Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Kashmir, The Wounded Valley

Many years ago, Neha and I were walking around Santa Rosa in Northern California. We came across a used bookstore where the owner was listening to some good blues, and improvising with a harmonica. It was a perfect setting. We entered the store and found some very interesting books. Some of these books have been impossible to find elsewhere.

Today's review is about one book from that store. The book is "Kashmir, The Wounded Valley", by Ajit Bhattacharjea.

The book is a condensed history of the Kashmir valley. It starts around 700AD, when authoritative written record begins, and continues on till 1992. It is an insightful read. Written in an easy style, Ajit takes the reader through time in Kashmir's history. Entirely factual, and entirely gripping, the book has the pull of a crime thriller rather than the yawn of history books. It is even more chilling when you realize that all the events occurred. And when you turn to the evening news, you realize that we are still living with the repercussions.

Two things struck me when reading the book.
  1. The valley has had mismanagement and cruel monarchs. Few rulers have cared for the well-being of their people. Dynasties follow a predictable pattern. The first monarch in a dynasty is an aggressive conqueror, or a cunning statesman. The second is a benevolent and able leader. Successive leaders are selfish, greedy, and insensitive to the needs of the people. Few monarchs have focused on improving education or living conditions. As a result, the people have suffered greatly and their lot has worsened over the years. Even before the British Raj, the condition of the people was miserable.
  2. The people are surprisingly resilient, and a little gullible. Kashmiris have a liberal outlook towards life. Most Kashmiris converted from Hinduism and Buddhism to Islam willingly. The benevolent influence of liberal sufis struck a chord among the liberal Kashmiris. Culture played a bigger role than religion in their life. All through the turmoil of Mughal India, Kashmir had peaceful co-existence among Hindus and Muslims. The gullibility of the people leads to their willingness to be ruled and oppressed. And it shows in the lack of popular uprising to demand better rights and better living conditions. They supported outsiders to overthrow the existing monarch, only to find the new boss was same as the old boss. Even when democracy was at hand, they did not demand their rights aggressively. As a result, leaders turned into tyrants, ignoring the needs of the people and holding Kashmir back from fully awakening.
The book also explains how Kashmir became a contentious issue between India and Pakistan, and the mistakes that led us there. The book is impartial: it points out mistakes on all sides. The ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh, refused to make a concrete decision on joining either side. He had hopes of staying independent despite the impossibility of such an arrangement for Kashmir. Rulers of India and Pakistan refused to give the Kashmir issue the importance it deserved. And as we have seen countless times before, administrative incompetence and widespread corruption made a bad situation worse. Heavy-handed actions by the central government, corruption by well-known people, and a lack of respect for the people's needs alienated an entire state. The people started out amicable to India, eager to strengthen ties with the land of Nehru and Gandhi. Over years, all good will was squandered, culminating in the excesses of the armed forces. Warm friends turned into bitter enemies.

A small bruise festered into an open sore, leading to much pain and hardship for both countries for over fifty years. Over time, that pain has spread through both countries. It has led to war and terrorism.

This book should be a required reading for every Indian and Pakistani student. It has valuable lessons for future statesmen. Due to mortal follies, a place with heavenly beauty has been turned into a dark hell. Having deteriorated so far, it is debatable if the situation will ever improve. If a workable remedy exists, knowing how we got into this mess is the first step towards it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The State of Free Software Today: What We Need to Do

Richard Stallman (popularly called RMS) wrote an eulogy to Steve Jobs recently. It was widely reported due to its angry tone. In summary, RMS was happy that Steve Jobs is dead because Jobs personifies the "walled garden" approach to computing. In the Free Software camp, nothing is more abhorrent than the walled garden approach. Free software is all about giving people a lot of freedom: including the full source code of the software, and the freedom to modify it and copy it. The walled garden approach is all about tight control: not just of the source code but also the development and the overall experience.

It is easy for me to pick sides: I have been a free software enthusiast since 1995, when my friend and I chanced upon something called Linux. I spent many hours playing with Linux, and have used it as my primary system for well over a decade. In addition to Linux, I spend all my time in free application software: Firefox, Chrome, Blender, GIMP, R, Eclipse, Emacs, Arduino, ... The list goes on.

I abhor the walled garden approach. It is damaging to my livelihood as a software engineer if I cannot learn from a system or modify it. I enjoy programming and have tinkered with most systems I own. My tinkering was lousy and inconsequential, but I enjoyed it. And I learned a lot by poking inside them.

It is easy to identify with RMS' criticism of Steve Jobs. It is easy to rally people when you demonize someone. But free software doesn't need this kind of rallying.

I think RMS is wrong.

The Lure of Free Software
Free software is compelling. Many programs like Blender, Eclipse, Emacs are the best in their class. They are exceptional tools. I write better in Emacs than any other editor. Emacs is an extension of my mind: it is a supremely capable editor. My other editor, vim, is equally good. It is beautiful to watch an expert use emacs or vi: the software makes them insanely productive. Free software has done exceptionally well in technical areas like Statistics (R), 3D modelling (Blender), web serving (Apache), microcontroller hackery (Arduino), development tools (Eclipse, GCC, emacs/vi, ..) In these areas, non-free tools are at a significant disadvantage. Who would bother using some souped-up microcontroller tool when Arduino works so beautifully? Who would bother with a strange new Statistical language, now that you can download, install and use R right away? And if you have a newbie question with R, the wizard Peter Dalgaard himself replies to questions! That is how awesome the community is. The software is great, the community is knowledgeable and helpful, and you can read the source code to learn more. It doesn't get better than that.

With software like that, you don't need to yell about the virtues of free software and the evils of the walled garden. The software stands on its own merit. And it continues to attract people like me who care about the freedom.

The free software world has produced some exceptional non-technical software: Firefox and Chrome as browsers, VLC as a media player. But in the non-technical area, free software has lagged behind. Ubuntu is making a gorgeous operating system that my mother can use. But companies like Canonical are the exception rather than the norm.

The Lure of the Walled Garden
In recent past, Apple has gained a large following. Their products like the iPhone and the iPad are phenomenally popular. People are buying these products because of the superior user interface, and the ease of use. The user interface really is the killer feature. Free software advocates might dislike the walled garden approach, but we cannot deny that Apple devotes extraordinary resources to getting an excellent user interface. The first bite of the Apple is bewitchingly delicious. The interface sells.

For a long time, the free software world has been blind to the needs of the "common" user. We have aimed at the technical audience, and have ignored the needs of the vast majority of computer users: our parents, our grandparents, our friends. We justified this stance because there were limited developers, and we needed to get our own house in order. We needed development tools, drivers for technical products, technical software. Developers were more interested in scratching their own itches, writing programs that satisfied their needs. Nobody can be blamed for the situation we are in. Every free software developer has been working hard, quite often without pay. Asking a Statistics programmer to write a cute game would be a disaster.

In the meanwhile, a walled garden has appeared with exceptional usability, even if it has a limited set of features.

It is a testimony to good usability that people are willing to enter the walled garden. Many people don't care about the freedom. People who do care continue to enter the walled garden despite their loss of freedom. It is a question of convenience, and people choose their battles carefully.

The way forward
We have many glimmers of hope. Look at Firefox or Chrome. Both are free software, and both wrested browser market share from Internet Explorer (IE). IE was never an explicit walled garden, but it did curtail freedoms: it ran on specific platforms, it fragmented the web with its own extensions. For a long time, the lack of a good browser was the chief hurdle for free software users. We couldn't use IE, and nothing else was good enough. Navigator was barely usable.

Then came Firefox: it was a compelling browser. Firefox was fast, it ran on every system, it was more secure. Most importantly, it was beautiful. Compared to Netscape Navigator and IE: man, was it gorgeous! Put the navigation buttons and URL bar along the menu bar, and you had one pretty interface. Chrome went one step ahead: it is an exceptional browser. It is fast, it is pretty, it is secure. Oh, and the source is available. People who don't care about freedom of software use it because it is good. And people who care about freedom can download its source code.

Something similar is happening with Android now. Android's source code is available. But that's not why millions flock to buy the Nexus-S or the Droid. They want the system because it is excellent. With Gingerbread, the Android system looks beautiful. With the next release, I'm sure it will look even better. Now that it is comparable on features, it is polishing its usability.

That is the way forward: to make exceptional software. Make the best damn system in the world. Make it gorgeous, fast, cheap, reliable, rugged, stable. And then release the source code. Find opportunities like the Mozilla Foundation did with Firefox. Like Canonical did with Ubuntu. Or like Google did with Chrome, Chrome OS and Android.

Users are being charmed by the the usability of the software that Steve Jobs provided. Provide the same usability with the freedom. The walled garden will disappear by itself.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Indian Universities are no longer world class

A recent survey carried out by the Times Higher Education magazine ranked all the universities in the world. Sadly, Indian universities don't figure too highly. The best Indian university in that list is IIT Bombay. Its ranking is 301-350: no specific rank is given. One thing is for sure, IIT Bombay is worse than many small universities few people have heard about, like places in Turkey and Brazil.

Many years ago, I had written about how the IITs are not world class. When you venture out of India, you realize how bad they are. That article got a lot of pageviews, and lots of comments. Many IIT students wrote to say how deluded I was, in their own special way. Eat humble pie, my friends.

The Times Higher Education survey is quite comprehensive. You can look at the methodology details here. In short, they asked industry and education leaders for their views of universities. Universities were graded along a variety of factors: the number of citations for their papers, the amount of research funding, the impact of its research on industry, the teaching environment. The study looks solid: all income has been adjusted for purchasing power parity, so poor countries are not penalized for their lower cost of living. Also, there is a normalization across disciplines, so sciences where overall publication frequency is lower are not penalized for having lesser research output. The weight for research output is 30%, which is perhaps too low. They have an iPhone application which allows you to change the weights and see the impact on the ranking.

I don't have access to their raw data, but from reading about the study, their method looks sound. Ranking an institution is a difficult task, and this study is probably the most precise answer we have right now. A better study could look at the impact of graduates from the universities, or the difference between the capability of students with and without the education: thereby measuring the impact of the institution itself. Alas, such controlled studies are difficult to come by.

So where does this leave us? This leaves us in the sorry state of admitting that Indian educational institutions are really not that good. The Chinese are far ahead of us. The prestigious Tsinghua University in China is at position 71, ranking near well known universities Rice and Vanderbilt, both in the US. Among Asian countries, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all fare very well. In fact, the top Asian universities are dominated by Japan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Korea, and now the reasons are somewhat clearer. . These countries have made investments in education, and the results speak for themselves. Even between Brazil, Russia, and China, India spends the least amount of money on education, per student.

Admitting that our educational institutions have fallen behind is the first step. Only after we admit the problem can we find ways to rectify the situation.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Learning a new software: Blender

Blender is a 3D design software. It is a complete tool, allowing you to create entire worlds in 3D, modelling, meshing, applying texture, and animating the world.

Here is an example of what Blender can do. This movie was created completely in Blender.

Isn't that impressive? What is more impressive is that Blender is available for free, you can download it and install it right now (Windows/Mac/Linux). And if you want to make your own movie based on the characters behind Sintel, you can download all the art and characters at the Sintel website. This level of sharing is refreshing: it allows new graphics designers to learn a complex tool, and be able to look behind the scenes of a very complex project.

Blender has a beautiful UI, though it looks very complicated initially. When you load it up the first time, the number of buttons and controls is overwhelming. This is what the default Blender 2.5 UI looks like. There is a small cube placed at the center of the viewport, and many properties and control widgets are open. Once you learn a few Blender principles, you find that the UI is clearly arranged, and every control is in the perfect place. As with any good tool, the tool itself vanishes pretty quickly. Within hours of learning Blender, you focus on the 3D modeling activity rather than the Blender tool.

Learning Blender
I tried learning how to use Blender using a book. It is hard to explain the various UI elements using written words. It is even harder to describe the 3D world you are creating using just words. The best book I have found till now is called Blender for Dummies. It requires no previous knowledge, and is an excellent resource to begin modelling simple meshes in Blender. It covers Blender 2.5.

In case you want to start while your book is on its way, here are a list of online resources. I list Blender 2.5 resources only. The Blender interface changed a lot between 2.4 and 2.5. If you are starting out, it is best to start with 2.5 directly.
  1. Getting Started with Blender: This is a set of seven video tutorials. They are short and cover the very basics of using Blender. You can watch all seven within an hour and you will have a great idea of the Blender UI and basic features.
  2. Neal Hirsig's blender learning course: More than a collection of isolated tutorials, Neal has created a comprehensive learning course. You can download all videos to your machine and follow along with Neal as he patiently explains every feature of Blender. Neal's explanatory style is impeccable: it is a pleasure to follow along and learn. You can downloads all these videos from
  3. A collection of tutorials at Blenderlinks: Finally, when you have mastered the UI, you can focus on a specific topic by looking through the links at Blenderlinks. The videos are created by many contributors, so the videos differ in sound quality and expository style. But if you want to learn a single topic, the videos at cgcookie linked from Blenderlinks often provide the perfect recipe.
Blender is a powerful software, and it compares well against software which costs thousands of dollars. With a little bit of effort, you can learn how to create an entire 3D world inside your computer. It is scriptable in Python, which allows you to use Blender 3D models from an automated system. Give Blender a try, and see what you think! 

Friday, October 07, 2011

Book Review: A Contract With God

I came across a copy of Will Eisner's, "A Contract With God" Trilogy at my library. This includes three books, "A Contract With God", "A Life Force", and "Dropsie Avenue". I had heard vaguely of this book, so I picked it up. I was expecting a good graphic novel.

I wasn't expecting a book of this lyrical depth and insight into human behavior.

These graphic novels are about life in a poor New York neighborhood starting near the Depression and going to more recent times.  It describes the life of poor migrants to America; their dreams, their lives, and how they escape the squalor of their world.

I am struck by the depth and force of some of the stories. A few stories in the first book were very hard-hitting and thought provoking. I stopped reading after a few stories because there was so much to mull about. It is a rare book which has this level of insight coupled with such beautiful art.

These books are not for children, though they may be okay for teenagers. They have plentiful sex and nudity, putting the "graphic" back in "graphic novel". Use your own discretion if you have children or teenagers around or are squeamish about sex.

The book can be ordered from online stores. Amazon has a hardbound copy for $20 which is a steal.

When Boston Brahmins were hoping that American classical would improve upon European Continental music, Jazz took the world by surprise. In much the same way, Will Eisner's graphic novel is the epitome of American graphic art. Completely out of the blue, it defined the graphic novel genre and gave readers and future novelists something original and beautiful.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Google Plus versus online news sites (like Reddit)

Google Plus is a new social networking site. If you haven't heard about it, it is similar to other social networking sites like Orkut or Facebook.

There has been a lot of discussion about how Google Plus resembles Facebook. Indeed, you can search the Internet for the two names and there are countless comparisons. I think this misses a broader point.

Once I started using Google Plus, I haven't checked Reddit.

In case you don't know, reddit is a popular news website. Reddit started out as a small startup with mostly programming topics. The stories were interesting and it had an impressive signal to noise ratio due to the self-selected audience. For a while, reddit was even better than Slashdot, another popular geek news website.

Over time, reddit descended into cheeky cuteness, pictures, and pointless articles. At some point, I stopped reading the reddit main page, and started reading the programming subreddit. Even that is becoming irrelevant. At around this time, Google Plus came in.

Social Networking connects me to virtual cows
I'm very skeptical about social networking. Very, very skeptical. Social networking puts me in touch with a wide number of acquaintances, where the level of interaction is shallow at best. I dislike shallow interactions, and so I avoid checking social networking sites. I check these sites roughly once every quarter. The quality of posts is between pointless and annoying. Things really went down the toilet when Facebook allowed games to post updates. Suddenly, you could see how some long-forgotten acquaintance of yours had just obtained a virtual cow in some online farm simulation. Do you want to make a farm next to his? No thanks. If I had hours to waste and wanted to simulate reality, I would duel in the sky.

So the previous social networking stuff was a total chore. I would check it infrequently, and post self-promotional content: links to my articles when I was happy with one.

It took a lot of prodding from my friends to try out Google Plus. You know who you are: thanks!

Google Plus connects me to Peter Norvig
When Google Plus came in, it allowed me to subscribe to people who weren't friends: Tim O'Reilly, or Peter Norvig. These people have insightful articles to post or reshare. They are interesting to me, and are relevant to my area of work. Suddenly, Google Plus had much higher value content than Reddit. It was the Reddit front page, all over again. Except this time, it wasn't fluffykitten13, but Peter Norvig himself. Woohoo! The articles were interesting, topical, timely.

I doubt Google Plus would descend into the cutesy pointlessness of Reddit anytime soon. I doubt Peter Norvig would switch completely to posting lolcats. Actually, knowing Peter, he probably would post lolcats to prove someone wrong.

And that's the beauty of Google Plus, the articles are linked to the poster's reputation. I wouldn't post lolcat pictures: partly because I have better things to do, and partly because my friends would think me crazy if I did. People are free to engage in their interest of choice: it is like giving everyone their own reddit-like site. Unlike blogs, the content is usually smaller. You can subscribe to many people, and find related content very easily. Like blogs, it is personally generated content. The content is frequently updated, topical, personal, and recent. The site layout is great and no page is missing.

Google Plus isn't perfect. I still read Slashdot due to reasonable editorial filter and good comment moderation. Google Plus comments on highly visible posts are quite useless and spammy. But overall, Google Plus has given me a high signal news source.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The complicated Indian negotiation ritual: why decisions take much longer

In traditional Indian conversation, you are never supposed to express willingness or displeasure in a straightforward manner. So when you are having lunch with extended family, you are not supposed to clearly express that the daal was excellent and you would like some more. A similar dance is played out when arriving at agreement of any sort. The standard Indian conversation hovers on generalities with no preference clearly outlined. Most conversations are elaborate dances: both sides express a little more of their preference without clearly saying what they would like. Here is an example of a couple called Harry and Sally at a restaurant:

Harry: What would you like to eat?
Sally: Anything is good.
(At this point, you would think that they're in agreement. Well, you are wrong. Listen to the remaining conversation.)

Harry: Would fish curry be good?
Sally: Yeah, that's ok. Does this restaurant make good lamb curry, I wonder?

Harry: I guess, I haven't tried it. But I hear everything here is good. Would you like lamb?
Sally: Lamb is good too, I haven't had it for a while now.

Harry: Would you like to try their lamb curry?
Sally: That sounds good. What else is on their menu?

Harry: They have a lot of things. Their vegetable selection is also great. The pav bhaji looks enticing.
Sally: Yeah, pav bhaji sounds interesting. What other vegetables do they have?

Harry: Their cauliflower curry gets good reviews. I tried it once. It is much like the fish curry, but the fish curry is clearly better. Weren't you craving fish yesterday?
Sally: Yeah, but I wonder if their preparation of fish is good. You can get that if it is their best dish.

Harry: No, fish isn't their best dish, they make everything well. The cauliflower is also cooked perfectly.
Sally: I see. Both sound great. You know, just the other day I was telling my mom that it is difficult to make good okra, unless it is fresh. Did you know that?

Harry: No, I didn't know that. But that makes sense. Okra goes limp when it is old.
Sally: I wonder how this restaurant makes okra.

Harry: I wonder too, I haven't tried it. Would you like to try it?
Sally: Oh no, I didn't mean to imply that. Fish curry sounds great.

Harry: But now I'm interested in the okra, let's order some this time.
Sally: Ok.

All along, Sally didn't make her preference known, and neither did Harry. This elaborate ritual is even worse as the number of people increases. Going for lunch with one person is hard, lunch in a group of ten means that deciding the order can take a long time. I hope you had a snack before starting.

There's no guarantee that this ritual produces the correct outcome. Among young people and close friends, this ritual has given way to specifying direct preference. And I feel a sense of relief when I can clearly list my preferences without having the song and dance. In cases when the song and dance is involved, the outcome is usually unfortunate. And when you cannot express your preference, you certainly cannot express your displeasure at the outcome.

As the number of people increases, the outcome becomes more and more incorrect. Perhaps this is good, because it gives plentiful fodder for the gossip mill later on. "Jason was telling me that dining with Sally was such a chore, and how she was completely insensitive to Mark's needs."

This ritual is carried out not just for meals, but for many other decisions: what people want to do, where they want to go, whom they want to marry...

You notice some things only when you stop doing them. The complicated Indian negotiation ritual is one of these. Among friends and close family, I love the ability to say clearly what I want. Decisions happen quicker, and we can discuss things of consequence in the time saved.

 (Fun fact: If Neo and Morpheus were Indian, the red pill, blue pill decision would have lasted the entire movie.)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

What to do when friends are expecting: A guide for friends of new parents

Your friends are having babies, and you haven't got any yourself. There are lots of guides for new parents, but few guides explaining what the friends of new parents can do. This guide will help you learn about the process, and help you deal with the change.

  1. Your friends still love you the same. You would take care of a throbbing headache rather than being with friends. Having a child is similar. They need to take care of the child before being with you.
  2. Your friends' priorities will change. It might have been you, now it will be the baby. Don't be hurt by this. You will feel the same when you have children.
  3. Your friends will have zero time initially. Bringing up a baby takes a lot of time and effort from both parents.
  4. Your friends still need social contact. They enjoy social visits, but the flavor changes considerably. Mothers might have less time to meet, but they continue enjoying telephone conversations and short visits.

During Pregnancy
  1. Mom will be tired constantly. Pregnant mothers go through many physical changes. They feel tired constantly from carrying the extra weight. Be mindful of this. Moms also have to use the restroom very frequently. Don't engage your friend for any long activity. Even long conversations are enough to tire mothers. If the mother looks or sounds uncomfortable, be prepared to give her some time off. If you are on a telephone, ask her if she needs to hang up.
  2. Moms go through psychological changes. Many women go through mood swings. All this means that women's behavior changes considerably. Their behavior towards you will change too. Don't take it personally.
  3. Less time. Your friends don't have a child yet. But preparing for a child is also time consuming. There are things to buy, doctors to visit, and a house to prepare. Limit your demands on their time.
  4. Less patience. During pregnancy, your friends are going through a lot of mental and physical strain. Their levels of patience are very low. Pranks and tomfoolery are a terrible idea.
  5. Positive conversations. Pregnancy is a scary time for parents already. Do your part by keeping all conversations positive. If you have heard of a scary pregnancy or delivery: keep the story to yourself! If there is a cautionary tale, give the moral precisely while keep gory details to yourself. Try to make all emotional stories positive. Negative emotional stories trouble the mother and make her very nervous. Dads can handle emotional stories better during this time. If you need to tell an un-nerving story, tell it to the dad, out of earshot of the mom.
  6. Steer clear of stomach size conversations. Moms are worried about their health, their appearance, their progress. Our friends suggest the phrase, "You are carrying very well" rather than the variants that raise questions about the size or the rate of development of the baby. Definitely stay away from comments like "Are you sure you're not carrying twins?", or "Are you sure you're in your seventh month, you look small".  There's nothing to be gained from comparing the size of one mother's belly with other mothers. If you are concerned about the baby's development, tell the father the specific concern and your suggestions. Let the dad discuss it with the OB or the mom.
  7. You might want to ask the parents before gifting them anything for the baby. Or give them something that can be returned or exchanged. New parents get too many gifts. Make your gift an asset, not a burden.
  8. How you can help: try to visit your friends at their place. Call before starting to confirm it is a good time and don't be upset by a last-minute change of plans. Carry some home-prepared meal that the mother enjoys. Be prepared to leave quickly.
During Labor
  1. The steps in labor are: contractions or water breaking (either can happen first), active labor (pushing) and delivery.
  2. Labor takes time. Mothers may spend twelve to fourteen hours in labor, but it could easily be twice as much. First-time mothers usually take more time during delivery.
  3. Active labor itself can take a few hours and is the most strenuous activity the mother will ever do in her life. Active labor is like doing twice your capacity of push-ups every five minutes.
  4. Labor takes effort. A lot of effort. Don't expect parents to do anything during this time, even take your phone calls. In addition, don't expect them to do anything for at least four days after (for the father) and two weeks after (for the mother) as the fatigue of delivery takes time to wear off.
  5. If the child was delivered through a C-section, double all recovery times. C-sections take a long time to heal, and the dad is fatigued from his supporting role during this time.
  6. The only priority is the child. Parents are completely focused on delivering the baby. They have no time, let alone patience, for anything else. This is no time for telephone conversations, or status updates. Be patient. You'll know when labor is done.
  7. How you can help: spread the word, and ask others to hold off their calls to the parents.
After Delivery
  1. Most hospitals keep mom and baby in a different room for a day or two. This is a critical time for mom to recover and learn about baby care from the nurses. Visiting mom and dad in the hospital room is usually a bad idea. There is no space in the hospital room, and mom and dad are constantly busy. In addition, the mom is weak and worn.
  2. Mom has never been this tired. Labor drains the mother completely. Let her rest! You can speak with her later.
  3. There's a lot to do. Post delivery, the child and mother have to be taken care of. There's food, bowel movements, health checks, doctor visits, ...
  4. Limit infections. Just after delivery, both mom and baby are susceptible to infections. They will limit the number of people they meet. Give them a few weeks before visiting. if you have had a contagious disease like the flu, wait for many weeks of good health before visiting them. Be honest if you have any illness that can be spread.
  5. Zero time. Mom and dad are focused on the child. They sleep when the child sleeps, and when the child is awake, they are completely busy with the child. If you do want to visit, be ready to help with the house during the visit. Your friend might ask you to help with the laundry or with the cooking or cleaning.
  6. Prepare to hang up the phone anytime. When baby needs parents, they need to go right away. While talking with a new parent, I was once in the middle of a sentence, and my friend blurted, "Baby crying, got to go" and hung up. At the moment I thought it strange. Later I realized that it was an excellent idea rather than squirming on the phone.
  7. Zero patience. New parents have absolutely no patience. Be as frank and honest about things. Luckily both mom and dad are happy with brutal honesty at this time. (Just not about mom's appearance.)
  8. How you can help: congratulate the parents on email, and plan social visits at their convenience, not yours. If you stay close, consider helping them with laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, cleaning and cooking.

Hopefully these steps have enlightened you on the new world of your friends. Your friends might seem self-centered, and eager for your help. But this is the time they need to focus on themselves, and they need your support.

Rest assured that they will allow you to prioritize correctly, and provide the same care for you when you have children.