Archives November 2006

iTunes Podcast Problem Solved

I’d been having an annoying problem in iTunes 7.0.2: although I’d set the podcast preferences to “Keep: Last 5 episodes”, it was still keeping old episodes around, long after they should have been deleted.

After rooting around in Apple’s discussion fora, the solution turned out to be:

  1. Select “Podcasts” in the left bar
  2. Select everything with Apple-A
  3. Right-click (or Ctrl-click, for a one-button mouse) on the mass of selected episodes, and select “Allow Auto Delete”

When I next updated the podcasts, it deleted the old episodes, just as it should have. Presumably some podcasts or episodes got marked as “Do Not Auto Delete” somehow, perhaps when I upgraded iTunes, or moved stuff from the old Mac.

The annoying part is that there’s no indication in iTunes that Auto Delete has been disabled. That seems like just the sort of UI thing that Apple would have added, given that there are a zillion other status indicators.

Update, Dec. 2, 2006: Apparently when you click the “Get” button to manually download a podcast episode, it is automatically (and invisibly) marked as “do no auto delete”.

Typically this happens to me when I subscribe to a new podcast: iTunes downloads the latest episode automatically, but I normally download several more, in case I like it. Those episodes don’t get deleted automatically.

Hovind Prison Update

On Monday, a
new post
appeared on Kent Hovind’s weblog, describing life in jail. As you might expect, he plays the Christian persecution card. He also has a list of reasons God allowed him to be sent to jail. Oddly enough, neither “I’m guilty” nor “there are no gods” is on the list.

He also writes,

If the case is not reversed, I face anywhere from parole to 7 to 12 years.

This is a man who believes that the Earth is 6000 years old when in fact it’s 4.5 billion years old. So presumably that means that he’s looking at between 5.25 and 9 million years in prison.

Pascal’s Condom


Either God exists, or he doesn’t.

If God exists, and you have a child, then that child will wind up either in Heaven or in Hell.

If God doesn’t exist, then your children won’t go to either.

Therefore, if God exists and you have children, then you risk letting a soul go to Hell for eternal torture.

Therefore, it’s best not to have children.

The Evolutionary Basis of Religion and Consciousness

Daniel Dennett has proposed what he calls the
intentional stance, which is basically the way that when we interact with other people or animals (and sometimes things), we act as if there’s a mind there that intends to behave in a certain way. If confronted with an angry dog, we behave as if that dog is an agent that intends to do us harm or to chase us off of its property, rather than, say as if it were a machine for barking.

We humans are good at this. In fact, one of the things our minds are very good at is modeling other minds. It’s easy to see why this would have arisen: it’s very useful to be able to predict how elements of one’s environment are going to behave, whether those elements are bricks, trees, tigers, or other people. Animals, whether predators, prey, domestic animals, or companions, often behave as if they have a mind that wants things, pursues goals, and avoids harm. This is even more true of people. So being able to predict how a herd of antelope will react to a sudden noise, or how a woman will react to a gift, provides an evolutionary advantage, and would have been selected for.

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Well, Crap

The Baltimore Sun
that after the vote-counting was completed, right-wing
religious nutjob
assclown and
reanimated corpse
Don Dwyer
was reelected to the state legislature by 28 votes. I don’t live in Anne Arundel county, so I couldn’t make that 26.

(Update: Can someone explain why the first Google result for
reanimated corpse” points to State Farm’s site?)

Those Who Do Not Remember the Dictionary Definition Are Condemned to Mangle It

I’ve started hearing the phrase “actionable
being used as a five-dollar synonym for “useful information”, particularly in the context of the debate on how to rebrand torture to make it seem acceptable.

Am I the only one to have noticed the irony here? In case everyone forgot, the first definition of
means “something you can get sued over”. This is not generally considered a Good Thing.

Two Story Ideas

Feel free to steal, though if anything comes of it I’d be interested in hearing about it:

Neurobiologists investigate the biological causes behind religious ecstasy, and geneticists and developmental biologists identify the genes involved in building this phenomenon and the areas of the brain responsible for it. A CAT or PET scan can reveal people in whom this area is not well-formed, and a genetic test can identify fetuses that will grow up into adults incapable of achieving this ecstatic state.

Religious extremist (Taliban?) consider such a condition a sign that the person has been cursed with separation from God, and start killing the people and aborting fetuses with “cursed” genes.

Scientists come up with not one, but two Theories of Everything. They explain all known physical phenomena equally well, but are not equivalent. Further, more refined experiments fail to falsify either theory.

Eventually, it turns out that this is a feature, not a bug. One can imagine playing Conway’s game of Life with different sets of rules. Some allow too much or too little growth, and the board quickly dissolves into either all black or all white. Other sets of rules bring about too much flipping, and the board becomes chaotic, with no permanent structures. The rich, interesting game that we know strikes a balance between order and chaos.

Likewise, in order for the laws of physics to allow a universe as rich and complex as ours, they have to fulfill a set of mathematical constraints. One of these, it turns out, is that not only must the laws be balanced between order (an empty universe or a big crunch) and chaos (lack of stable structures like protons, molecules, or galaxies), but that there will always be at least two models that explain all phenomena, and no test carried out inside the universe can ever differentiate the two.

Churches Dig In, Refuse to Be Dragged Into 20th Century

Today’s Washington Post has an
about three Christian groups who’ve come out and taken a courageous stand against equality, tolerance, and understanding:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, meeting in Baltimore, declared Tuesday that Catholics who minister to gays must firmly adhere to the church’s teaching that same-sex attractions are "disordered." Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be encouraged to live in chastity and discouraged from making "general public announcements" about their sexual orientation, the bishops said.

The largest Baptist group in North Carolina, meanwhile, moved to expel any congregation that condones homosexuality, adopting a policy that allows the Baptist State Convention to investigate complaints that member churches are too "gay-friendly."

And on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination with about 3 million members, will put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

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Another Refutation of the Ontological Argument

Let’s define the Ultimate Plague as the deadliest plague imaginable. You can no doubt imagine some terrible bacterium that can kill the entire population of the earth, humans and animals, in a matter of hours. Now, if two diseases are identical except that one is imaginary and the other is real, then clearly the imaginary one cannot be the Ultimate Plague, because imaginary diseases aren’t deadly; only real diseases are deadly. Therefore, the Ultimate Plague is real. QED.

That this argument is a load of bollocks is made clear by the fact that we’re still alive. But it follows the same logic as Thomas Aquinas’s ontological argument for the existence of God, so therefore that argument must be a load of bollocks as well.

Dinosaur Pr0n!

Someone on asked how dinosaurs had sex. One of the replies pointed to
this Straight Dope column, which mentions
a painting by Luis Rey of carnotaurs having sex, which I’ve reproduced here for your enjoyment and edification. (See also this article in Cosmos.)

Apparently the late paleontologist Beverly Halstead did some research in the area of dinosaur sex, but apparently he couldn’t come up with anything conclusive. A major problem is that animals’ naughty bits also tend to be soft bits, which means they don’t fossilize easily, so we’re not sure what dinosaurs’ reproductive organs looked like. The best guess I’ve seen is that, like birds, they had a cloaca, basically an all-purpose rear orifice for eliminating urine and feces, laying eggs, and emitting sperm. So most likely dinosaurs didn’t distinguish between “regular” sex and anal sex.

(Update: PZ Myers informs me that like Carol, Chris, and Leslie, Beverly is a man’s name. Thanks for the correction.)