Monday, February 28, 2005

Jef Raskin

Computer pioneer Jef Raskin died Saturday. Raskin is regarded as the father of Apple Computer’s Macintosh. He named the revolutionary computer after his favorite eating apple (he changed the spelling for copyright reasons). In the 1970’s Raskin worked at the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) where a mouse driven Graphic User Interface (GUI) was first developed. Microsoft’s “Windows Operating System” is the most common example of a Graphic User Interface. Before the development of GUI, computer interfaces were text based and required users to enter long complex lines of text commands. I saw a movie a number of years ago titled “Pirates of the Silicon Valley”. It was about the computer pioneers that developed DOS and the GUI operating systems. The movie showed a computer developer demonstrating PARC’s first GUI system to a Xerox executive. In hindsight his comment was rather amusing…he said there was no way the public would use an operating system which was controlled by something called a “mouse” that had to be held in the palm of your hand. Talk about a blunder! It is often suggested that Apple used the ideas developed at PARC to launch its revolutionary Mac and that Microsoft Windows is based on Raskin’s “click and drop” idea. I recently read an article by Bob Moriarty in “MacCPU” which states that Raskin had conceived the idea of a Graphic User Interface long before working at Xerox. Moriarty claims that in 1967 Raskin wrote his Phd thesis on the concept of using graphics to command computers. Moriarty says that many of the ideas that came out of PARC were Raskins to begin with. In 1976 Raskin wrote the basic manual for the Apple II and joined the company in 1978. Raskin was employee #31 at Apple. Despite strong opposition from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, the Macintosh project as approved for development. Raskin convinced his peers at Apple that a computer that was affordable and easy to use would catch on with the public. His suggested that the Mac sell for between $500-$1,000 and be controlled by a GUI. This figure ballooned to close to $5,000 when Jobs took control of the project from Raskin. Raskin left Apple before the Mac was fully developed because of Jobs’ interference. His contribution to the computer world is huge. There is no question the computers we know today would have been far different without him.

Friday, February 25, 2005

More Data Reports from the Registry

With a searchable index that reaches back to 1976 for recorded land (to 1987 for registered land) and document images back to 1950, there’s an immense amount of data stored on the registry computer system. That data is certainly accessible for traditional registry functions such as title searches, run downs, and document viewing, still, there is great potential to use that data for other purposes. To help discover how to better use the information we maintain, I’m attending a computer class to better learn a program called Crystal Reports. This software is not a database program (we already have enough of them) but is a report-generating program that lets you sort, select and summarize records from an existing database like the one that contains the registry information. We have been producing some of these types of reports – our monthly sales and foreclosure reports, for example – but these are just the tip of the information iceberg. So in the future, look for new and different reports to appear on our website. And if you have any suggestions for what type of reports you would like to see, please let me know. On another note, if you need a fix of professional hockey now that the NHL season is official cancelled, check out the Lowell Lock Monsters this Sunday, when they take on the Norfolk Admirals at the Tsongas Arena.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Easy Way to Create Your Own Website

The new “Our Customers” page added its first link yesterday with Shuka Associates, an appraisal firm from Beverly. (It’s gratifying to learn that we have customers on the North Shore as well as the Merrimack Valley). We hope that more real estate professionals will ask us to add their websites to the “Our Customers” page. But what about you title examiners and attorneys who don’t have a website of your own? Here’s a suggestion for a quick and no cost solution. Just set up a blog of your own. You don’t have to post to it everyday; you can just make an initial entry describing your business and then use it as your website. Check out (which is the service we use for this blog). When you first go to their website, the service prompts you to log in and then guides you through the blog creation process. It’s easy. If you’re capable of finding the latest weather forecast on the Internet, you’re capable of setting up a blog on Blogger. Once you’ve set up your blog (be sure to put a link to your email address and your contact telephone number on it), just use the address of your blog (usually something like as your website address. Send me an email if you have any questions about how to do this.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Circuit Breaker

This month’s issues of City and Town, a publication of the Department of Revenue has an excellent over-view of the state’s Circuit Breaker program. In 2001 Massachusetts enacted this program to provide tax relief to qualifying senior citizens. From 2001 to 2003 the number of seniors citizens filing claims under the Circuit Breaker increased significantly. This tax credit program was designed to assist low in-come elderly persons in paying property taxes. Homeowners and renters who qualify receive a “refundable credit on their state income taxes”. The maximum credit allowed in 2004 was $820. In order to qualify for the Circuit Breaker, a senior must be at least 65 years old and occupy the property as his/her primary residence. As explained in City and Town “income cannot exceed $44,000 for a single filer who is not the head of household, $55,000 for a head of household or $66,000 for taxpayers filing jointly. Moreover the assessed valuation of the real estate cannot exceed $441,000”. The amount of refund is calculated on the amount “by which the taxpayer’s property taxes, together with the eligible amount of that taxpayers water sewer charges, exceed 10% of the taxpayers income”. A senior who rents may also qualify for the circuit breaker tax credit. The law presumes that 25% of a person’s rent is for property taxes and water and sewer bills. According to City and Town “renters may claim the credit in the amount by which 25% of their annual rental payment is more than 10% of their total income”. Obviously, City and Town was the source of much of the information provide…at least the hard stuff.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hunter S Thompson, 1937-2005

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold” and so begins “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” a landmark book written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1972. Thompson, who died this past Sunday, was the father of “Gonzo journalism,” a literary technique that blends fact and fiction and makes the author not a passive, anonymous bystander but a main character in the story. It is a technique clearly evident in today’s blogging phenomenon. Thompson was also the model for the “Uncle Duke” character in the popular “Doonesbury” cartoon strip. While the fictional accounts of Thompson’s experiences were undoubtedly extreme exaggerations, even his true lifestyle was certainly not one to be emulated. Still, Thompson succeeded in highlighting failures of leadership and hypocrisy in society in an amusing, entertaining manner while never taking himself too seriously. There are worse legacies. Sorry to delve into the world of literary criticism; that’s usually Tony’s domain. If you need some registry-related info to make it through the day, check out the “What’s New” section of the main page of our website,

Friday, February 18, 2005

Website Advertising

In the quarter that ended with December 2004, Google posted more than $1 billion in revenue from advertising. This was a 101% increase over the same quarter in the prior year. It’s apparent that Google has figured out how to make money from the Internet. Rather than use annoying popup ads, Google uses a more subtle, intelligent approach. The ads displayed on Google are based on the search term you enter. The ads appear as innocuous listings to the right of the websites returned in response to your query. If you “click through” to one of the advertising websites, that company pays Google some amount of money ranging from pennies to several dollars. The rate is determined by the popularity of the search term. If you want your site to appear when someone types “Boston Red Sox” it will cost a lot more than if you want it to appear when someone searches for “Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.” I suspect that we will eventually be looking for sources of revenue from the usage of our website. Some favor charging for access which I think would be a huge mistake. I think the better method of revenue production will be a Google-like advertising program. In anticipation of that, we’re thinking about adding a no-charge links page to our website on which we would have hyperlinks to websites of registry users such as law firms, real estate agencies, appraisers, surveyors and banks. We’ll probably call it “Our Customers.” So if you would like your website added to this page on an experimental basis, just send an email with the address of your website to

Thursday, February 17, 2005

New Website Content

We're still hard at work preparing more content for There's an extensive "frequently asked questions" section that should go online tomorrow as well as a number of documents that discuss our methods of indexing documents. Indexing is a constant challenge since the names that appear on documents have so many variations. Still, we must strive for uniformity in how we enter those names into our computer system. Besides the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards, we'll have some supplemental material that shows exactly how various names should be indexed in Lowell as well as two presentations that I have given to different groups on indexing. As always, we welcome your suggestions.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

MAR Year End

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors released homes sales figures for 2004. As expected both condominium and single-family sales in the state soared. Statewide Median house prices rose to $340,000 up to 11.5% from last year. Condominium increases were even higher, leaping by 15.1% to reach a record $259,000. The year 2004 posted the fastest price increases seem in Massachusetts in several years. Obviously, Condo and Single-family prices fluctuated from region to region. In the Condominium marketplace Boston increased by 10% ($330,000 median), Western Mass an 18% increase ($125,000 median) and Cape Cod saw the highest Condo increase in the state with a 22% jump (250,000 median) over last year’s values. As for single-family houses, median prices gained the most on the South Shore, climbing 13.2% to a record $342,000 median and the Greater Boston area prices increased by 10%.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Property Tax Information

Our Customer Service Office often receives calls from out of state lenders looking for property tax information about particular parcels of real estate. In much of the country, local taxes are the responsibility of county government. Even when we had county government (which we don’t in most of Massachusetts anymore), property taxes were always the responsibility of local government. Consequently, we don’t have any tax information to give to these callers. For towns in our district (Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford and Wilmington), we do have the numbers of the tax collector’s office in each town hall. For towns outside our district, we have only been able to suggest the callers try information for the correct telephone number. Today, we have added to our website an alphabetical listing of all Massachusetts cities and towns with a corresponding telephone number for local property tax information. So now, we’ll be able to suggest callers in search of out of district property tax information click on the “property tax info” link on our website.

Monday, February 14, 2005


It’s Valentine’s Day… flowers, hearts with arrows and candy (lots of candy.)Motivated by the media hype I looked into Valentines. According to legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served in the third century in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius decided that wives and families adversely affected his soldiers. In response he outlawed marriage for young men and stocked his army with singles. Valentine, defied Claudius and continued to secretly marry young lovers. It wasn’t long before Claudius found out about the disobedient acts and, you guessed it, had Valentine put to death sounds like lore to me…but, let me continue. In 1835, Pope Gregory gave the remains (or what are believed to be the remains) of St Valentine to an Irish Priest during a visit to Rome. The remains are in a black and gold casket and still can be viewed every Valentine’s Day at the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin Ireland (I think I’ll pass).
On a more scientific note…reserachers are saying that love really can break you heart. According to a study published in the Feb 10 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine ”Sudden, stressful events can cause some people’s tickers to give out in ways that mimic a heart attack". It’s called “broken heart syndrome.
For Valentine’s Day I am bringing my wife home a “complete” CD set of our Grantor indexes. Yup, from 1950-1976…Well, on second thought maybe I should stop at the florist.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Tinkering with the Website

As you may have noticed by now, we’ve made a few changes to It’s not exactly a redesign, just a new look with a different font and location for some links. We hope this doesn’t cause you any problems, but if it does, let us know right away ( and we’ll roll it back to yesterday’s version. Make sure you check out the “registry-related documents” link. Through the years, we’ve accumulated many articles, memos and other documents that might be helpful to you. Rather than allow them to gather (electronic) dust on our hard drive, we’ve loaded them on the website in the Adobe PDF format. We’ll add more as time permits. In preparing for this update, I read some articles on the web about recent trends in web design. It seems everyone agrees that the hot new color for the Internet is brown. I didn’t put much credence in these opinions until I remembered that the Super Bowl XXXIX commemorative hats are brown and tan. If anyone is on top of the latest trends in marketing and making money, it’s the NFL, so I guess brown really is in. Several people have explained that it’s meant to create a link with the members of our military who have almost universally swapped their predominantly green woodland camouflage patterns for the tan and brown desert hues.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Update on the registry's Registered Land back scanning project. As of February 1, Registered Land documents from instrument# 45,300(March 1, 1966) to present have been scanned and made available on both our in-house database and the Internet. The project has been on-going for about eight months and is progressing on schedule. If work continues at the present level it will be finished by the end of May. There is no indexing information available for these images so you need to know a document's instrument number to retrieve it.
When using the Internet follow the steps below to view images.
1.Enter the Land Records Database
2.Select the Document Tab
3.Select Registered Land as your department
4.Enter the Instrument number of the document you would like to retrieve
5.Click Search
6.An index entry will appear (see below). Click on the underlined Instrument number
7.You will see a message that reads No indexed property for this Instrument Number Ignore this message.
8.Click on Quick One Page Viewer.
9.The image will appear.
That's it...It is that simple.

Note: When the index information is obviously incomplete. The Type Description will indicate Conversion and the File Date defaults to 01/01/1901

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Visitors to the Registry

A group from the Massachusetts Association of Tax Collectors and Treasurers visited the registry today. After a tour of our operations that followed the path that a document takes when it is recorded, we viewed a slideshow that depicts the electronic recording process. Town treasurers and tax collectors are prime candidates for electronic recording. Consider municipal lien certificates. Now, the customer sends a letter and a check requesting an MLC to town hall. Town employees enter data into a computer program and print an original MLC. That document is then mailed to the customer who requested it. He takes it to the registry and pays the recording fee. At the registry, we enter the data into our computer and scan the document to create an electronic image which become the official record. With electronic recording, there might never be a paper document produced. The customer requesting the MLC could send the request, the fee for the MLC and the registry recording fee to the Treasurer. The Treasurer would then enter the data needed to produce the MLC but instead of hitting the “print” button, he would click “send” and the data embedded in an electronic document template would be transmitted to the registry. It would arrive here as an incoming electronic recording package. Once accepted by us, the data and the document image would flow right into our computer system with no further scanning or data entry. This method would greatly increase the efficiency of the customer, the Treasurer and the Registry. Best of all, it’s not all that far away – months, not years.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


A website visitor sent me a thoughtful email questioning the ready availability of documents on our website in light of the ever increasing risk of identity theft. These documents contain names, signatures, addresses and some financial information (the amount of your mortgage or the amount you paid for your home). Back in 1999 when we first started talking about making document images available online, a number of people raised privacy concerns. At first, I would rather cavalierly answer that they were already public records, so why be concerned. Then I read an article by or quoting Judge John Fenton who framed the issue this way: a document reproduced in a dusty old record book on a shelf in the registry of deeds, while a public record, is only accessible to someone who physically travels to the registry, pulls the book off the shelf, and opens it to the correct page. Judge Fenton used the term “practical obscurity” to describe such a record. But put that same record online and anyone in the world with an Internet connection and a computer can see it with a few keystrokes. But as I read more about the Internet and privacy, I quickly concluded that all the momentum in this field is towards more speed and openness and, that while privacy concerns are certainly legitimate, they are probably best addressed by laws that severely penalize those who misuse this data. I know that our website has completely transformed the way that most people use the registry. The system has allowed registry users to be more productive, more efficient and waste less time. I don’t see how we’d ever turn back now. But privacy concerns are a legitimate topic, one that we should discuss again in the near future.

Monday, February 07, 2005


By now most people know the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl for the third time in four years…and most Americans watched it, myself included. But I would guess this morning there was more talk around America’s water coolers about the commercials than the game. Can’t you just hear it…”remember the one with the monkeys? And what about the frozen guy in the car…oh yeah, how about when the guy jumps out of a plane for a six pack of Bud”. A thirty second commercial during yesterday’s Super Bowl cost an incredible $2,400,000. Is it worth $2,400,000 to an advertiser for a “short” thirty seconds? The answer is simple…ask yourself…do you remember the one with the woman in front of the senate committee… or the one with the cat? (tell the truth)… And I’ll bet you can almost hear Deion Branch …“I’m going to Disney World”. Congrats Pats.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Super Bowl XXXIX

Everyone here at the registry is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Sunday’s game to learn whether the current Golden Age of Boston Sports will continue. In a very short period of time we’ve witnessed two Patriot victories in the Super Bowl and the historic World Series win by the Red Sox last fall. Here’s a brief recap of Super Bowl appearances by the Eagles and the Patriots, courtesy of the official NFL Super Bowl XXXIX program ($15 online or at Barnes & Noble).

Super Bowl XV – January 25, 1981 – New Orleans Superdome – Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10. The Raiders became the first wild card team to capture a Super Bowl title. Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett was the MVP.

Super Bowl XX – January 26, 1986 – New Orleans Superdome – Chicago 46, New England 10. The Bears, led by quarterback Jim McMahon and a ferocious defense, embarrassed the Patriots who gained only seven yards rushing and had their quarterback (Tony Eason then Steve Grogan) sacked seven times.

Super Bowl XXXI – January 26, 1997 – New Orleans Superdome – Green Bay 35, New England 21. The Patriots, led by Drew Bledsoe and Curtis Martin, were still in this game, pulling to within six points (27-21) when Green Bay’s Desmond Howard returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown (the first time in Super Bowl history that had happened). To me, the rest of the game dragged on and on.

Super Bowl XXXVI – February 3, 2002 – New Orleans Superdome – New England 20, St Louis 17. The Belichick-Brady legend is born. After several early season losses, starting QB Drew Bledsoe was seriously injured in a game against the Jets. Tom Brady took over and never relinquished the job. Big underdogs against the “Greatest Show on Turf,” the Patriots jumped to a big lead, only to see the Rams tie the game late in the fourth quarter. With less than two minutes and no timeouts, Brady drove the Pats downfield allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick a game winning 48 yard field goal as time expired, the first time in Super Bowl history that the game was won on the last play.

Super Bowl XXXVIII – February 1, 2004 – Houston’s Reliant Stadium – New England 32, Carolina 29. The Panthers, who had gone something like 1-15 the previous season, were the Cinderella team of the NFC. The Patriots, who had a down year after winning the Super Bowl (Tampa Bay won in between) were the heavy favorites. The first half was a defensive struggle with the Patriots ahead by a field goal. In the second half, both offenses awoke and Carolina tied the game with time running out. Brady again led the team downfield and Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal with 4 seconds to play.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Adobe Acrobat 7.0

I attended a seminar today that introduced Adobe Acrobat 7.0, the latest version of the program that creates the PDF documents that we've started using so often on our website. PDF stands for "portable document format." The idea is to make the "reader" part of the program freely available to anyone who want to use it. Many have, since more than 750 million people across the globe have downloaded it. To create a PDF file, you need the full program (which is certainly not free). With Acrobat, you're able to take a document in almost any format (Word, Excel, or an image of some type) and, by one click of your mouse, make it a PDF document. This is the format we use to present our monthly sales and foreclosure reports (coming soon for January) and the 1951-1975 Grantor Index on CD. But we're only scratching the surface of the capabilities of this program. Today's seminar, at New Horizons (a national computer instruction company) in Waltham was taught by Mark Sawyer, a former newsman at the old WLLH radio station in Lowell. Mark did a great job. He not only introduced the product, he inspired those in the class to imagine all the possible uses for it in the work flow of our respective offices. I certainly did. You'll be hearing more about that in the near future.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Follow Up

Follow up to an earlier Blog: Last week I had the opportunity to talk with James Palma, Research Manager for the Donahue Institute of the University of Massachusetts. Mr. Palma was one of the primary people involved with a recent poll conducted by the Donahue Institute regarding housing in Massachusetts. The results of this poll have been widely discussed in the media and of course, this registry’s Blog. After polling 509 randomly selected people the Donahue Institute discovered that 46% said either they or an immediately family members had considered moving out of Massachusetts. Palma said the question specifically asked if housing was the reason for the re-location consideration. “Why poll 500 people?” I asked Palma. He said studies have shown that the infamous (+ or -5%) margin of error did not change with much larger samples. The Citizens Housing and Planning Association, a housing advocacy group, contracted the poll. Palma says CHAPA uses the information to work for legislation that will facilitate the availability of affordable housing in Massachusetts. I was a little curious… has Caller ID in anyway effected the valid of polls. According to him it has not…but I wonder.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Website Problems

My apologies to all who were inconvenienced by the recent problem with our website. One of the reasons we’ve done so many innovative things at this registry is that we aren’t afraid to try things on our own. If every time we had an idea we had to wait for funding or an outside expert, we wouldn’t get much accomplished. By tackling projects in house with free or reasonably priced resources, we’ve produced results. The downside to this approach is that you sometimes make beginner mistakes. That’s kind of what happened with our website this past week. I simply forgot to renew the registration on our domain name and the company hosting it just shut it off. Usually, you get bombarded with renewal notices beforehand but in this case we did not receive a single one. Still, that doesn’t excuse the sloppiness on my part. I’ll spend the next few days scrutinizing the operation of our website so that this or anything like this doesn’t happen again. But no one is perfect, so be sure to remember the alternate route to our database - go to and select Middlesex North from the drop down menu. Until another disaster occurs, however, please continue to access our records through so that you will discover the new content and features that will soon be added to the site.