Monday, December 30, 2013

The ISM to be Officially Incorporated

By Bixyl Shuftan

The Sci-Lands have been a cornerstone of Second Life's science community. The most well-known place there is the International Space Museum, often called the ISM for short, it's circle of rockets at Spaceport Alpha an unmistakable feature among well-traveled residents of the Grid. The director of the location and group is Kat Lemieux. Shortly after their Christmas music event about a week ago, she met up with Second Life Newser to discuss an upcoming move that will take place this week, one that will benefit the museum.

Kat told me that the ISM would be officially incorporating, "I'm talking to the lawyer Monday. He's also going to handle our 501c3 application. ... 501(c)(3) is US federal tax exempt status, so our not-for-profit company can be officially nonprofit.That way, US donors can deduct their donations on their taxes. For non-US people, it basically says we are a legitimate, recognized nonprofit."

Kat told me this was not the first time the ISM had attempted incorporation, "We had applied before, a couple of years ago, but were denied. I think it was because the IRS agent couldn't grasp the idea of a museum without brick and mortar. There were other virtual museums at the time, but they were all connected to real-life museums. Having one with no real-life component was just a bit much to swallow, I suppose. Also, I was trying to do the application without any legal help that time, and probably did some things wrong. Having a lawyer this time out should help. In fact, that''s why we're having him handle our incorporation, too. to make sure we get all the i's dotted and t's crossed for the IRS. Just creating a corporation is not a big deal. I've done it several times. But doing it right for a 501c3 can be a bit trickier. The by-laws and articles of incorporation must meet IRS standards. However, we have a good board of directors, and more volunteers, so I'm confident this time will work out."

"Once we have the tax-exempt status," Kat stated, "we can apply for grants from corporations and big donors. Then we can really go to town! We have some ambitious plans." "What plans did you have?" I asked her. She answered, "Well, one thing we need to do is rebuild almost everything in our Second Life museum. ... A big problem we've had with development is that over time a lot of our volunteer builders have left Second Life. Life goes on! But we don't have 100% rights to everything." That a number of objects can only be updated, modified, moved, or changed in any way by residents whom are no longer around can be a problem, "For instance, the Titan II/Gemini 4 rocket that goes up to our LEO platform can't be changed. The creator hasn't been in SL for years now, and we can't change the script to adjust the text." The only thing that can be done is rebuilding the objects in question entirely from prims and code, "We will simply have to redevelop a lot of stuff. But when we do, we are planning to do them as work-for-hire, so we own the copyrights as well as have full perms in Second Life. The lack of  'assets' and copyrights was one thing the IRS questioned last time out, so it's important from that aspect as well." They do have some people offering their talents,"the whole museum has been built by volunteers ever since 2005." But they also want to attract more, "Right now, we do have some commercial builders we're planning to work with, once we have the new corporation that can make contracts, and of course some additional funding."

Kat explained they also wanted to expand to other Grids, "We want to be able to use our assets in other virtual worlds, like Kitely and other OpenSim grids. And we also want to create a standalone version using OpenSim. In fact we already have a presence in Kitely. It isn't much yet, for lack of content, but we're working on it. It was created nearly a year ago. But so far it has taken a back seat to our Second Life and business development. When we rebuild exhibits, etc. they will all be crossplatform. Then we will use them in Kitely and other grids." She also mentioned, "For educational purposes, we would love to have an OAR file we can give to teachers, for instance, so they can let even underage children visit a version of the museum safely."

For additional funding, the ISM is planning some Kickstarter campaigns, "our first one will be simply to fund the 501c3 application and incorporation," Kat told me, "There are fees, and of course the lawyer to pay." What will the museum be offering donors? "We have a collection of real-life space memorabilia that has been donated to us," Kat answered, "Those will be our first premiums (gifts for the largest donors). For the rebuilding kickstarter, we will probably offer an early copy of the OAR file, among other things. And of course, recognition, etc. We have some experience recognizing big donors." They are still going over ideas for smaller levels of donation, "We're open to suggestions. Like a visitor indicated earlier, rockets one can ride are a popular item with people in Second Life."

Kat told one story from early in the ISM's history, "When we first started the museum, we used some borrowed land on the mainland. We had a building somebody gave us where we were having a meeting, with lots of glass walls.This noobie came flying by, and crashed into the wall!" After a shared chuckle about a mental image of a squished face against the wall, the director went on, "We invited him to the meeting, and it turned out he knew something about graphics, but had not done any Second Life building. So I gave him a few pointers, and together we built a few rockets. It turns out in real life he made decals for models as a business. That was a sideline for him, since he's an engineer for a living. But he had quite a knack." It was a lucky coincidence, "Anyway, after figuring out the basics, he took off and became a real expert, and got into scripting, too. Most, but by no means all, of the rockets here are some he built. And the models I was firing off earlier are some he made."

"Our first and largest rocket, though, was built by Davinci Doctorow," Kat explained, "That's the Saturn V on Spaceport Bravo." She pointed to a tall rocket in the next sim, next to a truly massive building, "An interesting point about all our models is that they are full scale. That was really the first objective I had, to be able to show people the actual size of real life rockets, etc." She pointed to building, "The VAB is also accurately scaled, which took some doing since that building is still, to my knowledge, the largest by volume in the world. It's so big, that rumors when it was being build were that its own weather was created inside. My Father, who was a chief engineer at the Cape then, said it was probably just condensation from the ventilation ducts, but he concedes that it could have been clouds forming and raining in there."

"The volunteer who built our VAB works for the Air Force museum there in Central Florida in real-life so he had access to lots of good data." Kat then pointed to a map, which at the time had been coated with ice, "He also did this map of the Cape area, which we turned into an ice skating rink. It works pretty well. I tried it out awhile ago. When it isn't covered in ice, it has some neat features. All those little spikes are notecard givers with info about the features they mark.

"We've been very fortunate to have some very creative people working here over the years," Kat reflected. I asked if there was some recent talent she wanted to mention. She thought over her answer, "Hmmm.... Some of our most recent people include Rachel Corleone, Banker Tomorrow and Shanna Starship." Shanna had made the decor for the Christmas event, "and made this airpot and coffee mugs. Banker is, as his name implies, a business guy rather than a builder. We seem to attract people for the kind of work we have to do at any particular time. Banker has worked in real life with some large nonprofits, so has lots of insight to share with us about how to structure our new corporation. He's on our board of directors, in fact. We have every intention of doing this in a professional manner."

The ISM director went on, "Another one of our directors is Gus Plisskin. ... His company, Firesabre, is a long time SL building contractor/developer. Firesabre has its own education-based OpenSim grid, too. So he's certainly been helping us on that front. Another director of ISMuseum is Patio Plasma, of the Exploratorium. ... Which reminds me, one of the important projects we'll be working on next year is to develop a metadata scheme for 3D objects, esp. useful for virtual museums. I took a class online, a MOOC from Penn State, about metadata. The idea of a metadata scheme is pretty ambitious. But Patio, for one, is quite interested. She's looked for something preexisting, but hasn't found any yet, So we will be breaking new ground. We will, of course, donate the results to the open standards group who handle such things."

It was at this point Shanna Starship found us and walked over, and there was a bit of discussion between the three of us. "I'm glad that Patio is interested in the (metdata) project," Shanna spoke with a smile. "I'm going to probably give some classes about metadata in SL for people interested in helping," Kat added, "Before that, I plan to write something for our wiki, to give people some background and links. But the incorporation effort has pushed that to the back burner for now. Once that is out of the way I'll have more time to devote to it. I probably ought to review the videos from the MOOC before attempting to teach it to anyone else. But I had got a lot of links collected during the course, and found some other info outside of it as well. Being able to have consistent, completely descriptive 'tags' to connect to all our content will make life much easier in the future. We could even use the metadata to generate XML based catalogs as well. If we do a good job of the schema, it could create a good reputation for us among scholars. It's something that goes beyond just Second Life, of course. There are some unique features to 'objects' in virtual space that existing metadata can't cover. So what we can bring to the table is some in-depth knowledge of what those characteristics are, and how they all fit together."

"The whole object of metadata is to describe unique objects so they can be discovered by others. So, for instance, a painting's metadata could include the artist's name, the medium, who owns it, where it is housed, when it was painted, where, etc. For things like our exhibits, the metadata would include the builder, possibly both real life and Second Life names, when it was made, what real-life object it represents, info about the real-life object, whether it is full scale, where it is located in Second Life or other grids, what permissions exists for it, and so on. All these data have to be expressed in a formal way, both machine and human readable."

I commented the metadata project sounded like it could be quite an effort. "Yes, I expect it will be," Kat explained, "It may be the subject of yet another Kickstarter campaign. Or maybe we can get a grant from someone to do it. Not impossible I imagine.  Once we apply for our 501c3, that is a very legitimate project for that kind of funding. What we have discovered in the past is that without 501c3 status, most corporate donors can't even talk to us. They have regulatory restrictions to worry about, too. So just about everything does come back to the business aspects of running a museum. We've done a lot in the past eight years, but to take it forward we really need to go the next step to becoming a real nonprofit corporation."

Kat reminded the ISM was always willing to take in new volunteers, "Also, we have a couple of SL groups besides the Museum Planning Group. Spaceflight Museum Happenings is an announcement group. And our newest one is called 'ISM Boosters.' Members of that one pledge to donate L$1000/month toward museum operations and growth." Kat grinned, "Yeah, we need to have a launching party for that. We just started it a couple of weeks ago." The date of the Boosters' launch party would be scheduled some time "after the holidays."

It was about then that Kat and I went our seperate ways.

So stay tuned for some new builds and new events at the International Space Museum. For more information, the museum's blog is at:

Bixyl Shuftan

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