Sunday, October 31, 2010

Science Lesson #2: Food Chain

Ideas for the Food Chain episode:

1. Trophic Levels (emphasis on vocabulary)
·         Primary Producers – photosynthetic plants
·         Primary Consumers – eat only plants (herbivores)
·         Secondary Consumers – eat Primary Consumers (carnivores and omnivores)
·         Tertiary and Quaternary Consumers – eat Secondary and Tertiary Consumers
·         Top Predator – EATS THE WORLD!
·         Decomposers and scavengers eat and break down what is dead

2. Ecosystems that don’t rely on the sun
·         Hydrothermal vents
·         New research on microbes that “eat” rocks on the sea floor (very neat)

3. Energy is lost at each trophic level

4. Spotlight on Primary Producers
·         Different types of plant ecosystems
o   Grasslands
o   Phytoplankton
o   Forests

5. Spotlight on Decomposers
·         It might be unpleasant for kids to think about what happens when something dies, but focus on the importance of the decomposers’ job to return energy back to the food web

5. How humans fit in
·         Top Predators
·         Eating a variety of different things is good
·         One meal can be eating on multiple trophic levels (salad + fish + ?)
·         Can interview an ecologist to talk about the balance of Food Chains
·         Touch on the different kinds of diets people have all over the world

It seems to me that this episode calls for a guest star. It would be great to have real scientists visit the show and give short lessons or interviews relating to the science theme. I can think of a few pretty awesome scientists I worked with in college who would be perfect for this. This way kids get to put a face on the business of science, letting them know that all scientists aren’t just anonymous nerds in starchy lab coats.

The character conflict for this episode could be that Sergio ruins his favorite cookbook and starts getting everybody’s meals wrong. Feeding them things that don’t make sense like inedible objects (lamps, pencils, shoes). The Crew and Marisol have to explain to him why they eat what they eat. The lesson on the food chain starts from there. Marisol finds out that Lily the Oceanographer is a vegetarian which leads into a discussion about that. In the end, the ship finds another copy of Sergio’s cookbook and all goes back to normal.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Ship, Itself

Disclaimer: This post is going to jump into the deep end of nerdom.

The HMS Unknown is home to everyone on the show except for Barry and Marisol.  Built in the grand tradition of wooden sailing vessels, the HMS Unknown looks to be a relic but is actually quite futuristic.  The ship exists between time and space which allows passengers aboard it to travel to distant planets as well as back and forward through time.  It is allowed to do this because it's equipped with twin Paradox Thrusters (see Disclaimer above).  I wanted more than to just call it a magical traveling boat for the sake of the emphasis on science in this show.  For a young audience, I feel this is a good and whimsical explanation as to why our cast and crew are allowed to travel to all these fanciful places.

The interior of the ship has a Jules Vern-ean / steampunk asthetic.  Everything is more grand than it needs to be.  Lots of brass knobs and embellishments, darkly stained wood paneling, and bellows that breathe in and out for various pieces of machinery.  This is what I imagine the ship's navigational computer to look like:

Much of the show takes place in the ship's galley where the science crew hangs out and Sergio cooks.  The galley is furnished with simple tables and benches, decorated with maps and posters of things like the periodic table of elements.  The ship also has a laboratory where the crew and Barry run experiments. 

On a final stylistic note, the photo above is of a tattoo that my friend Andy Moore did on the back of my arm.  I think of this picture when I visualize the HMS Unknown- swirling clouds, dreamy and drifting. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Inspirado: Pee Wee's Playhouse

Oh, Pee Wee. I was a child of the 80’s and as such I LOVED Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I remember a few specific things about it, #1: how much it annoyed my parents and #2: that I had honest to God nightmares for many, many years over the big headed salesman. The one who would knock on the door and talk really fast and everybody in the playhouse would scream. That puppet tormented my childhood imagination for years!  

I sat down and watched a bunch of Pee Wee’s Playhouse when I started forming ideas for Seas Of Science. I realized watching it that it was (and is) a really sound children’s television show. There are life lessons like sharing, being nice to people, standing up to bullies, and the episode I love where the playhouse gang makes friends with that scary one eyed monster.  I was cracking up over the snack time segments (parfait!) and of course the word of the day.

Something else that caught my attention was that although it's Pee Wee's Playhouse, it isn’t necessarily about Pee Wee all the time. It’s about his friends too. I think in some subtle way that instilled in me the importance of inviting your friends to participate in all the fun you're having.

Visually, Pee Wee’s Playhouse is delightful. My favorite segments are the clay animation toys and the puppet band. The attention to detail in the set and puppet design are especially impressive. Friends of mine who went to art school know much more about the history and the artists behind the show, I’m not very knowledgeable in that arena. But I will say that the feel of the show, the charm, and the look of Pee Wee’s Playhouse are all inspiring to me. I’m definitely keeping in mind all those aspects while shaping SOS.

And because it is so great, here's a clip of the show's theme song. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Introducing: Rodger

There are three Crew members aboard the HMS Unknown: Rodger the Physicist, Lily the Oceanographer, and Sophia the Biologist. Originally I wrote parts for 5, but pared it down for the sake of one day trying to find actors to play all these parts. More can be added later on if so desired. Let's start by introducing Rodger, our resident Physics expert.

Rodger's area of study before he came aboard the HMS Unknown was Quantum Turbulence. He was the youngest researcher ever to mathematically describe the behavior of fluids at wicked fast speeds. After time however, he realized that his work was about more than fluid motion. His work was uncovering scientific concepts that could explain the very turbulence of every piece of matter that existed. That he could, in essence, explain the motion of anything, at any time, at any place in the known universe.

The presentation of his work to his thesis committee was so mind blowing, so enlightening in it's definition of the subatomic motion of the universe, that his thesis committee members froze in shock. Rodger feared he would be held responsible for paralyzing several of the highest minds in the field of Quantum Turbulence. With their bodies suspended in rapt attention, Rodger fled to the nearest Ports Of Call, where the HMS Unknown was docked to visit the local Lobster Fest. The Captain invited Rodger aboard to lend a hand at navigation since the ability to explain the motion of anything, anywhere, at any time, comes in handy when sailing the uncharted Seas of Science. Overall, Rodger makes a delightful addition to the ship. His affable nature and quirky sense of humor make him one of the nicest physicists you could ever find yourself in the company of.

Likes: triple integrals, graph paper, coffee breaks, any album by David Byrne, staring off into space
Dislikes: combing his hair, and when the TA in the classroom before you leaves only itty-bitty chalk nubs

Monday, October 18, 2010

Inspirado: Big Nazo

Big Nazo is weird.

Big Nazo is one of those things where, at first, you're not quite sure what you're looking at. A friend of mine suggested I do some research about them and I just fell in love with everything they are about. They're a performance art group out of Providence, Rhode Island that make these amazing, monstrous costumes and run amok at festivals, parades, pretty much anywhere they want. People laugh, freak out, hug them, run away screaming...whatever the reaction, Big Nazo gets a reaction.

And those costumes?!? Dios Mio, they're horrifying! They're so much like what I remember about the nightmarish creatures of my imagination when I was a kid. Not that I'm looking to make SOS aesthetically terrifying to children, but I remember seeing things like Big Nazo as a kid and being drawn in solely by the look of them. I'd be even more delighted if the creature made me laugh. There's something so great about a big, burly monster who's really just a total goofball.

The artists behind Big Nazo make all the costumes and puppets by hand in their shop in Rhode Island. I'll admit I'm bummed I live on the other side of the country or else I'd march right over and pick their brains about characters for Seas Of Science

You can find out more about Big Nazo on their website. and blog.  I challenge you to take some time perusing their photo galleries and not be impressed with the crazy creatures they build. Here are a few more photos:

I love the one with the kid in the sandals being eaten.

Truly, Big Nazo is Inspirado. They go out and do their thing, and don't give a shit if people like it or hate it. In the end, they have a good time and that's all that matters.

All images are from the Big Nazo website.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Science Lesson #1: Rocks and Minerals

Lest we forget, at the heart of Seas Of Science is the science. I’ve been happily dancing around so far on this blog by introducing characters and inspirado. However, what we really need to do is get some science involved. My plan is to sit down once a week and work through the nuts and bolts of one science theme for an episode of the show. 

The intention of these posts is not to present a full blown science lesson, but rather to organize and outline what points I want to make during each episode. These posts are probably going to be messy, so bear with me in the meantime while I attempt to streamline some of these ideas.  

I’ve written one episode about photosynthesis. I’m going to start with ideas for the next episode, Rocks and Minerals, for the sake of not spinning my own wheels. Here’s a list of potential scientific topics to include…

1.) Minerals 
o   Rocks are made of minerals
o   Minerals are all the same “stuff” (have one of the science Crew give a ridged definition, take time to explain what exactly all the jargon means)
o   Minerals have a crystalline structure

·         2.) Familiar Minerals
o   Salt (HCl)
o   Hematite (magnetic)
o   Gypsum (? Do kids know what drywall is? Probably no)
o   Diamonds

·         3.) ROCKS!
o   Rocks are made of Minerals

·         4.) The Different Kinds of Rocks
-          Igneous (made from cooling magma or lava)
-          Sedimentary (made from cementing bits of other rocks together)
-          Metamorphic (a rock that once was one type of rock and turned into a different type of rock by being squeezed under pressure and or heated to extreme temperatures inside the earth)

·         5.) Continents we live on are made up of rocks
o   The study of rocks is geology
o   Granite (continents) vs. Basalt (ocean floor) – maybe show sweet video of underwater volcanoes??

·        6.)  Rock density
o   How rock density can affect the world!
o   Mountain building (Himalayas)
o   Subduction (Volcanoes)
Wow, that’s a lot already. I realize that’s way too many topics to address in one episode, but better to have a lot to start with then not enough, right? 

I’m thinking that for this episode, the character conflict can come from Barry being kidnapped by a tribe of rock creatures. The episode starts with Barry experiencing trouble with his circuits. The Captain steers the HMS Unknown to a planet with a robot repair shop. While Marisol, Sergio, and the Crew are off exploring, Barry gets spirited away. The rest of the characters spend the episode following clues to Barry’s whereabouts until finding him in the village of the rock creatures. The villagers have taken to worshipping Barry as a god because of his metallic body. Barry is delighted with this hospitality and newfound fame. Only after much coercing does he give up his new deity-hood and return to the ship.

Phew! These Science Lesson posts are going to be meaty!   

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Introducing: The Captain

The Captain has been sailing aboard the HMS Unknown for so long he has melded with the ship. He has become a living thing within it's walls and floorboards. I'd love for this to have a special effects makeup sinewy/mucousy look to it, but that sounds expensive. We'll probably just start by cutting a hole through some poster board and having his face peek out of the walls, between jars in the galley, or out of the ship's steering wheel (like the drawing to the right*). This character is played by a live actor.

Although The Captain is not a scientist himself, he is a wise old salt that chimes in with useful information relating to the science theme. He tells long winded stories about sailing the Seas of Science. He is delighted by Marisol's visits because he digs her quizzical enthusiasm. Much like Barry, The Captain (who just goes by the name The Captain) looks out for Marisol and makes sure that she doesn't get hurt or in trouble on one of their many adventures.

The Captain gets along famously with his Crew and Barry. He's not happy about carting around Sergio, a fugitive stowaway, but has too big of a heart to cut him loose with nowhere to go. Inviting and enthusiastic, The Captain is game for new adventures and is a staunch leader aboard the HMS Unknown.

Likes: Sailing, dirges, new adventures, crashing snobby ceremonies, telling a good yarn
Dislikes: Rogue waves, scurvy, the doldrums, and having an itch on his nose

* I am happy to report that I bought a new scanner which will allow me to scan in my ridiculous drawings. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do drawing them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Inspirado: The Music of Cumbia and Ben Davila

I only recently got into the music of Cumbia. A friend of mine gave me the album The Roots of Chicha and it has been on repeat in my car pretty much all year. If pressed to take a guess, I say I've probably listened to the whole album at least 3x a week since receiving it in January. I've always liked music in different languages and listening to lots of Cumbia helps me practice my Spanish (which is laughably terrible).

Something I want to keep in mind for Seas of Science is the psychedelic sound to the keyboards and guitars. I love psychedelic music and if you think about it, kids shows are pretty weird and psychedelic themselves. Very colorful and fanciful and imaginative and yes, kinda trippy. Just like talking about the Muppets last week, all these aspects are things that I miss from watching shows as a kid growing up.

On the subject of music for SOS, I've invited my good friend Ben Davila to write songs for the show. You can listen to some of his work HERE . Ben and I  have been friends for a very long time and I think his musical sensibility is perfect for the show. He's already written tons of songs about science and can pretty much write a song about anything at the drop of a hat.

For your listening pleasure, here is the first track off The Roots of Chicha, Sonido Amazonico by one of my favorite Cumbia bands Los Mirlos:

And here's a song from Ben's old band, The Photons. This song is one of my favorites. Sometimes I think that with music like this, Seas of Science definitely has a chance to get made someday.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Introducing: Sergio

Sergio came to live aboard the HMS Bounty after a freak domino accident got him banished from his home planet. The planet that Sergio came from and ruled is renown for having the Universe's longest domino chain. Every year the kingdom sets up an elaborate domino chain and millions of participants come out to watch it's tipping over ceremony. Unfortunately, Sergio is a bit of a bumbler, and knocked the chain over prematurely.  The subsequent rioting sent Sergio hiding into the hulls of the HMS Unknown, which was docked temporarily on his planet to watch the ceremony. Now Sergio serves as the ship's chef and travels aboard the HMS Unknown with the captain and science crew.

Although Sergio can be a clutz, he's also a lot of laughs. Loud, boisterous, and often times interruptive, Sergio gets on Barry and the Captain's nerves, but Marisol and the Crew are delighted by his antics.  His boundless enthusiasm for adventure makes him a perfect compatriot to Marisol when she visits the ship.

Likes: Food, Marisol, adventures, ridiculous bets, annoying Barry, Shakin' It
Dislikes: Captain's orders and dominos.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Inspirado: The Muppets

 Something I'd like to do here with this blog is not only write about Seas Of Science but also share with you sources of inspiration for the show. Starting out with a real obvious one: The Muppets. I grew up watching the Muppets, but only in watching The Muppet Show as an adult did I realize how amazing this show really is.  It's funny, quick witted, silly, sweet, endearing. Kids can watch it and laugh and there are jokes in there that reach adults too. There's love and adventure and friendship and all those wonderful lessons about life and sometimes it's even a little melancholy.

I always loved the way that the Muppets were visually unrefined. Like sometimes you could see the strings. Or when two Muppets got in a fight, they'd just throw the puppet across the room with a "HIEEYYYYAAAA" and call it a day. I really miss that in TV shows made today. Everything is so digitized and clean...almost intangible. Something I'm keeping in mind for S.O.S is exactly that sensibility. To keep things tangible, maybe a tad janky even.

 And the music! So great!! The Muppets are A-Number 1 with a bullet Inspirado.

My favorite Muppets are the big, lurchy monsters with their mouths hanging open, and of course Statler and Waldorf. What are your favorite Muppets?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Introducing: Barry

Barry was built by Marisol's engineer mother and left as a partially unfinished project in her attic. He was built to be an interface between humans and computers, a living database if you will. But having been abandoned as a viable prototype,  Barry is a bit lost. His worry manifests itself into a curmudgeony type of neurosis.  Barry is haunted by vast esoteric questions like what are we here for? What is this all about? Where do we go when we die and Where did my sandwich go?

One thing for sure, Barry is Marisol's confidant. He travels with her between the real world of Cleveland to her adventures on the HMS Unknown.  He's programed to watch out for Marisol and keep her out of trouble.

Likes: Classical music, roaring fireplaces, floppy disks, personal protection equipment
Dislikes: Sergio, last minute changes to plans, rope bridges, fresh fruit.

(image refined by the lovely Jenny Comperda:

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Hello and Welcome to my new blog! The point of this new blog is that I want to make a show. A TV show, for kids, about science. It's called Seas Of Science. I want to share with you my progress as I piece together my ideas for this show. I figure if I start a blog it will motivate me to get things done on this project and not just stare at it, expecting it to make itself.

I don't know how to do this at all, by the way. I am a geologist. I'm not a scriptwriter or a tv industry person, but I do have a lot of friends who do those sorts of things and have been asking them for their advice. They are all very nice and encouraging. I want my friends to be involved in this show because (a.) many of them are incredibly talented at their respective trades (comedy, music, writing, building things, makeup, costumes, etc) and (b.) they are lots of fun to be around.

The show is set on a sailboat called the HMS Unknown that can travel anywhere and any time. Want to meet a dinosaur? No Problem! Want to check out the Amazon rainforest? Away we go! The ship is captained and crewed by a band of rogue scientist who one way or another found themselves having to escape their previous lives on Earth. Take for instance the physicist, Rodger, who's research was so mind blowing that he literally froze his thesis committee stone cold with shock. There's no going back for Rodger until his committee unfreezes, and so he sails on the sea of the unknown with the rest of the crew.

 The star of our show is Marisol, played by my dear friend Marisol Medina. Marisol gains access to the HMS Unknown through a porthole in her attic. Stepping through the porthole transports her from her real life in Cleveland, Ohio, to the fanciful world of the traveling sailboat where she can get any question about science or the nature of the world around her answered by the crew of the HMS Unknown.

Also on board the ship is a cast of misfits thrown together whether they like it or not. Barry the Robot and Sergio the King live aboard the boat along with the Captain and Crew.  Barry's worrisome nature is under constant torment by Sergio's brash and boorish behavior. But they all get along in the end and are happy to go on new adventures whenever Marisol visits.

Each show explores a scientific theme like photosynthesis, or volcanoes, or gravity, and so on. Music and adventure, danger, friendship and exploration...Seas of Science has it all! Don't you want to watch this already? I do!

Let's get this thing made...