Thursday, April 29, 2004

As May 1 approaches, we are receiving more inquiries about the new Notary Public regulations. From our perspective, the two most important developments that occurred were that (1) the effective date was pushed back again to mid-May and (2) a clarification from the Governor's Office specifically stated that no one shall refuse to record a document just because it does not comply with the regulations. This is good news for everyone doing recordings since a majority of registers of deeds had intended to reject such documents as soon as the rules went into effect (we didn't agree with that interpretation). Early next week we'll update the main part of our website with the latest on the Notary rules (tomorrow is the last day of the month and a Friday so we'll be too busy recording documents to do anything with the website). During a lull in today's activities, we did finally upload sales data from March 2004 and for all of 2003. Sorry for the delay. We'll try not to let that happen again.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A lengthy and interesting telephone conversation with a lawyer earlier today got me thinking about indexing standards. A big part of our discussion was how the registry and our computer handle last names that contain spaces (De La Maya) or punctuation marks (O'Brien). According to the indexing standards, spaces and punctuation marks are omitted, so De La Maya would be indexed as DELAMAYA and O'Brien as OBRIEN. It is crucial that the registry follows these standards, otherwise users conducting searches might miss a document. For example, if you conduct your search in accordance with the Indexing Standards and enter OBRIEN, but we've kept the apostrophe when we put the name in the index (O'BRIEN), the entry with the apostrophe will not appear. Out of curiosity, I did a search for O' which would find any name in our index that started with the letter O and was followed by an apostrophe and then other letters. I'm embarrassed to say that I found several dozen. We'll address that with our employees first thing in the morning and will correct the index entries by removing the apostrophes from the database. Of course, any time we make such a change, we keep a precise record of what we changed and when we changed it in case any questions arise. I now want to conduct an extensive review of our index to discover any other instances where we are not complying with the Indexing Standards. If you care about this (and if you've bothered to read this far, you probably do), I'd really appreciate it if you would send me an email with names that tend to cause these types of problems so I can put them on a type of "watch list" for regular checking in the future.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

We continued to experience problems with the website today, although I just performed a search and retrieved a document image. Everything seemed to be working OK. When you experience a problem, let me know by email. I submitted three different work orders to our computer company to resolve problems identified by customer emails. When not reporting problems with the website, we did more experimentation with the new electronic recording system. The mechanics of it are terrific. The obstacle we face is that it is part of a nationwide system, so much of the data that is supposed to be filled in doesn't really work for Massachusetts. We're working with ACS (the computer company) to try to make it more Massachusetts-friendly.

Monday, April 26, 2004

We installed the Electronic Recording system at the registry this weekend. It's only connected to a test database right now to give us an opportunity to experiment and learn how to use it. So far, it looks very promising. If you are at the registry and have a few minutes to spare, please ask us for a demonstration. In the next few days I hope to add some detailed information about the process to our website. If you have any questions, please send me an email.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I got my first look at the Electronic Recording interface that the customer will see. It seems like a very usable system, although many of the terms used either don't apply in Massachusetts or are called something else. But that's why we will test the system for several weeks. Either the company will be able to customize parts of it to fit our laws and legal practices, or we'll know what kind of instructions to provide users to ensure a problem free experience. This weekend we install the in-registry portion of the system, so look for updates Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

This morning we received several reports from people who experienced problems with our website last evening. Sometime after 7:00 p.m., the database started malfunctioning, so that when the user did a name search, the information that was retrieved was some combination of letters and numbers, but not a person's name. Then if you used the "back one page" button and tried the search again, you would get the names that you should have received the first time. Another problem was that the dates in the date range boxes seemed to change on their own. As one user described it, the system was "acting wacky." If you had anything like that happen to you while on our website, please send me an email with details of your experience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Our testing of the new document types went very well, so well, in fact, that we started the conversion sooner than we expected. Most of it is already complete and we will finish it during the day (and right after work) on Thursday. In the great majority of cases, the customer will notice no differences either at the registry or on the website. That is because you usually see the full document name, not the abbreviated code that is used in the computerized database. As I said last night, if you would like more information about these new document types, please visit the lower right hand portion of the main page of our website. And as always, please send me your questions or comments by email.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

We're back after a short break for the Patriot's Day holiday. There are some major changes in process at the registry. We're in the process of changing the document codes that are used in our database. There are several documents available on our website that explain the conversion process. Just follow the link on the lower right hand side of the main webpage. We are making these changes for several reasons. The new codes were developed in cooperation with several other registries, so using them is another step towards statewide registry standardization. The new codes will also simplify registry operations: we have reduced the new codes to several dozen, down from the hundreds that were formerly in use. Finally, the new codes will make the installation of electronic recording an easier process. Please let us know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The new Notary Public rules are back in the news. Their implementation date has been pushed back (again) to May 15. And one previously ambiguous area of great interest to the Registry of Deeds and its users has now been clarified. Here's what the revised order says: "Failure of a document to contain the forms of acknowledgment, jurat, signature witnessing, or copy certification set forth in this Executive Order should not be the basis of refusal to accept the document for filing, recordation, registration, or acceptance by a third party." Put another way, even if the notarization clause of a document does not meet the strict requirements of this order, we will still record it. That's exactly how we had planned to handle such situations, but as I've written previously, the majority of Registers of Deeds had interpreted the order to mean that registries should refuse to record documents that did not strictly comply with the order. Hopefully this clarification from the governor's office will put that view to rest.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The website has been acting up again. Several people (including me) have experienced a "timing out" of the search capability. When I tried to do an Internet name search earlier today, a popup message appeared, declaring "your session has expired; please select another county." I tried a number of things to bypass this problem, but the only way I could was to close my browser entirely and start from the beginning. I notified ACS. This is an old problem, one that had been disposed of months ago. Apparently, the earlier solution had been to work around the problem. Unfortunately, when a new version of the website was installed this weekend, the "patch" became dislodged, and the problem reappeared. It's like in one of those 1980s horror movies when the bad guy, despite being stabbed, shot, drowned and electrocuted, keeps getting up and coming after the good guys. When we think we have this problem fixed (again) we'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sorry to have missed a couple of days of blog entries. It won't happen again (for a while, at least). There's a lot going on behind the scenes. The "search land records" button on the website now gives you the option of searching the plan index and retrieving plan images through the Internet search screen. Plans used to be on a separate section of the website, and even there you could only view the images. Now you can also search the index and download the files. If you do chose to view plan images on line, please use the high quality image viewer. The "quick one page viewer" gives you an illegible image. A very big change that's coming soon is our conversion to standard document codes. Several other registries did this back in January, but we want to change the codes for all documents - those that have already been recorded as well as ones that will be recorded in the future. It's a complicated task, so we've proceeded slowly. We should make the change sometime next week. We'll give you plenty of notice and will publish the new document codes on the website. And finally, ACS arrives on the weekend of April 24 with our electronic recording hardware. In the weeks following its installation, we'll be experimenting with the process and providing demonstrations and on-line updates of our progress.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Last weekend our computer company added plans to our website. Formerly, you had to use a separate link to view plans which were only retrievable by the plan book and plan number. If you didn't know those references, there was no plan index to help you find the plan that was of interest to you. Now, the same searchable plan index that is available on the registry's public access computers is on the Internet. One important note - don't use the "Quick One Page Viewer" to retrieve the image of the plan. That viewer has a very low resolution and makes the lines and numbers on the plan very fuzzy and almost impossible to read. Instead, use the "High Quaility Viewer" which will give you a crisp, clean, easy to read image. This new system also gives you the ability to download the image of the plan to your own computer. We will keep our old plan viewing system on the Internet for a while, at least until this new system proves its reliability over the next few weeks. Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions and don't forget to log onto the chat room tomorrow at 3:00 P.M. to learn the latest on electronic recording.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Today the ACS users group (which consists of representatives of the five registries now using the ACS system, folks from the Secretary of State's Office, and key ACS employees) met in Northampton. Nothing earth shattering occurred, but I always welcome a chance to visit Northampton which has a lively, interesting downtown. One item that generated some heat involved the use of standardized document codes. Last fall, this users group developed a standard set of document codes that would eventually be used by all five registries. The registries that switched to the new codes back on January 2 are upset that others (like Lowell) have not yet made the switch. The reason I'm in no rush to start using these new codes is that they will inject a large amount of uncertainty into the index if not handled correctly. For example, let's say the old code for mortgage was MTG and the new one is MORT. If we were to simply start using the new codes, the old documents would remain as MTGs, the newer ones as MORTs. When you do your search, what do you look for? Unless you do two searches, one for each document type, you're likely to miss something. The proper way to make this change is to convert the old document types so they're identical to the new. But such a conversion is a complex operation that requires significant testing and experimentation. Once we are finished that phase, we will convert our existing document codes to the new ones and then make the switch to the new codes for all future documents. Sorry to plunge into so much detail about this, but moving fast on this simply for the sake of moving fast creates an unreasonable risk of a mix up by you, the person examining the title - and we certainly don't want to cause that to happen. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The computer system seems to have stabilized, although there are still some images missing from our website and from the internal Cambridge system. The images aren't really missing. They exist and can be viewed administratively in a roundabout way, but they don't appear on the Public Access computers. I'm still not sure what's causing this. I did compile a list of all of the problems that emerged over the past few days and emailed it to the president of the ACS division that is responsible for our computers. I'll let you know what becomes of it. Tomorrow is the ACS users group meeting in Northampton, so tomorrow night's blog entry will report on that as will Friday's 3 P.M. chat.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Tonight we have good news and bad news. The good news is that the searchable plan index and the plan images themselves are now part of the "search records" portion of the website. This means that the website will contain all of the information that is available on the public access computers at the registry. The bad news is that our computer company, ACS, tainted the launch of this new feature by allowing the website to go down for at least several hours this morning. I say at least several hours, because I don't know when the problem commenced, only that it was resolved at about 10 a.m. I still don't know what caused it to go down but I assume it was related to the modifications they made. Some of the recent modifications which they made without consulting with me, aren't needed and make the site even more difficult to use (i.e., having a "search by certificate" tab appear when you're still in recorded land). I'm trying to get that part of the site put back the way it was, but that will take some time. For all of you who were inconvenienced by this latest outage, I'm sorry for that, but you can be assured I'm doing my best to eradicate these kind of stupid mistakes.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

This Wednesday, April 7, the five registries that use the ACS computer system will meet in Northampton. We have formed an ACS Users' Group and meet every couple of months. Up until now, the meetings have been dominated by perceived problems with the ACS system. I say "perceived" because in the 21 months that it's been in operation in Lowell, the ACS system has worked well. But as the system is installed at each additional registry, a new set of complaints crop up. I'm not saying that the system could not be improved upon, just that it does what we ask it to do very efficiently. Still, if you have any complaints about the system, or just questions about why it works a certain way, please send them to me using the above email link no later than close of business Tuesday.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Be sure to check out the new Middlesex South website - Besides giving you the ability to search their records on-line, the new site contains helpful information including directions to the registry, hours of operations, a recording checklist, and photos of all employees. Sorry I missed the chat session this afternoon, but I'm sure Tony Accardi did an outstanding job answering all of your questions. I'll be back online next Friday to discuss electronic recording and anything else that is of interest to you.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Remember to join Assistant Register Tony Accardi in the chat room at 3:00 P.M. on Friday, April 2. We have some new things that will be added to the website early next week. The March sales report is ready and we've created Plan Indexes for each of our towns. These are in a PDF format and are sorted by street name. Each entry shows the plan book, plan number and date the plan was recorded. The first group covers the years 1930 to 2000 and will not change, so you only have to download it once to your own computer. Then we're preparing a plan index for 2001 to the present. This will be updated monthly. When you come to the registry, the plan index is readily available on our Public Access computers. Unfortunately, this feature has not made it onto the website yet. The plans are there, but unless you already have the plan book and plan number, you really can't find anything. These new PDF files should help fill that online gap.