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, March 30, 2013

What is Open-Source Software? (K2 #59)

Question of the WeekI heard a lot about open-source software. What is it?
— Chimmi

Let’s start with “closed-source software”, which is a fancy name for most proprietary software that you buy (or supposed to buy). This kind of software comes with a user license that does not allow you to modify the software or to share it with others. Once you purchase the software, you are allowed to use it, but not much else. An example of closed-source software is the popular Microsoft Office suite, which includes Word and Excel. You can use Microsoft Office to edit documents, but you are not allowed to distribute copies of Microsoft Office to friends, and you are not allowed to modify the software. Even if you decided to violate the license and to tweak the software, you would find it to be extremely difficult: the original human-readable code of the program, known as the source code, and written by engineers at Microsoft, is kept secret (or “closed”); the software that you buy is only a translation of that source code into a cryptic sequence of computer instructions that is very difficult for humans to modify.

Open-source cola
In the late 1970s and early 80s, a movement started to promote the use of open-source software, where the source code of the software is “open”, and thus freely available for anyone to copy, use, redistribute, and modify. The open-source movement has gained incredible success, and created a dazzling array of high-quality software offerings. Many of these open-source software projects are community efforts run by thousands of volunteer programmers who contribute their time and knowledge to the success of the product. Linux, a popular operating system, is one example of open source software. Another is the Android operating system used in many of today’s smartphones (in contrast, Apple’s iOS operating system is proprietary closed-source software).

The open source philosophy has propagated into other domains, such as education, robotics, science, and media. And if you are into beverages, you can even find an open-source cola recipe!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Unfit data presentation

Yesterday's Kuensel article "Bhutanese are becoming fat and unfit" reported on the results of a health check up on International Happiness Day of 1,580 people. While the topic is extremely important, the article was confusing and somewhat misleading due to lack of important information about the sample and ineffective communication of the results. Here are some issues that I had trouble figuring out:

1. Who are the "1,580 people screened for lifestyle related diseases in six hours" and how were they chosen? It is important to understand whether the sample is representative of "Bhutanese", as the article title claims. Are these people who visited the hospital in Thimphu? Are these Thimphu residents only?

2. The results of this checkup are shown in the top chart. But what is this colorful 3D pie chart telling us? Here's what it is not telling us, and therefore misleading the viewer:

  • The chart only shows the results only for the 600 "unhealthy" people. The article mentions that 980 (62% of the sample) did not exhibit any of these symptoms.
  • The numbers on the pie slices are supposed to represent a percentage, not the number of people. A % sign would have made it clear.
  • But wait: the percentages in the pie chart add up to 100%. This means that each person in that pie has only one of the four symptoms  Of course, that is not true. Overweight and hypertension is a popular combination, and so is obesity and diabetes. So the picture does not tell us the correct story.
3. Reporting of numbers requires telling a story that is meaningful. When we hear statistics, we try to make sense of them by comparing them to some benchmarks or to each other. So, sentences must be coherent and meaningful. For example, what does the following sentence tell you, and how does this information match the pie chart?
"Of the 600 unhealthy, 51 percent were men and 61 of them were diabetic."
4. A chart based on the (2008  or 2010?) GNH survey is attached right below the Happiness Day checkup pie chart. But I only understood that the two charts are from different data sources (and periods) after spotting the tiny text "(courtesy: GNH survey)" and reading the article carefully.

5. But wait: While the chart is trying to tell the story of obesity by age group, it conceals and distorts more than it reveals:

  • The age groups are ordered from young to old in the legend, but from old to young on the chart. Confusing! So those longer pink, green, and red noodles do not correspond to older folks, but rather to the younger ones. In this type of (highly unrecommended) chart it is already difficult to match age groups with obesity rates, so why make it even more confusing by reversing the order?
  • What do the numbers on the dial represent? the title reads "proportion", but these are more likely percentages.
  • It is difficult for our brains to compare the lengths of bending noodles. Try this: Which age group has a higher obesity rate, 46-50 or 61-65?
  • Are the 56-60 year olds extremely healthy compared to everyone else (with nearly 0 obesity rate) or maybe their data is unfit?
In short: A simple bar chart with straight bars, one for each age-group, ordered from young to old, would have been a better choice. And larger annotation telling us that this is based on a different dataset from a different source and period.

Lastly, in order to show a trend ("becoming unfit"), I'd like to see numbers and charts showing the increase over the years.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New scam targets BOB customers

A new phishing attack has been launched against BOB customers. Be careful: this is a scam.
Here is an email sent this morning to many Bhutanese:

Dear Bank of Bhutan (BOB) Customer:
Your account is suspended.

-Your account profile is now outdated, you are required to update your information now. This account (s) has been suspended pending Immediate Activation Below-
(Activate  →)

This email was not sent by BOB. It was sent by scammers. The scammers simply want access to your account.

Clicking on the link sends you to a bogus BOB website, where you are asked to enter your BOB bank details. The website looks as follows. Note the website address: - this is not BOB's website ( Do not enter your bank details.

Kindly share this post with your friends.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scam: Bhutan Employment ~ $3,500 / BTN 200,000

Just received the following email. The "company" promises $3,500 a month when you work just 5 hours a week. Remember the basic rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. And of course, they want you to send them your bank account details. Guess why...

This is obviously a scam. BEWARE!
From: Peritus Co LtdSubject: Bhutan Employment ~ $3,500 / BTN 200,000 
We are in need of Part-Time agents who will work as company representative in your country.
View Job Details.
Please reply this email with the requested information.
Kind Regards,
Peritus Investment Consultancy.

Happiness in a bottle

Hundreds of Coca-Cola posters in Thimphu send a corporate "happiness" message to the citizens of Bhutan.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Helicopter on Call

In November, a Swiss tourist who was trekking in Lingzhi and appeared to suffer from altitude sickness could not be evacuated by the Indian army helicopter because it was a Sunday. Luckily, the tourist reached the hospital in time and she was saved. You can read the full story here. Possibly in response to that incident, a standby helicopter is planned to be available this season. The following email just landed in my inbox:

Rescue Helicopter on standby

A helicopter will be stationed in Bhutan for evacuation and tourists needs from 24th March 2013 until further notice during the spring season. As such should anyone require use of the helicopter and also for further information kindly contact Ms. Tshering Zam at 1791-7904 or 328829/ 334517 or email
With Kind Regards,
ABTO Secretariat 
You might want to jot down Tshering Zam's phone number. Just in case.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Choosing a Digital Camera (K2 #58)

When choosing a digital camera, should I go for the one with the most megapixels?
— Ugyen, Thimphu

Next to archery and cycling, photography has become a favourite hobby for many Bhutanese. Selecting a digital camera is daunting: the variety is enormous. Before discussing megapixels, let’s talk about the type of camera you may wish to buy. In the good old days (5 years ago) people had to choose between two main categories: The cheaper compact cameras, and the professional, bulky - and very expensive - DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras. DSLR cameras are the enormous ones with the huge lenses that tourists - and photo buffs - like carrying around. DSLR cameras produce better photos due to two main factors: First, the lenses are larger and of better quality (the lenses are also interchangeable, so you can use the one most appropriate for the situation). And second, the sensor - that’s the small device inside the camera that converts the optical image into electronic data - is much larger. This is where we reach the issue of megapixels.

The Canon EOS M mirrorless
interchangeable lens camera (MILC)
The sensor is divided into a rectangular grid comprised of millions of tiny pixels. Each of these pixels captures the light from a specific, tiny area of the image. In an 8 megapixel (8 MP) camera, for example, there would be about 8 million pixels. The more pixels, the higher the resolution. But if the sensor size remains the same, and the number of pixels increases, each of these pixels will become smaller and capture less light, and the picture quality will deteriorate. This means that increasing the number of pixels without increasing the sensor size is not beneficial. In fact, this may produce “noisier” photos. Shopping for a camera by comparing the number of megapixels is therefore a fallacy. It is better to compare lens quality and sensor size. Since this is difficult, I would recommend checking review sites such as Digital Photography Review ( before buying a camera.

I mentioned that up until recently there were two main categories that consumers could choose from. In the last few years, a new category of cameras has emerged. MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera) combines the small size of compact cameras with DSLR features such as interchangeable, quality lenses and a huge sensor size. These cameras produce incredible photos for a fraction of the cost (and size) of a DSLR. It’s no wonder these cameras are the fastest-growing digital camera category.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Two-day crash course: Effective Data Presentation (Mar 28-29)

Prof. Galit Shmueli will be conducting another round of the popular 2-day workshop Effective Data Presentation on March 28-29, 2013.

More and more data and statistics are being collected in Bhutan. They are communicated to the public through reports, presentations, newspaper articles and other media. Yet, current presentation practices are lacking in effectiveness.

Workshop participants will gain knowledge and experience with best practices for communicating data. We will use data from Bhutan and software that is accessible to many (Microsoft Excel and the Tableau Public). The workshop is a must for those who collect, analyze or present data or statistics...

For full details and registration click here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Google Street View soon in Bhutan?

More exciting news from Google. In 2010 we wrote in this very blog in the post "When will Google Street View reach Bhutan?":
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.
Two and a half years later, it seems that the time has come. According to the Technology Freak blog, Google Maps' Street View will be announced in Thimphu tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30 at the Druk Hotel. It might take some time until we see a car - or will it be a yak? - mounted with cameras and roaming the slopes of Bhutan, but the green light has been given.

Tweets by SMS are charged, but disappear into the void

In June 2010, B-Mobile announced the availability of a Twitter gateway. The Twitter gateway allows anyone with a B-Mobile number to tweet by sending an SMS to a special number (40404). It also allows mobile subscribers to receive tweets from people they follow.

Tweeting-by-SMS is very powerful. For example, it allows anyone with a basic phone to tweet in case of an emergency or disaster. It also allows people to receive emergency updates using SMS. By the way, the SMS interface is the historical reason behind the 140-character limit of tweets.

Unfortunately, the 40404 number is currently not working. In the past couple of weeks I sent a few SMSs to the Tweeter gateway. In each case, B-Mobile was quick to charge me Nu 0.45, but my tweet disappeared into the void. A few days after each tweet I received an SMS Delivery Report saying that the SMS was not delivered.

This service by B-Mobile was great while it lasted. We hope that it will resume, and that B-Mobile will improve it's 24x7 monitoring of this service, as well as updating the customers regarding outages.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 is finally here!

Since it is not yet April Fools' Day, I guess my discovery is not a prank: has now been launched! Two years ago, we posted on a request for "a small favour from Google", asking Mr. Larry Page to consider purchasing and activating Our wish has been granted!

I discovered this while performing my usual searching business on, when suddenly a message popped up:

And indeed, the URL takes you to a legal Google site (the domain was purchased by Google in May 2012). Searching via will (likely) give more localized results. For example, searching for "Ministry of Education" brings as the first result.

Quick update: it looks like Google's move to is still in progress. For instance, is still not functional. Let's see how fast the update takes!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Backing up your phone's contact list

I recently replaced my SIM card with a new one because the old card stopped working. I handed over my old SIM to the service representative who gave me a new one and told me that the new SIM will be functional after 5pm. And indeed, at 5pm my number was again functional. But alas! I discovered that I lost my entire contact list with phone numbers, which was stored on the old SIM card. Had I planned better, I would have copied the list from the SIM to my phone. Admittedly, I use a "dumb" Nokia 6070 phone.

Many smart phones save contact lists automatically or even back them up to the cloud. On  iPhones, iPads etc. with iOS 5 or later, data can be automatically backed up to iCloud if you enable the Backup option. On Android phones running version 2.2 or later, turn on the automated and free backup to the Google cloud servers. This type of backup helps if even if you lose your phone.

Simpler "dumb" phones require manual backup through the phone's Contacts menu (here are instructions for Nokia phones), by saving the contact list both on the phone and on the SIM card. That way your contact list will remain with you whether you replace the SIM or your phone. But if you lose the phone (with the SIM), tough luck.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dzongkha on Windows Phone 8

This morning, on the topic of "Dzongkha on mobile phones", we have some good news and some bad news. 
The good news: We can verify that Microsoft's latest operating system for mobile devices, Windows Phone 8, supports the rendering of Dzongkha Unicode. Users can view documents and webpages in Dzongkha. We are attaching a browser screenshot from the slick new Nokia Lumia 920 displaying a webpage from the Dzongkha Development Commission's website. 

The bad news: A Dzongkha keyboard is not supported. Also, there is no Tibetan keyboard. Thus, there is no way to type Dzongkha (or Tibetan) letters. Hopefully, future updates will add a Dzongkha keyboard to Windows Phone 8.

Devices running Windows Phone 8 include the Nokia Lumia series, the Samsung Ativ and HTC Window Phones. 

The DDC website, as viewed on a Nokia Lumia 920

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Transit to/from Bhutan via Delhi airport: some tips

New Delhi airport is often used as a transit point to or from Bhutan. Delhi airport is served by multiple international airlines with multiple flights to Europe, the USA and other Western destinations. Tourists to Bhutan often transfer via Delhi and so do Bhutanese traveling for work, studies or holidays.

Feel free to share your Delhi airport experience. Just add a comment to this post!
Unfortunately, transiting in Delhi is not simple, to say the least. Compared to popular transit airports such as Bangkok and Frankfurt, the Delhi transit process is incredibly more complicated, especially if you don't know how it works (or should work). Let me try to de-mystify this process in the hope of reducing uncertainty and stress for future travelers.

Transiting through Delhi means that your connecting flight departs within 24 hours from arriving to Delhi. There are three advantages to transiting over entering and exiting India: (1) You do not need a visa to India (can be time consuming and expensive*), or you do not wish to "waste" an entry if you have a visa to India with a limited number of entries, 2) you will not need to go through immigration at Delhi airport, saving a lot of time and hassle, and (3) you will be able to stay inside the airport the entire time (otherwise, passengers are allowed to enter Delhi airport only 6 hours prior to their flight so if you arrive earlier you'll have to hang out outside).

The tricky part at Delhi airport is that you can only get beyond the small transfer desk area if you have the continuing boarding pass. The transfer area has comfortable chairs, access to rest rooms and a vending machine. But it lacks any food/drink or sleeping areas, the lights are bright, and the endless loud announcements can be a bit irritating. Once you pass the transfer desk, you are right in the gate area with shops, food court, lounges, etc. Below are tips to try and get you past the transfer area as fast as possible.

Tip #1: If you are sending luggage, make sure that your luggage tags specify your final destination (Paro, Paris, NY, etc.). In other words, ask the agent to tag your bags all the way through to your final destination. For example, if you are flying from Paro to Zurich, request the Druk Air agent in Paro to tag your bags to Zurich. The reason is that in Delhi you will not see your bags and the continuing airline will be responsible for transferring the bags to the next flight. Bags that only have a Delhi tag will need to be cleared through customs in India and stored there until loading to your continuing flight. This not only wastes time and a chance for baggage delay/loss, but also incurs an extra charge.

Tip #2: When you land in Delhi, head to the transfer desk. Often, as you exit the plane, an agent will be right outside with a sign for transfer passengers. The agent will take you to the same transfer desk. Make sure not to take the escalators down to immigration! The transfer desk is to the immediate right of the escalators. Prepare your on-going boarding pass (or ticket, if you couldn't get a boarding pass) and the baggage tags.

Tip #3: If you are flying from Paro, try to get boarding passes for your continuing flight! This is extremely helpful and time saving. It will allow you to quickly pass the transfer desk and get directly to the gates.

Tip #4: If you are flying to Bhutan, you will not be able to get Druk Air boarding passes until you reach Delhi. This is what leaves many travelers stranded in the transfer desk area for hours. The transfer desk can get the Druk Air boarding passes only 3 hours prior to the flight, when the Druk Air counters open. This situation might also occur in the other direction - for example, European airlines usually open their counters about 3 hours prior to their flight. Now comes our tip: If you book a room at the Eaton Smart Airport Hotel (for a minimum of 5 hours; expensive) and make the booking at least a few days prior to your trip, the hotel will arrange for boarding passes to be ready when you arrive at the transfer desk (you will email them your passport copy, visa copy, etc.). When you land in Delhi, a hotel agent will await you outside your plane and walk you to the transfer desk area, get your boarding pass, and then escort you to the hotel. Getting from the hotel to the gates takes a max of 30 min (if your gate is far), so you can even get some sleep or at least rest before the usually-early-morning Druk Air flight to Paro.

1. Many airline websites provide an online check-in service which allows you to print your boarding pass at home. However, the transfer desk and security appear not to honor these self-printed boarding passes and require issuing "real" boarding passes.

2. Having to pay for excess number of luaggage pieces (or wright) can stall the whole transfer process. You will need to wait for the airline's counters to open in order to pay the fees. If you want to avoid the risk, make sure your luggage is within the continuing airline's restrictions.

(*) Until recently, transiting was also a way to avoid the 2-month rule on re-entering India, which has now been lifted.

Turkish music is not what I expected to hear this morning

Here is what Bhutan Telecom's home page looked like this morning. After waiting a few seconds, the page started playing Turkish pop. Too bad Turkish coffee was not served as well.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What about backward compatibility?

A few months ago, B-Mobile decided to change the band used for its 3G mobile broadband service in Thimphu from the standard 2100 MHz to the less-popular 850 MHz. Reducing the frequency improves reception and speed. 2100 MHz (known as Band I) is the original and still most popular 3G frequency being used in the world. All smartphones and data-cards with 3G capabilities support 2100 MHz. In contrast, many existing devices do not include 3G support for 850 MHz (known as Band V).

While I was waiting today at the Bhutan Telecom office for a technician, a number of customers arrived, complaining that 3G no longer works on their phone in Thimphu, although it does work in Paro. One lady was carrying a Blackberry phone. It has become useless in Thimphu. Another was carrying a Nokia phone. A third was using Samsung Galaxy S. My own Huawei E160G data-card is not working anymore - it does not support 850 MHz. I am sure that there are many more customers who will now need to replace their mobile phones or data-cards.

Imagine BPC changing the voltage in your home's sockets from 220V to 110V. Time to replace your refrigerator and rice cooker! A mobile operator must ensure that existing devices will continue working, even in the face of network upgrades. A provider cannot expect its customers to lose their investment. The good news is that a solution is available: mobile operators can provide dual-carrier technology, where both 2100 MHz and 850 MHz work side-by-side. That will enable existing users to keep using their old equipment. I am not sure while B-Mobile did not choose this graceful route.

Upgrading the network is commendable. And 850 MHz is indeed an improvement over 2100 MHz. But providers must ensure that their customers' existing investment in equipment will not go down the drain.

Can you spot the difference, honey?

I took this photo yesterday in one of Thimphu's well-known grocery stores. While the local Bumthang honey, as well as the one imported from Thailand, naturally crystallize in Thimphu's chilly weather, the Indian Dabur jars (packed with harmful antibiotics, by the way) do not show any signs of giving in to the temperature. Creepy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

DrukNet's "secret" account management page

In the past, broadband users were able to manage their broadband accounts using the following link:
This link is now dead. Apparently, this billing system is gone. I didn't see any announcement about this - I just noticed it by chance.

From what I gather, a new billing system has been set up here. Finding a link to the new system is not easy - you are welcome to try! Anyway, I'll save you the work. A link to the new system is here: 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Roaming in Bhutan (K2 #57)

Question of the Week
I will be volunteering in Bhutan in the spring. Will I be able to use my Samsung Galaxy S II phone there? Do I need to get a local SIM or can I use my Vodafone SIM?
— Emma, New Zealand

Before travelling to Bhutan, make sure that your phone’s hardware is compatible: In your case, Samsung Galaxy S II supports all four major GSM frequencies (850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz), and these cover the GSM frequencies used in Bhutan (900 and 1800 MHz). Cheers!

To keep using your New Zealand number, check if your mobile operator has a roaming agreement with a Bhutanese mobile operator. Roaming will enable you to keep making and receiving calls using your local NZ number. Information about roaming is available on your operator’s website. I checked the Vodafone website, and they have a roaming agreement with TashiCell, one of Bhutan’s two operators. This means that whenever you are in a TashiCell-covered area, you will be able to make and accept calls using your NZ number.
Mobile counters at Paro airport?

I recently visited Sri Lanka. Getting a local SIM was a snap: all the major mobile operators have shrewdly set up friendly counters in the Colombo airport arrival hall, staffed with efficient representatives who quickly arrange everything, including taking your passport photo. Within 10 minutes and a wallet lighter by the equivalent of Nu. 150, I was all set with a prepaid SIM, which included 100 mobile minutes, 200 SMSs, and 1GB of 3G data. Unfortunately, a similar service is not (yet?) available at Paro airport.

The downside of roaming is that the rates of making and receiving calls - even local calls in Bhutan - as well as SMSing and using data, are absurdly expensive. Vodafone, for example, charges up to NZ$6 per minute. Upon returning home, roaming users often experience an unpleasant shock when receiving their mobile bill.

The alternative to roaming is buying a local SIM with a Bhutanese number. Just make sure that your phone is unlocked, which means it can work with any SIM, not only your Vodafone SIM. With an unlocked phone, simply remove your Vodafone SIM and insert the local SIM. Your sponsor in Bhutan can help you get a local SIM, or you can visit a B-Mobile or TashiCell office. Both operators have coverage in all of Bhutan’s 20 districts. SIMs are dirt-cheap and calling rates are low. A local minute to anywhere in Bhutan will cost you less than NZ$0.10, while calls back home to the land of kiwis will set you back around NZ$0.40 per minute.

Enjoy your visit to the Kingdom!

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to