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"Breakwater and pile drivers wrecked on South Shore. Sections of the lake shore bluff washed away."
"Breakwater and pile drivers wrecked on South Shore. Sections of the lake shore bluff washed away."

This cold snap has nothing on 1913

It’s fun to complain and get worked up about the weather. Especially in the age of social media, "snowmaggedons" are a viral, shared experience … and in the last year, we’ve had plenty to talk about it, too.

It’s starting early this year. With temperatures plunging this week, people are pre-complaining about a new polar vortex, even though that’s not what’s going on.

Can you imagine, though, how social media would’ve melted down exactly 101 years ago? Nov. 11, 2013 was the end of the "Big Blow," the "Freshwater Fury" or the "White Hurricane," a hurricane-force blizzard that killed more than 250 people and and destroyed 19 ships.

I knew nothing of this storm until my office neighbor, Steve Palec, brought it up. This "November Witch" sounded insane, and there were no hashtags to describe it. Observers – presumably there was no round-the-clock storm team squawking on AM radio back then – first noticed the storm on Nov. 6 on the western side of Lake Superior. The Detroit News forecast "moderately brisk" winds that day. On Nov. 7, the Port Huron Times-Herald upgraded the storm to "moderately severe." Coast Guard stations raised signal flags with a sequence of red, white and red lanterns, which meant that hurricane winds were moving alongside a blizzard.

The Nov. 10, 1913 Milwaukee Journal gave a short forecast that didn’t seem to jive with the emergency state of affairs: "Breakwater and pile drivers wrecked on South Shore. Sections of the lake shore bluff washed away. Coldest early November day in many years. Velocity of wind, twenty-five miles an hour. Snow expected."

Snow expected, indeed.

Over the next few days, the lake effect blizzard dumped incredible weather on the midwest. The Milwaukee harbor lost its entire south breakwater and much of the surrounding South Shore Park area in Bay View that had been recently renovated. Cleveland saw six foot snow drifts, stranding passengers in their powerless streetcars for two nights. With waves as hi…

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Reunited and it feels so good.
Reunited and it feels so good.
Back home and eating again.
Back home and eating again.

After 25 days, how we found our missing cat

I really didn’t have any hope left after 25 days. As we entered the fourth week without our sweet, kind, missing cat, Jabie, I was beginning to come to peace with the reality that I’d never see her again.

Then, yesterday, less than four blocks from home, a woman called my wife and said she had cajoled a black cat into her basement. My wife bolted home from work and immediately recognized Jabie coming up the stairs. Just to be sure, she took her to the closest vet to scan her microchip. And it came back as a match from Elmbrook Humane Society.

Skinny and scruffy, but otherwise not visibly worse for the wear, Jabie is home now.

I still can’t believe it. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, or anywhere in the 53207 ZIP code, really, you may already know this story. Jabie, our 11-year-old rescue cat quietly escaped from our home around Oct. 2. We assume our young daughter (or maybe one of us) left the patio door open a crack. As soon as we discovered she was gone, we immediately sprung into action. She'd never left the house before since before we adopted her as a 4-month-old kitten.

The first week, our family wandered the neighborhood, putting up posters and following any and all false leads. In addition to wandering miles each day, we took to social media, posting on both our personal pages, but also through the incredibly supportive "Bay View Lost/Found Pets" page. We exhausted our resources through both the Wisconsin Humane Society and MADACC. When we thought that everyone we knew had seen our many posts, we used OnMilwaukee.com’s Facebook presence to boost the post to tens of thousands of users on top of our existing 30,000 Facebook friends.

The next week we continued sharing and walking. I blogged about Jabie. I dove through bushes and alleys meeting all the feral and "outside cats" in my neighborhood – and there are many. I met new neighbors. I made new friends on Facebook who sent good thoughts and kept their eyes and ears open. People…

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Success!
Success!

Apple Pay: not ready for prime time

Apple’s new killer app, Apple Pay, may indeed someday change global commerce for good.

That day isn’t here yet, however. Three days after launch, my experiences with the NFC-based payment / tap-to-pay system show that Apple Pay is still very, very beta. At this point, you may find yourself using it barely, if at all.

Available only on the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ running iOS 8.1, you will not be greeted with any calls to action to set up Apple Pay. You’re on your own to find it in Passbook or Settings, although configuration – when it works – is straightforward.

Only two of my seven credit and debit cards in my physical wallet worked in my virtual wallet. The "take a photo to scan your card" feature worked successfully on the card numbers, but not on the expiration dates. The rest of the process was smooth and intuitive.

The cards that don’t work make Apple Pay pretty limiting. While one of my Chase cards worked, another two were not supported. Nor was anything from U.S. Bank or Target. My American Express card worked right away. At the bottom of this blog post is a list of cards that are accepted and not accepted. You may have more luck than I did.

In the real world, my experience today was sloppy, at best. Not many retailers accept Apple Pay yet, but Walgreens and Radio Shack supposedly do, so I strolled over to the Grand Avenue mall to try it out.

At Walgreens, I asked the clerk if the store accepts Apple Pay. "I honestly don’t know," she replied, having no idea what I was talking about. I told her I’d try it, anyway, so I held my iPhone 6 up to the credit card scanner, put my finger on the home button, and five seconds and two tries later, my purchase of Starbursts Minis went through as if I’d made a regular credit card purchase.

I stopped at Radio Shack next. I’m not a fan of this place, anyway, and today didn’t change that. I picked out a cheap iPhone case and took it to the register. I asked the clerk if she accepted Apple Pay. I mi…

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This watch, probably like your watch, came from China.
This watch, probably like your watch, came from China.
It doesn't take long to realize that this site wasn't built by native English speakers.
It doesn't take long to realize that this site wasn't built by native English speakers.

Taking Alibaba for a test drive

Well before the Chinese eCommerce company Alibaba began making IPO rumblings in America, I was familiar with its offerings.

Not only have I stumbled across Alibaba products many times over the years, as an entrepreneur I’ve been intrigued with this company that is bigger than Amazon and eBay combined – and is almost unknown to Americans.

I’d never bought anything from it … until this month.

After hearing all the stock excitement, I wanted to see how the experience of this soon-to-be-global company matches up with the sites I use regularly, so I did a little experiment. I searched one of its subsidiaries, AliExpress, for something I’d never heard of: a watch with a denim band.

Our senior programmer at OnMilwaukee.com is a bit of a self-professed raw denim nerd, and I figured I’d spend a few bucks to buy him a token of my appreciation of his hard work. My search for "denim watch" yielded 627 resulted, and in fact several looked good and cheap; $5.99, $5.79 and $11.93, all with free shipping. It seemed worth the minimal risk to at least get some good blog fodder.

While each of the transactions worked, Alibaba feels very much Chinese – or at least non American. The omnipresent generic, slightly fuzzy stock photography, the Asian style kerning of the fonts, even the verbiage itself; it’s clearly not written by native English speakers. Even the available credit cards that can be used for purchase include several brands I’ve never heard of, and I’ve done enough international traveling to recognize non-American financial institutions. Notably, Paypal is missing.

But three things jumped out at me as major red flags in a all of this. The hoops one has to jump through to buy multiple items are significant; there’s no commitment when you click "buy," and the shipping time is snail-like, at best.

Keep in mind that AliExpress is a little like a less crafty version of Etsy; you’re dealing one-on-one with the creators of the items directly in China, lan…

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