The Random Yak

Green Thoughts and Spam*

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 10:10 am on April 21, 2010

*(On the theory that anything recycled is “green,” and I’m riffing on the contents of the spam folder.)

It’s sometimes interesting to see what the most recent crop of web-crawling spiders tries to do with my topics.  (Note: particularly when we haven’t had any recent bits about naked luge or underpants.  When that’s the case, even I know better than to look at what gets caught in the filter before I empty it.)

The latest news:

1.  The words “golden calf” apparently contain a hidden subtext reading “spam money-and-finance-related comments here.”  For the record, everything that glitters is not an opportunity to advertise your super awesome, better-than-ever, “we know the economy stinks but please please give us the chance to rip you off too” get-rich-quick scheme.  In fact, the golden calf allusion had nothing to do with money (not directly anyway), either in its original source or as posted here.

In short: Webcrawler 1: Mission Fail.  Grade: D- (with partial points for at least seeking out the word ‘gold’).

2.  “Kids love being scared senseless” earned me … an ad for helicopter flying lessons.  Take a minute and think that one through.  Who programs a webcrawler about flight lessons to look for posts about fear?  In some ways, it’s actually kind of clever, though I’m not sure the whole “crazy clown + flight school” thing really inspires me to take a leap of faith.  (Here’s hoping no leaping is actually required.)

Webcrawler 2: Partial Fail (you’re still spam, after all).  Grade: C- for creativity.

The others, sadly, are less-than-printable, but those at least amused me enough to mention.

That said…I’m off to the weeds.

Oops…Mistell

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 1:42 pm on April 20, 2010

Sometimes, you don’t even know when you need a good laugh.

Sometimes, you do know, but you don’t know where it’s coming from.

As usual, the Universe is only too happy to provide, courtesy of a mischanneled instant message from a friend…talking to another friend…about something really odd.  Like the disproportionately ungrateful and rebellious offspring of a misguided and somewhat geographically challenged potato fly.  Or something.

Which might, or might not actually exist outside the personal reality of the individual in question.

Or something.

At any rate…it just reminded me that random acts of oddness really do make the world go ’round sometimes.  Especially on not-quite-rainy afternoons when I’m trying to figure out the approximate distance between my current location and something approximating normalcy.

The answer, in case you were wondering, is “you can’t get there from here.”

In Better Company Than I Thought

Filed under: Frivol,History Yaks — Random Yak @ 10:35 am on April 19, 2010

I don’t visit libraries much.

It has nothing to do with the books.  As a confessed bibliophile, I love them.  I read often, and I read a lot, and any place I can find interesting books is – almost by definition – a good place.

The problem with libraries isn’t that they have books, or even that they’ll let me take them.  It’s more that they expect me to return them.  And that isn’t exactly my strong suit.

It’s not that I don’t want to give the books back when I’ve finished them.  I don’t mind borrowing and returning (though I do have to remind myself not to read them in my usual fashion – pen in hand and notes in margin).  I don’t even mind buying the ones I want to keep.  It’s more that I’m forgetful by nature, and the idea of “read this now and return it in two weeks, on a date certain for our purposes but not necessarily fitting easily into your schedule (yeah, I wander)” – well, nice in theory, but years of practice prove otherwise.

I’m not normally an irresponsible yak, but among My Great Failings is this: I cannot get a library book back on time.  Strange as that seems, it’s true.  Between circumstances conspiring against me, a mind that leaks like a sieve on the best of days and …. (SQUIRREL)

What was I saying?  Oh, right.  I’m also prone to distraction.

At the end of the day, I’m just not good about returning library books.  In fact, “not good about it” seriously understates the problem.  I crouch and run past libraries – even ones I’ve never visited before – because I’m sure when they institute the Library Sniper Program to Eliminate Unexcused Tardiness in Returns, I’ll be the first one between the crosshairs.  Public (Library) Enemy #1.

All of which is a very long setup to a relatively short payoff for you, but a lifetime’s worth of consolation for me.

I’m in better company than I thought.

In October 1789, George Washington borrowed two books from the New York library (one on International law and the other containing debate transcripts from the British House of Commons). Although the books were due back in November (1789…), the library recently reported them … still missing.

Making Washington’s books approximately 220 years overdue.

Suddenly, that 4-month late fee I ran up the last time I thought I’d prove I could actually borrow a book and return it on time doesn’t look so bad.  In fact, nothing I could possibly do would equal Washington’s colossal late fees (estimated at somewhere between $90,000 and $300,000, depending on how you adjust for inflation and whether or not there’s compounded interest involved).  Of course, he could decide to just pay for the books, but antique manuscripts like those sell for a pretty penny these days.  Either way, he’s in more trouble than I am.

Even putting to rest the jokes about the deceased I find it strangely comforting to learn that I’m not alone in this difficulty.  Ironically, Washington may have failed to return them for exactly the same reason I do … he got started on something else, and the books got forgotten in the process.  It probably wasn’t intentional, and almost certainly would have embarrassed him if he knew.  Which, being George Washington, he probably did.

In fact, I bet he ducked when he went by the library too.  In his day, they did still use snipers.

(Tip of the horns, Lowering the Bar)

“Kids Absolutely Love Being Scared Senseless”

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 1:34 pm on April 15, 2010

Yeah, right.  And Yaks love solicitors.

Reality aside, a man in Lucerne, Switzerland recently set up a business that provides “evil clown” services for children’s birthdays.

Not familiar with the evil clown?  It works something like this:

Step 1: Deranged Loving parents contact Evil Clown company to arrange a surprise for the birthday boy or girl.

Step 2: Throughout the week leading up to the victim torturee child’s birthday, said child receives threatening text messages, telephone calls and “traps in letterboxes” (no idea what that last bit entails, not sure I want to) from an unnamed …adult … individual.

Step 3: At some point during the seven-day period, an evil clown jumps out from behind an otherwise innocent object and smashes a birthday cake into the child’s face.

Step 4: Therapy ensues.

(OK…I admit, I made the last one upBut the rest of it is real.)

Any child who manages to avoid being smacked with a cake “gets the cake as a birthday present.”

Ooo. Cake from a stalker.  Just what I always wanted.

I do have to ask, though: when did stalking become a party game?  Last I checked, children grow up fast enough in this less-than-perfect world.  Do we really have to hasten the process?  On the one hand, it’s probably good news that there are so few pedophilic stalkers in Switzerland that parents have to go out and pay for the privilege, just to ensure their little ones won’t miss out on this vital childhood experience.  On the other…this is one sort of surprise I think we can do without.

For the record, when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, “the feeling that I’m being pursued by a projectile-wielding  maniac” really wasn’t all that high on my list.  In fact, it didn’t make THAT list at all.  Threats, stalking, and unexpected attacks in public generally get filed under “things I’d rather save for never, but thanks for asking.”

According to the company founder, “Kids absolutely love being scared senseless,” and, “It’s all in fun and if, at any point, the kids get scared or their parents are concerned, we stop right there.”  Sorry, I’m calling shenanigans on this one.  Viewed side by side, the problem should be clear.  “We’re here to scare you…until you get scared.”

Of course, that’s probably exactly the message we should expect from Crazy Stalker Clown.

Who, incidentally, is standing right behind you.

The Real Reason for the iPad

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 10:19 am on April 14, 2010

Suddenly, it all becomes so clear.

It’s a cat toy.

Link is safe for work (and kids).  I rarely suggest videos, but this one is pretty entertaining, at least if you’re interested in seeing what the iPad was really designed for.

Tip of the horns, Boingboing.

Rendering Unto Caesar

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 9:59 am on April 13, 2010

As the title suggests…I’m a little preoccupied today.  It originally seemed fitting that I’d pick today to do the taxes – seeing as April 13, 2010 was the originally-scheduled Tax Freedom Day.  But as it happens, certain tax cuts (though not any I noticed impacting my life…) scooted the day up to April 9.

The good news?  You’re no longer working for Uncle Sam.  As of the 9th, you’re earning income for yourself and your family.

The bad news?  He let you keep part of it during the first three months, so you have to keep sending him part of it now.

Off to the salt mines.  I’ll let you know if I find any diamonds – but don’t hold your breath.

Updated:  Work complete!

That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll have more to say, but at least I’ve got that task done for another year.

It Wastes Your Time and it Annoys the Yak

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 4:17 pm on April 12, 2010

The title of this post, in slightly modified form, represents the second half of the old saw that starts, “You should never try to teach a pig to sing, because…”

It is also, unfortunately, the answer to the newer and slightly less familiar one beginning, “You should never agree to teach a college course because…”  At least, it seemed that way this morning.

On the one hand, my students’ recent midterm exams featured the first perfect score anyone has ever received on a midterm in one of my classes.  To be specific, it featured four of them.  Splendid news – and in reality, more than enough to make the effort worth it, despite the minor annoyance created by the half of the class that decided studying was a waste of time.  Unfortunately for all of us, this had a highly foreseeable result: half of them failed.

To their credit, they failed spectacularly and not without sparks of creativity.  (Under the circumstances, I’ll take my entertainment where I can.) Not-so-much to their credit, it meant I spent the lion’s share of the hours I would have liked to spend reading new books over the weekend drinking coffee and trying not to say nasty things about people who probably don’t really deserve to be called anything but lazy and unmotivated.

Most of you probably thought this would turn into a ranting post about the failures of modern alledgeducation and students’ lack of interest in learning – not without reason, and not without justification.  I see those problems regularly, and I flail about in the mire of frustration at least as much as the rest of you.

But not this time.  Nottoday.  You see, today I’m not blogging to tell you about the creative-but-hopeless things the failures did.  Today I’m going to focus on the ones who deserve the spotlight.  The ones whose achievements usually end up shadowed by the alarmingly bleak waves of apathy upon which ride the failboats of the age.

Let’s talk about the perfect scores.

Not one, but four.  Four people who cared enough to do something not just well, but exceedingly well.  They learned the material, they answered the questions, they aced the test.  On their own merits, mind.  Not with a curve, or easy grading, or a university that decided to boost their grades to “the level we’re sure they really intended.”  They studied, they learned and they passed.  And I am proud of them.

At first I, too, let the frustration of the unmotivated bring me down.  I stomped around the house like my shaggy old self, fuming about wasted effort and wasted time.  I berated myself for agreeing to teach again, after deciding I would devote my efforts to places where they met with better results and more serious interest.  After all…I was right.  They didn’t care, and I had the exams to prove it.

But then (with a little boot help from The Random Spouse and another very good friend) I started thinking about the other ones.  The ones who cared enough not just to listen but to excel.  When I taught law for a living, I often said I’d stand and teach if even one person really wanted to learn – and here I have not one, but four.

Is the others’ failure irritating? Yep.  Annoying?  Sure.  Enough to make me grumble around like a bad-tempered quadruped?  I’ve already admitted it, and more.

But letting myself get mired down in their failure is, in effect, a failure of my own.  There are others who do care, and they deserve better.  Does that mean a few pearls may fall before less-than-interested parties?  Sure.  But in the long run, success isn’t measured by the ones we didn’t save.

It’s measured by the ones we do.

Want. Or at least, Would Like.

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 9:58 am on April 9, 2010

Windy City Glass takes empty beverage bottles and turns them into glasses.  Like this:

Windy City Glass

Windy City Glass

Awesome.

My admitted and well known appreciation for (useful forms of) blown glass aside…this is just cool. I particularly like the green ones without logos (like the Heineken ones shown here in a stolen allegedly fair use image I’m posting for purposes of advertising on the glassmaker’s behalf…) but the root beer and Stewart’s soda glasses are pretty awesome too, and the ones with logos intact would probably be a pretty cool gift for a fan.

Friday Notes from the Weeds

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 9:36 am on

It’s been a weedy week, to say the least.  Between grading midterms at the-university-where-I-thought-I-was-finished-teaching (never underestimate the power of a friendly department chair with a special request for “one more round”), a looming deadline with the Patent and Trademark Office (for the record “likelihood of confusion” during the response drafting stage isn’t the type that sinks you) and both Yak the Younger and The Random Spouse under the weather in one way or another…it’s been one of those weeks we don’t tend to talk about on the blog.  And yeah, I mention it now because in some corner of This Side of the Mountain, when the sun shines on the new grass and the wind smells sweet…my delusional self thinks it might excuse not blogging.

Not so much.

Because even with grades to shirk, deadlines to ignore and a couple of less-than-healthy family members at home, it is a beautiful day.  One of those mornings where the phrase “God’s in His Heaven and All’s Right With the World” seems absolutely and presently true.  There’s fresh coffee in the pot, a breakfast burrito on the counter, and I’m probably one ill-timed smirk from getting slapped for my unreasonable happiness.

Yeah, it’s one of those weeks too.

Funny how they can happen at the very same time, isn’t it?

FTC to Credit Sites: “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”*

Filed under: Just Yaks — Random Yak @ 9:42 am on April 6, 2010

As of April 2, a new FTC regulation requires websites offering “free credit report” services to display the following message:

THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED BY LAW. Read more at FTC.GOV. You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law.

(Note: before this morning, I didn’t even realize there was a government-approved site for obtaining free copies of my credit report.  Nor, quite frankly, did-or-do I care.)

In addition, the websites must have a clickable button link which reads “take me to the authorized source” and links  to both the FTC website and the authorized AnnualCreditReport website.

Apparently the mandatory  “We’ve been PWNED by the FTC” banner didn’t make it out of committee.  (At least not in its literal form.)

The regulation exists to help consumers separate truly free credit reports (we’re entitled to one every year, free of charge, from the official source) from those offered by companies that offer “free” reports but then charge customers for other services (most commonly credit monitoring – something we each can-and-should do on our own).  In the grand scheme of things, I actually think it’s a good idea.  If you’ve read here for more than a month, you know my position on individual responsibility – as well as big government and the nanny state.  That said, I have a healthy loathing for businesses that take advantage of the unwary and the uneducated.  Free means free – or should – and using the lure of a free credit check (not to mention the threat of identity theft and other serious dangers) to obtain the personal information of an unsuspecting individual who thinks you’re just trying to help them, only to turn around and use that information to sell them products – or even just harass them with advertising – means you rank somewhere between toe fungus and the stuff that gathers in the bottom of the garbage disposal.  (On a good day.  When I’m feeling generous.)

We won’t even start on the annoying nature of some of their TV ads – though they have earned the distinction of being the only advertisers to have earned their own Family Rule.  (Yak Household Rule #87: If a free credit ad comes on the TV, the person with the remote must immediately mute sound.  Failure to successfully mute said advertiser within 1.5 seconds results in loss of remote privileges for the remainder of the evening or until the next Custodian of the Remote fails to comply with Rule 87.)

Speaking of which: it appears the FTC is also imposing a variation of this mandatory wording on television and radio ads (effective September 1).  This I can’t wait to see.  Here’s hoping they require audio as well as visual.  Either way, it warms the cockles of my shaggy heart to think of the trouble this will cause for at least one company’s ad men.  It’s not exactly what they deserve for creating one of the worst advertising earworms known to man, but it’s a start and I’ll take it.  After all, it’s probably not strictly Constitutional to drag them through the streets behind a herd of incontinent buffalo, no matter how much I’d like to see it.

Still, it’s nice to see Big Gov’mint do something right for a change.

* For those still unclear on the concept: All your base are belong to us.

(Tip of the horns, Creditbloggers.)

All Fridays are good, but not all are Good Friday.

Filed under: Faith Yak — Random Yak @ 10:45 am on April 2, 2010

April 2, 2010: Good Friday.

I have nothing to be grateful for, with the exception of everything.

Not everyone shares my opinions or my faith, but whether you do or not, I wish you a Happy and Blessed Good Friday, a Blessed Easter, and the sincere hope (and prayer) that the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.  May He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.  (Numbers 6.22-26)

Happy Easter.

Yak of the Week: The Future of Academia

Filed under: Education Yaks,Yak Rants,Yaks of the Week — Random Yak @ 4:06 pm on April 1, 2010

Apparently, the Dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has somehow convinced himself (and others) that the best way to help his students find jobs in a lousy economy already glutted with would-be lawyers is…

retroactively raising everyone’s GPA by .333, and prospectively implementing an easier grading curve.

Had the story not broken yesterday, I would have taken it for an April Fool.  Even so, it staggers the imagination and stuns the mind (mine at least) almost beyond the capacity for rational thought.

So, just when I thought society might have risen above it, I’m re-instituting the Yak of the Week Award.  This week’s victim recipient:  Loyola Law School.

Above the Law reports that the Dean justifies this brilliant maneuver by pointing out that (a) other law schools have already resorted to grade inflation to help their graduates get jobs, (b) employers pay very close attention to law school grades when hiring new employees for legal positions, and (c) over the last few years, Loyola Law’s students have “improved significantly” – though apparently without the increasing GPAs to prove it.

In other words:

1.  We know you’re doing better, even though the evidence doesn’t prove it.

2.  If we raise your grades, you’ll we’ll everyone will look better to the guys you’re trying to convince that your law degree is still worth more than the recycling value of the paper it’s printed on.

and

3.  Everyone else is doing it.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but where I come from #3 is the kind of excuse that holds about as much water as the average industrial sieve.  In The Random Parents’ Household, when I was growing up, it was the kind of excuse that not only didn’t accomplish your objective, it also got you two-to-five (days) hard labor in the flower garden and an extended lecture on “What You Should NOT Do If Your Friends Jump Off A Bridge.”  (See: The Riot Act, Articles 9-13).

Had I responded to questions about my own grades with something akin to (the aptly named) Reason #2, I would have been grounded and/or beaten to a pulp for lying, depending on the forum in which I chose to make my ill-conceived announcement.

And as for Reason #1…facts and words both defy me to explain the utter idiocy of that proposition.  But I’ll try anyway.  The whole reason for “grades” is to let a student, their professor(s), and the world at large know how the student’s work compares with some objective scale.  At least in theory, when work improves, grades also improve – particularly when the same faculty member(s) are applying the grading scale from year to year.  (We’re ignoring the occasional rogue and/or grumpy professor, as well as the literally undeserved low grade.) This isn’t a case of “same students, same grades” or even “same students, plus improvement, same grades” – in which case I could understand some adjustment.  This is a case of hundreds of students, spread across a continuum which does not change – and which, for the record, is pegged to licensing requirements. I’ve taught law school.  I’ve even been an Associate Dean.

In other words: I know how it works.  A low C (71-72%) represents “minimum passing” on the Bar exam.  Therefore, a law school grading curve should be set so that students whose work would barely pass the Bar exam (“as if by fire”) get….a C.  From there, we scale upward.  And, regrettably but necessarily, downward.   It’s not rocket science…and it’s also not subject to artificial inflation “because we think you’re a really really cool bunch of neat-o guys who should really really be awesome lawyers and we like your socks.”

No.

If your curve is right, you have no reason to change it.  Even if your curve is wrong, you have no reason to change it retroactively. Worst of all, I suspect Loyola’s curve isn’t wrong.  I suspect, if you compared the 70-72%+ students, most of them pass the Bar exam, and the ones below that number, don’t.  If that wasn’t the case, the students would have self-selected for other law schools.  That’s the way it works – if your graduates don’t pass the licensing exam, people don’t go there.

Another clue: the need for Thing 2 and Thing 3…which point quite strongly to the Cat in the Hat in the corner.  It seems to me that if this was really a grading curve problem Loyola would have issued a very different statement.  Something on the order of “oh noes, the LOLcats got into the grading system and brainwashed all the professors!!!!!11!!!”  Well, that or “we’ve discovered our grading system doesn’t appropriately track the Bar examiners’ standards and are making necessary adjustments to ensure that our students have an accurate picture of how they will perform on the Bar.”  Not “oh noes, our grads are out of work.”

And so, we proudly bestow the Yak of the Week Award for A+* Education to Loyola Law School.

For:

  • Instituting not one but two grades above a 4.0 (Yes, Virginia, there is something above an A+.  We call it A+*);
  • Teaching a whole generation of lawyer-candidates that it’s not what you do, it’s what everyone thinks you did that counts;
  • Raising the Bar (candidates) by any means necessary; and
  • Proving, once and for all, that Anything Really Is Okay If Everyone Else Is Doing It.

Congratulations, Yak of the Week.

As a parting thought: someone might want to point out to the Dean that when they said the “grads” were a problem, the solution wasn’t “I’d like to buy another vowel.”

For those of you considering fasting for Easter:

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 9:41 am on

Nothing says “thanks, I’m really not hungry” like tiny legs protruding from your snack cake:

Courtesy of mdids flickr photosteam (pursuant to Creative Commons 2.0 license)

Courtesy of mdid's flickr photosteam (pursuant to Creative Commons 2.0 license)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdid/ / CC BY 2.0
(Tip of the horns, BoingBoing)

An Open Letter to a Stinky Solicitor (in more ways than one)

Filed under: Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 2:02 pm on March 26, 2010

An open letter to the solicitor I just shooed somewhat unceremoniously from my office:

Miss Unnamed Solicitor: (please note, you’re not a dear.)

In future, when invading my place of work and/or personal office (“Inner Sanctum”) unrequested and unannounced, please observe the following:

1.  Copious quantities of perfume and/or body spray are prohibited within the Inner Sanctum.  If I can smell you at 50 feet, and still smell you ten minutes after you’ve gone….GO HOME AND SHOWER.  Or if that’s not clear enough: Living flowers are attractive.  Rotten, stanky essence of something-pretending-to-be-floral is not.  YOU STINK.  GO AWAY NOW.

2.  When I politely ask if this is a solicitation call, you don’t actually fool me by responding “No, I’m just the new rep in the neighborhood and I came in to introduce myself.”  If I’ve never heard of your company before and my firm doesn’t use, purchase or subscribe to its services…this isn’t a social call.  It’s a solicitation.  GO AWAY.  Or if that’s not clear: GO AWAY NOW.

3.  If I tell you I’m busy and don’t have interest in a solicitation visit, please do NOT attempt to sit down in my client chairs and start a conversation.  I didn’t invite you to sit down.  In fact, I asked you to…(say it with me) GO AWAY.  The fact that I said it politely, and used the words “Thank you for stopping by, but I don’t have time for conversations and I’m not interested in solicitations today” does not constitute an invitation to plant your bottom in my dragon-headed chairs.  If that’s not clear, permit me to rephrase:  DO NOT WANT.  YOU GO ‘WAY.

4.  Complimenting my antique, hand-carved, dragon-headed Chinese client chairs will not win either my time or my approval of your continuing presence.  I know the chairs are nice.  That would be why I bought them.  In a related story, I haven’t yet taught them to bite solicitors on the buttocks but my shoe is perfectly competent for that task if you still fail to get the message.  You’re not here to become my friend, and I have enough friends who aren’t trying to sell me something anyway.  (PS: they like the chairs too, only their appreciation is sincere.  Yours was a sad, pathetic attempt at sincerity…FAIL.) Oh, that and: …GO AWAY.

The fact that you insisted on injecting yourself, and your apprentice hanger-on, into my Friday afternoon was not – of itself – enough to get you turned into my personal pinata of fisk.  The fact that you attempted to ignore no less than four clear statements of polite dismissal and earned yourself a direct invitation to leave…well, that does.  I decided not to try and bill you for the valuable lesson in “request to depart 101″ your little apprentice learned, nor for the six minutes of my time it took me to (a) convince you to remove your insistent and loathsome-smelling self from my presence and (b) flog you in effigy on the Internet, but be warned: next time you might not be so lucky.

Next time, I’m using your company name as well.

Sincerely, (because if you’re going to blow someone off, you might as well do it this way)

R. Yak

Proprietor and Fisker in Chief.

A Little Bit of Awesome

Filed under: Frivol — Random Yak @ 10:55 am on March 25, 2010

Thanks to boingboing for sending me to this one, and since I’m WAY in the weeds on a couple of major projects (hence the radio silence on this channel the past few days) I’m sending you over too:

Tiny Art Director(As always, link is SFW-AK) A hilarious blog that every person who’s ever known a toddler will totally understand.  (With an added note to those who “didn’t get” the bears and pigeons thing: no, this isn’t more of the same.)

Expect blogging to resume at a more normal pace by next week. In the interim…yeah.  This one’s worth it.


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