Monday, November 30, 2009

Cyber Monday

Its Cyber Monday...
This morning I woke around 5:00AM (about my usual time) and meandered down stairs to my computer.
The fireplace(gas) burned brightly against the darkness of the outside night. I was toasty warm.

Its Cyber Monday...
Unlike Black Friday I didn’t wait in line in the cold, rather I sat comfortably in my living room, feet up, coffee in hand.
At 5:00 AM the online retailers were already open, no standing around waiting to rush into a store.
I simply pressed the power button and began to boot my computer, within seconds Windows Vista opened.
I began to shop...aided by my fingers and my broadband connection.

Its Cyber Monday...
Today 96 million other people will do exactly what I am doing...using the Internet to find bargains and buy.
Today online shoppers will spend close to $600 million...with the only pushing and shoving taking place on a computer mouse.

Its Cyber Monday...
And me, I am going to finish most of my Christmas shopping online tonight...while watching the Pats/Saints game in HD, not fighting for a parking space.

How can you beat that?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Queue Management

Last Sunday the Boston Globe magazine ran a short but fascinating interview of MIT professor Dick Larson who specializes in the science and psychology of waiting in line. Today, the thought of a waiting line at the registry seems like a foreign concept, but just a few years ago we were inundated with customers and serving them promptly and efficiently was a top priority. Because everything related to real estate runs in cycles, things will get busy again sometime in the future, so it never hurts to think about updating and improving our procedures.

Larsen is a big fan of what he calls the serpentine line which is a single line that feeds multiple stations (think Wendy’s). Because this type of line guarantees that the first person in line will be the first person served, people are much more patient when waiting in one than when in “parallel lines” which is what you find in the typical supermarket. How many times have you pulled your carriage of groceries into Aisle 5 and then waited while people who joined the line in Aisles 4 and 6 before you get waited on? That’s the definition of frustration.

The best line management in America, according to Larsen, is practiced at Disney parks and Apple stores. It might be tough getting to Orlando any time soon, but I will certainly pay a visit to the newly opened Apple Store at the Pheasant Lane Mall to conduct some additional field research.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Quiz

Back by popular is our annual Thanksgiving Quiz. I must admit its a tough one.

1. Who was the first president to be presented with a turkey as a gift by the National Turkey Federation.
a)Lincoln b)Truman c)Wilson d)Bush

2. What is a turkey younger than 16 weeks called?
a)Tim b)A squab c) A fryer d)A Tom

3. When is Thanksgiving in Canada?
a)2nd Monday in Oct b)Nov 25 c)Boxer Day d)July 4

4. Which of the following is NOT one of the five most popular ways to eat turkey leftovers?
a)soup b)sandwich c)salad d)fried

5. How many people left England on the Mayflower and arrived in the New World?
a)509 b)102 c)66 d)336

6. Which of the following beverages did the Pilgrims bring on the Mayflower?
a)beer b) hard cider c)wine d)milk

7. The average weight of a turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is
a)15lbs b)18lbs c)221lbs d)23lbs

8. What was the name of the first leader of the Pilgrims?
a)Miles Standish b)William Bradford c)John Smith d)Warren Layne

9. In what month did the Pilgrims land in Massachusetts?
a)September b)May c)March d)December

10. The first Thanksgiving Day celebration lasted
a)one day b)two days c)three days d)one week

Bonus Question: What do you call a cranberry that is sad?

Scroll down for answers

Keep scrolling...

1. b- Truman was the first president to received a turkey gift
2. c- A young turkey is a fryer
3. a- Canadian Thankgiving is the second Monday in October
4. d- A fried turkey is NOT popular
5. b- There were 102 people on the Mayflower
6. a- The pligrims brought beer with them
7. a- The average turkey purchased is 15lbs
8. b- William Bradford was the pligrim leader
9. d- The Pligrims arrived in December
10.c- The first Thanksgiving last three days
Bonus: A sad cranberry is called a blueberry...get it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Hours

With Thanksgiving upon us, I've received inquiries about our hours of operation for the rest of this week. We will be closed all day on Thursday, but we'll be open our normal hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.) on both Wednesday and Friday.

Using the Registry of Deeds for historical research

Tonight I’ll be speaking at Lowell’s Pollard Memorial Library (401 Merrimack Street) at 7:00 p.m. as part of a program hosted by the Lowell Historical Society. The event is free, open to the public, and will take place in the library’s ground floor meeting room. The topic will be using the records at the registry of deeds to do genealogy and house histories.

With more than 10 million pages of land records dating from the mid-1600s already freely available on our website, the registry is a valuable resource for all types of researchers. This evening I’ll review the history of our land records system, how it was implemented here in the Northern District of Middlesex County, and will provide helpful hints on how to maximize the use of our data.

If any other group would be interested in hosting such a presentation, please contact me (Register of Deeds Richard Howe) by phone at (978) 322-9000 or by email.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Presidential Turkey Pardon

I promise...on Wednesday I’ll post our annual Thanksgiving Quiz so study up…but for today I want to talk about Presidential Turkey Pardons.

Each year the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board give the president a turkey for Thanksgiving "consumption".

It is rather unclear on how the tradition of pardoning this bird started. Most accounts say the first president to pardon a turkey was Harry Truman in 1947, but there is nothing to back this calm up. There are no pictures, videos or even written accounts.

President Eisenhower ate his birds and in 1963 John Kennedy pardoned one of the three given to him.

But even if Truman and Kennedy didn’t eat a bird here or there, these turkeys were not official pardoned by the president, as is the custom today.

In 1989 President George H W Bush began granting his turkeys an "Offical Presidential Pardon". From 1989 to 2004 the pardoned turkeys were sent to a farm to live out the rest of their natural life. In 2005 George W Bush sent the lucky bird to Disney World to act as the honorary grand marshal of Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a tradition that continues today.

Here is a video of President George W Bush pardoning his turkey.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Foreclosures on the increase

Foreclosures are up both here in Massachusetts (according to this Boston Globe story) and across the nation (according to the New York Times). Three weeks ago, we made similar findings for the month of October. Our statistics for October showed that in Lowell, Foreclosure Deeds were up 21% rising from 24 in 2008 to 29 in 2009. Orders of Notice were up 17%, rising from 47 in 2008 to 55 in 2009.

For the nine towns in the district for the same time periods we found that Foreclosure Deeds were up 18%, rising from 17 in 2008 to 20 in 2009. The most startling statistic was for Orders of Notice in the nine towns which rose 158%, from 24 in 2008 to 62 in 2009.

A snapshot of November’s statistics to-date paint a grim picture. While the number of foreclosure deeds recorded for the period of November 1 to November 20, 2009 were down slightly when compared to the same period last November (34 in 2008 down to 22 in 2009), the number of Orders of Notice has exploded. For the entire district, in the first three weeks of November of 2008, there were 35 orders of Notice recorded. For the same three weeks this year, the number is up to 77. This trend is consistent in Lowell and in the towns, rising from 22 to 52 in Lowell and from 13 to 25 in the nine towns.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Community Mapping

Tuesday's New York Times had an article on the growing involvement of ordinary citizens in the task of making maps. The openness of Google's mapping system and the growing volume of software that seeks to take advantage of it are transforming the map making industry. The article compares this collaborative effort at map making to the early days of Wikipedia (and we all know how successful that has become).

Although it's not produced by individual volunteers, a newly available feature on the website of the Lowell Police Department illustrates how the democratization of this technology will benefit everyone. The LPD has used mapping software (projected onto the Google base maps) to plot the incidence of crime in the city. Now anyone with a computer can access the website and what types of crimes are happening how often and where. (A screen shot of the LPD crime map is shown above).

Here at the registry, we've long seen our data as a potential gold mine for this kind of mapping process. Unfortunately, some of the parties necessary to making that a reality have been slow to see the benefits. Now that mapping of this type seems to be gaining widespread momentum, we hope to make our efforts at mapping a reality.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Google Phone...Yea or Nay?

Rumors are everywhere, absolutely everywhere…supposedly Google is going to begin selling its own cell phone, no they are not going to call it the iGoogle. And the new phone will run on Google’s own Android software. I like the idea, but then I am a Google fan, but some experts think Google should stay out of the cell phone hardware business. Recently, Tech Inciter published five reasons why Google should NOT go into the cell phone selling business. I don't agree, so I have listed them with my responses below:

Reason Number One: Google’s business model does not require it.
My Response: What the heck does “require it” mean? How can anyone try to limit the business model of a company that has set a goal of scanning every book in the world…that’s not "required" either?

Reason Number Two: It would alienate handset makers.
My Response: Ohhhh, scary. We wouldn't want to get the handset makers mad, would we? I ask…Why would Google care about alienating handset makers. Yes Google wants manufacturers to use their Android software, but truth be known these manufacturers have no choice. They need Google more than Google needs them. They either play ball with Google so they have access to Android or the iPhone and Blackberry will contin ue to bury them.

Reason Number Three: It sets a bad precedent.
My response: I say…One person’s bad precedent is another person’s golden opportunity…and now might just be the right time for Google to strike at iPhone. The past two iPhone models really haven’t brought anything new or exciting to the market. People like me that bought the iPhone because they like the product, not because of Apple loyalty would switch and buy a different phone if it offered more.

Reason Number Four: Hardware is a very tough game.
My Response: Are you kidding…Google has the toughness and resources to take on $100 billion Microsoft in the browser and document creation business. What could be tougher than that?

Reason Number Five: Google can already get the hardware it wants (to develop Android).
My response: But this is war…a war for Internet/communication superiority and the enemies are Microsoft and Apple. In the past Google has demonstrated a propensity to go for the jugular.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dear Coach Belichick

New England Patriot's Organization
Coach Bill Belichick
One Patriot's Place
Foxborough, Ma

Dear Coach Belichick,

First, may I call you Bill? I am sure you won’t mind. It is far better than what I was calling you around midnight Sunday. Bill, on behalf of myself and the rest of New England, I need to ask you if you have ever heard the don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger AND you don’t mess around when its 4th and two on your own twenty-eight? What!, what were you thinking.

Bill, let me describe my NFL Sunday night experience to you. I'm sitting, watching your/our team (The New England Patriots) go from "pounding" the Indianapolis Colts to "barely managing" them. There's a little over two minutes left in the game and it is 4th down and your/our team has two long yards to go for a first down. OK, I’m thinking...don't panic, we’ll boot that pig-skin deep down the Colt's throat. Hey, if Manning can march 80 yards down the field in 2 minutes the Colts deserve to win...but we’ll make them earn it.

Then I noticed Tom Brady your/our quarterback walked to the sidelines then came back onto the field. Now, I know Brady is good, but he can't punt, I don't think. My brain begins to stutter..."what - is - happening? - the - Pats - are - going – for – it”. Wait a minute, wait a minute, I wonder…am I confused, did I miscount? It must be 3rd down and not 4th? Then the TV screen flashes the bad news, 4th down and two…

OK, its late, I’m usually in bed by 7:30PM (so what, I get tired early). I start to I disoriented? Are the Pats really on the Colts twenty-eight yard line and not their own twenty-eight. A quick field inspection proves that was not the case.

Whhhhaaaaat? Whhhhheeeere am I? Is this America football? Did they change some rule and I missed it? Are there five downs now? Bill truthfully, the last time I felt that confused was when I woke from being injected with sodium pentothal after a tooth extraction.

What were you thinking? Was the voice of former head coach Clive Rush whispering in your ear...(Spooky voice)Billlllllll, yoooouuuu aaarrreeee aaaaa gennnniussssss...gooo foorrrr ittttt Billlllll, goooo foorrrr ittttt...

Bill, as you painfully know, your team failed in its attempt for a first down. The Colts got the ball back, scored and won the game. Why didn’t you just boot the ball and pin Manning down on his own twenty and make him earn a victory instead of giving him one? Honest, I don't get it.

Coach, don’t you know there are certain unquestioned truths in this don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger AND you don’t mess around when its 4th and two from your own twenty-eight.

Tony Accardi

Monday, November 16, 2009

Electronic Payments and the "Virtual Wallet"

A story in today’s New York Times describes some of the progress being made by the “electronic payment” industry in its search for new and innovative ways for Americans to pay for things. The story points out something that should be obvious if we ever took the time to think about it (although most of us have not) namely that the way humans obtain goods and services has changed only a few times throughout our existence. Bartering gave way to coins which gave way to paper money which was eventually joined by paper checks which all have just recently given way to plastic credit and debit cards. Our next method of payment (already available but not yet adopted to any great degree) might be called the “virtual wallet” which describes a source of funds that is accessible electronically either through the use of a password or an interactive device, most likely a cell phone. Even though this new technology is feasible and available now, it’s has not yet reached the desirable stage because credit and debit cards seem to fulfill all of our current requirements.

Here at the registry we’re interested in the virtual wallet for a couple of reasons. We still handle small amounts of cash received in payment for document copies printed by customers here at the registry. Because so much of our holdings are freely available online, the amount printed here at the registry has greatly decreased through the years, but some still exists. Converting those dollar bills that still come across our counter into electronic micropayments would be much more efficient. The other major inefficiency I see, not just for the registry, but for the entire system, is the practice of paying recording fees and tax stamps by check. It seems that the entire real estate financing system is electronic until it reaches the registry. There, a check is written by hand and processed by hand with data that already exists in digital form being repeatedly keyed into computer systems at the registry, at banks, back at the lawyer’s office, everywhere. That’s not only efficient, it increases the odds of errors being made (have you ever tried to read a lawyer’s handwriting on a check or anywhere else?).

Because people seem satisfied with the established way of paying charges at the registry and elsewhere, a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude will ensure that these new, more efficient methods of payment are slow to be adopted here and elsewhere.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Elevator Location

Yesterday Register Howe wrote about the meeting of potential bidders to construct the new elevator at the Lowell Superior Courthouse this Winter. The elevator will cause the Registry of Deeds to lose work space: half of the administrative room located across from the jury pool will be taken as an entrance; a storage hallway that runs from this room to the "back indexing project room" will become a handicapped accessible ramp; and finally the "back indexing project room" itself will be taken by the elevator project. Fortunately, no space used by the public will be effected. At this time our former closing room is being used by the Middlesex South Satellite Office. Our plan is to restore this back to a closing room when the space becomes available again.

Here is an artist rendering showing the location of the new elevator and two pictures of yesterday's meeting with bidders.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Elevator Update

The Commonwealth’s Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), the state agency in charge of all buildings, held a “pre-bid conference” here today for vendors interested in bidding on the new elevator that is to be installed in the courthouse this winter. Because the accessibility of this building has been limited at best for so many years, the Architectural Access Board is requiring the state to go forward with the elevator installation even though the building is expected to be vacated in another two or three years when the new judicial facility is completed. This new elevator will originate in the employ parking lot in the place now occupied by the side entrance. That entrance consists of a wooden door at the top of a half dozen steps. The elevator will pick up passengers in the parking lot and have two stops: one at that first floor and the next on the second floor. Because the first floor is on two different levels, passengers being discharged will be able to go straight ahead towards the jury room. But those going to the lower level of the first floor (the registry, housing court, rest rooms), will have to travel over a slalom-like ramp that twists its way through existing registry space. While the elevator won’t impinge on any registry space, the ramp will, so we’ll be moving some furniture and people around in the coming months. Although nothing is definite, the last I heard as a proposed start time is this coming January.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day

The registry of deeds will be closed tomorrow in honor of Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, this holiday was originally proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War One which occurred when the Armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Congress made Armistice Day a national holiday in 1938 and in 1954 changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day to commemorate all veterans of the US military.

Because America’s involvement in World War One occurred at the end of that conflict, we often neglect the sacrifice made by our neighbors here in Lowell. According to a November 11, 1921 article in the Lowell Sun, 171 men from Lowell perished in the war. Surprisingly, almost half the deaths were from pneumonia (which was a complication of the influenza empidemic that gripped the world at the time). But many from Lowell died in action and they are memorialized around the city. Here’s a sampling: Kearney Square in downtown is named for Lt Paul Kearney who was killed in action in France on October 3, 1918; Cupples Square in the Highlands was named for Lt Lorne Cupples who died of wounds in France in October 1918; and Gallagher Square, just up Gorham Street from the registry of deeds was named for Pvt William Gallagher who died of wounds in France on October 7, 1918.

So as you make your way around Lowell or other area communities tomorrow and in the days to come, please take a moment to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Texting Question

Run this one through your head…

Its the year 2000...Lets say I’m an inventor and you’re a rich Venture Capitalist. One day you are sitting on the deck of your plush, ocean front home sipping Chardonnay. I visit you and tell you I have a revolutionary idea. We have this conversation…

Me: Hey, I've got a great invention that will make millions and I want to let you in on it.
You: (taking a sip from the wine glass) Go a head, tell me about it…I love making millions.
Me: (Holding a cell phone) I invented a way to send written messages over a cell phone. I call it “Text Messaging”. Pretty clever, huh. My idea is to charge people a small fee for every “Text" they send. People will send millions of them. I’ll be rich and you’ll be richer.
You: (with a look of confusion) Are you talking about the cell phones that people use to talk on?
Me: (demonstrating on his cell phone) Yes. This is how it works…Using the number keys on the phone you select a “letter”. Here's an example…press three times on the "number two" key and the phone types the letter “C”. Hit the "number eight" key twice and it types the letter “U”. Get it?
You: It sounds really complicated.
Me: I know it sounds a little difficult, but I’m hoping that in the future cell phones will come with built in keyboards. And people will start using abbreviations for LOL for "Laugh Out Loud". Get it?
You: (taking a long sip of the wine) Yeah, I "get it", but I don't GET IT...Built in keyboards, on a device meant to talk on?... Isn't it easier just to call the person rather than pound away on the number pad to write something?
Me: Well, yes but…
You: Then why would anyone in their right mind want to send one of your “Text Messages” rather than enter a simple ten digit number and CALL someone and TALK to them? And they probably have the number in speed dial!
Me: I just thought you’d want in on this million-dollar idea.
You: Million-dollar idea!…this Text Messaging thing will send you to the poor-house…Trust me, no one will ever use it. (finishing the wine)...By the way...URN
Me: What?
You: You Are Nuts!
Me: See, you're getting the idea already.

Google estimates that there are 1 billion text messages send every day…and according to the New York Times Texting Messages have increased by 80% in the US in the past year.

Friday, November 06, 2009

First-time homebuyer credit extended

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas informs us that an extension of the first-time homebuyer tax credit, scheduled to expire on November 30, 2009, has been extended by the House and by the Senate to June 30, 2010. The bill awaits the President's signature which should occur within the next day or two. As it was configured, this bill offered a tax credit of up to $8000 to a first-time home buyer as a means of stimulating home sales but it was only available to those who closed on their deals by the end of the day on November 30.

The new bill not only extends that deadline, it also expands the credit to many existing homeowners (and not just first-time buyers). Under the new bill, individuals who already own a home and have lived in it for at least five consecutive years are now eligible for a tax credit of up to $6500. Other changes include the ability of people who purchase the home in 2010 to claim the credit on their 2009 tax returns, meaning they would get the money (the "credit") sooner rather than later. Income caps have also been raised. Formerly, the credit was limted to those with income less than $75000 for individuals and $150000 for couples. The new limit is $125000 and $250000, although homes with a sales price in excess of $800000 would not be eligible for any credit. Finally, the deadline has been moved to April 30, 2010 (for an executed P&S) with a closing to occur no later than June 30, 2010.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Technology Meetings in Worcester

Yesterday I travelled to the Worcester Registry of Deeds for two meetings with representatives from other registries and the Secretary of State's office on technology topics.

The first meeting dealt with the continued roll-out of electronic recording around the state. Now, Middlesex North and South, Plymouth and Hampden are the only registries using this technolgy, but Worcester should be joining us in the next few months with a new system which, if all goes according to plan, will allow document submitters to send electronic documents directly to the registry without going through a third-party intermediary (which is how the rest of us do it). I'm not sure which way is better but I do know that this technology is still in its very early stages, so it's wise to try out a variety of methods before deciding which one works best in Massachusetts.

The second meeting dealt with the new MassLandRecords website which is still in operation alongside the "classic" version of MLR. Our latest testing of the new site still finds some unacceptably long response times for certain queries, so the technical people are completely focused on resolving them. By response time, I mean that a search that takes 1 second to get the result on the Classic version might take 6 seconds to respond on the new version. Since the new system is purposely designed to operate faster, the fact that it's running slower indicates something isn't working quite right. Until that's resolved, both websites will remain in full operation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit

The National Association of Home Builders created and post this excellent YouTube video on the government's first time home buyers tax credit. Who's eligible and what they are eligible for is clearly explained here. The incentive program is due to expire on December 1, 2009, but it appears the Feds will extend it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

October recording statistics

Here are the stats for major document types recorded during October 2009 (compared to those recorded in October 2008). The numbers are split into Lowell properties and non-Lowell properties (i.e., those in the nine other towns in the district);

For Lowell for October 2009 vs October 2008:

Deeds: in 2008 there were 167; in 2009 there were 161 (down 4%)
Mortgages: in 2008 there were 222; in 2009 there were 236 (up 6%)
Foreclosure Deeds: in 2008 there were 24; in 2009 there were 29 (up 21%)
Orders of Notice: in 2008 there were 47; in 2009 there were 55 (up 17%)

For the nine towns in the district for the same time periods:

Deeds: in 2008 there were 326; in 2009 there were 384 (up 18%)
Mortgages: in 2008 there were 658; in 2009 there were 865 (up 31%)
Foreclosure Deeds: in 2008 there were 17; in 2009 there were 20 (up 18%)
Orders of Notice: in 2008 there were 24; in 2009 there were 62 (up 158%)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Improving Real Estate Market

According the National Association of Realtors things are looking up in the real estate market. The NAR data indicates that the number of Purchase and Sales agreements executed in September 2009 rose for the eight straight month.

“Sales of existing homes surged a record 9.4% in September to a 5.57 million annual rate, a report last month showed. The median price fell at the slowest pace in a year as the number of houses on the market shrank" (

Many real estate experts surmise that much of this increase might be attributed to the government's $8,000 home purchasing tax credit. Of course, these same experts are concerned the increase in housing sales will slow down once the government ends the incentive program this month. Since a thriving real estate market is essential to an economic recovery an extension of the program is being considered. Although the sale of foreclosure homes are also a major factor in increasing home sales they are also contributing to the decline in housing prices.