a stroke of luck

Slimmer Timer – Flex, Haxe and a web service

I decided it was about time that I learnt how to use Flex. The best way to learn is always by building something so I decided that I’d build a little app to connect to the Slim Timer API and make it easy to keep track of your time. It seemed like something that was perfectly suited to Flex – built from UI components and connecting to an XML webservice.

So here it is: Slimmer Timer. You can download Mac and PC versions as well as seeing a screenshow on the project page at that link.

Although building the app was relatively straightforward, there are some gotchas that I ran into which I thought I would expand on a little here… All of these issues are as I experienced them in the standalone debug player – they may happen differently in the browser plugin.

  • Setting contentType and a custom “Accept” header on a HTTPService only works when the method is POST. If you change the method to GET then these extra headers aren’t sent along with the request.
  • The HTTPService.method documentation is very misleading… GET and POST are the only valid values unless you are using FDS as a proxy. More info on that on this post on FlexCoders

The solution to these problems was to wrap my generated swf in a Screenweaver Hx program. This makes it easy to write a little bit of haXe code which can intercept network calls from the flash and act on them. The haXe wrapper adds the required HTTP headers to my GET calls and also allows Flash to make PUT requests.

To support HTTP PUT requests I appended a “put=true” onto the URL requested by Flash which the haXe wrapper detects and then changes the HTTP request type. haXe’s HTTP class doesn’t support methods other than GET and POST but because it is open source I could easily extend this class to suit my needs. The haXe files I wrote can be seen here if you are interested…

As well allowing me to tweak the network behaviour and therefore make my app work, Screenweaver allowed me to remove the chrome from the app window and make the app slightly transparent. These extras help it to live up to it’s name of “Slimmer Timer” :)

As SlimmerTimer was my first foray into the world of Flex it’s not as well coded as it could be. I’m currently rewriting it using the Cairngorm framework so there may be a better version out some time soon but for now I think it’s quite useful as what it is – a simple little app for keeping track of your time.

Selfportraitr: An Interactive Exhibition Curating the Flickr Community

A while back I was approached by Stephen Jablonsky from the School of Visual Arts in New York. He was looking for someone to help with a project him and and his colleague Jeremy Chien were doing for the Pace/MacGill Gallery. He had come across Flashr and some of my experiments with it and thought that I may be able to help with the project.

It turned out I could! The project became “Selfportraitr”. The idea is that through ten computers in the gallery itself and through the Pace/MacGill website people can search through the thousands of photographs on flickr tagged with “selfportrait” and can choose the ones they like best to add to the gallery’s favourites. This enables members of the public to act as curators for an exhibition in a major New York gallery. More information on the app and the background to it is available in the official press release.

You can view the exhibition online using one of two applications:
  • Viewr – this application shows a slideshow of self portrait pictures. The interactivity of this application is limited to adding passing images to the gallery favourites.
  • Selfportraitr – this is the full on application as it appears in the gallery. It was designed for display on the Apple 23″ cinema displays in the gallery at a resolution of 1920×1200 so unless you have a massive screen it may appear a bit cramped and some text may be tricky to read. But you will get to play with the full functionality of the app and hopefully find some nice photos :)

This project was featured on the flickr blog, the New York Times (registration required) and even on ABC news which is pretty cool. It also sparked some controversy on the Flickr Central discussion board although in general people seem to appreciate what it is doing.

I built the app in Flash 8 using the bleeding edge version of Flashr. As you will have seen, some of the functionality of the app is pretty advanced and creating this app led to a number of bug fixes and enhancements to the Flashr code. A good by-product of this is that now the long awaited 0.5 release is within sight. It was also interesting to collaborate internationally across time zones on a project as complex as this and all things considered it went remarkably smoothly.