Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

23 December 2005

Tim Beidel: Gadget Freak

Who knew? I was drinking a cup of tea this morning when what to my wondering eyes did appear but my old co-worker Tim Beidel [blog] on the front page of the Portland Press Herald. He is apparently an avowed gadget freak. When we worked together at DeLorme he was the Webmaster for our site and the best front-end technologies tinkerer around. He and I worked many a long night on DeLorme's web mapping software. He always did a great job bridging the artistic/technology gap, so it good to see him thriving at ViA and landing a spot on the front page of the paper. Congrats, Tim!

Bottling Odd Codger

Tom, Chris and I brewed an Old Peculiar knockoff back at the end of the October (recipe). After eight weeks in the fermenter bubbling its way to perfection, the time had come to bottle. We three met again in the basement last Tuesday to bottle the beer. I brought along some authentic Old Peculiar and a 750ml bottle of Samuel Adam's new beer "Imperial Pilsner". A taste comparison between the beer we made and the real stuff showed our beer to have less complexity and more of a grainy taste. Time in the bottle will smooth out some of these defects and bring complexity to the beer. We plan to leave the beer alone until after Tom is out of the East, coming at the end of February.

The Imperial Pilsner [beeradvocate] [Boston Phoenix] is an incredible beer, being made in limited quantities by Samuel Adams. If you love hops, then this beer is for you! There was hop-saturated sediment at the bottom of the bottom which leaves quite a stinging sensation in your nose.

22 December 2005

My Masonic Biography

I was asked, as part of the acceptance of my class proposal to write a "biography" for inclusion on the Maine Masonic College web site. I was once quite proud, perhaps too proud, of my Masonic career. As a newly raised Master Mason my email had a ten line listed of the bodies I participated in and all the offices I then held. A brother from Belgium wrote me with some stern words closing with the question, "Is it not enough to simply be a Brother?" Since that day all of my Masonic correspondance has been closed with "a rough ashlar." It is an expression of my sense of self, "a work in progress" and my sense of my place in Masonry.

Forced to consider what my Masonic biography is, particularly as it relates to my suitability to teach a class on the development of Masonic ritual I suggested, "Just another Mason." Since there is nothing special about me which would recommend people to listen to my thoughts on this subject. I am no Carr or Knoop or McLeod. I am just a simple Freemasonry with a love of history. Unlike Isaac Newton who was a giant on the shoulders of other giants, I am a gnat on the shoulders of giants.

At the end of the day, I am a member of three lodges: Deering Lodge No. 183, Hiram Lodge No. 180 and Triangle Lodge No. 1. My Mother Lodge is Deering, and it is there that I have served as Secretary for about three years. I have been the Worshipful Master of Deering and Triangle and hope one day to serve Hiram in that capacity as well. I went throught the York Rite, but left it after five years because of the pressure to be an officer. I recently joined the Scottish Rite though I still fear what the 30th degree contains. I am trapped as a 16 degree Scottish Rite Mason because I lack the time to travel for the next degree, which is scheduled for Good Friday in my Valley (you will always find me at Mass on Good Friday).

The only skills which recommend me are that I have a reasonably good style of lecturing and I read a great deal. The latter is quite an engaging little riddle. I would venture that my accuracy for lecturing never breaks the 70-80% mark. This might sound high, but I have personally seen brethren stand unprepared an present a 100% accurate lecture, V.W. Bro. Ed Knox of Saccarappa Lodge is one such brother. When I lecture, so I have been told, it sounds like I really mean it. I certainly helps that I do believe what we are teaching, for instance, the Hourglass had a reall affect on my personally when I was learning the Master Mason lecture. When I utter those words I really do mean it with all my heart:

The Hourglass is an emblem of human life, behold how swiftly the sands run and how rapid our lives draw to a close. We cannot, without astonishment, behold the tiny particles contained within this machine. How they pass away almost imperceptible, and yet, within the short space of an hour are all exhausted. Thus wastes man! Today he puts forth the tender leaves of hope. Tomorrow blossoms and bears his blushing honors thick upon him. The next day comes a frost which nips the shoot, and when he thinks his greatness is still aspiring, he falls like Autumn leaves to enrich our Mother Earth.

I will probably feel a small shiver for the rest of my life when I utter those words. It is, however, not enough to believe in something, you have to sound like you believe it. To manage that I practice a lot, often in my car driving to work. When I practice I also use the gestures and inflections I hope to use in lodge. In this way I redeem my lack of accuracy through other means.

As for my reading habits, it is almost funny. Between 1998 and 2003 I read most of the books in the shelves dedicated to the development of Masonic ritual. As I check out the books for my class I find the only name on the borrowing card is my own. Truthfully, the texts tend to be quite dry and there are a limited number of people interested in the historical development of Masonic ritual.

In the end, what would be an appropriate biography for me. I still go with: "Christian A. Ratliff, Freemason, reader, rough ashlar."

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16 December 2005

A Puzzle in Maine Ritual

Now that I am actively working on the Autumn class on the history of Masonic ritual, it brings to mind a core question: "Why does this even matter?" That is to say, why should a person bother to learn the history of Masonic ritual. To answer that, let me tell you a little story. At the 17th District Master Mason School of Instruction, held in November of 2005, the Grand Lecturer, R.W. Bro. Stephen Nichols, brought up a section fo the Entered Apprentice obligation which we all repeat, but few understand:

...that I will always hail, forever conceal, and never reveal...

As Maine Masons we read this in our books as "...th I wi al ha, fo co, an ne re..."[1]. The word in the Grand Lecturer's book is "hail" which has a variety of meanings including "ice...falling from the sky" and "a shout of welcome" as well as others filling an entire page in the OED.[2] This clearly makes no sense in context as the set of words is "hail", "conceal" and "reveal". The only other spelling we can substitute would be "hale," which means "free from defect".[3] It is into this vacuum that the history of Masonic ritual rushes with the Cooke Manuscript. This is the second oldest source of information on Freemasonry and was written around 1440. It is named for Matthew Cooke who translated it around 1861. More skilled Masonic researchers than I believe it to be one of the "Gothic Constitutions" used by Bro. James Anderson in writing "Anderson's Constitutions". The Cooke Manuscript helps us to understand "always hale" as it contains this regulation: [4]

The third [point]. He shall hele the counsel of his fellows in lodge and in chamber, and wherever masons meet.

You can see that the word being used is "hele," which turns out to put us on the right track. The word means "to hide; to cover; to roof" [5], a defininition which is also substantiated by the OED.[6] The line in the obligation now makes sense: "...that I will alwawys hide, forever conceal, and never reveal...". Not only have we learned the meaning of an unusual construction in our ritual, we can also conjecture whether the cipher should have "he" rather than "ha" for that word. Imagine that discussion at your next School of Instruction, lucky for me R.W. Bro. Steve Nichols is a wise brother with a good sense of humor.

As you can see from this tiny issue, knowing the history of the ritual gives us access to the materials and knowledge we require to really break open the ritual and understand it. Now I am off to the Grand Lodge Library to pick up some materials to read over break. I will post another entry soon with my developing bibliography.
  • 1. Official Cipher for Maine 1982, pg. 16
  • 2. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 22
  • 3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary ( http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=hale )
  • 4. Cooke Manuscript, ln. 840-84 ( http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/aqc/cooke.html )
  • 5. Free Online Dictionary ( http://dict.die.net/hele/ )
  • 6. Oxford English Dictionary Vol. V 1961, pg. 199
PS. As a challenge to the many learned Brethren out there. Can anyone identify the earliest use of the hail/conceal/reveal pattern with the same spelling as Maine? As a hint, the use is in an exposure written after the formation of the first Grand Lodge at London.

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Which political sterotype are you?

For once, I found a little test from a blog other than Mike Wilber's. This time I ran into "Which political stereotype are you?" on the Dappled Things blog. I took the test and came up with the result I pretty much expected. In general, I am fairly conservative except in a few key areas, like gay rights, where I fit in a decidedly liberal strata. It just goes to show you, people are complicated...

Republican - You believe that the free market will
take care of most things, but that the
government should be there with moderate
taxation to provide for national defense and
enforcing morality. Your historical role model
is Ronald Reagan.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

11 December 2005

History of Masonic Ritual

It seems that almost every lodge meeting I attend has someone come up and ask me when my class is being offered at the Maine Masonic College. I understand it is scheduled for the Autumn of 2006, which feels like a long time. Of course, a six hour class on the history and development of Masonic ritual is going to take months of painstaking research to build up the core information, then likely an equal amount of time to cull out the inessential material. To help get me started and keep me focused, I plan to start posting my outline as it develops here.

A first pass for an outline is:
  • The three styles of ritual: gothic constitutions, catechism, and lecture.
  • The transition from bigradal (E.A. and F.C.) to trigradal (E.A., F.C. and M.M.).
  • The ways in which the old ritual is exposed to us: minutes, aides-memoire, and exposures.
  • The Antients/Moderns split and its causation/impact with regard to the ritual.
  • Ritual in the United States (Webb working) with a special emphasis on the Baltimore Convention.
You can picture the development of Masonic ritual as a collection of related elements. At its most basic, there is the shift from catechetical system to a lecture system. Even brethren who are not aware of this shift can still discern the very different styles of ritual. The catechetical system is a question and answer style of ritual where the structure or wording of the question helps you to remember the correct answer. For example, in exchanging the pass and the word in Maine ritual, the order "Gi it me." always precedes the pass since it can be simply given, whereas the request "Wi yo gi it me?" always precedes the lettering and dividing of the word since it cannot be exchanged by mere statement. Even though each jurisdiction is slightly different the hallmarks of the catechetical system is still present somewhere. In modern times, these hints are quite helpful to the new Freemason learning their proficiency. In ancient times, these textual hints were the very essence of catechesis and essential to the learning process.

The lecture system is one we are all familiar with. Many of the lectures are the work of a single man, Bro. William Preston, who wrote his famous work "Illustrations on Masonry" at the end of the 18th century. The work of Bro. Preston is stamped all over the face of Maine Ritual. This section of Book 2, Section 4 should be strikingly familiar to any Maine Mason:

Masonry passes under two denominations, operative and speculative. By the former, we allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure derives figure, strength, and beauty, and whence result a due proportion and a just correspondence in all its parts. By the latter we learn to subdue patterns, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity.

Then we have the most obvious shift from bigradal (Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft) to triggered (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), which had been building for some time finally taking root in the period from 1700-1730. The evolution of the Hiramic Legend is a particularly interesting element, which I look forward to covering in great detail.

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08 December 2005

Press Herald Book Sale

Since Tandy got a job working at the Bruce Roberts Fund this winter, she has been picking up books at the Press Herald Book Sale. Apparently, quite a few of the books she bought for me are hidden away for Christmas. She has given me two already, however, and they show great promise:

  • Jesus is Not a Republican (Edited by Clint Willis and Nate Hardcastle)
    Tandy is, of course, so far left of where I am...well, let's just leave it at that. The book is a collection of essays which look quite interesting. There are a few notable authors like Sister Helen Prejean, Bill Moyers, and John Dominic Crossan. I am very much looking forward to reading it even though it is just another salvo in the long running war to make a single aspect Christ. For the record, I think both the right and the left are wrong, but it is the nature of Christ that we see both what we want and what we can never be.

  • The Politics of Internet Communication (by Robert J. Klotz)
    This book is a very engaging look into law, politics, and journalism as it has been affected by the Internet. It is one I am very much looking forward to reading. Since I turned my focus from online and network software to desktop software in 2001 I have lost touch with those parts of my background that are really at my core. Once I wrap up my current project, due to finish this summer, I really need to find a way to do some online-focused research and development at work. I really miss building tools which use the Internet to help people work and communicate. At the end of the day, you have to put food on the table.

05 December 2005

Upton Tea Order

I have been a customer of Upton Tea Imports since December of 2001, and a very happy customer at that. My tea consumption had fallen on hard times this last year, forcing me to make due with stocks I could obtain locally. After too long a hiatus I placed an order with Upton Tea Imports again.

The teas I focused on this time are good, solid teas for breakfast along with one nice tea for the middle of the day when it is time to wean off the caffeine. The samples are teas I am contemplating ordering soon, perhaps in March when it would normally be time to order again. In particular the two blends, Sacher and Monk's, sound very interesting and are worth a go. I am trying the Golden Monkey again from Upton. I have tried both their version and the version from Tealuxe. The latter imports a better Golden Monkey in my view.

Satrupa TGFBOP CL 125g packet
Hokonguri Estate FBOP Spl 125g packet
Organic China Congou Hong Tao #1 125g packet
China Congou Wu-Yi Golden Monkey 15g sample
Yunnan Jing Mao Hou Select 12g sample
Adawatte Estate OP1 125g packet
East Frisian TGFOP 125g packet
Monk's Blend 15g sample
Sacher Blend 15g sample
Rooibos Pretoria Blend 125g packet

I also ordered tea for four co-workers at the same time. The selections other people make in the tea is quite interesting. One person picked up two excellent breakfast teas (River Shannon Blend and Earl Grey Supreme). Another a collection of exquisite Indian and Chinese tea samples. Another ordered tea for his family (Harmutty STGFOP1S for himself, Extra Bergamot Earl Grey for his wife and Rote Grutze for his daughter).

The last part of the order is the most contradictory and interesting. This person ordered Organic Rooibos Vanilla and Lapsang Souchong Imperial. Could there be two teas more at odds with each other? The rooibos is going to be incredibly sweet with a slight acidity; why rooibos has an almost citric character I cannot understand. While the lapsang smells of burnt tires and tastes like a cup of warm charcoal. What I find most engaging is that these are two teas I like very much and it makes me wonder if the essence of tea is not contradictions...

"The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail by to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration -- all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of immortals. The seventh cup -- ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves." - Lotung from Chaking.

04 December 2005

Scotland Picture

Reflective Cuuurves
Originally uploaded by idg.
While ripping some CDs (Bluegrass Christmas and Ghost in the Machine) and buying music from the iTunes Music Store (Booker T. and the MGs) I cruised the new pictures on flickr. I ran across this beauty. My own outdoor photography tends toward scenes with reflective surfaces. I find the inverted images alluring somehow, perhaps it reminds me of my own self.

This photo turned out to be in Camperdown Scotland, which is a place I would l like very much to visit one day. The Scottish distilling and brewing tradition goes back quite far. It also turns out that one of the old family names is 'Osborne' from Ayrshire. Perhaps some day I will be able to travel to places like Scotland, but I have a sense that I am likelier to die without ever having left the continent.

02 December 2005

Apple Lisa on eBay

There was an Apple Lisa listed on eBay in November, the text describing the item is great:

This artifact has been positively identified as an "Apple Lisa", dating from the Early Silicaceous period (First Century P.C.) and was unearthed during a basement cleaning at a local home that is more than 100 years old. I have no idea if the item was there before the house was built, but this thing is old. Apparently, it was used for some sort of non-verbal communication by a primitive society.

There is an emblem of a piece of fruit ("apple") on both the front and the back, indicating that this may have also been used as a planting calendar. The large "screen" surface on the front is actually "amorphous silica", a material very similar to the obsidian volcano stone that ancient cultures used for carving arrowheads, knives and other primitive tools. The slot on the front is almost exactly 3.5-inches wide. On the back there is a removable cover that reveals a rather unknowable assemblage of components, slots and precious metals.

There is a separate "keyboard" with a headphones-type RC jack that mates with a hole in the front. There is a separate "mouse" that plugs onto a port in the back; there are other ports in the back, as well. There is a black electrical cord that plugs into a common 110v grounded AC outlet.

When turned on, the box groans and the "screen" glows and comes to life with a cryptic message from the Gods: "START FROM?", with a cartouche that looks like the slot on the front. Apparently, some sort of item that was 3.5-inches wide was inserted into the slot as a sacrifice; without this sacrifice, the Gods won't allow the box to work properly. However, when the "mouse" is moved, a startling effect is observed: a separate cartouche on the screen moves in unison, as if by remote control.

The biscuits, or whatever, that are supposed to go into the slot were not found in the basement excavation site, and that may be why the box was abandoned.

The overall condition is good, but not great. There is no obvious physical damage, and it looks like some museum-strength Formula 409 would get this item ready for display in a glass box surrounded by incredulous txt msgrs.