Scott Hanselman

Update on .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 and Windows Update

September 23, '08 Comments [53] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET Dynamic Data | Bugs | Programming | Windows Client
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The .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 included a bunch of new features, but as a Service Pack it also included a number of bug fixes and many improvements. These fixes included all aspects of the .NET Framework from ASP.NET to WPF and the CLR.

Will the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 break my 2.0 apps?

Almost certainly not.

Why Not?

Remember that 3.5 (and 3.0 before it) all have the 2.0 CLR at their core. If you want excessive detail on this, I've got it. Because the 2.0 CLR is the engine underneath and 3.0 and 3.5 are primarily additive*, there's inherently high application compatibility between these releases.

Realize that 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 are not different products, no matter what anyone says. They are not different "Side By Side" releases, like 1.x and 2.0 were. They are evolutionary; if anything, our naming could have been better (you think?), but rather each adds functionality to the one before it. They are really additive releases to the same core product.

But, I've hit an edge case…

We’re committed to application compatibility. However you may have heard or reported issues or bugs around 3.5 SP1 and I’ll go into how we’re dealing with those below. Most of these are corner-case/edge-case situations.

It may be cold comfort when it’s your bug and your company and it sounds like a marketing line, but it’s true. There are a lot of resources working to minimize impact to you.

I’ve now been on both sides, when working in a large ISV and trying to get a hotfix, and now on the inside trying to keep compatibility while keeping things secure and correct. There is a massive amount of unit and integration testing that goes into the .NET Framework (that includes all technologies under that umbrella).  That means that every effort is made not to break stuff. That’s why Visicalc still runs nicely on my Vista x86 machine (although I can’t run OS 9 apps on OS X anymore, interestingly ;) ) 

Software testing is a combinatorial problem, and as such all software has bugs, but sometimes when a bug comes back it’s called a “regression.” That means it was fixed before, and now it doesn’t. Sometimes folks call a new bug a regression their software worked before and it doesn’t now. This might be because they relied on an incorrect behavior that was later corrected, or that it was just a bug.

It IS possible that something could break, so as with all SP’s you should do compatibility testing to make sure you’re not hitting an edge case.  If you are affected by a bug at some point, we’re trying to get you a very fast response. Notice in the table below there’s a “How Found” column. You can report on Forums, contact PSS or use Connect to report bugs.

When will the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 be pushed to Windows Update?

Later this year, probably November-ish, the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 will begin show up on Windows Update in a rolling and throttled fashion so that all machines that have .NET 2.0 or higher will be automatically upgraded to 3.5 SP1.

If you’re an ISV or Hoster, you might be concerned that you’d wake up one day and find machines updated to 3.5 SP1 via Windows Update before these bugs are fixed.

There will be an update/patch made to .NET 3.5 SP1 before it goes live on Windows Update. We are holding SP1 on Windows Update (Microsofties call it “WU” or “Woo”) until this patch is finalized. 

That patch is called a GDR, or General Distribution Release, coming for .NET 3.5 SP1. A GDR is a Microsoft TLA (Three Letter Acronym) for an update that is for everyone. This update’s goal is to fix bugs that have been found in .NET 3.5 SP1. Many of these bugs were found by the community and reported on the Connect site.

We won’t push .NET 3.5 SP1 to WU until everyone feels confident it’s solid.

I know if you have a particular bug on Connect that you’re watching, you might be a little frustrated and be wondering what its status is. We’re working on getting the Connect Bugs updated and lots of folks (myself included) are trying at every turn to increase transparency. This blog post is an example. If they stop abruptly, I’ve finally been fired for them. ;)


Sometimes your app might break and the issue isn’t “fixed,” but closed with “By Design” or “Workaround.” This can be frustrating (believe me, I know) but some fixes can break other things, and there’s always security to consider. In the near future I’m going to try to dig into some really icky details of a few of the more interesting bugs and get some color commentary on them. I’m going to encourage the other teams to do the same. I know the BCL team had a few interesting issues and have expressed an interested in digging in and blogging some wonky technical details.

If you don’t want a bunch of details, you can stop reading now.

Wonky Technical Details

In the interested on transparency, here’s some of the bugs I’m tracking for this GDR. Note you can find most, if not all, of these bugs/issues on Connect and each team will be updating those with as much details as they have. Watch the issues there for the most up-to-date information we've got. If you feel something isn't getting attention, let me know and I'll poke the right manager.


Product Unit


How Found

.NET 3.5 issue - Dynamic Data Issue


Dynamic Data fails on Entity Framework data models that contain 1->0..1 and *->1 database relations with an error like "'System.Web.UI.WebControls.EntityDataSourceWrapper' does not contain a property with the name 'Orders.OrderID'". These types of relationships occur in many databases including Northwind and AdventureWorks.

The error is caused by a naming mismatch that Dynamic Data has with the wrapper objects being returned by the EntityDataSource. We have a temporary fix available at: which replaces the data model provider with one that names the properties correctly.

3rd party Forum

Hidden files/folders inside App_Browsers are not ignored


This customer applied FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE) to the site.  Normal behavior is to add metadata files inside _vti_cnf folders for each file in the site.  Therefore, inside App_Browsers folder, after applying FPSE, we get a hidden folder called _vti_cnf that contains the file called BrowserFile.browser
Trying to parse that file will result in this error, since this is not a real .browser file, but instead just a metadata file.

The workaround for now is to delete _vti_cnf folder, but we'll fix this.


After installing .NET 3.5 SP1, a web site using a derived version of the UpdateProgress control may encounter the following exception: “A ProgressTemplate must be specified on UpdateProgress control with ID ‘id’.”


In the .NET Framework 3.5, the UpdateProgress control enforced the requirement of a ProgressTemplate from its PreRender routine. A derived UpdateProgress control could subvert that requirement by overriding OnPreRender in the derived control, and avoiding calling base.OnPreRender. In the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, the UpdateProgress control now uses CreateChildControls to instantiate the ProgressTemplate, causing the requirement to be enforced at a different point in the page life cycle, and preventing the OnPreRender technique from subverting the check.


SGEN and Obsolete attribute


ASMX web methods do not return serialized results. What the customer does is to SGEN an assembly that contains some types with [Obsolete(IsError = true)].  What he sees is SGEN throwing an error and  refusing to generate a serialization assembly. 

Here is the message you get from SGEN:
Microsoft (R) Xml Serialization support utility
[Microsoft (R) .NET Framework, Version 2.0.50727.1432]
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Error: Unable to generate a temporary class (result=1).
error CS0619: 'SGenTest.Program' is obsolete: ‘Testing.'
error CS0619: 'SGenTest.Program' is obsolete: 'Testing.'


.NET 3.5 SP1: JIT generates incorrect code in managed C++ edge case


This is caused by JIT optimization changes we made in 3.5SP1. We promote some fields to registers when we shouldn't. Limited to structs or classes with four or fewer scalar fields, none of which are managed object references.The scope is additionally reduced in that this bug only manifests when using the cpblk or initblk instructions, which are only emitted by the managed C++ compiler.The issue does apply to both JITted and NGEN'd code.


Obfuscated 1.1 assemblies may fail if they override certain methods in the Framework


1.1 code that used to run successfully on 2.0 will no longer run on 3.5 SP1 (throws a MissingMethodException).

The underlying problem is as follows. Let’s say you have a 1.1 Framework type that overrode a virtual method, then stopped overriding it in 2.0. This should not be a breaking change, because an implementation of the method still exists (somewhere earlier in the inheritance hierarchy). However, if a customer overrode that method, built against 1.1, then obfuscated the code, the obfuscated code no longer works when run against 2.0 SP2/3.5 SP1.

Obfuscators that are using undocumented techniques to accomplish their task tend to get broken when we optimize things. Workaround is to not obfuscate these few methods, usually by marking them with an attribute. Long term workaround is for the obfuscator to play nice.

3rd party Forum

How .Net 3.5 SP1 broke Rhino Mocks (ExecutionEngineException...)


This bug has been reported to break Rhino Mocks, an open-source, mock testing framework.The specific impact to Rhino Mocks is that it breaks its support for F#, C++ and Spec# It has 71 validations and 119 ratings (avg. 4.9), which is high for a Connect bug is the blog which discusses the issue with many community comments This is likely the source of much of the validations.

In 3.5 SP1 we removed a null check as a side-effect of changes we made to support ASLR. As a result, a failure case we used to handle now results in an AV in the runtime which manifests as an ExecutionEngineException and process termination


Serialization hangs or throws an OutOfMemoryException


This issue is also mentioned on the Rhino Mocks web site, where another breaking change in 3.5SP1 was reported. It is unclear as to whether or not this issue also breaks Rhino Mocks test software.

Due to changes in the type system, types with the following criteria:Generic type instantiated with a reference typeImplements ISerializableContains a static field.


AutoCommit behavior change in Oracle Transactions in .Net Framework 2.0 SP2


Existing applications which rely on transaction behavior to work correctly will break causing data corruption.


EntityDataSource runtime: Not able to display Dynamic Data's FK Ids in a 1:0..1 relationship


This breaks web sites/applications created with ASP.NET Dynamic Data because Dynamic Data assumes the property descriptors exist and uses them to obtain labels for their links. The only known workaround requires manually editing Dynamic Data's templates (for wich each site/app has private copies) to capture the exception. The exception generally of the form:
[HttpException (0x80004005): DataBinding: 'System.Web.UI.WebControls.EntityDataSourceWrapper' does not contain a property with the name 'Manager'.]

3rd party Forum

SaveChanges doesn't support inserting an entity and binding as a single operation


If the resource takes part in a relationship (e.g. 1:1), then while inserting a new instance of the resource, we need to send the link also, since the link is required at the database level. The client does not send the links while inserting such resources

3rd party Forum

DataServiceContext: DeleteObject on an entity with a link fails


This impacts deletion of any resource which has reference properties.

A link for a reference property should never be in Added or Deleted state. Instead, it should always be modified with reference target to null in case of delete/non-null in case of add/update.

3rd party Forum

.NET 3.5 SP1 breaks use of WPF under IIS



Relative Hyperlinks inside XPS documents broken and causes app to Crash




Regression: Geometry.Combine creates more points/segments than before in 3.5 sp1


Performance regression in scenarios with Geometry (drawn shapes).


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* Remember, if you're running around edge cases and are concerned, you can happily target 2.0 and 3.0 from VS2008 and use a CodeAnalysis Rule to make sure you're only calling methods for your targeted framework.

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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Hanselminutes Podcasts 130 - JavaScript gets Faster: Brendan Eich, CTO of Mozilla Corporation and Creator of JavaScript

September 21, '08 Comments [8] Posted in ASP.NET | ASP.NET MVC | Javascript | Podcast
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ImageBEich.jpg My one-hundred-and-thirtieth podcast is up. I had the pleasure of talking to Brendan Eich about JavaScript this week. Brendan created JavaScript lo these many years ago, and lately his team has been working to make JavaScript even faster with TraceMonkey, their next step in their JavaScript engine. It's an exciting time for JavaScript as it approaches "C" speeds. I chat with Brendan in this episode about where he thinks JavaScript is headed. What does the rise of JavaScript mean to Flash, Silverlight and RIAs in general? We also talk about how TraceMonkey works and how much faster it can get.

Brendan is responsible for architecture and the technical direction of Mozilla. He is charged with authorizing module owners, owning architectural issues of the source base and writing the roadmapthat outlines the direction of the Mozilla project.

Brendan created JavaScript, did the work through Navigator 4.0, and helped carry it through international standardization. Before Netscape, he wrote operating system and network code for SGI; and at MicroUnity, wrote micro-kernel and DSP code, and did the first MIPS R4K port of gcc, the GNU C compiler.

One other change, this week a large number of the questions of Brendan came directly from you, the listener, via Twitter! This is a new thing I'm trying and I really feel it made for a better show and I thank you for it! I'm on Twitter at and you can read more about Twitter in my post on Twitter: The Uselessfulness of Micro-blogging if you want to jump in and "follow me." I encourage you to find a Twitter Client that works for you and give it a try.

Subscribe: Subscribe to Hanselminutes Subscribe to my Podcast in iTunes 

Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

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Building quality software is never easy. It requires skills and imagination. We cannot promise to improve your skills, but when it comes to User Interface, we can provide the building blocks to take your application a step closer to your imagination. Explore the leading UI suites for ASP.NET and Windows Forms. Enjoy the versatility of our new-generation Reporting Tool. Dive into our online community. Visit

As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

Enjoy. Who knows what'll happen in the next show?

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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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Working Remotely from Home, Telepresence and Video Conferencing: One Year Later

September 20, '08 Comments [24] Posted in Microsoft | Musings | Remote Work
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Microsoft RoundTable Had my one year review at work last week. I met with my boss for an hour and we talked about what I was doing well and what I was doing poorly. I talk to him face to face a few times a week using video conferencing. I also have a mentor at Microsoft who helps me navigate the maze. He didn't have a web camera so I just had one sent to him so that it showed up on his desk one morning. I probably do two or three videos calls per day now.

LiveMeeting - Big Conference Room Meetings

I had a meeting this morning with six manager-types in a conference room and I finally felt like I was contributing and could be heard. I hate doing conference calls these days. You can't be heard, you're constantly asking "who is speaking?"

In the meeting today we used a Microsoft Roundtable for the meeting. In the last ten meetings I've asked all ten organizers to book a room with a Roundtable. Only two have. The belief is that it's hard to hook up, "I've never used it before," or just "I'll see what can we can do," then nothing.

They are SO easy to use. Literally you plug it into your laptop and start a LiveMeeting. That's it. The drivers were already included with Live Meeting so there's literally no setup time.

LiveMeeting with a Panorama view

You can't believe (or maybe you can) how much better the experience is for me when we use this. The Roundtable stitches together 5 cameras at 15fps into a 1056x144 panorama that covers a full 360 degrees. It also has a 640x480 square "active speaker" video. The Roundtable knows where people are in the room physically based on sound and will automatically create a square video view (as if each person had their own personal camera) and will 'cut' between them keeping the active speaker in view. This totally removes the "who's speaking?" factor from meetings.

I'm going to continue to ask anyone who wants to include me in a meeting to book a room with a Roundtable. We've got at least one on each floor, sometimes two, in most buildings.


Microsoft's got internal chat through Office Communicator which I use to talk to all sorts of folks when email would be "too much." Communicator also acts as an global address book that lets me not only find out if someone is at their desk, but also when their next free block of time is as it's integrated into Exchange/Outlook. It also lets you "tag" someone if their presence changes - like if they've returned to their office.

I also use Communicator to make quick calls to folks in the office. If people configure it correctly, it'll call their desk phones and they won't know I'm calling from my PC.

Distributed Ad-Hoc Meetings

ooVoo Video ChatOne of the things that Live Meeting doesn't do easily is quick meetings using video with a bunch of folks that are located all over. For this I tend to use ooVoo. It's recently added 640x480 "High Quality" calls and unlike Skype, you don't need a Logitech special camera to do it. There's rumor (and a disabled menu item) that implies ooVoo will be going even higher-res, perhaps HD?

OoVoo does great through firewalls and most importantly lets me pull in folks from all over, a lot like iChat for the Mac. In fact, ooVoo is also cross-platform.

Screen Sharing

Often I've got to show my screen to someone I'm talking to. Live Meeting works for this, but it's a little heavy. I use both SharedView and CrossLoop, in that order. If SharedView fails to make it through the firewall (rarely happens) then I'll use CrossLoop. SharedView has the benefit that it supports sharing to up to 16 people and they just log in with their Live ID. CrossLoop is based on VNC and is a little slower to react, but I've never seen it not work. If you pay attention to the UI in CrossLoop and click "skip" at the right times, you can use it without creating an account. CrossLoop is great for fixing your parent's computer also.

Future: Putting Feet on my Web Cam - Telepresence Robots?

RoboDynamics ConsoleChris Sells (who also works remotely) and I have been brainstorming and prototyping ideas for smarter telepresence. Chris really wants a high-res camera with an optical zoom so he can see whiteboards.

Chris would be happy "without feet." He would like a computer/device/system that someone could pick up and take to a meeting - basically his disembodied virtual head - so he could participate in meetings.

I'd really like be able to "walk" into someone's office. Just pop in to see if they are there. I want to get involved in hallway conversations.

RoboDynamics RobotChris and I had the opportunity to remotely drive/beta-test a Telepresence robot from RoboDynamics. They've built their software on .NET 3.0 and the robot runs XP.

It was pretty sweet. They've got a 26x Optical Zoom and pan/tilt/zoom on the camera. There's a screen for your "head" so that folks can recognize you as you wander around. I was able to walk all over their office. The control console includes sonar and bumpers so when I got close to bumping into the fridge in their office kitchen I could "see" the distance to the fridge and avoid it.

There's a lot to think about when it comes to letting a virtual beastie into your company. Is it on the network? Which network? What access? Who is it logged in as? What if it's stolen?

As I understand it, RoboDynamics is looking to raise another round of funding so if you know someone, give them a call. Their stuff is REALLY impressive and cleanly implemented. There's video of the robot in action below.

Microsoft's doing a lot around Robotics and Robotics Research. Hopefully there will be a real telepresence solution soon for remote workers.  Maybe some Microsoftie will read this blog and let me beta test a robot or future telepresence platform...hint hint.

Future: Big Screen Cubical Portal?

prod_case_study0900aecd8054c81b-2Cisco has a telepresence platform that's pretty slick. Basically it's a really high res (1080p), really high framerate, low compression, 65-inch flat-screen or series of flat-screens.

If I could have an office with one of these screens set up, then folks could just pop by my office to say Hi. I could have a "portal" between my house and work up on campus in Redmond.

I thought I might be able to cobble something together with Skype or Office Communicator, maybe LiveMeeting, and some automation APIs. I could get a large monitor from Costco, maybe a no-name-brand 42" screen.

However, the bosses nixed buying the screens. It's funny, it costs about $250 to fly me up there, plus maybe $200 for a few nights in a hotel. If I went up just four times, that would be enough to by two 42" LCDs. Then I could just get a few PCs and I'd be in business.

The things that's been taking me the most time is:

  • Equipment: Setting up people who don't have these tools (software, webcams)
  • Patience: Convincing people that setting these things up are the ONLY way I can effectively do my job.

I am absolutely convinced that video conferencing builds relationships almost as much as showing up in person. If you've got the bandwidth to spare, talking to someone in F2F (face to face) via webcam conveys way more information than a phone call. Also, using a 640x480 webcam and software is a breath of fresh air when compared to the video conferencing that you may have used in the past. Another few years and we'll have clear 720p or greater, commodity video conferencing.

Do you work from home? What tools to you use to manage your remote life? What tools would you like to use?

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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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Back To Basics: Algorithms and Going Back To Virtual School

September 17, '08 Comments [18] Posted in Back to Basics | Learning .NET
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imageBefore I graduated from College/University I was convinced that school was for lamers. Then I graduated from school and decided that NOT going to school was for lamers. That shows you what a wishy-washy person *I* am. ;) School is for some folks and not for others. Wear the shoe that fits you best.

Totally random retrospective self-focused aside: I graduated from OIT with a BS in Software Engineering in 2003. Yes, that's 2003. It took me only 11 years to get a 4-year degree. ;)
I've been a programmer since 1992, so about 16 years, but 11 of those I was going to school at night. Basically I worked 9a-5p and went to school 6p-10p. For the first few years I took a lot of courses, but then work happened and I tapered off to one course a term. This was fine for a long time but then credits started falling off the other side. Basically courses I took 7+ years before became obsolete. I actually lived through four Deans while I was there. I made a deal with one of them that if I taught .NET I could keep my credits longer. That let me keep taking courses while working the whole time. The result took 11 years and two schools. But now I can just say, "I've got my degree and just not mention that I got it 5 years ago. Don't tell. Lots of experience sounds better than "slow learner at school."

Whether you went to school or are self-taught, even though the Internet was originally more a place to put academic papers than a place to meet "friends", there's a LOT more really good academic information on the web than I remember. It also takes more interesting forms than just pages of class syllabi. Here's the syllabus for the CST407 class I taught in Fall of 2003.

You can learn via Googling, you can learn via Book Readin' but you can also setup a more focused "curriculum" for yourself. I know a lot of devs that I admire that do this. They'll pick a discipline, area, language, whatever, and create a mini-class for themselves. Actually that much-teased "Learn Whatever in 24 Hours" books have more structure in this way than most programming books.

These days there's all the good content at iTunesU from colleges that didn't return my calls back in my High School years. There's even 1986 video of the legendary MIT lectures "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" with Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman. There's MIT's excellent OpenCourseWare Videos of the Introduction to Algorithms class up on Google Video.

Professors are creating better and better tools to visualize things, like this amazing JavaScript-based page on "Animated Sorting Algorithms" by David R. Martin. It's utterly brilliant, not just because it's a Visualizer, but because the code is in Javascript, so you're seeing it happen. It's impressive like when you're playing a video game and you discover a particularly amazing cut-scene isn't prerendered, it's rendered in-engine. (UPDATE: And it would be impressive if it were true. I'm crushed. They ARE prerendered. Well, still. It's cool. Thanks, Adam!)

I recently stumbled on Massimo Di Pierro's site and his code. He's got a CSC309/321 class that he teaches at DePaul University and has a great Python application called "Algorithms Animator." His slides on basic OOP in C++ are excellent but the Algorithms Animator is really cool. There's a video of Algorithms Animator running over at Vimeo.

He's got all sorts of common algorithms, sorts, traversals, searches, etc. The algorithms are all in src/, like this simple binary tree example.

def isNullTree(tree):
if tree is None: return true
if len(tree)==0: return true
return false


def BinaryTree(node,left=[],right=[]):
if not isNullTree(left):
if not isNullTree(right):
return list

There's also more complex ones like a Huffman encoding example. But it's not the source code that interesting, although it is. The syllabus is really detailed, with the kind of detail you really only see in academia:

Huffman Encoding Definition: A minimal variable-length character encoding based on the frequency of each character. First, each character becomes a trivial tree, with the character as the only node. The character's frequency is the tree's frequency. The two trees with the least frequencies are joined with a new root which is assigned the sum of their frequencies. This is repeated until all characters are in one tree. One code bit represents each level. Thus more frequent characters are near the root and are encoded with few bits, and rare characters are far from the root and are encoded with many bits.

The Program accepts the text to be compresses as input and produces a text report showing compression rules and compressed text. The Program also shows in an animation how the Huffman tree is built.

Huffman encoding provides an example of Greedy strategy.

What's cool about this guy's way of teaching algorithms is that his app uses animation to show the algorithm happening step by step.

For example, if I use Huffman Encoding on the string "Scott Hanselman," here's Frame 0 of the animation.

"First, each character becomes a trivial tree, with the character as the only node."

Huffman Encoding Tree

Here's Frame 15 as the the character's frequencies are counted and the tree is in the process of being built.

"One code bit represents each level. Thus more frequent characters are near the root and are encoded with few bits, and rare characters are far from the root and are encoded with many bits."

Huffman Encoding Tree (2)

Here's Frame 22 as the tree has been built out and the bit values are applied.

Huffman Encoding Tree (3)

...and the result is in the image below showing the compression rules/map and the final bits.


I'm not sure about you, but I'm not able to bust out a QuickSort on a whiteboard under pressure anymore (I'm old).  I found this guy's stuff to be a great algorithms refresher, and using the little Python app to explore them made it very enjoyable. I wish we had this kind of stuff when I was in school. It's kind of nice to pretend I'm back in an Algorithms class and tickle the neurons that haven't fired in a while.

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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 2.0

September 16, '08 Comments [27] Posted in Musings
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UPDATE: Check out for more info on Babies and Sign Language!

The "2.0" in the post title there refers to Baby #2 who is pushing 9 months now. Insert gratuitous baby footage here (It's all good, but the best bit is just after 1:23):

He's a clever little dude, I like to think. One of the things that we did with Baby #1 (now Toddler of Pure Evil©) was that we taught him Baby Sign Language. I LOVE talking to parents about the benefits of teaching their kids a foreign language and American Sign Language is a full fledged foreign language. It just happens to be one that babies can learn before they can speak.

Teaching the first boy Sign was a radical success for our little family, so we're starting it up with 2.0. We're teaching him American Sign Language.


How much earlier? Anywhere from 6 months old to one year, a baby can clearly make their intent known with Sign. Now, I'm not talking about trying to push a baby to be "gifted" or to get a baby to do anything that isn't relaxed and natural. I'm not promoting trying to teach 2 year olds to take college entrance exams.


What I am a huge fan of is taking the communication you've already got with your baby* and elevating the grunts and points that are primitive, invented signs, and replacing them with a formalized system of signs that have been used for years by deaf folks.

*(in the range between 6 months and whenever they start really talking...between 18 mos and 2 years or whatever)

With Baby Sign Language you start by introducing "Needs-Based" Signs like Food, Milk, Mommy and start using them all the time. Every time you say food out loud, you also sign food. Then you start introducing repetitive action signs. Those are signs for stuff that happen all the time like Sleep or seeing Grandpa.

What a Weird Country

A lot of folks I meet while (or from) overseas think this is insane. A German woman told me once "I know exactly what my baby wants." And that's cool. However, sometimes it's nice to hear directly from the child.

The idea is that the main reason babies cry is that their needs aren't being met. I'm hungry. I'm tired. I want that ball. We spend two years or more with these babies pointing and grunting at stuff trying to get their point across.

Also, "I'm hungry" is pretty vague. It's a joy to see a 14 month old sign "Want Grapes" then calm down when they get exactly what they want. It might sound weird, but it can't hurt to try! It's becoming more and more popular in the States and it's because it works and it enhances my relationship with my kids very early on.

How Much Sign Can They Learn?

It's a complete language and many successful Deaf folks would say "all of it." They'll learn as much as you can throw at them. However, I suggest picking 3-5 signs from about 6 months old until they've mastered them. Then, start adding a sign a week. Then a sign a day. Then, once you realize your child is smarter quicker to absorb then you are, they're probably going to start speaking soon anyway.

Boy #1 ended up with something like 80 signs (lots of Animals) and then just started talking one day.

Won't It Slow Their Development?

In my experience, nope. If anything, it gives them a nice little bump ahead, but that's not the point of doing it. Our two year old is speaking nicely and has happily forgotten his signs as soon as he figured it that speaking was easier for him. Now, fast forward a bit, he's re-learning it and signing (and speaking) to his little brother.

Check out my (now series of) posts on Baby Sign Language:

I highly recommend the Baby Signing Time DVDs and CDs. Now, forgive me as I compile a few small summaries from those previous posts:

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 sonlit 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 anddog 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.


Many of my friends and family have taught their kids sign. For many, including all the non-Americans, 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 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."

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.

It's moving slowly, but our 9 month old (after flat ignoring our signs and smiling for the last 3 months straight) now asks for More Food quite clearly. I look forward to the next year that I get to "talk" to him as I patiently wait for him to actually start talking.

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.