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The so-called "Magic Key."
The so-called "Magic Key." (Photo: Manitowoc County Sherif's Department)

My last word on Steven Avery

I didn’t even see the first "Making a Murderer" piece our columnist Jessica McBride submitted to us over the holidays last month. I only took notice when our site traffic jumped through the roof the Monday after New Year’s Eve.

Something strange and unprecedented was afoot. We’re a digital magazine that averages 30,000+ visitors a day, perhaps up to 500 concurrent users, mostly from southeastern Wisconsin. Suddenly, our servers were seeing 175,000 unique visitors every day. We saw 4,000 concurrent visitors hit the site at one point. Our servers were almost melting down under the weight of all this national traffic, but they bent, not broke.

Of course, I instructed our staff to binge-watch "Making a Murderer," and I was also appalled with what I saw in the docu-series. However, Jessica had years of crime and courts reporting experience, long before we employed her as a weekly columnist. I trusted her editorial judgment, even when our staff found ourselves group-editing breaking exclusives at 11 p.m.

It was time to publish our first OnMilwaukee book. "Rush To Judgment" came together in what I assume is a record time, which was about two weeks.

We seized the hot hand, sent her to Manitowoc (along with our regular sports reporter, Jimmy Carlton) and all burned the candle at both ends to talk to new sources – and dig through evidence that was glossed over or ignored during the docuseries and previous local news coverage. You can find all our voluminous coverage here, although I’d like to especially point out the amazing color piece that Jimmy ran about how the people of Manitowoc felt about all this national attention.

See, my recollection of the Avery case, from this Milwaukeean’s perspective, was a little different than what people in Manitowoc County experienced. That’s outside our DMA, a place we only drive through if we’re heading to Door County for a vacation. While a few Milwaukee TV stations covered the trial, I didn't remember it being the quest…

Cut the cord. Or at least unplug it for a bit.
Cut the cord. Or at least unplug it for a bit.

Don't read this!

We're all connected 24/7 to computers, tablets, phones and television. But there's more to life than being online – even for a digital media company! – so this week we're excited to show you ways to connect with family and friends, even when there's no signal. Steinhafels presents OnMilwaukee Unplugged Week, a celebration of all things analog. Sit back, log into these stories and then log into the real world.

Just kidding. Please do read this.

But we’re not kidding about Unplugged Week. Sometimes you need to turn off that the phone, computer, tablet or TV for a little while. It’s OK, and it’s healthy.

Let me explain:

Here at OnMilwaukee, the sales and editorial departments are two very distinct entities, but we’re not afraid to collaborate when it makes sense. And this was one of those times. In a sales meeting with Steinhafels last year, their marketing staff pitched us on the idea of a week dedicated to analog, unplugged content, and we liked it.

After all, we’re a digital media company and online magazine that relies on, in part, page views and ad impressions to drive revenue – but we’re all addicted to our smart phones and Netflix and social media, sometimes at the detriment to our friends and family. Logically, it makes sense for a furniture store, however, to push the concept of in-home entertainment. This week, we’re talking about that, but a whole lot more, too.

We’re all having some fun with it. For example, Lori Fredrich argues e-books will never replace paper cookbooks and Bobby Tanzilo talked to a vinyl-focused DJ.

So yeah, telling people to log off OnMilwaukee is a weird proposition. We get it. But taking a break from all that screen time is important, too.

Here’s my suggestion: read this week of custom unplugged content. Then next week, spend a little less time online and actually do some of the stuff we suggested.

We’ll be here when you get back.

Looking north from the rooftop bar at Mandalay Bay.
Looking north from the rooftop bar at Mandalay Bay.

Las Vegas, Wisconsin

LAS VEGAS – I went to Vegas with a plan, and that plan was to have no plan. I came here to get away from work, not to do more of it, like I usually do on "vacation."

But that wasn’t in the cards, for three reasons:

First, my old college friend Paul and I stayed in a hotel suite so opulent that it must be documented. Secondly, I ran into Milwaukee and Wisconsin connections everywhere I went, so with my iPhone on me at all times, it was easy to capture video on the fly. And finally, we found ourselves right there just after Sunday’s bizarre crime scene, in which a homeless woman deliberately struck dozens of pedestrians. We jumped into reporter mode for a bit and documented what we saw, but more on that later.

We’ve stayed at The Tropicana several times before, mostly because the marketing staff is from Wisconsin and treats us so well. This was over the top, though.

We paid for our rooms, although at a tremendous discount; Paul and I stayed in their new Penthouse Sky Villas on the 20th floor of the Paradise Tower. Wow. Just wow.

Luxurious and enormous (about 2,700 square feet), it featured a 72-inch round marble-top dining table, ostrich leather chairs, original abstract artwork and a stunning gold leaf headboard in the master bedroom. Other highlights included a master bathroom with two walk-in steam showers with LED shower heads and a spacious whirlpool spa for two with a water spout pouring in from the ceiling (it took an hour to fill the tub, it was that big). We also had a (sadly unused) private massage room, a second bedroom and en suite, and a custom-built desk with an ostrich leatherette chair. Honestly, it felt like the pad from "The Hangover." I kept looking for the tiger. I never wanted to leave. But leave we eventually did.

Not before, however, experiencing two more Trop experiences that should be shared. First, we made a return visit to Bacio, which is offers excellent (and affordable) Italian bistro style food. More excitingly, we sat amo…

Kinda looks like a touring version of The Village People, doesn't it?
Kinda looks like a touring version of The Village People, doesn't it?

Growing up in the golden age of action figures

Kids these days. They’ve got it good.

Not only can they watch a million HD channels showing all sorts of kids shows anytime they want, but they also don’t know a world without DVRs, when you couldn’t just blow through boring commercials.

iPad games are free, plentiful and awesome (as proven my 7-year-old's reaction to seeing what Intellivision games looked like via YouTube: "Where are their faces, Daddy?"), and FaceTime means that video chatting with loved ones far away is literally child’s play.

But hey, not everything sucked when we were kids. I know this because my daughter plays with a bunch of the toys my parents saved from my childhood. As the new "Star Wars" opens this weekend, I’m reminded that we grew up in the golden age of action figures. Before video games and technology turned them into something else.

My Millennium Falcon didn’t need any batteries to be the coolest toy I owned (I wish I still had it, too).

It’s the continuing relevance of these toys that makes me think that us ‘70s and ‘80s kids were on to something. Think about it: I never played with my parents’ old toys, whatever they were. Maybe metal guns and Howdy Doody dolls? I simply had no interest.

But for all the "Frozen" dolls, Sofia the First swag, Shopkins and many, many other brands of toys I barely understand, my daughter also includes my old action figures, Hot Wheels and my wife’s Smurfs into her play repertoire. That includes embracing our movies, too: We’ve watched all the "Star Wars," but also "Back To The Future" and "Pee Wee’s Big Adventure" and tons of "Superfriends" and "Scooby Doo."

All this somehow makes me feel not so old.

It also gives me, as a parent, a chance to relive my own childhood and to see toys that have been stored away for more than 35 years come back to action in new, creative ways. I remember how I played with the General Lee Matchbox car and Han Solo from the planet Hoth. It’s cool to see another little person reimagine …