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, April 27, 2012

Weather forecasts in the media: hot or cold?

Several local newspapers have weather forecasts in their online and print versions. While forecasts from different sources can differ (after all, these are uncertain forecasts), I found a few perplexing issues when examining forecasts from the two oldest papers: Kuensel and Bhutan Observer.

Kuensel takes a safety measure of giving high/low temperature and outlook forecasts only for "today". The first perplexing fact is the discrepancy between the print and online forecasts. Here's an example from today:
Kuensel's weather forecast. Left: print edition. Right: (accessed 27 April, 2012, 4pm)

Turns out that the Kuensel website gets updated in the evening, so in fact their website does "back-casting" of yesterday's weather... The next strange discrepancy is between the names of the Dzongkhags as they appear in print and online (not to mention the different ordering). Third, I couldn't find the source for the forecasts. Where are they coming from? Finally, it would be helpful if the graphics in both modes used the same icons, order of columns, column names, and design.

Bhutan Observer has a Weekly Weather corner in its print and online editions. It offers more detail than Kuensel in terms of listing all the 20 Dzongkhags and provides forecasts for an entire week. However, unlike Kuensel which also reports high/low temperature forecasts, BO's graphic table tells us only the "outlook", that is, whether a day is likely to be of one of six types: mostly sunny skies, possibility of rain, cloudy, partly cloudy, partly sunny, or partly cloudy chances of snow/sleet. This choice of information is a bit unusual. I can see how it is useful for determining whether an umbrella, hat or boots are needed. It can also help guess the chances of flights landing in Paro.

And now to the data presentation: Is it easy to quickly figure out the weather information that a reader would be interested in? Here are some questions that a reader might ask:
Weekly corner from Bhutan Observer's website

  1. What is the forecast for Tuesday in Chukha?
  2. How many different weather outlooks across Bhutan in the coming week?
  3. How many "partly sunny" days anywhere in Bhutan? (good for trekking?)
In trying to answer these questions you probably noticed a few challenges:
  • Dzongkhag names are not listed alphabetically! With 20 names, searching for Chukha takes quite some time. 
  • Distinguishing between the icon images is difficult because they seem similar. A simple trick that would have made it much easier on our eye is using different colours. On the website there is no reason to use greyscale. And if colour-printing is too expensive, then using a more distinctive greyscale can work.
  • Given that there are only two different icons in this week's table, do we really need to see all six possibilities in the bottom legend? Removing unused icons from the legend would make the reader's task much easier.
Lastly, one should always ask about the data source. Here the source is listed clearly at the top as "Contributed by the Metrological Department of Bhutan". I suppose this is the Hydro-Meterological Services Division at the Department of Energy?