Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Wrap Up

On the last day of 2004, it’s appropriate to remember the significant events of the past 365 days. Having the Patriots win the Super Bowl in February and the Red Sox the World Series in October put sports at the top of my list. It’s also the year that John Kerry lost a close presidential race. At the registry, 2004 will be remembered for the precipitous drop in the number of documents recorded. Our 2003 total was 146956 while 2004 slid to 96204, a decrease of 35%. This decline was due in large part to a 32% decrease in the number of mortgages recorded (41800 in 2003 versus 27841 in 2004). The number of deeds recorded, however, was statistically the same (9099 in 2003 versus 8990 in 2004). Even though the overall number of deeds was about the same, a comparison of the two-year totals of deeds by towns within the registry district shows quite a bit of variation:
Number of deeds recorded in 2004 compared with 2003
Billerica down 5%
Carlisle up 2%
Chelmsford up 17%
Dracut down 6%
Dunstable down 19%
Lowell up 3%
Tewksbury down 6%
Tyngsboro down 16%
Westford up 10%
Wilmington down 20%

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Spamming in the USA

Happy New Year! With the end of 2004 comes a dubious distinction for the United States. The USA is far and away the world’s biggest “Spammer”. No…we are not talking about food. Yes…we are talking about those annoying emails that indiscriminately plague computer users throughout the world. Spam mail has become one of the Internet’s biggest problems. A report published by Sophos, an anti-virus/anti-Spam specialist, states that most of the world’s Spam originates right here in the good old US of A. But we are not alone. Many other countries are big offenders as well: South Korea generates 13% of the world’s Spam, China 8%, Canada 6% and Brazil 3%. Still these figures are nothing compared to the whooping 42% generated by the United States. That’s three times South Korea the nearest competitor. Over the past three years, Spam has grown rapidly. In 2002 Spam comprised 25% of all emails. In 2004 that figure swelled to 40% and by mid 2004 Spam represented 60% of the billions of emails sent each year. In the Netherlands action is being taken. Last May the Dutch government instituted a ban on unsolicited e-mail to consumers. This week they proved they are serious. On Tuesday the Dutch government issued three separate fines against Spammers. The fines ranged from $61,000 $27,000. The stop Spam movement is expanding. Eight other European countries have agreed to cooperate with the Netherlands and share information about Spammers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Googling Electronic Recording

Today we've been working on the details of our plan to implement electronic recording. We've thoroughly tested the software on a practice database, but until we actually load it onto our main system and start using it, we really won't know the issues that we will have to resolve. Over the next few weeks we will begin experimenting. Our intent is to proceed slowly and methodically and we will use the blog to keep everyone posted. Just out of curiousity, I searched the phrase "electronic document recording" in Google and found a large number of press releases posted by counties across the country (Wisconsin, California, Washington, Florida, for example) announcing their entry into the world of electronic recording. Each of them seemed to say that electronic recording will "improve the operational efficiency and better serve our customers." That sound pretty good to me.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It Is Interesting

It is interesting how things seem to change in the registry of deeds business.
Five or six years ago December 31 and June 30 were the busiest days of the year. The reasons …June 30 was the end of the fiscal year and December 31 the end of the tax year. In anticipation of high volume we would pay close attention to staff scheduling, move equipment and wear comfortable shoes. In the past few years this has changed. Our recording totals have not significantly changed, but our ability to handle large numbers of documents has dramatically improved. There is no question that the new computer system has made recording documents faster. It is on days like 12/31 and 6/30 that is really shows.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Online Security

The FDIC is pressuring banks to make online banking more secure. Right now, a customer establishes his identity with a user ID and a memorized password. This level of security is apparently vulnerable to hackers who can then “hijack” the bank account. The FDIC was banks to use a “two factor” security system consisting of the memorized password and some type of hardware security device. One device under consideration is a small plastic box, about the size of your automatic car starter. This device contains a window that displays a six digit number that changes every minute. Presumably this random, ever changing number is synchronized with the computer that controls access at the bank so that the combination of your user ID, your unique password, and this random number would authenticate you. Because this random number changes each minute, it’s next to impossible for a hacker to guess the number at the precise time it is in effect. Of course, it’s unclear what would happen when the customer lost this device or had it stolen. Still, it will be much more secure than the current password system which often relies on words or numbers that are designed to help the user remember them. Unfortunately, linking a password to some personal information also makes the password much easier for a hacker to predict. This type of online security issue is of great interest to us at the registry since we will soon be recording documents electronically. One of our major concerns with electronic recording is knowing that the person submitting documents for recording is who they purport to be.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Christmas shorts:
Do you think Pedro Martinez feels Christmas has become too commercial??
I like Christmas Carols but…is it really necessary to start playing them the day after Thanksgiving.
What do you call someone who is afraid of Santa Claus?…Claustrophobic
Don’t forget…our 1966-75 Grantor CD set. It makes a great stocking stuffer for the person that has everything.
Hearing Bruce Springsteen sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” makes me wonder if Santa was Born in The USA.
I am the only person I know that loves fruitcake.
If athletes get Athletes Foot does that mean Astronauts get missletoe?
The hardest part about working at the registry this time of year is resisting the cookies, candy and other delectable that are EVERWHERE.
Happy, safe holidays to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Birthday, Blog

The registry blog is one year old today. Our first entry was posted on December 23, 2003. Back then, we announced "This site will have the latest news about what's going on at the registry and in the real estate and recording business. I hope the blog proves useful and informative." Most people would say that we have followed through on our promise. Sometimes it's tough to come up with a topic every day (when we began, it was seven days per week; now we've reduced it to five), but any time something happens that affects the registry, we write about it in the blog. By reading it, you'll be the best informed registry user around. We're working on a compilation of blog entries for the entire year so we can present it to you as a single document. Now that I think about it, we should include an index that helps locate relevant topics. I guess you'd use a full year of blog entries more like a reference book than a novel (although reading the compiled blog just before bedtime might be a reliable cure for insomnia). Next week will be a series of "year in review" entries recapping 2004 at the registry. Until then, Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Electronic Recording Update

Here’s the latest on electronic recording: after January 1st we expect to move the ACS electronic recording software from the test server to our live production system. Next, we will electronically record several fictitious documents to test how it works with our regular recording system. We will use fictitious documents in case there are any problems; we don’t want to jeopardize real documents. We’re also testing this stage because every other time we’ve added a new feature to our regular recording system there have been unintended consequences (the military calls this “collateral damage”) that must be rectified. Once the first phase of testing is successful, we will advance to recording individual documents such as mortgage discharges or assignments from a selected national mortgage company. This will allow us to test the fee payment mechanism (electronic bank transfer at the end of the day). The document types that we will accept at this stage are not particularly time sensitive. We really are unable to develop procedures for electronically recording time sensitive documents such as deeds and (some) mortgages without the type of practical, hands-on experience that these earlier stages of testing will provide. That’s our plan. Once we start executing the plan it might undergo some drastic changes, but we’ve found that it’s easier to alter an existing plan than it is to just make things up as you go along.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

1951 to 1975 Index on CDs

Now that we’ve distributed dozens of sets of CDs containing the 1966-75 Grantor Index in PDF format with excellent results, we’re ready to make even more available. After January 1, we will have a 5-CD set available that will contain the following: 1951-60 Grantor Index (2 disks); 1961-65 Grantor Index (1 disk); and the 1966-75 Grantor Index (2 disks). So, for the investment of just five blank CDs, you can have 25 years of the Grantor Index on your home or office computer. The material’s not copyrighted, so you can copy the files to as many computers as you wish. We plan to include a bonus CD in this set. This sixth disk will contain a variety of documents related to the registry that might be of use to you such as the Deeds Indexing Standards, filing fee and excise tax charts, and anything else we can think of that might be useful. If you have any suggestions about the type of information we might have that you could use, please let us know. I’ll be writing more on this topic next week, so if you’re interested, please check back.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Never Heard of a Talking Blog...Well Listen to This

By now most people are familiar with a Web Log or Blog as it is commonly called. But as is always the case, technology is bringing something new. It is an iPod Broadcast or a Podcast. An iPod is an MP3 player that can hold up to 5,000 digitized songs. They are by far this years “hot gift”. The idea behind a “Podcast” is simple. Instead of using portable MP3 players such as Apple’s iPod for only listening to music, new software called iPodder allows one to download from websites prerecorded audio on various topics. Anyone with a microphone and a computer can Podcast. Podcasts are a means of delivering highly specialized content to a narrow audience. Sounds like a “Blog” doesn’t it? Well, in its simplest form it’s a blog with audio. But it goes beyond that…some Podcasts are taking a form similar to radio shows. Already there are Podcasts that specialize in politics, comedy, history and biographical information. In addition there are literally millions of cellphones with MP3 capability and a network connection… and millions more being sold each month. This means Podcasts can be heard directly from cellphones. The Podcast may represents the next generation of the “Blog”…Maybe I should start working on my diction.

Friday, December 17, 2004

More on Our Move

Early in the new year we should have a good indication of whether the registry of deeds will be moving to a new location. If the governor’s budget recommendation for the coming fiscal year (July 2005 to June 2006) gives us the money that would be necessary to rent space, we will probably proceed with advertising for proposals. Of course, the final version of the budget is up to the state legislature, but if the governor recommends funding this proposal, it will be easier for our legislators to try to keep the money in the budget than it would be to add it afterwards as a budget amendment. The registry will require 15,000 square feet of space somewhere in Lowell (as required by Massachusetts General Laws chapter 36, section 1). Right now, the placement of different registry functions is driven more by the space available than by the most efficient layout we could imagine. A new space would give us the flexibility to better organize our operations. When it comes to designing the new space, the state has certain criteria for what can and cannot go into a new registry. An area for title examiners and visitors to eat lunch (which was a comment to a previous blog entry on this topic) most likely won’t be allowed, but closing rooms will. Even though moving is by nature disruptive, this will be a great opportunity for us to improve our operations. Stay tuned.

Computer Grinch

Warning to all the Whos in Who-ville: From high up in his cave on Mt Crumpit the Computer Grinch has stuck again. This time the curmudgeon has cooked up a new virus especially for the holiday season. It is called “Zafi” (where do these virus names come from?). Zafi pretends to be an e-mail with holiday greetings. The worm appears with “Happy Holidays” in the body of the e-mail accompanied by a phony link to a holiday postcard. You think… “how nice… someone with a dog named Max sent me a Seasons Greeting card…I hope it is a musical one”. Wrong! When the user clicks on the postcard link the virus infects the computer. Oh yes, he's a mean one Mr Grinch. But the Computer Grinch isn’t happy ruining just one Whos holiday. “Zafi” spreads using e-mail addresses from the computer it infects. To quote Cindy Lou Who … “enjoy the holidays, but be on the look out for Zafi”.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Googling The Library

The Internet giant Google is getting into the library business in a way that will revolutionize our ability to access information. Google has entered into agreements with a number of major libraries across the country – Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library – by which Google will scan the non-copyrighted holdings of these and other libraries and make the material available on the Internet. There is no cost to the libraries for this service nor will anyone be charged for using this material online. Google will derive its revenue by selling ads, just as it does on its current search screen. The libraries get their holdings scanned for free. Because the Internet business is characterized by a certain follow the leader mentality, it is almost certain that other major Internet information providers such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon will embark on similar projects. While scanning books and documents is still a labor intensive activity, the continuously dropping cost of electronic storage, advances in scanning technology, and the widespread use of broadband, DSL and other high speed, high capacity information pipelines makes this effort to make all of the world’s information freely and readily available to anyone with a computer close to becoming a reality. Why do I write about this? Because it’s exactly what we’re trying to do here at the registry with regard to land records. Every day, we add more data and images to our computer system. The ultimate goal is to have every record freely available over the Internet. Unfortunately, a number of people in the registry of deeds business are big advocates of charging for access to this information. That’s a very bad idea as far as I’m concerned. While the provider might realize a few dollars from such a service, it’s backwards thinking that runs counter to this ever growing effort to democratize access to information by making it freely available to anyone who can use it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


We are moving along steadily with the Registered Land back scanning project. You can now access registry documents 58,000 to present both on-line and at the registry. As expected the older documents are in worse condition than the later ones. Obviously, this means more time and manpower is needed for document preparation. To prevent a slow down in production we have re-assigned an employee who will work full time preparing documents for our scanners. To get a document ready to scan means unfolding it, re-writing faded instrument numbers, making copies of colored pages and/or anything else needed that will make the document create a better image. This project is very high on our priority list. The Registered Land microfilm viewers are becoming increasingly unreliable. Even when working properly they are painstakingly slow to use. Many people to say the least will be happy when this project is finished.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Origin of Species, Registry Style

Here’s a story that describes how condominiums are handled in Registered Land and how that process has changed over the years. Of course, this account might be more myth than fact, but it’s the best I can do. If you know otherwise, please use the comment feature to clear things up. When condominiums first became popular in the late 1960s, the Land Court decided that certificates of title for condominiums should be placed in separate certificate books with each condominium complex in a separate book. That was certainly a logical approach: the master deed that created the condominium would be the first certificate in the book. As each unit was sold or resold, a unit certificate would be placed within the same book. At some point, probably in the mid-1980s when the Wang computer system was installed, the Middlesex South Registry in Cambridge received court permission to handle condominium certificates differently. In the Wang system, all master deeds were placed in separate certificate books that contained only master deeds. These certificate books became known as “C” (for condominium) books. Then, certificates of title for individual condominium units would be placed in another set of books, known as “U” (for unit) books. When the Wang system spread to Lowell, Worcester and Greenfield, those registries all adopted the Cambridge way of organizing registered land condominium certificates of titles. Most of the remaining registries, however, retained the original “separate book for each condo complex” method. When ACS arrived in Massachusetts in the spring of 2002 with instructions to duplicate the existing registered land method of operation, ACS duplicated the Cambridge system since four of the five registries that first received the ACS system all were operating Wang computers. Now, as more and more registries switch to the ACS system, they must transition to the Cambridge system of organizing registered land condominium certificates of title. That’s where we now stand. If anyone has a different version of events, please share it.

Friday, December 10, 2004

New York New York

Over the past twenty years, computer technology has radically changed day-to-day operations at most Registries of Deeds. Undoubtedly, there will be a time when it will be commonplace to do searches and document recording from the convenience of your office. Registries are organized similar to public libraries. The “Indexes are our “Card Catalog” and the “Records Book” the materials libraries store. In some ways, large,
well-funded libraries may be developing models that Registries will copy in the future. An example is taking place right now in a neighboring state. The newest books in the New York public library don’t take up any shelf space. They are electronic books. Card- holders simply point and click through the library’s collection ( The
E-book inventory includes best sellers; nonfiction, romance and self help guides. Patrons borrow a book for a set period, downloading them for reading on a computer. When the book is due the files are automatically locked out and returned to circulation for another user. Although only a month old, the idea is very popular. In the first eight days of operation over 1,000 digital books were checked out. E-books are freeing institutions from the limitations of physical location. Obviously, an electronic based library is less expensive to operate and more convenient for the consumer. Books can be borrowed 24/7 from anywhere with instant access. Over the past five years the implementation of technology in registries has taken a path that parallels that of the New York Public Library, remote use through digitalization. This seems to be wave of the future.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Disaster Planning

Here’s a comment posted last week regarding our blog entry about a problem that occurred with the computer system at the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds:

“I was discussing the registry and computers with a client the other day. I always tell clients they will get their original back, but the copy recorded at the registry is the more important one. I tell them the only time they would need the original was if the registry burned down with all its records. So, we wondered what sort of back-up the registry has now that everything is on computers. What happens if they crash? Is there a backup copy (or several copies) in a drive under a mountain somewhere?”

At this registry, we are always concerned with disaster recovery, especially since we stopped producing printed document record books back in November 2001. Now, our primary method of storage is by electronic images that were created by scanning original documents. These electronic images reside on our computer server which is here at the registry. Everything on that server is duplicated and stored on the state’s Internet server which sits at a distant location. If anything were to happen to this building and its contents, everything stored on our computer system here is duplicated on this other server. Besides that, we copy these electronic images to magnetic tapes which are rotated out of the building on a weekly basis to an offsite storage facility. Finally, all documents are also microfilmed. The microfilm is stored offsite at a secure storage facility that was built to withstand a nuclear attack. So with all of that, we’re confident that at least one copy of our records would survive just about any scenario. Although our records would survive, we’re not exactly certain how long it would take to make them fully accessible to the public once again. That’s why we still spend a great deal of time on disaster planning. This is an important topic, so we’ll probably have more to say about this type of preparedness next week.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Phase One

We completed the first phase of the plan re-scan project last Friday. This phase dealt with plan books one to eighty. Our quality check included missing and bad images. Most of these plans are Blue prints. The heavy material and dark color of our Blue Prints make them difficult to scan well. During the next project phase we will quality checks Plan Books eighty-one to present. Although this range is much larger, it should go faster. Almost all of these plans are on Mylar, a material that is easy to scan and produces excellent images. The check will focus mainly on missing images since the vast major of these plans display fine. We keep tight control over daily plan scanning, but some plans were inadvertently named incorrectly during the re-scan process. As always we depend on public feedback to help make our operation run well. If you see a plan problem please let us know so we can make the appropriate change.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Remember Pearl Harbor

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Lowell Veterans’ Council held a commemorative ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium at noon today. One of the attendees was Henry Champagne who enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 1940 and was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Phelps in August 1941. The Phelps was present at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Mr. Champagne told of standing on deck, waiting for the 8:00 a.m. liberty boat to bring him and his shipmates to shore for a relaxing Sunday. At about 7:55 p.m., the sky filled with planes and the air was filled with the sound of explosions. The crew went to their battle stations and defended their ship as best they could. Hearing the story of this now 84 year old eyewitness to history was very moving. But why should we continue to remember Pearl Harbor? The heroic acts of those who were there that day are certainly worthy of remembrance, but more importantly, December 7 serves as a lesson, now reinforced by September 11, 2001, that we live in a dangerous world, something we can never afford to forget.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Deeds Excise Tax - Historic Charts

We’ve added charts showing the amount of Deeds Excise Tax charged through the years to our website (follow the “Regular Users” link). We have four: 1940 to 1967; 1968 to 1969; one effective July 1989, and another from January 5, 1993 to the present. We will add Deeds Excise Tax charts for other time periods as soon as we get them. What’s the use of having outdated tax charts? Older deeds often do not state the sales price of the property, but they do have clearly visible tax stamps. If you can read the cost of the tax stamps (which you usually can), you can use the tax chart for the time the deed was executed to calculate the approximate sales price. If anyone has a copy of Deeds Excise Tax charts for past years, please fax us a copy at 978/322-9001.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Massachusetts Residency Test

It's Friday and the registry is relatively quiet, so here's something a little different. Are you really a Massachusetts resident? Take this test and find out. You're from Massachusetts if:

You think crosswalks are for wimps
If someone is nice to you, you know they either want something or they’re from out of town
You call Coke and Pepsi “tonic”
You know that a yellow light means that at least five more people can get through and a red one means two more can
You could own a small town in Iowa for the cost of your house
There are 24 Dunkin Donuts shops within 15 minutes of your house
If you stay on the same road long enough it eventually has three different names
Someone has honked at you because you didn’t peel out the second the light turned green
You’ve honked at someone because they didn’t peel out the second the light turned green
You cringe every time you hear an actor imitate a “Boston accent” in a movie
At the ice cream shop, you call chocolate sprinkles “jimmies”
You miss the smell of burning leaves
You know how to pronounce Worcester, Haverhill and Leominster
You know what they sell at a “packie”
You’ve never been to “Cheers”
You’ve slammed on the brakes to deter a tailgater
You keep an ice scraper in your car all year round
You’ve pulled out of a side street and used your car to block traffic so you can make a left
You’ve bragged about saving money at The Christmas Tree Shop
You know what “regular coffee” is
You have been to Fenway Park
You use the words “wicked” and “good” in the same sentence
You know what a frappe is
St Patrick’s Day is your second favorite holiday
You always say “the Cape” never “Cape Cod”

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Pennsylvania's Step Backwards

Back on September 1st we wrote about the city of Philadelphia’s project to provide wireless Internet service to all residents, predicting that more cities will soon do the same. Well that won’t be happening, at least in Pennsylvania. That state’s legislature just passed a law prohibiting cities from building their own high-speed Internet networks. Who’s the beneficiary of this legislation? It’s the big telephone companies, particularly Verizon. The “good government” fig leaf that it’s governmental supporters hide behind is a requirement that the dominant telephone company of every region must provide region-wide high-speed Internet service throughout their territories – but they have a decade to do this. If cities could build their own taxpayer-financed networks, it would be a lot cheaper for users and would therefore cut into the phone company’s profits. We hope this anti-consumer, protectionist mentality does not descend upon the Massachusetts statehouse. High-speed Internet service in 2004 is the same as sewage, running water, and paved roads were in 1904. If municipal government had been barred from providing this basic infrastructure, we’d still be using chamber pots and drawing water from a well in the backyard. Today, having government provide Internet service is the best way to bridge the “digital divide” that deprives the less affluent of a prime ingredient for upward mobility. Hopefully, this shortsighted move by the Pennsylvania legislature won’t start a national trend.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Blog on Blog

Today the Blog talks about “blog”, well, the word “blog” that is. Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has announced that the 2004 word of year is “blog”. The “word of the year” distinction goes to the word that is most often looked up on the Merriam-Webster website. Since July “blog” has consistently been among the top fifty words people search on the dictionary's website. According to Merriam-Webster spokesperson Arthur Bicknell “blog” is looked up tens of thousands of times per month. It wasn't even close. "Blog" topped other old standards like “incumbent” (second place) and “electoral” (third place)by a wide margin. need for registry aficionado’s to look up “blog”. We know it is “a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies”…and let’s add “interact with the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds”. But there’s more…congratulations are in order. The word “blog” will be added to the 2005 edition of the Collegiate Dictionary. When is Microsoft going to catch on? Spell Check underlines in red every time I use the word “blog”(there it goes again). Don’t look up “blog” in your Thesaurus, you won’t find anything. What's the favorite word of Merriam-Webster website visitors?… Right…”defenestration”. What does it mean?… Don’t bother looking it up. You can find out right here in the registry…”blog”.
Defenestration- The act of throwing someone or something out of a window (I thought that was called murder). What's next?...Who knows… maybe teenagers wearing T-Shirts with “BLOG ON MAN” across them.