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Friday, May 6, 2016

The Virtual NonProfit - State filings

This is Part III of an open-ended series on running a virtual nonprofit, the Nuts and Bolts. New Media Arts is a very small U.S. nonprofit corporation, tax exempt under IRC 501(c)(3). We're a library and arts organization that has no physical offices. Our services are available all over the world via our websites or virtual world platforms. Our directors, officers and other people actively involved are in all the continental U.S. time zones, Canada and the Netherlands, this year. Every year, a few more locations. Only a few of us have met each other in physical space. We Skype a lot.  

Do you raise funds via online donation buttons at your website, YouTube, anywhere? Or solicit for funds at a forum?

One of the less-advertised and least convenient of the rules for nonprofits is this: If a U.S. charity solicits for donations online, then those solicitations are considered to be taking place in all of the United States, and come under the jurisdiction of every state that requires registration. Most of those charge fees.

If you solicit for donations online, you probably should be filing reports or returns in about 38 states. 

For most practical purposes, we're covered by tax treaties for the rest of the world, but there are around 40 U.S. state agencies that want to hear from us, most of them annually. There's not much use complaining about it, because of the US Constitution, Tenth Amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Which means that even though we file with the IRS, who regulates the taxation of nonprofits, the states can regulate us too, if they want to. 

There are varying legal opinions about the requirements. A few tell us that if we refuse donations from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, then all we have to do is register in our home state and anywhere we're sending out solicitation emails, thank you letters, or delivering services or goods.

Problem: the donation buttons go to our PayPal account – we might know the donor's email address, and not much else. All of our services and projects are delivered online at our websites or in virtual worlds – anyone in the world who can get to a smart phone or computer and connection can access our stuff.

So, early on, we made a decision: register and file in all of the states who require it. That turned out to be the right decision, even though we're a small organization. As we slowly grow, and with the information we have, we see that donations, most under $25, but not always, come in from every state in the US, most of the countries in Europe, Asia and Australasia, and a few countries in South America, Africa and the Middle East. A big chunk of our donations are not cash, they are valuable scans of antique books, another wrinkle in our nonprofit's profile.

Twelve U.S. states choose not to require registration or reporting for charities, other than legislating something to the effect: Don't Cheat or Lie to Our Citizens, Or We Will Hurt You. Let's give a shout-out to Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming for their enlightened views on not regulating stuff that doesn't need it.

All the other states get a big raspberry, but also an annual form and, usually, money. We are complaint. 

If you use a professional fundraiser (we don't), your reporting requirements go up. The state agencies – Attorney General Offices, Secretaries of State, Departments of Consumer Affairs – depending on the state, are picky about reporting. Most of them charge annual fees, usually based on a nonprofit's size or annual revenues.

Some are easy-peasy, like Colorado, who has a straight-forward online registration and rational well-informed staff - their guy even called me after our first filing, to give me good advice and direct me to the right resources. Some states want anyone not incorporated in their state to register as a “foreign entity”, or pay for a registered agent in that state. California has three agencies we report to, North Dakota requires two reports to the same agency with different deadlines.  

Some states like to do it old-fashioned and require notarized signatures or get ugly when a nonprofit's directors refuse or are unable to provide a social security number or driver's license number, which yes, might be published at a state website or stored with less than ideal security. Quite a few require signatures from two or more officers, and a few won't accept a digital signature.

Our board and officers are separated by thousands of miles across three countries. This is not convenient.

The filings are not technically difficult to fill out, if you have someone in your organization who has the time and patience, you can probably get it done yourself. There are services who say they'll file your forms for you, for a fee. They're expensive and tend to take a one-size-fits all to your filing requirements, which can have disastrous results. I tried it one year, for one state, thinking that because the registered agent worked in the same building as the state agency, we might have a shot at getting it filed on time and correctly. Not so, and it took months to straighten it out.

We also, after the first couple of years, abandoned the use of the so-called Universal Registration Statement – URS. I found that the URS made it harder, not easier, to comply with a state's regulations, as I had to go look them up anyway and usually fill out a required attachment, rather than getting it done with that state's simpler form and instructions.

We now use a CPA firm near one of our board members' homes to prepare the forms and efile when possible. This is cheaper and better, as she can keep up with changing requirements better than I can; it's what she does. One of us still has to check the paperwork, get it printed and signed, write the checks, mail them certified, and make the occasional phone call when things go wrong. We try to take turns. CPA firms in the larger cities who specialize in nonprofits are outrageously expensive, and not necessarily better at it.

Reliable resources:

I shouldn't have to say this, but I will: don't take advice from a website whose main purpose is to sell you something, even if it's a law firm.

Since I'm a retired CPA, I made a tracking spreadsheet. Of course I did :). And here it is, in case you're a virtual nonprofit yourself, or thinking about becoming one.

Notes about the spreadsheet:
  • Screaming yellow highlight - the filing needs a notarized signature, so get that one done early. Pale yellow is some other requirement, such as a specific officer, or must be real ink instead of the far-more-convenient digital signature. If you get it wrong, they'll kick it back and make you do it again, or even revoke your registration if you can't get back to them fast enough.
  • Other highlights are for filing dates, to make them easier to see and schedule – we sort the spreadsheet by filing date while we're getting them done, then by state abbreviation when we need to look something up. Our outside CPA has access to the spreadsheet and our folder of past years' returns; saves time.
  • I left “filing fees” blank, as it depends on the size of your organization, or total revenues or whatever that state's criteria is. We track what we're spending so we'll know what the estimate is for next year's budget.
  • Each year, one or two states change their requirements or the URL that gets you to the right page and we might not get the notice. I'll do my best to keep the spreadsheet current.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016 APL 2016-05-04 Seven new publications (and some not entirely new, but not yet mentioned)

PUBLICATIONS on our news page

We've had the great good luck of getting permission of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, to chart and publish all their embroidery patterns. And also some of their embroideries, though only those that are for sure in the public domain. And of course I could not stop myself from charting a few, although there's lots of them to do still. This pattern in shifting squares is from an unknown maker. It's hand painted, so should be quite old. I like repeating patterns, and this one has nice subdued colors. Thank you, Victoria, for making it possible, and I promise, I'll get them out as soon as possible. Although that might take a little while...
This one is a very old booklet printed in black and white, donated by Melissa Roberts. Sixteen pages of patterns, and when charted they look very elegant. But then, it's for ladies. Thank you, Melissa!

Another of Jackie Ishers items, actually the first that I started charting. It's a well-known cover, Heinrich Kuehn in Berlin, and five handpainted patterns, as usual borders and corners. We're getting quite a collection here, although I don't think we'll ever get it complete. But if everybody who has one, follows Jackies example, we don't have to give up hope. Thank you, Jackie!

Another one of the Museum of New Zealand. This one I've seen also on Pinterest, but of course not charted. It's a small pattern, but a long list of colors. Nearly every leaf and flower has a different color range and I think I might try to switch the colors around to simplify that. Some other patterns show only light and dark and the painter of the pattern has to decide whether it's going to be yellow or white. But this one clearly shows different symbols for the dark blue and dark red, so it was actually designed this way.

And even in New Zealand ladies embroidered slippers for their family. Somewhere on Wikipedia there's a rant from a husband of such an embroideress, complaining that everything in sight got embroidered, whether it was suitable for embroidery or not. When I charted this pattern, of course I started with the white line and the black and red filling. And if you see that pattern, without flowers and paisleys, that looks quite modern. I might try it myself one of these days, when we've finished our stack. Estimated time to completion is now 24 year. I'll be in my eighties!

Our forum members may recall the request that caused this book to be published. Actually, I have it somewhere. I know it. I couldn't find it, ordered another one, scanned that one and edited it, so the lady who wants to make Russian costumes can find here some source material. Of course it helped that the book was fairly easy to edit, unlike the Ullstein Stricken book, where one page takes an entire evening :-( Max Tilke died in 1942, and Germany has a seventy-years-after-death-of-the-author rule, so this came recently in the public domain. I couldn't find it on OpenLibrary, though that one has an earlier volume about Middle-East and Far-East costumes. And now we have this book.
There's two pdfs linked. One PDF which is around 50MB and the other XLARGE which is 200MB. Don't say I did not warn you!

Another of the New Zealand patterns, another all-over pattern. This is suitable if you have small remainders of embroidery yarn, since it contains many small motifs each in a separate color, in three shades. There would be no need to keep to the color scheme in the pattern as shown. Of course, if you want a fabulous colorful embroidered chair or cushion cover, go right ahead.


I've neglected my blogging duties a little bit (actually, a lot). Since the previous post there have been a lot of new publications, and while they are announced on the forum, unfortunately the blog does suffer.

A handpainted Berlin woolwork pattern

One of DMCs knitting publications. We have a few others still in the pipeline. If you like lace knitting, have a look at these patterns.

A lovely repeating pattern in muted colors. This was donated by Penelope Textiles. Thank you, Penny!

Another volume of the Complete Course of Dressmaking. Actually, this is the abbreviated version, but the complete edition will follow.

Ebay seller gattika donated the images for another of those Victorian teapot stands, lovingly embroidered in beads and framed in dark wood. Now that I know what they are, I keep a sharp eye out for them and actually lucked into two of them, one on an auction and another on a flea market.
So there'll be more like this. And this is a very beautiful pattern. I tried it out (on the computer, of course) with different background colors and they all looked good.

Ann Lawrences collection of beautiful patterns also had this cat. We have a tortoiseshell cat at home, who also likes to sit on a cushion - especially the cushion that I was just sitting on. Cats on cushions and dogs on cushions are a favorite Victorian subject.


Two dolls clothes patterns. Still working on the others, when I have time. And I found another set of dolls clothes patterns, but I want to finish these first.

Another of Jackie Ishers collection. This one has a distinct Delft blue coloring. There was a time around one of the World Exhibitions, that there was a Dutch craze in pattern designs. You can see it in the DMC New Designs as well as elsewhere, and there are a number of Heinrich Kuehn patterns in this style. Actually, this pattern, mill and all, occurs on other pattern leaves as well.

A book of beaded bags. There are many reprinted Hiawatha bag books for sale on ebay, but I managed to snag an original - and not for an idiotic price either.

Iva Innocenti contributed this book about crochet lace. Truly lovely, and I'm very glad that she has them nearly all. We would have no chance of acquiring these titles, in view of the prices they are sold for. So thank you, Iva! Thank you very much!

One page of a Latvian pattern book by Z. Ventakrasts. The title is Izsuvumu, adijumu un audumu raksti, weaving and embroidery patterns. Actually this page is thirty patterns for mittens, although they would do well as border patterns. Imagine, thirty pages of these patterns, and three volumes. Such a wealth of patterns still to come!


Two patterns of seat covers, out of a set of five donated by ebay seller oaltd2010. The pattern on the left is one of the so-called Golden Tapestry patterns. The Rivierland Archive has a pattern, and I've seen several on Ebay and on Google image search, but I never had permission to publish any of them. So when we got permission for these chair seat patterns, I was very happy.

Forty pages of the notebook of Claudia, our intrepid researcher in the frozen wasteland of the North. This is the result of years of research and design. Actually, there's 470 pages or so, but I cannot edit all of them at once, and they are too beautiful to keep back until all is ready. Thank you, Claudia!

This is another beaded embroidery, on perforated paper. The images of the original were donated by ebay seller topsystrove.

These images were donated by Sandra Cooke. Whereas usually our images are released under the Creative Commons licence, in this case there's an exception. The original image of the embroidery pattern is published by permission, but all rights are reserved by Sandra Cooke. So no pinning or republishing that one, not even if it is not for sale. The chart is of course under our own usual copyright conditions.


Click to support the Antique Pattern Library project to pay for such things as database and website development, web hosting costs, data entry, scanning equipment.  

Scan donations count! They save us room (for the books) money (for the shipping price and customs duties and believe me, those can bite), and time for scanning. Of course, money is always welcome. And scans are equally welcome. In the meantime, you can also support us via Amazon Smile.
The limit of small donations is 700 EUR, a bit more than 700 USD. It may increase if we get more small donations. That's the limit to what you can donate per year and still have it count towards the small donations. It's recalculated every year. If you donate more, the IRS puts your donations on the other side of the public funding ratio. So, if you were planning to donate just above the limit, give some to another organization, buy a cup of coffee and donate just the limit amount. ;-)

Also, we are looking for people who can afford a one-time larger donation to support our goals for 2016, which will cost us some money.
It will help speed up our publication speed, and make more time available for the actual library work, which is sadly suffering. Judith and I have spent most of January on bookkeeping and IRS compliance and stuff like that.

We've had one large donation already. That one has helped to improve the programming for the site so that now somebody else is able to do the entire round of publishing (except writing special notices and the blog) on her own, without help from me. That's going to make it easier to keep publishing every week, even when I'm on holiday.And I can spend more time on editing the acquisitions, and visit people with laptop and scanner in a bag, if they have a suitable book and live within reach.

Basically, what I'm looking for right now is to get professional help to scan the really large publications, sized A2, A1, and maybe even A0, of which we have a chest full. Some leaves are so fragile that we get the chance to scan them once, then they fall apart. I've inquired at a nearby photographer, and they will have to build an installation too (just like Willem and Nettie, but larger), in order to get the sheets properly photographed. The more money I plonk down, the more sheets they can do. And of course, the building and taking down of the installation, as well as closing the studio for one day, will cost money of itself. So, money is very welcome!

If you can't afford to give anything, which also happens in these difficult times, introducing the Library to people who don't know of it yet, is very useful, since it broadens our user base and therefore our donor base. I'll try to publish a flyer in black and white which can be printed and used as handout, for anybody wanting to do that. It would be more useful than a visiting card.

Anything you donate for the Library, goes to the Library. The donations of the larger donors are far more than enough to cover our overhead, so what you give, goes straight to Library improvement.

The publications are free to download and to share, not to sell. Also the screendumps and later the text pages are published under the creative-commons licence - enjoy, but don't sell. If ever you see a PDF for sale, especially with the Library creative-commons copyright notice or something that looks like it, we'd be glad to hear. Most we've heard of so far are legitimate sellers of their own copies, but every now and then there's one that isn't. In such a case, please email us privately with your concerns and give as much detail as possible. We don't want peoples' names aired about before we've had a chance to look the matter over, in order to protect the truly innocent.

Thanks to all the donors and volunteers, for all the help and new or improved material you provided.

Enjoy this new set.

Best wishes all,


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blender: Weight Paint tools list for OpenSim avatars

Mesh tats, separate tube top
I started learning to make rigged avatar attachments for Flying Saucers Return in 2013, while I was crazy with pain and loaded on an assortment of chemo drugs and morphine. My point: anyone can learn this. It takes time, patience, a good eye and imagination and a little arithmetic. It doesn't take high-level thinking. The hard part for me was finding the tools in the Blender interface. So I made a list, and here it is.

This is not so much a how-to, as it is where the Weight Tools are, though I've added a few suggestions along the way.

I'm using the Avastar plugin for this example. If you're not, you've done the extra steps to import your skeleton from the Linden Lab Wiki, and have parented your mesh model to it, or you got the Avatar Workbench (a better idea) and are working with that. It doesn't affect this list significantly. 

I'm assuming that you've already worked on weighting clothing, starting with a mesh model that fits closely to the avatar body, because it's a good way to learn. There are great tutorials out there – I learned much from the Machinimatrix and Aine blogs. Medhue is another artist well worth watching in his video tutorials. I've also learned a lot from Ben Simond's "Blender Master Class" - you'll want a paper copy unless you can see the illustrations on a large enough screen.

Chiton, needs work
The model I'm using for the examples here is not a close-fitting piece of clothing, it's a loose chiton, which in real dressmaking is a piece of cloth folded over and pinned at the shoulders, belted over or under the foldover. You can make it in about 10 minutes with a sheet. Modeling and weighting is not so straight-forward, as a lot of vertices are too far from the bones for the default weighting to work, and I modeled it so that I can texture it as though it actually was a single piece of cloth. I'm weighting it in two sections - top and skirt, just to keep from going nuts. I may join them later.

If you've studied up you know that you need a well constructed clothing mesh model, made out of quads with rows and columns that wrap evenly around the outside of your avatar model, with enough vertices around the joints to move where it needs to move. If it's symmetrical on the x-axis, it'll be easier to weight.

The goal: After weighting you're going to want to see your clothing mesh vertex rows and columns moving evenly while you move the bones to the most common poses - walk, sit, dance - without overlapping vertices or spikes. Each bone's influence should show as gradual changes in the weight colors.

A vertex with 1.00 (all) weight from a bone will show as red in the weight mapping for that bone. 0.00 is dark blue and orange–yellow– green represent the values in between.
If you have switched your mouse buttons (File>User Preferences>Input) to select with the left mouse button instead of the right, so that it's easier to shift between Blender and other software, then control-left-click to select a bone, and shift-left-click to select a vertex in Weight Paint vertex masking.

Memorize this:
  • Each vertex in your model will need to be weighted by at least one bone in the armature (the avatar skeleton).
  • No more than four bones can influence (weight) a vertex.
  • The numeric value for weighting for each vertex – the 4 bones or fewer that influence that vertex – is a percentage that must add up to 1.000.  
I'm not covering “fitted mesh” here – once you get the movement bones under control, fitting to the collision bones is frustrating, but not difficult to understand. The setup is different; the tools are the same. 

I'm using the Blender Default editor, with one modification – my bottom window is a UV editor instead of the Timeline editor (bottom far left box).

Most of the following is context sensitive – you won't see the tool until you have the right thing selected.

Outliner, at the top far right, is the list of the data in your file – in this case your armature and its components – Animation, Pose, Bone Groups,
Avatar_meshes, and your clothing models.
  • In my example here, I have two pieces of clothing – the two parts of my Chiton, each bound to the armature and within its outline.
  • The eye icons on the right are useful to hide or show what you're working with. In the example I have the armature visible, the upper body mesh visible, the two pieces of my costume visible, and the Chiton top selected.
  • You can use the Outliner to rename or delete components of your scene
  • You can use the Outliner to select items, very handy in a crowded scene.
Properties Window, just below the Outliner, on the far right. This window has a series of tabs, labeled by icons.
Properties Window, Object tab
  • Object tab (cube icon)
    • If you have your armature selected in the 3D-view window, scroll down to Display, and you have some choices. I have X-Ray clicked, so I can see the bones under the mesh models. If you scroll down a little further (if you're using an Avastar armature), you'll see Avatar Shape, Avatar Appearance, Avatar Materials, and Expressions tools, where you can make or upload custom avatar shapes and change the avatar mesh display.
    • If you have your clothing attachment selected, the Display area changes to offer other choices, such as Wire, X-Ray and Transparency, which you should play with and see if they might be useful to the way you work. I occasionally check "Wire" but usually leave all this blank.
  • Object Modifier tab (wrench icon)  With your costume piece selected you can see your modifier stack. The one we're interested in here is the Armature Modifier, called Avatar Modifier if you're using an Avastar armature.
    • “Vertex Groups” should be checked, and, usually, “Preserve Volume”, which helps. Look up "quaternions" if you want to know why.  
    • Properties Window, Modifier tab
    •  Leave the other check boxes alone, AFAIK they're not compatible with OpenSim avatars.
  • Object Data tab (vertex triangle icon or armature icon)
    • With your clothing model selected in weight paint mode, look at Vertex Groups.
    • If you're using Avastar, Vertex Group assignments are created when you bind your clothing model to the armature, otherwise, depending on what model you imported, you may have to set up and assign vertex groups yourself.
    • When your model is in Weight Paint mode, and you select an armature bone (Pose mode), the name of that bone shows up in the bottom left of your 3D-Viewer window. Depending on other settings, the weight painting (the rainbow colors) for that bone might not show up in your 3D Viewer but you can force the display if you also select the vertex group for that bone under the Object Data tab.
    • If Vertex Selection Masking is on, you can
    • Properties Window, Object Data tab
      • Assign or Remove vertices in the vertex groups (experiment with this before you use it on something you care about) 
      • Use the Select or Deselect buttons to see which vertices are being influenced by which bones. If you're modeling something tight that closely relates to the avatar bones, such as a catsuit, the default vertex group assignments work pretty well. For loose clothing, like my chiton, where the vertices are further away from the bones, I'll end up changing some of the assignments. 
      • You can delete bone groups that you won't be using. 
    • With your your armature selected, rather than your clothing model, you'll see the armature icon instead of the vertex triangle icon for Object Data. Lots of interesting information here. You can select what you want displayed for your skeleton, such as Stick vs Octahedron, bone names, shapes, Xray, etc. Avastar also lists this stuff with useful presets in the Tool shelf. The rest of the settings are mostly for making animations.
Menu “Header”. (see image below) Below your 3D view window. You're already familiar with Object and Edit modes, using the Tab toggle. To toggle between Object mode and Weight Paint mode, it's Ctl-Tab, which is useful for seeing how you're doing with the weighting, if you have a texture applied to your model. 
  • For simple models that follow the bones directly, this is all you need, with the Weight Brush Tools discussed below.
  • For loose clothing that has more complex movement, you'll need more: When your clothing model is selected in Weight Painting mode, two cube icons appear in the Menu Header. The one on the right is “Vertex Selection Masking”. 
  • Vertex Selection Masking shows the vertices that you're weighting. Weighting is a percentage relationship between vertices and the armature bones. If you can see those vertices, it's easier to see what's going on. If you switch to Edit mode you can select rows or columns of vertices, and that selection will also display when you switch back to Weight mode with Vertex Selection Masking selected. It's much easier to make useful selections in Edit mode than it is in Weight Paint mode.
  • [NOTE: switching between modes can cause Blender to crash if you hit the wrong key with your left hand. Save your file each time first – ctl-S]
  • Just to the right of the mode selector is a view selector - you may like adjusting the weighting of vertices in wireframe mode with Vertex Selection Masking selected - it's easier to see if your rows and columns are staying straight.
User Persp., Property Shelf activated, Torso bone selected, mTorso group selected, Vertex Selecting Masking on, and a single vertex selected to see the incorrect weights. 
Properties Shelf.  Just to the right of your 3D view window, toggled on and off by hitting the “n” key. If your clothing model is selected and in Weight Paint mode with Vertex Selection Masking selected, and you select one vertex (shift-click), a Vertex Weight window appears (make sure you're on the All tab in this window), where you can see which bones are affecting this one vertex and use the sliders to adjust the bone influence.
  • One cool thing about working with one vertex at a time is you can really see what's happening in problem areas – use the sliders until the vertex is in the right place for the pose, then don't forget to hit “Normalize” to recalculate the arithmetic. Other options to Normalize the percentages aren't as good.
  • This is where you find out that which vertex you work on next matters – sometimes you can't move a vertex where you want it to go for that bone rotation until you've moved the ones around it, or even several rows away. 
3D-View window. We're usually working in User Ortho mode, but sometimes it's easier to work from the inside the model, and for that you need User Persp mode. Numpad "5"is the toggle between the two modes.

Tool Shelf to the left - Weight Paint Brushes and other tools, Vertex Mask Selecting on, a single vertex selected
Tool Shelf. Far left panel, toggled on and off with “t”. When your mesh model is selected in Weight Paint mode you'll find Weight tools – usually the top tab called “Tools”. How you use these depends on the model you're weighting. 
  • Weight painting takes practice and patience, and is both logical and intuitive. If you're making something to emulate soft fabric and you raise the left collar bone, you're going to want to see the vertices at the top of the shoulder and arm follow the avatar mesh, and the vertices under the arm and around the top of the chest and back lift a little while draping around the avatar mesh. For something stiffer, like a leather biker vest, the whole side of the vest might lift and swing out.
  • My brush settings are usually: Add or Subtract brush at around .005 strength, or Blur at .250, radius depending on what I'm working on. But everyone's work flow is different. 
  • I keep Auto Normalize (right under the weight brush sliders) checked, which keeps the total weight on a vertice at 1.00 while using the brushes, so if I'm using the Add brush, it adds weight from whatever bone is selected in the 3D window, and reduces weights from the other bones involved.
    • Auto Normalize can have unexpected results, especially with the Blur brush, so if something has gone wrong, you may have to go back to vertex groups in the Properties Window and Vertex Weights in the Property Shelf, to discover that, for example, your left ankle somehow got involved with your right shoulder vertices and you're going to want delete some vertex group selections or bone weights in the Vertex Weights. It happens. It's not pretty.
  • It's easy to accidentally involve more than 4 bones. My chiton got hip weights in the areas under the arm from the default weighting assignments, blech. 
    • The bones you don't want involved might not be the ones that get deleted by using the “Limit Total” tool (below the Weight brushes).
    • “Normalize All” can be useful, or a mess, for mesh models that don't follow the bones directly. 
    • With this model, I might need to deal with problem areas by looking at each vertex in the Properties Shelf and deleting bone settings individually. Or at least look at a few from a problem area to see where they're going and go back to Vertex Groups in the Properties Panel to check for vertices in the wrong places.
  • In the Tool Shelf under Options I usually have X Mirror and Topology Mirror checked, and that's great while working on the central bones, maybe not so good working on arms and legs.
  • It won't ever be perfect, and you'll end up making an alpha layer to hide the avatar mesh bits that poke through in more extreme poses. I'll repeat the goal here for cloth or leather: smooth transitions between weight paint colors, even rows and columns where possible, no overlapping vertices or spikes.
If you're using the Avastar plugin, then you already know that most of these tools are consolidated, rearranged, and enhanced in the Avastar tab in your Tool shelf.

And that's it! These are your tools.

I almost certainly missed things or wrote about them without nearly enough clarity. Suggestions are welcome.  

last updated 5/7/2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

Avatar Repertory Theater - preparing a role for poetry

Avatar Repertory Theater actors are preparing to record a professional podcast of Robert Frost's "North of Boston", most of which are drama poems.  We performed a one hour version of it live, with virtual sets and avatars, at the last VWBPE conference, and, now that we have some New England accents under our virtual belts, wanted to get it recorded. And do the whole book this time.

I'm directing this project and acting in some of it. My job is to assign parts (with feedback from the actors on the team), to do what I can to make sure everyone is prepared by the time we get to the recording sessions and help with editing. Bob Shurley (Thundergas Menges in virtual worlds) is our recording engineer and audio editor, and the other three actors are Em Jannings, Iain McCracken (Sodovan Torok in Second Life), and Susan Wolfe-Hill (JadaBright Pond) who is also our producer.

The producer is the chief cat-herder, as we actors can be, well cat-like and difficult to herd at times. She also reviews our time and invoicing, keeps us within our budget, assists people who need help getting organized, figures out what's needed and who should find it, and is the glue that holds a project together.

It'll be up on YouTube, in seventeen sections, one for each poem, whenever we get it done, I'm no longer predicting timelines, lol, it always takes longer than I think it will. Scheduling is the biggest challenge for busy actors. It takes about an hour of recording time for each 15 minutes of clearly recorded speech, and editing takes about ten minutes for each minute of recorded sound. These are the industry standards, at least. Since this is for YouTube, not the best resolution nor sound quality, and we'll be recording remotely with Bob from our home studios, we may be able to get it done a little faster.

Our actors are all experienced, some more experienced than others, and each of us has things we're better at and worse at. Though one of us may be designated director for a project, we all work to help each other during rehearsals. We trust each others' ears. Each of us has a unique voice, personality and delivery.  Every actor on a project is encouraged to suggest meanings and emphasis. This can be by reliving our own stories (method acting*). Or as simple as Em, for example, at one of the rehearsals, stopping me because I hadn't paused long enough before a punchline.

For a piece like "North of Boston", which is dramatic poetry, we're not only reading poetry, we're acting the parts of the characters in the dialogues and monologues. It's similar to Shakespearean acting.

This is an expanded version of advice I gave an actor this morning, to prepare for a 10 minute speech that we'll rehearse later before we start recording. A monster monologue.
  • After you've read it out loud a few times, record yourself in Audacity and listen to yourself. Don't panic. You can do this.
  • While you're listening, mark all the places your voice should go up in pitch, and down in pitch. (I use little arrows), if you missed some. Underline words that need more emphasis to get the meaning across. 
  • Mark up the script further. Mark where you're going to breath. Singers use a big check mark.
  • Break up the dynamics - don't be afraid to whisper, shout, scream.  Move away from your mic if you're speaking or yelling to someone from a distance. Get close in and drop your voice for intimacy. 
  • Add other vocal noises - whispers, throat clearing, hoarseness, chuckles, sighs, tsk tsking, inhaled hiss, coughing, whatever you can think of that this character would use while talking. This is called voice foley. If your character would be moving or lifting something, do that very thing while recording, so you're the right amount of out-of-breath or showing the strain or pleasure. 
  • In poetry, if there is no punctuation at the end of a line, there is sometimes a very slight expressive pause, often no more than the lengthening of a word, or you can choose to run it straight through. A comma is a short pause, a hyphen is a longer one with a hanging meaning, maybe something not said. A period is full stop, drop your voice and take a big breath.
  • Frost has rhymes and rhythms. Speak the lines to emphasize those, not so much as to be comedic if it's not supposed to be funny, just enough so that we hear the music. 
  • Each piece, no matter how short, has an arc - think about the end of the piece so your intent is moving toward it. Within each piece, each sentence has an arc. For a long piece like this one, break it up into sections (pencil a line between them) and change the mood for each one, each with its own arc and sub-arcs. If this is confusing, work on it later. 
  • Think about memories you have that relate to the feelings of your character, and bring them to the front while you're saying your lines. Be your character.

*read Lee Strasberg and Constantin Stanislavski if you want to know more about method acting)

If you'd like to donate to the cause, you can do that right here 
 Click to support New Media Art's general fund or go to A.R.T.'s website to donate to Avatar Repertory Theater's projects in particular. 
If you shop at Amazon, you can sign up at Amazon Smile, and they'll donate a small fraction of each of each payment to NMA:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Virtual Nonprofit - Nuts & Bolts - preventing fraud

This is part II of an open-ended series on running a virtual nonprofit. Nuts and bolts. It's not the fun creative stuff, but if you don't get it right your nonprofit can't grow, or will die. All of the board members should have a working knowledge of nuts and bolts – enough to know when to ask questions, and who to ask.

Not all boards do! In arts organizations I've been involved with, board members are there because they already volunteer for the organization, for the feeling of doing good, for social prestige, because they want to be entertained, because their friends are there, – good, good reasons that have nothing to do with knowing how to run a business, especially something with a lot of extra rules, like a tax-exempt nonprofit. Some of these board members go on to become effective, informed board directors. Some agree to anything the last person they spoke to wanted, or are afraid or unwilling to speak up.

I first got involved in fraud auditing decades ago, as a temp agency bookkeeper trying to raise enough money for another year of music school. I was assigned to reconcile invoices for an automobile dealership whose problems ranged from the manager leaving the trade-ins out of sales invoice accounting so he could drive the cars to Mexico, a parts manager who, in six months, managed to shrink the parts inventory to the tune of an entire Volkswagen Bug, to be reassembled in his girlfriend's garage, to a cashier (you got it, the girlfriend), who was dipping into everything from the parts department cash register to the coffee kitty. I found the missing trade-in cars in the bookkeeping gaps and the cashier was busted when the other coffee drinkers came to me because they were afraid they'd be blamed. An auditor who was paid a heck of a lot more than me came in and one of his staff found the missing Volkswagen. My training began.

The fraud triangle
Whether you have a $5K a year budget or a $5M a year budget, you can be ripped off by people you trust. There are three things that have to happen for an insider fraud to occur, and it's called the fraud triangle, a concept invented in 1973 by Donald R. Cressey. If you can break any of the three legs, you greatly reduce your vulnerability to illegal fraud. Legal fraud is another area, not covered here.

1. The first leg of the fraud triangle is motivation. A potential fraudster usually has a financial problem that he or she doesn't want to admit and believes can't be solved legally. Sometimes it's a couple, or relatives working as a team. They start coming up with ideas for taking cash or valuables and falsifying financial documents. The financial problem is usually personal – debt, a gambling problem, a drug problem, feeling entitled to better stuff. It can be professional, such as pressure from bosses or investors to show more productivity or profits.
How to break this leg:
a. Do your due diligence on people in your organization, know who they are, where they live, what their situations are. 
b. Pay attention to the people in your organization, what they say, how they feel, who they like, who they don't like. These are real people with real problems, not just a way for your company to make money.

Anecdote: A medical organization with an lucrative consulting practice hired me because the billing system was a mess. Medicare and the IRS were calling Dr. Chairman more often than he found comfortable. Translation: he was screaming and banging stuff on his desk. He'd hired his brother to be the "financial planner" and they had created a snarl of interlocking corporations and partnerships, then Brother quarreled and left. Doctor AngryChair brought in his brother's son and put him in charge of the books and the bank accounts. Bright kid, twenty years younger than me. Wants to call me "honey". 

So I hired them a medical billing clerk, and started shutting down the bogus corporations. It was a puzzle. A rough estimate showed maybe twice the wealth as apparent income, but when I combined assets from each corporation, I had plugs the size of Boston. No wonder the IRS was interested. I found QuickBooks files on the computer system, half a dozen of them, no one seemed to know the passwords, I'm on the phone to tech support and not feeling the love. 

Meanwhile, I'm training the clerical staff. We watch the lunchtime soaps, talk about our kids. Some eye rolling when Dr. AngryChair and Nephew's name come up, yeah they're jackasses, but everyone's paid well, brilliant doctor, it's a good cause, shrug. Then one of the youngest ladies, maybe six months pregnant, comes and sits next to me, fuming. It turns out that Nephew is a groper. He also chants passwords out loud while he's typing and groping. She wrote them down and handed them to me. 

The kid made off with a little less than $2M. The family settled it among themselves and with the nonprofit. Mrs. Doctor, a nurse, was persuaded to give up tennis and volunteer for a few months, where she immediately found more hanky-panky and did bimbo-cleanup among the nursing staff while I taught her some bookkeeping basics. One of the bimbos was charging the nonprofit thousands a month for phone calls to a boyfriend residing in an out-of-state penitentiary and owned suspiciously expensive handbags that showed up on her boss's credit cards. Ya can't make this stuff up. The IRS was happy to talk to me instead of Dr. AngryChair. Everyone learned. Don't base your banking and accounting systems on trust. Pay attention to your staff. Not too much attention, the normal, good kind of attention.    

2. The second leg of the fraud triangle is opportunity. Perceived opportunity. How the crime will be committed and how it will be kept a secret. A thief sees a way he or she can abuse a position of trust without getting caught. The methods are too many to list in one article – my examples above describe a few. This is the area where you can do the most to protect your company.

Some of the ways to be vigilant:
a. Make sure that the person with responsibility for safeguarding assets (bank accounts, anything valuable) is not the person who keeps the financial records - the bookkeeping. This is difficult in small organizations; do it as soon as you can.

b. Do regular surveys of all of the company logins to all of your accounts, what they connect to, and who has access to what. If anyone leaves for any reason, change all the passwords. 

c. Make your transactions transparent to the board – bank statements, donations, invoices, payment records – the more eyes on the records the better. Directors can be held liable for company decisions, and have a right to the information. If you don't trust a board member with this information, he or she doesn't belong on the board. Larger organizations have a financial subcommittee, outside auditors, and bigger fraud problems. In all nonprofits I've been involved with who had unexpected financial issues from fraud, the board had been denied access to financial information and trusted a charismatic organization director.

b. Listen to people attentively and objectively. Listen to yourself. If it sounds like a financial person in the organization is being discredited for reasons that aren't clear, it's worth checking into to see that he or she isn't being scapegoated or gotten out of the way. I've seen this nasty in for-profit as well as nonprofit organizations. On the other hand, sometimes the hints and gossip are right and that's your perp.

Anecdote: Once a bookkeeper I had found for a client told me he loved Sammy Davis, Jr., mourned him, wished he could see him just one more time. For some reason that bugged me and I could not figure why. Really bugged me. Two weeks later, after I had finished the job, I'm still patting myself on the back for finding such a bookkeeper, bilingual, great with numbers, everyone loves him. Then I get the phone call. Two sheriffs have arrived at the company offices and arrested him. He has a gambling problem and stole hundreds of thousands from his previous employer. Who had given him a glowing recommendation when I was checking him out and they hadn't found out yet. Yeah, two weeks.

The only reason he hadn't ripped off my client is that when the board wanted to give him the signature stamp for one of the checking accounts with about $500K in it, so they could go on a retreat and he could do payroll, I hit the ceiling and yelled (because of 2.a. above) until they said OK. Not because they agreed with me, just to shut me up. They called me back in to do a review, the only thing missing was a laptop they'd bought him. No, I never figured out the Sammy Davis thing, maybe the Las Vegas connection? Just that I really liked the guy except for that one buggy feeling.

3. The third leg of the fraud triangle is rationalization. Most thieves within an organization are either first time offenders or have never been caught. They see themselves as ordinary people who have had bad luck, not hurting anyone, and that the company deserved it. Good guys, smart, even admirable, just ask'em. Not much you can do about it. Stuff I've heard them say:
a. I was going to pay it back. Translation: I did pay it back and stole it again. Twice. This is called “kiting”.
b. I've got kids, I had to buy groceries. Translation: I am a drug addict. 
c. The Company didn't pay me enough. No, turns out they were paying you too much. 
d. XXX is a scumbag and deserved it. Fair point, but no.
e. What the [expletive deleted] do you care?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Virtual nonprofits - Nuts and Bolts - Forwarding to multiple recipients in gmail.

This is an open-ended series to share things we've discovered about running a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates entirely online and in virtual worlds. 

One of New Media Arts' challenges is online communications. We have six board members, who, in a nonprofit, are the bosses – legally and personally responsible for the actions of the company. Some of us are also officers, with specific responsibilities, such as Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Secretary, Treasurer. Some are project heads, such as Creative Director or Publicity Director. We hire contractors, we take in donations and program service revenue, we pay bills and file tax returns.

It's like any other business, except that none of us owns the company, we don't usually pay income taxes, and we have to follow a whole lot more rules than a for-profit company. One of our particular quirks is that we don't keep a physical office and we live far away from each other in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands.

Setting up google accounts can be tricky. If a nonprofit is using any of Google's business services, such as cloud storage, or benefits for nonprofits, such as a Google Adwords grant, then its main company gmail account can be linked to a bank account or a company credit card. This means means the CFO or the Treasurer, for internal control reasons, may need to be the person managing the settings and setting up security.

All corporations are required to keep their email records. Here's a good guide for nonprofits if you want to know what to keep and for how long. We're a tiny nonprofit and don't want to pay for another server to store them. We also needed a better way to keep each other in the loop on our various projects and ideas. 

Jamie Jordan, our Communications Director, came up with the idea of setting up a separate gmail account that would act as a dump for email storage, and that also forwards to all of the directors.  

I'm the CFO, I needed to figure it out and get it set up. No problem, right? I'm reasonably intelligent and can follow directions. I went to Google and about five forums. Half a day later, no joy. Didn't work, nobody's getting anything. The directions have some missing steps. Though they did point me to getting email address forwards verified, and setting up filters, which was a considerable start. I experimented.

This is what's working now. If you google searched and found this blog, check the date – this stuff goes stale fast. I'll try to keep it updated


1.    Set up a gmail account that you want to use as your communications forwarding and storage dump. Something short like “XXXX (company initials)– CC@gmail.com” that everyone can remember and type easily.

2.   Log in to your new account, and at the top right, click the gear icon and select “Settings”.

3.   Select the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.
  • Click on the circle: Forward a copy of incoming mail to:
  • Click on the box “Add a forwarding address”.
  • Enter one of the email address you want to forward to.
  • Click Next.
  • A pop-up box should appear with the email address. Click on “Proceed
  • Another window will open: “Add a forwarding addresses A confirmation code has been sent to [email address] to verify permission.
  • Click OK. [Don't click on the “x”]. That email address should now appear under “Verify” at the Forwarding tab.
The recipient who owns that email address will get a long email that starts with “xxxx-cc@gmail.com has requested to automatically forward mail to your email” and includes a verification code and a link. Have the recipient of this click on the link and confirm. If that doesn't work, he or she can give you the code and you can enter it manually at the website. We usually use Skype for this kind of quick communication, very handy.

 4.   Back at your gmail: click on Inbox, find the refresh button, click it, then go back to Settings and the Forwarding tab. The email address should have disappeared from “Verify” and show up in the drop-down list next to “Forward a copy of incoming mail to”.

If you're only forwarding to one person, you're done.

If you want to forward to more than one person, you also need to set up a filter for each recipient:
  • Back in Settings, click on “Filters and Blocked Addresses:
  • Click “Create a new filter
  • In our case, we want all the emails that arrive at the email dump (from everyone's CC bar) to be stored here and also forwarded to all the other directors. So leave all the fields in this screen blank except for “To” (the second one down).
  • Input your XXXX-CC@gmail.com address in the “To” field and click on “Create filter with this search”.
  • This brings up another screen. Click on the box “Forward to”, and make sure it stays checked. Then choose the forward-to email address from the drop-down and click “add forwarding address”.
  • Click the button Create filter.
  • You can click other checkboxes to apply to the received email, such as Mark as Read; for our purposes I left them all blank except for one spam-catcher.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each person who should get the forwards.

Send out a test message from a email account that's not on the list, see if you got the forward. Check with the other recipients to make sure they're getting forwards.

  • I didn't see a “Save Changes“ on every screen, but occasionally did, and never did figure out what the criteria are. If you see that button, Click on it
  • It's a good idea to go back and check all your work. A couple of times while I was working, I'd go back and discover that a check box I had clicked on was longer checked. Especially "Forward to" in the filters window.
  • If I add the email dump address into my CC line, it will forward to all the other directors, but not to me. If another director does the same thing, it will forward to all the other directors, including me, but not to him or her.
  • We're still testing this - it's hard to tell the difference between bugs and errors. 
That's it! I hope it's useful.

If you'd like to donate to the cause, you can do that right here 
 Click to support New Media Art's general fund.
If you shop at Amazon, you can sign up at Amazon Smile, and they'll donate a small fraction of each of each payment to NMA: