Monday, October 31, 2005


"Look up in the sky... it's a bird, no it's a plane, no... it's Supercomputer. Stronger than a popup blocker...faster than a WiFi to compute large figures with a single click...It's Supercomputer... Yes, IBM’s Blue Grene/L supercomputer can do 280.6 trillion calculations a second (I wouldn’t want to play Trivial pursuit against this thing). Last June Blue Gene/L was ranked the fastest computer on earth. Every six months super computers are ranked by experts ( I can hear it now…“on your mark… get set… BOOT?) Just how fast is 280.6 trillion calculations a second? Well, think of it this way… if you gave every person in the world a handheld calculator it would take them more that a decade to do 280.6 trillion calculations…now that’s wicked fast. Of course, you don’t use this thing to play Sims or other computer games. No... the National Nuclear Security Administration is using this powerhouse to help ensure that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe and reliable…And…Blue Gene/L doesn’t work alone. It has a partner called “Purple”. Together they can compute half of a quadrillion operations per second…a quadrillion? yes…want to see a quadrillion?1,000,000,000,000,000. When Blue Gene/L is not working on the U.S. nuclear arsenal it’s doing work on modeling the human brain. Technology has come so far …I wonder what’s next…maybe a can opener that doesn’t slip off the lid?… Nah.

Friday, October 28, 2005

An Electronic Recording First

The Electronic Recording Pilot Program reached a milestone today when we recorded our first electronically submitted deed. This was a “no consideration” transaction, so we (and the computer system) didn’t have to worry about calculating and collecting the excise tax although in testing, that feature has worked just fine. As we finish our fourth month of “testing” we are about to begin adding more customers and continue to work on state-wide regulations that will, once they are enacted, permit additional customers to submit and registries to record documents electronically. Here are some statistics: Since we started recording electronically on June 29, we have recorded 513 documents, 413 of them were discharges, 81 were mortgages, 16 were assignments and 3 were “other.” This leaves us with an average of 8 documents per day. On average, Mondays are busiest with 12 documents, Thursdays and Fridays have seen an average of 9 each, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are slowest with an average of 6. Things are changing, however. On Monday, October 3 we recorded 28 documents electronically and on Friday, October 21, we recorded 26 electronically submitted documents.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mail Procedure Update

Our new mail processing procedures have been in place for about a week now. Formerly, all incoming mail and delivered pieces were opened and checked by our Customer Service Office. The accumulated waiting-to-be-recorded documents were then moved along to the recording counter where they would be recorded in between customers and as time permitted. These days, with our paucity of customers, there was usually plenty of time to record mailed-in documents so there really wasn’t much of a lag between receiving the documents in the mail and getting them recorded. That usually happened within 48 hours, more likely the very next day. Even at our busiest back in 2003 we never fell more than seven or eight days behind in recording mail. But even with a system that we believed was reasonable and efficient given our size and volume, we felt compelled to scrutinize our mail processing procedures after the National Lumber decision which we’ve written about extensively. While our new procedures do not comply absolutely with the dictates of National Lumber – that mailed in documents be recorded immediately upon receipt and before any additional walk-in customers are waited on – we will now have mail recorded much more promptly, usually the same day it is received. Another improvement is that we will now track mailed-in documents that must be returned to sender due to errors or problems with the recording. We will do this by using a database that will allow us to track not only the individual document that is returned, but all documents that are returned. With this information, we will be able to provide more detailed and targeted assistance to customers who choose to send documents by mail. Using this database and the merge-print function of MS Word, we will create an individualized letter to the submitter of a problem document that will explain what was wrong with it and how the problem can be corrected. This tracking system, created in-house, is in the final stages of testing and will be put into use next week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom in
let’s take a microscopic view of a registry project…here goes…

Image Indexing
(this is the project used to create images of the old Grantor books from microfilm)

This project is currently very high on our priority list…here’s a close-up of how we do it...
Step 1: Flipping through the entire index, an alphabetical listing of the names contained within each page is created.
Step 2: The images are stored on our computer server in folders…by letter. Once the “name listing” is complete, an employee is assigned a letter to work on.
Step 3: These images were taken from 35mm film and contain two pages per frame. They must be split and saved as individual electronic images. This is done by “cropping” the image in Paint Shop Pro.
Step 4: Once the image has been divided it usually has to be “cleaned up”. Meaningless stray dots are removed using a feature called “despeckling”.
Step 5: When a letter is completed it must be verified. This is done by comparing the number of “names listed” with the number of “images”…if all are present there will be twice as many images as names (since the images were split).
Step 6 (maybe): If there is a inaccurate number of names to images, the MIS director checks each entry until the problem is discovered and corrected… Zoom out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Digital Archiving

This past Saturday I attended a class at the Lowell Telecommunications Studio on digital archiving of analog moving images. Analog moving images are things such as video tape and and home movies. Digital moving images are moving images stored in a computer format. The method of transferring home movies was pretty simple: You point the 8 mm projector show the movie on a screen in a darkened room. At the same time, you set up a digital movie camera on a tripod, point it at the screen and record the image from the screen. You can plug the camera directly into a computer and completely bypass any film in the digital camera. The moving digital images take up an enormous amount of space on your computer and while that space is becoming cheaper every day, it is still expensive. There is an inexpensive, imaginative alternative, however, and that's a website called which you should check out very soon. It costs nothing to store your stuff there so long as it's freely available to anyone else. As someone who bought a Sony Betamax back in 1980 and who is in possession of a box of Beta tapes that will soon slide beyond my ability to view them, I'm a big believer in transferring this stuff into a contemporary format and storing it in a way that its accessibility will be guaranteed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

OpenOffice 2.0

A new version of OpenOffice has officially been released. OpenOffice is a free online office application available to anyone with Internet access. Its chief sponsor and contributor is Sun Microsystems. The program offers a full range of office applications including text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents. You can find this free software at “Open source” software such as this is beginning to threaten to Microsoft’s popular “Office” software. Many technical experts believe that OpenOffice version 2.0 is a credible competitor to Microsoft’s Office 2003. As expected Microsoft is not taking this lying down. Next year Microsoft Corp will release a new version of Office. Bill Gates and Company promises this will be the most dramatic upgrade since Office 95. Code named Office 12 the update is a radical change in the users interface and in the look Microsoft has offered for years. Microsoft believes Office 12 will set it apart from the open source competitors like OpenOffice 2.0. A couple of weeks ago, Google increased the intrigue by announcing a partnership with Sun Microsystems. These two mega-companies believe the Internet is all about sharing and OpenOffice is a perfect example of this. Stay turned for this battle between giants.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Electronic Recording Instructions

It looks like we will be expanding our electronic recording pilot program to add a few more submitters. Thus far, we’ve averaged about 8 documents a day submitted electronically. The system works just fine although the “look back gap” is still a problem. When a customer walks into the registry to record a document he will typically do a quick name search on one of our public access computers to determine if any new documents that would effect his property have been recorded recently. Finding none, the customer comes to the recording counter. But there’s always a slight chance that in that gap of time between performing that search and getting the document on record (usually no more than five minutes) another document will be recorded that does effect that property. To protect our customers, the registry recording system has a “look back” feature that compares a newly entered name with all the names entered within the preceding hour. So, if the sheriff had just recorded an attachment against your seller right before you reach the recording counter, when your document is entered (but before it’s officially on record) a warning will appear about the other filing. When you’re standing there across the recording counter, we can alert you to this match. But if you’re back at your office having submitted your documents electronically, we can’t duplicate this in-person ability to communicate. For now, customers who chose to submit documents electronically must bear this risk. We have prepared a downloadable set of instructions for customers who are set to begin filing electronically.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mapping Software and the Registry of Deeds

Back in 1999 we sketched out a plan that would link registry of deeds records, other land related data, and digital maps to create “one stop shopping for land related information.” Well back then, the mapping technology really wasn’t ready for widespread use, so we continued to plod along, adding more of our own records to our website. Since then, mapping technology has made great strides. For example, we’ve previously written about the wonders of the Google Earth program. Today’s New York Times has a great story (“A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code”) that describes how Google has made its map creation code freely available to anyone that wants to use it. People all over the world are creating customized maps that show everything from ethnic restaurants to USO sightings. As this article says, this is another step in Google’s quest to become the “ubiquitous organizer of the world’s information.” Tomorrow morning we’re going to start experimenting with this functionality. Already we’ve conceived of several ways of utilizing it that will be of great service to a wide variety of registry users.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Here are a few short, interesting, technology developments from recent weeks:

Sales of Personal Computers rose more than 17 percent for the third quarter of 2005. Many people are changing to laptops and low priced models. Sounds like the latest trend in the automotive industry…"small and cheap".

This week Nintendo will unveil its plan for free Wireless Internet (WiFi) access at McDonalds for its handheld games…I wonder if Nintendo can do something about McDonald's Apple Pies? They’re much too hot.

And speaking of Apple…

Apple Computer has released a Video iPod… Wait a minute…What's Steve Jobs up to?...I don’t even have the audio one yet.

Did you know that the small Audio iPod is called a "Shuffle"? Well...actually it's small in memory, but not the smallest...the smallest...I mean thinner audio iPod is called the"Nano" has more memory than the "Shuffle", but less that the bigger "original"...but... physically it's smaller...boy technology can be complicated.

Splog is the new word that is being used to describle spamming a blog…”Can you use Splog in a sentence please?”... Yes…”By the way... the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds now has a security process that will prevent our blog from receiving Splog”... How’s that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on National Lumber

The Registers of Deeds Association is working with the Secretary of State’s office on an appropriate response to the National Lumber v Lombardi case that we’ve written about previously. To review, National Lumber sought to establish a mechanics lien against the Lombardi family back in 2002 when registry recording volumes were at their all time peak. Instead of bringing the necessary and time sensitive document to the registry to be recorded, National Lumber sent it to the registry (not this one) by Fedex. The document joined the flood of other mail that was waiting to be recorded. While the registry received the document within the time limits for establishing the lien, it was not recorded for several weeks which put the time of recording outside the time for establishing the lien. The homeowner argued that the lien was ineffective since it was not recorded on time. The appeals court ruled disagreed, saying that MGL c 36, s 14 established the time of recording as the time the document was “received” by the registry. In this case, the registry employee’s signature on the Fedex receipt set the time of receipt by the registry. According to the Appeals Court, in other words, a document’s priority within the recording system is set by the time the registry receives the document, not be the time the document is actually recorded in the registry’s recording system. While this is probably a correct interpretation of chapter 36 as it now exists, it really throws our entire recording system into chaos. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate this statement. Let’s say you’re representing the buyer of a house. You do a title exam and find no mortgages or encumbrances. You do the closing at the registry the next morning, do a rundown on the registry’s computer system – still nothing to effect your locus – and go directly to a recording terminal where your deed is indexed and issued an instrument number and a time of recording which, for our example, let’s say is 9:05 A.M. But at 9:03 A.M., a registry employee in our Customer Service office signed for a Fedex package that contained a mortgage on that very premises. We record that mortgage at 9:15 P.M. The way everyone but the Appeals Court views our system, your deed would prevail over that new mortgage, because the deed went on record first. But under the National Lumber case, the mortgage has priority over your deed because it was “received” by the registry prior to your deed being recorded. It seems that the proper way to remedy this situation is to amend chapter 36 to make the “receipt” by the registry synonymous with the act of recording with the essential step being the issuance of an instrument number and official time of recording.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Today we put in place a new mail processing procedure. The goal is to increase efficiency and accuracy and record mail faster. Presently, the mail is opened by our Cusomter Service Department. This is a very busy area. Employees are often distracted by customer calls and walk-ins. Since the primary function of this department is servicing customer needs, it really doesn't mail sense to locate mail duties there. The new plan is to designate two or three employees solely responsible for checking, sorting and recording mail. Now that the Registered Land scanning project is done we have re-designed one of these scanning rooms to accommodate mail processing. I am sure there will be need for tweaking as the system develops…for this reason I will save further details for a later post.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lock Monster Hockey

The 2004-05 professional hockey season begins in Lowell tonight when the Lock Monsters take on the Manchester Monarchs at the Tsongas Arena at 7:30 P.M. The Lowell team has twin NHL affiliations: it receives players from the Colorado Avalanche and from the Carolina Hurricanes. The quality of hockey is terrific and the price is quite affordable. A family of four can see a great game complete with full concessions for less than a single Red Sox reserved grandstand ticket. So if you’re interested, check out for more information. If you’re disappointed to be reading about hockey and not deed indexing on this rainy Friday afternoon, jump on over to to read the latest commentary on the new deed indexing standards.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Return of the Image Indexers

Next week we will begin our “image indexing” project again. “What’s that?”… you ask.
As you probably are aware our computer holds a searchable name index back to January 1976. If you need to search before that you are stuck using the old grantor/grantee index books. “Image Indexing” solves this problem. First a little history…"fast re-wind 12 years"...registry employees manually entered into the Wang Computer System the entries for the 1976-85 index …one by one by one by one…this was an incredibly time consuming project...We asked do we make the earlier indexes electronicly available to the public without getting into a manmoth project?...We investigated out-sourcing the work, but it was far too expensive. Last September we began a very successful “indexing imaging” project. This project allowed us to provide pages of the old indexes to the public on CD. The project lasted for several months during which we created CD’s for the 1960-1965 and 1966-1975 indexes. The process is simple and far less time consuming than entering individual entries as was done in the days of yore. All of our old index books have been microfilmed for disaster recovery purposes. About four years ago employees scanned this microfilm. We used these scanned images of the existing paper index books to create the CD’s. Usually these images are quite clear and readable, but they contain a lot of extraneous marks (wide margins, portions of facing pages etc). To improve the quality we had people cropping and cleaning the edges of the images. Employees were assigned an individual letter from the index. As it was finished an Adobe PDF file was created. This file contained all of the pages with entries that start with that letter plus a table of contents used to locate the needed page..."fast-wind to today"... The second phase of “image indexing” will begin on Monday starting with the 1941-1950 Grantor index..."fast forward six months"... The long-range plan is to make all indexes back to 1855 available on CD…And of course, these indexes will be made available to the public free.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Blog for Indexing

The latest version of the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards (its 3rd but probably not final draft, at least) is now ready for review and comment. You can download a copy in PDF format from or by CLICKING HERE. We'd like to receive as many comments as possible regarding these new standards as well as suggestions for other things that should be added to them. To allow a virtual debate on this topic, I've created a new blog that's called Massachusetts Deed Indexing which you should check out as soon as you've finished reading this. Thus far, I'm the only one who can make actual posts to that blog, but I'm trying to recruit a small team of editors to assist, but that blog, like this one, includes a very useful "comment" feature that can become the foundation for our electronic dialog. The comment feature may be used anonymously (although comments carry more weight when the author is identified). You do have to type in a silly-looking code word before you can comment, but this is just a way to protect against machine generated comments that have nothing to do with this - aka spam. So please check out the new blog and don't be shy about letting us know how you feel.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Our final 1138 record books have been converted to digital images and are nearly ready to load onto the computer system. The source of these images is old 35 mm microfilm and as expected some are missing or inferior in quality. Before uploading these images the problems must be fixed. We have already corrected missing books and most instances of missing pages… In the interest of time our scanning company listed some problems simply as “many bad images”. Obviously, this general statement doesn’t help much…We need to ID which pages are the “bad images” so they can be corrected. This morning we began compiling a list of these bad images. This task is laborious and tedious. Each book that has been identified as containing "many bad images" must be reviewed "page by page". When this project is completed all images from
Book 1 (1855) to present will be available on the Internet and the in-house computer system. In addition all 213,000 Registered Land documents have been scanned. Yes… we are working on a way to make our indices available…but that’s another blog.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Helping Massachusetts Military Families

More on the new indexing standards next week, but for now, here's some information on a program that Secretary of State William Galvin and the Salvation Army have developed to provide heating assistance to the families of Massachusetts residents in the military who are stationed overseas. The following is from the Secretary of State's website:
Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin and Lt. Colonel Fred Van Brunt, State Commander of the Massachusetts Salvation Army, today announced an appeal to assist the families of Massachusetts military personnel on active duty to help them pay for winter heating costs. Citing the old adage that “charity begins at home”, Secretary Galvin said many Massachusetts military families who have been left at home when their family members have been called up to active duty are suffering the income loss because of the call-up to service. The upcoming winter heating costs, while they will be difficult for all, will be a particular hardship for these military families on reduced household income. This drive for funds, which will headquartered at the Registry of Deeds offices throughout the state, will be coordinated by the Salvation Army which has already been providing assistance to needy military families."The Salvation Army has been helping our military families since the First World War and continues to provide aid to families of those who have been deployed both here and overseas,” said Colonel Van Brunt. “This is particularly important for those in the National Guard who often have reduced income as a result of their call-up.”Secretary Galvin said, “Whether these military personnel are serving overseas or in relief operations here in the United States, or whether we agree with the policies that caused these extended services, we need to help these families now.”Tax-deductible contributions may be made to the “Military Family Fund," Salvation Army, PO Box 5197, 147 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116-5197, or dropped off at any Registry of Deeds office.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Indexing Standards Update

The Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association has just adopted a draft of new Deed Indexing Standards. This new version greatly expands the standards that were adopted in 2000, adding a variety of sections on plans, excise tax calculation, document formatting and a variety of other things. Our objective was to make this a one-stop recording handbook for Massachusetts. The Association made some final changes which have to be incorporated into the draft. This should be done by early next week. Then, we will distribute copies of the new proposed standards to the various bar associations for comment and suggestions. A copy of the draft will be posted on for anyone else who is interested in seeing it. In tomorrow’s blog posting, we will try to discuss some of the most significant items contained in the new versions of the standards.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Rock

If you’re over fifty years old you’ll remember when the newest thing in technology was HiFi…today the newest thing is WiFi.
WiFi is wireless Internet access. It’s been around for a little while…some people even have it in their home. About a year ago this blog discussed a unique proposal by officials of Philadelphia that would make the entire city a wireless Internet hotspot. After many months of legal and political wrangling it appears this will finally become a reality. Internet service provider, Earthlink will build and maintain this municipal wireless system. “Wireless Philadelphia” is the name of the nonprofit organization established to oversee the project. City officials expect that construction of the network will begin within six months. The total price tag is between $10-$15 million. Earthlink will fund the entire cost and expects to generate funds through a small subscription fee. “Wireless Philadelphia” will receive a portion of the profits to be used to help fund economic development. Not to be out done San Francisco wants the same…and Internet giant Google is stepping up to the plate. Although not a player in Philly, Google, is offering to provide San Francisco blanket wireless Internet coverage… for Free….Free?yes, FREE to users and taxpayers as well. Many industry observers believe that Google has plans to provide a network of wireless coverage throughout major cities in the US. The long-term effects of wireless are just beginning to be seen. The next generation of wireless Internet called WiMAX will be launched in a few years. WiMAX is much faster than WiFi. WiMax will allow wireless video downloads and mobile phone calls over the Internet…for free. How can Google do it for free? Google intents to use the WiFi connection to target advertising…Example: you’re sitting on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco…looking out at Alcatraz…you decide to use Google’s free wireless connection to search the history of the prison…all of a sudden you get a pop-up Ad from your provider which has ID your computer’s network address…(“For a mere $25.00 see the Rock on Big Al’s Alcatraz Tours”). Now that’s what I call effectively targeting your audience…I suspect that "Big Al" would pay Google a fortune for that Ad. Well, I guess my father was right “nothing is free in this world”.