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Are Steam Boxes a viable console alternative?

With the imminent launch of a variety of Steam Boxes, the question has to be asked: Are these machines going to fulfill the needs of the console users and become a viable alternative to Sony's and Microsoft's dominant consoles? First, it's important to come to a decision as to whether or not Valve is positioning the Steam Box to be a console alternative or if they are simply aiming to bring computer gaming-in terms of graphics, game libraries, and capabilities-to the living room.

 

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For instance, iBuyPower is working on a Steam Box that is said to feature a multi-core AMD processor and an AMD R9-270 GPU. The cost is said to be $499, and that price includes the new Steam controller. If other companies continue to come out with Steam Boxes around that price point-or lower-the price is right to compete with the console alternatives. Even more interesting is the fact that the above referenced Steam Box will feature quite a bit more graphical prowess than the integrated AMD APUs used in both Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One.


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Picture of the Week: February 3, 2014

This week's PoTW comes from a spur-the-moment night photography trip to old Folsom, California. I was driving around a residential area looking for a place to park to walk down to the river for some shots of the bridge, prison, and river when I saw the house pictured below. It immediately caught my attention as it seemed very misplaced. It appears to be a farm house, but it's in the middle of a city. I also loved the fact that the place appears to be dilapidated and likely uninhabited, but the owner (I assume) is still watering the lawn out front.

 

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As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and compliments on the pictures. You can see older pictures of the week by selecting the relevant week from the right or clicking on the PoTW tag below.

What's in my camera bag

It's only fair that I show you guys what I carry around in my camera bag when going on a shoot. Of course, not every shoot makes use of every lens, so sometimes one or more get left behind (it's usually the heavy 70-200L). The sad part about trying to show you what's in my camera bag is I can't use my camera to take a picture of it, so sorry in advance for the iPhone picture:

 

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Starting in the back, you can see the Slik Pro 330DX tripod. In front of that, I carry a Manfrotto monopod for shooting sports. For sports, I usually just take the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens on the right and the monopod. In front of the monopod, you can see my camera grip that allows for easy portrait shooting, in addition to carrying two batteries instead of one.

 

In front of the grip, you can see some basic lens cleaning supplies, which are important to have with you at all times. To the right, you can see my Canon T4i. Finally, the lenses. From left to right: EF 50mm f/1.8; EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6IS STM; EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS; EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.


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Picture of the Week: January 27, 2014

The two pictures below come from the Fourth of July celebration that my local city puts on each year. These two are some of my favorites from among the 60 or so that I took. The first is probably my number one favorite from the shoot, simply because it idealizes what a firework looks like to me. The color and explosions are well captured. For those interested, it was a 7 second exposure--captured on BULB using a remote--with an aperture of f/16. Focal length was 27mm on an APS-C sensor. ISO was set to 100.

 

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The next one was shot with similar settings: 6.6 second exposure, f/16, ISO100, and 27mm focal length. I really like this picture, aside from the smoke, because it looks quite like a palm tree. Read full post to see the next shot...


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Picture of the Week: January 20, 2014

Over the summer, I took a trip up to the abandoned Iron Mountain Ski Resort, an old Ski Resort up Highway 88 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Iron Mountain was a reverse ski resort; you started at the top, skied down, and the lifts brought you back up to the base lodge. The buildings have long since started collapsing, as you can see in the background of the picture below, and people have started dumping trash at the site.

 

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As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and compliments on the pictures. I just purchased a new f/1.8 50mm lens and cannot wait to get out there with it to check out what fun I can have with it. You can see older pictures of the week by selecting the relevant week from the right, or clicking on the PoTW tag below.

Picture of the Week: January 13, 2014

Many of you probably don't know that I'm an avid photographer. In my spare time, I enjoy escaping to the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range in my home state of California. I take my trusty Canon T4i with me--and various accessories--and set to shooting. Most of the pictures you will see are of the nature variety as they are my favorite to shoot.

 

My New Year's resolution was to get out and shoot more than I already do. This is good news for you as I will be sharing them with you. Each week, I will post at least one image for your viewing pleasure. I'd love to hear your compliments, comments, and criticisms as it is the only way to improve my craft. The full size image (roughly 5000x3000) will be available here for you to use as your background. Feel free to share the images, but please link back to my blog so that others may enjoy the various pictures.

 

Now onto the good stuff:

 

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Tablets! Tablets! Tablets!

Let's just start out with the fact that I'm a hardcore computer user. I program on a remote server over SSH using nano. I multitask. I type. I do a lot of things on my computer that doesn't involve consuming media. But I'm also a fan of Netflix. And Hulu. And I am a websurfer. Tablets have never really had an appeal to me. They're slightly too big to carrying around. By the time I'm carrying a 10-inch iPad, I might as well be carrying my MacBook Air. It has loads more power, as well, which makes it a preferable choice.

 

But for $200, I couldn't resist the Nexus 7. I purchased one of the original Nexus 7 devices from Google after hearing lots of good things from friends and co-workers. I enjoyed the device for the first few days and weeks, but the novelty quickly wore off. The device sat idle on a shelf gathering dust as I returned to my trusty notebook. There were a few things that I didn't like about the Nexus 7. To start off, the system seemed to quickly slow down after a few days' use. It was no longer a speedy system. Instead, apps took seconds to load and getting back to the homescreen was a chore. Another issue is the fact that none of my software--Photoshop, Office, programming tools--would run on the Android/ARM system. The Nexus 7 is a toy in my eyes.

 

I've since sold the Nexus 7 to a friend who purchased it for his mom. Since then, I've been a bit hesitant to get back into the tablet game, but with the new x86 Windows 8 tablets that are hitting the market, I've started to give them another look. Before jumping in and purchasing my own, I asked a friend to borrow his Dell Venue 8 Pro, a Bay Trail Atom-powered 8-inch tablet.

 

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The 32GB Venue 8 Pro retails for $300, but can be had for as little as $250 on Amazon. For that price, I was tempted to buy one, but my previous experiences with Atom left much to be desired. I owned one of the original netbooks with an early generation Atom processor. Back then, the Atom truly was a pretty wimpy processor. After that experience, I was quite surprised when I picked up the Venue 8 Pro and discovered a snappy Windows 8 experience.


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Phase-change memory to make big debut at CES 2014?

I've been hearing from my sources that Intel will be talking about phase-change memory at the upcoming CES 2014, an industry trade show set to take place next week in Las Vegas, Nevada. Intel spent a lot of money to purchase the opening keynote address on the big stage at CES this year, though it's not clear if this is where the announcement will be made. We will have people live in Las Vegas at CES bringing the latest to you here on TweakTown.

 

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For those who don't know what phase-change memory is, Wikipedia provides a fairly good overview of the technology, history, and current state of phase-change memory. I'm more interested in passing along some of the pieces of information that I've gleaned from my sources. One of my sources said that the new phase-change memory that Intel is working on will allow a computer to boot from a cold state to the desktop in under three seconds, an impressive achievement, if accurate.

 

The best part of this fast phase-change memory is that it is available across a spectrum of devices. It isn't limited to just desktop PCs. In fact, Micron currently has a mass-produced solution available for mobile devices. The memory is also more durable than typical flash memory, making it an excellent replacement for solid state drives. It's not clear when Intel plans to have a working version of phase-change memory ready for the limelight, but if they are talking about it at CES, it shouldn't be more than a year or two off.


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