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, April 27, 2013

Funny Photos (K2 #61)

I noticed that in some local magazines and even websites the photos sometimes look stretched or squashed. Why does this happen? How to fix it?
— J. N., Thimphu

Dear J. N.,

Indeed, I’ve seen those photos too. They remind me of the special mirrors placed in clothing shops’ dressing rooms, designed to make you “look” extra thin in that dress. Or funhouse mirrors in amusement parks that make you look extra short or extremely tall.

Let’s bite our teeth into the issue: each photo has a certain aspect ratio, which is the ratio of the width of the photo to its height. Sounds complicated? Not really. For example, a 4”x6” photo of cute puppies has an aspect ratio of 4” divided by 6”, or 2:3 (two-thirds). Computer images also have aspect ratios. A photo which is 1024 pixels (or dots) wide, and 768 pixels high, has an aspect ratio of 1024 divided by 768, or 4:3. A perfectly-square image has an aspect ratio of 1:1, since the height and the width are equal. CD covers, by the way, are square images. 

Time is Money

Many people no longer use their fixed line at home, but it is still required if you have a broadband Internet connection. (A fixed line is useful for emergencies as well). If you feel that the monthly hassle of paying the Nu 25 maintenance fee is a waste of time, there’s a solution. Bhutan Telecom allows you to prepay for the line. So next time, ask the person at the counter to make an advance payment of Nu 150, and you won’t need to come again for half a year.
Why do you see these distorted images in some publications? The distortion happens when a photo’s aspect ratio is changed. The graphic editor decided to increase (or decrease) the width or height of the photo, but without a corresponding change in the other dimension. Here’s an example: say that you want to design a beautiful CD cover (remember, it’s a square) using a stunning landscape photo taken with a digital camera – one in which the width is larger than the height. You open the photo in a photo-editing software, such as Photoshop, Picasa, or Microsoft Office Picture Manager, and start decreasing the width until the photo is a perfect square. Notice that while decreasing the width, you did not change the height at all. The photo can now fit nicely as a CD cover, but you have squashed the image and it doesn't look very professional. 

In order to avoid a distorted photo, never resize only the width or only the height. You should resize them together. Some software packages allow you to lock the aspect ratio of a photo when resizing; you will want to use that option. And if the photo does not fit exactly into the space allocated for it - the trick it to crop (remove) unnecessary parts until it fits.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Visualize the NC elections results

This week's National Council elections results were reported in this form or the other by the media and by the Election Committee of Bhutan. Most of the results were reported one dzongkhag at a time, which made it difficult to see the overall picture. Using the numbers from the ECB's report (which were presented in one big table), I created two dashboards, each telling a story. One about voter percentage and the other about winner share of votes.

Dashboard 1: Voter Participation by Dzongkhag

I computed the per-dzongkhag percentage of votes (= total votes for all candidates / registered voters). Some dzongkhags clearly stand out! To focus on a particular dzongkhag, click on the map, bar-chart or scatter plot.

Dashboard 2: Winner's Share of Votes

The map shows the % of votes that the winner received from the total number of votes in his dzongkhag. Some winners received a very large majority, while others did not. We'd expect that the share would be affected by the number of candidates: the more candidates, the lower the winner's share. While this is the case in most dzongkhags, notice an interesting exception: Samtse's Sangay Khandu won almost 49% of the votes despite having the largest number of competing candidates. Also, in Dagana and Trashigang, which had a single contestant, each received more than 90% ("yes") votes, which is much higher than even dzongkhags with two contestants.

These dashboards were created with the free Tableau Public tool. It would be great to see the media and other organizations create similar visualizations and interactive dashboards for the upcoming elections.

MoH's website needs a computer doctor

The website of the Ministry of Health was hacked recently by "Palestina Hacker". The website is currently not loading. Hacking government websites can become a serious threat to a country's security.

Bhutan's domain registration website hacked

DrukNet's Network Information Center (NIC),, was recently hacked. The website is an important server, displaying information about all .bt domains. Internal databases hold crucial information, including domain name ownership.

We are hoping that DrukNet's Domain Name Server (DNS) security was not breached. DNS is the service that translates domain names (such as to Internet numerical address ( Hacking Bhutan's DNS servers could mean a very serious security problem.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sherig Collection Takes Off!

The April 13, 2013 information session, celebrating the launch of the Rigsum Sherig Collection, introduced the collection to nearly 30 participants: teachers, librarians, school administrators, and government officials in Bhutan. Representatives were present from many schools in Thimphu and beyond, libraries and community centres, colleges and training institutes, and from the Ministry of Education's Dept. of Curriculum Research and Development.

Here are some:

Several of the participants used the opportunity to copy the Sherig Collection to an external hard drive in order to install it at their educational organizations. We hope students and teachers at these institutions will soon enjoy the liberating power of learning!

If you are interested in the collection for your organization, please email us at and schedule a time to visit our lab and get the collection.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Resist the temptation: avoid pie charts

With the upcoming elections, numbers can reveal important information. Unfortunately, our human brains are not that great at translation lots of numbers into a coherent stories. That's why we need charts and table to summarize and preset the data for us in meaningful ways.

Yesterday's Kuensel article "Youth to the fore in Thimphu" told the story of the young candidates in Thimphu. The main visual in the article was a pie chart showing the number of eligible voters in Thimphu, broken down by gewog. The reason for presenting these numbers was to relate the chances of election to the number of registered eligible voters in that gewog ("...if the number of voters in gewogs is of any assurance [for getting elected]"). I was therefore curious to figure out the story that the chart was trying to tell. Here is what I saw:

Chart from Kuensel, April 13, 2013

The first questions that come to mind are: which are the gewogs with the highest numbers of eligible voters? The lowest? The difference between the highest and lowest? etc. We explained in many previous posts that pie charts are notoriously ineffective for conveying information and answering basic questions such as those above. 3D charts are even worse. Pie charts not only make it difficult to decipher information, but they can also lead to misinformation.

I once again diligently created a bar chart version to help us all better see the data. While doing this, I started wondering about the meaning of these numbers. How do they relate to the population size of the gewog? I went to NSB's website and grabbed 2011 gewog-wise population statistics for Thimphu. I then compared the eligible voter numbers to the population numbers. I also computed the eligible voters as a percentage of that gewog's population. Take a look at the dashboard below. Not surprisingly, Thimphu Thromde has the largest number of eligible voters (those eligible to vote in Thimphu). But, relative to its population, it has the lowest % of eligible voters (8%). Maybe this is not surprising, because so many Thromde residents are not "native". The next two gewogs with highest eligible voter numbers are Mewang and Karwang. If we compare to population numbers, the third largest gewog after Thromde and Mewang is... Chang! (sort by the red bar chart or table below it). This means that Chang, although 3rd in terms of population size in the dzongkhag, has a relatively low number of eligible voters. Finally, sorting by % of eligible voters (green bars), we see the actual percentages in each gewog, with Naro leading (91% eligible voters) and then numbers declining ten-fold when we get to Thromde (8%) .

Whether the actual voter numbers tell a more important story than their percentage of the gewog population, our main point is to highlight the power of bar charts (and especially when sorted by bar length), and the inappropriateness of pie charts, not to mention 3D pie charts. Once again, we subscribe to visualization expert Stephen Few's motto "Save the Pies for Dessert".

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Using Dzongkha on the iPhone (K2 #60)

Question of the Week
Both me and my friend have iPhone 3GS. She has an option to add a Tibetan keyboard which allows her to type Dzongkha letters. I don’t have that option. Why? What’s wrong with my phone?
— Pushpa, P/Ling

Dear Pushpa,
iPod Touch 2nd generation (and later)
can also support Dzongkha
Nothing is wrong with your phone, so no need to worry. Your iPhone 3GS can also type those beautiful Dzongkha letters. When the iPhone 3GS was released, it ran the iOS 3.0 operating system, but iOS 3.0 does not support the typing of Dzongkha. Apple added support for entering Dzongkha letters only in the iOS 4.2 operating system, which was released in November 2010. Your phone is most likely still using the older operating system, and this is easy to find out. On your iPhone, tap Settings → General → About, and look for the Version information. Now do the same with your friend’s phone. Notice the difference?

Luckily, the iPhone 3GS can be upgraded to iOS 4.2. In fact, it can even be upgraded to the latest version, which is iOS 6.1.3. To upgrade, use iTunes and follow the instructions at If you find that a bit daunting or slow, you can always visit a good mobile service shop, which will usually be able to upgrade your phone for a small fee. Once your phone is upgraded, go to Settings → General and Keyboard → International Keyboards → Add New Keyboard, and select the Tibetan keyboard. That’s it. You can switch from English to the new keyboard and back by tapping the small globe (“earth”) button next to the space bar. The layout of the keys is different from the official Dzongkha Development Commission keyboard, and some stacking combinations are not supported, but it’s usually good enough for most purposes.

This solution works for the iPhone 3GS and even for its predecessor, the “antique” iPhone 3. Unfortunately, it does not work for the original iPhone.

Track your Trek
Tugging along your Android-based phone to a trek? Make sure to install Google’s free My Tracks app (available in the Google Play store) before leaving home. It records and saves your location, elevation, speed, distance and more. It even works in the sky: I recently used it to track a DrukAir flight from Delhi to Paro. Exhilarating!

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The $99 Khan Academy wireless server, using a Raspberry Pi

At the Rigsum Research Lab we are always looking for ways to use technology for benefiting education in the local context. For example, one of the challenges facing schools in Bhutan is the lack of access to online resources such as Khan Academy.

Khan Academy is a free educational website containing more than 4000 short, high-quality lectures covering topics ranging from math and the sciences to economics and the humanities. Access to Khan Academy empowers both students and teachers. Students with a broadband-connected computer can watch the short lectures and complete quizzes. Teachers can track students' progress. It's no wonder that Khan Academy is used by millions of learners and educators worldwide.

Since most schools in Bhutan do not have access to the Internet, or the access is painfully slow, viewing online lectures is usually impossible. Today, however, with unbelievably-cheap computing power, and thanks to projects such as KA-Lite (Khan Academy Offline), it is possible to avail the power of Khan Academy to any school in Bhutan.

One of Khan's thousands of videos,
served offline
We recently built a $99 Khan Academy wireless (and wired) server. The prototype server can serve more than 50 GB of Khan Academy content, and anyone with a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone can connect to the server and watch the videos. In a school environment, such a server can also be used by teachers to track the progress of students.

Imagine: For around Nu. 5000, any school, college, library or community centre in Bhutan can offer unlimited access to one of the world's top educational resources; no internet required.

If you want to watch a demo of the Khan Academy server in action, join us this Saturday for our Sherig Collection launch event.

How we built it

Bhutan's first Raspberry Pi, toiling as a
Khan Academy wireless server
The Khan Academy server is based on Raspberry Pi, a popular, credit-card-sized $35 educational computer. Over a million Raspberry Pis were sold in the world. We were lucky enough to be the first to hold a running Raspberry Pi in Bhutan!

In addition to the computer board itself, a 64 GB SD card ($50) is needed to store the computer's software as well as the thousands of MP4 videos. A USB Wi-Fi dongle, which turns the Pi into a wireless access point (it already has a wireline Ethernet port), adds $5 to the bill. Throw in a few more bucks for a plastic box and a power adapter to round off the cost to $99.

For the software part, we are indebted to Jamie Alexandre and the rest of the good folks at Learning Equality for creating KA Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy. We also used other open source software for running the server: The Debian-based Raspbian Linux distribution, as well as dnsmasq and hostapd for managing the wireless access point.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Digital educational resources for the rest of us

Wikipedia and Khan Academy are two of the most popular and useful online educational resources. While accessing these websites seems trivial for those of us lucky enough to enjoy a fast Internet connection, most students and teachers in Bhutan do not have access to broadband Internet. And for those who do, the connection is typically unstable or too slow. In addition, the price of broadband in Bhutan (about Nu 160 per gigabyte) means that a single student streaming a 10-minute educational video translates into Nu 10. Now multiply that by the number of videos and the number of students...

Luckily, technology exists to avail many of these resources in an offline fashion. Several groups around the world are working on projects such as Khan Academy on a (USB) Stick, KA-Lite (Offline Khan Academy), and Kiwix (Offline Wikipedia).

This Saturday, we will introduce and demonstrate the Rigsum Sherig Collection, a carefully-selected set of open-source, educational digital resources that do not require Internet access.

The Collection is available for free to all educational organization in Bhutan. Installing the collection on school, college, or library PCs will avail cutting-edge, safe and effective resources to teachers, students, and anyone interested in expanding their knowledge.

In the session, Prof. Galit Shmueli and Mr. Boaz Shmueli will demonstrate the Rigsum Sherig Collection, explain how it can be used and obtained, and share information about the next phase of this project.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Down and Out in Thimphu and Paro

While you wait for a website to load,
Orwell's memoir  makes a great read.
One of DrukNet's servers (, IP address was out-of-order this morning. The server hosts many websites, including RTC (, DDC (, T-Bank ( and hundreds more.

The operation of the server was restored at 9:40am. I could not find any explanation for the outage on DrukNet's website (

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lost in translation - an update (get your offline dictionary)

In November 2012, we posted about many missing entries from the DDC's online Dzongkha-English dictionary which do exist in the original soft-cover dictionary. We are glad to share our discovery: from a cursory check it appears that the links to missing files have been silently fixed and the empty files populated.

The good news is that the online version now seems identical to the soft-cover. The bad news is that the dowloadable version (linked from the bottom of page, as shown in the image below) has still not been updated and unfortunately still has the missing and empty files.

Until DDC updates the downloadable zip file, here are possible solutions for those who want to browse the corrected dictionary offline:

  1. Low-tech solution: If you need some fresh air, walk over to the DDC office and ask for a CD with the new files.
  2. Slightly tedious workaround (no walking needed): Download the old zip file and unzip it. Then, download the HTML files one-by-one from and place them in the old folder called Contents, thereby replacing the old files.
  3. Easy and fast workaround: We downloaded the files and packaged them into a fresh zip file for immediate use. Just download the zip file, unzip and use.