European Roadtrip, Part 1

For reasons that are not important to elaborate here, I am currently driving from Vienna, Austria to Tartu, Estonia – a 1,581 kilometer journey that will take at least eighteen straight hours of driving over three days. Lucky for you, dear readers, I’ve decided to record this experience for posterity. Here is my record of day one.

Just finished day one of the trip. I, an American expat, am traveling with a Russian professor and a Ukrainian intern – all we need is a rabbi, a priest, and a horse to make the perfect “walked in to a bar” joke. The car that the professor has rented for us is an enormous ┼ákoda SUV. It is enormously impractical and it warms the cockles of my American highway-loving heart.

The trip through the Czech Republic was uneventful (though we did see some skydivers practicing at what felt like a dangerous proximity to the highway). As soon as we entered Poland we got stuck behind a strangely dispersed convoy of police vans, all driving way under the speed limit and running their blue strobe lights. None of us know what it means, so we ease by the cops until they’re out of sight and then gun it.

We finally reach the town in which we are stopping for the night and after a suspiciously long drive along a single-track road we land at a little hotel in what I have to assume is officially the middle of nowhere Poland. We’ve arrived too late in the evening to eat in the restaurant, but not too late enjoy a few blessedly cold beers in the gorgeously decorated hotel bar/restaurant. After some much needed decompression (and a fair number of jokes at the expense of a certain leader of Russia), we decided to head to the rooms. We have rented rooms number 10, 13, and 14. As the professor is handing out keys, he asks which one I want. I glibly reply: “give me lucky number 13.” I will soon come to regret my choice.

We leave the bar and retrieve our things from our cargo ship of an automobile. As we make our way back to the rooms, I see that there is a vending machine in the lobby that appears to be selling pot? I’m not sure if it’s legal here but I make a mental note to check (Edit: I checked, it isn’t. What the hell?). The hotel seems nicely decorated but when I get to my room, I notice the window doesn’t seal shut because a handle has been snapped off.

The reason for the window’s malfunction is only apparent after some examination. This takes some time however because the more immediate aspect of the room that jumps out to me are the GODDAMN HUGE SPIDERS hanging in various corners of the room’s ceiling. After a frantic search of the room I count ten in total (eleven if you count the curled-up spider corpse that was already on the windowsill when I came in). Also, there is a large, very obvious, suspicious stain on the floor. I am comforted by the fact that it is probably too small to indicate a murder scene.

I have been driving for hours and am exhausted. I kill/expel the spiders I can find (doubtless the ones to whom I have shown mercy will find their way back in before morning) and spend the rest of the evening paranoid that every tickle is another unwelcome arachnid roommate. I rub some hand soap around the unsealed window in the hopes that the harsh chemical smell will keep them from coming in. As I blearily look under the bed, I see a glimpse of a silverfish? I can’t be sure but at this point I’m so tired I decide that the arthropods can simply have me.

If I’m still alive tomorrow, I’ll continue this chronicle.


I finally learned to play the drums!

Well not really, but I did finally learn to use the open-source drum machine, Hydrogen, which is a very cool piece of software and you should go download it and try it out yourself! To test out my newfound percussive prowess, I decided to play with myself a little more (I know, I know) and cover Sugaree, one of my favorite tunes by The Grateful Dead.

A little tidbit: this video and a couple other un-posted covers (mostly Elton John) that I have done have been “copy-claimed” by the almighty algorithm, meaning I cannot monetize them and/or that the copyright holder can run ads on my video. I refrained from posting these videos publicly out of good taste, but I was so proud of this one I decided: “screw it, I don’t make any money off these anyway”. So here it is – enjoy!

Shake it out now, and I’ll see you at the jubilee.


/millibeep reviews: lightning round!

It’s good to see you back after that hiatus, I was starting to get worried about you!

Anyhow, today’s post will be a set of quick reviews of various things I own, use, have experienced, or am otherwise qualified to comment about. Without further ado, let’s get started.

  1. Oatly (Oat Milk)
    Due to what I suspect is a casein allergy, I’m a big fan of non-milk milks and this one is easily my favorite. The flavor is subtly oat-ey without being overwhelming and has a satisfyingly proteinaceous mouthfeel. I switched to using this in my coffee almost exclusively and I’ve really come to enjoy the taste more than cow’s milk – it almost tastes like a hearty pancake, but in a good way. I also like that they print the carbon footprint on the container (310 grams of CO2 per kg for the normal variety). I do wish it was cheaper; I understand why it isn’t, but minus one point anyway. Also, they get another point off for having a name that sounds like a pun I don’t understand (Is it a pun? Am I missing something? Leave a comment if I am).
    Rating: 8/10, highly recommended, but it’s just… oat milk
  2. Logitech M570 (Wireless Trackball Mouse)
    Anyone who has seen my t-shirt knows that I am passionate about my trackball mice. I was given this one as a gift about two years ago and have been using it regularly since. The power draw is low enough that the battery lasts for months at a time and the ball can be easily popped in and out of its socket for cleaning. My only complaint is that the left-click switch seems to have become less responsive over time, meaning I can no longer click and drag or highlight text (a quick look around the tubes reveals that this is apparently a common issue). If this turns out to be a fixable issue, I will update this review, but the durability leaves something to be desired regardless.
    Rating: 6/10, recommended, guaranteed to make you at least 20% cooler
  3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Mental Illness)
    I discovered this about a year ago (although I’ve allegedly had it my whole life). Overall, I’m not a fan. The behavioral compulsions and horrifying intrusive thoughts are generally inconvenient and there’s a steep learning curve to be able to handle them effectively. Furthermore, the involuntary rumination on worst-case outcomes has really eroded my confidence in my ability to accurately predict the future. However, in fairness, the heart-pounding panic attacks do make it very easy to hit my weekly cardio goals, so I have to concede one point there. Final note, the flavor that I’ve been using has the Enhanced Anxiety Suite(tm). I don’t know if this comes standard, but it doesn’t seem to be a worthwhile add-on.
    Rating: 1/10, not recommended, even as a gag gift
  4. 1963 Olympia SM-7 (Mechanical Typewriter)
    I got my hands on one of these for free, which will not bias my review in any way, shape, or form. It had been sitting in a damp basement and needed a little elbow grease to get back to working order. There is nothing else that I have experienced that is as satisfying as the “clunk” that comes from the typeheads hitting the paper. The components are tightly engineered and, even after decades of neglect, this thing types like a dream. It is very easy to see why these machines earned Olympia the moniker “the Mercedes-Benz of typewriters”. I am especially fond of the adjustable key-resistance and the switchable, two-color ribbon.
    Rating: 10/10, emphatically recommended, I might typewrite all my posts from now on!
  5. Highland Park Loyalty of the Wolf 14 Year Old (Single Malt Scotch)
    I like this scotch a lot. It’s a lovely golden-yellow color, slightly lighter than most other scotches I’ve tried (I’m thinking of Johnny Walker Black as a reference). On the nose, it is slightly smoky, with some subtle cinnamon and fruit notes. Flavor-wise, the fruit sticks around with hints of apple and pear that blend nicely with a smokiness that is prominent but by no means overpowering. It’s comparatively affordable price makes it an excellent choice for someone who, like me, is not an avid scotch drinker but does enjoy the occasional tipple. Also, I understand this is what is called a “travel exclusive”, meaning it’s available only in duty-free shops and, in my opinion, there are worse ways to get drunk in an airport.
    Rating: 9/10 highly recommended, best airport whisky I’ve ever had
  6. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
    A full two years after it was released, I finally got my hands and nasal passages on a copy of this virus! The hype around it has been unbelievable, so my expectations were astronomical. Weirdly though, I did not enjoy it very much at all. Furthermore, after looking around the internet I see that user experiences with this thing are all over the map. To me, this indicates an abysmal lack of quality control that really should be addressed before the next version comes out. All in all, the ambitious global rollout was impressive but the non-tissue-specific infection pathophysiology just seems amateurish and disappointing. I wish I could think of something nice to say about it but frankly, it’s just terrible.
    Rating: 0/10, not recommended, avoid if possible
  7. Soundcore Life Tune Pro (Wireless Headphones)
    These were a gift from my mother-in-law (who, despite the stereotypes, is a wonderful person whose company I enjoy) and I have been using them essentially every day for the past three months. The battery life on these things is unreal – I charge them for maybe half an hour on weekends and I haven’t seen them go below ~20% charge. They also have an active noise-cancelling mode that can be used while listening to music or without being connected to a device; I use it all the time on the bus to work and it has drastically improved my quality of life. There is also a clever “transparency” mode that transmits everything (especially voices) so that you can hear everything around you. It can be activated by discreetly brushing the side of the headset, which is useful for eavesdropping (and situational awareness, I guess). My only complaint is that the sensor which pauses the music when it detects that you’ve removed the headphones is a little finicky and can sometimes pause randomly, but it doesn’t happen often.
    Rating: 9/10, highly recommended, especially as a gift for your son-in-law


the soap-opera life of Emanuel Bronner

The backpackers, hippies, and thrifty laundry-doers among you might recognize the label on this bottle of soap.

For the uninitiated, this is a bottle of “Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soap”, beloved among the crunchy granola crowd for its many uses and natural ingredients. The soap itself is probably as close to a magic elixir as one can get these days; the eighteen suggested uses range from the expected (face and body), to the slightly unusual (teeth cleaning), to the out-of-left-field (spraying for plant parasites).

However the manifold uses of his soap are only part of the appeal of this quirky bottle of cleaning fluid. Apparent in the above photo, the label that appears on each bottle is, to put it lightly, eccentric. Every spare square centimeter of space seems to be occupied by writing, but only a small fraction of it actually pertains to the soap. The rest of the label is full of phrases like the following:



“A great teacher, must first, a self-supporting hardworker be, like Alesen-Baeck-Carnegie- Cousteau-Hammer-Liebman-Paine-Pike-Sanger-Spinoza-Strauss-Szasz-Wilke-Yadin-Zamenhof, or he’ll turn our greatest teaching into spades, to bury our people! “All people!” added Carpenter Jesus entering manhood! Manhood!”

The nonlinear manifesto that occupies most of the label is dedicated to proselytizing the idiosyncratic philosophy invented by Dr. Bronner: the “All-One-God-Faith” or “Moral ABC”, which incorporates the teachings of (among others) esoteric Rabbis, Jesus, and Karl Marx (the soap’s website even uses a graphic of the kabbalistic tree of life), that Bronner drew upon in his effort to achieve world peace.

As interesting as this soap is, I am actually just using it to introduce what I really want to write about here – Dr. Bronner himself. As anyone who has read one of his labels might imagine, he was a man who led a unique and adventurous life.

He was born Emanuel Heilbronner in 1908 in Heilbronn, Germany (one might gather from his surname that his family had been there for a while). His parents were also soapmakers and it was in Germany that he studied soapmaking, eventually earning a “soapmaking master certificate” in the guild system trade school of the time (which he later claimed to be the equivalent of a doctorate, hence the “Dr. Bronner”).

His family was Jewish and in the late 1920s, fearing the intentions of the up-and-coming Nazi party in Germany, Emanuel pleaded with his parents to emigrate with him to the United States. His parents, however, were not persuaded and so in 1929 Emanuel left on his own to travel to America aboard an ocean liner and was naturalized as a citizen in 1930. In a chilling turn of events, his final contact with his parents would come in the form of a postcard which read “You were right – your loving father.” He would later learn that his parents had been murdered during the Holocaust.

During the 1930s, Emanuel dropped the “Heil” from his surname, ostensibly to protest the word’s association with the leader of Nazi Germany, and devoted himself to the cause of world peace. He had been unconvinced by his father’s traditional religious views and instead felt that “…the world should know all religions had the truth.according to his son, Ralph. Instead of dogma, he felt that humans needed the perspective that we are all passengers on “Spaceship Earth” (that’s a philosophy I can get behind).

Over the course of the next decade, he allegedly sent more than 200 telegrams to the President Franklin Roosevelt, advising him on world peace and how to end the second world war. Through his soap-boxing (pun intended), he became associated with Fred Walcher, an Austrian immigrant to Chicago who founded the “American Industrial Democracy” movement with the aim of bringing about world peace (sounds familiar). Walcher, who was frustrated with the public’s ignorance, gained fame after he crucified himself as a publicity stunt in the Ranch Triangle neighborhood of Chicago (he survived and was fined $100). Bronner was even interviewed in the article about the incident, though he was identified as “Emil” rather than “Emanuel”. Ironically, Walcher was later found to be a sympathizer of Bund, an American Nazi group.

Later on, in 1946, Bronner had been invited to the campus of the University of Chicago by a student organizing group. The exact circumstances are unclear, but this visit ended with Bronner refusing to leave the Dean’s office, getting arrested, and being committed to a mental hospital where he was subjected to electric shock therapy (more on that later). Six months in, he escaped the mental hospital and hitched a ride with a stranger who was headed to Los Angeles. His ride ended up ditching him in Las Vegas after Bronner revealed he had escaped from a mental hospital (unsurprising). Undeterred, Bronner posted up at a roulette table and turned the few dollars he had into enough cash to bankroll the rest of his journey.

Once in southern California, he resumed preaching while also producing soap that he gave away at his lectures or sold in small quantities to support himself. It was also around this time that he stared using the title “Dr. Bronner”, despite his lack of formal title. The soap (which really is quite good, in my experience) was incredibly popular, especially among the hippies in California around that time. Reportedly, once he noticed that people were more interested in his soap than his ideas, he began to put his thoughts onto the labels of the soap bottles, leading to idiosyncratic label that we see today.

Unsurprisingly, a man like Dr. Bronner was more interested in achieving global unity than the vagaries of business. In the 1980s, Bronner had gone completely blind (which he blamed on the electric shock therapy) and his company owed more than a million dollars to the IRS. That would have been the end of the soap company, had it not been for his son reluctantly taking over the business. Today, the company leads the industry in ethical material-sourcing and fair labor practices.

Emanuel Bronner died in 1997 after leading an eccentric and, if not fuller, certainly more interesting life than most (there are many bits I left out). His legacy includes his “Moral ABC” philosophical manifesto (which you can download as a pdf here), his family-run soap company, and the Sea Shepherd-operated vessel MV Emanuel Bronner, which works to protect endangered harbor porpoises in the Baltic sea.

Oh, and by the way, this is what he looked like.