Monthly Archives: October 2015

Robbed Blind

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Something like this could happen to anyone, anywhere in the world. But it happened to me, here in Belgrade, yesterday. I never thought about the origin of the expression “robbed blind” before experiencing it quite literally.

Last night at 2am, after a long day at the Share Foundation’s conference about digital freedom where I moderated a panel on EU copyright reform and got to meet so many smart people, I came back to my apartment to find it had been burglarized. I’ve never had my home space violated in that way before, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned on the light and saw the window gaping ominously open above the fallen curtain rod and boot prints on the couch cover.

My mind instantly auto-generated a checklist of items in order of importance as I scanned the room. I saw two of my journals peeking out from underneath the curtain and breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Aside from the obvious, it meant that the burglars probably didn’t know or care who I was—that it was just about money, and not some kind of scare tactic or assault on my freedom of speech. I didn’t even need to look at the spot where I’d left the professional camera Olympus gave me to know it was gone.

RIP little camera. Just when I was really getting to like you, someone stole you away.Arikia Millikan/Olympus Pen EP5

I flipped the light on in my bedroom and my jaw, and heart, dropped. The room was turned upside down. My clothes and papers were strewn about, cushions ripped off the tops of the storage couches to explore inside and tossed haphazardly aside. Fortunately my leather-bound journal remained on the ledge above my bed. After once having a journal stolen from inside my motorcycle seat while I was at a restaurant in Formentera, I took proper security precautions with the most recent version.

Just a little bit of Hocus Pocus to ward off superstitious criminals.

I realized how fortunate I was to have been exactly where I was that Saturday, because obviously I’d never go to a tech conference without all portals to the internet (my laptop and two smartphones) affixed to my person. If I wasn’t such a nerd, I’d really be up a creek right now.

I then thanked my lucky stars for the good tidings of Linda Marion, my friend Amira’s mother. The day before I left the US for my first lap around the world, she came over to my apartment in Ann Arbor despite my protests that I was frantically packing and running late, and dropped off a few important items she thought I might need—among them, a passport case and a safety pin. “Never let your passport leave your body,” she lectured maternally. Ever since that day, I’ve kept that case pinned to the inside of my travel bag, and have carried it with me every single time I’ve left my residence.

So, despite the present suck-fest, it’s not Embassy time quite yet.

I’ve gotta admit, it’s times like this when I wish I was a normal person with normal parents or a long-term partner I could call and seek comfort in. Someone who would tell me everything was fine and not to worry, and tell me what to do before asking “hasn’t this travel obsession gone far enough?” and wouldn’t I just come home already? But I’m not a normal person, and I’ve never had anyone like that in my life, so I did what I’ve always done and just handled my shit myself.

Both of my phones were dead and, not wanting to rummage for my chargers, I left the apartment exactly as it was and walked to the hostel down the street. There I asked the night clerk if she could call the police for me. After relaying what I’d told her to the operator in Serbian, she muffled the phone and asked what nationality I am. “American,” I grudgingly said. After she relayed the translation, whoever was on the other end promptly hung up so fast it made the clerk raise her eyebrows in surprise.

One thing about Belgrade that I wouldn’t have ever understood before coming here, is that they have a better reason than most to dislike Americans. I was only 13 when the US-led NATO forces bombed Serbia, and nobody ever explained why in any history class I ever took. But I vaguely remember the Clinton administration talking about “human rights violations in Kosovo,” “Yugoslavia,” then “former Yugoslavia” on the major news channels, and I remember adults getting tense and arguing whenever the topic came up at dinner parties. Slobodan Milošević is a name that’s stuck in my head all these years, but absent any context. Like so many Americans, I didn’t have any idea what happened here—until the past few months I’ve spent exploring “the Balkans” AKA “former Yugoslavia.” Now I find it rather criminal that this wasn’t a part of our basic historical education. I’ll write more about it later.

The cops came quickly, spoke with me as little as possible, and told me to be back at 6:30am so a forensics team could take fingerprints. I thanked them profusely, and went back to the hostel to charge my phone, call the landlord, who was on Holiday in Greece, and nap for two hours. It seems they never actually relayed the message to the forensics team, so after waiting outside for an hour, I had to get the nosy old neighbor lady, who seemed to be having the thrill of her life from this scandal, to call them again. Finally they came, dusted for prints, and told me to go through my stuff so they could take an inventory of what was missing. When I dug my suitcase out and opened it, I couldn’t believe it.

They literally robbed me blind. I never really thought about the origin of this expression before, but they took everything—including my glasses, my backup glasses, and two months worth of contact lenses. Additionally, my hard drive was gone, all my chargers and random electronics stuff, my flute, all the sentimental stuff I’d been collecting along the way like my post card collection and the sand from various lakes I’d been saving for my friend who collects it. Even my toiletries and makeup were stolen. I’ll probably be realizing things are missing for months. Now my previous Beacon entry seems less funny.

I’m staying with a friend now, still in a daze and unsure of how to proceed. I’ve been hassled on the streets quite a bit in my days, but it’s a whole other level of odd feelings knowing someone has targeted you for a premeditated crime. You wonder who would do such a thing, and why. My prime suspect was the Tinder guy I hung out and blazed with but simply replied “what!” to his facebook message suggesting we have sex. More sinister is the thought that someone wanted my hard drive, and stealing all the other stuff was just a distraction. After all, what kind of criminal breaks in and steals someone’s fucking tampons but leaves the TV?

I’m going to try to not think about it. It brings me some comfort knowing I did everything right with respect to keeping myself and my few possessions safe, and this happened in spite of it. Instead, I need to focus on what to do next. I was going to head to Russia and write my book proposal while riding the Trans-Siberian railway, but I think right now, what I really need is to be near friends, family and the familiar. After having just lost about $2k of gear on top of already being in a tight financial situation, that’s going to be difficult.

If anyone has any suggestions (outside the Schengen zone, since I can’t return there until December), or just plain moral support, I’d love it if you’d drop me a note to And if you want to do something more to help, I’d really appreciate donations to my Vision Restoration fund—somehow I need to come up with a fast $1000 replace the 3 kinds of lenses that were stolen (glasses, contacts, camera) in order to continue being your eyes abroad. Donations can be sent via PayPal to

Thanks for reading and continuing to support me on this journey <3

If You See Something, Say Something

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: I’ve really been enjoying my time with the friends I’ve made here in Serbia. Below is a quirky exchange I had with one of them, illustrating how a symbol can mean two very different things to different people.

When I first came to Belgrade, I stayed on my friend Nikola’s* couch for a week. He was a wonderful host and we had fun talking about cyber politics late into the night and watching hacker documentaries together. With him as my guide, I quickly developed a fondness for Belgrade such that I decided to stay a few more weeks, so I found a cute little apartment to rent.

The night before I was to move over there, we were discussing the logistics of how to get my suitcase over there because we were going to a panel discussion in the afternoon but the landlady wouldn’t get there until 7pm.

“Why don’t I take it in a cab in the morning and just leave it outside, then go to the panel and meet her back there at 7,” I suggested.

“What? You don’t want to leave it outside all day,” Nikola cautioned.

“It’ll be fine, the place is inside a gate, and my suitcase locks anyway.”

“That’s not going to deter anybody.”

“It’s not like someone’s just going to take a whole suitcase if they don’t know what’s in it.”

“Well yeah… they probably will.”

“What! Why would anyone go to all that effort stealing a 20 kilo bag?”

“Because there might be money in it.”

I laughed at the absurdity of the situation that would lead to that happening.

“What? People are sometimes putting money in suitcases,” he said.

“Who do you know who’s found a suitcase full of money here??”

“Well, it’s not common but you never know. Why, what would Americans think was in a suitcase if they saw one sitting there?”

“Probably like a bomb or something.”

Now he was laughing at the absurdity.

“Yeah really, no one would touch it,” I said. “If anything they’d report it to the police.” I recited the routine MTA subway announcement by heart.

“No, we don’t put bombs in suitcases here.”

I’ve been rolling this exchange around in my mind for days, laughing to myself. It’s funny how a symbol like an unattended suitcase can have two completely different mental connotations in different countries, each equally unlikely.

He wound up sending my luggage over in a cab, which I told him would never happen in New York because then for sure you’d never see it again.

Overthinking in Belgrade

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Living in Berlin, Istanbul, and Belgrade over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot: about the world, about how it’s broken, about who can begin to fix it and how I might fit into that process. When I start to get this philosophical, I know it’s probably a good time to reflect on that time I drank tequila with Quentin Tarantino.

I am in a strange place. I don’t mean physically, although Belgrade, with its statues of former Yugoslavian leaders centered amidst crumbling grey blocks of apartments, would be a great place to shoot an adaptation of a dystopian sci fi novel.

Mentally, I am in a place I’ve been only a few times before: a place of new beginnings. Sometimes I need to tear everything down and start over, and right now I feel like a baby phoenix waddling around in its ash nest, ready to fly away the moment the right wind current sweeps by.

A few years ago, I met Quentin Tarantino. I had just snuck out of some terrible SXSW tech fair and escaped to the hotel bar when I saw him sitting there by himself. I sat down next to him and, after an internal pep talk, I managed to strike up a conversation with him that I’ll never forget. After discussing his casting selection on Death Proof (one of my favorite movies), I asked him how he decided when it was time to make another movie. He told me that when something grabbed him such that he thought it would be worth spending the next two years of his life on, he knew. We did shots of Avion Reposado at two in the afternoon and he bid me adieu.

Dorothy got Glenda the good witch; I got the cinema king of carnal violence. And I may as well have just clicked my lucky cowboy boots together because I knew it all along: time is truly the most valuable currency. The best work of the artists of the world is not motivated primarily by money, but by the ever-present ticking clock of our own mortality.

I entered the media business when I was nine years old delivering newspapers for 10 cents a piece. Seventeen years later, I founded my own publication. It didn’t work out how I hoped it would, but I learned from the experience. I’ve moved past the disappointments and stopped thinking in hindsight; I’m ready for the next two-year (or more) commitment, and I am getting close to figuring it out what it will be.

When I was little, my mom used to play the “hot or cold” game with me. She’d think of an object in the room and guide me to it with temperature words while I wandered, aimlessly at first, and with more purpose as I got warmer. I’ve since internalized the process. I don’t yet know what it is that I’m looking for, but living in Berlin, Istanbul and Belgrade over the past few months, I’m sure I’m getting hot, and I know that I have to keep hunting.

I’ve been finding breadcrumbs my whole life in the form of special people. They are the seeds of possibility for a better world, hidden among the greedy weeds and complacent trees. They are rare, but they are everywhere, and I’m getting better at recognizing them when I see them: the quiet rebels, the ones who have always done what they were “supposed to do,” all the while knowing the game was rigged, the aimless, the lost, the ones who are waiting for something to happen, to be activated; The underappreciated people with underutilized or misused talents; The dissidents. Finding them and realizing that there are so many others out there who can see the problems clearly but are still able to enjoy the present… they give me hope enough to work toward making something new and unconventional again.

The more I travel to various places and learn about the various problems plaguing different areas of the world, the more massive the oppressive forces seem. There’s something very wrong in the world. And yeah, maybe it’s always been that way and life isn’t fair et cetera. But with rampant governmental corruption perpetuating the problematic distribution of global wealth, I predict that soon we will all be forced to change the way we live. I’m afraid for the future, and I don’t understand how others are not. I don’t want to deal directly with people who bury their heads in the sand and make things worse anymore. I want to work with the people who can also acknowledge that things are fucked up, to try to change them if we can, and laugh about them if we can’t.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but it will involve increasing international connectivity for the sake of global literacy about the various realities unfolding simultaneously across the world every day, and how they all relate to each other. It will involve harnessing latent creativity, and defibrillating those hyper-intelligent minds slipping through the cracks because the present markets favor the mediocre and benign. Whatever it is that I decide to do, I’ll keep traveling, keep hunting, turning over every rock to find the people who can illuminate the big picture. And if I can’t do those things, then I’ll go live in the jungle with a flock of parrots until the end of the world.