Dispatches from Maine

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

04 June 2006

A Masonic Myth

I was watching the recent documentaries about Freemasonry on The History Channel. I had saved them on my DVR and spent my Sunday rest time watching these shows, energized and informed by their content rather than napping. There were a few small nitpicks here and there, but in general it was meticulously researched and well presented. They even had some modern experts in Masonic history like S. Brent Morris and Stephen Bullock. Some years ago, I had a chance to see Bullock speak at the Maine Historical Society about his book "Revolutionary Brotherhood" (do buy it!). He is a great speaker and good with hard questions.

I tend to harbor a fair bit of doubt when it comes to documentaries be they film ('history writ with lightning') or television. This was no exception. While researching items like the relationship between Albert Pike and the Klan (who knows what to think about that), I ran across some material which broke my heart. I, like most Freemasons in Maine, am well aware of the story of the blue forget-me-not. This little blue flower, in the form of a pin, was worn by Freemasons during the Nazi period in Germany as a way to hide their Masonic affilitation from the government. The tradtional history holds that Freemasons were persecuted by the government and even sent to the camps. My wife did her thesis on Nazi persecutions, with her focus being homosexual Jews, and ran across material about Freemasons being a target of the regime. I had never been interested enough to read more about this element of Masonic history, devoting most of my time to learning Masonic ritual and reading about its development.

There I was reading about Albert Pike and the Klan when I came across two papers from Alain Bernheim. I will not summarize the material for you, asking instead that you read them for yourself:
I am not sure if I will ever see the Forget-Me-Not pin in the same way as I did yesterday.

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03 June 2006

A Fire in the Sun

It appears the world of cyberpunk is coming closer and closer. On slashdot today there was a post reporting a paper published in the Journal of Neurophysiology: "High-resolution multi-transistor array recording of electrical field potentials in cultured brain slices". There is still a wide gulf between this research and a future of elective brain modification and implants, but it did remind me of my youth. I remember reading very early cyberpunk fiction in the mid-1980s. Of all the authors from back then my favorite was George Alec Effinger. His vision of the future largely involved cybernetics, a blending biology and computers, particularly brain implants which allowed the users to insert modules to change themselves and learn new skills. I had no idea about his life, just being a fan of several of his works. There also appears to be a fan blog.

If your only exposure to cyberpunk is William Gibson, then take a stop and check out Effinger's idea of a dystopian future: When Gravity Fails and A Fire in the Sun. Remember it is from 1989, when Windows 3.1 was "high tech" and SunOS 4.1.x was brand new.

02 June 2006

Loving Your Job

You know for sure that you love your job, when you start on something and look up at the clock to find three hours have past and it is 11:00pm.  I have been working on the new import architecture for DeLorme's XMap 5.0 products for some time now. Today I have been working on refactoring a class to hide the variance of different schemas while performing an import.  It is not a large class, but the original loader class just leaked across the single responsibility principle.  Time to refactor...  In any case, having three hours just disappear like that is a good sign.  I do love what I do.

Another great feature of my job is the Wednesday lunch meetings.  The company picks up lunch for the development staff and one of the developers delivers a presentation.  Recently we had pair of presentations on Commonality Variability Analysis and an Analysis Matrix.  I had read about this analysis technique some years back and gave it a go, but had a bit of difficulty applying it to the problem I was facing.  The presentation has given me a desire to try again.

Rebuilding the Deck

The deck originally attached to the house was never in great shape, but over the last six years it has declined significantly. We decided to resurface the deck, removing the old pressure treated and putting down composite decking boards. We elected to go with Verdana from Home Depot. Initially we selected a special hidden fastener called "Tiger Claw." These fasteners turned out to be extremely difficult to install. It takes two people to install a board slowly and three to install it efficiently. Further the are extremely weak in the center so driving the center screw even slightly harder than necessary will buckle the claw. Eventually, the Tiger Claw's were ruining my boards and simply too hard to install. Honestly, they suck in the worst possible way. On the good side, Home Depot was very helpful and took back not only the Tiger Claws, but also the Verdana decking boards damaged by the installation process.

To replace the Claws, I purchased standard box head decking fasteners called TrapEase by FastenMaster. The have both clockwise and counter-clockwise threads to prevent the board from mushrooming around the screw. To get the proper look, since we were walking away from a screwless deck, I wanted to ensure that all of the screws were in a line, the same distance apart on each board. I used ten penny nails to create an even gap between each board, a technique Tandy remembered seeing used by Riley (Bob Vila's carpenter). I then bought a highly water soluble white chalk, so as not to leave any permanent marks on the boards, and marked sites on each board, along the chalk line, where the screws should be placed. This would put the screws in a single line and on the same spacing on each board. The process has gone much faster now and we are now in a position to lower the back dack and build new steps. All good news!