Monday, January 31, 2011

What Cloud?

Today everyone in the technology world is talking about "the cloud".

What cloud? I keep asking myself...

The video below helps explain "cloud computing" and how it might revolutionize the computer industry and the way we use our home computers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Challenger: 25 years ago today

On January 28, 1986 at 11:38 am EST, the space shuttle Challenger blew-up 78 seconds into its flight, destroying the vehicle and all seven aboard. The disaster was caused by the cold temperatures on the ground that day which in turn caused a rubber o-ring (a simple ring made of rubber that acted as a seal between two sections of the solid fuel booster rocket) to lose its resiliency and fail to fill the gap into which it had been place. This allowed flame from the booster rocket to exude from its side, piercing the main fuel tank and destroying a strut that held the booster rocket in place. The resulting lose of stability at incredibly high speed together with the explosive fire that occurred when the fuel tank was ruptured, destroyed the vehicle in mid-flight.

In the following video, physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the panel investigating the Challenger disaster, uses a glass of ice water and a rubber ring to demonstrate what happened:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delayed opening on Thursday, Jan 27

All courts in Middlesex County will remain closed today until 11 am due to the snow. Because the Registry of Deeds is located in the Superior Courthouse in Lowell, we are unable to open until 11 am.

Above is a screen shot from the Trial Court's website. For future reference, you may check that site to learn of any court closings or delays.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MERS CEO to leave company

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that RK Arnold, the CEO of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems for the past 15 years, is resigning from the company in the next few days. The story details the various controversies surrounding MERS after courts and attorneys general across the country (including here in Massachusetts) have questioned the legality of MERS entire business model in which MERS holds title to the mortgage but not to the underlying promissory note, an arrangement that runs contrary to a principal of property law that has remained intact for more than a century.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

iPhone 5 Coming in June, Of Course

I own an iPhone 4G. It is my second iPhone. Before the 4G, I owned the first generation iPhone.
I must admit, I love both of them (of course).

In America April has become synonymous with the fresh crack of a baseball bat and June traditionally brings a new Apple iPhone.

(As you would expect, of course) Geeky people like me love this and can't wait to see the new Apple creation.
Each new iPhone brings fascinating advancements, so (of course) around this time each year the rumor mill is in over-drive.

This year two major iPhone 5 rumors center around social networking (what else, of course). One feature to be introduced is called "media stream". Media Stream gives friends and family the ability to directly access pictures and video files on your phone (if you want, of course). Another social networking feature is called "Find A Friend". This feature uses Google Latitude and GPS to determine the location of a friend at any given time (if they agree, of course).

There are also rumors stating the new iPhone will change physically as well. First, 5G will be slimmer than the already sleek 4G. And techie magazines are reporting that Steve Jobs never liked the "Home Button" on the iPhone. Apparently, Apple engineers have finally found a way to eliminate it (of course they did, he's the boss).

As soon as a picture is leaked, I'll post it (and of course, you know that will happen).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Henry Knox, the 'Bookseller" Hero

click to enlarge map

I have always been fascinated by the story of patriot Henry Knox. Knox was a bookseller in Boston with a vast knowledge of artillery. He acquired this knowledge more through reading than actual experience.

In 1775 British troops held Boston in a stranglehold and George Washington's Continental Army was helpless to break the unpopular occupation. Knox approached Washington with what many considered to be an outlandish idea. The "bookseller" proposed that he and a group of men travel 300 miles to the recently captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York and transport its artillery to Boston. The artillery would give Washington the firepower he needed to drive the British out of the city. Washington surprisingly agreed to the risky plan.

Knox set out for Ticonderoga on December 1, 1775. Four days later the group completed the journey and disassembled 59 pieces of artillery. Knox's men loaded the artillery on carts drawn by oxen. Later they transferred the cannons to sleds to cross the iced-over Hudson River as they continued to Boston.

Along the way Knox passed through the towns of Spencer, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Marlborough, Waylands and Watertown to mentioned just a few.

Finally, 235 years ago today, January 24, 1776 Henry Knox completed the impossible journey and delivered the cannons to George Washington at his headquarters in Cambridge.

The guns remained at the headquarters until March 4 when the Continental Army positioned them on Dorchester Heights overlooking the British Army. When General Howe saw Knox's artillery aimed at down at his forces, he knew retreat was his only option.

Two weeks latter, on March 17, 1776 Howe withdrew his troops, ending the British occupation of Boston... thanks in large part to a "bookseller".

Friday, January 21, 2011

Worcester County Courthouse

Earlier this week I wrote about the risks that face the Middlesex Superior Courthouse here in Lowell after the new Judicial Center opens in 2015. Much of the concern about the fate of the Lowell courthouse is due to a like situation in Worcester. In that city, all court functions moved from the 112-year old Worcester County Courthouse into a new judicial center in 2007. At the same time, the Worcester Registry of Deeds moved into leased space at the former Worcester Galleria Mall. The county courthouse remained vacant since then; and on December 30, 2010, the Division of Capital Asset Management, the state agency responsible for all state buildings, had an auction scheduled to sell the structure. When only one bidder came forward to participate in the auction, DCAM canceled it. Now the future use and even the future survival of the Worcester County Courthouse are in doubt. Hopefully, the same thing doesn't happen here in Lowell.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"The Fighter" and the Golden Globes

Regular readers of this site know that we have a deep interest in the movie, "The Fighter" which is the story of Lowell boxer Micky Ward. The movie was filmed here in Lowell during the summer of 2009 including several scenes right here in the courthouse in which the registry of deeds is located. This past Sunday night at the Golden Globes award ceremony, "The Fighter" won two awards. Christian Bale was named Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Ward's half-brother, Dick Ecklund and Melissa Leo won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Alice Ward, Micky's mother. With such a good showing with these awards, interest is building for the Academy Awards in March. Over time, I've created a Google Map Mashup that identifies various spots around the city that were used in the filming of the movie. Here it is:

View "The Fighter" in a larger map

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Legislation on Foreclosures

With the start of the new legislative session on Beacon Hill, a number of bills have been filed that would effect the process of foreclosures in Massachusetts. As reported by the Boston Globe yesterday, one proposal would require all foreclosures to be first approved by a judge, another would "force lenders to prove they possessed a valid title" and a third would "require foreclosing banks to negotiate with homeowners by sitting down with a third-party mediator."

While there may be near unanimous agreement that foreclosures are a problem, reaching consensus on the causes of the problem or the proper response is more elusive. For that reason, many of the bills of the type described above tend to linger in committee and die a slow death. It's perhaps better to move slowly when amending procedures that have been in place for long periods of time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Future of the Superior Courthouse

This past Sunday's Lowell Sun ran a story about the uncertain future of the Middlesex Superior Courthouse after the new Lowell Judicial Center opens in 2015. Once that facility is operational, the Superior Court and related functions such as the Clerk's Office and Probation will move to it along with the District Court and perhaps the Juvenile Court (which is now in rented quarters with a long-term lease). The Registry of Deeds will not go to the Judicial Center - that much is clear. Where we will go is an open question. It's possible that we will stay here or move to another site. The possibility of the registry moving has been apparent for years, so everything we have done (digitizing records, purchasing and disposing of equipment and furnishings) has been compatible with moving to a smaller facility.

The bigger question to me is what will happen to this building? Any redevelopment will certainly be a challenge given the age of the building and a certain amount of disrepair. But the building is in a great location with the highway 100 yards to the south, the train station 200 yards to the west, and downtown Lowell 250 yards to the north. Plus, the building is spacious, has had many updates, and has parking and green space. Despite all those assets, if nothing is done until after the Superior Court moves out, chances are it will be too late to save this structure.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Statistics for mid-January 2011

With a long weekend in front of us (this coming Monday is the Martin Luther King holiday and the courthouse and registry will be closed), it's time to look at our mid-January recording statistics. Although 2010 as a whole presented bleak stats (compared to 2009, deeds and mortgages were flat and orders of notice and foreclosure deeds were up about 40%), since October, the trends have been quite positive, with mortgages up 40% each month when compared to the same month in the previous year, and foreclosure activity down more than 50%.

These positive end-of-2010 trends continue into the beginning of 2011. When January 1 through the 13 of 2011 is compared to the same days in 2010, we find that deeds are up 18%, mortgages up 59%, and foreclosure deeds and orders of notice both down 80%. Hopefully these positive trends will continue.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snowstorm aftermath

The registry of deeds is open for business this morning and all the sidewalks and stairs leading into the courthouse are clear of snow. School was canceled in Lowell today which was probably a wise decision. We received close to 20 inches of snow yesterday and it didn't stop falling until early last evening. The streets are clear but they are also narrow, the snow banks are high, and even sidewalks that had once been shoveled now have giant mounds of snow blocking the walking path across streets. An extra day for cleanup will make it safer for the kids.

We, along with all courthouses in the state, were closed yesterday which is a rare occurrence. All are open today. We only had 62 electronic recordings waiting for us which is about average these days, so there wasn't a big backlog. As I write, the mail carrier pulled up out front. He doesn't seem to have a larger than normal quantity of incoming mail. I think East Coast storms as compared to those directed just at New England push back mail delivery several days because of the large volume of mail that travels by air.

The biggest problem we face seems to be the tin roof that was constructed over the front entrance to the courthouse. This was built ten years ago as a temporary measure to protect against chunks of the building's facade that had began tumbling down onto the front stairs. The thing has been up for so long and has been subjected to so much wind and weather that it's starting to peel off. Already two panels have flown off. Today's wind causes the next panel in line to buck and bang. Soon it's remaining anchor screws will give way and the sheet of medal will slice down onto the sidewalk. Hopefully no one will be standing there when it falls. The trial court maintenance has told folks who called to complain that it will be repaired as soon as possible. Let' hope so.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Registry of Deeds closed today

All courts in Massachusetts are closed today due to the ongoing snowstorm, so the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell is closed today as well. We will reopen at 8:30 am tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More thoughts on Ibanez

Here are more of my thoughts on the SJC's Ibanez decision: I don't think the result is as apocalyptic as many may portray it although it still presents a substantial glitch in the land records system. Certainly the most prudent course for any future foreclosure is to be sure the proper assignments in their traditional form are completed and recorded in the proper sequence - that's the only way to "foreclose" an endless stream of questions and doubts from future attorneys who are assessing the state of the title. But that's not what the SJC ruling requires which is a good thing since so many parties to the securitization chain either no longer exist or exist only as a different corporate entity. If the original lender no longer exists, how can it produce a valid assignment if one didn't exist before its demise?

What the SJC requires is sufficient evidence that the assignment was completed before the assignment actually took place. That evidence must be a writing, signed by the party doing the transfer that adequately describes the mortgage being transferred. What might satisfy that evidentiary requirement is almost limitless. It might be an email or a cover letter or a computer printout. So the first problem is one of evidence. Who has custody of all of this documentation (in both paper and electronic form) and who can find it? As the whole robo-signing controversy shows, this industry paid little attention to the details of documenting these transactions so trying to reconstruct what was shoddy documentation in the first places is a big obstacle.

The second big issue is who is to be the judge of this evidence? For every non-traditional assignment (meaning anything that is not the written, signed, notarized document recorded at the registry of deeds) someone has to determine whether the evidence presented is sufficient. Does it have to be a judge? Or will the title insurers come to some type of consensus on what constitutes adequate proof - will an affidavit by an attorney attaching copies of email, printouts, etc, that establish the chain of ownership of the mortgage that all then gets recorded at the registry of deeds be sufficient? Obviously the affidavit is a lot less burdensome than a formal judicial petition. With so much antagonism towards the lending industry, however, I don't think too many people will be worried about what's easiest for them.

Ultimately, I believe the solution must be a legislative one. Back in 2004, the state legislature amended MGL c.183, s.54 regarding mortgage discharges. Back then, many homeowners found it almost impossible to obtain mortgage discharges because of turbulence in the lending industry. In this statutory amendment, the legislature enumerated specific types of documentation that could be used, often in conjunction with an attorney affidavit, in lieu of a traditional discharge. I suspect that might be the best solution to this issue, although it will take a year or more to enact.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Tweeting Refrigerator?

I am a self confessed, unabashed, gadget loving guy. Hey, what can I say...I am just a good consumer.

An HDTV, a Blu-ray player, streaming Netflix movies, an iPhone 4G, audio activated GPS system in the car...I looovvvve this kind of stuff.

But truthfully, the latest gadget by Samsung may even be a little much for me.

It is a refrigerator that can send lie.
But not only does Samsung's new refrigerator send tweets, it also plays Pandora Radio, displays your google calendar, connects to the Internet recipe site "Epicurious", and reads the outside temperature. And it does all this using "wifi".

And I thought having an ice maker in my refrigerator was a big deal...

Check it out...

Friday, January 07, 2011

SJC upholds Ibanez

In a closely watched case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a decision by the Land Court that invalidated two foreclosures because of missing assignments of mortgages. The companion cases involved home foreclosures in Springfield conducted by entities that had come into possession of the relevant promissory notes as part of a larger pool of mortgages that were repackaged and sold to investors. In both cases, the companion mortgages were not clearly assigned by the original lenders. When the entities claiming to be the present holders of the mortgage conducted foreclosure sales, there was no record that they were the legal holders of the mortgages. Both cases came to the Land Court via Petitions to Quiet (i.e., "Clear") Title brought by the lenders. Because the industry practice had been to not worry very much about assignments, no one involved expected the outcome to be anything but automatic in favor of the foreclosing lenders.

The trial judge thought otherwise. After trial and a subsequent hearing on a Motion to Vacate, Land Court Judge Keith Long ruled that neither lender had proven ownership of the mortgages that were foreclosed and that their titles were therefore defective. The lenders appealed and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court allowed a Request for Direct Appellate Review. The case was argued before the SJC on October 7, 2010.

Today's decision, authored by Justice Gants, upholds the Land Court decision. The SJC makes clear that a recorded (at the registry of deeds) or even a recordable assignment is not required to effectively pass title. What is required is evidence of some writing or writings that establish a chain of ownership of the mortgage from the loan originator to the entity conduction the foreclosure. The opinion suggests that documents like the trust agreement between investors or the mortgage loan schedule offered by the banks as evidence of the assignment, may have been sufficient had they identified these particular mortgages with "adequate specificity." Such was not the case, however.

What are the implications of Ibanez? For every foreclosure (and for every post-foreclosure sale of a property)going back in time, the first step will be a search for pre-foreclosure assignments. If the assignments were on record and in the proper chronological sequence, then that should end the inquiry. If assignments are missing or if they are out of order, then I think that will qualify for a defect in the title. Whether that defect is curable is a question of fact in each case. Can the entity that conducted the foreclosure produce sufficient evidence to persuade a judge (or at least the next attorney rendering an opinion on the title) that the assignment was effectuated pre-foreclosure sale. If such evidence is not forthcoming, then the defective title remains.

I can't quantify how many foreclosures fall into this category, but given the shoddiness of the overall documents I saw being recorded throughout the recent housing boom, I suspect there are quite a few.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

December recording statistics

The other day I posted recording statistics for all of 2010. For the year as a whole, the numbers were discouraging with deeds and mortgages flat and foreclosures up. But I also wrote that the annual numbers are a bit deceptive: Since October, our recording statistics have been quite positive and December continued that trend.

Here are the numbers for December 2010 compared to the same month in 2009:

In December 2010, there were 497 deeds recorded, a 15% increase from the 431 recorded in December 2009;

In December 2010, there were 1623 mortgages recorded, a 53% increase from the 1059 recorded in December 2009;

In December 2010, there were 44 orders of notice recorded, a 56% decrease from the 101 orders of notice recorded in December 2009;

In December 2010, there were 13 foreclosure deeds recorded, a 59% decrease from the 32 recorded in December 2009.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Cleaning the Scanner

Every so often our scanners need a bath...The one pictured below getting a good cleaning is a real work horse at the registry of deeds. It is located directly behind a prime recording station. I estimate this machine scanned over 300,000 images last year alone.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010 Recording Statistics

Here are the recording statistics for 2010 compared to 2009:

Deeds: For 2010 there were 5390 deeds vs 5434 for 2009, a 1% decline

Mortgages: For 2010, there were 13,675 mortgages v 14,519 for 2009; a 6% decline

Foreclosure Deeds: For 2010, there were 585 foreclosure deeds v. 400 for 2009, a 46% increase

Orders of Notice: For 2010, there were 1143 orders of notice v 834 for 2009, a 37% increase.

While these figures make 2010 look pretty bleak, it was the beginning of the year that was troublesome. Since October, the numbers have been mostly positive, something I'll write about later this week.

Monday, January 03, 2011

My 2011 Techie Predictions

As 2011 begins I thought it would be fitting to make a list of my top ten techie predictions.

1. Priced at $499 the Apple iPad will continue to dominate the market unless other tablet manufactures reduce their prices far below Apple.

2. Google's Chrome will surpass Mozilla's Firefox in the race for browser domination.

3. TV manufactures will finally find a way to search the Program Guide without picking letters using the awkward up/down, left/right arrow keys.

4. Amazon's eReader the Kindle will go bye bye.

5. Barnes and Nobles color eReader the Nook will survive, only if priced well below the iPad.

6. Rupert Murdoch's experiment that will charge people to read his newspapers online will fail drastically.

7. For the first time since its conception, Facebook will begin to lose membership. Burdened by its own largess Facebook will find members turning to small social networking sites that cater to member’s niche interests. Thankfully, the days of reading, "what someone ate for breakfast" may be over.

8. Bluetooth devices will be replaced by WiFi 2 devices that provide a stronger signal.

9. Boredom will get the best of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and he will come out of retirement.

10. The success of Netflix Instant play movies will spawn several copycats and keep consumer prices low.