn't taking effect on the server. Changing the app version made no difference.

Other than the head-meets-desk struggle that the problem described above induced, learning to use Google App Engine has been a thoroughly pleasurable experience, and I look forward to using GAE in ongoing and future projects.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Before the weekends get too booked up and hectic Ilana and I decided to scoot off for a quick one-night camping trip. So on Saturday morning we headed off on a 65-70km trek to Golden Ears Provincial Park for a one night biking/camping excursion.

It wasn't a hard ride, with the only real elevation gains taking place in the last 20 or so km. However, the ride did present it's own challenges: We decided to take the most direct route out of Vancouver all the way to Coquitlam, that is to say we rode along Lougheed Highway. While this was a quick route with a decent shoulder most of the way, it wasn't the most interesting or quietest of roads. At some point we just got tired of dealing with the noise and traffic and turned off onto a quiet side path that got us all the way to the Pitt River bridge, all the while warning us that there was absolutely no way for bikes or pedestrians to cross the Pitt River bridge due to construction.

Well, we hadn't come all this way just to turn back and go home, so on reaching the end of the trial complete with dire construction/detour warnings, we decided to tough out the two or three hundred metres across the Pitt River bridge by pretending we were car traffic. This somewhat annoyed some of the drivers we held up, though to be honest we were as polite about it as we could safely be. Since there was no side walk or shoulder to speak of, we simply took up all of one of the two East bound lanes, endured a few honks and pedaled hard to get over the bridge as quickly as possible. Just think of it as a critical mass of two.

That messy bit done with we got off the highway again and rode through lovely Pitt Meadows farmland, on to a riverside lunch stop in Maple Ridge, and into the midst of Golden Ears park, where at twenty to six in the evening we pulled in to a camp spot to set up for the night. Not a bad days riding considering we were taking it pretty easy and had left at one in the afternoon after a slow morning start.

After setting up tent and eating our pre-prepared camp dinner, we headed into our tent to read for a while before settling down for the night.

Unlike the slow start on Saturday, on Sunday morning we woke up early, had a quick bite to eat, broke camp and hit the road by 8:30am. Backtracking through Pitt Meadows we found our way at the Pitt River bridge for a second time, only to find that not only was there a shoulder, but an actual sidewalk that we could use to cross the bridge without bothering the impatient car traffic. If only the detour signs had pointed us here instead of indicating that we wouldn't be able to cross!

After crossing the bridge we again found ourselves on the shoulder of the Lougheed Highway which we stuck to until it disappeared leaving us to make our way through the mostly calm streets and paths of Port Coquitlam and on to Port Moody. From Port Moody we took the wide shoulder of the very scenic Barnet Highway into North Burnaby where there was a bike route to lead us all the way back home.

Now that we've done it a few times, packing and unpacking the bikes is becoming much easier, and it's nice to be able to take off for a self propelled weekend jaunt. Hopefully it won't be the last camping trip of 2009!

The "Mini-Tour" 25 Hour Bike Camp to Golden Ears

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Recap

So summer is almost at an end, my Google internship is over and it's time to start thinking about school again. My internship ended August 14th, which puts me me at the end of week two of a three week break before I start classes at UBC again.

The Internship

Working at Google for the summer was a blast. The people I met at Google were not only first rate engineers, but people who genuinely seemed interested in spending their time writing useful, good, useable software. While I can't talk specifics about the project that I worked on (an as yet unreleased Google product), I can say that in the three and half months that I worked with the team I saw a tightening of focus and goals, and a real drive for improvement and towards release.

Summer Cycling

This summer I started with a goal to bike as much as I could, and I'm happy to say that at this point I'm at roughly 2500km since I started tracking in May this year. Most of the riding was done the area East of Lake Washington (the Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue area), an area that doesn't have a lot of flat. My commute to/from Google was less than 10km, so I came up with routes that would give me long rides. I had a 38km route home, and a 18km route home so I could vary the effort and distance. Notable rides include looping around Lake Washington (90ish km), the Seven Hills of Kirkland (158km), the Seattle Century (~145km), and many other random rides mostly done solo.

5 days, 330km, 4 ferries, 1 gear, many hills, many many dried dates, much sun, and a lot of fun.

To cap off a summer of great rides, Ilana and I went on a five day bike tour of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. Day one took us from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay, and then Gibsons via the Langdale Ferry with a final short, but very steep few km to a friend's place where we stayed the night.

Day two was a lovely 80km all the way up from Gibsons, through Sechelt, and a final 6km off of Highway 101 to Egmont to spend the night at a small harbour campsite.

Day three started with a trail ride (with fully laden bikes no less) to see the amazing Skookumchuck Narrows, a site with some of the fiercest tides I have ever seen. The way back to the ferry that would take us to Powell River would set us up for the hardest (though one of the shortest) riding days of the week. We dubbed the road from Egmont to Earls Cove with its short, but very steep hills the "6km of agony". At least we had a pleasant lunch and wait for the ferry before tackling another set of hills up from the ferry landing at Saltery Bay. Luckly the rest of the ride to Powell River was pretty tame, though the combination of a hot and mentally challenging day left us cursing the sharp climb up from the coast to our Powell River B&B that was our destination for the night.

A beautiful morning ride from our B&B after a fantastic vegan breakfast (with fresh local ingredients) was to set the tone for day four, our longest riding day at 100km. After landing in Comox with a quick stop for groceries, we started South down the scenic costal Highway 19A. With our legs "broken in" from the previous days, the climbs were enjoyable rather than a grind, and the kilometers seemed to roll by quickly. As on previous days, we stopped for snacks and water as opportunities presented themselves, often with amazing beach vistas for us to gaze at as we dug in to our stores of dried fruit snacks, fresh local fruit, and some hummus, pita, pepper, and for the non-vegan some cheese, making for a great on-the-go lunch. During the day while resting at the top of a hill I waved hi to a fully laden rider going the other way. It turned out he was here from Germany for the summer riding all across the country from Vancouver to Jasper and Baniff, down to Yellowstone, and now on the Island, completing, as he called it, "the best summer of my life". By the afternoon we were passing through Qualicum Beach and on to Parksville where we made our camp at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. After a ride back into Parksville for a nice dinner, we settled down for the night.

Day five took us off the quiet Highway 19A and on to the main Highway 19 where a generous shoulder was small comfort from the noise and bustle of the busy main highway. In comparison to the relative quiet and amazing scenery from the previous days, the busy highway and roads all the way to the Nanaimo ferry terminal weren't much fun. The ferry ride back to Horseshoe Bay left us contemplating the past few days, and looking forward to future tours next year and perhaps even this fall. We were both dreading the hilly, albeit scenic, lower Marine Drive route from Horseshoe Bay back to the Lions Gate Bridge, but we both found that the previous few days had turned challenging hills into a rolling pleasant ride that was a perfect way to cap off the tour. After crossing over in to Downtown we opted to take the slow scenic Seaside bike route back home rather than cutting directly across town. As we meandered back home with our somewhat out of place fully laden bikes we reflected on the beautiful and amazing past five days that aside from the ferry rides took us 330km self propelled around some of BCs great scenery leaving from our front door on a Monday and returning Friday afternoon with time to spare to end the week with an impromptu family Shabbat dinner.

For more photos check out the online album for the trip.

Critical Mass

Went to Vancouver's Critical Mass (also see their Facebook group) this last Friday. It was lots of fun riding with a rather large group of fellow cyclists through Vancouver's streets and bridges. I ran in to Robert of Bikes On The Drive Tree blog fame, and we chatted for much of the ride. I also ran in to Bill McGrath who I'd met before when I did my Libranet presentation at VanLUG. He was distributing leaflets concerning Canada's new copyright legislation for the Vancouver Fair Copyright Coalition. The ride was a pretty positive for the most part, though I was rather put off by the several people I saw drinking while riding. As far as I'm concerned, drinking while riding a bike is just as bad as drinking and driving, and doing it during an event like critical mass sends a bad message and creates negative press. I wound up the evening with a mellow sunset ride home through Stanley Park and along the Seaside bike route all the way around False Creek.

PS Oh yeah, I should probably mention that one of the guys I spoke to on the ride had ridden 125+km for the day by the time we reached the Lions Gate Bridge. He and his electric assist bike hailed from the Sunshine Coast.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seattle "Century"

Last weekend I road the Seattle Century, a 160km (100mile) (supposedly, more on that later) ride around the Seattle area. Starting at Magnuson Park on Lake Washington's western shore, the ride looped north of the lake heading east to Bothell, south to Redmond, east again looping through Duvall, Carnation, Fall City, Issaquah, and Bellevue before finally crossing Lake Washington over the I-90 to Mercer Island and back in to Seattle. The organizers and volunteers did a terrific job of providing food and hydration at the start/finish and at rest stops nicely spaced along the route. I was going at a good strong pace for the first 90-100km or so and before I started to slow down. I finished the ride in 6.5 hours and calculated that I spent about 50minutes off the bike in rest stops. In retrospect, had I eaten better during the ride and spent less time in the stops I would have finished stronger and with a much better time.

The part of the event organization that really fell down was their route marking. There were several parts of the ride where the Dan Henry markings used were ambiguous or too close to a lane changes and turns in traffic. There were several riders who got lost at various points on the ride. The markings used were also inconstant in that at least two different Dan Henry variations were used and they were painted with differing paint colours. The 7 Hill of Kirkland ride that I did early in the year was much in this regard. In addition, whoever calculated the route distance was a good 16km (10 miles) short of the advertised distance.

The route itself only had 3 or 4 big climbs, but in general was up and down most of the way with few flat parts. Rather than being a tour of the sights of Seattle as billed, this ride is more a tour of the scenic areas east of Lake Washington.

The fellow riders on the trip all seemed enthusiastic and friendly as well as observant of good road riding etiquette. At several points I was riding with groups of riders in what could have almost been called a loose pace line which was not only fun, but a great way to cover distance quickly, though this only happened for small chunks of time given the general hilliness of the ride, the lack of organization in these groups, and the varying levels of rider ability.

All in all, a fun days event and a good opportunity to ride some nice roads with hundreds of other cyclists.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Riding for Agents of Change

Last weekend was the pledge/send-off ride for Global Agents for Change's 2009 tours. The Pacific tour was leaving from Vancouver on their way to Mexico, and members of the Europe tour were riding to collect pledges. Global Agents for Change is an organization with goals of inspiring social change, and they are currently doing a drive to raise money for microcredit with their Riding to Break the Cycle campaign.

My sister, Shani, is doing the Europe ride this summer starting in Amsterdam and ending up in Istanbul; a ride of about 4000 km. To learn more you can hit up the Global Agents website, find them on Facebook, or contact me and I can put you in touch with my sister. If you would like to donate to her campaign, you can do so on the Global Agents website.

Riding with a group is always a blast, and the pledge ride with a cohort of committed riders was no exception. The Mexico tour riders headed out to White Rock on the first leg of their journey after enjoying some time at Grandview Park (or doing last minute bike fixes!), and a number of the pledge riders joined them. Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay with the group all the way to White Rock (darned bus schedules), but Shani, Ilana, and some of the other riders rode with the group the whole way.

I'm super excited for Shani's ride this summer, and I'm impressed with what Global Agents is trying to do.

Monday, May 25, 2009

7 Hills

This past Monday (May 25th) I completed my longest ever bike ride. Weighing in at 160km, it's not exactly record breaking, but 7 hours on the saddle was a new challenge for me. The ride was part of the 7 Hills of Kirkland event I referenced in my last post.

My day started with a 5:40 alarm wake up and a breakfast of oatmeal and a Brendan Brazier style smoothie. I loaded up my gear headed down the hill to the registration area then dropped off my backpack at the office (which luckily was just a km or two away). By about 6:45 I was back at the start line (having ridden 7.4km already) and on my way along with the rest of the early risers.

The start of the route climbs up hills along the North Eastern shore of Lake Washington before looping back along the Burke-Gilman trail for a short jaunt before exiting back in to the road system for another climb. At somewhere not to far beyond the half-way mark for the 40 mile route riders the century riders branched off for the extra 100 km and 1200 meters climbing.

At 70km and the tough Union Hill climb I began to despair, but a fortunate stretch in the draft of a speedier rider and my first stop at one of the several well equipped volunteer food stops re-energized me to continue in good spirits. Once the route diverged from the main 40 and 60 mile routes I was on my own most of the time with stretches here and there riding with one or two other riders. The route was well marked with Dan Henry's and at no point did I feel lost.

Once past the 80km half way mark I began to feel a bit better, and by 100km I knew with decent certainty that I'd finish in good shape, and by the time I started up the final hill with about 20km to ago I was feeling quite good, and I even had the energy to kick myself back over the magic 30km/h mark for the final few km to finish strong.

My goal wasn't to finish with the most amazing time (I averaged 22.4km/h including rest stops), but to finish in good shape having gone at a steady pace, and while my pace did decline over the course of the ride I never got dehydrated or ran into an energy wall. Infact I wasn't terribly sore after I got off the bike, and the next day, though I could feel my muscles, I wasn't in any discomfort. Even more importantly, my new Brooks saddle held up extremely well; I've had less comfortable 7 hour road trips in a car.

I was impressed by the other riders I saw on the course, many who were very strong riders keeping up a pace decently quicker than my own. Also impressive was that on the entire ride I only came across one discourteous driver (he wasn't impressed at having to share the road, or perhaps it was just my pink handle bar wrap). Other than the few small exceptions I've found that drivers in the Seattle area (at least on the Eastside of Lake Washington) are generally cycle aware and decently careful.

All in all a very enjoyable event that left me wanting more. Hopefully this summer will provide opportunities for further cycling adventures.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The massive Google, Kirkland, Cylcing update of great glory

Here it is the long awaited Google/Seattle(Kirkland) update. I've been down in Kirkland for three full weeks now, so I figure it's time for a proper update.

So far my internship at Google is going very well. The work environment is fantastic: relaxed in the right ways and intense where it should be. The focus is on good product done well as should be evidenced by the many Google offerings we all use on a day to day basis. I don't really know what else to say (that isn't covered by NDA), other than that I'm really glad I stepped up and applied for this internship.

Google has three offices in the Seattle area, two in Kirkland and one in Seattle's (very cool) Fremont district. I'm in one of the Kirkland offices overlooking Lake Washington with quite the view. The Kirkland/Bellevue/Redmond area has a suburban feel and is fairly spread out. Surprisingly everything is well connected by streets with bike lanes making it easy to get from place to place by bike. The problem comes when busing or trying to get over the lake to Seattle. The bus system isn't great with buses coming at most every 30 minutes going to every hour in the evenings. Getting to Seattle is a minimum of two buses taking at the shortest over an hour. Cycling to Seattle is doable, but is a long enough ride to be discouraging for purposes other than the ride itself. With all that said, there is enough on this side of the lake that all my needs are pretty much taken care of.

Before heading down to Kirkland I made the decision that 2009 was going to be the year of the bicycle for me, and so far I've been keeping it up with time spent on my bike 14 out of the last 17 days. I've discovered that they don't know from flat in this part of the world. It's not that Vancouver is flattest terrain in the world, especially when compared to Edmonton for example, but here it's a whole new scale. Basically any ride from where I'm living involves at minimum a hill climb on the way home, and most likely more than that. It's actually a lot of fun, and my fitness on the bike has already improved in the three weeks I've been here.

When I arrived one of the other interns mentioned that Kirkland has a yearly cycling event called the 7 Hills of Kirkland, so of course I couldn't help but enter. There are three distances: 40, 60, and 100miles. In a moment of insanity I registered for the 100mile distance, so in two days from now I'll be setting out in the morning to ride 160 km over some of decently impressive hills to the tune of about 2100 meters worth of climbing. Should be fun, and considering the longest continuous ride I've ever done was just over 100 km a big challenge as well.

I've also recently switched to a Brooks B17 Narrow saddle which so far is completely amazing. It's orders of magnitude more comfortable than the stock saddle it replaced. I'll report back after my ride on Monday, but so far I'm not looking back.

The only real downside to this summer internship is being away from Ilana for the better part of 14 weeks. While we'll visit on the weekends, being apart makes for some long evenings and large phone bills. Other than that I'm enjoying my summer thus far, and this internship is a nice change of pace that I'm hoping will leave me energized for the upcoming academic year.

I'm going to try and update this blog every couple of weeks, but, as past posting frequency might indicate, no promises ;)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dear Rogers......

.... would it really be to much to expect a usable, easy to navigate web site? Also, do you really consider $0.90/min a reasonable roaming rate for the US?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Questioning Social Networking and Giving In All At Once

While I wonder about the value of blogging and social networks, twittering, etc. I can't help feel the appeal. From an active participation standpoint, I question whether this is simply egotistical narcissism in thinking that other people actually care what I think or what I'm doing. From the passive role of reading and following others I wonder if I enter into the role of voyeur. Yet I continue to buy in more and more from my blog, to my initial entry into the Facebook fray. Perhaps it's a question of the whole being more than the sum of its parts with the delude of posts and comments and discussion somehow leading to insight and enlightenment, or perhaps it's just drivel.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Coffee shop procrastination

I'm sitting in a coffee shop with some work to do. Naturally since it's just after midnight the urge to procrastinate strikes, so I thought it would be a good time for a bit of an update. Since my last update I'm now an undergrad at UBC doing my CS major. It's a bit of a strange process at the moment since none of my classes are at all software related, but I'm told that things get more interesting, so I'm hanging in. Having not been a student for a while it takes a bit of mental effort to switch from a work mentality to a student mentality. So far I prefer the former, but I'm doing my best to adapt to the latter. Speaking of which, back to it.......