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.

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

The short answer: You can store around 500 songs on a 2GB pen drive (also known as a "USB flash drive" or "memory stick"). How did I reach that number? Here's the calculation.

We humans use digits to record numerical information. Each digit holds one of ten different values (zero to nine) - most probably since our ancestors used their (ten!) fingers to count. Computers do not have fingers, and they store information using digits that can have one of two values - either zero or one. These digits are called binary digits, or bits for short, and are abbreviated by a lowercase b. Bits are grouped into bundles of 8, which are called bytes. A byte is abbreviated by an uppercase B. An example of a byte is 10110011. Computers use bytes to store all types of information on computers, including documents, photos, songs, and movies.

Now that we know what b and B mean, let's talk about the prefixes: k, M and G.

We all know the prefix k - the kilo, usually used to multiply a unit by 1000. For example, one kg (kegi) is exactly 1000 grams. When used to describe computer information storage, we're in for a little surprise: the kilo (k) usually denotes 1024 - a tiny more than a 1000. The prefix M (pronounced mega) is k into k, or a little more than one million, and the prefix G (pronounced giga), is k into k into k, which is a tad more than one trillion (See table). Now back to our question: A 2GB ("two gigabytes") pen drive thus stores about 2 trillion bytes. That's a lot! When storing music, a computer usually needs about 16kB (kilo bytes) - approximately 16 thousand bytes - to store each and every second of the song. There are 60 seconds per minute, and a typical song is 4 minutes long. When we do the simple multiplication, we'll find that a four minute tune requires about 4MB of storage. When we divide the pen-drive's capacity, 2GB, by the storage required by one song - 4MB - we end up with around 500 songs.


kB =1,024 bytes
MB =1,048,576 bytes
GB =1,073,741,824 bytes

Tip 1: To find out how much storage is used by a song, photo, or any other file on your computer, navigate to the file's location, right-click on the file, select "Properties", and look for the "Size" property. The exact number of bytes will be shown (for example, 529,833,984 bytes), in addition to a number rounded up to the nearest kB, MB or GB (for example, 505 MB).

Tip 2: The different Bhutan Telecom broadband packages have data limits, specified in - what else? - GBs (gigabytes). The most basic package (Nu 399) has a data limit of 2.5GB with a 30-day validity. If you continuously download songs using this package, you'll be out-of-balance after a bit more than 600 tunes in less than two days! However, if you only use your Internet connection for email, Facebooking and other casual web surfing, 2.5GB is more than enough.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to