Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Friday's Outage Revisited

As we move closer to the paperless registry, the need for a workable disaster recovery plan becomes greater than ever. While we undergo this slow transition, anytime a computer problem does occur, it's important to use it as a learning experience to make our system better for the future. Last Friday, our Middlesex South Satellite Office shut down along with the entire Middlesex South computer system when the computer server in Cambridge - the key to all recordings and public searches - malfunctioned. It appears that the power supply inside the server overheated and was damaged. Once the power supply was replaced sometime on Saturday, things were restored. Power supplies do not overheat very often, but when they do, there are dire consequences, so we must be ready to react to such a situation. Theoretically, we had prepared for it: if anything happens to the computer server within a registry, the registry is supposed to be able to quickly switch from the damaged local server to the functioning Internet server and to continue recording documents on it. As is the case with most computer operations, when you go from talking about it to actually doing it, things become vastly more complicated. That's one reason that recording was not restored on Friday - the backup plan didn't work as intended. Now we have to find out why and correct it so that the next time a problem occurs, we'll be better prepared to deal with it.

Monday, November 29, 2004

South Documents Recorded

On Friday around 11:00AM the Middlesex South computer server in Cambridge went down for the remainder of the day. In turn this shut down our South Satellite office also. Fortunately, Friday was the day after the holiday and business was rather light at the registry. This kept the inconvenience caused by the outage to a minimum. Had this been the end of the month it would have been a disaster. Of course, minimizing inconvenience does not excuse the problem. In fact, information will be collected so corrective measures can be taken to either prevent a
reoccurrence or provide a better backup if there is one. Most “would be recorders” who came to the Satellite Office in Lowell during the outage left their documents in our “drop off basket”. Early Monday morning our staff recorded all documents left on Friday.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Day After Thanksgiving

As is usually the case on the day after Thanksgiving, there is not much activity here at the registry of deeds. Most customers and many employees were able to take the day off and enjoy a four day weekend. The day became even slower when the Middlesex South computer system suffered a major outage at about 11:30 a.m., forcing our Middlesex South satellite office to shut down. From our vantage point here in Lowell, it's still not clear what exactly happened, just that it's been out, it's still out, and it might not be back in operation until Monday. We have made a few adjustments to the website, adding a more prominent link to a recording fee table and writing an explanation of what data and documents are on the website called, fittingly, "What's Online?" As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

What's Online?

Next week we will add a new link called "what's online?" to our website. This will explain what data is currently available on the "Search Land Records" link. It will also describe our plans to add more data to the site and will include a "helpful hints" section. For example, one of the most common reasons people fail to find documents is that they add too much information to the search screen. Each thing you enter is one more restriction on the search, so the more fields you populate, the greater the chance that you will exclude the document you are looking for. When searching by name, for instance, just enter the last name and the first few letters of the first name. Forget middle initials, document types, towns, and date range. If your search returns hundreds of documents, then you can methodically start limiting the search. Unless it's a big land owner or a developer, however, the entries returned should be a manageable number. Entering a town in a search may cause a big problem, because documents such as attachments and federal and state tax liens apply to all property, so the registry enters "none" for the town code. If you limit your search to documents that have "Lowell" as the town code, you would not find an attachment or tax lien. Sorry if this is the first time you're hearing this. We don't mean to ruin your Thanksgiving, but this is just an example of the type of information that will soon be readily available on the website.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

About an Hour

Many people are asking how long it takes to get the CD copies of the 1966-75 Grantor Index. We can usually accommodate most requests in about an hour. As stated in an earlier Blog, the copies are free but you must provide us with 2 blank CD’s when making your request. Requests can be made by mail. There have been a large number of requests and the feed back has been excellent. People say the CD’s are easy to use and helpful. So remember, when making your request gives us about an hour in most cases.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Plans "yes", Plot Plans "no"

The Registry of Deeds does not have plot plans. Many, many Blogs ago this topic was discuss in detail. Still, a day doesn't go by without some poor homeowner calling or visiting the registry's Customer Service Department asking, "can I have a copy of my Plot Plan?". Even as this blog is being created a young women is standing at the Customer Service counter asking for the plot plan for her house. We politely tell people the registry has "Plans of Land" not Plot Plans. Of course, the difference is Plans of Land usually show many lots, not just one, and they seldom depict foundations. Most customers are not very happy when they ultimately find out they have to "pay" a professional to have a Plot Plan drawn. Most requests relate to boundary disputes (fences, shrubs etc) or building permits. A Plan of Land is little help in either of these cases. The registry's Plans are readily available. Also they can be viewed on the internet.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Website Operational This Weekend

The most important news is that the www.masslandrecords.com website (which includes all Middlesex North data and images) will remain in operation this weekend. The electrical upgrade that was to have caused the site to be down from later this afternoon until Monday morning has been cancelled.

In response to customer comments we have made some changes to the "new" website. Besides a new look, we also had hoped to add more flexibility to the site which is why we tried the "frames" format. "Frames" divides a webpage into sections that are then filled with separate pages. In our case, that allowed you to view three different pages at the same time. Like the screen within a screen concept on a TV, this would make more information available to you. But everyone's computer is different, and the finished product that looked great on a computer here at the registry could become mangled beyond recognition on someone else's machine. Because of this, we have dumped the frames format but have retained the new look. As always, your comments will be very helpful. Over the next few weeks we hope to add a considerable amount of new material to the website. Through the years we have accumulated a wide variety of memos, charts, and other documents that might prove helpful to our users. We will continue to use the blog to announce the posting of new items, so please visit often.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Incredible Numbers

As a former real estate agent I find Home Sale data fascinating. I must admit, I still can't believe the record pace of the local market. The Massachusetts housing market continued its climb during the July to September period of 2004. Once again, the third quarter brought new sales records for Condominiums and single family homes(well, records were meant to be broken). According to the Mass Association of Realtors, prices rose for the 45th consecutive quarter. Let me write that again 45 consecutive quarters. This is an incredible statistic. Most of the talking heads feel low interest rates are the force behind the high prices. During the third quarter sales of single family homes rose six percent over last year and condominium sales rose 29 percent. Are you ready for this...the statewide median sale price for a single family home is $350,000 (wait a second...I need to pick myself up off the hardwood floor). This is an 11% increase over 2003. The average condo price is up 15% to 268,000 (wait a second...I need to pick myself up off the common floor).
Food for Thought (Low Carb of course): Think you've had it with email spam??? How about this... Bill Gates, the owner/founder of Microsoft, gets over 4,000 emails a day...most of them spam...Now that's a lot of deleting. Spam is Low Carb, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Website Down This Weekend

We just learned that the entire www.masslandrecords.com website, which includes all data and images from the Middlesex North registry will be out of action from 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 19 until 8:00 a.m. on Monday, November 22. Why?: a much needed electrical system upgrade. So, be sure to get all of your title work done before the weekend. The www.lowelldeeds.com site will stay online, but no data will be available. Sorry for any inconvenience.

More Website Design Talk

There hasn’t been much feedback on our new website. One blog reader did leave this comment: “Aside from the website not being very user friendly, it lacks the professional look I would expect from an institution such as the Registry of Deeds.” Thanks to the author of this remark for taking the time to share these thoughts. We welcome all comments, positive and negative, because we think the website should be interactive, something that encourages a dialog between the registry staff and registry users. For that reason, we strive for a casual, conversational look and tone for the website. So, while the “lack of professional look” comment is an accurate observation, that look is purposeful on our part. Creating and maintaining the informational portion of the website with our own personnel and computers saves us an enormous amount of money and gives us the flexibility to update the site quickly and easily so it reflects changes and important occurrences here at the registry. (The “search records” part of the site is created and maintained by ACS, our computer company). I’m more concerned about the “not very user friendly” comment because I know the site could be better. That’s why we are continuously trying new things. But it’s difficult for us to know how it could be more user friendly without input from our users. So I encourage everyone who uses the site to give us very specific comments and suggestions about how we can improve it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Keep Your Eye on the Blog

Over the next few days there will most likely be minor changes to our new webpage. The Blog is the best place to keep up with what is happening on our website and at the registry. A few days ago the Blog addressed a problem accessing some multi-page plans on the Internet. These plans can be imaged using the "Plan Images-Old System" link on the web. This link is still available on the new website but there is a different procedure to locate it. Log on to the registry's website (lowelldeeds.com). There is a "links" column on the left side of the page. The third item on the column is a hyperlink labeled "Regular Users". Double click this. "Regular Users" has six categories. One of these is "Plan Images (Old System)". Double clicking this will bring you to the pre-ACS plan program. This program will display "all" plans up to March 31, 2004 (Plan Book 213). This is just a minor change, but as Johnny Damon would say "keep you eye on the Blog".

Monday, November 15, 2004

New Look For Website

We activated the our new website at about 10 this morning and have not received any reports of problems either by phone, by email, or in person. That's a good sign. Of course I'm at home now and the links to "search records" won't do anything. I don't know if it's a function of my computer which is a never ending battleground of viruses and other bad things versus my virus protection software. (I'm often not sure which is worse). Anyway, if you are having any difficulty or have any suggestions, please send me an email (mailto:lowelldeeds@comcast.net) and if you have stuff to look up, go directly to www.masslandrecords.com. Thanks in advance for your comments.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Redesigned Website

The registry website is about to get a makeover. We hope the new design is easier to navigate and more flexible so we may update it often. The switch over will occur on Monday, but all of you BLOG readers may preview the new site by visiting www.lowelldeeds.com/indexnew.htm - please check it out, navigate through it, and either post your comments here on the BLOG or send me an email mailto:lowelldeeds@comcast.net with your thoughts.

Regarding the 1966-75 Grantor Index on CD, we're handing out three to five copies each day and received some excellent feedback via email from a registry user who got his copy of the index late Wednesday afternoon, just before Veterans Day. Here's the email: "Sorry I missed you yesterday here at the office. Thanks very much for dropping off the 1966-75 Grantor Index CDs. I am using them today for some title work that I otherwise could not have done with the Registry being closed for Veterans Day, so I really appreciate your "same day service." To get your copy, just send us 2 blank CDs and a return mailing envelope.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Book repair.

We are doing some in-house work on damaged Grantor indexes. Just recently the first twenty-five pages of the 1961-1965 (C-D) index were replaced. Fortunately, we have electronic images of these books which can be printed. Still, it is a labor intensive process. But we need to keep these "book" indexes usable until all are available to public in an electronic format. Some indexes have been removed from the shelf because of their poor condition. These have been stored in our copy room and are immediately available to the public. If you see an index or record book in bad condition please let our Customer Service department know. We will do our best to repair it and get it back on the shelf.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

More on Old Indexes

We've already distributed a half dozen copies of our 1966-75 Grantor Index on CDs. If you'd like your own copy, just send us 2 blank CDs and a return mailer. So far, we've had same day service. The 1951-60 Grantor Index should be finished in another week and the 1961-65 version by mid-December. Unfortunately, the 1961-65 images have some shading in one corner. We tried using several different software tools to "despeckle" the images, but we have yet to find an easy way to do it. But the images are still completely legible, so rather than delay the project, we're going forward with production despite the shading. Certainly by the end of the year we will have fifty plus years of an electronic index to go along with the same coverage of images. If you have any comments or suggestions about this project, please use the comment feature to share them.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Internet Plan Problem

Recently we discovered that a few multi-page plans do not display on "ACS's Internet database. Their computer experts explain that the file is too large to open. Before accepting this explanation and pursuing a solution based on it, we want to do more investigation. In the meantime there is a way to image most of these plans on the Internet. Log on to the Registry's website. On the left side of the front page there is a column named "Links". Two-thirds down is a hyperlink titled "Plan Images-Old System". Double click this link. It brings you to the Registry's pre-ACS plan program. This program will display "all" plans, including those that do not display on ACS. Unfortunately, this system only contains plans up to March 31, 2004 (Plan Book 213). Sorry for this inconvenience. We hope to have a solution to the problem in the near future. Of course, you can always call Customer Service if you need further assistance.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Electronic Info Inventory

Now that we've added the 1966 to 1975 Grantor Index to our computer system (see more below), we should remind everyone of just what is available electronically here at the Middlesex North Registry:

Recorded Land
-automated Grantor Index from Jan 1, 1976 to present
-images of bound Grantor Index from Jan 1, 1966 to Dec 31, 1975 in PDF format (this became available only this week - it's not yet on the Internet, but if folks give us 2 blank CDs, we'll give them their own copy at no cost)
-document images from 1950 (Book 1139) to present

Registered Land
-automated Grantor Index from Oct 16, 1987 to present
-images of documents from 1973 to present (we're back-scanning about 800 per week and expect all to be digitalized by Feb 2005)

-automated Plan Index from 1933 to present
-images of plans from 1855 to present

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, the new index is more like an electronic book than a searchable database. But it's quite useful and it only took six weeks of effort to get it done. In contrast, when we added the 1976 to 1985 index entries to the computer system some years ago, it took ten employees nearly eighteen months to finish. To obtain your own copy of the 1966-75 Grantor Index, just drop off or mail two blank CDs (plus a self-addressed, stamped return mailer) to Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, 360 Gorham St, Lowell MA 01852. Copying the data to the CDs only takes a few minutes, so the turn around time should be quick.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Grantor Index 1966-75

We've complete our work on the Grantor Index from 1966 to 1975. It's not in a searchable database like the index from 1976 to the present. Instead, it's a type of electronic book. We simply scanned the pages of the existing bound index books for those years and saved them as Adobe PDF files, with one file per letter. Some letters have more than 1000 pages, though, so we constructed a simple table of contents for each letter. The table of contents consists of the first name that appears on each page and the corresponding page number. To find a name, you open the correct letter-file, browse through the pages of the table of contents until you find a name close to the one you're researching, and then use the "Go To" function to jump to that page. Just as with a book, you can flip pages forward and back to check for spelling variations. There's no direct link to the document images (yet), but once you get the book and page number, you can switch to the program that contains our document images (which go back to 1950) and then view or print anything. These PDF files tend to be on the large size, so using them on the Internet really won't work. Instead, we'll provide the complete set of these files to anyone who wants them, free of charge. All you have to do is supply us with 2 blank CDs and we'll copy everything for you. You can then use the CDs on your own computer or, if you have enough free disk space, copy them right to your computer's hard drive.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Sleepy Macbeth

The Presidential Election, up until 1:00AM (and no final results)...The Red Sox/Yankees little sleep... The World Series, even less sleep...Day light savings (gain an hour, lose an hour, whatever). Who thought of this "fall back"/"spring forward" thing anyway, an insomniac? The last two weeks have given me a better understanding of Shakespeare... "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more..."

Monday, November 01, 2004

October stats

Here is some end of the month information for your digestion. On Friday which was the last business day of October we recorded 630 documents. In 2003 we recorded 621 documents on the last business day of October, obviously, this is not a significant difference. It becomes more market revealing when we compare the October '03 totals with '04's. In 2003 Middlesex North recorded 11,222 an in 2004 only 7562 documents. Obviously, a huge difference. These numbers reflect a decrease of over 32%. Interestingly, this percentage is close to the overall decreased the registry has seen this year. Once again the Middlesex South satellite Office was very busy on the last day of the month. Cambridge recorded a total of 1,667 documents last Friday. Our satellite Office recorded 388 of these. That is over 23%. Pretty good considering no one waited more than fifteen minutes.
Enough has been said about tomorrow's presidential election to fill two years of blog entries. The important thing is vote...I personally know two people that were in elections determine by one vote.