The Love Letters project is a work in progress. In 2013, we began a set of interviews, and,whenever it arrives (the process is being allowed to unfold as a multi-media experience) a book will evolve. Our interviewees are extraordinary; their awards, accomplishments, interests, grants, laurels, talks, books, articles, and works of art stack to the rafters, but of course what we are really interested in is the way that they think and feel; how they move through life.

We’re asking them not only about their own experience (and ways of working and thinking) but about this striking moment in human history. It’s quite a time-  the concept of nation states has been rendered somewhat quaint, the Internet is a living expression of the collective consciousness, and we’ve compromised the balance of our jewel-like planet. Our reliance on fossil fuels is dated, and the world is full of conflicts that strike most thinking people as counterproductive. We’re on the brink of re-entering space, but this time on the wings of private enterprise.

This is a good moment to reflect on who we want to be as we move into the future. We’re fortunate to know (or know well the work of) this incredible crew; speaking to as many of them as we can, and comparing their answers, seems like a good place to start.

Please click “Subscribe” in the upper left if you’d like to follow our progress to press. Journal posts appear chronologically below this welcome, with the newest on top.


forward motion

The Love Letters project is a record of my life’s study and work of the curation of exceptional individuals. The book, which is  been building under the radar of my life for the past four years, is just the story of the process.

Andre Broessel on his studio rooftopArchitectural team member Andre Broessel, experimenting with solar spheres

For a suite of reasons, this connected web of people seems suddenly to have a common purpose: we deeply want to use our success, our education and our abilities to make a better world. No matter what our accomplishments to date, each of us feels a restlessness deep in our beings; we thought that in our lifetimes we would have been able to come closer to living up to our potential. We have so much more to give!

It can be frustrating to try to make an individual difference in large systems, especially right now. Our planet, our society, our oceans, our politics and our educational institutions are so silted up with noise, entropy and inertia that we have compromised our collective ability to recognize pure signal. Some sort of shocking action is needed, some beautiful spear of progress.

carter at seaglassCarter Emmart, NYC, data visualization wizard, Hayden Planetarium

We have ideas. Many new team members and advisors have been added, and I’ve got an ambitious plan. Together, our team is so mighty (and so loaded with technology to bring) that we form a committee-defeating machine. To our knowledge this has never yet been built at a large scale. Our intention is to convert all major American university campuses to green power, and to do it in under five years.

In conjunction with this, we have a suite of architectural and artistic pushes and grant applications underway – and possibilities at MIT that are blowing our mind. On April 1, we are submitting an application to the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s 2016 Challenge Grant. Read about it here!

On The Roof III With ArchitectsOn the roof of the Green Building at MIT with Peter Sollogub and Steve Imrich, team members from the Cambridge 7 Architects. Photo Josh Kastorf.

Catch up with us on our team site, NinjasForScience.com, and follow that blog for news of our progress. This book continues on, documenting the relationships that have brought us to this point of cooperation.

This is our most current team roster, but it expands every day, as does our love and our hope for peace and clean power for all. Join us!

Team List final for Fuller Proposal

emerging from the mist

Hello, March of 2015.

The past months have seen a lot of new work on this project, with the furthering of the interviews (these people are deep, and these aren’t chats over lunch) and with the developing portraits.

The Ranch in Tucson has become the urban oasis that I hoped that it would be, and there are solar panels on the roof, and the outflow from the sinks is plenty to water the ornamental vines, fruit trees, and herb garden. We are moving to composting toilets this year, and the garden now sports an outdoor bed, which (by virtue of circumstances, assorted) punched a hole in time and space.

the best thing ever outdoor bed at cooper st

If we add one of Andre Broessel’s spherical collectors, we can heat the pool, and run the outdoor audio system, the lights. Maybe more.

A small group of us are set to embark here in Tucson on an adventure that is so simple, we all laugh in disbelief; living lives that are productive, and don’t take more than they produce. Living in joy, without pressure to work at something soulless simply to earn money to have enough to eat and live. We suddenly realized that all that was really required to run a small, self-sustaining machine was that we be our very best and work hard. Everything else will take care of itself, if our work is what we love.

Michael Pope and Kate McKinnon

Michael Pope and Kate McKinnon, photo Kyle Cassidy

Regarding our property here, and getting off of the demand side of the grid, it’s not really that hard to do better. It was easy to go solar, for example. Elon Musk’s company, Solar City, installed panels on our Tucson roof for free (and not just because we are a demonstration project, it’s because that’s how it works). The panels are free, and you simply pay your electric bill to Solar City instead of your local utility.

If we use more than we produce, we pay two bills. If we produce more than we use, it stacks up as a credit at our local utility, in case we want or need it. But the extra we put into the system is used to satisfy demand for power in real time. This is kind of huge, if you think about all of the ways that all of these things add up to impact. And I didn’t really have to do anything, beyond allow them to install the equipment. No cost, no hassle.

People complain about only getting credit for extra power, and yes, it would be nice to be paid for it, but that isn’t the reality right now, and we aren’t wasting five minutes worrying about it. The more the utility companies make from this transition, the easier it will be for them, and I feel that I am getting enough of the pie by having a lower electric bill (I do, by about 20%) and by instantly moving from the Demand to the Supply column.

Cooper House Solar Array

The panels are really mellow- we don’t even notice them. And our roof faces south, with a nice slope, so we didn’t need them mounted on frames that stand above the roof. We’ve grown vines on trellises a few feet away from the windows, and planted trees, and with their shade (and the shade of the panels on the roof, which is significant) the house is ten degrees cooler in summer without doing anything.

Solar City isn’t the only company doing it (check in your area to see your options) and many local utilities are finally offering similar programs, because it now makes economic sense for sunny parts of the United States. If you do go with Elon Musk and Solar City, though, tell them that Kate McKinnon in Tucson recommended you, and we will kick back half of their referral fee ($250) to you, and put the other half in the kitty here to do more sustainable projects.

Just think of what the US could accomplish if we redirected only a fraction of our bloated defense budget to becoming a living, breathing example of solar and wind power. We have an enviably good land mass on the planet, loaded with natural resources and plenty of sunshine, and frankly, we are pissing it away. We are doing silly, unworthy things like blowing the tops off of ancient mountains for a few dirty scrapes of coal. One could rattle on about such matters, but our approach is that it’s better to just do what we hope to see done on our own small scale. It’s enough. Especially if we write about it.

We may not get our excess power purchased, but we can refer each other and get paid. We may not get our city off of coal, but if we underconsume, we can donate power in real time to cover as much as an entire second household. We will soon be four people off of the city waste pipes.

Pissing for peace, as John Lennon said. Everything we do should be for peace, even the most basic of needs. For peace. Listen up – the part about “what can we do” starts at :50 in this incredible interview, captured in 1969 by a 14 year old kid named Josh Raskin who skipped school and snuck into Lennon’s hotel room with a tape recorder, and got lucky. Yay for 14 year old kids with the cojones to do that.

We have an impact.

There will be much more to be seen from us soon as we emerge from our planning and drawing and dreaming, stretch for Spring, and begin to work in earnest making everything we dream up grow into living, breathing examples of our ideas and our simple happiness at being alive.

Kate Stern by Kyle Cassidy

photo of Kate Stern by Kyle Cassidy, Tucson, Feb 2015

photo of Doriot Lair and Kellner Brown by Kate McKinnon, Boston 2014

Doriot and Kellner on deck


Bucksy Boy In Barcelona
I am confident enough in my shattered masculinity
That I do not feel threatened
By your relation with your writing
Or your book
Be free my wanton lover
To cascade and collide your words
Off of cliffs onto carpet
Like toy cars smashed
Yet again
Be free to wild abandon
And come back to me once sated
I will sulk
But submit
To the heavy charm of Thou
Like a refrigerator
That cannot help it’s fall
From cloud to ocean
Illuminated fish
By the muted light
From my open door
– Bucks Burnett

solar innovation


Andre Broessel gave us a tour of his studio in Barcelona last week. We were enchanted with not only the elegance of his concept (the ball lens as a solar concentrator) but of the prototypes we saw- they were meant not only for practical energy generation but also for cooking, heating… powering art installations, charging small devices.

He walked us up the street to see a working collector on his studio rooftop (see the ball in the stand, against the blue sky?) It was beautiful; I could envision it easily, glittering in the Arizona desert, in my garden, sitting on a tabletop to power a lamp… anywhere, everywhere.

Street view of Andre Broessel's studio in Barcelona, photo by Doriot Lair

And then, in a delicious turn of events, he procured a handful of fresh prawns, clams, and mussels, and we went up to the rooftop and he cooked them on a brick in front of us, in the pool of light, with the city of Barcelona reflected in the sphere.

He said, “I’m an architect, you know, I could build the best solar kitchen…” and we laughed with joy, eating mussels, thinking of how excellent and clean it is to cook with light. No waste, no emissions, no need to do anything but open to the sky.

Andre Broessel and Doriot Lair on Rawlemon Rooftop

We were taken with the range of possibilities.

Spheres could be used singly, in any size, or arranged in arrays (good for both facades and free-standing energy walls).

Andre Broessel with prototype of array, Barcelona

We talked about the Kickstarter Rawlemon has coming up- a single sphere, small enough to hold in a palm, that can charge and power a smartphone.

He said, with a smile, standing in front of his chosen form of transportation, his bike, “If everyone stopped charging their phones from wall sockets, we could shut down a power plant.”

Andre Broessel in his studio, Barcelona

His patents all issued last week, in perfect timing for the WTN awards and conference. It will be very interesting to speak to him again later in the month, when he is fresh from meetings with the tech giants of America.

Will they embrace his ideas?

photos by Doriot Lair and Kate McKinnon


Your erstwhile correspondents are now in Barcelona for November, getting the interview season started off with a bang; we’re headed over to Andre Broessel’s studio in a few hours to commune with his sleek spheres, and get a bit more information for our writeup. Andre himself is headed off to NYC in a few days, for the WTO Awards.

We also enjoyed a terrific show at the Oxford New Theater from the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, and Kate is hoping for a chance to speak to him again during his upcoming break. Stay tuned!

Congratulations to André Broessel!

Congratulations are in order for André Broessel and his innovative solar architecture and energy company, Rawlemon, for their nomination for one of this year’s World Technology Network awards.


Last year’s winners in the Energy categories were Pavegen, a remarkable company that generates power from the kinetic energy of people walking on sidewalks, and Agilyx, the company that turns plastics back into crude oil. The people working on these technologies are the unsung heroes of the future; they will save us from ourselves.

We’ve got a full article coming about André and his gorgeous solar collectors, and a visit and a photoshoot scheduled this fall in Barcelona.

Continuing the introductions: David Lean, William K. Hartmann, Bryan Ferry, Joyce Rooks, and Doriot Lair


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Moviemaker David Lean was my kind of guy. He worked constantly and deeply, and he had strong vision and focus on his projects. He also had a regular crew, people who could move between disparate topics and locations with aplomb, who could be relied on whether in Venice, the studio, or the Jordanian desert. This reminds me very much of our own team, staging shoots and capers around the planet, showing up with our MacBooks, our cameras, our ballgowns, our research.

David Lean shooting Dr. Zhivago photo by Bradley SmithDavid Lean shooting Dr. Zhivago, 1965, photo by Bradley Smith

You don’t see Lean on our interview list, but it isn’t his departure from the land of the living that holds me back. It’s more the sense that he gave himself completely to his films; he favored their exploration over that of his own interior. He didn’t seem particularly comfortable contemplating either his laurels or his navel, so I think about his work ethic and leave the man himself to rest in the peace one might imagine of an English gentleman; growing potatoes, roses.

For personal reasons, the Lean movie that affected me most strongly was Dr. Zhivago, but the one I think of first when I hear his name is Lawrence of Arabia. I might take issue with his (and/or Peter O’Toole’s) portrayal of Lawrence, who was a physically smaller and considerably less ego-driven man than seen in the film, but the cinematography is magnificent, and historical accuracy is only one way of viewing a film, a time, a mood.

I love the real T.E. Lawrence (or the Lawrence in my head) and that’s enough for me.

Lean’s position on cinematography was that any single frame from a movie ought to be able to stand alone as a photograph; that is a beautiful meta-vision and strikes me as a very good measuring stick for any whole; the parts should be individually beautiful and well-crafted. And we should always be improving our craft.

William K. Hartmann, (planetary scientist, the first Sagan medal winner, writer, painter, and one-time go-to guy for the American government on image veracity for investigations as diverse as the Condon Report on UFOs and the Kennedy assassination) absolutely resonates with David Lean movies; he loves the sense of expansion, the huge landscapes, the love stories.

You can see it in his face; he’s a natural explorer.

The dashing Dr. Hartmann, photo and digital painting by Kate McKinnon, 2012photo and digital painting by Kate McKinnon, 2012

Although he’s listed in Scientists, Bill crosses as many categories on our bubble chart as anyone; if I were classing him, I’d make him a Magician, but I think he’d object.

As with most of our interview subjects, I’ve known him forever- a bit over 25 years as of this writing. His paintings hang in my house; his books are on my shelf. He says to me, “I’m in my 70’s; you must learn to do without me soon” and I refuse. I say to him, “I’ve done without you since the day I met you” and I mean it and do not mean it. He is a private and intense person; I continue, like the sea, to assault his borders. He continues, like very good rock, to welcome, but withstand.

When I spoke to him about the sort of book I was working on, and asked to include him, he laughed, and said, “All right, but I want to be in category with Bryan Ferry.”

I said, “Where else?” but the truth of the matter is that I hadn’t been clever enough to see the many overlaps; their lanky blue-eyed charm, their love of David Lean movies, of movie music, sleek women, their affinity for square-jawed film heroes, their images as somewhat shy flâneurs contrasting sharply with the reality of their hardworking, somewhat obsessive natures.

Bryan Ferry painting KMcK, digital and acrylic, based on a photograph from 2002; we are trying to track down the photographer. Any info? Email us.Painting of Bryan Ferry (digital and acrylic) by Kate McKinnon, based on a 2002 photograph by Steve Double. Another photo from this shoot was published in the Telegraph, in 2011.

Ferry is an intelligent and educated man; I’ve always loved that about him. A favorite Roxy lyric of mine is from Street Life, about the way some people seem to  collect degrees but never bother to learn anything,

“..pointless passing through Harvard or Yale, only window shopping, it’s strictly No Sale.

His lyrics in general are gorgeous; I see him in our cast of characters as our Poet; like Hartmann, his details are sharp outwardly, but inside, he’s a bit more of a swirled cone. I view him as our resident Voltaire (and there are some fascinating overlaps there as well); his pithy quotes and romantic plaints appear here and there throughout the book.

This is a Ferry performance of Chance Meeting, a Roxy Music song that was inspired by the David Lean film Brief Encounter, from 1945.

I love the classical treatment in this performance, and Joyce Rooks and I have plans to take it even further down. We hear this one in our heads done very simply, starkly, with only her deep, clear voice, cello, and a single toy piano line.

Joyce is quite glamourous; she was an original member (with my equally magnificent co-author Doriot Lair) of the ’70s punk band The Dinettes, and she is a classically trained cellist, a well-regarded glass artist, and was the director (before its recent closing) of The Crafts Center on the UCSD campus. She sometimes collaborates with David J from Bauhaus, or gigs in San Diego with the band Nicey Nice World or a local classical ensemble.

Joyce Rooks photo credit in research
Joyce Rooks, photo by Heidi Calvert

Doriot was obviously quite her nerdy self even as a 20 year old punk rocker; this is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Reader:

Doriot Negrette (later known as Doriot Lair) recalls, “When the Dinettes played at the Western Front (the punk festival organized by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra) in San Francisco in the fall of 1979, we didn’t get a gig at Mabuhay Gardens like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag or the Pens. We were booked at the Deaf Club which, as a young San Diego bumpkin, I hadn’t realized was more than just a cool name for a venue with really loud music, that since the Depression it was a social club for the deaf.”

“As we waited to play, people were making a big deal out of blowing up dime store balloons. I was just hoping we weren’t going to have to duck balloons in addition to the customary bottles, but all was clear when from the stage I saw people who’d earlier been signing that were now holding the fully blown balloons between their fingertips and against their chests. The nerd in me was jumping up and down because I knew what they were doing: they were using the balloons as mini-resonance chambers to experience the music. Double-bumpkined!”

“I later learned it’d been Alexander Graham Bell who’d figured out the whole bubble-vibrational-sympathetic-frequency angle. Bell gave balloons to his deaf students in 19th century Boston as a sort of early warning system for detecting the approach of horse drawn carriages from behind.”

Doriot Lair, nee Negrette

Doriot Lair, absolutely 100% ready to go to any location on any interesting quest; this November, we head Oxford to say hello to Ferry and to Barcelona for a plunder of Dali, Gaudi, tapas bars, and a photoshoot and interview with Andre Broessel, whose solar architecture has us all fired up.

Kyle Cassidy


Kyle Cassidy is one of my favorite photographers.
Kyle Cassidy by Ken Thomas
Kyle Cassidy, photo by Ken Thomas

Kyle is easy to describe (intense, focused, efficient, a bit OCD, handsome, civilised, cultured and intelligent) but very hard to capture. He lives in Philadelphia, and travels the world (as well as his neighborhood) photographing rock stars, politicians, writers, actors, tattooed soldiers, film directors and mobsters… his photos can be seen on covers for the Philadelphia Weekly, all over the Internet, and in an assortment of books, including my own.

Kyle is on deck to shoot the portraits of Jack Wisdom (MIT) and David Robertson (St. Louis Symphony) and has already photographed Gabriella van Diepen in the Tucson desert for my book Contemporary Geometric Beadwork, as well as several of our other interviewees for their own projects; he’s shot Doriot Lair, Ryan Anas, Lee Barron and Amanda Palmer many times over the years.

One of my favorite covers of his is for the book and record Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Kyle has photographed Neil Gaiman frequently as well, most recently for the cover of the Philadelphia Weekly.

Neil Gaiman shoot, Kyle Cassidy. Photograph by Amanda Palmer.Photograph of Kyle and Neil Gaiman by Amanda Palmer

Kyle is one of my favorite people on Terra to work with; he’s the first person I think of when I plan a photoshoot. Despite having known him for a while now, I admit that I’m as excited to interview him as I am to plan capers with him.

David Robertson



One of the people that I am very much looking forward to speaking to is David Robertson, the force of nature who conducts the St. Louis Symphony. I expect to talk with him in St. Louis, around Christmastime.David Robertson, photo courtesy of STSOphoto courtesy of STSO

David’s knowledge of music is deep and vital; he is music in the way that Dali embodied surrealism. He is beloved by audiences, respected by musicians, and is the delight of composers, many of whom have written works specifically because he would conduct them. Some of the most memorable concerts in my life have been in Powell Hall, with Robertson leaping and swirling with visible, living joy at the podium.

During the 2012-13 season, in addition to his time in St. Louis, he appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the San Francisco Symphony, as well as internationally with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain.

From his STSO bio:
“A consummate musician, masterful programmer and dynamic presence, David Robertson has established himself as one of today’s most sought-after American conductors. A passionate and compelling communicator with an extensive orchestral and operatic repertoire, he has forged close relationships with major orchestras around the world through his exhilarating music-making and stimulating ideas. In fall 2012, Mr. Robertson launches his eighth season as Music Director of the 133-year-old St. Louis Symphony. In January 2014, David Robertson will assume the post of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony in Australia.”

David Robertson LA Times. photo credit Michael Tammaro
Photo LA Times, Michael Tammaro

David’s father was a research scientist; he is a naturally enthusiastic and supportive person, and somehow finds time to raise a family, encourage young musicians, give interviews, and present the best pre-concert discussions I have ever had the privilege to hear. He talks a mile a minute, and he moves and hops and gesticulates; the words flow out of him like a sparkling river. I tend to simply take them in like shapes and sounds, and let them flow out of me while I hear the concert; in a way, his commentary is as much a part of the music from there on out as the playing. It stays with me forever; this is stunning.

Robertson is an extraordinary human being; I suspect that we will discover that he has feet in almost every pool on our page. St. Louis Symphony BioWiki page, and one of my many previous blog entries after a Robertson concert.