Saturday, December 31, 2011

December recording stats

A special Saturday edition bringing you the December recording stats:

The number of deeds recorded in December 2011 dropped 1% compared to December 2010, from 497 to 494

The number of mortgages recorded in Dec 2011 dropped 17% compared to Dec 2010, from 1623 to 1343

The number of foreclosure deeds recorded in Dec 2011 rose 200% compared to Dec 2010, climbing from 13 to 39

The number of orders of notice recorded in Dec 2011 dropped 2% compared to Dec 2010, from 44 to 43

The total number of documents recorded in Dec 2011 dropped 7% compared to Dec 2010, from 6386 to 5946

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Ten Registry Events of 2011

Here are my choices of the Top Ten Registry of Deeds events of 2011:

  1. After years of discussion, study and testing, the "new" version of MassLandRecords.com becomes the default search application for registry of deeds records on the internet.
  2. In two far-reaching decisions on mortgage foreclosures, Ibanez v. US Bank in January and Bevilacqua v Rodriguez in October, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a foreclosure commenced prior to the the entity conducting the foreclosure being assigned the mortgage is void, even as against a subsequent purchaser of the property.
  3. Adverse weather repeatedly had a negative impact on registry operations.  Snow forced the closure or curtailment of operations on six days in January and February; Hurricane Irene interrupted electricity and partially flooded the basement in August; and the Halloween snowstorm knocked out power and closed the office for two days in early November.
  4. The new MassLandRecords put all grantor and grantee indexes from 1629 to the present on the registry website.
  5. A major revision to Massachusetts Homestead Law went into effect on March 16.
  6. Attorney General Martha Coakley sued five national lenders for, among other things, failing to modify mortgages in good faith, failing to record required assignments of mortgages and foreclosing on properties when not legally entitled to do so.
  7. Essex South Register of Deeds John O'Brien gained national attention with his efforts against MERS and robo-signers.
  8. The new elevator in the Superior Court was completed and went into operation.
  9. The Lowell-based movie "The Fighter" which had scenes filmed in the Superior Courthouse, won Academy Awards and Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and actress (Melissa Leo).
  10. The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup.
Happy New Year.  See you in 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

File Print Server

On four separate occasions over the past six weeks we've had a problem with our networked printers, simply put...the printers stop working. I want to emphasize this problem has caused no inconvenience for the public. Why? mainly because the fix is quick and easy. When the problem occurs we immediately call the Secretary of State's IT Department and either they or we boot the "file/print server". But the simplicity of the fix does not make the problem any less serious.

The first time we experienced the problem the SEC IT Department speculated that the memory in "print server" was full (booting empties the cache). Even though the problem has reoccurred three addition times since this hypothesis, memory over-load may still actually be the problem...but why? Why is the memory filling?, determining this is complex.

This morning our printers shut down again...This time a diagnosis of the server revealed a possible IP address conflict. Our MIS Director immediately resolved that issue.

I want to reiterate, this problem has not caused any interruption in our operation or inconvenience for users. I'll continue to keep you current on the issue.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Ten events of past years

Every December I publish a list of the Top Ten events at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds for that year.  The 2011 list will be done this Friday, December 30.  In the meantime, I've listed below the Number One item from Top Ten lists of years past, with links to each year's full list:

2010: Electronic recording continues to become a major point of entry into the registry for new documents. From January to June, electronic recordings constituted 15% of our average daily recordings; from July to December, electronic recordings accounted for 23% of our daily recordings.

2009:  The state’s financial crisis caused mid-year cuts and a reduced budget for FY10, curbing our ability to implement new technology and registry-related applications.

2008: The Paperless Registry – On April 1, 2008, we closed off the Lower Record Hall to public access and thereby made all record books and indexes available only on our computer system.

2007: On August 20, 2007, we fully implemented our “scan and return” operation. From that day forward, all recorded documents were scanned at the time of recording and immediately returned to the customer.

2006: To reduce the risk of identity theft, registry employees redacted thousands of social security numbers from previously recorded documents.

2005: Electronic Recording became a daily event during 2005 with nearly 1,000 documents recorded in this manner. There are many details that must still be resolved, but the technology has proven to be useful and reliable.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Biometric Password

The newest new thing coming to computers and smart phones is biometric passwords.

What is biometrics?
"Biometrics is the science of measuring physical properties of living beings (bromba.com)".

What is biometric recognition?
"By measuring an individual's suitable behavioral and biological characteristics in a recognition inquiry and comparing these data with the biometric reference data which had been stored during a learning procedure, the identity of a specific user is determined." (bromba.com

What is a biometric Password?
"Authentication may take advantage of biometrics by using a biometric characteristic as identifier or as verifier. When using biometrics as an identifier, uniqueness (very low FAR) is an essential requirement especially for large user numbers. When using biometrics as a verifier, the biometric characteristic may be either viewed as a secret or as public. In the latter case, it is essential that a fake detection is provided against mechanical copies of the biometric characteristic." (bromba.com)

OK,OK enough of this high-falutin, scientific language...here is a video from the New York Times describing biometric passwords.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Registry Holiday Schedule

With Christmas only two days away, I thought now might be a good time to look at our short term holiday schedule and how all legal holidays play out on the 2012 calendar.  By state law, when a holiday falls on a Sunday, as Christmas and New Years do this year, the "legal holiday" is observed on Monday.  That means the registry of deeds and all other government buildings will be closed on Monday, December 26, 2011 and on Tuesday, January 2, 2012.  (When the holiday falls on a Saturday, it is observed on Saturday only as was the case last year for Christmas and New Years).

Besides New Years, the days we will be closed in 2012 for holidays are as follows:
  • January 16 - Monday - Martin Luther King Day
  • February 20 - Monday - Presidents' Day
  • April 16 - Monday - Patriots' Day
  • May 28 - Monday - Memorial Day
  • July 4 - Wednesday - Independence Day
  • September 3 - Monday - Labor Day
  • October 8 - Monday - Columbus Day
  • November 12 - Monday - Veterans' Day (celebrated on Sunday, Nov 11)
  • November 22 - Thursday - Thanksgiving
  • December 25 - Tuesday - Christmas
Please note that because 2012 is a leap year, Christmas and New Years both jump two days in the week, so while they fall on Sundays this year and would normally fall on Mondays next year, they actually are on Tuesdays.

These are the only days on which the registry is scheduled to be closed.  The registry may close in the event of weather emergencies such as major snowstorms.  There is no hard and fast rule as to when that might happen, but it is decided on a case by case basis.  The best way to find out the registry's status is to consult with this blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Traditions

Did you ever wonder why certain traditions and customs became associated with Christmas? I did. Below I have listed a few traditions and their origins:

Stockings: According to legend the tradition of putting presents in stocking began in the 12th Century by French nuns. The nuns would go around to the homes of poor people and leave old stockings filled with fruits and nuts.






Gifting Giving: In Roman times gifts were given on New Years Day. Interestedly, today Italians still do not exchange gifts on December 25...rather Italians exchange gifts on January 6, the day the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem.






Christmas Trees: The tradition of the Christmas Tree began in Germany in the 1500's. One source actually states that Martin Luther was the first person to decorate a fir tree as part of the holiday.











Christmas Cards: Sir Henry Cole, a government worker in England in the 1840's was looking for a way to make more people use the postal service. Cole and his friend, John Horsley designed the first Christmas Cards and sold them for 1 shilling each.




Candy Canes: Again a tradition that originated in Germany...legend has it that a choirmaster passed out sugar-sticks made in the shape of a Shepard's "cane" to children during the concerts to keep them quiet.






Mistletoe: The custom of kissing under Mistletoe began in Norway. In Norway a piece of mistletoe hanging in a house is a sign of love and friendship. This tradition evolved into the kissing custom.







Boxing Day: Boxing Day is celebrated in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It started almost 1000 years ago. Today Boxing Day is a big shopping day in these countries, but originally it was the day the churches opened their collection "boxes" and distributed the contents to the poor.





Santa Claus (modern day): The image of Santa as we knew him...a rotund, jolly man in a red suit with a white beard comes from a Coca-Cola advertising campaign in the 1930's.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Excellent Techie Info Sites (and a Bonus)


I enjoy reading about technology...and fortunately, there are a number of terrific sources of information for the technology oriented. Below I have listed five of my "many" favorites:





AllThingsDigital: Is owned by the Wall Street Journal. This is a powerhouse of information. When you visit you'll find news, opinion and commentary on, well "all things digital".

CNet: One of my absolute favorite information websites. CNet focuses much attention on digital consumer items (that's why I like it so much). In addition to the website CNet publishes a blog and podcasts.

Gizmodo: According to Technorati, Gizmodo is in the top five visited websites in the world. It offering information about cool electronic gadgets... and uncool ones too.

PCWorld: Maybe the most commonly known techie website providing product reviews, pricing information and just plain interesting article about digital stuff.

Techcrunch: This is one high powered and popular technology websites out there. Techcrunch ventures into a beyond range of digital and Internet topics should as social networking.

Bonus Site...Bonus Site...Bonus Site...Bonus Site...Bonus Site...Bonus

OK... I said I was only going to list my five favorite sites, but I must mention one more. It IS my favorite source of technology information...

Wired: To begin, Wired has has an incredible iPad App...the site is colorful, informative and innovative. Wired uniquely blends technology issues with societal and cultural issues, making for some interesting reading.

Monday, December 19, 2011

SEC sues 6 former Fannie and Freddie executives

Last week the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it had filed civil lawsuits against six former executives of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The allegations, according to this story are mostly that the executives greatly understated the level of risk involved in the mortgages being sold to investors.  For instance, one of the defendants once gave a major speech asserting that Fannie Mae had "virtually no" subprime mortgages.  The problem was that Fannie was using its own definition of subprime not the one the rest of us understood.  To Fannie, "subprime" was a function of the lender, not the borrower.  Any loan made by a Wall Street firm, for instance, was deemed a "prime" loan, no matter what the credit score of the borrower.

The only thing I find shocking about this is the fact that the SEC has taken some action at this point, more than three years after the financial collapse.  You would have thought that an event that nearly destroyed the western world's financial system would have had some culpable folks, but to date, hardly any have been held accountable.  Perhaps this suit signals a change in that, but I doubt it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mid-month recording stats

With December half over, I thought a quick look at recording statistics to date would be worthwhile, so I've compared recordings during December 1 to 15 in both 2010 and in 2011.  Interestingly, the number of deeds and orders of notice recorded were nearly identical during the two periods.  For those two weeks in 2010, there were 231 deeds recorded; for the same time in 2011, there were 233.  In those two weeks in 2010, there were 28 orders of notice; the exact same number were recorded in 2011.  It was a different story with the other two document types we follow.  Mortgages were down considerably, falling from 856 in the first half of December 2010 to 630 for the same days in 2011, a drop of 26%.  And foreclosure deeds were way up, jumping from 7 in 2010 to 24 in 2011.  To put that number in perspective, if we projected it over the entire month, it would give us 48 foreclosure deeds, a number that would exceed the total for any other month in 2011.  In 2010, however, eight different months had more than 48 foreclosure deeds recorded.

Be sure to check back at the beginning of January when we'll have stats for the entire month of December and for all of 2011.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Their Last Words


Yesterday morning while watching WCVB's News at 5:00AM a "tease" before the break caught my attention. In a well articulated tone the anchor said something like... "What did they say? Last words of famous people"... bam, a commercial. Unfortunately, time retrains prevented me from seeing the "Last Words" TV segment, so I looked it up this morning on the stations website, thebostonchannel.com. The website article mentioned a number of famous people and their last words. I choose ten and listed them below.


Composer Ludwig Von Beethoven:
Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished.

Circus P.T. Barnum: How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?

Actor Humphrey Bogart: I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.

Playwright George Bernarad Shaw: Dying is easy, comedy is hard.

Beatle George Harrison: Love one another.

Senator Robert F Kennedy: Is everyone else all right?

Author Oscar Wilde: My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.

General George Patton: This is a hell of a way to die.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs: Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.

Mexican Revolutionary Pancho Villa: Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The registry of deeds and the US mail

Last week a wave of stories broke about plans to curtail mail service in the United States.  This article from the December 5, 2011 New York Times, for example, mentions lengthening the time of delivery of first class mail.  Now, a majority of pieces in that postage category are delivered the next day.  Under the new plan, which involves among other things, closing many regional mail processing centers (including the one in Lowell), the quickest that first class mail would be delivered would be two days after mailing, even if it's only going across the street.  This is just a proposal, but it seems clear that big changes will be coming to our national mail service.

The problems of the USPS got me thinking about the relationship between the registry of deeds and the mail.  Approximately one-quarter of our daily intake of documents comes to the registry by mail or other delivery service (as opposed to in-person or electronic recordings). 

Here are some of our observations about "the mail."  By far the biggest volume arrives on Monday (or a Tuesday if there's a three day weekend).  Tuesdays and Fridays tie for the next busiest mail day, while the volume on Wednesdays and Thursdays tail off considerably.  Most of the mail that arrives on Mondays was sent by a bank or other institutional entity while mail received on the other days comes primarily form law offices.

When we use the term "mail", it refers to all documents delivered to us, be it by the US Postal Service, UPS or Fedex.  The latter two are used almost exclusively by banks and institutions and rarely by law offices.  As a percentage of our daily "mail", deliveries from UPS and Fedex are definitely increasing.  These days, the document types most frequently received by mail are foreclosure related.  There will be a spurt of orders of notice followed a few months later by an increase in foreclosure deeds.  Since the Ibanez case, the number of foreclosure-related assignments received by mail has definitely increased.

The single biggest reason we reject mail is that the document presented for recording lacks a reference to a related document.  It is essential that such a reference be present so that we can ascertain whether the document belongs in Recorded Land or Registered Land.  Other reasons for rejection, in descending order of frequency, are documents sent to us are for another registry; there's a missing signature (either grantor, notary or on the check), and finally, the check accompanying check for recording fees may be stale or in the wrong amount.

Finally, the way to ensure that your mailed-in document gets recorded promptly is to include a self-addressed stamped envelope with it.  Those get processed very quickly.  Because they need additional handling, submissions that lack the required SASE are put aside so as not to delay those customers who follow the rules.  We eventually record the mailed in docs that lack a SASE, but only after everything else has been recorded. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

eBooks for Free

As I get older, I get cheaper. Let me explain...



Last August my family gave me a Nook eReader for my sixtieth birthday (I'm the cheap one, not my family).
I love it.
But since then I've been buying an eBook every couple of weeks or so, that's a problem for a cheap guy like me.
I just finished reading a "small" book by humorist Dave Barry titled Dave Barry Turns 50. Now, if you've ever read Dave Barry you know, although very entertaining, his material is not very scholarly...in other words you can blast through one of his books in no time.
I paid $9.99 for Dave Barry Turns 50. Ten bucks for a quick read like that?! No way...but, as I mentioned I love my Nook.
What can I do?
The other day I met a friend and shared conversation and enjoyed a coffee with him (he had his own coffee and I had mine own, I'm not that cheap).

Me: You know, I love my Nook by I don't want to pay 10 bucks for an eBook every week.
Him: This coffee is good...Did you say something?
Me: I said since I turned sixty I'm too cheap to buy eBooks.
Him: Do you want a piece of Danish?
Me: I'd love a Danish but I'm not paying 2 bucks for one. Did I tell you I paid 10 bucks for Dave Barry Turns 50 ?
Him: I thought you turned sixty not fifty?
Me: I said "Dave Barry" turned fifty, not me. Maybe when Barry does turn sixty he'll get cheap like me and reduce the price of his eBooks. I'm hungry. I wonder what they're charging for a muffin?
Him: Get'em at the library?
Me: Why, are they selling muffins cheap at the library?
Him: Not the muffins, the eBooks.
Me: What?
Him: You can get your eBooks at the library for free right here in Lowell and most other surrounding communities.
Me: Really...are you saying I can download eBooks to my Nook (or Kindle) right from the library for free? Is it difficult to do?
Him: This Danish is fabulous...I think this is homemade jelly on it.
Me: Forget that...Do I need a special computer or buy software to borrow eBooks from the library.
Him: No, ...just go on to your local library's website, download the necessary free software they provide and you are ready to get a free eBook.
Me: Wow, maybe we should head to the Pollard Library.
Him: You don't have to go the library... you can download eBooks right from your home computer.
Me: I was talking about the cheap muffins you said they had.
Him: No cheap muffins...but free eBooks

Monday, December 12, 2011

Returning from the disabled list

I've been absent from the blog and from work for a while.  Back before Thanksgiving I suffered a detached retina which required immediate surgery.  The procedure went well and the vision in that eye should gradually return to normal over the next few weeks.  The biggest challenge was the post-care which required me to lie face-down for 17 consecutive days to allow everything to heal properly.  It took a few days to adjust to that awkward positioning, but after that the challenge was more mental than physical.  In that, modern technology came to my rescue.  Between an iPad and a laptop, both positioned on the floor, I was able to watch TV (I saw a lot of football and hockey), surf the web, and enjoy all kinds of movies streamed via Netflix.  All that made time pass quickly enough. 

Today is my first day back at the registry.  Ironically, at the same time that I was out injured, my office computer died (a sympathetic reaction?) so this morning was spent putting its replacement into operation, catching up on emails and doing the end of month reports I usually have finished a few days into the new month (my apologies to anyone inconvenienced by that delay).  In the courthouse lobby this morning, a landlord I know who was waiting for Housing Court to open asked about recent trends in foreclosures.  I confessed to losing track of that and other statistics, so I do have a bit of catching up in that regard to do over the next few days.  In conclusion, thanks to Tony Accardi and Dick Regan and all the other registry employees for allowing me to convalesce without worrying about the office and for making the transition back to work such an easy endeavor.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Seeing-Eye Mouse

Often I get caught up in the everyday, simple uses of a computer...sending an email, looking for a good restaurant, receiving news updates etc. But today a fellow employee told me about a fabulous technology that demonstrates perfectly how computers can improve lives.

Watch...I'll bet you are as amazed as I was.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwich


I read Google's Technology News every morning...hey, I've admitted it before, I'm a true, blue, techie geek and proud of it.

But this morning when I logged into google's technology section I was confused, geek or no geek.

Why? I saw this headline: "Hacker Installs Ice Cream Sandwich on Kindle Fire"
What, the heck does that mean? I thought. I was baffled, yes still a geek, but a baffled one.

So I did what every true, blue, baffled, techie geek would do...I googled Ice Cream Sandwich.

Of course, the first hit I saw explained that an Ice Cream Sandwich was a vanilla flavored ice cream bar with a chocolate "cookie" on the top and bottom (we geeks loved them when we were kids).

But the next entry explained that Ice Cream Sandwich was a version of Andriod, google's popular mobile operating system.

What!? When!? Why!? How!? I thought I was a real geek! I've never heard of this before...So I did what every baffled, true, blue techie geek would do...I looked it up in wikipedia.

Here is what I found...like every operating system, Andriod releases improvements and fixes bugs. This is done by releasing updated versions.

As a true, blue, techie geek, I find Google uniquely clever. Case in point...At some point, for some reason Google decided to name each new version of Andriod after a dessert... and to name them in alphabetical order.

Up to this point, there have been seven versions of Andriod...Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and yes...Ice Cream Sandwich.

So being a true, blue techie geek I'm already wondering...What will Google name the next Andriod version. It must begin with a "J", so will it be... Jam, Jello, Jelly, Jellybean, Junior Mint, Jalousie... etc?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Pearl Harbor, 70th Anniversary

Seventy years ago today the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack left almost 2,400 dead, 1,178 wounded, sank a dozen U.S. warships and destroyed 323 aircraft.

Five years ago on the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor I watched a PBS program about the attack. The show was enhanced with numerous interviews of survivors telling what they saw and experienced on that infamous day. I found their stories the most amazing chronicles of heroism I ever heard in my life.

On a personal note...Every Pearl Harbor Day I think of my father. He passed away a number of years ago at the year of 70. My father was born in 1920 and was 21 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He,like so many others, joined the Navy just days after the attack. He saw heavy action in the North Atlantic aboard the USS Campbell, a Corvette warship. Corvettes were used to protect convoys as they brought supplies to troops in Europe. These fast destroyer-like ships would zigzag in front of the convoy seeking and destroying German U boats in their path. On one occasion torpedo stuck his ship damaging its engines and rudder. The ship was unable to move or maneuver. For twenty four hours the USS Campbell and its men sat like sitting ducks, motionless...but armed and ready to fight, every man fixed at his gun. In the early hours of the morning, a day later, the Campbell was finally rescued and towed to Reykjavik, Iceland where it was repaired and sent back out to continue its duties.

Days like today remind us of the special sacrifices made by Americans of that great, generation.

Below is a video from the official Pearl Harbor site titled "A Day at Pearl Harbor".

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Windows 8... Coming in January


My computer at home is running Microsoft Vista...it is a cumbersome Operating System that boots up very slowly. But, once its cranking it works fine.

I've my laptop computer for about three years now and I'll admit I've gotten used to Vista...but I've been tempted by the allure of Windows 7. I even thought I might upgrade it if I saw a good deal during this Christmas season.

I'm glad I didn't see a good Christmas deal.

Why? Well, I just read this morning that Microsoft is releasing Windows 8 in early January. And its sounds radically improved from Windows 7.

The most outstanding new feature in Windows 8 is the touch screen feature..yes, the mouse and keyboard will still be there...but you don't need to use them if you don't want to.

And on a more technical level Windows 8 will be compatible with ARM processors. ARM's are highly versatile microprocessors that use low power...this means they are perfect for use in mobile devices and tablet computers...so ARM's put the Windows 8 Operating System in the cell phone/tablet arena.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has developed a reputation for not delivering products timely...we'll see with Windows 8.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Famous IQ Scores

Yesterday I started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book deals with extraordinary people and the unique opportunities that paved their path to success. One person mentioned in the book is Chris Langan. Langan is famous because his IQ is 195. To put this in perspective the average IQ score is 100 and a score of 140 or above is considered "genius". Langan's incredibly high IQ made me curious. I wondered what some other famous people's IQ's might be... so this morning I did some investigating and found the IQ scores of these well known people:

Albert Einstein (Scientist): IQ Score 160







Arnold Schwarzennegger (Actor/Politician/ Bodybuilder): IQ Score 135








Bill Gates (Microsoft Owner): IQ Score 160








Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State): IQ Score 140








James Woods (Actor): IQ Score 180







Stephen Hawking (Physicist): IQ Score 160







Steve Martin (Comedian/Actor): IQ Score 142








Reggie Jackson (Baseball Player): IQ Score 160






Bobby Fisher (Chess Champion): IQ Score 187









Madonna (Singer/Dancer/Actress): IQ Score 140

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Huckleberry Finn", the Great American Novel


Yesterday was Samuel Langhorne Clemens' birthday...better known as Mark Twain. In celebration, google's doodle depicted a scene from Twain's most famous novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

I read Tom Sawyer many years ago.It's OK...but my favorite Twain novel is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...I am not alone in this assessment. Many literary critics even consider Huckleberry Finn the great American Novel.

Twain published Huckleberry Finn in 1884. It was a socially significant work, unlike Tom Sawyer. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is filled with philosophical and practical messages. Perhaps the two most significant are the concepts of human understanding and individualism.

I didn't read Huckleberry Finn until I was in my early twenty's. It had a powerful effect on me...you know when you read something or someone says something that hits you like a lightning bolt? That's what The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did to me.

My favorite passage from the novel is below, but first some background...

Huckleberry Finn and a slave named Jim ran off together (I'm simplifying). During their time together Huck and Jim became close friends, Jim even saved Huck's life...but social and religious beliefs in the 1840's demanded that Huck return the slave to his owner, Miss Watson. Huck was taught it was a matter of right and wrong...a matter of being moral or immoral.

The juxtaposition of what society and religion tell Huck he should do, and what he feels in his heart, creates an enormous moral conflict central to the novel...and actually life itself. Huck gives his dilemma deep thought then decides to return Jim in compliance with the accepted standards of society. He writes Jim's owner, Miss Watson a letter in which he tells her he has her slave. As Jim sleeps and Huck navigates the raft down the Mississippi River he holds the pivotal letter in his hands and says...

"It was a close place. I took it up , and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath and then says to myself: 'All right, then I'll GO to hell- and tore it up'."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google "Indoor Maps"

This is really cool, seriously.

Google is offering "indoor maps" for your smartphone.I'm talking about maps of the indoor layout of buildings...buildings like malls, airports, large parks etc.

Just think of the possibilities...you're in a mall and you feel like a cup of coffee, you wonder..."where's the coffee shop?". With google "indoor maps" all you have to do is pull out your phone, and google will determine where you are then display the floor plan of the mall... just zoom in and bingo, there's the coffee shop.

Of course, google indoor maps is in its infancy stage, so not many buildings are available right now...but as time goes on google will quickly build its inventory and surely plot larger facilities first.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good News & Bad News About Real Estate Market

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released a report on single-family home sales for October. The reports indicates some good news and some bad news.

First, the good news...Sales of single-family homes in Massachusetts rose 3% in October from a a year ago.

Now the bad news...the median selling price of a single-family home in Massachusetts dropped by 5.2%.

This is the fourth month in a row that sales have increased while prices have dropped.

Here are some specifics in the report taken from boston.com

During October, 3,057 detached single-family homes were sold in Massachusetts, and the median selling price for the month was $275,000, down from $290,000 in October 2010, the association said.As for the Bay State’s condominium market, 1,038 condos were sold in October, up 0.78 percent from the number in October 2010; condominium median selling prices in October were up 4.08 percent from the October 2010 median price to $255,00, the association said.
But the "big picture view" of the Massachusetts real estate market still shows trouble. Experts predict that sales for 2011 will be down from 2010 and 2009 while Foreclosures increase.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday activity set records. And as I mentioned above, real estate sales improved over the past four months of 2011. These are positive signs...but the question is, are they real indicators of long term improvement to our slumping real estate market?

We all hope so.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Growing


I remember a few years back when I first wrote about Cyber Monday, I thought it really was just another marketing gimmick for retailers.

I guess I was wrong.

Cyber Monday has become a major shopping event and a major money maker for retailers.

It is not just a shopping day for techie people anymore. In fact, experts estimate that 120 million people will shop online today with sales topping of $1 billion. That's about 10% of all holiday sales.

I found it interesting to discover that 71% of people who own a tablet computer will shop online and 53% who own smartphones will shop online.

The increase in Cyber Monday sales is a true indication that more and more people feel safe shopping online. Of course, the Internet is threatened by hackers and phony deals, but online consumers have become more sophisticated and better at steering away from dangerous Internet areas. This new consumer confidence has led to a 20% increase in 2010 sales over 2009.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fun App Gets Me in Trouble


The other day I found a fun App for my iPhone...actually, it was a little too much fun, for me anyway. Let me explain...

The App is called RedLaser. It is a barcode scanner/reader and its free.

Here's how it works...Simply point your smartphone camera at a product's barcode label and RedLaser captures the product information, then makes a beeping sound just like the one at a store's checkout counter. After RedLaser reads the barcode label, it displays the price, manufacturer, reviews and price of the product at competing stores.

As I said...its a fun App, BUT...

Last Tuesday my wife and I went food shopping for Thanksgiving. I hate stores and I hate shopping, usually. But I must admit, I was excited to go that day...Why?, because I wanted to try out RedLaser.

As I entered the store I immediately showed my wife my new product scanner App. "Watch this", I said as I picked up a loaf of bread, aimed the camera and RedLaser read the code. "See, see it says the product is bread and its cost $2.50 and you can buy it in XYZ store for $2.40". My wife snapped back "Yeah, I can tell its bread by looking at it and we are not in XYZ store".

As we strolled the aisles I purposefully drifted away from her so I could give RedLaser a good test ride.

I picked up a bag of potato chips...pointed, scanned, and heard my phone beep, potato chips $2.99, XYZ store price $2.79. My wife caught up with me. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Just scanning this item", I told her. "Put that away. You can hear that stupid beep all over the store".

I didn't put it away...I moved a few aisles away from her and... beeeep, scanned a can of peas. I saw a customer turn and look at me. I didn't care. Beeeep, I scanned a six pack of English Muffins; Beeeep, a dozen eggs; Beeeep, a bag of carrots. Then another customer gave me a smirky stare. Beeeep, who cares, beeeep, I love this App, beeeep, more stares... beeeep, beeeep.

I got tired of the dirty looks, so I found a quiet area in the frozen food section. I picked up a turkey, aimed and pointed...no beeeep. I tried again...no beeeep. What the heck? The barcode label was on the rounded part of the breast so RedLaser was having trouble reading it.

Determined, I turned the turkey on its side, aimed, pointed...still no beeeep. I stood it upright, aimed, pointed... again no beeeep. In frustration my attention turned away from the stubborn, frozen turkey. It was then I noticed a store manager with his hands on his hips eyeballing me. He began walking toward me. Quickly, I gave the turkey one last try, aim, point, success!...beeeep rang out of my phone. The manager moved faster.

Just then my wife appeared out of nowhere..."give me that phone before you get thrown out of the store", she says as she grabbed it from my hand. The manager stopped dead in his tracks. I glanced at him and sheepishly muttered beeeep...as I followed behind my wife like a naughty schoolboy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Home prices continue to drop

The Globe reported yesterday that the median sales price for single family homes in Massachusetts dropped 3.2% in FY11 (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011) when compared to FY10 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010).  This news prompted me to do some simple calculations based on deed recordings here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.  Our system does not contain information on the usage of properties, so we can't tell whether a deed is for a single family home, an industrial building, or a vacant lot, but we do have prices and dates and addresses, so our information is of some use.

To do this analysis, I found the median price of the consideration stated on deeds recorded where the consideration was more than $60,000 and less than $900,000.  This should eliminate all related-party transfers and sales for less than full consideration.  It would also eliminate major developments in the million dollar range which, if included, might skew the numbers.

Here's what I found: the median price of all deeds recorded in calendar 2010 for the entire registry district was $251,000 while the median price for deeds recorded during the first ten months of 2011 was $246,000 which represents at drop of 2%.  When the 2011 number is compared to the median deed price in 2007 ($280,000), we find a decrease of 12%.  Looking back before the real estate boom commenced, back to 2002, we find a median deed price of $249,900 which is almost exactly the same as the current median price.

Monday, November 21, 2011

iCar Remote...Sure

So I'm surfing the Internet for a topic for today's blog and I come across something called RedLaser which is an App that reads barcode labels. It sounds interesting, so I start looking for a RedLaser YouTube video that I can include with the blog entry. Success, but my interest is diverted to the "related video" section and a video that calls itself, "the coolest iPhone App Ever". The App is called iCar Remote.

Here is the YouTube posters' write up on the video

iCar Remote. It's basically a remote control for your car. Control windows and even drive it! Awesome. Get it from the APP STORE off your iphone.


Now, here is the video of coolest App ever



Disclaimer: If you are interested in purchasing iCar Remote I'll bet the manufacturer would be willing to throw in a bridge in Brooklyn for no additional cost.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jobs, Gates and GUI


I find technology and the men and women that develop it fascinating. Specifically, Steve Jobs (Apple) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) capture my imagination. Recently, I came across an interesting confrontation between these two titans. At the center of the conflict was something called Graphical User Interface or GUI. I know, it sounds complicated, but stick with me here, its really not. You already know all about GUI and this is an interesting story...let me continue.

Back in the early days, computers could only generate and display small green (or gray) letters on a dark screen (if you are old like me, you'll remember this). The user controlled a computer by entering a "command prompt"...something like C:/config, (stuff like that). Computers could not display pictures, graphics, banners, etc...just boring little green letters (or gray).

Enter a genius (no, not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates)...In the late 1970's Xerox Company (yes, the copier company) developed a computer operating system that used a mouse and something called bit-mapping to command the computer. All the user had to do was move the mouse's arrow to an icon and click. Yes, you're right, this is the same system we use today to command a computer. This mouse driven system is called a Graphical User Interface system. I told you, this was easy...stick with me.

OK, lets get back to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. In 1979 Steve Jobs was invited to visit a Xerox Development Lab where he saw the revolutionary GUI (Graphical User Interface) in operation for the first time. Xerox's system wowed Jobs. He immediately assigned his Apple Engineers the task of duplicating the GUI to be used on Apple's new Macintosh Computer.

In 1984 the Macintosh made history when it was released with Apple's version of Xerox's Graphical User Interface.

OK, now to Bill Gates, so stick with me here...

The following year Gates' was running his small software development company named Microsoft. Microsoft did some work for Apple in those days so Gates and Jobs knew each other. Shortly after the release of the Macintosh, Bill Gates released his own Graphical User Interface operating system called Windows. When Steve Jobs found out he was furious.

Stick with me here, this gets good...

The anger Jobs called Gates to his office (remember in those days Jobs was a big timer and Gates was a small timer). According to Gates, during the meeting Jobs lambasted him for developing Windows and accused him of stealing Apple's Graphical User Interface Technology.

"I trusted you", Jobs screamed, "and now you're stealing from us!". Gates took all of Jobs' fury until he could stand not more...Finally, he looked Jobs straight in the eye and calmly said..."Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

File this under great lines.

Steve Jobs never forgave Gates for developing Windows and the relationship between Microsoft and Apple ended with discord, a fact that had a wide impact on the future development of computers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mid-month statistics

November is half over so its time to take a peek at our recording statistics to date.  The number of deeds and mortgages recorded during the first fifteen days of 2011 is almost unchanged from the same period in 2010.  From November 1 through 15 of 2010, there were 212 deeds and 760 mortgages.  For the same fifteen days in 2011, there were 216 deeds and 754 mortgages, an increase of 2% and a decrease of 1% respectively.

Foreclosure related documents are a different story and unfortunately the theme of that story is not a good one.  The number of orders of notice recorded from November 1 through 15 of 2011 was 48 which is an 85% increase from the 26 recorded during the same period in 2010.  Similarly, the number of foreclosure deeds for this period of 2011 was 21 which constituted a 91% increase from the 11 recorded in 2010.  These foreclosure increases haven't continued for long enough to declare them to be a trend, but they certainly bear watching.  More on that in future posts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SJC Justice Cordy on state of judiciary

Associate Justice Robert Cordy of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA).  Justice Cordy first explained that he could not comment upon cases like Ibanez, because other cases with like issues were now pending before the court. 

His remarks instead were on the state of the judiciary in the Commonwealth which he called "a catastrophe in slow motion" due to the ever shrinking funding provided to the courts.  With the number of court employees down by 1200 since 2007, the courts face more business than ever.  Tough economic times give rise to more litigation and much of that litigation involves pro se litigants who take up much of the time of court officials.  He said that the negative consequences of this decrease in funding with an increase in volume of cases are unavoidable and likely to get much worse.  On top of that, we are now in an era of "unprecedented political attacks on the judiciary" at a time of "declining knowledge of civics" by the general public.  In all, it is a recipe for disaster.

While acknowledging the reality of declining revenues, Justice Cordy explained that the judiciary differs from many other government entities.  If a road needs repaving but the money is not available, the road usually can wait.  The administration of justice, on the other hand, cannot wait.  He quoted former Chief Justice Margaret Marshall who said that the judiciary is the oxygen of a democracy: you don't realize its value until you don't have it.

Justice Cordy urged a pardigm shift in how the judiciary is funded and in how that funding is spent.  Courts must be made more efficient and more accessible through the use of technology and a flexible workforce.  He closed by quoting former US Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand who said, in 1951, that the Eleventh Commandment in a democracy is "Thou shalt not ration justice."  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Future is BrinBot

Google is crazy about robots...and is investing in the development and advancement of human-like robots capable of doing everyday tasks. The concept is called Singularity and it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie
Singularity — a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.

At that point, the Singularity holds, human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past (NYT).

Correction, Singularity sounds more like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Recently, Google co-founder Sergey Brin remotely controlled a robot at a NASA campus during a Singularity Conference from miles away. Google calls its robot BrinBot. The "human Brin" sat in a remote computer lab and instructed the "robot Brin" to circulate around the room and engage attendees in social conversation.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Billerica Homestead Seminar

Yesterday Register of Deeds, Dick Howe and I conducted a Homestead Seminar at the Senior Center in Billerica. Approximately thirty people attended and listened to the Register explain the recent changes to the Homestead Law and the instructions on how to fill out the Homestead form. The attentive audience had plenty of questions...probably the one asked the most was the status of Homesteads filed before the March changes. BTW, Homesteads filed prior to the change are grand-fathered.









Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Billerica Homestead Seminar

Today Tony and I traveled to the Billerica Council on Aging to talk about the Declaration of Homestead.  An overflow crowd of 32 gathered to hear a brief presentation on homestead basics and a discussion of changes that occurred with a major amendment to the law back in March.

Many of those in attendance already had homesteads recorded but they had heard about the new law and were anxious to learn how it might effect them.  While we can't answer specific questions, we can offer general commentary about the law.  If anyone would like to schedule a homestead seminar for their group or organization, just send an email to lowelldeeds[at]comcast.net.  All that is needed is a meeting space big enough to accommodate the expected crowd.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Facebook Needs U



Help Wanted

That was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's message when he visited Massachusetts last week.

Zuckerberg told a large group of Harvard students...
The next five or ten years are going to be about all the different products and industries that can be rethought.
In other words, the billionaire 27 year old believes there will be many employment opportunities in the computer industry in the future and he wants to entice the best to Facebook.

Way back, when Zuckerberg was just a freshman at Harvard he created a precursor to Facebook called Facemash... In the process he hacked his way into the college's main computer system, an act that al.

But yesterday, all was forgiven and administration officials welcomed Zuckerberg with open arms.

His message was clear...There's a lot of really smart people here and a lot of them are making decisions about where they're going to work" he told the group of admiring students... and he wants them.

Now there is an employee message with a real promise, considering Facebook has 800 million users right now.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Reducing mortgage principal as a real estate remedy

On Saturday, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera added his voice to the growing chorus of those who believe that reducing the principal of underwater mortgages is the key to any rebound in real estate.  Nocera acknowledges that this approach seems unfair to those who were more restrained in their borrowing, and would tend to reward those who made risky decisions.  For those reasons, it's an intellectual challenge to acknowledge the benefits of this approach. 

In the several years since the real estate bubble burst, many approaches to stabilizing real estate have been tried, but strategies that simply restructuring mortgages that are underwater or reducing their interest rates have repeatedly proven to be completely ineffective.  With so much of our economy so closely tied to housing, its unlikely that any broad recovery can occur until real estate begins to rebound.  Without some drastic measures, that will take many years.

Friday, November 04, 2011

October recording statistics

Here are the recording statistics for major document types for October 2011 compared to October 2010:

Comparing October to October . . .
Deeds: 389 in 2011 vs 447 in 2010 - a 13% decline
Mortgages: 1103 in 2011 vs 1508 in 2010 - a 27% decline
Foreclosure Deeds: 33 in 2011 vs 35 in 2010 - a decline of 6%
Orders of Notice: 65 in 2011 vs 90 in 2010 - a decline of 28%

Comparing first ten months of 2011 to same period in 2010 . . .
Deeds: 4227 in 2011 vs 4448 in 2010 - a 5% decline
Mortgages: 9104 in 2011 vs 10481 in 2010 - a 13% decline
Foreclosure Deeds: 350 in 2011 vs 553 in 2010 - a decline of 37%
Orders of Notice: 599 in 2011 vs 1063 in 2010 - a decline of 44%

Thursday, November 03, 2011

High Volume Recording Day

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds reopened yesterday after being closed for two days due to a power outage at the Lowell Superior Courthouse. We expected a busy day and had one.

Two major factors that also contributed the high volume... the two days we were closed were the last day of October and the first day of November, traditionally busy days.

In total we recorded 837 documents, probably our biggest recording day in seven years.

Two Hundred and Eighteen of the 837 documents recorded were e-recording. Watching these come in was an experience. Let me explain...once an employee logs into the e-server the number of e-recordings waiting to be processed pops up...so if we have eighty in queue and record one the amount usually drops to 79, but no yesterday.

Yesterday, E-recordings were coming in so fast that when we recorded one there were ten more added. At one point I asked, "how many 'e's' left?" and was told "25". Twenty minutes later I asked again "how many left?"... the answer "45".

And since the registry did not receive snail mail, UPS or FedEx for two days their deliveries were huge.

I'm proud to say our staff did a terrific job. By the end of the day everything (including hundreds of pieces of mail) was recorded and no one waited more than ten minutes.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Registry back in business

After being closed the last two days due to storm, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds re-opened today.  It took us an hour or so to get all the computers running - the lengthy outage made it a more complicated recovery than is usually the case - but we were fully operational by 9:45 am.  As of 3 pm, we have recorded 790 documents which is more than 3 times our daily average (which would make sense - we were closed 2 days plus today).  Several hundred of the recordings were electronically submitted. 

Once we have fully recovered from this outage, we will re-assess our disaster recovery plans and will report fully on them here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds post-storm update

The Lowell Superior Courthouse has been without electrical power since Saturday night's storm.  Consequently, the Trial Court closed the building yesterday and again today and will continue to do so until power has been restored.  The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, located inside the courthouse, has also been closed both days.

If power is restored overnight, we will be open for business tomorrow morning in our normal manner.  However, if the power remains out, we will establish partial operations at Lowell City Hall in the basement Human Relations Conference Room from 10 am until 3 pm tomorrow and each day continuing until regular operations are restored.

At Lowell City Hall, we anticipate accepting documents for recording for subsequent recording once the registry itself resumes operation.  We will assign each document delivered to us in this manner a sequential number that will control the order of recording once the registry itself comes fully into operation.  Customers using this service will be able to access MassLandRecords.com to do pre-recording rundowns and then will be permitted to view either the previously received documents or hand-written daily sheets that will be prepared as they were in the days before computers were utilized for this task. 

While we will not be able to assign actual book and page numbers or time of recording, this system will allow customers to convey documents into the custody of the registry with an extremely high degree of confidence that no other documents, other than the ones you have already had the opportunity to see, will get on record before your's.  Hopefully, this will all have been a contingency planning exercise and power will be back on in the courthouse overnight.  If it is not and if you are under pressure to record, please come see us at Lowell City Hall if you have any questions.  Unfortunately, because of extremely limited internet access here in Lowell (I'm doing this post from the city library), it will be difficult to update you from here.  Please check with MassLandRecords.com for additional announcements.































Friday, October 28, 2011

Delaware sues MERS

Yesterday the state of Delaware filed suit against MERS for a long list of "unfair and deceptive trade practices."  An article about the suit in Business Week is here and a press release from Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden is here.  It will take a while to sort out all the counts of the suit, but it seems from the press release that the main objections to MERS are not with its overall structure but with a failure to follow its own procedures.  This is a developing story so I'll be following it closely and will post relevant updates on this site as they occur.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween, Digitally


I'm not really a Halloween guy, but I know many people love it. When I was a kid, way back, a group of us would get together and travel from house to house with lipstick or makeup on our faces. Those of us that were really creative would wear a hat. Today Halloween and Trick or Treating have become much more sophisticated, from spooky houses to elaborate, realistic scary customs.

And now Halloween has gone high-tech. There are numerous Halloween Apps available to download to both iPhones and Andriod smart phones (note, they are not free)... Here are a few examples:

iPhone Apps

Halloween Costume Fashion Fun for Kids and Adults

Don't know what to wear for Halloween? This App suggests popular customs including photos. And if one hits your fancy you can buy it online.

Carve It!
Remember the old days when the only way to carve a pumpkin was with a knife? No more...with this App you can carve a "digital pumpkin" with your finger...and even email it to a friend.

Android Apps

Trick or Tracker

This one is my favorite...This App allows you to keep track of your children while they are Trick or Treating. The App periodically sends a text message indicating where your child is located. And, if you want, you can set a limit on how far your child can travel. Its called a "geofence". If the child goes outside the "geofence", the App sends you an alert. Now that's cool.

Halloween Planner
This is a party planner...more specifically, a Halloween Party planner. This App helps you organize and purchase what you need to throw the scariest Halloween Party ever.













Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Some background on the "new" MassLandRecords

The new version of MassLandRecords moved into the primary position on October 1 - you can still opt into the old version at least until January 1, 2012.  As everyone gets used to the new application, I thought some background of how the new version came about might be of interest to readers:


In the summer of 2002, Middlesex North became the first registry of deeds in Massachusetts to install the ACS computer system.  Employees and customers quickly became comfortable with the new system which was known as 20/20.  Other registries followed with ACS installations at regular intervals.  MassLandRecords soon followed, hosted first by ACS but then (and now) by the Secretary of State’s office. 

While customers appreciated the 24/7 web access to registry records provided by MassLandRecords, many questioned why the web site did not more closely resemble the more user-friendly 20/20 search application.  I had to agree.

One of the biggest differences between 20/20 and the MassLandRecords was the way search results were returned.  A search of JOHN SMITH on 20/20 would yield an alphabetized list of all variations of that name.  You could scroll down through the entire set of results or, by clicking on the tip of one of the columns, resort the data by document type, address, or any other variable.  By clicking on a line of data, the document image was fully visible in an adjoining window. 

On MassLandRecords, the same search yielded only a single entry for each variant of the name (SMITH, JOHN A; SMITH, JOHN JR; etc) with a number to the right indicating how many separate documents contained that particular variant of the name.  Clicking on the JOHN A line opened all of the entries containing the name JOHN A SMITH.  To view entries for JOHN SMITH JR required you to reverse course and do the same process over again.  Expanding the entries to display additional data required more clicks and there was no ability to re-sort the results of a particular search.

On January 25, 2007, the ACS Users Group which consists of representatives of all registries of deeds in the Commonwealth that use the ACS computer system, met in Worcester to recommend changes to MassLandRecords.  After a series of meetings throughout 2007, the group requested that the website’s functionality be made to mirror that of the 20/20 search system used in the registries.

That was not the only change requested.  Registry users can be divided into two categories: “real estate professionals” such as lawyers, paralegals, brokers, appraisers and others who deal with real estate for a living; and “casual users” – a home owner looking for a copy of her deed, a genealogist researching the history of a residence, or anyone else who uses MassLandRecords once or occasionally.  Those of us who field phone calls from casual users know that a major problem for this class is over populating the search screen.  Confronted with the standard MassLandRecords search screen, the casual user felt a need to enter something in every available field of the query.  In doing so, the query was made too restrictive and eliminated the very document the user was looking for. 

To cut down on this over population problem, the ACS Users Group also asked that a new version of MassLandRecords would default to a “basic” search screen that would only have fields for limited information such as first and last name, but that an “advanced” search function containing all the traditional query fields be only one click away for professional users of the website.  Since the number of occasional users who visit the site dwarfs the number of professionals, the Users Group concluded a two-tiered basic and advanced search architecture was an important modification.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Thermostat That Learns



Have you ever heard of Tony Fadell?
I hadn't, until this morning that is.

Tony Fadell is "the father of the iPod". I know, you (and I) thought that was Steve Jobs.
Nope, its Fadell.

Ten years ago, while working for Apple, Fadell conceived of the idea of the iPod and brought it to executives. Although the concept originally meet resistance, it eventually led to over 300 million sales... and a historic music revolution.

Now the man who revolutionized the digital music industry has set his sights on another frontier.

The thermostat...
Yes, I'm talking about the household thermostat.

But Fadell's thermostat is no ordinary thermostat. Its a "smart-thermostat".
Fadell describes it as more of a mini-computer than a device that simply reads and regulates the temperature in a house.

Here is how it works...For the first week after installation you have to set the temperature manually...then the "smart" in "smart-thermostat" takes over:

In the first week, it relies on manual adjustments. But after that, algorithms designed by machine learning experts, set the temperature automatically. Those algorithms refine themselves every time you manually adjust the temperature. Sensors constantly monitor temperature and humidity, as well as ambient light and activity near the device or farther away in the house. "We can see if there is anyone in your home," says Fadell. "We learn your schedule and your temperature preferences over a week. And we adapt continuously over time. (CNN Money)

In other words...Fadell's "smart-thermostat" learns when you are in the house, when you come home, what temperature you like while watching TV, what temperature you prefer for sleeping etc. Now that is smart...for a thermostat.

The new thermostat is being developed by Fadell's own company called Nest and will be revealed to the public today and go on sale in mid-November...for $249.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kodak and disruptive technology

While real estate and registry news are the two most obvious themes for this site, technology is a topic that's always of interest to us.  For that reason, a story on the future of Kodak in Friday's New York Times caught my attention.  If you're old enough to remember cameras in the pre-digital age, you were probably a regular Kodak customer.  I know I was.  For years, picking up some of those small yellow boxes of 35mm film was routine.  But at some point I, like everyone else, made the jump to digital photography and Kodak's core business - selling that 35mm film - melted away to nothing.  As the Times story says, "Kodak's phenomenal success in film would also be its undoing, making its managers complacent and slow to adapt to change." 

By the time that Kodak's leaders accepted the fact that their core product was doomed to obsolescence, the company had lost any technological edge it may have grabbed had it embraced digital technology early on (it was a Kodak scientist who invented the world's first digital camera).

Now, Kodak has staked its future on consumer inkjet printers.  Their spokesperson explains that the company has a "treasure trove" of inkjet technology and that such a strategy plays to the company's core competencies since it is at the "intersection of materials science and digital imaging science."  Unlike other manufacturers of inkjet printers that price the machines low and the ink high, Kodak is supposed to sell slightly more expensive machines but much more affordable ink refills.  Still, Kodak only has 6% of the consumer inkjet market while Hewlett Packard has 60%.

Despite the confident talk emerging from Kodak, if you Google the company name, many of the results are stories predicting the company's imminent bankruptcy.  I don't know about that but I am convinced that the technological world is moving towards smart phones & tablets and away from desktop computers with attached printers.  Right now, most of us are more comfortable reading from paper than from a screen, so I can understand why someone might say "there will always be a need for printers' but that's just a habit that will change over time.  All I know is that one last box of yellow film I have tucked away in a drawer at home is going to stay there because a decade or so from now it will be a valuable artifact of a bygone technology and a symbol of a once-great company that refused to change.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Flood damaged real estate documents in Vermont

Earlier this week I read an article that described how real estate closings in much of Vermont have screeched to a halt because many of the state's land records were damaged in the flooding that followed Hurricane Irene back at the end of August.  Vermont is one of three states - I believe Connecticut and Rhode Island are the other two - in which land records are maintained at the municipal level.  To do a title search in Vermont, instead of going to a county-level registry of deeds, you must go to the local town hall where the land records are kept in the town clerk's vault along with marriage, birth and death records.

Vermont law requires these storage vaults to be fireproof but not water proof.  It appears that the law also does not require any type of microfilm or digital backup of the original paper records.  When the late August flooding hit, therefore, the land records in many towns became soaked, a condition that quickly would prove fatal to the continued existence of those records unless they were immediately freeze dried and professionally recovered.

To me, one of the main attractions of digitizing our records was that we could easily and affordably make multiple copies and store those copies in multiple places.  On top of that, we have since World War Two, at least, produced microfilm of all recorded documents with that film being stored offsite in a secure location.  No technology is perfect: microfilm can degrade over time.  And computer programs and storage methodology can change over time rendering otherwise intact digital images unusable.  Have you tried viewing material stored on a 5.25 inch floppy disk recently?

The Vermont situation is a valuable reminder of the importance of thorough disaster planning.  Hopefully, ours will never be tested like that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

SJC issues new foreclosure decision

Earlier this week the SJC released its decision in Bevilacqua v Rodriguez, a case that involved a defective mortgage foreclosure.  Here are the facts: In 2005, Pablo Rodriguez granted a mortgage on his home in Haverhill to Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc (hereafter MERS) as nominee of Finance America LLC.  On June 29, 2006, US Bank executed a foreclosure deed on the property in which it purchased the property at the foreclosure auction it conducted (which is what usually happens in a foreclosure).  On July 21, 2006, MERS assigned the mortgage that had already been foreclosed to US Bank.  On October 9, 2006, US Bank sold the property to Francis Bevilacqua.  Because of uncertainty about the strength of his ownership of the property, Bevilacqua filed suit in the Land Court to clarify his title to the property.  The Land Court ruled that Bevilacqua did not own the property and he appealed.

In this case, the mortgage that had been signed by Mr. Rodriguez was held by MERS but the promissory note apparently was held by US Bank at the time Rodriguez stopped paying.  US Bank would be the entity to conduct the foreclosure.  But, before it could commence the foreclosure and certainly before it could conduct the foreclosure auction and then sign the foreclosure deed, US Bank had to be the owner of the mortgage.  Otherwise it would have no ownership interest in the property and therefore nothing to foreclose.  Because the assignment of the mortgage from MERS to US Bank came after US Bank had already foreclosed, its foreclosure was defective and title did not pass to it pursuant to the foreclosure deed it executed.  Because US Bank did not hold title, when it conveyed the property to Mr Bevilaqua with a regular deed, it owned nothing so Mr Bevilaqua got nothing.  This much of this case simply confirms the SJC’s ruling earlier this year in US Bank v Ibanez that an entity conducting a foreclosure must already have the mortgage assigned to it before the foreclosure sale occurs.

The new issue addressed in this case is the ownership status of someone like Bevilacqua who is the third party purchaser of a previously foreclosed home.  In almost every foreclosure, the high bid at the foreclosure auction is made by the lender that is conducting the foreclosure.  Once the foreclosure deed is recorded, that lender becomes the owner of the property.  Because the new owner wants to be a lender and not a property owner, it puts the property up for sale not as a foreclosure but as a normal arms-length sale to a third party (Mr Bevilacqua in this case).  Ibanez had left open the question of the rights of such a third party buyer who purchased from a lender that had conducted a defective foreclosure.  Bevilacqua quite clearly says that if the foreclosing lender did not obtain valid title through the foreclosure sale, no one who purchases from that lender could obtain valid title either.  Those are the buyers who, according to the Globe headline, are left in limbo.  That’s true, but I believe after Ibanez most people had already concluded that was the case.  At least now there’s a bit more legal clarity.