ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Monday, December 27, 2010

French Toast at Big Bakery

Finding breakfast in Thimphu is a challenge. Seasons Pizzeria used to have some breakfast items on their menu, but the last time I checked the items were removed. So it was a nice surprise today to find a new item on Big Bakery's menu: French toast. The menu was recently revamped by Yoko san, the bakery's new pastry chef.

When you order Big Bakery's french toast you'll get three warm, thick slices of the bakery's Pullman bread, dipped in milk and egg, gently fried and finally dusted with confectioners' sugar. The damage: only Nu 30. Quite possibly the best value in town, and a delicious and inexpensive way to start your morning.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another reason to use Google Talk

This morning I discovered that I couldn't log into Skype. After a few futile attempts, I checked out the Skype homepage and found the following message:

Needing to call to an out-of-country colleague, I resorted to Google Talk. Within gmail, I quickly turned on Google Chat (at the bottom of my gmail page, required for making phone calls), made myself invisible (using "set status here" on left side-bar; to avoid disturbances during the call) and then I hit the "Call Phone" button (left side-bar). The call quality was crystal clear.


I just checked my Skype connection, and was able to log into my account and hold a reasonably long audio call. The error message still appears on the Skype webpage, but their status update page says that they are working on fixing the problem and that "more and more people are now able to use Skype once again". Their blog tells that they are experiencing very high usage right now -- approximately over 10 million users.

Is this due to the upcoming Christmas holiday? What will happen on New Year's?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Free calls from Bhutan to the U.S. and Canada (Cont'd)

A few months ago we blogged about using Gmail to make free calls from Bhutan to any phone number in the U.S. and Canada. This free offer was initially destined to be good until the end of 2010. Good news: Google recently announced that they are extending the offer throughout 2011.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Songs and bytes (K2 #4)

Question of the Week
How many songs can I store on a 2GB pen drive?
-- Sonam T., Paro

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dzongkha Rendering on the N900

I got the following email from one of our readers in China, which I read on the Nokia N900. Here's a screenshot of the email on the N900. The answer, apparently, is in the screenshot!

Dzongkha on Amazon Kindle E-Book Reader

An e-book reader is an electronic gadget that is used to read digital books. The most popular e-book reader is the Amazon Kindle. Here's an example of reading Dzongkha on the Kindle. The Kindle uses "electronic ink", which means the content can be viewed in direct sunlight, much like a real book.

Facebook pages for very small organizations

More than 60% of Bhutan's Internet users have a Facebook account, and the number is still growing. This suggests a simple and free solution for very small organizations who wish to enjoy a web presence, but want to avoid the hassle associated with maintaining a full-fledged website: An official Facebook page. A Facebook page is free to setup, easy to maintain (no technical knowledge is required), and can help to provide basic information about the organization.
For example, the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Public Library, which does not have an official website, recently created such a page, which allows the library to post information about opening hours, upcoming events, etc. Users can easily follow the events by "Like"-ing the page.
To create an official Facebook page, start here. More information is available here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Computer hang ups (K2 #3)

Question of the Week
My computer hangs up very frequently. It is an Intex machine with a quad core processor and 2GB of RAM. I've tried reformatting the hard-drive but it didn't help. What can be the reason?
-- Rikzen Wangduel, Thimphu

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bloggers & Twitters, Unite!

Ms. Andrea Williams, Thimphu's local map maven, is organizing the Kingdom's first meetup of bloggers cum twitters. This will be an informal event, where people can - often for the first time - meet the real person behind the online persona. Business Bhutan is media-sponsoring the event. If you're interested in joining, here's the event's Facebook page.

Raw-milk raid in the U.S.

Can you imagine the Royal Bhutan Police, guns drawn and ready to shoot, storming a shop in Thimphu because it is selling the ubiquitous plastic bottles filled with fresh, raw milk? This kind of scenario sounds like a weird joke in most countries. People here and other countries in Asia can buy raw milk, boil or pasteurize it, and otherwise use it as they like.

But in many states in U.S. - "land of the free and the home of the brave" - raw milk is outlawed, and authorities sometimes take extreme measures to enforce the law. Take a look at the following video clip, describing a raid on "Rawesome", a raw-food store in California.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reporting statistics in the media

Today's front page Kuensel article, Where bullocks beat power tillers, described how in most Dzongkhags bullocks are still the main farming "technology". The article included a table that compared the percentage of households using bullocks, power tillers, bullocks and power tillers, and manual digging, broken down by Dzongkhag. Here is the table:

From Kuensel Newspaper (22 Nov, 2010)

While the table gives the exact percentages, it does not give the big picture, which was well described in the text. In such cases, as they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words". I have reproduced the statistics in a set of Dzongkhag-level bar charts. Each bar color (grey, blue, green, yellow) corresponds to a farming "technology" (bullocks, power tillers, bullocks and power tillers, manual digging). You can now directly compare the 20 Dzongkhags (the scale is identical in all charts).

From this visualization it is easy to see that indeed, most Dzongkhags are dominated by the use of bullocks only. Bumthang, Gasa, Paro, Punakha,Thimphu, and Wangdue are the heaviest users of power tillers. And what about manual digging?

% of households using each of 4 farming technologies, by Dzongkhag
While the chart might not convey the exact percentages, it allows readers to quickly see the large picture and even the approximate percentages.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

All about SIM slot (K2 #2)

Question of the Week
I recently found a SIM slot on my Dell Vostro 3400 laptop. When I inserted a SIM card, nothing happened. Is there something wrong with my laptop?
-- Tashi Dubjur, College of Science and Technology

Friday, November 19, 2010

B-Mobile Broadband: Four plans, but only two worth considering

B-Mobile has four different plans for post-paid mobile Internet subscribers: The Lite, Easy, Supreme and Unlimited plans. Each has a monthly rate, a data limit, and an over-the-limit usage charge. Here are the plans, copied verbatim from the B-Mobile website, but arranged differently ("transposed") for easier comparison:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Searching for the hospital

Bhutan's national hospital - officialy JDWNRH - is one of the capital's landmarks, and very much part of daily life here in Thimphu. Go to the hospital, and you're likely to run into someone you know. From the infamous "cough and cold" to more serious conditions, people arrive for treatment at the country's flagship medical facility.

A few days ago I had to find information about the hospital, and so naturally turned to all-mightly Google to locate the hospital's homepage. Google usually does a fantastic job with such searches. Surprisingly, this turned out to be quite a challenge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kala chana!

The hole-in-the-wall
Finding non-animal-based protein in Bhutan is a daunting challenge. A couple of restaurants in Thimphu serve tofu-based dishes, and yes, lentils have managed to cross the border from India and thus some kind of dal preparation often accompanies the ubiquitous heap of rice. But otherwise, eating out usually means little protein and lots of carbohydrates: noodles, rice, potatoes, roti.

Seven free online tools co-blogger Galit Shmueli was recently covered in Business Bhutan, sharing her favourite free online tools with readers. Here's the online version.

Bhutan & IPv6

Google has gone IPv6, Facebook has an IPv6 website, and now Bhutan wants to be the world's first "IPv6-ready" country. Let's talk a bit about IP, IPv4 and IPv6.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A new poll. Topic: BBS News.

Our Facebook poll is now closed. 42% of participants - almost half - check their FB account more than once a day. 29% of users check their FB about once a day. 19% log on to FB less than once a day. And only 10% do not have an FB account.

And now to this month's poll: BBS news. We are interested to know which editions of the news, if any, you watch. The English version, The Dzongkha one, both, or neither?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kill two birds with one stone

Got a few minutes to kill online? Here's a great way to increase your knowledge and help end hunger: For each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated through the UN's World Food Programme. Subjects available are English, maths, geography, and more.
Got 10 right answers? 100 grains. 100 answers? 1000 grains. Well, you get the idea! And remember that a cup of uncooked rice contains about 6000 grains.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Streaming audio and/or video for free

Today we met Ron, who is trying to help a local radio station stream their programming via the Internet to listeners worldwide. I mentioned to him a great free solution that I used in 2008 to stream seminar talks -- This is a free service that "enables anyone with a camera and an Internet connection to quickly and easily broadcast to an online global audience". It means that you can stream audio and video, and then even keep an archive hosted on their website. has a few big advantages:
  • No special software needed to broadcast or to view (beyond Flash)
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • It's been running since 2007 - this is a good record for such a service
  • "Users can broadcast events to an audience of unlimited size, and enable interaction through chat and Social Stream" (from their website)
  • A player can be embedded directly into your own website
  • Free! This is key in Bhutan, not so much because it saves money but because it means that a credit card is unnecessary (given that there are no credit cards here)
You might ask what is Ustream's business model if this is all free. The answer is advertising, and as in many other "freemium" services, they also offer a more elaborate paid version called Watershed. is a really cool option not only for small radio stations but also for journalists on the go, who have a laptop with mobile Internet connection, a microphone and a webcam. No need for a camera crew in order to report live!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Four ways to share files - without getting infected

In a interesting recent PaSsu Diary post, Passang Tshering wrote about his USB flash-drive being infected by a rather nasty virus after inserting the drive into a student’s laptop. Since so many laptops and desktops in Bhutan are infected with viruses, exchanging flash-drives is extremely risky. In fact, this is the most common way by which viruses are spread.

Here are four ways which enable file exchange with a very low risk of infection. They might need a bit more work that just swapping the flash-drive, but they will save your laptop.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ema, or perhaps something else?

There was a story in today's Kuensel about  a team of American physicians - the "Flying Doctors" - who are helping hundreds of patients in Zhemgang. They are definitely performing a great service! However, one sentence in the story caught my eye:

Finalizing a CD

I recently discovered that the CD burning software that comes with Windows 7 does not allow you to "finalize" a CD after you burn files to it. Finalizing a CD means that you can no longer write to it. This is unfortunately true also for the burning software that comes with Windows XP and Vista. Their option "Close Session" does not finalize a CD.

Why do I need to finalize a CD? To avoid spreading malware (viruses, trojans, etc.). We use CDs for installing software on different machines, some of them might be infected by malware. A finalized (that is, un-writable) CD is safer than a USB pen-drive for this purpose, because even if inserted into virus-infected computers, the viruses will not transfer to the CD (whereas, they can transfer to a USB pen-drive or to an un-finalized CD!)

Note that CD-R does not mean that the CD becomes un-writable after burning, just like CD-RW.

The solution: Use a CD burning software that allows finalizing. We use Power2Go (paid). A free option that comes recommended (I haven't tried it) is CDBurnerXP. In the screenshot below you can see the option "finalize disc" (below "Device") in CDBurnerXP.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ask Boaz (K2 #1)

Last month, a few remote villages in Laya gewog were added to the B-mobile network (just in time for the Miss Bhutan SMS voting!). When I read the news, it struck me that life has now changed forever for the Layaps.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Using Cleartrip for online booking on Indian Railways

Is there anything more romantic than riding the train in India? From the early morning cries of the chai wallahs to the breathtaking scenery to being fed by a Marwari family, this is, truly, incredible India.

And booking tickets online on Bharatiya Rail has never been easier. Until a couple of years ago, IRCTC's chaotic website was the only option. But now there's a much better alternative: Apart from the much cleaner design and a very fast and intuitive user-interface, accepts international credit cards, which IRCTC does not. cleartrip also offers airline and hotel bookings.

Another neat feature of cleartrip is its always-in-beta Indian Railways availability calendar. Just enter any two stations, the desired class, and a date range, and cleartrip will quickly display a color-coded availability matrix.

N900 Dzongkha support now included in ukeyboard

We previously blogged about Dzongkha support for the N900 smartphone. Some more good news: Our Dzongkha keyboard is now included as one of the standard languages in the popular ukeyboard package for the N900.

Mr. Roman Moravcik, the developer of ukeyboard, has kindly agreed to include Dzongkha in the software package.

You're probably asking yourself, what does this mean? Well, this means that if you have the N900 phone, you can easily and simply enable its Dzongkha capabilities by simply installing the ukeyboard application. No special tweaking or hacking required!

Here are some more Frequently Asked Questions the N900 and Dzongkha:
  1. You keep mentioning the N900. Can this work on other phones?
    Unfortunately, the answer is no. N900 runs Linux which supports the rendering of Dzongkha and easily programmable keyboards. These features are not currently available on most other phones, including the iPhone, Android-based phones, and most other Nokia phones.
  2. Can you send an SMS in Dzongkha to other phones?
    You can send an SMS in Dzongkha, but the receiver - unless he or she also has a Dzongkha-enabled Nokia N900 - will probably not be able to read it, since most phones cannot display Dzongkha characters. The Dzongkha characters in these phones will usually appear as empty squares.
  3. Where can I get the N900?
    Nokia started selling the N900 in India a few months ago. The MRP is a whopping Rs 25,000 (around US$570 in today's exchange rates). The price of the N900 in the U.S. is "only" $399 (about Nu 17500). Hopefully the price of Dzongkha-supporting mobile phones will become affordable in the upcoming years.
  4. What about those cheap Nu. 1500 Nokia handsets that are sold in the market?
    Most cheap-and-best Nokia phones (and also the more expensive ones) do not support Dzongkha. Technically, these handsets have enough computing power to support Dzongkha rendering, but it basically up to Nokia to provide this support.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Want to learn how to use the Dzongkha keyboard? DzType is here!

We are glad to announce the launch of DzType, a first-of-its-kind web-based application that aids in teaching the Dzongkha Unicode keyboard.

Learning to type Dzongkha using DzType is fun and easy. As you move from one unit to the next, you learn how to master more keys on the keyboard. By the end, you will be a pro.

The software is free for all. You can run it online or offline (download the package here). Installation is simple and does not require high computing power. Even old and slow computers can be used.

The audience for the tool includes schools (today's students love technology!), colleges, monasteries, and any government, corporate or private organization where individuals can benefit from knowing how to type in Dzongkha.

This is the first project of the Rigsum Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies (CALT), who's mission is to research and develop technologies for advancing education and learning in Bhutan.

Disclosure: The writers of this blog are the directors of CALT (the low rate of blog posts in the last days was due to the DzType launch - we will now resume to our usual blogging rate.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm loving it!

Our friend Craig Dalton, a public health physician who's currently teaching at the RIHS (see our acronym dictionary), created this hilarious critique of a McDonald's ad. These commercials are viewed in many Bhutanese homes, courtesy of Indian satellite channels. Thank goodness Bhutan is McDonald's-free.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today was World Statistics Day

Today was the first World Statistics Day. Initiated by the UN, this day was (and still is) celebrated around the world by various events such as seminars and conferences to highlight the role of statistics, the achievements of statistical bureaus, etc.

The choice of the date Oct 20, 2010 is explained on the International Statistical Institute's website as follows:
The date 20-10-2010 was chosen since the year rounding in '0' has always been an important year in official statistics. In many countries, this is the year when the population and housing census is conducted. It is also the base year for the trend analysis in economic statistics or in compilation of national accounts or input-output tables. In 2010, some 3 billion people will be counted in some 60 countries. This is why we choose 20-10-2010 to emphasize the importance of this year in official statistics calendar
Bhutan's National Statistics Bureau celebrated the event with a program on "The role of statistics towards supporting evidence-based decision-making in the country."

As a statistician, I would have loved to attend this event. However, I was conducting another related event: The first day of a 3-day workshop on Decision Making Using Excel. The workshop aim is the same as the NSB's event: to promote evidence-based decision making. The workshop is attended by 20 decision makers from government, corporate, and private organizations in the country. The workshop highlights the usefulness of data for planning and evaluating projects, and for interpreting and presenting data effectively.

More Dzongkha Smartphone Screenshots

Here are some more screenshots of the first-ever smartphone with Dzongkha support. Note: The Nokia N900 is available in India with a a price that hovers around Rs 25,000.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BT's new Power Voucher

Bhutan Telecom is promoting its new Power Voucher: 50 minutes of talk-time for Nu 60, which is Nu 1.2 per minute. Is this a good deal? Quite probably, unless you're calling during late-night hours (1-3AM), when the charge is Nu 0.4 per minute. But there are a few missing details regarding this offer: Is the money being deducted in 15 sec units, or by the minute? And which balance is debited when your phone has both a regular balance and a "power voucher" balance? Hopefully BT will provide more details and list the exact terms of this new voucher.

Update: This voucher can only be used to call another B-Mobile subscriber. You will not be able to use it to call TashiCell subscribers (Thanks, Andrea).

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's your favourite Bhutanese acronym?

If you've ever wondered what's the meaning of IMTRAT, ABTO or JDWNRH, you've come to the right place. In a modest attempt to put some order into the many acronyms used in Bhutan, I have compiled a list of the ones used most frequently. The list includes only the ones that are Bhutan-specific; thus, UNICEF, JICA etc have been left out.
Hopefully this mini-dictionary will be helpful. A link to the list (known as "AoB - Acronyms of Bhutan") is available on the right sidebar, under "Pages".

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New phishing scheme

I just received an email that appears innocent, but is actually a tricky phishing scheme. "Phishing is a form of fraud in which a message sender attempts to trick the recipient into divulging important personal information like a password or bank account number, transferring money, or installing malicious software. Usually the sender pretends to be a representative of a legitimate organization." (Gmail's definition). The email that I received (which was able to pass through the Gmail spam filters) looks like this:

The scammers here are posing as Adobe, a credible company, well known for their Acrobat Reader software. This email is tricky for two reasons:
  • It doesn't directly ask for your password or other personal information. (That will happen only after you click on the link to their website) 
  • The URL mentioned in the email actually links to that exact URL (In some schemes, the URL written in the email is linked to a different URL -- placing your cursor on the link will reveal the destination URL). In other words, these scammers purchased the domain "". If you examine the actual sender's address, you'll see that it is "". 
If you receive such an email, protect yourself by not responding or clicking on any links within it. If you are using Gmail, you can help others by reporting the email as Phishing (as shown in the picture above). I reported this one, so hopefully you will not receive it!

More love for your fixed-line

I previously blogged about reasons to keep your fixed-line phone. I promised a future post with "secret" features that come with your line. So here it is!

Every phone line in Bhutan comes with a set of optional service features. Alas, information about these features is hard to come by. You won't be able to find any information on the BT website (the most obvious place to list these features) or in the printed phone directory. However, the BT representative at the One-Stop-Shop was kind enough to provide me with the relevant information, so I'm sharing it with you. The features are now listed on a special page at ThimphuTech.

To enable any of these features, you would need to contact Bhutan Telecom. Among the more useful or interesting ones are Alarm clock (*55), Call waiting (*43), and my all-time favorite, Camp on Busy (*37).

Friday, October 15, 2010

SMS in Dzongkha (Cont'd)

Warning: This post is more technical than usual.

My post on mobile Dzongkha drew quite a lot of attention. I also received requests asking for technical implementation details. Here's a short explanation on enabling Unicode Dzongkha on the Nokia N900.

The Nokia N900 is a mobile computer with phone functionality. It comes preloaded with Maemo (a distribution of Linux). Now be warned: the N900 does not compete with iPhone or most other smartphones for that matter. This is not a sleek and sexy machine. It's more of an experimental (and rather bulky) gadget oriented to geeky folks (like me!) that like to experiment with software and hardware. As such, it is not a very popular device, but it does have its following.

Enabling Dzongkha Unicode on a computer usually involves three parts:
  • Dzongkha font file. This is a file that contains the various glyphs for the Dzongkha characters. 
  • Rendering engine. Usually part of the operating system, a rendering engine is a program that makes sure the characters are displayed correctly. While English is simple to render - just put each character to the right of the previous one - Dzongkha is much more complicated, due to vowels and stacking of letters.
  • Dzongkha keyboard. This is a way to translate keystrokes into the various Dzongkha characters.
The most recent version of the N900 operating system already has a good rendering engine for Dzongkha, so the two missing parts were the font and the keyboard. Adding a font was easy. I downloaded a Dzongkha font from the DDC website (initially Jomolhari, but later replaced by Uchen), and copied it to one of the phone's font directories (~/.font). This is similar to installing a font in Windows.

The more tricky part was adding a keyboard. The N900 has two keyboards: a hardware slide-out keyboard with three rows of keys, and a "software" touch screen keyboard. I decided to focus on the touch screen keyboard, since it is easy to change the key labels when they are displayed on the screen. To add a new software keyboard, I used the ukeyboard open source utility, which uses "keyboard definition files". A keyboard definition file maps the keys to characters. In the case of Dzongkha, I used the DDC's Dzongkha keyboard layout. Here's an excerpt from the keyboard definition file, showing one of the rows:
row {
key ཀ alpha
key ཁ alpha
key ག alpha
key ང alpha
key ི alpha
key ུ alpha
key ེ alpha
key ོ alpha
key ཅ alpha
key ཆ alpha
key ཇ alpha
key ཉ alpha
key ཝ alpha

To summarize: It's relatively simple to enable full Dzongkha functionality on the N900, mainly due to the fact that it's running Linux with all the trimmings, and the availability of a keyboard utility. Since the N900 is not a phone for the masses, this is more a proof of concept than a practical product. The DDC plans to bring Dzongkha to more popular platforms, such as iOS (Apple's operating system for the iPhone) and Android.

Withdrawing cash with MasterCard from BOB ATMs

I just received the following news regarding the ability to withdraw local currency using a MasterCard:
Kindly be informed that the Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) of Bank of Bhutan can now be used by holders of MasterCard (both credit or debit) to withdraw local currency (Ngultrum). Maximum of Nu. 18,000.00 can be withdrawn per usage and there is no limitation on transaction per day (except the limitation given by the Master Card issuance agency). There will be a charge of USD 2.50 – USD 3.00 per usage.
This is good news for tourists and other credit-card holders, especially if they need local currency during non-banking hours.

I haven't found any mention about this on the BOB website, so hopefully the information is correct.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My adventures with MMS (Part 5 of ...)

(Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Bhutan Telecom has extended its "Free MMS" promotion throughout the month of October. The idea, of course, is to increase the popularity of MMS. While SMS (Short Message Service) is simple to use and is available on all cellphones in Bhutan, MMS - a service that allows you to send photos and music between phones - is only available on the more expensive handsets, and also requires special configuration on the user's part. Will MMS become popular in Bhutan? Perhaps. But for that, it's probably not enough to offer free MMS. BT's service centres should offer a cellphone configuration service, together with a short demonstration for its subscribers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yoga enthusiasts rejoice!

I'd like to share a terrific discovery: The new Nehru-Wangchuk Cultural Centre (NWCC), the cultural wing of the Indian Embassy. This refreshing addition to the Thimphu scene offers the following valuable services:

  • Free, daily yoga classes by an experienced Indian yoga teacher. Classes are 40 minutes long, and you choose a slot between 7am-11am or 5pm-7pm (Mon-Fri). Once registering for a particular slot, you are expected to come daily. In some slots you will have to bring your own mat (it's already full!). Otherwise, bring a towel or sheet.
  • A well-stocked library with fiction and non-fiction books, mostly related to Asian countries. The books were transferred from India House and are nicely organized in heavy wooden bookcases.
  • Cultural events such as talks and shows.
The reception area has a bunch of Indian magazines for public reading. In the planning are Indian music classes, Indian cooking classes and... I will keep a few upcoming goodies for a future post.

The Centre is centrally located in the Taj Tashi complex, smack on Norzin Lam (careful when you cross the busy intersection there!) For inquiries, call 322664.

Meanwhile, you can keep updated on upcoming events via the NWCC Facebook page. The next event is on Monday!

Workshop: Decision Making Using Excel

Prof. Galit Shmueli will be conducting a 3-day workshop on "Decision Making Using Excel". The workshop is intended for decision makers in government, corporate and private organisations in Bhutan. Attendees will gain knowledge on how Excel can be used effectively for supporting decision making.

The three-day workshop will take place on October 20-22 at the new Rigsum Institute campus (behind Hotel Pedling).

For more information and for online registration please visit
Prof. Shmueli and graduates of the June 2009 workshop

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SMS in Dzongkha

Is this the world's first Dzongkha-enabled smartphone? Perhaps. I've been playing recently with the Nokia N900, a smartphone cum mobile computer running Linux. After installing a Dzongkha font (Jomolhari, created by Chris Fynn) and tweaking the on-screen keyboard, the prototype was complete. I was then able to surf Dzongkha-enabled websites, read and write Dzongkha emails, and even send text messages (SMS) in Dzongkha. This is not a product, but rather a proof-of-concept: Dzongkha can be used on existing mobile devices. Now let's wait for one of the mobile operators to offer a daily zakar SMS service in Dzongkha...

Sending an SMS in Dzongkha

Surfing the DDC's website

Monday, October 11, 2010

Solar-powered karma

Prayer wheels powered by the sun's abundant rays are all the rage in Thimphu, and it's becoming increasingly rare to see a taxi's dashboard without one. The street price currently hovers around Nu 450 to Nu 500, although some of the tourist shops may charge double that amount.

Salvaging files from an infected computer

A friend's computer recently got infected by a Trojan, and he contacted us to find out about ways to salvage the important files. Since this type of infection is common here in Bhutan, we thought that it would be good to share these tips. First, try using a good Anti-virus software. If that does not help, then try one of the following:

  1. If the number of files to salvage is not too large, email them to yourself using an online email program  that has strong virus filters (such as gmail).
  2. Another option for transferring the important files to the Web is uploading them to Google Docs. Note, however, that you will need a relatively fast Internet connection in order to upload large batches of documents. Also, the size limit per document is 1024 MB.
  3. If the number of files to salvage is large and you have a computer running Linux, then you can transfer the files to an external hard drive or pen drive, then connect the hard drive to the Linux machine and transfer the files to the Linux machine. Two important points in this case: (1) The hard drive (or pen drive) is most likely infected now! Make sure to reformat it before connecting it to any Windows machine. (2) The files that were transfered to the Linux machine might still contain the malware. Although they will not harm anything in the Linux environment, if you move them back to a Windows machine they will regain their malicious power.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Online Dzongkha-English-Dzongkha dictionary

One of the biggest and heaviest books found on the shelves of Thimphu bookstores is the Dzongkha Development Commission's (DDC) 2006 Dzongkha-English-Dzongkha dictionary. While it is fun to browse such dictionaries, it is often more efficient to take advantage of digital capabilities such as search. Luckily, the DDC created a very nice online resource. It includes 4 components: searchable Dzongkha-English, English-Dzongkha, and Dzongkha-Dzongkha dictionaries, as well as a listing of Dzongkha-English entries, organized alphabetically (shown in the picture). Click on a letter at the top to see the words starting with that letter. Then choose an option from the second set of options (rows 6-8 in the picture) to see words starting with that letter/vowel combination.

Monday, October 4, 2010

When will Google Street View reach Bhutan?

Yak at Pele La
Google Street View is the technology used in Google Maps and Google Earth which provides panoramic street-level views in various cities and towns across the world. Large parts of the U.S., Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand are covered, in addition to parts of South Korea, Japan, South Africa and Brazil (and then a few other countries).

To use Street View in Google Maps, drag and hold the little orange man (just above the zoom slider) over the map. The areas where Street View is available are then highlighted in blue. Drop the man at the desired location and use your mouse to watch the magic. For example, if you want to wander the streets of Paris in your pyjamas, here's a good place to start (don't forget to drag-n-drop the little man!). Alas, buttery croissants and bitter espresso are still beyond Google's technological wizardry.

While privacy is a major concern (especially in Germany, for obvious historical reasons), Google keeps expanding its Street View program. A couple of years ago there were rumours about starting the program in India, but this has not materialized. Google doesn't make its plans public. So it may take a good number of years - and Bhutan's government co-operation - until Street View is available in Thimphu and other towns in the Kingdom.

Until we'll be able to see roaming yaks when zooming on Pele La, take advantage of the most recent addition to Street View - Half Moon Island, Antarctica - and enjoy the penguins.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Keep on loving your BT fixed-line phone

Everyone in Bhutan, from Phuentsholing's business people to Laya's yak herders, seems to carry a mobile phone (or two) these days. And when home - even when a fixed-line phone is available - it is quite tempting to keep using your slick and shiny handset, with the address book and all. But there are many reasons to hang on to your fixed-line and keep using your dusty, plain, MP3-less, camera-free telephone that lies in the corner. Here they are:

  1. Health: Mobile handsets emit powerful electromagnetic waves which are absorbed by our brains. It is still not clear what are the health implications of this kind of radiation, but many people believe that there are significant risks involved, especially for children. Fixed line phones are virtually radiation-free. 
  2. Money: The monthly service charge for a fixed line is Nu 100, but this includes Nu 100 worth of free calls. So if you're not taking advantage of your free calls, you're throwing away 3 momo plates' worth of money every month.
  3. Tariff: If I got it right, local calls (within the same area code) are terribly cheap (Nu 0.6/minute). Calls to different Dzongkhangs (Nu 3.5), and calls to mobile phones (Nu 3/minute) are much more expensive. So if you're calling a mobile number or a different Dzongkhag, it will probably be cheaper to use your mobile handset, but remember: you might be paying with your health.
  4. Internet: To connect to the Internet from home, you'll need either dial-up or broadband Internet. You will need a fixed line for either. (Broadband has two advantages over dial-up: It is much speedier, and you can keep making and receiving calls while surfing the Internet).
  5. Fax: This probably affects only a small number of people, but still... to send or receive a facsimile, you will need a fixed line (and a fax machine, but that's a different story).
Last but not least, there are a few "secret" features that are available with your fixed line. More information in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Social engineering in America: a horror story

Having a best friend or two is a basic human need for most people. So when I first bounced into this New York Times article, it read like some kind of horror dystopian fiction; but it's not. Apparently, more and more teachers and school counselors in the U.S. are trying to discourage kids from having best friends. While most people will agree that this is a rather horrendous idea, it is still part of an ongoing trend in American culture where parents, teachers and other caretakers are trying to micromanage and engineer every aspect of children's lives. It will be interesting to see the results of this social experiment in a few years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Time indeed passes more slowly in Bhutan

Albert Einstein, 1921
While many first-time visitors to Bhutan are quick to point out the slower pace of life in the Himalayan Kingdom compared to their native countries, not many are aware that there's a pure scientific explanation for the "Bhutanese time" phenomenon: According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, the farther a clock is from the centre of the earth, the slower it ticks (this is called Gravitational time dilation). So it makes perfect sense for time to move more slowly up here in the Himalayas...

And now scientists at NIST have been able to measure this difference when they placed two clocks just 13 inches apart. Pretty amazing. Here's the full article.

"give first choose treasure"

While shopping for some groceries today in one of the shops in Thimphu, I bumped into a red, shiny, attractive package of food. I always like to discover new food items, so I examined the wrapper to satisfy my curiosity. It was almost all Chinese to me (literally), but I did find the following promotional text in English:
choiceness raw material produced 
meticulous pleasant to the palate
give first choose treasure
While I still don't know what's inside the package, I am once again convinced that while Google Translate is an extremely useful tool, it is still beneficial to have a human correct its output before sending it to print...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comfort food

Everyone has his or her favorite bathup joints. With plenty of market vegetables and chewy, freshly-made noodles, MK Restaurant's bathup is definitely on my list. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New poll regarding Facebook habits

Our "Which mobile provider do you use?" poll is over. The results: 52% of respondents have B-Mobile. 33% use TashiCell. The rest (15%) use both providers, so they either carry two phones, or a dual-SIM one.

A new poll is up, regarding our Facebook habits (see the right sidebar). By the way, there are currently about 31,000 Facebook users in Bhutan - about 5% of the whole population, and roughly 60% of all online users in Bhutan.

The new poll will close at the end of October. So go ahead and vote - it's 100% free!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A few comments on The Journalist article

The Journalist ran an article yesterday on cybercrime and related legislation in Bhutan. This is an area of extreme importance to all nations (see, for example, Pen-drive attacks US military), and its significance will grow exponentially in the upcoming years. Currently, Bhutan remains quite vulnerable to cybercrime.

There are a few comments I would like to make regarding The Journalist piece.
  • Legislation will not stop Bhutan's vulnerability to cyber-crime. Hackers in Pakistan, China or Bulgaria will not be deterred by Bhutan's cyber-laws. If a pen-drive is infected by a virus, no law will prevent an innocent user from plugging it into the office desktop. And unfortunately, infected emails do not stop at the Phuentsholing checkpoint. 
  • The article mentions that "many government websites are hacked because they don’t have uninterruptible power supply". I must say that I never heard of this one before, and I would like to know the logic behind it. Hackers most often gain access to systems by taking advantage of software bugs and by means of social engineering. While missing UPSes can cause inconveniences, I cannot see how they can be a major security threat.
  • Finally, while the lack of cyber-laws can definitely discourage IT firms or businesses from investing in Bhutan, I cannot see how it will "discourage people from visiting Bhutan". 
P.S.: On the Journalist's home page, clicking on the article teaser ("OF LATE, several government and corporate websites have fallen victim to invisible hackers. read more...") brings you to the wrong article. Hopefully this is due to a typo and not to the site being hacked!

Broadband recharge cards

If you're using prepaid Broadband from Bhutan Telecom, you probably need to recharge the account from time to time (by the way, to carry over your balance - if you have one - you must recharge before the 30-day expiration date).

Although most people still recharge by visiting one of the Bhutan Telecom offices, there is a another little-known option: Broadband recharge cards. There are 5 card denominations, according to the various prepaid packages (Nu 399, 799, 1199, 1799, and 2499). You can buy the cards at the BT office or one-stop-shop, and then use them as required. To recharge your account, you go to BT Broadband account management page, log in, and click on Recharge Cards. You then enter the recharge card username and password (printed on the back of the card) and your account is automagically recharged.

Although a useful feature, there are two caveats with Broadband recharge cards that you need to keep in mind:
  • You need an active Internet connection to recharge your card. So if you're at home and cannot access the Internet because your account expired (or you're out of balance), you won't be able to use the card. In that case, you'll need to use an alternative Internet connection (e.g., at the office, using a friend's connection, mobile Internet etc). That's a shame. Imagine not being to recharge a mobile phone account when it's out of balance! I would expect Bhutan Telecom to make the account management page available to Broadband users with expired accounts, so users will be able to recharge their accounts.
  • Some of the cards are "mis-printed". I discovered that yesterday. I tried to recharge my account, but got the following message "Invalid Card User Name / Password". Apparently, there was a missing character in the password. If this happens, call 02-322678, extension 205, and they will be able to help you.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Was B-Mobile intentionally blocked in Tashichho Dzong?

I visited the Thimphu Tshechu on Saturday around noon, and noticed that within the Dzong my mobile phone (using B-Mobile) was unable to make or receive calls or SMSs. Once I exited the Tsechu grounds into the pathway towards the rose garden my phone's connection seemed to revive. I wonder whether this "blackout" was intentional to avoid disruption at the Tshechu (known as mobile phone jamming) or else the network failed for some period due to the heavy mobile traffic in the Dzong. Has anyone experienced a similar event using B-Mobile or TashiCell?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


When you're looking for a bit more variety in your diet, delicious Bumthang-style buckwheat noodles (puta) are available at a few restaurants in Thimphu.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ergonomic computer desk

As we're spending more and more hours in front of the computer, how we sit can make a big difference. Pain in the neck, hands, and back are very common results of poor (and too long!) posture. The results of poor posture are immediate suffering and sometimes long term physical damage. Not to mention reduction in productivity.

Several factors that affect our "computer posture" are the choice of furniture (computer desk and chair), and computer accessories (keyboard, mouse, etc.), the computer placement (e.g., how far the screen is from our eyes), and sitting habits.

Ergonomic design guidelines can assist in making the right choices (Wikipedia: "Ergonomics is employed to fulfill the two goals of health and productivity. It is relevant in the design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces to machines."). See, for instance, Ergonomic Guidelines for arranging a Computer Workstation - 10 steps for users.

Let me point out one faulty ergonomic desk design that is common in Thimphu: The common single-user computer desk (shown in the picture) has a keyboard drawer that is too narrow for accommodating both the keyboard and a mouse. Therefore, the typical solution is to place the mouse higher up, on the desk's surface. The result, for a user who uses both keyboard and mouse, is an imbalanced posture. My advice for those who sit long hours in front of a desktop is to invest in a desk that has both the keyboard and mouse side-by-side on the drawer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My adventures with MMS (Part 4 of ...)

(Part 1Part 2, Part 3)

I finally got a call from Bhutan Telecom. Apparently, something's not working with their MMS-to-email gateway. According to the nice lady on the other end of the call, they have no idea when this is going to be fixed.

So here's the bottom line right now: You can send MMSs between phones, but you cannot send an MMS from your phone to an email recipient. That's a pity, given BT's marketing effort to promote MMS, and the fact that they - like any other GSM operator - are supposed to support MMS-to-email. Also, I was hoping to update this blog using MMS (Blogger supports MMS). I guess that will have to wait (Inhale. Exhale).

And now to the Nu 5 question. Once October kicks in and the free MMS promotion is over, will BT start charging the MMS-to-email fee (see here for the complete list of MMS charges), even though the message disappears into the void and is never delivered?

You can be sure I'm going to find out.

To be continued!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bok choy

As a vegetarian, it is always a joy for me to find new types of vegetables in Thimphu. Bok choy heads are available now at some stalls at the "Sunday" market and also at the downtown market (off Norzin lam). I stir-fried the stalks along with garlic, ginger, purple onion (as if there's a choice of onion varieties!) and the small green chillies. It also goes well with soy sauce and lime juice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How to subscribe to Bhutan holidays & festivals calendar

If you're using the free Google Calendar or any other product which supports the iCalendar format, it is now easy to subscribe to the Bhutan's holidays & festivals calendar. Just copy and paste the following link into your calendar product:

If you're using Google Calendar, follow these instructions.

If you're interested in helping with contributing holiday & festival information to the Bhutan calendar, kindly send me an email (

My adventures with MMS (Part 3 of ...)

(Part 1Part 2)

OK, I finally managed to get MMS working, however... well, read on.

Configuring your handset to use MMS is not easy. That's why B-Mobile has this system in place where you send them information about your phone make and model, and they can help you configure the phone. This is usually done by a special configuration message sent to the phone, so the user does not need to bother entering the information manually. However, my phone is not a standard MMS-capable phone, so I guess B-Mobile couldn't configure it remotely. I waited in vain. And for some obscure reason, B-Mobile does not advertise their MMS technical information on their website. (TashiCell's MMS configuration information is available on their website).

Eventually I got hold of the required information. Here it is. If your phone supports MMS, there's usually some menu where you can put in this information. Caution - use it only if you know what you're doing:

Access Point Name: mmsbt
Username: (leave blank)
Password: (leave blank)
Gateway/Proxy address:
Gateway/Proxy port: 8799

I entered this set of cryptic numbers and characters into my phone and - voilà! - I can now use MMS to send photos, audio etc to other phones. So some progress is made! Hooray!!!

However - and there always seem to be an "however" - some stuff still doesn't work. Sending an MMS to an email address seems to be broken. After sending an MMS to an email address, I get a "message delivered" response, but the MMS never reaches the email recipient. I've notified B-Mobile about the glitch. Let's see what happens.

To be continued!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

iPhone 4 update

I have previously blogged about using the iPhone 4 in Bhutan. To repeat the bad news, in a nutshell: Both TashiCell and B-Mobile do not offer the new micro-SIM cards required by this new phone.

But now there are also good news: If you're in Thimphu, it is now easy to convert ordinary mini-SIMs to micro-SIMs. How? I happen to have a micro-SIM puncher that will easily do the work. So if you put your hands on an iPhone 4 (or an iPad 3G, for that matter) and need to plug in a local SIM card, just let me know (

On the way to the Buddha Dordenma

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My adventures with MMS (Part 2 of ...)

(Part 1)

A couple of days have passed since my previous attempt, and I'm still MMS-less. I did not receive any "settings". The folks at BT's one-stop-shop have suggested re-sending an SMS to 25252, which I did.
To be continued!

How friendly is Charo Charo?

B-Mobile has a service called Charo Charo, which offers prepaid customers discounted rates when calling their friends and family. It's pretty simple to set up, and there are no hidden fees. I thought I'd give it a try. Here's how it works: First, you fill a form (downloadable here) with a list of up to 8 of your friends' phone numbers (you can only include B-Mobile and fixed line numbers). Then you hand the form over to the friendly folks at Bhutan Telecom, and you're set...

Or so I thought.

Apparently there's a glitch somewhere in the system, which means that getting the discounted rates depends on the way you call your friend. Sounds weird? Keep on reading...

There are two ways to make local calls from mobile phones in Bhutan: with and without the Bhutan country code (975). If you choose the first method and just call using the local number (e.g., 17001700), you will get the low Charo Charo rates. However, if you use the full international format (with the +975 at the beginning of the number, e.g., +97517001700), the system will charge you the full rate - no Charo Charo discount. And this full number, with the +975 at the beginning, is the one that usually shows up in your phone's call log when you receive a call! So when you use your phone's log to return a call to a friend in your Charo Charo list, you will not get discounted Charo Charo rate. That's not very user-friendly.

My recommendation: If you decide to take advantage of the Charo Charo service, add your friends to the phone's address book manually. If your friends are already in the address book, check to see that their number does not contain the +975 prefix. And don't use the numbers shown in the phone's call log, since they are usually prefixed by +975.

It would be nice if BT would let its customers know about this issue. It would be even nicer if they fix it.

P.S. To make sure you're getting the discounted rate, check the short billing message that you get after ending the call. When Charo Charo is in effect, the message will mention "Family & Friends".

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My adventures with MMS (Part 1 of ...)

MMS Advertisement in the Kuensel
Most mobile users are familiar with SMS, the short text messages you can send from your mobile phone to other subscribers. SMS is a fat and healthy cash cow for mobile operators. The average price of sending an SMS in the world is around US$0.10, but the cost for the operator is close to nothing. In Bhutan the user pays Nu. 1 per SMS, arguably one of the cheapest rates in the world.

SMS is limited to text. You can't use it to send photos or videos. So mobile operators invented a technology called MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), which can be used to send music, videos, photos and ringtones between phones. Sending an MMS costs more than sending an SMS, so naturally the operators would be happy if we use it. MMS has been available for quite some time now with both B-Mobile and TashiCell, but has not gained popularity in the Kingdom.

Now Bhutan Telecom is trying to change all that. On Saturday BT put a hard-to-spot advertisement in the Kuensel. Apparently they are offering free MMS for the month of September. (The regular price for sending an MMS is Nu 5 from B-Mobile to B-Mobile, Nu 7 from B-Mobile to TashiCell. It costs nothing to receive an MMS). This is a good marketing idea - let people try the new technology for free. However, unlike SMS, configuring your mobile phone for MMS can be a bit tricky, so BT generously suggests sending them a message with details of your mobile phone, and they will send you back all the instructions.

Following the instructions in the ad, on Saturday afternoon I sent an SMS with my mobile phone details (make and model) to 25252 (the advertisement mentions the number 25251, but it is a typo. The number is 25252). I immediately got a response saying:
Thank you for your request. We will get back to you soon. Bmobile.
Then nothing happened. I finally got another SMS yesterday (Monday), saying
Dear Customer, you'll receive setting shortly. Use 1234 as password.
As of now, I'm still waiting for the settings.
To be continued!

P.S.: If you managed to enable MMS on your handset, kindly share your experience by adding a comment to this post.

P.S.2: The information about the new promotion is now available on the BT website.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Free calls from Bhutan to the U.S. and Canada

You can now use Gmail - Google's free email application - to call regular phones from your computer. And calling numbers in the U.S. and Canada is free until (at least) the end of 2010. That's 4 months of free phone calls to your relatives and friends in New York or elsewhere in North America. Calling other countries is not free, but the rates are excellent (e.g., 2 cents per minute to Australia). However, this will require a credit card.

I tried this new service from Google, and it works well.

You can read all about this new feature in the official Google blog. If you don't have a Gmail account, you can get one here. It's free.

Note (1): This service is supposed to be available only to U.S. customers. However, it appears that the way Google currently checks if you're a U.S. person is by looking at your Gmail language settings. Make sure it is set to "English (US)". I previously set to "English (UK)" so I couldn't make any calls. Once I switched to "English (US)", the magic happened. You can change the language settings by clicking on "Settings" on the top right corner of your Gmail page.

Note (2): If you're using Bhutan Telecom's broadband connection (aka ADSL), the calls are not really free - you're using Internet data. According to my calculations, the new service uses up to about 1MB per minute, which at BT's rates (Nu 399 per 2.5GB) translates into approximately Nu 0.15 per minute - still much cheaper than a phone-to-phone call.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A time for technology and a time for no technology

More and more of our waking hours are being filled with "tech time": Using Facebook on computers, sending and receiving SMS messages on mobiles, browsing the web, listening to music on iPods or mobiles, and of course, watching TV. All this tech-activity comes at the expense of other activities such as working, studying, playing sports, socializing, reading, eating, sleeping, or just enjoying down time. In an recent Kuensel article on the "Hole in the Wall" computers placed in Changjiji, a 12-year old child that now uses these computers after school was quoted to proudly say "I played football and marbles, but now I play counter strike [a video game]".

In many developed countries children no longer play outside or see their friends in person. Instead, they stay indoors and play computer games, or chat with their friends on Facebook. One clear result is the decrease in physical activity, leading to child obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, titled Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, another result of spending too much "tech time" is damage to our brain and its ability to absorb. They write
When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.
While many activities in Bhutan are still not done online, such as shopping or banking, the amount of "tech time" seems to be growing fast. Awareness is therefore the key. Parents and educators should try to explain and encourage non-tech time for their children, and should also remember to be good role models themselves.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pen-drive attacks US military

Pen-drives are a serious threat to your computer's health. Most computers in Bhutan are infected by malware (MALicious softWARE, such as viruses, worms, and Trojan horses) when a "sick" pen-drive (also known as a "flash drive" or "USB stick") is inserted into your desktop or laptop. Malware can reduce the performance of your computer, use your bandwidth, and in general be quite annoying. But it can also pose a real threat.

It was recently revealed that in 2008, an infected pen-drive was inserted into a laptop belonging to the US military. Once the laptop was infected, classified documents could be transferred to remote servers operated by a foreign government or other covert organization. The malware also spread and contaminated other computers in the military network. This attack, which started in the Middle East, was described by a U.S. official as the "most significant breach" of the U.S. military's computers ever.

Click here for the complete story.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sonam-Tshoey's ice cream now available at 8 Eleven

Initially available only at Sharyang (Changlam Square), Sonam-Tshoey's excellent ice creams and sorbets are now available also at 8 Eleven (next to The Zone). If you're not familiar with Sonam-Tshoey's frozen goodies, give them a try. They are fresh, made in small batches, use local ingredients when available, and contain no preservatives or food colourings. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Introducing computers into schools

Yesterday's Kuensel editorial discussed the advancement of IT skills in the education systems, mentioning the plan "to empower 5,000 teachers and 50 core group teachers and equip some 168 schools or so with computer labs." The introduction of computers into schools, while now widely implemented in developed countries, has lead to some serious criticism. Does the introduction of computers improve scholastic achievements? Multiple studies have shown that the introduction of computers on its own does not improve, and can even degrade student achievement. Here are a few articles that tell the story:

  • An Israeli prize laureate in education discusses some of the issues with classroom computerization and scholastic achievement in this recent article.
  • The 2007 New York Times article "Seeing No Progress, Some School Drop Laptops" describes some of the challenges experienced by schools in the United States that have computers and Internet access.

Kids today quickly learn on their own how to type and to use basic or even advanced applications (have you seen some youngsters on Facebook lately?). The role of teachers (and ideally parents as well) is therefore to introduce students to ways in which computers can enhance their learning and their natural curiosity, as well as to educate them about "life skills" in the Internet age.

Training teachers is not as trivial as teaching them how to use the Microsoft Office package or how to use an Internet browser. Instead, teachers should be introduced to pedagogical methods for enriching their curriculum and academic materials by integrating computer assisted learning. It is not simply the addition of "computer literacy" as a subject, but rather an integration of technology into existing education programs to support developing problem-solving skills, creativity, and independent learning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Viruses attacking our phones

If you thought that your computer was the only battleground for combating malware (viruses, worms, and the like), think again. If you have a mobile phone that has bluetooth technology, you might be prey to malware as well!
I often keep my mobile phone's bluetooth turned on for transferring photos from my phone to my computer. Today, while I was in town, I noticed that an unknown phone was trying to connect with mine through bluetooth by sending me files of type .sis with names such as irsli3wp2js.sis. Luckily, I knew not to open the files. Once you click on the file and allow it to be installed, such viruses can infect your phone and then start looking for new devices in the vicinity to infect.

A host of worms and trojans are out there that infect mobile phones and also transfer themselves through the bluetooth connection. You can read more about mobile viruses on Wikipedia.

How to protect yourself? To avoid the malware that uses bluetooth technology, you can turn off your bluetooth when it is not in use or set your phone to "hidden" or "undiscoverable" while you're not using it. When mobile phones are used for carrying out sensitive actions such as financial transactions, then it is clearly worthwhile investing in security measures such as mobile phone security software.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The hidden benefits of debit cards

I really like the convenience of using my Bhutan National Bank (BNB) ATM card for paying at participating shops. No need to carry around cash, no need to deal with checks. I recently learned of two additional reasons for using the card to pay at these shops. The first is straightforward. The second is slightly more tricky.

  • There's a monthly "Swipe and Win" draw with nice prizes (see the amounts in the shown ad). They'll even call you if you win.
  • Using your card in this way is the only way to withdraw money from your account without affecting your eligibility for interest. In particular, BNB announced that as of April 1, 2010

    BNB customers are eligible to receive an interest rate of 4.5% (effective) on saving accounts with a minimum balance of Nu.1,000.00 with no upper limit
    Sounds like a good deal. However, as we have been told at the main branch, to receive the interest you must have 4 or less withdrawals from your account per month. "Withdrawal" includes using the ATM machine, writing a check, or withdrawing directly from the cashier. Surprisingly, using your BNB ATM card at shops does not count as a withdrawal for this purpose!

Sangay Shamu

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Online ad for Acer laptop

While reading the Kuensel online today, I noticed that one of the flashing ads was for a laptop. I clicked on the online ad and found a photo and specs, but not the price.

After calling the company, Dot Com Enterprise, I discovered that the laptop for sale is a slightly different model from the one in the ad: An Acer Aspire 4740. The specs are very similar to those in the ad, except for the CPU which is Intel Core i3-330M 2.13GHz, 3MB L3 Cache, 1066MHz FSB, 35W (see here). The price is Nu. 33,000.

Doing research online before purchasing a computer is still not easy in Thimphu. Very few shops have websites with current information (one exception is Leki Dorji Enterprise). Yet, since most computer shops have a single model in stock (usually one desktop and one laptop), learning about what is available requires visiting each place or at least calling. The ad on is therefore a great new online resource.

Got information on new computers available in town? Please email us and we will cover it here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arunachal Pradesh to Thimphu: The Google Maps version

Google Maps, the free mapping service, is constantly improving its support for Bhutan. Search for Thimphu (see here), and you'll see that many of the lams are already there. You can use Google Maps to get driving directions, but within Thimphu city they are likely to be misleading. For example, I tried getting directions from the Post Office to the Memorial Chorten. Google sends you in the wrong direction at Norzin Lam, since the Thimphu street data does not (yet) contain information about one-way streets.

You can also get directions for long distance trips, both within Bhutan and across the border. Note that the directions don't take into account road conditions, visa requirements, etc and are likely not to be optimal, so take them with lots of salt (or better yet, ema). Still, they might be useful for various purposes, such as finding out distances between places. For example, check out the route from Arunachal Pradesh to Thimphu. Google Maps can even show you how to get your Maruti Alto from Thimphu to London...