Scott Hanselman

Paternity Leave - Week 1

December 8, '07 Comments [8] Posted in Parenting | T | Z
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Here we are at the end of Week 1 of Paternity Leave. Baby T is doing very well, having already gained a pound and a half. The doctor was shocked, but this boy can eat. He's also very expressive. Z is enjoying his baby brother very much and hasn't shown any jealousy. Yet.

CIMG7805CIMG7807

CIMG7810CIMG7763

Z is also enjoying living in a cul de sac so he can ride his tricycle.

CIMG7849

You know you're a huge nerd when you look around your garage for an half-hour for some rope to pull your son around on his bike and eventually give up and just use a Cat5 patch cable. Got plenty of those. Fortunately Z doesn't realize this is a problem yet for our father-son relationship, but he will, somewhere around the time when he learns what "throwing like a girl" means.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Baby Sign Language - Update at 2 years

November 11, '07 Comments [13] Posted in Musings | Parenting | Z
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UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!

My son is nearly two years old. He's 23 months. I suspect we'll stop counting months after he's second birthday.

It's always fun to be recognized at a conference and have folks ask about technology, but more and more people want to talk to me about Baby Sign Language. Most often they're folks from outside the U.S., which I think is great. I blogged about Baby Sign twice previously:

Often parents concerns are that a baby who is taught sign language will speak later or will be developmentally slowed in some way due to "confusion." Are they supposed to talk or sign?

I have found this with my own child, my brother's child and all my signing friend's children to be totally false. If anything the child begins speaking with more sophisticated phrases than one would expect.

My belief is this (remembering that I'm neither a doctor, nor a parenting expert, just a Signing Enthusiast and current father of one):

There is a window in a baby's development when they have needs, wants and feelings to express. This window might be from 6 months to 18 months or from 12 months to 2 years. It's usually at least a year long, and it's that time when your baby is "in there" but isn't able to express themselves verbally. Our goal with my son was to get involved in his head for that "missing year" and see what he had to say. For us, it prevented a lot of tantrums and early confusion about what he needed. Instead, he simply told us what was on his mind.

However, they haven't got the tools. If you listened carefully to their cries, posture and other thing I'm sure you'd find that the child was trying to get their need out, but it was either too subtle or unclear for us to see. Using Baby Signing - which is simply American Sign Language or ASL - is a way of formalizing this easily communication with your baby and letting he or she know that we're here, and we're listening.

When a child discovers that they are seen, that their opinion matters and that their parents understand them, I believe it enables and extends so many other interactions with our kids.

How To Start

A gentleman at the PNPSummit from Europe approached me to ask about Baby Signing for his 6 month old. This is the ideal time to start. The baby is just starting to get their bearings and realize that they are not alone and that there's a whole world to interact with.

Pick some basic signs, no more than 4 or 5, since you're going to be learning Sign Language as the child does. Plus, the baby's ability to learn signs will surpass your own very quickly.

To start with, we taught him: Milk, More, Eat, Dog, Mommy and Daddy. We did this from 6 months to about 9 months before we got anything. This is tip #1 - be patient. You'll do it for literally months before it'll POP one day. One day he or she will sign and they won't shut up until they move out of the house 20 years later.

He signed More one day, and the others quickly followed. The key was that we always signed while we spoke. This is important Tip #2 - teaching your child sign language doesn't mean you don't talk to them. Always talk and sign at the same time. Eventually the child will learn that talking is easier and abandon most signs. At two, my son rarely signs as he's not go the words for everything he had previously learned the sign for. However, the signs are still in his head if we need them someday.

You can buy an ASL Dictionary online, or get an inexpensive subscription to a site like HandSpeak.com that includes a video dictionary of over 2800 words. There are photo sites, but they don't quite capture the jist as the images are static. (There are also some free sites like the one at Michigan State University although it requires Quicktime and for you to click twice on the video to get it to play.)

There's also a great FREE "Signing Success Guide" here as a PDF on the Baby Signing Time site.

"Testimonials"

Many of my friends and family have taught their kids sign. For many, including all the non-American's, they were teased by family and friends - especially concerned mother's-in-law. But they stuck with it. My friend Daniel "Kzu" Cazzulino had a great experience with Baby Sign Language in Argentina:

"Just after a couple weeks signing 3 words to her (duck, drink and milk), she signed the duck! I was blown away by how fast she started with the first one, but it took another month for her to start picking up more and more signs. When she was exactly one year old (about a month after we started), I got a couple of books which tought me more techniques and approaches to signing to make it more effective. Three months later, she's able to sign: duck, drink, milk, cookie/cracker, eat, more, baby, take a bath, need heulp, hot, dog, cat, monkey, flower, shoes, hat, pain, water, sleep, silence (and clip, which Agustina uses at the kindergarten to also mean silence), dance (this one she made it up and we learned what she meant!). That's 22 words for a 15 months-old baby that can barely say Mom and Agus (her sister's nickname and the first thing she learnt to say :)). And there are many more that she understands but she's not signing yet.

Just like Scott felt, it's not just a matter of teaching her something to make her "smarter" early on. There's a new kind of connection that you can make with your baby. Aylen's face shines when she sees that we can listen to her needs and help her. She no longer cries when she's hungry or thirsty, or when she wants to take a bath. That's huge. "

Daniel as a native Spanish speaker also got an interesting sign benefit when we recommended Rachel's Baby Signing Time videos:

We bought a couple DVDs from the Baby Signing Time collection (awesome stuff) which both Aylen and Agustina love. It's playing on my TV almost every day for at least a couple hours. It teaches new signs through songs and showing other babies doing them, and it does so while pronouncing the words in english. That may sound obvious to you, but we live in Argentina, so english is not our primary language. However, both girls are now learning the words in both english and spanish at the same time! So my baby signs "baby" when you say the word in english AND spanish too! It's simply amazing.

Another good friend emailed last week when his daughter announced with sign that she needed to have her diaper changed:

"perhaps it's too soon to tell -- but we think we've had good consistent responses on the hand sign for "change me" today.
Great stuff!! [she's 9 months old now]"

Craig Andera is also huge Baby Signing Fan. He had to have patience early on though:

Just like Scott, it was initially like signing to a wall. She didn't seem to care, and she certainly didn't sign back. But I knew from my brother that it was just a matter of time, and sure enough, at about eight months, Ellen was able to mime the sign back to us. It's pretty amazing to get any communication whatsoever (other than smiling and crying) from an eight-month-old.

And Craig also sees Sign to be a good complement to an already bilingual education. ASL is recognized here by colleges as a legitimate foreign language:

It's funny for me to hear resistance to the idea. The one that really puzzles me is the "it'll slow down their speech" one. Not only is this contrary to clinical evidence (IIRC - we did the research but I no longer have the citation), but my personal experience has been the opposite. Ellen, like Z, is bilingual in verbal languages (Chinese and English), and despite that seems to have verbal capabilities comparable to her contemporaries.

Does Ellen still sign? Yes she does, but not to communicate. She communicates exclusively (and nearly endlessly :) ) verbally, but there are about five signs she still makes even when speaking. For example, she still signs "sorry" even as she says it - in English or in Chinese.

I'm really interested to hear in the comments from anyone else whose had success with teaching their infant Sign Language. It's worked great for us. We're going to teach Un-named Son #2 sign lanuage. He's due in less than two weeks!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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A Toy Train for Z

June 14, '07 Comments [25] Posted in Musings | Parenting | Z
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We love bargains. We shop a lot at Goodwill, a local thrift shop where folks donate their old stuff. Sometimes you can find some amazing deals. I got an iPod Car Kit once, still in the original packaging, for $2. This evening we stopped by after dinner and while Z was running around bumping into things, he bumped into and knocked over a non-descript box.

Inside was a huge set of wooden trains and many feet of track - nearly a complete set. This is the kind of high-quality toy that costs $50-$100. I've always wanted to get Z a kit like this, but they are just too expensive to justify. It was only $9, so I had to pick it up.

We watched the news while I set up the tracks...as I was getting finished I revelled in the deal. I just love saving money and finding a fantastic thing like this, especially when I know Z will have fun with in in the morning.

I started putting it together and my wife wondered if I bought the train for myself or for Z. I began to take some pictures of the setup...

...and this story came on the news, literally as I was taking photos of the layout...I turned and took a picture.

...crap. You ever have one of those days?

How would one recall a piece of software...just release a patch? What if it were such a bad piece of software that it hurt babies? What a nightmare for these people.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Baby Sign Language - Update at 14 months

February 18, '07 Comments [24] Posted in Parenting | Z
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UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!

Teaching our son Sign Language has been a dramatic success for us. He's 14 months old now and the last six weeks have been an explosion of communication. Two months ago he was just barely starting to use the sign for "more." Today, he knows at least 30 signs (says Mo, at least 40, says I) and is learning at least one new one a day.

Just yesterday Mo mentioned that he'd be pointing to a book and making a sign she didn't recognize. I said, show me...he'd been signing "pig" all day, a sign I'd taught him the week before, because he wanted a book about Pigs read to him.

As a new parent, I can't tell you how thrilling it is to connect with a baby, your baby, on a conceptual level...sounds silly to say, but Baby Sign Language can be about more than just "milk." We were reading "Goodnight Moon" just this evening, and my son signed "moon all done" when we got to the page where the moon was gone from the sky. That moment really sealed the deal for me. Sticking with Sign Language was the right thing for us to do.

It's not that much work to learn the signs. As you learn a few dozen, you'll see a pattern, and other signs will get easier to learn. We carry a picture dictionary around with us in the baby bag.

Sometimes folks see us sign to him in public and say "oh, is he deaf?" with a kind of worried face. We reply that we're teaching him Sign Language so we can see what's on his mind a year or two early.

There's lots of opinions about teaching kids sign language. Here's my reasoning.

  • I'm gaining at least a year of time communicating with my son. Not using sign language would mean that our communication would be limited to pointing and the occasional made up gesture.
  • Many families in America use some sign language like Milk and More and basically leave it at that. I say you're missing out on something amazing. Take it to the  next level.
    • Imagine taking your 1 year old to the zoo and having them sign "monkey sleeping" when you get the Gorilla House and the monkey's not around. Things like this happen ever day for us, and they are utterly magical.
  • Some folks believe that "Mommy knows what baby needs." I'm sure that's true, but Mommy also appreciates when baby says "apple" using sign, rather than simply throwing his banana at Mommy. Why not give him the tools to express himself?
  • Many temper tantrums are caused by frustration at not being understood. Sign language has given us a way to find out what he wants and what he needs. We give him 100% of what he needs, and probably 10% of what he wants. We haven't seen any temper tantrums at all caused by our son not being understood. (I checked that statement out with the wife ahead of time and she agreed.) He is eager to make himself understood and it's clear that he has fun signing.
  • ASL-based Signing qualifies as a foreign language in most colleges and more and more high schools. If you stick with signing, not only will you have an additional language between you, but you'll have given your child a language firmly based in kinesthetic learning.

What do you need to do to start signing?

  • Check your local community center. They often offer Baby Sign Language classes. We took classes before Z was born, and when he was 6 months old.
  • If Baby Sign Language is unusual or unused in your country, either find some Deaf Folks and learn your country's specific Sign Language, or use ASL (American Sign Language). The trick is to be consistent and have an illustrated dictionary to refer to.
  • Stick with it. Don't give up. We started when he was six months old and signed every day without a single clear response until he was a year old. We nearly quit a dozen times before that.
    • Then one day he signed "light" as clear as day in his bedroom. We turned on the light and our son lit up with a small as wide as his face. That's when we connected with him. I'm not talking about the standard Mom/Dad/Baby we-love-you connection. I'm talking about the baby's opinion matters kind of connection.
  • Get picture books, lots of them, and learn the signs for the animals. I highly recommend the Priddy Books series of books for baby.
    • Learn the signs for animals and common objects and use them every time you see one out in the world. We went for a walk on the Portland Waterfront today and our son was signing bird and dog and plane and sharing those discoveries with us. It's great when he sees something interesting and points at it, but it's something different when he signs about something we didn't see.
  • Pay Attention and prepare for the unexpected.
    • Example: The baby was frantically signing ball recently, gesturing wildly at a dog. We tried to correct him..."No no sweetie, that's a dog, not a ball." The dog lifted it's head and we saw that the dog was in fact playing with a ball that we hadn't seen.

There's a great Dictionary of Baby Signs (ASL) here that uses Windows Media Player. I also highly recommend the Baby Signing Time Series of DVDs, particularly Volumes 1 and 2. They are the only videos that let the baby watch.

I don't know when he'll start talking. It doesn't really matter. I'm not really sure where he is "developmentally" or what a 14 month old is supposed to be doing at this point. I figure kids all even out by the time they're 18 years old anyway. But, while we look forward to him talking, be it at two years or four years old, I've already got a way to communicate with him. I can ask him what's on his mind and he'll tell me.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Windows Vista SideBar Gadget for AirLink Web Cam

January 20, '07 Comments [6] Posted in ASP.NET | Javascript | Tools | Z
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I've got an AirLink101 AIC250 Network Camera in the baby's room. I wrote about it when he was younger in a Coding4Fun article on Motion Detection. He's been sleeping through the night since he was about six months, so even though my Webcam application was a ClickOnce App, I got lazy, and didn't used it for several months. However, we just weaned Z and I'm now in charge of putting him to bed.

Putting a baby to sleep is a subtle art, not unlike defusing a bomb or tiptoeing through minefield. Sometimes he goes down well, other times, less so. We started using the Webcam again lately, but I wasn't really digging the application and the way that it integrated into our life. My wife and I like to check our email just after we put the baby down, and I like to watch the baby at the same time. The app was getting in the way, or it'd take up the second monitor, and while I could have fixed it, I realized that I really wanted to see Z in the Vista Sidebar.

I started digging into the various "Gadget APIs." A Windows Sidebar Gadget is just a tiny web page or pages, along with javascript, that runs in a specific secure host and has automatic access to the Vista Sidebar DOM as JavaScript Objects. If you want to access storage bags for settings or whatever, it's all javascript and bailing wire. MacGyver would love it. I, on the other hand, don't.

Well, that's not true. I mean, it's brilliant, really, all the Gadget APIs are very accessible to the Javascripty. I'm just not very Javascripty. The lack of a really good debugger has me using System.Debug.outputstring and dbgview.exe from Sysinternals. It's lovely, really, but "got here" debugging sucks.

Got here.
Got here.
Got here.

Anyway. Turns out that the AirLInk101 not only has a MJPEG (That's MotionJPEG, not MPEG, for those who are paying attention) stream, but there's as a single JPEG endpoint like this: http://babyroom/IMAGE.JPG?cidx=20071200134234234 where you append a random number on the end to make sure the browser doesn't cache.

Now, I could do this Sidebar a number of ways. I could:

  • Use the Java Applet or the ActiveX control that comes with the camera and host it inside the Sidebar. However, you'd have to log into the admin console once, first, to authenticate. Not to mention the "meh" of having that stuff running inside the Sidebar process.
  • Use Ajax/XMLHttp ala Flickr to get the image all async like and assign it to an image.
  • Use XBAP or WPF/E to do the work for me...this was beyond my patience for new technology as I just wanted to spend and hour.

However, I'm old school. Smells like a job for "setInterval" to me. Hunting for Sidebar Samples got me to Microsoft Gadgets.com which is WAY old, but the Tutorial was useful. Interestingly the stuff that OdeToCode did was WAY clearer and more elegant, but I ended up using the stuff from the tutorial because it supported the many states that a Sidebar gadget can be in:

  • Docked
  • Docked, with a Flyout
  • Undocked and large (via a Setting)
  • Undocked and small (via a Setting)

I used the bare bones Virtual Earth sample to start with. Without getting to intense on the details, as you can just look at the code, I added a setting for the Camera Server that gets pulled out of the Gadget settings State Bag.

   1:  function procGadgetCore()
   2:  {
   3:      var serverName = System.Gadget.Settings.read("CameraServer");
   4:      if (serverName == '')
   5:      {
   6:          serverName = "babyroom";
   7:      }
   8:      gCameraServerURL = "http://" + serverName + "/image.jpg";
   9:   
  10:      UpdateGadget();
  11:   
  12:      startTimer();
  13:  }

It's my gadget, I use my camera's name as the default. The gadget can be many sizes, so I just resize the image as the gadget changes. I also append the unique-enough number to prevent caching.

   1:  function UpdateGadget()
   2:  {
   3:      var now = new Date();
   4:      imgCamera.src = gCameraServerURL + '?cidx=' + now.getTime();
   5:      imgCamera.style.width = gadgetContentFrame.style.width;
   6:      imgCamera.style.height = gadgetContentFrame.style.height;
   7:      System.Debug.outputString("Update Gadget" + imgCamera.src);
   8:  }

StartTimer() just does

   1:  function startTimer()
   2:  {
   3:      gTimerID = setInterval(UpdateGadget, gInterval);
   4:  }

I need to add the interval as a modifiable setting. Right now it's set to a half-second. Certainly less than the 10fps I get with the Webcam ClickOnce app, but I'm really just looking to see that he's OK, and 2fps fine for that and the CPU usage is negligible.

None of this matters to you if you don't have a Webcam like this, but here's the craptastical source. A gadget file is just a ZIP file, FYI. When you double-click it, Vista will ask install it and it'll show up in

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Sidebar\Gadgets

You can get there by pasting that into Start|Run. Enjoy. Take a look at these places that helped me in this little project:

Night night.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.