Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

November 30, 2006

Techie Leftovers

by @ 9:28 am. Filed under Technology

Tis the season for leftovers, right…so here’s a few techie things I thought about blogging on but had too many other things on my plate.

Last week Microsoft released its new music player called Zune and industry experts are already predicting a battle of the giants…the other giant being the Apple iPod, of course. The Zune got off to a quick start grabbing 9% of the US market in its first week of sales. Some believe the Zune is an iPod slayer…as for me, I’ll believe it when I see it. Every kid and adult I know wants an iPod for Christmas (that includes me).

New York, New York…Later today in New York Microsoft will announce the release of its new (and long awaited) Vista Operating System…but don’t go heading to your favorite tech store at midnight tonight to get your copy…it is available for only business customers?… As for me, I believe the day of the stagnant,box style, operating system is quickly coming to an end…and Microsoft knows it.

Got a question???? Well, Google doesn’t have the answer anymore. The search behemoth decided to abandon its “answer service”. Here is how it worked…You asked your question through Google and a researcher looked up the answer for you…of course, Google charged a fee depending on the amount of time it took to find the answer…as for me, I checked it out once. It didn’t do much for me and…Google’s Internet search is so effective you can find the answer to about any question you want FREE, so why pay for it.

A new study done by the University of Southern California says that 21% of adults think their children are on the Internet too much…I remember growing up hearing experts say kids were watching too much TV… As for me, I would rather have a kid on the Internet than in front of the boob tube watching The Adventures of Davy Crockett.

OK…I’m done with them…I’m throwing the rest of the leftovers out…

November 29, 2006

E-Recording Road Trip

by @ 1:38 pm. Filed under E-Recording

Yesterday I journeyed to Concord, New Hampshire to visit the Merrimack County Registry of Deeds, the one office in our neighbor to the north that has been doing electronic recording. Kathi Guay, the Register of Deeds, was kind enough to show me around the registry, to arrange for an electronic recording to arrive while I was there, and to discuss some of the “big picture” issues that I’ve been struggling with. Perhaps the most prominent of those issues right now is what I call the “recording gap,” that is, the time between a remote customer does a final rundown on the registry website and presses the “send to register” button and the time at which the registry actually records the document. That time is certainly not excessive. It’s often only a few minutes. But how do we address those few documents that might get on record during those few minutes? In New Hampshire, they give incoming electronic recordings top priority. If you are a walk-in customer with a document and the clerk has already commenced recording your document, when an electronically submitted document arrives, everything stops until the electronic recording is processed. The objective is to promote greater use of electronic recording by making that “gap” as narrow as possible. While I don’t think I’ll adopt that system completely, I do think a modified version of it is how we should operate. I envision us having a separate terminal for processing electronic recordings. When one arrives, an employee immediately begins processing it at that terminal, regardless of how many customers are waiting in line. Other clerks will continue to take those customers at the regular recording terminals, it’s just that electronic recordings will potentially jump in front of them. That’s a reasonable concession because the walk-in customer continues to have the benefit of the existing “look back” feature and can abort a recording right up until the registry clerk presses the “record” button. And that’s exactly how it works with documents received by mail and courier right now. More on this topic to come . . .

November 28, 2006

Changes Next Week

by @ 12:14 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

The Middlesex South Satellite Office is on the move…and it should happen sometime next week. All week long we have been shuffling furniture and computers up and down the registry’s hallways. Yesterday, the new copy area was arranged, re-arranged, re-arranged again and finally connected. Today, our MIS director intends to set up and test south public access terminals and cashiering stations. We expect this to go smoothly…We hope to make the change over seamless with as little interuption to the public as possible…The plan is to keep recording, search and printing capabilities operational in both the old and new satellite locations…basically run a parallel system for at least one day…I am not sure how much of the reoragnization will be accomplish on Thursday and Friday (last and first day of the month) of this week. The move has a number of objectives… customer convenience and department efficiency. Streamlining these departments means eliminating seldom used equipment and re-allocating staff. One major change from our original plan involves the Secretary of State’s Corporation computer and the computer connected to other registries. Both of these have been moved to the hallway outside of Registered Land. Another major change…The 3M Printer/Reader used to make plans will be moved to what is now the Middlesex South Office…yes, you will still be able to purchase copies made from this machine.

November 27, 2006

Libraries without Books

by @ 11:25 am. Filed under Registry Ops, Current Events

As more and more information becomes available online, libraries are making radical changes in how they operate in an effort to stave off extinction. Saturday’s Globe featured a story on the transformation of UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois library. Dominating the UMass skyline, this 28-story structure formerly held 3 million volumes and assorted other tangible documents, but shrinking usage compelled the library to alter the services it offers. A café, 200 public computer terminals and even “cell phone privacy booths” have replaced many of the dusty stacks of books and papers that have been moved to off site storage. The results are positive, as usage of the library is up 27% this year. To survive in the digital age, it seems, libraries must go from places to get books to places to get information (and human contact, apparently). This also illustrates our societal need to have what is commonly called “a third place.” In this construct, the first two places are work and home, but there is a need for another spot, a third place, where human contact and a good cup of coffee are readily available. With our recent movement of thousands of record books into storage as a strategy for making more space available to both our employees and our customers, we here at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds are quite interested in following the experience of other institutions as they navigate the path from the paper to the digital age.

November 24, 2006

Continued Rise in Foreclosures

by @ 9:46 am. Filed under Statistics

Today’s Globe contains a story about a growing backlog of “foreclosure filings” at the Massachusetts Land Court. The court attributes the delay to several factors including a rise in overall foreclosures, a temporary shortage of employees at the court and a clunky computer system. I can’t address the second and third factors, but based on statistics at this registry, I can confirm that the incidence of foreclosures continues to rise. Comparing the number of foreclosure deeds filed here makes this quite clear. In all of November 2005, only one foreclosure deed was filed; in November 2004 there were 2; in November 2003 there were 3. So far for this November, there have been 22 foreclosure deeds filed. In fact, the total number of foreclosure deeds filed thus far in 2006 – 153 of them – is more than three times as many as were filed in all of 2005 (47). So there’s still no sign of an easing of the housing market’s slide. At the end of next week, we’ll post the official figures for the entire month of November.

November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

by @ 10:33 am. Filed under History

Here is my top ten list of little-known “Pilgrim/orginial Thanksgiving” facts…

Number 10…Turkey wasn’t the only fowl the Pilgrims ate on the first Thanksgiving… They also ate Duck, Goose, Swan and Crane…(Swan?… Hey, it probably tastes like chicken).

Number 9…The first Thanksgiving lasted three days…(now that’s alot of thanking).

Number 8…The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag Indians. The Wampanoag chief was Massasoit.

Number 7…The Pilgrims didn’t use forks… they ate with spoons, knives and their fingers (no paper plates either).

Number 6…The best foods at the feast were placed near the most important people (“hey, can I sit near Chief Massasoit”).

Number 5…There were no pies at the first Thanksgiving, but there were other desserts (”Miles, would you please pass the mousse?”…”no, the chocolate one, not the one with the antlers”).

Number 4…The original Thanksgiving occured sometime between September 21 and November 11 (and since it was a three day event I’ll bet it was a long weekend).

Number 3…William Bradford was the governor of Massachusetts at the time of the first Thanksgiving

Number 2…The Pilgrims originally left England headed for the Hudson River in NY, but ended up in Cape Cod (I guess they didn’t use Yahoo Maps?).

And…
the Number One little-known fact about the original Thanksgiving is…
The morning of the first Thanksgiving the Plymouth Pilgrims played a friendly game of touch football against Yarmouth and lost 7-0.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 21, 2006

Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

by @ 12:17 pm. Filed under Technology, History

In many fields, Microsoft’s PowerPoint has become the standard means of conveying information to an audience. While I find this application to be quite useful, it does have its critics. The biggest complaints are that it tends to “dumb down” the information presented. Each slide can hold only so much text, data or images and users tend to simply read what’s written on the slides as if its some kind of teleprompter that’s aimed at the audience. In doing this, many speakers tend to face the screen and place their backs to the crowd. As a means of poking fun at this phenomenon and of lodging a valid critique, someone has imaginged what the Gettysburg Address (delivered 143 years ago just this past Sunday) would be like in PowerPoint.

November 20, 2006

More on GIS Day

by @ 9:35 am. Filed under Technology

I found last week’s Mass GIS Day very enjoying (GIS states for Geograpic Information System). Over thirty agencies attended the event sponsored by MassGIS. Each vendor demonstrated their unique use for the state’s mapping system. The wide range of uses employed by these agencies truly amazed me. State and local agencies use GIS in Crime Prevention, Economic development, Election results, Climate analysis, Education, Property Assessing etc. I spoke with a number of people at the event, but two conversations stand out in my mind…One was with a representative from the town of Concord, MA. He explained that his department overlays plans from the registry of deeds onto the town’s assessor maps. When you click on the assessor parcel an image of the registry plan is displayed. I loved it. I also talked to someone from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. They use GIS to attract businesses to “the Valley”. They have plotted every commercial parcel in their area. Zoning information, land characteristics, building size and construction traits are available with the click of a mouse. If a business in Texas is looking to relocate to the Merrimcak Valley they can virtual shop online. I congratulate the people from Mass GIS for a well run informative event.

November 17, 2006

GIS Day Remarks

by @ 2:50 pm. Filed under Technology

Yesterday’s GIS Day at the State House included a short speaking program. Here’s what I had to say:

Twelve years ago when I first took office, I inherited a brand new state of the art Wang imaging system complete with an optical disk jukebox for the storage of scanned images. We added so many images so quickly that we quickly needed a new jukebox. The cost of 40 GB of storage was $40,000, a fact that never fails to bring a smile to the face of anyone who realizes today that five times that amount of storage can be had for less than the cost of a reserved grandstand ticket at Fenway Park.

This story exemplifies how rapid changes in the cost of electronic storage and the ready availability of hi-speed Internet service has revolutionized the record storage business. Today, every document at the registry – all 10 million pages reaching back to 1631 – are now scanned and available online.

This technological transformation has completely changed how the registry of deeds operates and is organized. The center of gravity of the registry of deeds is now our website, www.lowelldeeds.com. Today, everything that can be done at the registry can be done on our website, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Technology has completely transformed the way we perform our traditional mission. The great challenge we face is one of imagination because technological advances have also presented us with opportunities to do much, much more than ever before. Our business right now is like a jigsaw puzzle that’s just come out of the box. Each of our offices is like a piece of that puzzle. We operate on our own, but if we can figure out how to fit all the pieces together, we will complete the puzzle to the great benefit of society. Like the puzzle just out of the box, much of the cost has already been paid. All that’s needed is our vision, our imagination and, as those of you who do puzzles know full well, a great deal of persistence.

Thank you to MassGIS and to all the other participants for organizing this event. To continue my puzzle analogy, this is like looking at the picture on the front of the box. We’ve got a glimpse of what the end product should look like, now we have to do the tough work of fitting those pieces together. I look forward to joining with you on this project.

November 16, 2006

Live Blogging From GIS Day

by @ 10:29 am. Filed under Technology

Today is GIS Day in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MassGIS, the state’s geographic mapping agency, is sponsoring a terrific event here at the Great Hall of the State House. More than thirty exhibitors from local, regional and state level governmental entities have come together to display the latest in GIS in the Commonwealth. Besides illustrating the benefits of GIS to folks at the State House, this gathering has provided a unique opportunity for the participants to share ideas and collaborate on projects. In the four hours we’ve been here, we have discussed linking our registry data with maps and photos at MassGIS and with assessor data at various city and town halls within our district. Tomorrow’s post will elaborate on some of these plans, so please check back.

November 15, 2006

Check it Out

by @ 9:14 am. Filed under Statistics, Real Estate

This morning the Boston Globe ran an article on Foreclosure filings in Massachusetts. Normally, I would jump on this as a perfect topic for today’s blog…but the mashup map used by the Globe in this article impressed me more than the statistics. This is the second well thought-out, informative mashup the Globe has used in the past week. Last week the results of the governor’s race were depicted on a map listing voting tallies in every community in Massachusetts. It was a wonderful tool for political junkies (like me) to analyze the race. Oh yeah, the foreclosure stats… according to ForeclosuresMass.com filings in Massachusetts increased by 54% in the first nine months of 2006…and urban areas such as Lawrence, Lowell and Lynn had more filings per 10,000 people than suburban areas… But…check out the map…it’s great.

November 14, 2006

Search: In registry vs On the web

by @ 2:00 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Anyone who has used the ACS computer system (now in place in 13 registries) both at a registry and on Internet knows that they are two very different systems. The in-registry version, for example, displays document images alongside indexing data. On the website, those things happen sequentially. In either place, it’s usually a good idea to start with a broad rather than a narrow search. For example, if you’re looking for documents in the name “John H Jones Jr” you should probably search “Jones, John” which will yield all combinations that include those two names. At the registry, the results will all show up on the same screen with “Jones, John” followed by “Jones, John H” followed by “Jones, John H Jr.” You just scroll down to see all the results. On the website, however, you see each of these names followed by a number indicating the number of documents in that particular set. Most people find the in-registry version much more user friendly. But with more of our users searching our records on the Internet, we’d like to find out what features or functionality that exist on the in-registry version should be added onto the website version. I’ll be working on this over the next few weeks, so if you have anything you’d like to contribute, please use the “contact us” button on the www.lowelldeeds.com site to send along your thoughts.

November 13, 2006

Chchchchanges

by @ 8:41 am. Filed under History

All things must change… I have no problem with that, but did the Federal Government have to decide to change the Citizenship Test the week after I blogged about it? Why? you ask… If you took the test I posted on November 8 you’d know. It is made up of trivia questions that mainly test your ability to memorize facts. It seems the Feds finally realized that if a person knows the year the US Constitution was written it has nothing to do with what type of citizen he/she will make. For this reason the Office of Citizenship and Immigration has decided to change the test. According to office spokesperson Shawn Saucier “The new test is designed to encourage immigrants to really look at our history and government, and what we value as a society” (sounds like a good idea to me). The new examine won’t be administered nationwide until 2008. In the meantime a pilot program will be started to “test the test”. The city of Boston has agreed to take part in this pilot program. Boston officials expect to begin using the new examine early in 2007. But… I must admit, I love trivia questions…in fact, how about one for old times sake? Who was the seventeenth president of the United States? (Hint… Lincoln was the sixteenth).

November 10, 2006

Veterans Day

by @ 11:30 am. Filed under History

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. As you go about your activities on what forecasters are predicting will be another wonderful day, weather-wise, please take a few moments to consider the meaning of the holiday. The overall population of Massachusetts is roughly 6.4 million people, placing it 13th in population rank. There are 490,000 veterans living in Massachusetts, placing it 18th in veteran population rank. In 2006, there are 24.5 million veterans living in the United States. Of them, 9.5 million are 65 or older and 1.7 million are women. World War I ended at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Congress made November 11 a national holiday (Armistice Day) in 1938. In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day as a way to honor all American veterans.

November 9, 2006

“Draft N”

by @ 11:42 am. Filed under Technology

“Draft N” is shorthand for a new WIFI format with the official name of 802.11N. The N standard is potentially ten times as fast as the current standard (802.11G) and has four times the ranges. While the N standard hassn’t been formally adopted yet, many companies are beginning to sell equipment that utilizes it. Equipment that uses the N standard will still be able to communicate with the G standards so a new piece of equipment won’t require replacement of the entire wireless network. As I understand WIFI, it’s just like a two-way radio. The signal goes through space from the router to the computer and from the computer back to the router. While the power of the N equipment will allow it to reach out to a maximum range of 1400 feet (G equipment’s max range is 300), few people sit more than four football fields away from their router. The real benefit of this powerful signal is that it will push through walls and ceilings to allow greater wireless connectivity within buildings and offices. Of course, this signal strength comes with a price. More people who aren’t supposed to be on your network will be able to receive its signal, giving greater opportunity to hackers to tap into your network.

November 8, 2006

Citizenship Quiz

by @ 9:56 am. Filed under History

The elections are over and I must admit, sometimes I take for granted my right to vote. Each year, thousands of people have to take a test to gain US citizenship. Below you will find actual questions asked on the examine given by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration… Give it a try. The answers can be found in the comments section of this blog entry. Let me know how you do.

1. What do the stripes on the American Flag represent?
a. The 13 original colonies
b. Each of the people who signed the Declaration
of Independence.
c.The battles fought for US Independence

2. How many changes or amendments as are there to the Constitution?
a.23
b.19
c.27

3. What are the three branches of our government?
a.Legislative, executive and judical
b.Legislative, parliamentary, judical
c.Executive, legislative parliamentary

4. What did the emancipation Proclamation do?
a. Ordered that Pilgrims be freed from British oppression
b. It ordered that slaves in rebel territory be freed
c. It allowed citizens in the US to claim land

5. Who becomes president of the US if the president and vice president should die?
a. Secretary of State
b. Attorney General
c. Speaker of the House

6. Which countries were our principal allies during World War II?
a. United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, France
b. United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, China, France
c. United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, China

7. What is the 49th state?
a. Alaska
b. Hawaii
c. New Mexico

8. How many Supreme Court justices are there?
a. 9
b. 12
c. 13

9. What is the national anthem of the United States?
a. “America the Beautiful”
b. “This Land is Your Land”
c. “The Star-Spangled Banner”

10. In What year was the Constitution written?
a. 1776
b. 1771
c. 1787

11. What is the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
a. Constitution
b. Mayflower
c. Titanic

November 7, 2006

Bad News on New Homes

by @ 6:09 pm. Filed under Real Estate

Today’s New York Times contained a story about plunging new home prices. While it focused on the Phoenix, Arizona region, it included some disturbing national statistics:

Across the nation, new-home sales are down by more than 20 percent from their peak last year. Prices fell almost 10 percent in September from a year ago. And that reported drop does not take into account the extras that builders are throwing in free or at steep discounts to lure buyers, which means that effective prices are even lower.

The full article contains a balance of those who believe this is a slight pause in an otherwise robust market and those who think it’s the beginning of a massive and lengthy decline in housing prices. On the later point, the article points out that the construction industry has been a major engine in driving our country’s economy forward over the past five years. When all the lost jobs and reduced spending is layered onto the reduction in borrowing and real estate prices, the threat to the economy is quite real.

November 6, 2006

Bi-weekly Update

by @ 8:45 am. Filed under Registry Ops

Here is your bi-weekly update of the re-organization of the registry’s upper record hall.
Painting: Last week the walls received two coats of primer. By the end of this week two coats of the final color will be applied to both the walls and trim. The paint supplier match the colors perfectly.
Computer Network: Lan Tel completed the installation of the additional computer and voice drops last week. The cablers brought the wires to a patch panel located in our server cabinet. A network switch must be installed to activate these “drops”. On Friday technicians from the Secretary of State’s IT department will be in Lowell to install the network switch.
Electrical: The state electrician drilled three holes in the floor along Gorham Street. He will begin “pulling wires” for the new outlets tomorrow morning. He should finish the electrical work by the end of this week.
Furniture: New desks and storage cabinets have been purchased for the Middlesex South Satellite Office. All the desks and some of the cabinets have already been delivered. We expect the rest by early next week.

Things are moving a little faster than we expected. I think the Middlesex South Satellite will move into its new space by December 1.

November 3, 2006

More on Formatting Standards

by @ 4:43 am. Filed under Indexing

Over the past few days, I’ve received several phone calls or emails from folks with questions about the document formatting standards which were to go into effect on January 1, 2007. As I wrote here last week, the Registers of Deeds Association voted on October 23 to defer the implementation date of these standards for another year. So if anyone brings up this topic, please let them know about the delay. It’s not just a delay, either. We’ve created a subcommittee (with me as chair) to refine those standards that relate to minimum margin requirements and minimum font size. Both these, as now written, may be overreach. Our intent was to present a clearly stated, easy to interpret standard, yet in seeking to do that, we arrived at a “one size fits all” rule when a more flexible, results-oriented standard would be more appropriate. In the coming months, the formatting subcommittee will meet to discuss this further. We’d like to receive input from registry users although I’m not sure how that input should be best solicited or received. I’ll write more about that later.

November 1, 2006

Vote for You

by @ 9:26 am. Filed under Current Events, Technology

Daniel Rosen, Independent Candidate for Nevada’s Second Congressional District has made an interesting campaign promise.If elected Rosen pledges he will vote the way his constituents want…and this guy means it, literally…the following is from the candidates website…“As your Representative in Congress, I will vote exactly as you, the citizens in my district, direct me to vote through your participation on this website”…If elected to congress every vote on every bill Rosen casts will be in accordance with the results of an electronic poll conducted on his website. How does it work?…Rosen will use software designed to provide every registered voter in Nevada’s 2nd District a direct means of voting on specific legislation pending in Congress. Constituents can vote whenever they want on whatever issues they want. Rosen then tallies the votes and casts his vote in congress according to how the majority his constituents voted. And the software does more than just count votes…Rosen’s “Decision Management” software allows people to participate in discussions and debates on issues and even submit motions directing the congressman to file bills. Sounds interesting? Or at least unique?…but, I think it is a little early for Rosen to order the food for his victory party…in a September poll of Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District the Democratic had 45% of the vote, the Republican 41%, the Independent American Party candidate 3%, and 11% were undecided…Rosen?, Oh yeah… he polled less than 1%.

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