Monthly Archives: May 2008

Reading List Updates

I finished up a couple books since last time I updated the reading list on this blog.  I also added another few books to the list.

Just finished:

  • Being a Christian in Science by Walter R. Hearn
  • The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

    New Additions:

    Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology
    by Darrel R. Falk

    Read more about this book…

    Biology Through the Eyes of Faith (Christian College Coalition Series)
    by Richard Wright

    Read more about this book…

    Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
    by C. John Collins

    Read more about this book…

    A New Kind of Science
    by Stephen Wolfram

    Read more about this book…


    Currently Reading

    * Science and Faith: An Evangelical Dialogue
    by Harry Lee Poe, Jimmy H. Davis

    Read more about this book…


    Interesting new blog: Charts and Things

    image I started following (via my preferred RSS reader: Google Reader) a blog by John Peltier, of Peltier Technical Services, called PTS Charts and Things.  I have been utterly fascinated by a few of his recent posts where he takes on the challenge of producing a chart of a particular form using the features built-in to Excel 2007. 

    These are not trivial tasks. Consider for example the Clustered Stacked Bar graph (see below). First off, it is a challenge, in and of itself, to create the clustering of stacked bar graphs, since there are clustered bar graphs in Excel and stacked bar graphs in Excel, but no combination of both.  On top of that, labeling the axes correctly turns out to be particularly tricky.  And yet, John Peltier walks you step by step through his process of developing the graph. I especially enjoy his presentation because it doesn’t just walk through how to do it, but also through the entire trial and error process of getting the desired graph.


    Another recent favorite post of mine was his presentation on the  Stacked Area Chart Challenge:


    He also posted a nice rundown of the Changes to Charting in Excel 2007.  Since I personally love the new interface and features in Office 2007 and a colleague of mine at Wayland has expressed his dislike of the new Excel 2007, I enjoyed reading an outside opinion.  I stand by my original position but understand a little more of the problems with the new user interface.

    The PTS blog also pointed me to a new blog (see below) to which I just subscribed.  I’ll follow it for a while, but having already read the first few posts, I think it is going to be a keeper.

    Daily Dose of Excel


    Mobile Web in your Sidebar

    I wish I’d thought of that.

    Thanks to a post in LifeHacker, I have set up a few bookmarks in Firefox that will open in the sidebar. I recently discovered the trick of opening links in the sidebar but I did not think to use mobile apps such as the new iphone app in Google Reader.


    Some other mobile web apps that I am likely to use include:

    If you want more suggestions to things to stick in your sidebar, go straight to apple for some ideas:

    The “how to” comes from Mozilla Links

    And it’s pretty simple:

    1. Open the Bookmarks Manager (Bookmarks/Organize Bookmarks…)
    2. In Firefox 2, in the File menu, select New bookmark… In Firefox 3, press Organize in the toolbar and select New bookmark…
    3. Enter a name, for location, and ensure to check Load this bookmark in the sidebar.
    4. Press Save Changes and now you can select the bookmark to load Google Reader in the sidebar.


    Try it out. It’s handy.

    Installing Linux in VirtualBox

    A friend of mine saw me running a distribution of Linux from within Vista and asked that I post how I set it up so here it goes:

    1. Download and install Virtual Box (see
    2. Download your favorite distribution of Linux. Download an install disk image (*.iso file). Here are a couple suggestions

    Be sure to note where you save the *.iso file.

    1. Launch Virtual Box:
    2. Create a new Virtual Machine, by clicking Machine .. New (or just New on the toolbar). Then click “Next >”
    3. Give your Virtual Machine a name and then select the operation system you intend to install. Then click Next…
    4. Now, select the amount of memory (RAM) to dedicate to this machine when it is running. You don’t want to use all of your available memory since your system will still be running. I have 2 GB on my laptop so I dedicate anywhere from 512 – 1024 MB of RAM. Then, click next.
    5. Next, VirtualBox will create a virtual hard disk so you can set up how much hard disk space your virtual machine will have available. Click New to set up a new virtual hard disk, go through the steps to set one up. I used the settings below:
      Dynamically Expanding Image.
      20 GB
      Click Next.
    6. Now you can click finish to finalize the setting up of the Virtual Machine. Click Finish.

    Installing Linux

    1. In VirtualBox, right-click on the machine you just created and select Settings. Click on CD/DVD-ROM in left hand window of the Setting dialogue box. Select Mount CD/DVD Drive and click ISO Image File. Browse for the ISE image you downloaded. Then click OK.
    2. Now, click Start and go through the Setup procedure for the Linux distribution.

    Good Luck!

    Gas Price Economics

    image I received an email earlier to day trying to promote some sort of a boycott of Exxon/Mobile Mobil gasoline stations in an effort to force them to lower their gas prices. Recognizing that there are few around my neck of the woods, I didn’t pay much attention to the email. Plus, I pretty much disregard those kinds of efforts anyway.

    A follow up email attempted to make the point that we aren’t paying that much more for gasoline considering a significant increase in fuel efficiency over the last 20 – 30 years. The examples cited were anecdotal and encouraged me to do a little research on my own.

    I was surprised to see that the increase in fuel economy is a lot less than one might have expected over the last 30 years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the average gas mileage for new vehicles sold in the United States has gone from 23.1 miles per gallon (mpg) in 1980 to 26.7 mpg in 2007. This represents a paltry increase of 15% over the 27 year period. Even if you limit yourself to domestic passenger cars the increase is from 22.6 mpg in 1980 to 31.3 mpg in 2007.

    imageEven more interesting to me is the fact that we have benefited from a relatively low cost of gasoline for an extended period of time. (see here) Adjusting for inflation we see a steady decline in the cost of gasoline dating all the way back to the 1920s. The only exception is the late 70s, early 80s and the last 5 years. Prices are at their upper limit even with inflation considered. When considering only yearly averages, the highest cost occurred during 1981 at $3.17 (adjusted to 2008 dollars). Through March of 2008, this year’s annual average has been $3.08.

    Now back to the original point, on average the cost (in 2008 valuation) per mile was 12.8 cents in 1981 (when gas averaged $3.17 per gallon in 2008 dollars and the average fuel economy was 24.6 miles per gallon) . The average cost per mile, currently, is 13.6 cents (with a current national average of $3.63 per gallon and average fuel economy of 26.7 mpg). In the end, while it seems that we are paying a ghastly amount at the pump we aren’t that far above the historical high, nevertheless we are, in fact, paying more than ever.