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.

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".