Monday, April 14, 2014

The benefits of a Dzongkha Typing Tutor: DzType 2.0 (Beta) released

With the growing reliance on computers for authoring documents, filling forms, writing essays, articles, books, etc., knowing how to type has become an essential skill. How does one learn how to type? You can take a course (IT classes at schools or courses at IT training institutes), or you can teach yourself.

Typing software (also called typing tutors or typing trainers) are a useful tool to self-learn using a keyboard for typing. There are plenty of options (free and paid, online and offline) for learning to type in English. In contrast, to the best of our knowledge, for Dzongkha there is only one: DzType, developed by our Rigsum Research Lab. DzType 1.0 was released in 2010 and DzType 2.0 (Beta) was released this week. DzType is a free, lightweight tool that can help complete beginners gain proficiency in a short time. It has a simple interface and takes the user gradually from simple to more complex (from single characters to words to sentences; from single-key pressing to key combinations). Color and audio cues are used to reinforce correct and incorrect typing.

Type the letter in gold; on-screen keyboard image shows which keys to press. Available at dztype.rigsum-it.com

Page used in classes
The need for a typing tutor in Dzongkha is especially dire, since it is more difficult to get started compared to, say, English: you can't simply look at the keyboard and hit the right key, because most keyboards in Bhutan do not have the Dzongkha letters etched on the keys. In most typing classes, students are given a printout with an image of a keyboard with the Dzongkha and English letters (with four keyboards, each with different symbols - see image), and they need to map each of the image keys to their keyboard. This means that to type some text you have to look at the text to be typed, then refer to the page with the keyboard image, then look at the keyboard, and finally at the screen to check your typing. Four sources! Not only is this slow, but it also requires space for all the extra paper. One workaround that avoids the extra keyboard image page is sticking small stickers with the Dzongkha Alphabet on the keyboard. However, because each key is used for multiple symbols, it requires multiple stickers per key, and stickers tend to wear off quickly.

Another aspect in which typing in Dzongkha is more complicated than typing in English is the prevalence of key combinations in Dzongkha typing. To type most text in English, one needs to press a single key. For capital letters, we hold the SHIFT key and press another key. In contrast, to type most text in Dzongkha, one needs to learn not only single-key pressing (called "normal keyboard") but also combinations while holding the SHIFT key ("Shift keyboard"), while holding the left-ALT key, and even holding both the SHIFT and the left-ALT keys while pressing other keys.

DzType 2.0 can be used by perfect beginners as well as by those who want to upgrade from two-finger typing to "touch typing" where you use all fingers and don't stare at the keyboard.

DzType 2.0 (Beta) is available online for free. The offline version will be packaged with the forthcoming Rigsum Sherig Collection 3.0. We welcome your feedback on the DzType Facebook page.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Domain Ownership (K2 #82)

Question of the week
How can I find the real owner of a website?
— T. Dorji

Answer
Dear T. Dorji,

Indeed, website ownership is often more than meets the eye and some detective work might be needed. Start by visiting the website. If the website has an “About us” or “Contact us” page, the answer to your question might appear right there. Some website owners, however, do not provide that information on the website. In that case, your next best bet is to try and find out who owns the domain name for the website (the domain name is the address that you enter in the browser, for example www.google.com).

The domain ownership information is often stored online in a special database called WHOIS database, and you can use free WHOIS lookup services to query this database. One such free service is the excellent DomainTools. To look up a domain, visit whois.domaintools.com, enter the website address, and hit Lookup. If the lookup was successful, you will find plenty of information about the owner, which might include their address and phone number. For example, when you look up www.google.com, you will find that the owner is (surprise!) Google Inc. in Mountain View, California.

Sometimes the output from the lookup will send you to another website, requiring an additional step to uncover the ownership information. For example, if you search DomainTools for www.bpc.bt, you will get the following response: “For more information, please visit http://www.nic.bt”. That’s the case with all Bhutanese domains. The website www.nic.bt indeed has ownership information for Bhutan-registered websites, and it will tell you that bpc.bt is registered by Pema Tshering of Bhutan Power Corporation in Thimphu.

Some website owners do not like the idea of having their personal details available online, so they use a domain privacy service. In such cases, the website owners’ details in the WHOIS database are replaced by the name of a company which acts as their proxy. Popular domain privacy services include “Domain by Proxy” and “Domain Privacy Services”. To find out who is behind a privacy-protected domain, you will need to contact the owner’s proxy and convince them why you need the name of the domain owner. If you have a good reason (for example, the website is doing something illegal), and a good lawyer, you might be successful.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com

Here, there and everywhere (K2 #81)

Question of the Week
I bought the Galaxy Grand Duos smartphone but found out that it does not work in Bhutan. What can I do? Will it help if I “root” the device?
— Samten Dhendup, Sr. Survey Engineer, NLC

Answer
The Galaxy Grand Duos model that is sold in India supports the 3G bands of 900, 1900, and 2100. The bands used for 3G by Bhutan’s operators are 850 and 2100. Thus, wherever 850 is used (Thimphu, Paro and a few other locations), your phone will not be able to use 3G. This is a limitation of the phone’s hardware, and “rooting” the phone – which means gaining complete control of the smartphone’s software – will not help. In fact, it often means voiding the manufacturer's warranty as well as running others risks, including making the phone totally unusable. Due to BICMA’s user-unfriendly decision to use the North American band of 850 instead of the standard Asian 900 band, quite a few other Bhutanese customers are in your situation and will need to buy new, expensive phones; if it’s any consolation, they say shared sorrow is half a sorrow.

Question of the Week
Is the Sherig Collection available online? How can I download it?
— Yeshi Choden

Answer
The Sherig Collection is a set of educational resources for teachers and students in Bhutan. It includes offline Wikipedia, thousands of educational videos, Dzongkha dictionaries, e-books, audio books, exam banks and more. It can be installed on any Windows computer - no Internet required. The size of the collection is pretty big - it’s about 25 GB, and it is not available online. Why? Given the speed and stability of broadband Internet in Bhutan, it would take days to download the Collection (assuming that the connection or the power did not drop half way, in which case you’d have to start all over again…). The only practical way to get the software is by copying it using an external hard drive or a 32 GB pen drive. You can get the software in many schools in Bhutan. For more information, register at sherig.rigsum-it.com.

With the new school year starting soon, let me take the opportunity and wish all teachers, students and parents a happy year of learning!

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Social engineering (K2 #80)

Question of the Week
Is it true that Google Apps is more secure than our current email systems?
— C., RGoB

Answer
Lots of resources are often invested in securing computer systems. We recently read about the government’s plan to use an online service called Google Apps to store and manage email and documents for civil servants. It was mentioned that one of the benefits of using this system is increased protection against hacking, as the government’s existing mail servers are considered more vulnerable. While this may be true, the sad reality is that any system is as secure as its weakest link. And the weakest link in information security is usually human beings.

Movies often depict hackers as geniuses (often in wheelchairs, for some reason) who break into computer systems. The truth, however, is that hackers often do not need to have special technical skills in order to break into computer systems. They need to understand human nature, and they can manipulate people into disclosing confidential information, such as passwords, by various tricks. This is known as “social engineering”. For example, a hacker might call an employee by phone and pretend to be the IT administrator, asking for the password in order to “maintain the account”. Or a hacker might “accidentally” drop a pen drive with malicious software near the premises of a targeted organisation, hoping that a curious employee will find the pen drive and plug it into a computer, thus infecting the organisation’s system.

Social engineering techniques take advantage of common human traits such as curiosity, fear, kindness, trust, and greed. Many of the most successful hackers are brilliant “social engineers”, understanding and manipulating human beings. In Bhutan, the levels of trust are high and people do not tend to be suspicious. While it makes for a wonderful social atmosphere, and is certainly great for the happiness metrics, it also means that rogue people with malicious intent can quite easily take advantage of this cultural psyche. Google Apps security is better than existing ones, but human beings are still the same.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Permanence, impermanence (K2 #79)

Question of the Week 
How do I recover emails that were permanently deleted a few months ago?
— Samden, Chhukha

Answer
Dear Samden,

All three popular online email services - Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail (now called Outlook.com), and Google Gmail - allow you to recover recently-deleted messages. This is similar to the Recycled folder on Windows. Gmail keeps deleted messages in the Trash folder for about 30 days. After 30 days in the Trash folder, the message is deleted permanently (but keep reading). Hotmail and Yahoo have similar policies. To restore messages that were deleted recently, go to the Trash folder (or the Deleted folder), check the checkboxes of the messages you want to un-delete, and move (or drag) the messages back to the Inbox.

Sand mandala: nothing is permanent
If you are using Hotmail (or Outlook.com), you can ask Microsoft to recover even more messages. Go to the Deleted folder, and look for the “recover deleted messages” option at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the option will request the server to retrieve as many deleted messages as possible.

Even if you used Gmail, do not despair.Google has an online form to request email recovery in case your account was hacked. It might be worth a shot. The link is http://goo.gl/88ka7J

Since free email accounts these days come with tons of storage (Gmail has 15 GB, enough for tens of thousands of text emails), many people choose to keep all of their correspondence (in Gmail, you can hit the Archive button to move the message from the Inbox to the Archive). Archiving emails saves you the effort of thinking which conversations to delete as well as reduces the chance that a message you deleted will end up being important.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The True Cost of Printing (#78)

Question of the Week 
I am looking for a cheap way to print at home. Which is cheaper, inkjet or laser printers?
— Mukul, Thimphu

Answer
Dear Mukul,

Need chilies? With a 3D printer, you just
hit the print button.
Trick question! Inkjet printers are, in general, cheaper than laser printers. They can also print in colour, unlike the cheap black-and-white laser printers. If you are looking for a low-cost colour printer, an inkjet printer is your only option, and you can stop reading this column and head to the shop! If black-and-white printing is all you need, read on.

Low-end inkjet printers, such as the Canon PIXMA iP2770 or the HP DeskJet 1000, are available at around Rs 2,000. In comparison, cheap laser printers start at three times that price. The price of the HP LaserJet P1108, for example, is around Rs 6,000.

When buying paper for a printer, look for the paper weight on the package (measured in gsm, or grams per square meter). Typical weight for everyday paper is around 75 gsm. For professional documents, use the heaviest paper you can find. It will have less “show-through” and a smoother finish.
The story, however, does not end here. Buying the printer is only the initial investment. In the long run, the biggest expense is the cost of the ink. Other factors are the cost of the paper, electricity, maintenance, and depreciation (printers are usually replaced every three to five years). All these need to be taken into account when calculating the total cost of ownership.

While inkjet printers are cheaper, the ink itself is very expensive. An original black ink cartridge for the Canon PIXMA printer costs a hefty Rs 1,000 and prints only about 220 pages. That’s almost Rs 5 per page. Costs for the HP DeskJet are similar. In contrast, an original toner cartridge for the HP LaserJet costs around Rs 3,000 and yields about 1500 pages, which amounts to Rs 2 per page – less than half the price than the inkjet.

The more pages you print, the more it makes sense to go with a laser printer. In fact, if you print an average of one page a day, it makes sense to use an ink printer. At two pages a day, you’re in the break-even zone. Three pages or more per day? Invest in a laser printer.

Note: prices were obtained from amazon.in and flipkart.com. Thimphu street prices may vary. It is worth comparing multiple shops.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Protecting teenagers (K2 #77)

Question of the Week 
How do I make sure that my two teenage boys do not venture into inappropriate websites?
— Craig, Thimphu

Answer
Dear Craig,

The Internet is a fantastic invention. Left without supervision, however, curious children can easily venture into dangerous zones either intentionally or accidentally with a few mouse clicks. During the recently-started winter vacation, some children will spend a lot of time glued to the screen. It is therefore important for parents to protect their children especially during these times. Here are a few things that you, as a parent, can do.


First, use a free service called OpenDNS FamilyShield to filter out child-unfriendly websites. OpenDNS also filters out websites which may contain malicious software. The nice thing about this service is that it does not require any software installation. You will need, however, to make a few simple configuration changes to your Windows or Mac computer (or better yet, your home wireless router, if you have one; this will automatically protect all devices connected to the router). To start, visit goo.gl/t32kW5.

You can also install web filtering software on your Windows or Mac computer. One recommended program is K9 Web Protection, available as a free download at www.k9webprotection.com. In addition to filtering out inappropriate websites, the program allows you to block Internet access during specific times, view reports to monitor web access, and more. You will need to get a license, which is free for home users.

Using these defence mechanisms together will increase protection, but nothing is airtight. At some point - either at home or at a friend’s house or perhaps in an Internet cafe - your children will be exposed to inappropriate material. It’s a good idea to have a candid conversation with them before that happens. Cyberbullying, internet safety and adult material are some topics worth talking about.

Enjoy the winter vacation!

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to boaz@thimphutech.com