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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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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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Please help us find our missing cat.
Please help us find our missing cat.
Another photo of Jabie.
Another photo of Jabie.

Social media and our missing cat

Just about a week ago, our sweet little cat, Jabie, disappeared from our Bay View home. Maybe one of us left the patio door open a bit, I’m not sure. But after hours upon hours of walking the neighborhood, taping up posters and talking to every stranger we see, she’s still nowhere to be found.

Jabie’s never run away before, and my last experience with a missing animal was before Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. This time around it’s so different.

Even though Jabie remains elusive, I’m incredibly moved by the response we’ve seen on social media. Friends and strangers alike have shared her photos and done their best to chip in. It’s a reminder that our neighborhood really cares, even when they don’t know me or my family or my missing cat. Even if Jabie doesn’t come, I know this community has tried its best.

Still, I’m not giving up hope. Jabie is microchipped and healthy and has all of her claws. We’re told that runaway indoor cats stay close to home (we’re in the Fernwood area of Bay View – close to the lake, just south of Oklahoma), so I’ve left food on the deck, as well as blankets and chairs and clothes that are familiar to her.

Assuming she’s not lost or injured or worse, she can come home whenever she’s ready. I just hope that’s soon.

We’re checking MADACC every day, and our friends at the Wisconsin Humane Society have reposted our many Facebook messages. People who follow me on Twitter (and those who don’t) have retweeted our Craigslist ad. Children in the neighborhood have been on the lookout, too.

It’s a very sad time for our family, although really, our young daughter is taking Jabie’s disappearance better than my wife and I have. We’ve had Jabie for 11 years – we adopted her when she was a stray the first time around – and while she’s not a young cat, she’s not an old one, either.

I just want to know.

But based on Milwaukee’s generous and overwhelming offers of assistance, you already know that.…

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It's been a long time since the Dandy Warhols played in Milwaukee.
It's been a long time since the Dandy Warhols played in Milwaukee.
"This is a secret beautiful city," Courtney Taylor-Taylor said at the top of the show.
"This is a secret beautiful city," Courtney Taylor-Taylor said at the top of the show.
Performing a solo version of "Every Day is a Holiday."
Performing a solo version of "Every Day is a Holiday."
The band played 90 minutes of inspired music.
The band played 90 minutes of inspired music.

Dandy Warhols, fans share secrets of good music, great city

I’ve been lucky enough to see the Dandy Warhols live several times over the last few years. But each time, I’ve had to travel to Chicago or Madison to hear them, which is a small sacrifice for one of my favorite bands over the last 15-plus years.

So the opportunity to see the Dandys at Turner Hall was a welcome one, and as usual, provided for a great venue to see the Portland-based band Saturday night. If these four rockers are getting mellower with age, it’s only a welcome change, as their 90-minute set felt neither dated or sleepy. From glam to trance to electronic dance, it felt just right.

By far, this band’s best work came from 2000’s "Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia," and last time I saw them, they played that whole album in order to celebrate its 13th anniversary.

But the Dandy Warhols are much more than that incredible album. I love the album before, "The Dandy Warhols Come Down," and the one after, "Welcome to the Monkey House," and bits and pieces of other records, too.

Fortunately, the Dandys touched on all these records, old and not so old, sending the medium-sized, but knowledgeable crowd into a trance-like state with "Be-In," "I Love You" and "The Last High," sprinkling in the higher-energy singles like "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" and, of course, "Bohemian Like You."

After 2010’s "The Capitol Years," (and really, from "Dig"), fans learned there are two versions of the Dandy Warhols: the over-produced, radio friendly one and the under-produced band’s preference. We got both tonight, but more of the stripped down experience with "We Used To Be Friends." Courtney Taylor-Taylor performed a beautiful solo version of "Every Day is a Holiday," which I’ve heard at each of the last four shows – and it doesn’t get old.

Taylor-Taylor, of course, never got too excitable, but that’s his style. He sounded just a little raspy at times, but gave it his all, even if some of the songs were a little slower than on the records. H…

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Apple picking: a great family activity.
Apple picking: a great family activity.
Follow the yellow brick road.
Follow the yellow brick road.
Pick peppers, too.
Pick peppers, too.
Lots and lots of apples.
Lots and lots of apples.

Picking, grinning

I just wanted to pick some apples with my family. So last weekend, I abandoned my normal go-to fruit picking farm, Barthel’s in Mequon, to take a gander at Apple Holler in Sturtevant.

Big mistake.

I probably should’ve looked at the 500 cars with Illinois plates and kept on driving to the Mars Cheese Castle. But I stood in line long enough to realize that the cost of entry for picking apples for a family of three was $60 (not counting apples, of course). I couldn’t bring myself to pay that, so I instead plunked down $24 to pet some baby goats and wander around a playground with my wife and 6-year-old.

Sunday morning, we regrouped and headed back to Mequon, although not to Barthel’s. On a friend’s tip, we visited R-Apples (Roesch Farm), right next door at 12422 Farmdale Rd. What a wonderful, low-key experience.

Not only was it peaceful and quiet, we picked apples and pears of many different varieties. Then we headed to their vegetable garden, and picked peppers and raspberries.

The cool summer has delayed all of these crops, so tons are still available – and will be for weeks. As usual, my child’s short attention span meant we only stayed for an hour, but had we continued, we could’ve also picked tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, dill, parsley, basil, chives and mint. This farm has it all.

Best of all: I used the peppers we picked to cook chili on Sunday night, and it was easily the best chili I ever made.

We left with lots and lots of produce – at a cost of only $18.25. This is how fruit picking is supposed to be. Not just a folly for wealthy Chicagoan suburbanites who put on flannel shirts to show their kids what the country looks like.

So now I know: the best fruit picking in the area is in Mequon. Barthel’s and R-Apples. With picking running through the end of October, I may even go back again. You should, too.

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