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The power of invisibility--at home!

New shows for kids are actively driving them to the Net for bonus features. This may actually be a great way to teach kids more about what they are watching.

Lately, my daughter has been begging to see the new show iCarly, a spinoff of Drake and Josh.

Now, I'm not a big TV watcher, but I was a huge fan of it when I was a kid, and I do think that iCarly could have all the makings of a 21st century Zoom, given what we have available in the form of consumer technology around the house.

When I was watching Zoom as a child, a TV studio was like a magic castle. I remember the time I was invited to our local public television studio: video cameras were unfathomable wonders of technology, and the wires feeding back to the control room made me feel as if I were inside some terrific machine. We had just upgraded from black-and-white television to color, and the idea that somebody's job was to monitor an entire wall filled with TVs carrying every sort of image boggled my mind.

When I was about 10, a friend in the video industry, George, visited the family sporting a Sony DXC 1600 Trinicon camera. He was so large and strong that I scarcely noticed he had an entire VCR hanging from one shoulder and a massive battery back hanging from the other. Color video at home! In my lifetime!!

For the next 10 years, George would come by with the latest video gear and we would all marvel at the progressive miniaturization and functionality enhancements that seemed to never end...until they became so mainstream that they were no longer remarkable.

But now that video technology is cheap and ubiquitous, it makes perfect sense that it become as prevalent in our world of crafts as paperclips, string, glue, and tape. And this is perhaps the premise of iCarly: that its media-savvy, media-facile characters can remake the world according to their sensibilities and that they can invite the audience to do the same. Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times really nails it here when he explains the motivation and the potential of the model. But here's my story...

The first iCarly episode my daughter and I watched together, "Miss Briggs Plays Bagpipes" involved a teacher giving a bagpipe demonstration with the kids capturing it on video for some reason. "BORING" was the kids' expectation of what they'd see. But with their cleverly disguised Macintosh computer (the logo is distorted to look like a pear) and a handy green screen they lowered behind the unsuspecting teacher, they were able to integrate all sorts of incongruent video to great effect upon all participants and my daughter. That's the "CARLY" version.

I noted that we have green walls in one of our rooms, and I suggested to our daughter that we play with the green-screen effects of Blender. I suggested she think of a story and get some clothes for her character. I would get the video camera and lamps. She thought that would be totally boring...for about 5 seconds. Then she let out a shriek and yelled, "Daddy! Don't come upstairs! I have to change!"

When I came back from the closet with the gear, she was downstairs wearing a green shirt and green pants. Her hair was held back in a green barrette and she was holding a green balloon. I told her "you realize that green is going to be the invisible color, don't you? Nobody will be able to see you." She replied "MAKE ME INVISIBLE! Actually people will see my head floating, right? Let's get a knife!" I told her no knife would be needed because her head would already be detached from the effect. She accepted this and we proceeded upstairs.

We shot some footage. She did some improv. We uploaded some files, followed the Chroma Key tutorial, and, before you know it, her silly, smiling face was floating in front of a background that made no sense of any kind. She thought it was cool. I thought it was amazing that she could not only grasp the green-screen concept, but get ahead of it (and me).

I think that the creative collaboration model of iCarly could give us all more than we bargained for.