Mark is a guy from Michigan who lives in Switzerland. He's a photographer, occasional writer and trained research engineer. His free time is sometimes monopolized by mountain touring or travels. On occasion he attends and presents at BarCamps and blogging events.

Stolperstein – Location Stories

StolpersteinI usually end up in Berlin about once a year, either for a conference or to enjoy the street art and let my mind unwind. Berlin is a beautiful city, mainly because of the awesome people, partially because it’s in flux, partially because the history of the city is more prominent than most cities are brave enough to display. This instils a sense of reflection where ever I walk through the city.

It’s easy to walk around a city and not know the stories on the walls and the history of the people. You walk through Kreuzberg and you might not look down at the sidewalk, but if you do you might see small brass monuments set in the stones of the street beneath your feet.


These are called Stolperstein, ard are memorial markers dedicated to victims of the Holocaust Nazi oppression. Each Stolperstein has name and is a monument to the people sent off by the Nazi to camps, or sterilized, or were deported and murdered. I photograph them whenever I see them because it makes me remember. Our history is so easily forgotten. If you have kids and they have kids, then probably you will be remembered until your grandchildren die. That’s as much recognition that history usually gives a person. Things are changing in the internet age, but virtual worlds do not replace the tangibility of the world around us.

We build monuments because they last longer than paper and are placed in the open for everyone to see and visit with their thoughts. They communicate simple messages, like a name, date of birth, and if a person was murdered in Auschwitz or exiled in Shanghai. We walk by buildings where beautiful and horrible things have happened each day and usually don’t have any idea. This was one reason why I started the Lost In Reality project, so that part of the history of our world would be remembered in stories tied to places. Tweets and Facebook updates are forgotten five seconds after you read them. I wanted to enable longer conversations between people and the places they walk through. I think it’s good to have lofty goals, because when you understand the history of your environment and all the stories hidden all around you, then you understand better your context in life.

The Stolperstein are reminders to what happened in the past, and for me a warning to what happens in the present in other countries, and what could happen in the future. People like you and me pulled from our homes and sent off to be murdered. When I see them I read the names in my head and wonder what they looked like, what their voices sounded like and what it felt like when they were taken away, stripped of the freedom I take for granted walking down the same street. For me they are a reminder that life is precious, that we should enjoy the moments that we have, and we should stand up when those around us are victimized. If a place doesn’t move your emotions, what was the point of traveling there.

To learn more about Stolperstein, visit the Wiki Page.

“While the vast majority of stolpersteine commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, others have been placed for Sinti and Romani people (also called gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, black people, Christians (both Protestants and Catholics) opposed to the Nazis, members of the Communist Party and the Resistance, military deserters, and the physically and mentally disabled.

The list of places that have stolpersteine now extends to several countries and hundreds of cities and towns.”


2nd Transmedia Zurich Meetup – Narrative and Story in Games and Media

The second Transmedia Zurich ( meet up took place on June 27th, with a focus on Narrative and Story Structure in Games and Media at CoLab Zurich. We had Matthias Sala from Gbanga, who gave some awesome insight into mixed reality game development and nonlinear plot development, while I talked about classic story structure, including a focus on The Hero’s Journey.

Story Structure

Why is it that you can predict the key points of a sitcom without knowing all the details of the plot line? Mainly because we’re fead the same plot lines and story structures, reflected in myths we’ve been told since before we could speak.

  • Basics of classic story structure
  • Influence of Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces)
  • Choosing a narrative can be used to target the emotional design of a product
  • Intro to the Hero Journey applied to game design

Mix Reality Game Design

Games as a form of interactive media require new story structures than from a traditional narrative, and in his presentation, Mathias Sala (Gbanga) discussed linear stories and stories with decision points, leading to nonlinear narratives and the challenges in creating such a project. Other main points included:

  • History of transmedia and mixed reality games
  • Development of Gbanga Famiglia
  • Complexity of non-linear plot development in games

Next Meetups

If you’re interested in more info on Transmedia and the intersection between story and technology, join the Zurich Transmedia meetup group or signup for the release of the Transmedia Toolkit.

1st Transmedia Zurich Meetup – LA to San Francisco


When I took a sabbatical as a doctoral student I went to Toyko for 3 months. When I was taking a sabbatical as an entrepreneur earlier this year, the destination was Los Angeles and San Francisco to learn about transmedia storytelling in California. I put together a little summary of my experience at the 2013 TransmediaSF Startup Weekend and exploring TransmediaLA meetup in Los Angeles. My main desire was to see how technology and storytelling are combined on the West Coast and in Silicon Valley, and get a feeling for how to use these ideas in Zurich and Switzerland. Along the way I connected with people from Swissnex San Francisco and learned about their Story2023 transmedia project.

I gave this talk at the TransmediaZH meetup group, which was held at Colab Zurich on May 22nd. It was a good way to discuss transmedia projects in general and see what other teams are working on in the Zurich area. It was also a good time to introduce the StoryHackZH concept.

StoryHack Zurich

What happens when we combine writers, designers, and developers together in a story first hackathon? We will see first hand how technology and design can be paired with stories to transform great ideas from the written to digital form. Why not take a Zurich-based novel and turn it into a location-story using Lost In Reality or Junaio or a new mobile app with the Metaio SDK? What would a Swiss-German cooking book look like as a mobile app, and how would that influence who uses it? That’s the purpose of StoryHackZH, to build a platform and community. Updates will be posted on the main webpage and twitter account: / @storyhackzh

Swiss Train Passenger Perspective Landscapes

TrainLandscapeSwitzerland-06281If you live in Switzerland and have no car you ride the trains a lot. It’s one reason why I like living here, because the time in-transit can be used for something. When you’re driving here or there or biking, you have limited attention and ability to do anything beyond watching the road. I stated doing train passenger landscapes on the train last winter. I wanted to create some slightly blurred landscape images to layer into the Toy Warz storyline I’ve been developing with Bratz and Monster High dolls.

Toy WarzToy Warz

Here for example, you can see how the blurred background trees give just a little landscape texture to the background, mixing in will with the foreground but giving some sense of depth and context to the central image. I wanted to give a bit the post-apocalypse feeling and the texture layer of clouds could be blended into the narrative of the image. Expanding beyond that, I was also looking for image to give more texture or shadows in waves, to mix on either side of portraits or or to direct the eye of the viewer from top to bottom.

Relative Motion

These image have been taking mainly from the route from Zurich to Winterthur and from Zurich towards Chur. I started expanding on this theme and realized I just like the landscape images, in particular when I pan while shooting. The effect is that the background landscape is sharp while the foreground elements like trees and houses are blurred. It’s an experiment of image capture and relative motion of the train to the landscape, mixed in with a long shutter speed, it gives a nice surreal feeling to the shots. If you shoot while the train is curving away from the foreground, you get an added wave texture to the image. Some of these I’ll use for the Toy Warz backgrounds, but I also love them as a series on their own.


The City Whispers – New York Graffiti

New York Graffiti-04654In April of 2013 I had the presence of mind to fly to New York. This wasn’t an accident, I met a wonderful person and flew out there to hangout. Fortunately we didn’t visit Times Square, and instead hung out around the hipster center of the world in areas like Bushwick and Williamsburg. Locations where the graffiti is fresh and the ideas pour off the walls like lyrics from an ancient Greek thespian to far gone on Cappuccino Bombs and espresso beans to do anything but watch amused as their fingers spray lovely detached madness across the walls.


Stencil Bastards II – Zurich

Stencil Art Bastards II

The Stencil Bastards II show is currently going on (12. July – 30. August 2013) in Zurich and it’s well worth checking out. Featured artists include:

C215, M-City, Epsylon Point, Stf Moscato, Snub23, Penny, Czarnobyl, Pisa 73, Stew, 9Periodico and Zibe.

Curated by Christian Guemy, the show is hosted by the Starkart Gallery, which is an excellent venue for such an experience. A DJ played delightful strange beats from the garage while I wandered through the different rooms and basement of the house, where each artist takes over part of the space with their art.


Bumblebee Quadrocopter for Trail Running Films

Bumblebee QuadI was putting together ideas for a trail running short film project with some friends, and naturally my mind gravitated towards the ideas of picking up a quadrocopter to get some nice aerial shots of us running in the Swiss Alps. Given that I live in Switzerland where these things are expensive, and my budget wasn’t huge, so I decided on the Bumblebee Quadrocopter. It’s a nice affordable entry-level flying machine, which comes with a cheap gimbal, ideal for flying a GoPro 2. This was a very experimental project, our director of photography was Matthew Anderson, and I entrusted him with flying the contraption while I was in the running shots with Christian, my co-author of the Dromeus Running Blog.

Bumblebee QuadEasy Assembly

The Bumblebee was pretty easy to put together. You just need to make sure you don’t break any wires and install the rotors in the correct pattern. After that you just run the calibration of the controller with some software that you need to run on a Windows computer. I then handed off the copter to Matt to experiment with while I headed off to the X-Media Lab event in Basel to get some feedback on my location-based storytelling startup project Lost In Reality. The weekend after that we headed up to the Rotsteinpass in the Alpstein to shoot our film project: Swiss Trail Running – Mt. Santis.

Swiss Trail Running - BTS-0017502Learn To Fly

I’ll be upfront on this one, quadrocopters are awesome, but you need to practice and know what you’re doing. We had a reasonably successful shoot, we got the basic aerial shots we wanted for the film, but we were also lucky the wind didn’t send the copter off onto the glacier. After the shoot we did some more testing, and well, the result is what happened. Part of the reason I bought the Bumblebee was I was sure it would survive some crashes, but before upgrading to a hexcopter to fly my Sony NEX-5n, I plan to focus on simulators and learning how to fly these crazy things with confidence and determination.


The City Whispers – Paris Graffiti

Paris Graffiti - Street ArtAfter the Viking Startup bus drove into Paris and I pitched Amordomus on stage with the team at the Microsoft building, I took some time off to relax in the city and check out the street art and graffiti. The place to go is Rue Denoyez, I know this because I have an awesome friend who knows the Paris graffiti scene, otherwise I never would have seen this amazing street filled with all manner of shapes and colors. I also wouldn’t have attended the Wolf Song Night opening at La Galerie Ligne 13 or gone to the La Poste Museum Street Art exhibition. After the pressure cooker of building up a startup idea on a bus from Copenhagen to Paris, with a pitch competition in Cologne on the second day, my mind was overloaded and I was happy to relax and take in the non-linearity of the stenciles, sprays, and poster art on the walls. (more…)

The City Whispers – San Diego Graffiti

I’ve been to San Diego various times, mainly to speak about smart materials (active fiber composites) or to hangout around Pacific Beach. This time I wanted to see more of the downtown area and hunt some graffiti. Near the Padres stadium and the Gaslamp district, which is also in waking distance of the famous convention center, you are in what I call the consumption zone. If you’re not eating or shopping, you’re going to a place where you can eat or shop, or a homeless person on the street corner is asking for money. It’s a part of town designed for tourism and consumption, and everyone is selling something to you. There are a few works on the walls, but mainly it’s stickers on lamp posts. (more…)

The City Whispers – Los Angeles Graffiti

While visiting a friend to talk about designing energy efficient solar powered boats I took a few hours to check out the graffiti in Los Angeles near Little Tokyo. I started at Union Station and walked down Alameda street. Around 4th street (before and after) you start to find murals on the buildings and can safely stop to snap some photos with police sirens screaming in the background. Some photographers will hand their DSLR out the open window and speed by snapping random images, makes you feel like you’re walking through Detroit with the freaked out suburbanite tourists doing photo drive-bys. I felt fine walking around with a Ricoh GRD and GoPro in my hands while carrying my Macbook Pro on my shoulder and my Sony NEX VG-10 and Hasselblad lens in my backpack.


The City Whispers – Lisbon Graffiti

Now that I’m unemployed, I’ve had time to take a workacation and meet with the Lost In Reality team down in Lisbon, Portugal. We’re developing a mobile app for location-based storytelling, but I also took some time to relax and explore the whispers of Lisbon and the graffiti and street art a bit. The people and artists there have a lot to say with the financial crisis hitting Portugal and it’s well represented on the walls of the city. (more…)

The City Whispers – Cologne Graffiti

I headed to Cologne, Germany for the European Pirate Summit. It was an interesting event, filled with startup people from around the world, goth fire dancers, a mechanical fire breathing bull, more fire, robots, awesome ideas, and fantastic people. I took some days before the summit to walk around Cologne checking out the street art and graffiti. Why? Because that’s what I like to do. The museum is on the outside, always changing, and the entrance free is always free. Two days was too few to walk around Cologne, maybe I’ll head back there for the Cologne Startup Weekend. (more…)