Vol. LXI No. 12 — December 1983
Donald M. Robey
Grand Senior Deacon, Grand Lodge Or Virginia
Technology increases and the continuing decline in the cost of equipment indicates that the purchase of a personal computer system is now within reach of the average-size Masonic lodge. Computer systems originally were aimed at large corporations who could afford the initial expense involved in purchasing the system and training their personnel to operate it. With the advances of the last few years in computers and the marketing efforts put forth by American industry, personal computers have become a highly competitive market and with this competition we all benefit by the manufacturer's constant efforts to improve their product and make them easier to learn to operate.
In many ways a Masonic lodge has problems similar to any small business that can be solved, or at least made simpler and easier, by the application of a personal computer.
Although personal computers have all types of software (programs) available to attract purchasers to their particular product, the fact remains that there are only three basic types of software made that will do about 90% of the work done on personal computers. These are word processors, database programs and mathematical spreadsheets.
Let's look at some of the applications for a personal computer within the lodge environment. The Word Processor program is a computerized method of entering, changing and managing text in any form. This type of program could be utilized by the Lodge Secretary in keeping the minutes of meetings, preparing regular reports to Grand Lodge, keeping the by-laws of the lodge current and general correspondence. The Worshipful Master would find it invaluable in drafting agendas of meetings, preparing monthly trestleboards, committee lists, and general correspondence. Any of the line officers of the lodge would find it an excellent planning tool as years progress and data is built up to look back upon, to see what type of preparation they must do to effectively plan for the management of the lodge. The lodge should have an active History Committee constantly updating the history of the lodge on a word processor.
Database type programs, you will find, have the greatest use in a lodge environment. A data =base is a program which has a separate screen of information about any item you care to list on it. Each item of information which you enter has an identification "tag" for that particular type of information, be it a name, an address, a date, a title or whatever. Lists, letters or even mailing labels are then generated from the information entered into the database.
We envision the database being used in the lodge to keep membership statistical records, preparing mailing labels, candidate records, degree team records, biographical data on members, lists of library books, maintenance records of the Temple, property inventory, widows lists, speaker and program records, and any other type of information that can be stored in the data base to print out lists in any sorted order desired.
Mathematical Spreadsheets are one of the most significant contributions made by the computer to the world as we know it. This is primarily because of the incredible speeds possible to performing computations and carrying out any type of repetitive procedures.
In the lodge environment, mathematical spreadsheets would be utilized mostly by the Secretary and Treasurer to keep track of the income and expenses of the lodge. Access to these records by the Worshipful Master, Lodge Trustees, and even the line officers of the lodge, would be a great asset in the management and planned management of the lodge. The lodge building committee would find the mathematical spreadsheets of great advantage in keeping track of all expenses involved in keeping up with the maintenance of the Temple.
Spreadsheets can be set up easily to keep track of any kind of financial data. Once designed, anyone can enter data and built-in formulas, constantly update the " Bottom Line" amount. Ticket sales for any type of lodge event could be entered on a spreadsheet. Stewards' records entered on a spreadsheet would give instant information on future budget projections. Trends of any kind can be seen by doing "What-if" studies by changing any input parameters such as loss of membership or increase in income or expenses.
Of course, any data stored by the computer can be easily printed out on any of the several types of line printers. Depending upon the quality of the printout desired, you will find that some printers cost more than the com- puters currently available on today's market but several inexpensive "Dot-Matrix" printers are available which would be completely adequate for most lodge applications.
As you develop expertise in the use of the computer to manage the records of the lodge you will no doubt desire to add software to aid you in making the job even easier. Some programs check your spelling and punctuation and even automatically make corrections. Programs are available to allow you to send computer data over telephone lines with a "Modem" unit to another computer similarily equipped.
To adequately use the power contained in the software programs outlined above, a lodge will need a computer with a minimum memory of 64K, which is about equal to 65,000 characters of whatever you will be using in memory when entering text or numbers. The larger the amount of machine memory the better, but memory costs money and 64K should be adequate.
The computer must have at least two disk drives to allow you to properly manipulate the titles you will be dealing with in a lodge environment. It is recommended that "Double- Sided" disk drives be obtained if this is possible. The single-sided disks available today in 5¼" diameter will hold about 200K bytes of memory on each side, so double-sided drives will give you twice the storage capacity for your data.
Many portable computers are available now which appear to be ideally suited to lodge application. The keyboard on these units folds up against the disk drives and CRT screen and allow for ease in transporting from home to lodge.
The minimum size CRT screen advisable is nine inch, measured diagonally across the face of the screen. The screen should display a minimum of 24 lines of text with 80 characters per line. Tests indicate that amber colored screens are easier on the eyes, but to date, these are not readily available as factory installed items.
The market is saturated with all types of line printers which can be driven by a computer. The printer for lodge use should have a paper width capacity for up to 15" wide paper. The best value in printers is in the "Dot-Matrix" type which print by way of small pins in a "print head" to print dots which form characters on paper. These are normally cheaper in price than "letter quality" printers and offer the added advantage of program selectable character sizes from five to seventeen characters per inch.
So-called "bargain" prices on computer equipment are not always the best long-range choice. A dealer should be chosen because of his ability to adequately maintain the equipment after the sale. Always get bids on several different brands of equipment which will perform according to your needs and always include a price of a warranty for the equipment beyond the usual factory warranty, which is normally only 90 days. Have someone in your lodge contact a local "Users Group" for advice on reputable dealers in your area, it may be advisable for the lodge to get a membership in a local Users Group after obtaining a computer system to keep up on updates on equipment.
We envision that some day each Grand Lodge will have an "on-line" computer system which can receive and send data to its subordinate lodges instantly and accurately. When this day arrives, we will finally have an accurate look statistically at where we are headed in Freemasonry.