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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tweet by SMS for TashiCell customers

TashiCell customers can now tweet (and receive tweets) using SMS. This was announced by Twitter about a week ago. Curiously, I could not find any mention of the new feature on T-Cell's website. To begin, text START to 40404.

B-Mobile used to offer an identical service, but it was not working - without any explanation - for a few months. Today it started working again. Coincidence?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Snapping the Screen (K2 #63)

Question of the Week 
I want to upload a snapshot of my laptop screen to my website. How can I create the snapshot and turn it into an image?
— Rinchen, aspiring web designer

Dear Rinchen,

Well, one foolproof way — though  undesirable — is to stand with a digital camera in front of the screen and take a snap... Luckily, there are neater ways to take a screenshot. If you are using Windows XP and above, simply clicking on the the PrtScr (Print Screen) key captures a crisp image of the entire screen to the clipboard. Look for this forgotten key at the top-right area of the keyboard. On different keyboards the key label might be  PrSc, Prt Scn, etc.

Now that the image is in the clipboard, you can paste it inside various applications, such as a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation. You can even paste it into the rather antiquated Paint application. Pasting the image to a PowerPoint slide is probably the most useful, since you can right click on the just-pasted image and select Save as Picture to export the screenshot to an image file in various formats (JPG, GIF, PNG, etc). You can also use PowerPoint’s photo editing capabilities (crop, resize) to edit the image before saving.

Tip: If you need to capture only the active window, as is often the case, clicking Alt-PrtScr (holding the Alt key while clicking PrtScr) will do the trick.

What about Smartphones?
Want to capture a witty SMS exchange and turn it into an image? It’s easy to take snapshots of your smartphone’s screen if you know the right key combination. On Apple gadgets, simply click on the round Home button together with the Lock button. You will hear a click, and a screenshot will be saved to your Camera Roll (iPhone) or Saved Photos (iPad, iPod).

Android users have it a bit more difficult. On most phones running Android 4 you will need to press the Volume Down key together with the Power key, then hold for about 5 seconds. Not easy for people with small hands! You will then hear a click and the screenshot will be saved to the Screenshots folder, which you can view (and share) with the Gallery app. On some Samsung phones, the Power+Home keys does the trick. If neither of these work on your phone, your best bet is to check the user’s manual or to Google it.

Snip, Snip
The Snipping Tool is a great tool that makes it easy to take a snapshot of any area of the screen. The tool is automatically available to the lucky users of Windows Vista, Windows 8, and certain versions of Windows 7 (Home Premium and above). To run, simply click the Start button, then start typing Snipping Tool.

Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cyber Sundays?

Mr. Karma Sangay has this suggestion in today's Kuensel: Open the government offices' WiFi networks to the general public on weekends. The government is paying the bill for these leased lines anyway, and very few people are in the office, so why not use the underutilized infrastructure for the benefit of the public? Great idea!

© Kuensel Corporation

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rigsum #SherigCollection visits Bajothang Book Fair

We just returned from two days at the Bajothang HSS book fair, where we displayed and distributed the Rigsum Sherig Collection to many schools outside of Thimphu: School principals, librarians, teachers and staff from nine dzongkhags visited the Rigsum Sherig Collection tent: Chhukha, Dagana, Gasa, Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, Trongsa, Tsirang, and Wangdue.

Teacher from remote Lungtengang PS downloads the collection
Lots of interest from principals, teachers, and students

Teachers were eager to gain access to quality offline learning resources. Many have told us that the Internet connection at their school was more in theory than in practice (we learned that in some areas, 3am-6am was the only time to attempt sending an email!). Other schools were so remote that even mobile reception was insufficient. For teachers and students in such schools, the Sherig Collection was perceived as a life-changer. At last, teachers and students will have fast access to digital encyclopedias that do not cost a fortune and do not need to be kept locked behind glass doors. More than 2,000 Khan Academy videos in maths and sciences will provide teachers with new ways of teaching existing materials, and for students, ways to strengthen their knowledge and expand it, while keeping their curiosity healthy.

Nearly all schools that visited our tent reported having computers for students to access. While a few schools have only 1-2 computers for students, many others have a computer lab. School computers range from old models to newer ones, from those with Windows XP to those with Windows 7. Some visitors were surprised to learn that the Sherig Collection will work on even old computers running Windows XP.

Many of the teachers and principals who visited had an external hard-drive or a laptop with them. They were therefore able to copy the Sherig Collection (approximately 25–30 min), and take it back to their schools. The demand was so high, that at some point we had 4 or 5 disks attached to our computers at the same time!

Gasa PS principal (left) and Bajo HSS IT teacher (middle)
An additional benefit is that these Sherig-Collection-holding-schools now serve as contact points for nearby schools. For example, the principal of Gasa Primary School, Mr. Pema Dorji, will be distributing the software to all four schools in Gasa. Mr. Passang Tshering at Bajothang HSS has been distributing the Sherig Collection to many schools in the Wangdue-Punakha area, as well as assisting fellow teachers with ideas and tips about using the collection.

Our display was also visited by several officers from the Ministry of Education's Department of Curriculum Research and Development. They too now have the collection and will serve as a distribution point for schools in Paro. Executive director of the Bhutan Canada Foundation along with a Canadian teacher have expressed much interest - we hope that they can help spread the collection to schools with BCF teachers.

The Sherig Collection can be used in many ways. Students can be instructed to conduct research on a particular topic during the weekly IT session. A staff room computer can help teachers improve their lesson plans. One of the early adopting teachers of the Sherig Collection shared that he uses a projector to show students a Khan Academy video during class.
DCRD Director getting a tour of the Sherig Collection

It was a busy two days, with plenty of visitors, demos, downloading, and interactions. We have also collected wish lists for further improving the collection.

Educators who missed the Bajo fair and the earlier information session in Thimphu are welcome to visit us at the Rigsum Research Lab and obtain the collection.

The Sherig Collection Facebook group, intended for sharing information and experiences, already has over 100 members, including teachers, principals and other education/knowledge seekers. The group is fairly active and we invite teachers, librarians, principals, curriculum developers and anyone interested in getting their school or organization on board.

We extend our many thanks to Bajo teacher Mr. Passang Tshering for organizing the Sherig tent and for the wonderful hospitality.

Pasta Carbonara

Saturday, May 11, 2013

All about 3D Printing (K2 #62)

Question of the Week
Someone told me you can buy a 3D printer. What is a 3D printer? Is it used to make 3D movies?
— “Jigs”

Dear “Jigs”,
Sorry to disappoint you, but a 3D printer is not used to make 3D movies. A 3D printer is a machine that manufactures three-dimensional objects by laying – or “printing” – very thin layers of material, one on top of the other, until the desired object is formed. To “print” the object, a computer file that contains the exact layout is sent to the printer. The machine starts with the bottom-most layer, waits until that layer solidifies, then prints the second layer, and so on until the last layer is printed. Depending on the exact 3D printing technology, different materials can be used, including metal, plaster, ceramics, resins and more.

One can only imagine the possibility of having such a printer at home. For example, instead of going to the market to buy, say, a teacup, you download a file from the Internet with your favorite cup design, edit the color and handle size, hit the “Print” button, and after a few minutes, you sip your suja from a utensil that you manufactured! Or you can print a plastic toy for your nephew, or your own customized jewelry, or perhaps a replacement cover for your mobile phone. Think about it – you basically have a small manufacturing plant at home. Many experts think that 3D technology will create the next industrial revolution. They are probably right.

While businesses and organizations have been using 3D printers for quite some time, commercial printers tended to be very expensive – in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In recent years, however, consumer models have started to roll out. Last week the US-based chain Staples announced that it will start selling a desktop 3D printer for $1300. This is still out-of-reach for many, but remember that the first desktop laser printer cost around $13,000, and now you can buy a perfectly good one in Thimphu for Nu 5000. Perhaps one day many homes will have their own 3D printers.

Look ama, I just printed you a shoe!
Readers are encouraged to submit technology-related questions to

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Google Books Not Available in Bhutan

A couple of months ago became operational, and with it a suite of other Google domains and services, including and

One domain, however, was forgotten: Searching in Google will often return results that eventually lead the user into, but instead of landing on a book page, you will get a drawing of a broken robot with a "503. That's an error." message.

The only workaround that I found is to go to the address bar, replace the ".bt" with ".com", and hit enter. This will load the initial page, but scrolling to see more book pages does not work. The browser keeps showing the "Loading..." message.

The bottom line: Users in Bhutan cannot currently use Google Books.

Update (23/5/2013): Two weeks after posting this, functionality has been restored.

Broken robot

Book pages are stuck at "Loading..."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Do Not Fall Into This Facebook Trap

Let's be clear about one thing: There is no way whatsoever to find out who viewed your Facebook profile. We've written about this before, but it's worth repeating. And Facebook makes this pretty unequivocal in their answer to "Can I know who’s looking at my timeline or how often it’s being viewed? Thus, If you see a post by a friend claiming otherwise, it was not added directly by your friend, but by malicious software that was installed on his computer.

The rogue post includes a link to a supposedly "Facebook extension". Clicking on the link and following the instructions will eventually install the virus on your computer. That's how the virus spreads. It's a pretty smart virus; it even tags friends in the post. Do yourself (and your computer) a favour and do not click on any link. If you see such a post, I recommend adding a comment to the post warning others (possibly with a link to this blog post); this may help your friend understand the error he made, and prevent future contamination.

The latest victim to be hit by this scam is Bhutan's first IT Park, Thimphu TechPark (no relation to this blog). Here is the post that was made by the virus on their behalf. The malicious link is the one inside the post that ends with .TK (a Turkish website). Although the claim is that if you install the software "You won't be disappointed", I promise you that you will.

Beware: this is a hoax.

A Stunning Yathra Taxi

Being car-free in Thimphu means that we get to use taxis quite often and meet many drivers. We recently happened to use the services of Mr. Chimi, who hails from Trongsa and owns a beautiful taxi. Check it out!

Mr. Chimi and the yathra-covered car seats

Not cheap, but worth every chheltrum

Can We Please Have a Chilli Festival?

Tourists and locals alike love festivals, and Bhutan has a lot to offer in this respect! In addition to a dazzling array of religious festivals, the Tourism Council of Bhutan has initiated many secular festivals, mostly around a Bhutanese theme: The Black-Necked Crane Festival, the Rhododendron Festival, a Takin Festival and a few others. These are designed to attract tourists as well as help the local communities.

So here's an idea whose time, I feel, has come: a Chilli Festival! The fiery pepper is the unofficial national vegetable, and it's a big part of the national identity. Chilli festivals are not a new phenomenon — see for a calendar of chilli events around the world — but what's a better place to celebrate the addiction to this fiery capsicum than the land of ema datsi?

Here are a few festival posters from around the world.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Interpreting Poverty Reduction in Context

The recent Bhutan Poverty Analysis Report (PAR) 2012, published by the National Statistics Bureau (together with the World Bank), states that poverty in Bhutan was reduced by half compared to 2008. This statement has caused quite a stir in the media. Articles with technical economics jargon such as "the growth elasticity of poverty", "purchasing power", and "correlation between inflation and poverty" started to appear all over the place. Economists and other experts referred to numbers, theories, and formulas in order to explain — or refute — claims for the poverty reduction. In the plethora of explanations, one critical poverty-reducing factor was strangely absent: the Royal Kidu Program. The report's Foreword by the NSB director explains:
... One of the reasons for poverty reduction can be attributed to the noble Royal Kidu Program. Through the program, many landless households were able to get land permanently registered in their names which changed their lives forever. Generally, landless households are more vulnerable to poverty. The Kidu program also extends the education of the poor children and the support for elderly and needy citizens of the country. These initiatives could have direct impact in improving the living standard of the poor... 
This brings us to the issue of interpreting numbers within context. While theories about the effect of economic growth on poverty reduction might be valid in other countries, when considering Bhutan one must take into account the current poverty-reducing policies and actions. I couldn't find exact numbers, but the Kidu program helped thousands of household between 2008 and 2012. Claims such as  "poverty reduction could be due to robust economic growth"  (BBS 1/5/2013), which are based on economic theories, are speculative at best, since they do not take into account the local context.

The Proliferation of a Poor Error

A few weeks ago The Bhutanese mis-calculated the 5-year 2008–2012 inflation rate.

In today's Kuensel, the error was repeated again ("How valid is the claim to have halved poverty?") . The anonymous writer — Layman on — quoted the wrongly calculated number, 39.6%. The correct figure is 46.1%, more than 6% higher.

While knowledge can proliferate quickly, so can errors. The media should take extra care when reporting numbers that can have great implications on policy, especially when copying articles from online forums that are written by anonymous contributors (a questionable practice by itself).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How The Bhutanese miscalculated inflation

Every year prices increase in Bhutan. This is inflation. Here are the inflation figures from the last 5 years, as taken from an article on Bhutan's inflation in The Bhutanese.
  • 2008: 8.31%
  • 2009: 4.41%
  • 2010: 7.02 % 
  • 2011: 8.86% 
  • 2012: 10.93%.
The inflation from 2008 to 2012 was 46.1%. According to the article, however, it was 39.5%. The reporter calculated that number by wrongly adding the percentages. This is a mistake.

Imagine that the annual inflation is 20%. If one kg of ema costs Nu 100, the next year the price inflates to Nu 120. And the next year? 20% on top of Nu 120, which is Nu 144. The total inflation in two years was 44%, not 40%.

If you do the math right, you'll end up with a 5-year cumulative inflation of 46.1%, not 39.5%.

Other figures in the story are also misleading. Hopefully the paper will publish a revised article with the correct numbers.

An Even Cheaper KA-Lite + Kiwix Wireless Server

Our recent post about the $99 Khan Academy wireless server made quite a splash, leading to mentions on the official Raspberry Pi blog, comments by the good folks of KA-Lite, and then a few other places.

Another major resource for education is Wikipedia. The most common software for serving offline Wikipedia articles is Kiwix. We recently put KA-Lite, together with Kiwix and other educational resources, on a single Raspberry Pi. We call this project Sherig-in-a-Box. To read more about this initiative (and find out what Sherig means), check out our project page.

While $99 is cheap enough (about Nu 5,300), we can make our box even more affordable. In our original server, we used the Raspberry Pi Model B, which costs $35. Since then, Model A became available. Model A costs $25, which is $10 less than the Model B. Model A lacks the Ethernet port and has only one USB port instead of two, as well as only half the memory (256 MB vs. 512 MB). If you only want to run a wireless server without a wire-line (Ethernet) option, then model A should suffice. Less memory, however, will translate to fewer concurrent clients and possibly sluggish performance.

To reduce the cost even further, we can use a lower-capacity SD Card. In our original prototype, we used a 64 GB card to hold all of KA-Lite's 4,000+ videos as well as a Kiwix database. The 64 GB SD card, which runs at about $50, is the most expensive component of our server. Many schools, however, will not need all 4,000 videos. A primary school, for example, will be happy with a small subset that does not include the high-school-level-and-above material.

In a blog post yesterday, KA-Lite wrote about running a configuration similar to ours, but without the Wikipedia component. The post mentioned that the Pi was able to serve 35 simultaneous wireless users. Assuming users are all concurrently streaming MP4 videos, this is impressive, especially noting that a few of the KA-Lite videos are encoded at around 2 Mbit/sec.

This brings us to a further cost reduction option: Many of KA-Lite's videos are high-resolution (1280x720) with CD-quality audio (44.1 KHz, stereo). While a few of the videos do require high-resolution (for example, a video clip displaying crowded Excel spreadsheets), many others do not. Many low-cost smartphones and tablets will not support such resolutions anyway (e.g., the Indian Aakash low-cost tablet has a 800x480 screen). Thus, transcoding the videos into lower resolution formats and reducing the unnecessarily-high audio quality will result in lower space requirements, as well as lower streaming rate. Serving low-resolution videos will reduce the required WiFi bandwidth and lower the demand on the Pi's CPU, thereby increasing the number of clients that can be served concurrently. Hopefully, KA-Lite will provide a low-resolution video compilation.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows a few possible configurations of low-cost servers, starting at around $48.

HardwareSoftwareTotal Cost (US)
Raspberry PiSD Card
Class 10
Model A
8 GB
Wikipedia for Schools~ 250 videos
~ $48
Model A
16 GB
Wikipedia for Schools~ 800 videos
~ $52
Model A
32 GB
Wikipedia for Schools~ 1300 videos
~ $64
Model A
64 GB
Wikipedia for Schools4000+ videos
~ $86
(§)Approximate number; assumes existing video encoding. Lower-bit-rate encoding will increase the number of videos.

Using a Model B Raspberry Pi will add the capability for a wired (Ethernet) connection, as well as increased performance. It will also add $10 to the bill.

P.S.: The cost of hardware for equipping all public schools in Bhutan with the most expensive Sherig-in-a-Box Raspberry Pi is around $52,000, or Nu 28 lakh.