About Les Jenkins

I'm the guy that runs this place. You can contact me at: les@stupidevilbastard.com

First impressions on the Black Ops III Beta.

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

It’s almost time for the next iteration in the Call of Duty franchise and this year Treyarch is up to bat. I wasn’t sure I’d get into the beta because on the consoles you had to preorder the game to get in so I assumed the same would be true for the PC and I don’t preorder because I’ve been getting review copies for the past several years. As it turns out, Treyarch decided to open the PS4 beta up to everyone before it came to an end and on the PC if you had bought any of the last three CoD titles then you qualified for the beta on that platform. In short, getting into the beta for Black Ops III was way easier than anyone expected. The beta was released on Tuesday evening (I considered it a birthday present) so I downloaded it and got a couple of games in before bed. Then I spent a good chunk of last night playing it and now I think I have a pretty good feeling of what it’ll be like even though it’s currently a beta.

At first the game was surprisingly ugly until I figured out that it had set all of the graphics options to their lowest levels by default. I don’t know if it does this for everyone or it was just that unimpressed with my gaming rig, but a few adjustments here and there and I got it looking halfway decent while still maintaining a 50 – 75 frames per second performance. The default keybindings move some of the more important ones (such as weapon switching) to new spots leading to some confusion when you try to bring up your secondary by pressing the 1 key and nothing happens because it’s now the X key. So I had to spend some time remapping some of the keys. Once you get things a little closer to what you’re used to you’ll find that, yep, it feels like another Call of Duty game. That is to say, despite some new trappings and some new abilities, the basic gameplay feels about the same as what you’re used to if you’re a fan of the series.

Which isn’t to say that nothing’s changed. Like Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare, BO3 has revamped the movement system in the game bringing unlimited sprint, boost assisted jumps, swimming, and wall-running ala Titanfall. It’s also now possible to fire your gun at all times whether you’re in the water, mantling a wall, or wall-running. I won’t get into my opinions on this just yet — that’ll come later when I review the release version — but it definitely makes the game more run and gun than it used to be.

The one opinion I will share right now is that the thing I was most worried about, the addition of “specialists” with a bonus ability/weapon they can activate every so often, doesn’t seem to be as disruptive as I thought it was going to be. Yes, the abilities/weapons are very powerful, but so far they seem to only be available two to four times in any given match. Here’s some gameplay footage I captured of one my my better rounds to give you an idea of what it’s like:

At the moment I’m definitely intrigued. It helps that the folks at Treyarch are much more responsive to fans who play on the PC than Sledgehammer Games was. Not only are they doing a beta on the PC, but the lead developer is on Twitter soliciting feedback and answering questions. I couldn’t get anyone from SG to answer any questions before or after AW was released. The PC version of AW was plagued with problems and SG did little to address them and as a result the player count dropped dramatically within the first two weeks of the game’s release. I still play it occasionally, but it’s one of the few CoD titles that hasn’t held my interest. I’m actually playing more Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 1 than I am Advanced Warfare these days. I don’t know yet that BO3 will be my new favorite, but it’s already doing better than AW.

 

Happy 48th birthday to me.

Today I have somehow managed to reach my 48th year and, despite all my bad lifestyle choices, I’m still relatively healthy. I’m getting to the age where birthdays start to become days of reflection which is something I’ve never been all that good at, but there are certain truths about my life that are starting to become apparent.

samualjacksonnarrate

For example, I realize that I will probably never be a published author. At least, not of a book of any kind. Part of the reason I started my blog 14 years ago was to practice writing and, while I’ve definitely improved over the years, I’ll never be able to come up with an idea for more than a short story or two. I used to write short stories often when I was younger, but these days the inspiration comes very infrequently. I know a couple of people who are pretty big writers who seem to be able to pump out volumes of prose with little effort and who have a large fanbase, but I will never be one of those people. They are all remarkably well-read and are familiar with large numbers of other authors. I’m very picky about my fiction reading and as a result I’m not as familiar with the tropes and traditions of my favorite genre — science fiction — to really contribute anything to it. When I first had this realization it bothered me a little because it was something I long thought I would do, but these days I’ve come to accept it.

I also realize that I’ve already hit the peak of my career and will never hit that high again. In part because I will always be a break-fix IT guy. Moving up to just about anything else would require a college degree and I’m not going to get one of those anytime soon. Or it would require I go into management and I’ve never wanted that either. Despite working in a position that is perpetually considered entry-level, I’m good at it and I enjoy it. I get paid alright for what I do — just a little under the industry mean which means there’s room for raises — but it’s never going to reach a six figure level. It took 20+ years as a contractor before a company hired me directly and it’ll probably be the last one to ever do so. I wouldn’t recommend my method of career decision making to anyone and, honestly, I’ve been damned lucky in spite of myself. At this point I probably won’t be retiring unless I manage to hit a lotto jackpot.

Lastly, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will never own my own home. We came closest to realizing that goal last year and it didn’t happen and I don’t suspect I’ll be in a position financially to try again for quite some time. This is one of the few things that make me feel like a bit of a failure because so many of my friends and family have somehow managed to accomplish this, but I can’t seem to figure it out. I ended up deciding not to worry about it anymore. I have a roof over my head, there’s food on the table, and a wonderful woman that I spend each day with. Not to mention two of the best cats this world has ever seen. We seem to be able to make wherever we end up into a happy home and that’s all I really need.

My apologies if this seems like a bit of a downer, but I’m up very early today because of nightmares I had last night and I probably should’ve waited until the coffee kicks in a bit more before trying to write about my latest birthday. All of that said, I’m still breathing and there are a lot of people who seem to appreciate having me around and, in my own small way, I’m contributing something to the world. I’m fortunate to know a lot of people who have had stunning success in their career and lives and I’m often amazed at the people who stop to see what I have to say. I’ll never be a big fish in this pond we call life, but at least I’m still swimming.

Who knows? Maybe that sudden flash of inspiration will finally happen and I’ll become a huge success. Until then I’ll keep plugging along pretending I know what I’m doing.

John Oliver takes on Televangelists by setting up his own church.

A lot of people assume that, as an atheist, I have a problem with folks believing in God and going to church. The truth is so long as you’re not hurting anyone else or passing laws based solely on what you think your God wants, I generally don’t give a shit if you spend your Sundays dressed in uncomfortable clothes at your local church taking communion or speaking in tongues or whatever other silly rituals your particular belief system engages in. I spend my Sundays doing laundry and playing video games so it’s not like I’m being all that much more productive. Do I think your beliefs are stupid and a waste of time and money? Yes, yes I do, but if it makes you happy and keeps you from climbing a clock tower with a high powered rifle then you go right ahead and keep on believin’.

That said, there’s one part of Christianity that I have a big problem with and that’s the Televangelists. Particularly those who push the concept of Prosperity Theology or, as it’s more commonly known, Prosperity Gospel. To skeptics and many other Christians it’s often referred to as Greed-Based Theology. For those not familiar with this particular variation of Christianity, prepare to have your skin crawl:

If it weren’t for the religious trappings these guys would be referred to as con-artists and would be liable for all manner of legal trouble, both civil and criminal. Yet wrap it all up in the shroud of Jesus and it becomes perfectly legal. The IRS, already hated by most people, won’t even glance in the direction of most of these “churches” for fear of bringing down the wrath of the righteous.

My cynical side tells me that if there are people so stupid that they can’t see this nonsense for the scam it is then they deserve to be fleeced by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but my better nature gets angry that these, often desperate, people are having their faith taken advantage of. This is also why I have problems with the whole concept of spiritual faith. When you can believe something is true with no actual evidence to support that belief then you’re ripe for plucking by those who would manipulate that faith. It bothers me that those who can least afford it are often the ones who get most sucked into these scams.

Which brings us back to John Oliver who it appears is attempting not so much to shut down these churches as prod the IRS into scrutinizing them more closely. I’m already of the opinion that all churches should be taxed just like the rest of us, but it’d be nice if the IRS at least looked into the ones who are flagrantly abusing their flocks to amass great amounts of wealth. If there aren’t any laws in place to regulate this sort of thing, then perhaps it’s high time we had some.

The claim that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery is false.

The recent brouhaha over the Confederate flag after the mass shooting by Dylan Roof of black members of a Charleston church brought out a lot of old arguments about the Civil War by folks defending the flag. The most common of which is the claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. A claim that is clearly wrong to anyone who has spent much time studying American history.

In a (possibly vain) attempt to settle the matter, the folks at Prager University enlisted the aid of Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, to speak on the topic:

That explanation is simple and concise and is something you can share with your crazy right-wing uncle the next time he starts ranting about slavery not being the reason the Civil War happened. It probably won’t convince him because those folks tend to be immune to reality, but at least you can save some typing.

Updated to add: This video should be particularly persuasive to Conservatives given that Prager University is the brainchild of Conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager. So this isn’t the work of one of us wussy liberals, but of one of your own.

Cuddles finds the Christmas bows.

Our orange tabby cat, Cuddles, is very playful and surprisingly smart. He knows where we keep all his favorite toys and he’ll often seek them out to bring to us when he wants to play. One of his all-time favorite things to play with are the bows that go on gifts. Anne did some tidying up of the computer room yesterday and made the mistake of letting cuddles see where she put a few stray bows and ribbon.

This is the result:

Cuddles love of gift bows is so deep that we often find a ton of them under the couch when we move it to clean. In fact, when the movers picked up the couch to carry it out to the truck back when we moved at the end of May we found a ton of bows that Cuddles had shoved under it. Not only that, but there was a tear in the in fabric cover under the couch that had collected quite a few of the bows so as the guys carried the couch out the door and to the truck they left a trail of Christmas bows behind them like some weird variation on Hansel and Gretel. It was still dropping bows as they carried it into the new apartment. I don’t know if we managed to get all of them out of it.

Pat Robertson tells viewer to try to get atheist grandkid enrolled in Christian school.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and its signature show The 700 Club, has a long record of saying douchey things. So much so that I rarely comment on them anymore, but this one was particularly aggravating.

In a segment where he replies to letters from viewers he responds to one from a grandmother concerned that her grandkid is being raised as an atheist by his father so she’s seeking Pat’s advice on what to do about it. Pat’s idea? Try to get the kid away from the atheist parent and into a Christian school or a vacation Bible school.

Christians pitch a fit everytime Richard Dawkins says that he feels parents shouldn’t force their religion on their kids, but I’ve never heard Dawkins suggest that someone should actively try to get a child away from a parent intent on indoctrinating them. If he had you’d never hear the end of it.

If you’re going to argue that Christians, or members of any other faith, should have the right to raise their kids in their faith then the same should be true for atheists. Pat Robertson should’ve told that grandmother to mind her own business, but that would’ve been only fair. He’s not interested in fair, he’s only concerned with spreading Christianity as far as he can before he kicks the bucket because he thinks it’ll earn him extra whipped cream on his Sundaes in heaven or something. He also knows that if you can hook ’em when they’re young they’re more likely to stay with it as adults. To many Christians children are like Pokemon: Gotta catch ’em all.

 

And now, your deep thought of the day.

snowflake-friends

This is totally true. I’ve tested it.

Nothing worse than an aging I.T. nerd.

WDHDsaleI’m sitting in my cube at work this morning going through my daily routine of checking my work and personal email when I come across an ad from Newegg.com that includes the item over on the right. A 1TB Western Digital HD for a little under $50.

As it is my habit to try and get other people to spend money on stuff they don’t need, I engage in a ritual of reading off this deal to my cubemate who is roughly eleven years older than I am. We both stop to marvel at this price because we’re both old enough to remember life before hard drives.

At this point he pulls out a dry erase marker and starts to write things down on his whiteboard. Back in the day he used to sell computers for a living and he can remember that in 1984 a 10MB hard drive went for about $500. In today’s dollars that comes out to around $1,148.48.  A 10MB drive is equal to about 0.000009536743164063 terabytes. To put it another way, the cost per MB of that 10MB drive in today’s dollars works out to around $114.85. The price per MB of a 1TB drive in today’s dollars is roughly 0.00005.

I can remember a time when us computer nerds spoke of a one terabyte hard drive in hushed, reverent tones as though describing a unicorn. A fantastic, mythical thing that could exist, but probably never would and if it ever did surely it would be so fantastically expensive that we’d never afford one in our lifetime. Oh, but if we did get our hands on one we’d never need another hard drive again cause there’s no way we’d ever fill it up! Just imagine having a hard drive you’d hand down to your children and them to their children and even then it’d probably take another generation of kids to come close to filling it up!

You know you’re getting old when you waste time figuring shit like this out and then shaking your head at how spoiled kids are these days.

Addendum: The first computer I ever bought with my own money was my venerable Amiga 1000. I got a job at McDonalds and took out my first ever loan from a credit union to pay for it. The machine itself cost $1,295 at launch and the CRT monitor was another $300 bringing the total to $1,595 not including sales tax. In today’s dollars that works out to $3,537.43. That boggles my mind.

I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian.

In the previous entry I discussed a little about how, generally, most folks become more Conservative as they age. This brought to mind the Political Compass test which attempts to establish where you fall in the Liberal/Conservative/Authoritarian/Libertarian scale. I first took the test in 2004 and while I didn’t blog about it at the time I did post it as an image on SEB.

To give an idea of what it attempts to do, here’s their sample graph that plots out where a few famous historical people fall on the scale:

axeswithnames

When I first took the test my score was Economic Left/Right -4.62 and Social Libertarian/Authoritarian -4.92 which would place me down around Gandhi on the chart above.

I retook the test in January of 2012 to see if I’d grown more Conservative like you’re supposed to do when you get older. Here’s that graph:

I’m becoming even more of a Republican’s worst nightmare.

Clearly I was the exception to the rule. It’s been another 3 years since and I’m coming up on my 48th birthday so surely I’m starting to reverse the trend by now, right?

Uh…

If I keep going at this rate they're going to need a bigger graph. 

If I keep going at this rate they’re going to need a bigger graph. 

Thus proving that the idea people become more Conservative as they age is a generalization. I blame my open mindedness and curiosity, both factors psychologists have identified as contributing to a liberal political outlook. If it seems like I’ve been getting worse in my liberal viewpoint over the years, you now have evidence that it’s not just your imagination.

SEB Mailbag: “What went wrong with my dad” edition.

I received this email from J a couple of days ago and I’ve been mulling it over trying to come up with a decent answer. Here’s what he wrote:

I will try not to bore you to death. My father raised us well. We do not discriminate, race is a non issue with us. My brother married an Indian, and I married a Puerto Rican. I’m going to move forward to speed along…

Today my  father is an angry man. He is angry at all the wrong things. He blames Obama for just about everything and is scared and paranoid. He has many guns which he displays daily. He supports open carry. He says racist remarks and incessantly complains about immigrants, although his own parents moved here from Europe, which he hates! He goes to church but displays hateful rhetoric and attitudes daily. He curses gays and lesbians. He believes the government is after his guns. I would be interested to hear what you think has happened. My mother thinks it is the news he watches. I think it is fox news which my wife has banned from the house. Although I like to watch it to get the others perspective.

Naturally I can only speculate based on a very limited bit of information. Admittedly my first impulse is to say that if he relies mainly on FOX News for information then that may have a lot to do with it, but it’s far from the only reason. They say that most folks tend to grow more conservative as they age and perhaps that’s what has happened here. You don’t mention how often you interact with him these days so it’s also possible you’re seeing only one aspect of him these days. Obama winning the election brought out a lot of otherwise hidden bigotry among the populace so perhaps that played a part in it.

Again, not having known the man myself I can only provide guesses. I have family and friends who took a turn to the far Right as they got older and I’ve never been able to fully figure out why. I mentioned just recently that I’ve gone as far as to unfriend one relative because they were getting upset at my attempts to discuss their conservative postings to Facebook. People I’d once admired are often hard to stay in contact with these days due to the views they espouse. You could argue that I’ve become more Liberal as I’ve gotten older and I’m sure it’s just as confusing to the Conservative folks who’ve known me a for a long time.

angryconservatives

There’s an interesting article over at Psychology Today from October of last year in which they discuss some of the reasons some folks become more Conservative as they get older. They include:

  1. Personality: “people differ in their typical levels of curiosity, and these differences have been attributed to the broader personality trait of Openness to Experience.”
  2. Judgement: “in particular information-processing capacity.”
  3. Familiarity: “as we grow older, our experiences become more constrained and predictable.”

The point of curiosity is one I can relate to. I’ve always been an intensely curious person and I’m sure that’s a big factor in why I became an atheist. From the article, here’s the full text from the segment on personality:

Indeed, a review (link is external) of 92 scientific studies shows that intellectual curiosity tends to decline in old age, and that this decline explains (link is external) age-related increases in conservatism. At any age, people differ in their typical levels of curiosity, and these differences have been attributed to the broader personality trait of Openness to Experience. Higher levels of Openness have been associated not only with aesthetic and cultural interests, but also with a general tendency to seek emotionally stimulating and adrenalizing activities (e.g., from scuba diving to bungee jumping; from drugs to unprotected sex). Furthermore, open people are also more likely to display counter-conformist attitudes, challenge the status quo and disrespect authority. Although these qualities make high Openness a potential threat to society, Openness is also the source of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as an intellectual antidote to totalitarianism, injustice and prejudice.

The article admits it’s a generalization and doesn’t apply to all people (obviously not in my case). There’s another article from last year over at Bloomberg.com that adds another reason why some folks become more Conservative as they age: Having kids.

Contrary to popular belief, paying taxes, accumulating wealth, and being in the 1 percent or the 99 percent are extremely poor predictors of left-right political orientation. According to American National Election Studies, an academically run survey project, the correlation between family income and party identification for U.S. voters in the 2012 presidential election was a mere 0.13. This weak statistical relationship is typical of past elections.

There is one life event, though, that greatly accelerates a person’s shift to the right, and it often occurs in the 30s: parenthood. Its political impact is easy to see among a cohort of Canadian college students studied by psychologist Robert Altemeyer. Their scores on an ideology test at age 22 grew more conservative by an average of 5.4 percent when they were retested at 30. But among those 30-year-olds who’d had children, conservatism increased by 9.4 percent.

In the case of your dad, J, it’s possible that his shift to the far right is just a natural consequence of him getting older. It’s also possible that it’s been exacerbated by the media he consumes and the people he surrounds himself with. There’s also the possibility that your perception of his Conservatism is heightened by the difference in your ages (and thus where you both are in terms of your political viewpoints).

Which of the above is the actual reason for it? I haven’t a clue. It could be that it’s a combination of all of those things. With any luck perhaps I’ve given you a pointer in the right direction to help figure it out.