Freelance vs Employment, Part 2: Jumping In…Pinky Toe First.

I had my first meeting with my new clients about 2 weeks ago. I got some basic information, company name, domain, the logo file, etc. It was productive. And I got a check.

And immediately I walked out thinking…

How am I going to layout the site? Should I use a framework like Bootstrap or code manually? Should I use a CMS like Joomla or even WordPress? Do I have any imagery? Where am I going to get this imagery? Armed with a single logo, how the hell am I going to build an entire website? What have I gotten myself into?!

However with money in pocket and these being family friends of mine, I had no choice but to proceed.

As with all things in my life, I jumped in…in slow-mo.

That was MLK weekend. And instead of starting on the foundational work, I think I spent the rest of the weekend playing Planetside 2 and contemplating buying H1Z1. I ended up buying H1Z1.

But I did keep this project always at the back of my mind, even when spreading Vanu’s will on Auraxis* or killing zombies on the streets Pleasant Valley**.

What tools do I need for this? Bootstrap seemed like a logical choice since that’s what I had used at work. It was, and is, still fresh in my mind and would help further my nascent Bootstrap skills. Bootstrap is also excellent for quickly prototyping and turning out slick, responsive sites. On my first Bootstrap mini-site, I completed it in two weeks using only base components and little-to-no additional styling. And it looked great compared to what we were putting out only a couple of months earlier.

It also helped that my clients weren’t planning on doing a lot of edits to this website, at least in the near-to-mid term. So implementing a complex CMS wasn’t necessary. When that bridge comes, we/they can cross it. But for now, when the goal is to just have a web property, no point in being overly complex. Alright, mark platform choice off the list!

As with all things in my life, I jumped in…in slow-mo.

Hosting was another hurdle. While at work we use Network Solutions and GoDaddy (sigh), I knew these were expensive and shady, respectively. Luckily, I kept up the banter between other devs and designers when it came to hosting and domain registering. Reddit’s /r/webdev and /r/webdesign subreddits are excellent communities, even if lurking, to keep up-to-date with current problems and solutions facing the industry. One name that kept popping up was Namecheap. I had never used them, but I’m glad I did. I spent about $20 for a year of registering the domain and hosting the site. It was easy, I didn’t feel like I was misled or constantly being up-sold.

At this time, Google Domains was also being rolled-out. However, there seemed to be some hesitancy, at least among some in the community, on using a new Google product. While Google likes to tout “Do No Evil,” sometimes the evil is simply shutting down a non-performing service, even if popular. And that’s not a possibility I’d like my clients to have to deal with. Domains and hosting are so basic that you shouldn’t have to think about it until its time to renew.

Let others be the guinea pigs. This is my first foray into freelancing in years. Why complicate the project further?

So with those two things out-of-the-way, the real challenge was about to begin. How should this thing look?

*Auraxis is the planet in Planetside 2 where players battles it out. Vanu is one of 3 factions. I wear purple spandex and shoot pew pew’s.

** Pleasant Valley is a place in the new Alpha-status zombie survival game H1Z1. 

Freelance vs Employment, Part 1: Where’s My Designer?!

I’m actually employed as a web designer/front-end developer/website manager/web generalist. And occasional tech-support guru. That’s what happens when you know more about computers than everyone else…and have solid Google-fu skills. But that’s neither here nor there. So it’s rare for me to actually take on any freelance work. In the over 9 years I’ve been employed, I’ve (attempted) to take on only 3 freelance side jobs.

It’s rare for me to actually take on any freelance work.

This is mostly because I don’t trust in my ability, especially as a designer. I say I’m a “Web Designer,” but really I’m more of an HTML/CSS coder. I’ve always worked this way. One of my first personal sites working with CSS was of a mono-chrome, minimalistic design that I made myself (See part of here: Chaotic Reflections…Yeah, I was an “edgy” young teen). Looking at it now, I guess it might be considered ahead of its time.

Back then, my “designer” was my younger brother. He was into the Counter Strike world (and still is), and was always trying to make clan/team websites. So he’d make a mockup in Photoshop or even MS Paint, and then I’d slice it up and start coding everything. And the sites actually looked alright and functioned properly. I don’t have any examples unfortunately.

2013 coding skills

Our conference website in 2014, that I “designed.”

But left to my own devices or little guidance…

To the left is a screenshot of my work’s conference site for last year, 2014. Nothing too impressive. Small-sized font and packed text. Ooh, two-column use! An embedded video! Looks more like a newsletter than a webpage, really.

Not a lot of “design” going on here.

Surprisingly, this is actually better than our previous conference websites.

Jumping to the present at work, I’ve been lucky that for the past year I’ve had a designer. With her providing the layout, and with me and Bootstrap — I finally took the dive and Bootstrap is paying off — we’ve been able to create excellent sites.

The conference site for 2015, using Bootstrap and modern design.

The conference site for 2015, using Bootstrap and modern design.

In 6-8 months, the quality of work I’ve put out, again for work, has jumped forward by light years. We’re finally using modern design paradigms, responsive elements, and just overall prettier, fancier things.

But, again, it’s because someone can give me artistic direction.

Which brings to the whole freelance situation. 

I recently took on a small job for family friends. They — a father and son — are taking over a small business and asked me make a website for them. Yeah OK, sure. I’ll take some extra money. And with 2 Bootstrap sites completed at work in as many months, I was feeling confident.

It’s just me though. No designer. No copy writer, either. This is becoming quite a challenge. How am I going to this?

Always the Odd One Out

All I wanted to do was center an embedded YouTube video to some text above it…

(In the last image, accidentally moused over the navigation menu. Oops.)

 

UPDATE: BOOM! FIXED!

At first, the problem fixed itself…mostly. The two divs — sidebar and the main content area — were at least now on the same “line.” But there was still a vertical scrollbar that clipped a few pixels. So I wrapped it everything in another container and set a min-height on it. That got rid of the scrollbar! I still don’t understand how it “fixed” itself though. IE magic, I suppose. No one knows how it works.

I win, IE. This time...

A small triumph!

Nifty Tool: ExactFile

Donning the IT/Tech Support hat today. I’ve been instructed to move a lot of the old image and video files from our server to a portable hard drive. Our backup size has increased lately, causing the organization data overage charges. Understandable.

Lots of Files

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Dat.

One of the problems with moving large amounts of files and folders is that you never really know if things are getting transferred or not. Or being transferred correctly. And there’s no way in hell, I could manually check every file. I just moved 14GB. Of images files. Even a “random” sampling doesn’t cover all the bases.

So I found a nifty free tool that verifies the data via MD5 (and other) hashes. It’s called ExactFile. It’s Windows-based, so sorry OSX or Linux users.

Tell it a file or folder and it will generate a checksum that you can compare against after it’s been moved! My favorite part is that it “automates” the process. It can generate a small app with the checksum before moving the file or folder. After you move the data and the app, you run the app and it’ll let you know if the contents have been changed. Yay for safe transfers!

At the very least, this is a “CYA” thing. So if anyone ever asks why such and such file is corrupted, I can say “Hey, I did data verification immediately after the transfer; it was all good.”

 

Quirky CSS and Clean Code

For at least one week, maybe stretching to two, I’ve been absolutely perplexed by a problem on some of our microsite (standalone HTML) pages. For some reason, in Chrome and Safari, the microsite pages are not displaying correctly. The page width was displaying incorrectly and forcing unnecessary horizontal scrollbars. Even worse, shrinking the browser window past a certain point would make the left-side of the page get “eaten” by the left margin!

UPDATE: In the midst of writing this, I found the problem!

Now that the problem is fixed, it’s time to start implementing on all 20-odd pages with this design, amongst other things I need to tune. It turns out that the original designer was using an interesting implementation of centering a div container on the page. Now, I’m no CSS pro, so perhaps there was a reason. And I think the reason had to do with a absolutely positioned header tag that would stay positioned regardless of zoom level and window resizing. Instead of trying to mess with the position, I’m just going to put the text into the image it overlays. No pros or cons of leaving it as text. Just means I’ll need to use three different images instead of the one that was initially used. No big deal.

Extraneous JS Code

Approximately 1000 lines. That do absolutely nothing. On about 20 pages. SMH.

One of the reasons it took me so long to find the problem was the mess of code that I was looking through. For some reason, the designer decided to include on every one of these related pages code that related to the use of a slideshow/image carousel. Even though we only use the carousel code on 4 of the 20-odd pages. And this is straight javascript and jQuery stuff. Not linked to a separate .js file; actually in HTML source code.

Additionally, as part of the styling of those carousels, all the related CSS.

And CSS for other design elements not even present on the majority of the pages.

There’s another issue of why this mostly shared CSS is even in the source instead of a separate stylesheet. But I’m willing to overlook that, because I have a bad tendency to do the same thing.


 

In high school, I took several programming classes. At one point, I wanted to be a developer. Then I learned math is hard, programming is difficult, and I became a designer. Neither here nor there.

One of the things that my teacher always stressed was the need for clean code. Code that’s easy to read and easy to understand. Especially if you knew others were going to look at it. Furthermore, there shouldn’t be extraneous statements and variables and the like. If you create and instantiate a variable or a function, but end up not using it, get rid of it. It serves no purpose other than to embiggen (perfectly cromulent usage) the source and perhaps even create confusion. Also, comments. Comment, comment, comment. Comment until you can comment no more. And then add more.

This original designer did apparently did not get that spiel. Seriously. After “refactoring” the HTML — I don’t know if that’s a cromulent usage of “refactoring,” but it sounds technical — the source for one page went from just over 1300 lines to about 250 lines. That’s 1050 lines of literal junk! Not OK.

Finally the code became readable. And I re-added the indentation in the HTML for added clarity (although it’ll probably get stripped at some point…Stupid CMS editors…). Now I could understand what I was seeing. And from there, I found the property that was messing everything up.

So moral of the story: Clean code; Just do it.

Email Segmentation Mystery

I’ve been monitoring metrics on my organization’s email marketing campaigns for the last few months. I should’ve been doing this all along, but hey. At least I started.

Earlier this week, I was asked to design and send a campaign for a survey. This survey was intentionally segmented due to the fact that some questions didn’t pertain to one group and vice versa. That meant two similar surveys. However, the email message itself was identical, other than the links. Those two messages went out yesterday.

In email marketing, the first 24 hours after a campaign goes out are the most important. That’s pretty obvious if you looked at your own inbox and see what you did or didn’t read. If you didn’t read something you received today, how likely are you to read it tomorrow or even the next day, considering you also have new emails coming in tomorrow and the next day, so on and so forth? The chances diminish quickly. Even 24 hours is a long time to let an email sit unopened.

So here I am looking at the metrics. We’re getting responses – not sure if the amounts are good or bad yet. But something interesting did happen when comparing metrics between the two messages:

Group BGD - Where respondents clicked on links.

Group B – Where respondents clicked on links. 38.1% button vs. 61.9 text.

Group AD - Links respondents clicked.

Group A – Links respondents clicked. 56.3% button vs. 43.8% text.

I redacted some of the identifiable information. Not that it’s too hard to figure out who my employer is. But anyway…

These are screenshots of each survey sent to its respective groups: A and B. The only difference between the two are the survey URLs. There are two identical survey links in each message: the dark blue button, and a text link immediately below. In case the button doesn’t show up, recipients can still access the survey via the text link.

In Group B, nearly 62% of people who clicked on a survey link used the text link, versus 38% who clicked the button link.

However, in Group A, 44% used the text link, while 56% used the button link.

What? I didn’t expect a difference here. So what’s going on? Why does one group prefer using a button while the other prefers using a text link?

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data about either group to really determine why that is. That said, I have at least one guess.

The two groups I targeted are in the same industry and same country, however they operate in two distinct areas of that industry (both operate throughout the country).

My assumption is that Group A tends to be younger and therefore a slightly more technologically savvy audience. They quickly realized the blue button looking thing is indeed a hyperlinked button.

In contrast, Group B tends to be older, and therefore less tech savvy than their Group A peers. They thought the blue button was just a visual element, but right away knew the underlined, differently colored text was a hyperlink.

Now obviously drawing conclusions from a single campaign (or experiment) isn’t wise. Especially since I can’t control all the variables; there are plenty of factors that I probably haven’t even thought of.

On the other hand, this may be pointing me in the right direction in regards to future campaigns. Maybe I do need to segment out all emails, with some that are more graphically appealing to certain groups, while others get more text-heavy (*shudder*) emails.

More experiments will need to be done, but this is definitely an exciting development. Even if this is a fluke, this kind of stuff is right up my alley. I do love a good mystery.

Website Shenanigans

I’ve been working on this website for at least the last year. But the last six months have been the worst. Six months ago, we finally changed the DNS settings so that our address pointed to the new website.

During this time, I’ve had the “pleasure” of working with what has to be one of the worst combined CMS/AMS systems around. How our luck led us here, I know not. Wait, I do: $$. Not cheap, but definitely a lot cheaper than the other solutions presented. But whatever, I have little control over that. That’s “above my pay grade,” as they say.

From Day 1, it was a disaster. I kinda expected it though. After all, I basically made an “executive decision” that we were switching. Obviously there was planning to this and I shared it with everyone. But it was literally a now or never situation. At that point, we were already a year into this project, if not more. A lot of “esoteric” planning, very little doing. We had missed our self-imposed launch date at least twice. We had already committed money to this project and paid for the platform. How much more money and time (wasted) were we going to throw at this before we launched?

If there’s anything I know about people (including myself), sometimes you just gotta force people out of the pan and into the fire. So that’s what I did.

And God have mercy…Oh, did I burn…

This wasn’t working right. That was broken. Where is that page? What happened to it? Does the feature even work? I thought they said we could do that? “We need to go back to the old website!”

“Fix the website!” was basically all I heard for at least those first two months in the Fall. It was said jokingly, but I knew how frustrated my staff was getting.

I contemplated quitting a few times. No joke. But students loans won’t pay themselves. And quitting in the middle of a massive project? Might as well just have a profanity-laced meltdown in the office. At least you get to have some fun while burning the bridges.

So I persevered, as did my staff. We devoted hours to the project, doing all the practical planning and execution we should have been doing before the switchover. We started taking matters into our own hands, instead of relying on a third-party contractor whom had become more and more MIA. I’m still not sure what happened to him, or the company he was with.

About three months ago, around the beginning of 2014, I heard this for the first time “Now that we’re transitioning into general maintenance and updating of the site, away from creation…” What a relief. All major sections (except one explained further down) of the website were essentially complete.

Before I go on, I said that the staff and I persevered. It wasn’t because the boss had his hands around our necks. Or that the directors were fuming. Or that members were leaving en masse.

None of that happened (well, the boss was certainly starting to breathe down my neck…Which I get; totally expected).

It was the website and the actual developers and support staff of the platform that were the greatest barrier to success. And in many ways, they continue to be.

I suppose I should shed some light on why we switched websites in the first place.

The previous platform was a bit dated. Within the CMS, no ability to embed objects. Objects like YouTube videos or other media players. Or even an RSS feed. Little, if any, Javascript ability. This was just last year, 2013, that we were still operating that site.

The WYSIWYG editor the platform had was certainly lacking. Even when editing the HTML instead of using the WYSIWYG editor, you never knew how the page would actually render. It was a crapshoot, just hoping you’d come out on top on the first go.

The overall look and feel was dated. We even when through a full rebranding campaign and the site still looked old. Looking back, it was more or less just a change of colors and logos.

How are we supposed to say we’re a leading, global group — and we most certainly are — when our site just looked…blah?

We had been using that platform since about 2004, I believe. So for nearly ten years. In the world of web, that’s basically an eternity.

So it was time to go. I think our previous developers knew it, too.

Speaking of the previous developers, they were great. The best support you could find. They customized solutions for us as much as they could. And if they couldn’t they’d at least try to help us find an alternative work-around. There was even a time I royally messed up some links in a marketing email that I sent out one Friday evening, way, way back. The developers, having been contacted by my boss (I thought I was going to get fired), quickly got on it, doing some backend work to make sure the wrong links still went to the right place. I have been grateful ever since.

Of course, a nearly ten-year relationship would ideally yield that level of support.

Switching platforms and developers, it was obvious we’d have to build that rapport up again. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to do so.

Like I mentioned previously, there were many problems. And a lot of it was due to not being knowledgable enough to navigate the system. Buy hey, nothing like baptism by fire. Seriously, that’s how I do.

So who does know the system? The support staff does. Or at least should.

Wrong. OK, half-wrong, half-right. They usually know how the system works. But “usually” doesn’t cut it. It’s your product, your platform. You, if anyone, should know the ins and outs of it.

I once asked if a jQuery slideshow plugin I found online would work. They didn’t know. At least not until I tested it and it worked. And thank God it did. Because that was my workaround for a problem they couldn’t fix in the first place.

The biggest crisis I encountered was this searchable database of our members. It was going to be a key feature of our website. We hadn’t had the feature on our old site. Previously, if people wanted to know something about our members, they’d have to call or email us and we’d have to query the database ourselves. Most importantly, we were promised that it was possible.

Well, there must have been some kind of miscommunication during the sales pitches. Miscommunication at best, mislead at worst. Either way, this database feature was held up. Even now, it hasn’t been released. But I’m really, really close.

The entire problem revolved around two fields of data that are intrinsically linked. One describes the other. The first field, by itself, is informative. The second, the one that describes the first, is useless by itself. But you put them together and the result is totally valuable. The possible values for each field are basically infinite.

Easier to understand if I give an example.


 

Imagine I’m a car salesman.

I sell cars, trucks, motorcycle, and I just started selling ATVs.

Vehicles have wheels. Obviously. I’m still waiting for my hovercar, but I suspect I’ll die before then.

  • Cars: 4 wheels.
  • Motorcycles: 2 wheels.
  • ATVs: 3 or 4 wheels.
  • Trucks: 4, 6, or 8 wheels (I sell semis, too).

I can tell people that I sell those four kinds of vehicles. That’s informative.

I can also only tell someone I sell vehicles with 2, 3, 4, 6, or 8 wheels. That’s…less informative, if at all. I’m sure they’d look at me cockeyed and think I’m the worst salesman in the world (apt, very apt).

But put those two fields together and you have a pretty good idea of what specific *forms* of the individual types of vehicles I sell. I can definitely say I sell both three-wheeler and four-wheeler ATVs. And that I sell small passenger trucks, as well heavy-duty trucks, and semi-trucks.


 

Get it? So yeah, that was the central issue.

No one knew if it would work. For months (this was one of the tasks that was being worked on way beyond the switchover because of how central it was) all I got was “Yeah, yeah we can do it.” or “Not sure I understand, but we can probably do it.” Even our third-party contractor, who was managing this aspect of the whole project at the time ,was convinced it could be done.

It wasn’t until I sat around trying to figure out how to fix this, after the contractor went MIA (most likely over this), and created that stupid example and submitted it to the support staff and developers that I finally got the answer I needed.

No, it cannot be done. The database system with the platform did not allow any such “links” between fields. Furthermore, given how we had the data in our tables, there was no way to map it to the websites database, even if the “links” were possible. It’d all have to be manual entry.

It took a year to figure that out, and in the end, I had to the legwork to even get to the right question. Their developers could provide no alternative; a trend with these guys. I had to farm this out to another guy who works with us to create the custom solution.

Today — and this is what prompted this post — I found out that I can’t change an uploaded file from public to private or vice versa. I have a library of over 300 files that I’ve been told now needs to be private, accessible to signed-in members only. I was provided an “alternative” this time: delete all the files and re-upload them, except with the new private status.

Each file has to be uploaded individually. Shoot me.

It’s things like this. From the complex to the simple to the downright mundane that just can’t be done. Or they don’t know if it can be done. Or if it can be done, there’s almost always some kind of trade-off. Like dealing with the devil; always wants a pound of flesh.

They recently upgraded their WYSIWYG editor. It’s pretty nice. Admittedly, it was good (better than our previous platform, for sure) to begin with. I was excited. My colleague, who doesn’t know HTML/CSS as well as I do, was excited. To be safe, I asked if pure HTML/CSS still rendered properly. They said yes, and they were right. Except in one place that allows custom content. The blogs system. Why that one place?

Because they removed the ability to edit the code directly just in that single system. For, what I can tell, no reason at all. Was not announced anywhere. Not in their release notes or even in their informal webinars, which I attended.

When I asked about it, at first I was told it was a bug by the first level support. So it got escalated. A few days later, I’m looking for a status update. I’m told that there is currently no update, since it’s a “feature request.” As a “feature request,” there’s no timetable on deployment because who knows if it’s going to be implemented.

Wait. Huh? You said it was a bug! Now it was planned this way? Why? Who? What?

There was the tradeoff. Nicer editor; gets stealthily removed from a subsystem.

For anyone who’s never worked with a WYSIWYG editor like TinyMCE or CKEditor or any blog editor, they’re a blessing and curse. Usually a curse.

When inputting brand new content, it usually works pretty well and can seriously speed up page creation. Kinda like this blog post. I don’t have to do any code to make it display properly. Each time I press “enter” on the keyboard, <p></p> tags are automatically put in.

But with content that already exists, like in a Word Doc or PDF…forget about it. You can copy and paste it into the editor, but then you nearly always have to go back into the code to “clean up” and re-format.

I could go on and on about this platform and all its problems and all the headache and heartburn it’s caused me and my staff. But then I’d never end this post.

And to be absolutely fair, there are lots of bells and whistles that work great and that I’m glad we have. You’d think the ability to embed YouTube videos passé. YouTube’s been around since 2005 or so and who isn’t posting videos everywhere. But for us, with that first embed, it was like the future had opened up to us.

We probably looked like a bunch of cavemen grinning at each other, like we just invented the wheel. But it really was a big deal.

The new jobs board system is really taking off. A lot less maintenance and work from the previous PDFs someone had to make and maintain. All web-based now.

So, again, there were and continue to be benefits for us switching. But at this price, with all the BS and hassle? I really can’t ever see myself saying “Yeah.”

Next week, my colleague and I will be attending the developers’ first user conference. We’re coming with a list, an attitude, and all the frustration of the staff.

I intend to make my voice heard and get what I want. If we keep using this system — and we will because we (read: the bosses) have no intentions of doing this all over again in the short-to-mid-term — they must make changes.

Even if they do, I can never recommend this product, this company, to other groups. I don’t even understand how they’ve been in business this long (at least 10 years).

I’ve grown weary of this website and its shenanigans. It has to stop.

Missouri, the next Kansas

I’ve lived in Missouri for about 20 years now. I’m not from originally from here (I hail from the Great State of Illinois and its capital City of Chicago). But I’ve definitely grown up here, in the suburbs of Kansas City. Although crossing into Illinois from St. Louis always evokes a sense of excitement and happiness, crossing the other way always elicits calm and ease. So it pains me when one of my two homestates attracts bad publicity. Today, it just so happens to be Missouri that has the attention of the nation and possibly the world. More precisely, US Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District has been drawn himself and his state into the limelight. For those who  don’t know what the 2nd Congressional District is (and I just looked it up), it encompasses much of suburban eastern St. Louis. Pretty much everything that is not St. Louis in their Metro is the 2nd District.

Anyway, over a weekend interview with St. Louis’ local Fox affiliate, Rep. Akin had some interesting words about kinds of rape, women’s physiology, and abortion:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from rape] really rare,” Akin told FOX 2’s Jaco Report. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist and not attacking the child.” (“Todd Akin “legitimate rape” comment fallout begins,” Pitch.com, August 20, 2012)

Legitimate versus illegitimate rape? What is this distinction? Women have anti-rape-from-pregnancy mechanisms built-in? News to me. Punishment for the rapist and not the child? What happened to the woman in all of this?

Now in today’s day and age, it’s unfortunately not unusual to hear idiotic things like this. Sarah Palin. Michelle Bachmann. Rod Blagojevich. Joe Biden (Even Democrats are not immune). So what’s the big deal?

The most obvious is one is the fact that Rep. Akin is running for a US Senate seat for Missouri. Claire McCaskill is the incumbent. She’s also a Democrat. And just a few days ago, Rep. Akin, fresh off his victory in a 3-way GOP Primary, stood a good chance to win the seat and help move control of the Senate to the Republicans. It seems any lead he had has since I dried up. His own party is distancing itself from his comments (including the GOP presidential candidate, Mr. Romney himself) and some have even called for him to relinquish his candidacy. But you can hear about that from any news media. It’s all over the Internet and the airwaves. In the words Veep Biden, “This is a big fucking deal.”

But there’s another reason. And only someone from Missouri would probably feel this way. Like me. Again, this is my second home. So I’ve tried hard to defend Missouri from those on the outside who think we’re a bunch of backwater hicks. I have friends in Chicago who used to say “Anything below I-80 is the Deep South” with some seriousness. No, we’re not all hicks down here guys. “At least we’re not Kansas” is my usual defense. Or “At least we’re not Arkansas.”

For Missourians, we’re always trying to avoid the typecasts that the national media assigns us. But if you look closer, just like many states, we’re not a single unified voting block. Missouri is an urban-rural state. I-70 creates a corridor that links the state’s two liberals cities and metros, with Columbia — home of the University of Missouri, between the two. Most areas south of I-70 are considered part of the Bible Belt. Most ares north of it are corn and cows. But with all these different groups, we pride ourselves on being able to work together. For a long time, Missouri has been considered a “Purple state” in the context of the Red-Blue political spectrum. Yes there are lots of religious people here, but we to keep the state separated from the church. When there’s news of book burnings of bans in our state, it’s a big deal. We haven’t passed laws regarding “evolution as just a theory” and creationism/I.D. as equal in standing theories. We only need look to our neighbor to the west to see what pure GOP looks like and we need only look east to see what a Democratic-dominated state looks like. We don’t want to be either Kansas or Illinois, respectively.

So when someone like Rep. Akin aspires to be a representative for all Missourians, it’s a slap in the face. I’m sure there are far-right conservatives out there who appreciate him. And that’s fine. But for the rest of us, it is unacceptable. It’s a sad state of affairs when an idiot who just “misspoke” had that chance to be our Senator in Congress. But let’s remember where the 2nd District is. Right outside of St. Louis. He isn’t a country-bumpkin from Southern or Northern Missouri. He’s a straight-up suburban representative. That’s scary.

If we’re willing to elect politicians that lack even a cursory understanding of human reproductive systems, then what business do they have trying to legislate such anything that deals with it? If Missouri is willing to elect this type of politician, then I want no part of it. I won’t be here for slide into the radical, into the domain of idiocy that is Tea Party politics. Maybe I just want to be better than Kansas, goddammit! Is that so bad? If this state becomes the next Kansas, I’m going to GTFO. No looking back, either.

No to SOPA and PIPA

I don’t know why my blackout thing isn’t working…But…

Many websites are blacked out today to protest proposed U.S. legislation that threatens internet freedom: the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). From personal blogs to giants like WordPress and Wikipedia, sites all over the web — including this one — are asking you to help stop this dangerous legislation from being passed.

If you enjoy the Internet as it stands today, then contact your representatives. Join a protest. Speak up. Speak out.