Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Technological Interlude

Those of you following my Flickr photos (there be scads of ye) have noticed my new computer "build in progress."

It's been about 5 years since my last build and my choices this time reflect a change in the industry since 2003; we're all thinking about power consumption a little differently these days. Don't really want to drive that electricity bill up any higher! I made this my top consideration while researching the latest chips from lowly "Atom" processors to "QUAD CORE EXTREME" monster units. A valuable resource for this was the CPU power dissipation wiki, which told me that modern processors may consume anywhere from 65 to 130 Watts... That's a lot of Watts, and quite the differential...

Finally settled on the Intel E7200 Core 2 Duo which is based on a newer 45 nanometer transistor technology; smaller transistors allow this chip to waste less energy on heat dissipation, running at a max of 65 Watts- and considerably less than that when "idle," which is most of the time. Despite this, it is a speedy little devil, running 2 64-bit cores on the same die (essentially 2 separate processors, but contained all on 1 "chip"). My second choice would have been the 95 Watt, quad core Q6600, but that chip is based on a less efficient 65 nanometer technology while offering very little performance improvement over my dual core choice.

My second breakthrough in this area was the power supply, an Antec Earthwatts psu, rated at 85% efficiency, wasting fewer Watts than my old power supply which was around 70% efficient. This is about as good as you can get these days- it's tough to design a power supply that doesn't waste a lot of energy in the form of heat.

Top 10 Things I Learned Building my New PC, August 2008 by Sam T;

#10) New Intel E7200 cpu rated at 18% fewer Watts than old AMD Athlon XP 3200+ cpu (goodbye AMD, it was fun while it lasted...)

#9) New cpu nevertheless 4 times faster than old cpu... whoah, that is some progress...

#8) Motherboard, processor, memory, power supply and all related parts cost about half what they did 5 years ago - not even including inflation which means they cost far less than half

#7) 4 gigs of RAM is just about enough to run Microsoft Vista

#6) My new Asus HD3850 video card runs 3D games like Oblivion mad fast and consumes about 90 Watts on full power, pretty much negating aforementioned cpu power savings. Fortunately it throttles back to around 25 Watts for normal non-3D gaming

#5) Everything is quieter in my new system; fans in particular, which means no more rattle or hum from my computer which is right next to our bedroom. One choice I made related to this was an Arctic Freezer 7 Pro cooler, which sounds like a very serious product, but actually is just a big copper pipe with giant aluminum fins that draw heat away from the cpu more efficiently than the standard Intel cooler; so the fan is less noisy because it doesn't have to run as fast to keep things cool.

#4) Actually starting to like Microsoft Vista now that I have the horsepower to run it, although it still doesn't come close to Apple in terms of user friendliness and I would recommend it to no-one on that basis

#3) Did I mention I now have 4 gigs of RAM? Doesn't that scare you?

#2) Witness my new motherboard, the Biostar TP43D2A7; it has an earth-friendly name but is actually just your basic motherboard in a pleasant blue color.

#1) I love building computers! Actually I didnt' "learn" this but knew it already. Hopefully in my old age I will be allowed to tinker with computer parts, even though by then we will probably be using holographic psychic implants instead...

Links to the parts used in my build;

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53Ghz
CPU Cooler; Arctic Freezer 7 Pro
Motherboard: Biostar TForce TP43D2A7
RAM: G.SKILL DDR2-800 Dual Channel Kit
Power Supply: Antec Earthwatts EA380
Case: My existing Antec Sonata is still beautiful, and "quiet" too

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Flaming Cliffs

Our next destination was to the Flaming Cliffs. On the way, though, we had a very amusing attempt to get gas. We actually drove through a town, our first since we landed in the Gobi, and it had a gas station, but we couldn't find the person who ran the station so we ended up driving around town for about 30 minutes before we found someone to open up the gas station.

Anyway, we made it to our camp, and despite the threatening looking weather, we headed to the Flaming Cliffs. The cliffs are famous in Mongolia for being the site of a very successful archaeological dig back in the 1920s by the Museum of Natural History, when they found nests of dinosaur eggs. You can still see a bunch of eggs sticking out from the sides of the cliffs.

The Flaming Cliffs were really amazing - they were like a combination of all southwestern national parks rolled in to one in the coloring and scenery. And there were maybe 5 other tourists wandering around there. No paths, no rules, no entry fees - you can just roam wild. And the tourist museum they have set up nearby is a ger with a few fossils just sitting on the floor, and some posters with information about the dig.

+ More photos from the Flaming Cliffs
+ All the Mongolia photos

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grilled Pizza!

Last night Lucy and Jeff came over for dinner and I used this as an excuse to try out a recipe for grilled pizza. I couldn't find Brinata cheese, so I subbed with Manchego cheese, and otherwise followed the recipe and it came out great. Its also a good recipe for company because most of the work can be done ahead of time. We grilled the crusts earlier so it was just a matter of grilling the pizza with the toppings, which only takes a few minutes, while guests are there. And paired with gazpacho, it was almost completely hands off once guests arrived.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Just made another batch of my mom's granola. Boy is it tasty. I've been using dried cranberries instead of raisins because our raisins are a bit dried out, but we're heading to the coop this afternoon after my company summer bbq, so i might pick up some interesting dried fruit to experiment.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zucchini, Corn and Bacon Fusilli

Well, we've been grilling a lot of stuff since we've been back, but not with any particular recipe other than olive oil and salt and pepper. And of course, a lot of gazpacho and cucumber soup. Last week, though, we made the Zucchini, Corn and Bacon Fusilli recipe from the latest Gourmet on my parents recommendation. It was delicious. Not that I doubted that anything with bacon wouldn't be. Highly recommended and very easy. And of course we made our own pesto to go with it. Mmm.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Khongor Sand Dunes

After a very long ride from our first stop (oh, did I forget to mention, outside of the UB, there aren't really roads. Or signs. So the drivers really need to know where they are going. And as great as our driver, Bor, was, we definitely seemed to get lost on more than occasion), we headed to the Khongor Sand Dunes.

First activity on the list was a camel ride. We got to the nomadic family who owns the camel herd right after another tour group, so we had to wait a while with the family for them to finish. It was extremely warm out, so we were welcomed into one of the family's gers, where we were given agir, fermented mare's milk, and homemade cheese and biscuits.

The fermented mare's milk tastes kind of like sourish yogurt. Its ok, but not my favorite. Then we sat around and watched some Naadam wrestling on the tv, since they had a solar panel and satellite dish. They even had a washing machine sitting out on their "front lawn". We also got to see the daughters milking the mares - they bring a foal over to its mother and have them start nursing, and then pull the foal away and milk the mare. By this point, the camels were on their way back and we hopped on the camels for a fun ride around the base of the sand dunes.

We headed back to the camp for lunch and a rest for the afternoon since it was really hot in the sun. We planned to wait for the late afternoon for a hike on the sand dunes, but when we peaked out of our gers after a nap, it was clear that we weren't to be making our hike. A yellow/brown cloud was heading quickly towards our camp from the west, and we hid out in the dinning room while it blew past.

Since we missed the hike the evening before, we decided to get up early and hike the sand dunes before breakfast. This ended up being great timing because the sandstorm had some significant rainfall accompany it, so the dunes had a layer of wet sand on top, making it much easier to walk on. Also, being early in the morning, it was a lot cooler than it would have been the day before. That said, by the time we half way up, the sand had dried out a lot and it was incredibly painful to reach the top since the sand fell away with every step. We made it though and it was just gorgeous at the top. Sand dunes for miles in either direction, and on the other side of the dunes, the Kazakh mountain range stretched on. Coming down was a ton of fun because the sand just slid away with every step. Sam took a great video of how easy it was to run down.

+ More photos of the sand dunes
+ All Mongolian photos
+ And photos from my brother, dad and Sam

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eagle Valley

We landed outside of Dalanzadgad and the tarmac of the runway was the last asphalt we saw for a very long time. Our guide Uyenga and driver Bor picked us up and we took off into the desert, with no signs as to where to go, and headed for our first Ger camp of our road trip.
A ger, shown above, is the traditional Mongolian dwelling, related to a yurt. There is a wooden frame covered in a waterproof layer and a layer of felt (around in mass quantities from all the goats and sheep around the company). They can be set up in two hours and taken down in half an hour, so the nomads (1/4 of Mongolia's population is nomadic) can easily transport them as they try and find greener pastures. All of the places we stayed on our road trip were camps made up of 20 or so gers, each of which can sleep 2-3 people on some very small and not so comfortable beds. Temperature wise, they're very comfortable though. The gers have a hole on the top of the structure, so in the summer, you can pull one of the layers of felt back to allow hot air to escape through the roof. When its cold, you can cover the top, and there is usually a wood stove in the center of the ger, with a flue out the top, which keeps the ger very toasty when its lit.
Anyway, back to the trip. We got to our camp, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, that had previously been the location of the airport, before it moved to its current location. The scenery, or maybe the lack of scenery, was beautiful.
The next morning, we got up early and went for a hike in Eagle Valley. Eagle Valley fills with snow in the winter, forming a glacier of sorts deep in the valley. It used to last through the summer, but these days it melts completely in August.
Eagle Valley was also chock full wildlife. We saw some small chipmunk type animals scurrying around, as well as larger ones that looked like mice that were the size of small hamsters and with feet kind of like rabbits so that the pounced around instead of running, called a pika. And we even saw some ibex, but from so far away that you could barely make them out. After our morning in Eagle Valley, we headed back to camp for lunch and then hit the road for a very rough six hour drive to the next camp.

Chicken Kebabs

We finally filled our propane tank on Friday, so I picked up some meat at the store yesterday and was looking for a good grilled chicken recipe that wouldn't need ingredients other than what we had at home. The Grilled Chicken Kebabs recipe from Cooks Illustrated. For a marinade, I went with the garlic and herbs, using a mix of rosemary and sage since both are growing very well on the deck. Rather than skewering the veggies, I sliced some squash and grilled them coated in olive oil and salt and pepper. All together very good, I would definitely make this marinade again, and maybe try some of the other ones as well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

KFC in China

We noticed while we were in Beijing that KFC was everywhere. Marketplace had a story on yesterday's show about the popularity of KFC, and other multi-national companies, that is an amusing listen.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Night Dinner

I'm to try and keep track of new recipes I try here. I bookmark so many recipes but I hardly ever note if I've made them before, so if I want to make it again, it can be a bit hard to track down. I had been planning on making Pan-Grilled Chicken with Avocado Salsa tonight with Cucumber Soup to start, but the avocados at the store were all rock hard, so I tried out a recipe for Black-Bean and Tomato Quinoa instead of rice and salsa with the chicken instead. It turned out really well and was very tasty. I would definitely make it again for a summer side, or a picnic dish. And it goes well with the pan-grilled chicken, so a good alternative if there aren't any good avocados.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ulaanbaatar and Surroundings

So we've finally uploaded some photos and I'm getting around to writing about our trip. On our way over to Mongolia, we didn't have the most direct of routes, so after over 36 hrs of travel, we made it to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar (referred to as the UB by most Mongolians), one day after the rest of my family. And first thing in the morning, we got started on our trip in earnest, with our city guide picking us up to take us to Terelj National Park, about 1.5 hrs outside of the city, for some beautiful scenery.

It started pouring after we finished hiking down from the rock that looks like a turtle (above), so we headed to lunch and then back to UB and swung by an overlook of the city before hitting the Mongolian history museum.

The next day was the start of the action. The archery competetion was starting for Naadam, the Mongolian Independence Day that features lots of traditional Mongolian athletic competitions. The four sports are archery, wrestling, horse racing and anklebone shooting. And they are all very unique in Mongolia. The archery is shot using a different kind of bow than is used in western competition, and you aim for a target that is a couple of rows of rubber blocks on the ground, so is much harder to overshoot. The distance from the target from which one fires is dependant on age, if in the kids competition (some are very young!), or sex for the mens and womens competition.

Wrestling is kind of like sumo wrestling in that you just have to get the opponent on the floor and there is a lot of customs associated with it, in this case the eagle dance that one performs when they win. But unlike sumo, there's no ring, and it all looks very informal watching it. More on the horse racing and anklebone shooting below.

After the archery, we headed out to Chinngis Kahn's Cavalry show, which featured a reenactment of traditional horse battles on a huge scale, along with some wrestling and traditional music show. The horse fighting was really impressive, especially given the broad expanse of nothingness around the site.

The next day was the Naadam opening ceremonies, featuring a very packed house at the national stadium (though the fact that this was the biggest stadium tells you something about the infrastructure in the city). There were a bunch of contortionists, a fashion show of traditional clothing, a horse parade and the start of the wrestling competition.

The anklebone shooting was going on next door, so we checked that out as well. Anklebone shooting involves flicking an anklebone (a tile carved from a goat or sheep's ankle bone), at two targets (also anklebones I think).

Then, it was off to the races. The horses in Mongolia are much smaller than the ones we see regularly in the states, so rather than having adults ride the horses, they have kids. Very small children, usually between six and ten. And the horses race a really long distance - we watched the five or six year old horses race, so they raced 30 km. We had a good spot at the finish and below is a photo of the winning horse, which as you might notice, doesn't have a rider on it. A lot of the children fall off during the race.

There are more pictures of mine and Sam's over on Flickr. Sam has all his photos up so you'll get a sneak preview of the rest of the trip. And I'm going to try and keep posts a bit shorter in the future!