Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to delete iTunes U files from iPod and other issues

The most read post on this blog is the one (actually there are several) about how to remove iTunesU files from your iPod. Until the recent upgrade to iTunes 11 that was a major problem. The great news is that with iTunes 11, this problem is finally taken care of.

Until now, iTunesU files would simply not show on the iPod, within iTunes and consequently they could not be deleted. Now, iTunesU has received its own -long in coming- folder as shown to the right. In there the files can be found and, provided you manually manage your iPod, can be at will deleted. In case you do not manually manage the pod, naturally the synchronization with iTunes will take care of that - as was one of the previously suggested solutions.

One more thing (or two)...

Of the five previously suggested solutions the two last methods were full-proof and both entailed a certain way of dealing with the iPod and with the subscription. I would like to point out that these approaches are still valid within iTunes 11.

1- Synchronize your iPod to iTunes.
I used to prefer to manually manage the pod, but in order to evade the iTunesU problem I have gotten used to letting iTunes synch my pod. It is still a valid way of dealing with the pod. You have to carefully select as what to synchronize. Generally I would not sync ALL music and not even ALL podcasts and iTunesU, but rather a selection, or a couple of specific playlists I manage centrally on iTunes.

2- Subscribe to iTunesU feeds as podcast
Copy the URL from the iTunesU section and then use the subscribe to podcast by URL method to subscribe. In my humble opinion, iTunesU series are not different from podcasts, so why not have them in that category and organize all of them together? This used to make sense, regardless of the deletion problem and therefore continues to be so. Do you have a problem finding the 'subscribe to podcast by URL' method in iTunes 11? So did I - I'll write about it in my next post.

As a last remark...

I have had an iPod nano since 2006 and have been using iTunes to manage the audio on my pod since. Once upon a time, iTunesU feeds were simply podcast feeds and the management was no different from podcast files. Somewhere around the release of iTunes 8 or 9, iTunesU got its strange state, since when the files are neither completely like podcast files nor completely like music files or audiobook files, for that matter. I first ran into the problem with the removal of those files from the pod early in 2010 and the endlessly requested post I wrote about it dates from August that year. So it has taken Apple two and a half years to solve this issue, which seems way too simple and way too critical to have had to take this amount of time.

This issue is only one of the examples of my frustration with iTunes and I am sure I am not the only one who is a disgruntled iTunes user. Before I go write about what I find wrong with iTunes, I'll have to write about the podcast subscription. Stand by.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Our brain dichotomies - Saeed Ahmed

Here is another guest-post written by Saeed Ahmed:

Have you ever thought about the question “Who am I?” or the question “Why do I do the things I do?”

On the surface, perhaps these seem trivial questions, and yet they have been discussed by philosophers for thousands of years, with no firm answers, and the dialog continues.

Modern neuroscience has reached a point that it can in some ways inform this dialog. Three recent podcast interviews, based on books written for lay audiences, illuminate slightly different aspects of the debate, provide some answers, and raise many more questions.

Two dichotomies are emphasized in these podcasts; conscious and unconscious mental processing, and the functions of the left and right hemispheres.

Each author has been interviewed several times, and I have posted below links for sessions with three very experienced interviewers.

David Eagleman, interviewed by Terry Gross, is a neuroscientist and talks about a competition for attention among the myriad of neural processes (central, peripheral, sympathetic, parasympathetic) that we all possess. Volition and action occur on the basis of which processes “win.” Virtually all of the competition occurs unconsciously. In a way, Eagleman provides an organic basis for what an aspect of “unconscious: may be. In the latter part of the book, he discusses implications of this, including those for our legal systems. Fresh Air - (feed)

Daniel Kahneman, interviewed by Leonard Lopate, is a nobel-prize winner in economics. While this may seem a bit odd (why economics; isn’t that about supply and demand curves, utility functions and mathematical models?), it isn’t really, because aspects of behavior, particularly “non-rational” behavior, are becoming very important in economics research, as it has become more and more apparent that participants in markets often do not act as rationally as traditional models have assumed. Kahneman describes two neural systems: one that operates quickly with virtually no sense of voluntary control and a second that allocates attention to effortful activities. He too speculates about legal implications, e.g. the effect of judicial decisions on whether judges are hungry or have just eaten. Leonard Lopate Show - Feed

Kahneman also wrote an article on the same subject matter as his book for Scientific American, which can be accessed here.

My favorite interview of the three, was of Iain McGilchrist a British psychiatrist, who sat with Phillip Adams of Australia’s Radio National, who discusses the implications of the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy. The left-right dichotomy is just as fundamental as the conscious-unconscious one (although both ultimately are reductionist). Briefly summarized, just as one may hypothesize that the phenomena of perception/conception/volition/action are determined in some way by a competition between multiple unconscious processes, so too may one say that these phenomena occur due to states generated by the cooperative/competitive “discussion” between the two “persons” who exist inside us, and very different persons they are, apparently. McGilchrist goes beyond mechanistic explanations, and it is his foray into the implications of this dichotomy that I found quite compelling, speculative though they might be. The basic hypothesis he puts forth is that due to a predominance of left-dominant thinking, certain tendencies of western civilization have become damaging. In his own words (from his book’s introduction):
“Here I suggest that it is as if the left hemisphere, which creates a sort of self-reflexive virtual world, has blocked off the available exits, the ways out of the hall of mirrors, into a reality which the right hemisphere could enable us to understand. In the past, this tendency was counterbalanced by forces from outside the enclosed system of the self-conscious mind; apart from the history incarnated in our culture, and the natural world itself, from both of which we are increasingly alienated, these were principally the embodied nature of our existence, the arts and religion. In our time each of these has been subverted and the routes of escape from the virtual world have been closed off. An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness, has come about, reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere.”
Right/Left brain speculations, in books and blog posts on the hidden power of the right brain, are becoming quite fashionable, but they sometimes overstate the implications of the evidence they put forth to support their claims. Gilchrist advocates balance between the left and the right hemispheres. It is always hard to judge how far one may speculate, given any line of evidence, and I don’t think Gilchrist went too far, but not everyone may see his suppositions about social and humanistic issues well-grounded in research in this area. But few will fault his effort to reach this far.

More about the three books can be found at Amazon, Wikipedia (thinking fast and slow) (the master and his emissary).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The playlist these days

While I have virtually stopped blogging about podcasts, I am still listening. There are a couple of podcasts I keep following and here is a list.

The Early Middle Ages - Yale course. (iTunesU)
I have done this course before, but I was caught by it again. The reason I pick up certain history podcasts is because I want to wrap my mind around something. The point that was brought to my attention first by Europe from its origins is that the Roman Empire did not 'fall' in 476. Even if that was clear to anyone who was aware that it proceeded as the Byzantine Empire, which finally fell in 1453, an additional point is how Western Europe kept on developing at the hand of the Church, not being the Roman Empire, but also, in many ways as a continuation of it in its own way. The overall question being, how much western society can be coherently taken as one culture and as such be regarded as Roman.

A new podcast I have taken up is The History of World War II by Ray Harris. This is an amateur podcast which takes on the vast and unwieldy task of telling the entire history of WW2, which professionals do not begin to tackle. The result is very interesting shedding light on some less familiar parts such as Mussolini's rise in Italy. It pays ample attention to the nuts and bolts of the military campaigns in the war, which have to be to your liking of course. (feed)

Other podcasts I stick with are The China History podcast - which just finished a series about the history of Hong Kong (feed) - and David Crowther's History of England (feed). Needless to say, I also persist in listening to each week's issue of BBC's In Our Time (feed).

Apart from having a writer's block (I feel I am repeating myself on the blog and cannot bring myself to continue repeating), I also find that with the latest upgrade of iTunes, a crucial feature has been removed: the advanced subscribing to podcasts. That seems like a minor change, but I find it has great meaning and implication and first of all renders irrelevant almost all of the feed links I have been posting over the past years - 2000+ posts hurt, ouch!

I would like to revive this blog. I love to write about audio on the web, but I have to find a new way of doing it. Feel free to drop suggestions. In the mean time, I'll be silent, but there will be another guest post by Saeed coming up and maybe I'll give in to a rant about iTunes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Taking courses with Saeed Ahmed

Here is a guest-post written by Saeed Ahmed:

Jean Jacques Rousseau “was a charlatan,” a “moral leach,” who “consciously set out to tickle the fancy of the cultural elite in France.”  Hegel “used technical terminology but wasn’t sure what he meant”; “he thought that the way to greatness was through obfuscation.”   “Nobody invented jargon with the viciousness and vengeance of Kant.” 
Containing such declarations, it is not surprising that Ronald Nash’s course on Modern Philosophy gets mixed reviews on itunes.
Nash (who died in 2006) was an unapologetic Christian apologetic.  His lectures are full of attacks on moral relativism, modernism, post-modernism, enlightenment thinking, and just about anything that does not conform to his absolute, foundational belief in the Christian God.  
When it comes to worldview, there is virtually nothing that I find appealing in Dr. Nash’s ideas.  Nevertheless I found his course compelling at 3 levels. 
First, he has a surprisingly engaging style; he is not bashful, neutral or balanced.   You know exactly where he is coming from.  His is a full frontal assault on virtual all liberal ideas.  This is strangely refreshing and a change from the nuanced and “balanced” presentations in many lecture courses.  Agree with him or not, he will capture your attention.  His view is a full, undiluted measure of unabashed fundamentalist thought. There are no hidden levers; it’s all visible.  
Second, his summaries of philosophers, while reductionist, are quite pithy and at least to my non-professional view, accurate enough to be good introductions.   His basic approach is often something like “this guy was an idiot, but here are the three points he made” and then he lists them very systematically.  For Kant he summarizes: “Concepts without percepts are empty; Percepts without concepts are blind.”  Further, “Kant integrated rationalism and empiricism…rationalism entered Kant’s system because it encompassed the apriori set of categories with which experience was worked upon “; “With the categories, our minds organize percepts in ways that produce knowledge.”  Kant put “human mind at the center”.  “The reason we are conscious of space and time is not just because we apprehend something out there, but because our minds contribute notions of space and time to what we see.”  “There are 12 apriori categories (such as unity, equality, and causation) that allow the mind to organize and relate ideas.” “Laws of nature are in a way a product of the knowing mind.” “We believe x causes y because our minds force us think in this way.”  “We are never conscious of raw percepts; the moment we become conscious, of a raw percept, it has already been acted upon by the knowing mind; it has been given a structure, organization and a set of relationships.” “We cannot have knowledge of what we cannot perceive, thus we cannot know knowledge of our self” (the unifying transcendental self).
Category (apriori) -> Concept (direct object of human awareness) -> unified coherent field (transcendental unity of apperception). 
Not bad.  I am not a professional philosopher, and I would be very curious to know what people who really know the subject well think of Nash’s summaries.
Third, it is kind of fun to listen to someone who is confident enough to unabashedly bash some of the greatest minds of the last few thousand years.   Wrong or right (and usually wrong, I would submit), this is just plain fun to listen to at times.
If Nash leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and a ringing in your ears, I recommend four  antidotes:  1) Peter Milican’s general philosophy introduction (available in audio and video from Oxford), 2) Mythology by Gail Lavender, 3) episode 328 of Shrink Rap radio featuring an interview with the extremely erudite Dutch Jungian Analyst Robert Bosnak and 4)  and Buddhist Psychology by Eleanor Rosch.
Unlike Nash’s survey course, Dr. Milican’s is much more balanced and accurate.

In Lavender’s course, I particularly direct you to the lecture on psychological theories of mythology, in which she mentions the dictum “dreams are the myths of the individual; myths are the dreams of the race”, then goes on to explain this using concepts developed by Freud and Jung. 

In the Shrink Rap podcast (#328), Bosnak discusses the astonishing Red Book of Carl Jung (that was published in 2009 for the first time) and in a very short time.   He mentions a plausible hypothesis about why religious fundamentalism is so prevalent these days.

In the Buddhist Psychology course, Rosch demonstrates how in many ways, she is the polar opposite of Nash.  Her style is generous, open, non-judgmental, liberal, and compassionate.  She has a very deep knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and modern psychology, so is able to discuss the former, and place the latter in its context, and vice versa.   I would recommend starting this course from the beginning, but if time is limited, then skip ahead and listen first to the third lecture, where a specific form of meditation is introduced.  I have been doing this, and have noticed changes in me after only a few days. 

These courses complement each other.  Listening to lectures from all contemporaneously really blows one’s mind due to the sheer breadth of material that creates conflicts and tensions in one’s understanding and perspectives.  

Saeed Ahmed

More Saeed Ahmed:
Optimizing Brain Fitness,
Political and current affairs podcasts,
International Political Economy,
A podcast on climate, energy and food,
Two podcasts on the brain.