"You will carefully read...."

Posted by Ed King on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 in , , , ,
The world changes SO fast - particularly for us old-timers. Why it seems like only yesterday that I'd blogged about reading on the iPhone. In fact, it was two weeks ago yesterday - like forever in internet time. Being a day short, Amazon read my mind and delivered version 1.1 of their iPhone Kindle app with all sorts of enhancements. And remember, this is FREE compared to those book-sized Kindles costing hundreds of bucks.

The folks at The iPhone Blog have gotten together a bunch of nice screen shots of this app (you usually only get to see 4-5 pics when viewing at the app store either through iTunes or your own iPhone) allowing you to judge for yourself whether this will finally be the thing which makes you come over to the dark side.... Head here to see them.

For those of you who use, exclusively, a PayPal account to cover your Amazon 'can't live withouts', you'll need to find some other way of doing things because they don't - yet - take PayPal, despite your having paid thousands of dollars to them in that manner previously (written from experience!). In any event, if you've done that much Amazon business, you're probably safe giving them your credit card unless your wife would finally figure out how much money you've been tossing at Masonic books and raspberry caramels!

The Kindle selection for certain types of reading can be limited: trying to find books on (UGH) Vista, for example, yields very little. But for lots of other things, there's a whole raft of choices. For those of you who want to check tech-type books, there are two other alternatives as well: if you've got the book on a CD (the indispensable Excel 2007 Bible by John Walkenbach, for example), you can upload the PDF format to your iPhone. Alternatively, if you've purchased the ability to read the book online thru Amazon, then you can just do that using the Safari browser. Lots of choices for lots of reading needs.

There's one really intriguing feature in this FREE app that's often overlooked: Amazon Remembers. If you see something that you want but can't identify precisely (a lawn chair, for example), simply use your iPhone to take a photo of it and send it along to Amazon. They'll search their database of a gazillion product photos and recommend options for you. It's really an amazing thing and multiplies the usability of your iPhone tremendously. Save time, money, and energy (and even paper and ink!) when locating that 'perfect gift' you've been thinking of sending to me. I'd be remiss in noting that it's really not cool (in my opinion) to use this for comparison shopping. Unless you're being treated like trash from some smug salesperson (Hello, BestBuy #463 salesman who lost a $1.5K sale last Friday night because "It's such a hassle." to unlock a laptop so I could try the keyboard at a lower angle.), you really should seriously consider buying from the folks who've made the investment to have stock locally. Here's an editorial from the great website ars technica on that very subject.

Enjoy your reading and your iPhone, Brethren.

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You will not write...

Posted by Ed King on Sunday, May 24, 2009 in , ,
...your password(s) on Post-It-Notes, slips of paper in your wallet or anywhere else. (Did you think I was going to post ritual here? Oh.... Sorry.) We've been admonished about doing that since day dot and yet, there are SO many passwords, codes, etc. that we're required to remember, the task can be staggering. It's compounded by the fact that some sites want our e-mail, others want a user name, some want us to remember what color the leaves were three days before we signed up at their site. When all this started, many of us just memorized our bank PIN and went on our way, perhaps even getting an inexpensive or free piece of software for our computer to squirrel the other confusing things into.

And then it happened: computer crash! We learned to keep backups of that on a disk or somewhere but without the program.... Ah, the stories we could tell each other, I'm sure.

To preclude these problems which could range from minor irritant all the way through thermonuclear destruction, some of us looked for programs that ran in TWO places: our cell phone as well as our computer. Back when I had a Palm (cue the violins playing "Memories"), I'd found Splash ID. AHA! It was capable of keeping both my computer and my phone in sync and it was a complete thrill to find that the folks at Splash Data, who've been at this stuff a long time, have an iPhone version as well. Pay for the app, get the desktop version for free. What a deal!

A hard drive failure on my primary machine on Friday caused panic but because an increasing number of e-mail logins, product IDs, and more had already made their way into SplashID, I've been able to get back up and rolling without too much difficulty. (Thanks to the folks at Computer Essentials also!)

Don't leave yourself with just one fall-back position. Put all this stuff in more than one secure place - and the iPhone Splash ID app is a great option.

PERSONAL: On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to the many men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those whose lives still bear the ravages of war. You've given a gift to us for which we can never express a full measure of gratitude. While I was never called upon to make the sacrifice so many have done, it was my indeed my great honor to have served among you. Let us work together for a time when war shall be no more!

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All of Washington's Generals were Masons.... NOT!!!

Posted by Ed King on Thursday, May 21, 2009 in , , ,
This post, like many others here, has only a tangential attachment to the title. It's really about getting the wrong information, making decisions based on it, and then passing it along.

There I was at a Masonic committee meeting, adding a couple of thoughts to the greatly-enhanced Notebook application (Notebooks - Write notes and store files) that I'd happily spent the princely sum of $5.99 on the previous evening. Looking across the table, the Chairman teased (the way Brothers can do) that it was a good thing I had my electronic gadgets or my brain would explode. (He was quite right, I'm sure!) Another Brother who has also listened to me proselytize on the benefits of the iPhone proudly pulled out what was, from its shiny appearance, a new cell phone. "Yeah, but that thing costs $387 and then you still need to buy a phone! I was at {name of 'big box' electronics chain redacted} last Saturday and looked at them."

My mind was filled with the orchestral sounds of Henry Mancini and the theme from 'Love Story' (was it 1970? Good grief!) began playing in my head. You know: "Where do I begin...." And then came the anger and fury - kinda. Hadn't he heard a single thing I've said over these past months? Was his brain a bowl of Ovaltine? WHAT WAS HE THINKING?????

Here are the facts, Brethren:
  • Whatever he looked at, it wasn't an iPhone
  • The price he tossed out was certainly not what that store charges for iPhones
  • If he'd just gone to the AT&T store (and Chayenne would have been SO great for him to work with), he wouldn't have had this confusion
  • He was SO far wrong about it not being a phone!*
  • He probably doesn't like sheep stacking!
(*It is important to note that - to me at least - it's actually a computer, camera, dictating machine, and plaything with a phone attached for good measure - but that's my own interpretation!)

edvard munch - the scream  1893Image by oddsock via Flickr

Perhaps he misunderstood the clerk who'd told him a price for the (larger than mine) 16GB model along with the first month's service or something. Who knows? Suffice it to say that he's happy with his $10.99 purchase from Verizon because he's got a phone and thinks I don't - despite my having received and made calls from that very same meeting numerous times.... {SIGH}

And so, Brethren, like the fable about Washington's Generals, he got it wrong. By the time I hear the story next month from someone else, the price will probably have increased by 131% in much the same way as some bogus groups pretending to be Freemasons inflate their membership numbers - and I'll find out that his phone can control the Space Shuttle and solve world hunger or something. Oh, excuse me: my non-phone iPHONE is ringing. Gotta go.

(For more about Brother Washington and his Brother-Generals, you can visit Paul Bessel's outstanding resource at bessel.org. Quick fact: out of 74, 33 - 46% - were Masons! And before YET ANOTHER rumor goes amok, there was no 33rd Degree at that point in time: it arrived well after Washington's death.)
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Riding the goat or stacking the sheep?

Posted by Ed King on Monday, May 18, 2009 in , , ,
A common silliness about becoming a Mason is the bit about 'Riding the Goat' - and this post has nothing at all to do with all the online fascination with Google hiring goats to replace humans in taking care of their lawn.

Now seriously: has anyone ever see a goat being dragged into a lodge building in downtown Boston or Minneapolis? No? So why do they keep going back to this foolishness? Are there different degrees of Masonry in the country versus in the city? No, there aren't! I've got a page on my website at masonicinfo.com that expands on this. But back to the subject - and let's be clear: my fascination with sheep stacking doesn't come from that goat stuff. It actually involves a long drive in the Highlands of Scotland and.... Well, that's a story for another time. In this particular post, we're talking about a fun little game that will waste a few minutes of time here and there while you're waiting for something else in life.

Let's talk about games: I've got a penchant for the simple, comical arcade-type and the iPhone has them by the thousands. Nine thousand plus, to be exact. (Thanks to iPhone_Buzz for this link to the Detroit Times.) There are also lots of role playing, card games, and more - and most are in the $ 0.99 - 1.99 category. There's also an interesting alternative: the LITE version of many games. Try it for free and if you like it, you can go ahead and get the full version. Delete it if you don't. Certainly the one billion iPhone apps downloaded watershed recently achieved consisted of a LOT of games which were free, used for a few times, and then tossed into the 'rubbish of the Temple'. And sometimes, as you may have heard, you need to kiss a few frogs to find... Well, maybe that analogy isn't very apt here.

In any event, I really get a giggle out of Sheep Stacker, particularly in the Baa-lance mode. (Yes, there is one!). You'll probably find a half dozen or more games that you'll enjoy in the genre of your choice. And while you might think it humorous to download one of the several applications with animal sounds just to 'liven up things', I'd quietly suggest that we, as Masons, really are better than that.

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There's a jailbreak! Call the Kops....

Posted by Ed King on Friday, May 15, 2009 in , , ,
One of the most oft-mentioned phrases in the iPhone lexicon is 'jailbroken' or 'jailbreak'. If get to any Shriners function, you'll immediately know what that's all about: it's time to call those zany Keystone Kops. These are the guys who ape that whole movie genre which started out in 1912 and had some great comebacks including with Buster Keaton in the 1930s, with Abbott and Costello in 1955 and with the inimitable Mel Brooks in Silent Movie in 1978.

OK: back on track! The iPhone reference is simple: some people are never content to leave things alone. They want to shake the presents under the Christmas tree. They've just got to tinker with the mother board on their computer, sometimes even on Mother's Day. When the tag on the mattress says "Do not remove under penalty of law.", they'll rip it off - willing to face the wrath of the mattress police who will come by some day to check up on such things! In short, they're the ones who go out of their way to upset the social order and bring confusion to the Temple. Maybe.

I won't go through the process of jailbreaking an iPhone: mine's not (honest!) and it won't ever be. I'm very content the way it is - oh, and there's that Masonic obligation about obeying the magistrate etc. There are some, though, out on the bleeding edge of the technology blade that want to push this poor thing far further than Daddy Apple thinks it should be pushed. The Masons who do this are probably the ones who think we ought to remove the Landmarks, or decide which ones to follow, or…. Wait: that's a blog for some Old Webmaster somewhere.

Most people who do iPhone jailbreaking seem to have reasonable motives. While they're violating the terms of purchase, they're doing it because they KNOW there are lots of things under the hood just waiting to blossom - and the upgrade of the camera in the V3.0 software upgrade shows they're often right. As in all things, though, when the limits are pushed there can be unintended consequences and jailbreaking is a pretty sure way to frackle some other app somewhere along the line.

Suffice it to say that 99.9% of Masons reading this blog won't be jailbreaking their iPhones - but at least it's good to know what it means.And thus your 'daily advancement' in Masonic knowledge - if you're really pressed….
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Reading on your iPhone

Posted by Ed King on Tuesday, May 12, 2009 in , , ,
With all the news about that new Kindle buzzing around, those Masons who are readers as well as those that should be (HINT: ALL of you!!!) may be wondering whether you should take the plunge. My decision? Nope: I'll get it all on my iPhone.

If you go to the app store, you'll find at least a half dozen books about Freemasonry. Unfortunately, if you've not done a lot of reading about the fraternity up to now you'll get a warped, dated view of things. We as Masons can respect Mackey, Pike and Wilmshurst for their impressive works at a time when there were precious few such things. However, their works are, in some cases, nearly two hundred years old. The reason they're being published is that they're well before copyright laws and so the text can be taken by anyone and formatted into a book which is then sold for, in some cases, a couple of dollars through Apple.

Those who can't actively remember things like the Vietnam War or the Kennedy assassination really shouldn't be assuming that those writers are the be-all and end-all of Masonic thought. Further, though, if you've not experienced Freemasonry as a Mason will get a pretty skewed view of things. If you're a Masonic scholar, you may want to have a copy of some particular one of these old books standing separately on your iPhone but it's doubtful.

On the other hand, if you get books through Amazon, you can buy the Kindle version and within seconds be receiving it on your iPhone. There's a FREE (ya' gotta love the price!) Amazon app that'll provide the reading capability for you and it's not bad at all. There are three really good reading programs for the iPhone 3G and there will be more but I've been pretty happy with the Amazon version - and if you buy a book, delivery occurs within a minute. Can't beat the speed and even if you live in the wilds of Maine, you can probably pick up a connection to do it. I'd encourage those of you with an iPhone to pick an inexpensive Kindle book (they're quite a bit less than the printed kind but selection is still somewhat limited) and try it out. Want to read more? Head to here on the Amazon site.

Before closing, I'll admit: I love the tactile feel of books in my hand. They're like Linus' security blanket in many ways and a lot of people would agree. However - and particularly for research - it's really handy to type in "circumambulation" and start popping directly to pages where that topic is discussed. It's a mix - but it's another option available if you've got an iPhone. Enjoy.

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You're not a real Mason unless you play cribbage

Posted by Ed King on Monday, May 11, 2009 in , , ,
Yep, that's what my Grandfather told me when I was about 10 years old. Cribbage: it's that funny game played with cards and a board full of holes that take little pegs which are always going lost so you wind up using matchsticks. It requires some ability to count accurately and - well, it's not the hardest card game in the world but it does require a bit of time - and a pretty fair amount of patience - to learn.

No well-equipped lodge would be caught dead without a few cribbage boards hanging around. Some Grand Lodges even have cribbage tournaments. Vermont, for one, uses the money raised from such tournaments to support their scholarship fund. Oh, and before a few of you younger guys start groaning, please remember that you're going to be old at some point too and by golly, you might actually enjoy this way of keeping your mind alert!

So what's this got to do with your Masonic iPhone? Why I thought you'd never ask. The answer is - all together now - "There's an app for that!"

Yes indeed: a cribbage game application. This is where the landscape mode of the iPhone really shines. The game is only played in that orientation which is, in fact, the perfect way to have the board, cards, etc. all laid out. Because of the high resolution of the iPhone screen, it's clean and crisp, even for older eyes. Four levels of play, you count or let the computer do it (and the computer will take those points you miss), muggins, and more. And since I wrote this a few days earlier, it's been updated with an onscreen help file to assist in understanding that 15-2, 15-27 or whatever it is stuff.

I've purchased several cribbage games for my PC over the years but this is by far the most enjoyable - and it was only 99 cents. It doesn't require I go off to another room, boot up a noisy computer, or anything: I can play a game or two while sitting in the living room and chatting with my wife making supper in the kitchen. It's a great way to get ready for that next lodge cribbage night. Another part I (generally) enjoy is that it keeps your record of wins/losses/skunks in each play category.

From a serious Masonic perspective: one of the truly great things about Freemasonry is that it unites young and old without regard to social position or anything else. It's been my experience over the years that the 'ice-breaker' is the common membership experience shared but that having something more in common to continue the discussion really makes it so very meaningful. Cribbage can be that commonality for you younger guys. Give it a try. For a buck, it's hard to go wrong, eh? Watch out, Vermont: here I come....

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That sole Masonic app....

Posted by Ed King on Friday, May 08, 2009 in , ,
It's unfortunate that the only application peculiar to Freemasonry existing today has, within the space of just a few weeks, become something that many blogs and web sites about Freemasonry are now also: a way for their owner to make money by picking low-hanging fruit.

Commentary about the iPhone and its apps are, for the most part, opinions. As the old internet phrase goes, "Your mileage may vary". However, when something is done purely for profit at the expense of those who see the word 'Masonic' and leap in that direction, it does cause a Mason to wonder if the person involved has diametrically changed since the time they asserted that they were not joining with 'mercenary motives'. Blog sites are the most pernicious, with ads interjected before, in the middle of, and at the end of messages on some ostensibly 'Masonic' venues who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time blathering on topics they don't seem to fully understand - but I digress....

In this case, there's a bit more to it. The creator of the iCraft app (which I've written about before) is unknown to the Masonic world (I've asked around a LOT) and he (?) hasn't identified himself as a Mason. The website for this app is a single page (here) which asks for reviews but has no mechanism for accepting them. Strange. Very strange.

I'd not bought the $1.99 version, not having seen anything of value in the free one. Sadly, the free one now has even less than it did barely a month ago. There have been two updates: the first added - you guessed it - advertising! while taking away a couple of the pictures that had been included initially. The second, arriving overnight, simply adds a link to purchase the full version.

And still, this app does essentially NOTHING!

I'm honestly not sure what kind of app would be particularly appealing specifically to Freemasons since SO much of what we do is intermingled with daily living and society. Certainly, though, this isn't it. To me, it's like paying for Microsoft Office 2007 and getting Notepad....

Here, on this blog, there's a place to leave your opinion. You're welcome to do so!

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Astronomy is that divine art....

Posted by Ed King on Wednesday, May 06, 2009 in ,
As we climb the winding staircase, we far-too-quickly pass the seven liberal arts and sciences. Some of us, much later in our Masonic career, realize how much we've missed by not giving them the attention they deserved.

Now, thanks to your iPhone (well, it wouldn't be here if there wasn't a connection, would it?) you can spend some time understanding why our ancient brethren felt that these subjects were worth our attention.

I remember taking my son to the Museum of Science in Boston. At the age of about 7 or 8, he could quickly identify the dozen different constellations in a quiz in the Planetarium area. I struggled to find Orion's belt. He'd point at the sky and say, "See? Right there...." I never did. Now, though, with my iPhone's Star Walk app ($4.99) there may be hope at last. I can hold up the iPhone right beside what I'm supposed to be looking at and because of the way your finger can move the galaxy around, it's easy to match one with the other. There's a light gray overlay of constellations to help you do that visualization which escapes some of us who still have black and white mirrors in the house.

In fact, you can sit on the porch for hours looking up at the heavens - but this time, identifying what you see. Like a particular dot in the sky? Tap on it and the program will give you far more information than you ever imagined - and all right there on your iPhone screen. The landscape mode (remember: just turn it on its side and it's there automatically) makes looking across a broad space really quite easy.

Further, with the moon right there in the proper place for that very night and your very location (remember, the GPS inside can find you), you'll orient yourself quite easily. You'll also be able to see what's below the tree line - and even below the horizon.

While I still don't understand astronomy enough to really appreciate all the things that this app and others in this genre can do, I'm having fun - and perhaps you might too. We'll likely both learn something along the way.

Incidentally, there are SEVERAL astronomy programs and I suspect I'll be getting a couple of more to write about.

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The bounds he cannot pass....

Posted by Ed King on Monday, May 04, 2009 in ,
You might be a bit unfamiliar with that phrase even though it sounds like it should 'fit' somewhere. Here's a clue: you are standing in front of a mailbox.... Oh, wait: that's my Zork reference yet again. This game was a major quantum leap up from that and was probably the first 'super-star' computer role-playing game for those not into D&D. It had something really unusual; GRAPHICS and for that period when dragons roamed the earth and a 386 PC was a HUGE deal, it was HOT! Yes, Myst has now appeared for the iPhone.

I felt like one of those dinosaurs myself when I read the post from the Apple iPhone School blog which smugly noted "Ok, you’re going to have to be a little older to remember this one. I remember my neighbor getting this game when I was little and we thought it was so kewl to come over and watch him play." WHAT? You little squirts. What's the matter with you. You got no respect for those of us who labored with 14.4 modems to get you where you are today?

Ah, but I digress again. If you're old enough to remember Myst, you can now be playing it - along with a raft of other 'oldies but goodies' on your iPhone. In this case, just $4.99 will get you the picture of the building on the hill overlooking the ocean. I make no promises as to how far you'll get once inside. Perhaps, like me, you'll wander around aimlessly for years until Railroad Tycoon comes along. Anyway, do enjoy.

Oh, the Masonic reference? Piece of cake: MM Degree, prayer, second section. Bet everyone who's been a Chaplain knew it!

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Await a time with patience....

Posted by Ed King on Sunday, May 03, 2009 in ,
American Poet John Greenleaf Whittier (not a Mason) wrote,
"For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Now not buying an iPhone is a LONG way from this melancholy thought and certainly Masonic ritual encourages us to subdue our passions - at least in most US jurisdictions. (Most of our Canadian Brethren apparently don't need to be told to do so. Maybe the cold does it for them? But I digress....)

Knowing what fun I've had personally using my iPhone - and the fun that's been shared with family and friends (including, certainly, my Masonic Brethren), it's hard to imagine that I came precariously close to getting something else. In fact, I'd put down cold, hard cash (well, a plastic credit card if you want the honest truth) for a Samsung Epix running Windows Mobile 6.1. I'd decided on that particular phone after a couple of years of reading, comparing, debating, and general time-wasting over which particular features I needed/wanted. Everything was a compromise and the various cell dealers were always WAY behind on delivery of the model I wanted.

Just when one beauty that met my criteria would become available, there was something new about to shatter the marketplace causing me to wait 'just a little longer'. I now hear that same refrain from some friends and colleagues. "Verizon will have an iPhone soon." So what? "There's a new model coming out." Yeah? There's a new PC computer operating system coming out soon too. Hey, DOS 6.1 is still working: hang on, Sloopy! "The new (insert phone name here, generally Blackberry or PalmPre) will be SO much better." And you know this because?

There are a bunch of reasons to procrastinate on this but while you do so,I'll be off snapping pictures, finding restaurants to try, geocaching, listening to my police scanner, reading books, checking e-Bay sales, keeping up-t0-date with Facebook (Ed King) & Twitter (masoniciphone), or just stacking sheep: all from my iPhone.

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Whither are you traveling?

Posted by Ed King on Friday, May 01, 2009 in ,
Yes, we've all heard that question before. But now, you can answer it in another way. A whole raft of cell phones have GPS chips inside them but your iPhone actually IS a Global Positioning System - pretty much.

To get the full enjoyment of knowing if you're headed from West to East, it'll cost you a bunch of bucks: two ninety nine, to be exact. Oh, wait: don't get anxious. That's two dollars and ninety nine cents for one of the more pricey programs I have onboard my iPhone. It's a software program called MotionX GPS, it consumes less than 4 Megabytes of space (on your 8 or 16 Gigabyte beauty), and will not only help you find your way but also provide information on altitude, tracking, and even one-click Facebook sharing if you want. It will allow you to take geo-tagged pictures and maybe in the next update will provide your wife's voice telling you when you've taken the wrong turn yet again..... or maybe not.

Anyone who's ever dealt with GPS on a laptop or with a stand-alone unit knows well that SO much of the 'accuracy factor' is based on your own physical location, both generally (are there several satellites overhead or do you live somewhere north of the ecliptic like I seem to?) and specifically (are you under heavily leafed trees, for example, or standing in the middle of the Desert of Maine?) but if you're willing to understand the limitations of GPS where you are then this is a really great asset - and darn cheap comparatively.

So the next time the Master asks, "Wither are you traveling?" you may want to pull out your iPhone and respond "Let me check, Worshipful!" Then again, it might be best to answer the way the ritual says: it'll cause a lot less grief for everyone and I won't get those e-mails saying that I'm destroying the way it's always been done.

In upcoming posts, the GPS program will get united with some fun family activities. Stay tuned.

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