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.

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.