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Steven is a Programmer/Analyst at InterceptEFT
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2012 Walking Challenge Update
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Apr 11, 2012 This year, we started out on our InterceptEFT Walk Around the World. Starting the second week of the year, we have been adding our steps and track how far we travel as a group. We plan to have several special events at various stops around North American before heading out into the rest of the world. So far, we have 23 team members participating in the walk and in only three weeks, we have made it to our first planned stop.

In the first three weeks, our team has walked 2,967,197 steps for a total of 1,484 miles. That was more than enough to walk from Fargo, North Dakota through South Dakota, Wyoming and into Idaho to our first goal location, Boise.

To celebrate achieving our first goal and achieving it so quickly, we are breaking out the grill in February in North Dakota and grilling up some of Idaho's state vegetables and having a baked potato bar complete with all the fixings for everyone who participated.

In addition to the potato feed, each participant gets their InterceptEFT Passport stamped for the event with the date and location. When their passport is stamped for 12 events which includes not only the Walking Challenge stops, but also many of the other wellness-related programs that we present each year, they earn a wellness-related prize at the end of the year.

Now that we've walked to Boise, Idaho and had a great time at our potato bar to celebrate, where are we off to next? It's a surprise so you'll have to stay tuned to find out. But wherever it is, at the rate we're walking, we'll be there before too long. The Intercept Team is on the road to health and wellness so we can be here to serve our customers for years to come.
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Model First Database Development
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Mar 28, 2012 At InterceptEFT, we use the Microsoft Entity Framework for our .NET development. When the Entity Framework, a data access library for .NET, was first released, it was designed for a "database first" development style where you created a model from an existing database. Entity Framework 4.2 now includes support for a more code-centric "model first" development where you create the model in code which is used to generate the database.

Let's look at the following code

code

That is all the code that the Entity Framework needs to implement a data model and data persistence layer for the application. No more configuration or designers are needed to start using these classes.

By default, the application uses the following connection string to create and access the database. The name of the connection is the same as the name of the DbContext class. No changes are necessary for early testing. When you want to deploy, you can simply change the connection string to suit your version of SQL Server.

connection string

With Entity Framework 4.2, you can quickly and easily create databases based on simple classes and have your data application up and running in a short time.
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Code Reviews
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Mar 13, 2012 Code Reviews are a common practice in software development. A code review is an examination of code to find problems overlooked in the development phase. It can be done by another developer or in group review meetings. At InterceptEFT, we conduct code reviews by submitting our code to one of our other developers for review.

Our current system consists of using a paper form. The form is sent to another developer who reviews the code. When the review is completed and any additional changes are made, the reviewer then signs the form indicating that the code review has been completed.

However, our new issue tracker and revision control system includes a code review system built into the process. After code is submitted to the repository, a code review can be assigned to any other developer. Rather than a paper request, the code review shows up as a task just like any change request in the system. The reviewer can then click on a link to see the code to review and make whatever comments they need. They can then either mark the review as completed or send it back to the original developer for further action.

The new code review system makes accomplishing code reviews easier and more complete. All of the information concerning the code review including comments and any changes resulting from the review are kept with the original code. This helps make InterceptEFT more efficient and, with the elimination of another piece of paper, more green.
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Wellness in the Winter
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Feb 27, 2012 Just before the beginning of the year, the Wellness Committee here at InterceptEFT worked to put together our schedule of activities for 2012. Here are just some of the activities for the next few winter months.
  • Walk Around the World - All of the employees participating in this program are adding about 500 miles to our distance every week. It won't be long until we reach our first secret destination.
  • Curling Night - We've only had snow outside for the last couple of weeks during this unusually warm winter but we couldn't resist including this icy sport.
  • Cross Country Skiing /Sledding/ Sleigh Ride - This is a trio of popular winter activities up here in the north. I missed it last year, but I'm looking forward participating this year. There is something for everyone in our employees' families.
  • Bowling - This was probably our most popular event last winter. We had the place filled wall to wall.
  • National Nutrition Month - We celebrate National Nutrition Month with a week of nutrition related activities from quizzes to special break room treats.
  • Food Pantry Backpack Program - A lot of our employees will be volunteering again to fill bags with kid-friendly food for local school children who struggle with hunger on the weekends.
  • Fargo Marathon - Some of our employees celebrate the beginning of the warm weather by running our world-famous Fargo Marathon in the full or half marathons, the 10K or the 5K.
  • FM Corporate Cup - The Fargo Moorhead Corporate Cup is a series of competitive events promoting physical fitness and friendly competition among the local business community. InterceptEFT enters a team every year for this fun area event.
  • Wellness Speakers - We are also having speakers come in on various well-being topics ranging from nutrition to finances.
When choosing activities, we try to find ways to address the six aspects of well-being; Career, Social, Financial, Emotional, Physical and Community. With this list of activities, I think that we will cover all of those aspects and keep our employees active throughout the winter months.
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Class Library Templates
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Feb 21, 2012 We use Visual Studio for our .NET development at InterceptEFT. In the course of development, I create new class libraries all the time. Every time I create a new class library, there are a number of settings that have to be changed from their defaults and some standard files that need to be added to the project. It is a monotonous process to go through for each new class library. Luckily, Visual Studio has class library templates that solve this problem.

To create a class library template:
  1. Create a new empty class library.
  2. Change the settings that you need to change. For me, I like to turn on code analysis and I have a standard routine that runs prior to a build.
  3. Add any standard files or references. For instance, I have a standard file that simply marks the assembly as CLS Compliant.
  4. Remove any unneeded files. Visual Studio adds a class.cs or class.vb file to an empty class library. That file can be removed from the project.
  5. When the library is exactly what you want for a new class library, select Export Template from the File menu.
  6. The Export Template Wizard will appear. Select Project Template as the Template Type and click on Next.
  7. Enter the Template Name. This is the name of the project type you will pick when you create new class libraries. Make sure the Automatically Import checkbox is checked and uncheck the Display an Explorer Window checkbox. Click on Finish.
The template that Visual Studio creates will be available the next time you need a new class library. Just create a class library using that template and all the settings and files will be just as you want.
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Revision Control
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Feb 13, 2012 Whether you call it revision control, version control or source control, change management is an important aspect of software design. At InterceptEFT, we've been using a traditional revision control system which uses a centralized repository. Our developers would then check files out, make changes and then check the files back in. While a developer has the file checked out, no other developer can make changes to that file.

Now, the new issue tracking system that we use also includes a new revision control system based on the Mercurial distributed revision control system. With a distributed system, each developer has their own complete code repository. They can make changes and commit those changes to their repository. Once those changes have been tested and they have a stable version, they can synchronize their repository with a central repository. Other developers can then obtain those changes by synchronizing their repositories too.

The distributed revision control approach has several advantages over the centralized approach.
  • Each developer's repository acts as a backup of the codebase and protects against data loss.
  • Typical functions like viewing history or committing changes are fast because those operations are on a local drive. There is no centralized server to communicate with.
  • Developers can get the benefits of version control without inflicting their changes on everyone else prematurely.
Although a distributed revision control system requires a change in how the developer thinks about revision control, the safety and speed benefits of a distributed control system make switching worthwhile.
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2012 Walking Challenge
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jan 27, 2012 As part of our Wellness Initiative, every employee at InterceptEFT has been given a pedometer to measure their steps. In the past, our walking challenges have been individual with participation as the goal. To start off the New Year, we are excited to start a brand new challenge, InterceptEFT around the World.

The goal of this challenge is to combine the steps of every employee who participates and use them to measure the distance we have walked as a group around the United States and the World. As the miles pass, we will log what cities and countries we pass through on our route around the world.

Approximately every other month, we will have a milestone celebration of our journey with fun activities and healthy foods related to the places that we have passed through since the last milestone.

With this challenge, not only do we get to visualize the results of our walking by measuring the distance that we have traveled as a group, but we also promote working as a team for the shared goal of walking around the world in 2012.
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Portable Class Libraries
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jan 20, 2012 At InterceptEFT, we have been building more software for the .NET framework and one of the basic problems with that framework is deciding which platforms to target. Generally, the targets consist of WPF for desktop applications, Silverlight for web applications, Windows Phone and even XNA for Xbox 360. Because these targets have different capabilities making them incompatible with each other, you often need to duplicate code if you want to target more than one platform.

Recently, Microsoft threw us a bone with their Portable Library Tools add-on to Visual Studio. Using the Portable Library, you can write code that can be used for any of the four platforms without recompiling. You just choose which platforms to target and Visual Studio makes sure that it will work with each one.

It isn't the answer to all the problems of code sharing though. Only namespaces and commands that are available to all the targeted platforms will be available. If a command or namespace is only available for one platform, it will not be available in the Portable Library. But, there are many core functions of an application that can be placed in a Portable Library and used across each of the platforms.

While it doesn't make coding for WPF, Silverlight and Windows Phone seamless, Portable Libraries make it possible to simplify some of the basic coding for an application and make the maintenance of that code easier.
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Wellness Annual Report
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jan 13, 2012 In an earlier blog posting, Rick talked about results of our Wellness Initiative at InterceptEFT. We just completed our Wellness Annual Report for our second year and here are some of our results. The percentages are the percentage of employees screened in the given range.

Wellness report

There are some areas of our employees' health that we still need to target, but the Wellness Initiative is making a difference in the health, well-being and sense of community for our employees.
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Project Scheduling
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Dec 23, 2011 In computer software design, estimating how long it takes to implement a change to a piece of software is an important task but one that often boils down to wild guesses that result in missed deadlines. At InterceptEFT, we use a design tool that helps make our estimates more realistic.

For each change, we can enter the number of hours that we think the change will take. Then, as we work on different issues, the tool can track how long we actually work on each issue. Using our initial estimate and the actual time, it learns about our individual estimation skills.

Over time, it will discover whether we are good estimators or bad ones and use what it discovers to compensate for that. If a developer is a bad estimator and he says a change should take four hours, the software, using its statistical voodoo, may compensate for that with a six hour estimate instead.

Using this tool, developers at InterceptEFT can be sure that software changes are done in a timely fashion and that all deadlines are met.
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Good Ergonomics
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Dec 19, 2011 As part of InterceptEFT's Wellness Initiative, InterceptEFT worked with the State of North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance department this past year to analyze our employees' needs for ergonomic equipment so that we can work smarter and safer.

We started by educating our employees on what ergonomics are and what kind of problems are found in an office setting like ours. Typically, the problems are repetitive motions, such as mouse use or typing, and sustained posture problems caused by office chairs and phone use.

After being introduced to ergonomics, the ergonomic educator met with our employees to determine, on an individual basis, what changes could be made to their work space to help avoid workplace injuries. Often problems were solved by just raising or lowering chairs, keyboards and monitors. In some cases, additional wrist pads or foot rests were recommended. The recommended equipment was then purchased and installed.

By taking care of your employees, a company will have a workforce that is healthier and happier. And employees that work smarter and safer enhance the bottom line through higher productivity and fewer injuries.
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Volunteering to Stop Childhood Hunger
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Dec 7, 2011 In November, as part of InterceptEFT's initiative to give back to the community, more than half of our employees volunteered their time to our local Cass-Clay Backpack Program to help hungry children in the area.

Many school children rely on the Free School Lunch Program to meet their daily nutritional needs. But, on the weekends, many children struggle with hunger. The Cass-Clay Backpack Program provide packs filled with child-friendly, non-perishable and easily consumed food for six meals plus snacks. These packs are discreetly given to children on the last day of school each week to help alleviate this childhood hunger problem.

Our employees split into three teams who volunteered on one of the first three Wednesdays in November to help fill the packs. After a short orientation about the Great Plains Food Bank and the Backpack Program, each team created an assembly line in the warehouse of the Food Bank. Each person would take the pack passed to them, add the one or two food items that they were responsible for and then pass the pack to the next person.

The goal of the program is to distribute 750 packs to area school children each week this school year. In the course of a two hour shift, we were able to fill almost 400 packs. It was fun physical work and a great team building experience. When polled afterward, everyone who responded said that they enjoyed the experience and would participate again.
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Giving Back
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Nov 29, 2011 As part of our culture here at InterceptEFT, we are encouraged to give back to our community through donations of money, supplies or time. I've been able to give of my time and money to several groups over the past few years including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and Habitat for Humanity.

Through the Habitat for Humanity organization, I was lucky enough to participate in helping build a home for a local family in West Fargo, North Dakota. One day that I helped, it was pouring rain so rather than help finish soffits and other outdoor features, we worked on installing doors, shoring up the rafters, building an access panel to the attic area, installing showers and blocking for cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms.

I was put in charge of cutting boards for anyone who needed them. Unfortunately for me, the lumber was outside so whenever I needed some, I had to run out in the rain and gather what I needed. By lunch time, I was soaked. But, I managed to keep up with the demand and we had all of our projects finished. Normally, we would have continued through the afternoon, but because of the rain, they had no more work for us that day.

I encourage everyone to give back to the community and I'm happy that InterceptEFT encourages all of its employees to do just that. If your company encourages giving back to your community, take part it in and if your company doesn't currently have giving back as part of its culture, encourage them to incorporate it.
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Milestones
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Nov 7, 2011 At InterceptEFT, we are constantly working to improve our processes and, as part of that effort, we have recently moved to a new issue tracker for our software development. With any change in software, there often comes a change in terminology. In our previous issue tracker, we worked with versions. In the new issue tracker, we now work with milestones.

I've created four milestones for my project to manage moving issues from planning to release. These milestones are:

Sprint Planning - This milestone is where issues reside until they are selected for the next planned release or sprint.

Daily Planning - This milestone is road map for the week. Every Monday, I decide which issues I want to work on for the week and move them from the Sprint Planning milestone to the Daily Planning milestone.

Daily Goals - This milestone is the to-do list for the day. Each morning, I decide which of the issues I want to work on that day and move them from the Daily Planning milestone to the Daily Goals milestone.

Unreleased - When an issue is resolved, it is moved to the Unreleased milestone. At the end of the sprint, all of the resolved issues in the Unreleased milestone are moved into a new milestone named with the version number assigned to that release.

By setting up these milestones, I've been able to streamline my planning process and build a foundation for adding additional process improvements using features that our new issue tracker has that our old one did not.
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Accurate Measures
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Oct 25, 2011 Last year, InterceptEFT established a Wellness Committee to help us improve our wellbeing and lower health care costs. As part of measuring the success of the Wellness Program, we have implemented a health screening each fall which includes tests of blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and body mass.

It is important that the tests are as accurate as possible in order to have a true picture of the state of health for the company. That's why I find it interesting that they emphasize Body Fat percentages rather than the Body Mass Index that is normally used to measure obesity.

The problem with the Body Mass Index is that it doesn't differentiate between muscle and fat. It is simply a measure consisting of weight, height and gender. A weight lifter who is 5' 6" and weighs 230 pounds is considered as obese as someone 5' 6" tall and weighing 230 pounds who is a couch potato.

The Body Fat Scales measure what percentage of your body is muscle and what percentage is fat. You stand on the scale with bare feet because it uses a miniscule electric current to measure the resistance through your body. Fat and muscle have different resistances so it can use the results to determine each percentage.

After the health screening last year, I purchased my own Body Fat Scale online and now, rather than relying on a generalization that everyone my height should weigh within a certain range; I can determine the percentage of my actual body fat. Using the fact that men should have 14%-17% body fat to be considered fit; I know exactly how many pounds of fat I need to lose.

The Wellness Program at InterceptEFT has enabled me to know what things I need to keep track of for my health and has given me the information I need to more accurately measure my success.
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My Bookshelf - September Reads
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Sep 7, 2011 Every few months, I will tell you about three books that I have recently read or listened to. This month, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson tell us how to change how we work to be leaner and more productive, Stephen King helps us to write better and Neil Gaiman relates the tale of a little boy who lives in a graveyard.

Rework
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson outline their strategy for building their company, 37 Signals, from startup to a multi-million dollar corporation providing web-based project management and business software. The book consists of a series of essays that turn conventional business wisdom upside down like Hire when it hurts, Meetings are Toxic, Building to Flip is Building to Flop and Build Half, not Half-Ass. Revolutionary advice for companies that want to be more productive and who want to spend less doing it.

Rework is available from Amazon and Audible.

On Writing
Stephen King has written two books in one. The first half relates his personal journey from precocious little boy to published author with a section about the van crash the nearly killed him in 1999 during the writing of the book. The second half gives his "tool kit" for writers. It is made up of reading lists demonstrating the best and worst of plot, character and dialog, writing assignments and his nuts and bolts advice on how to write well. Even if you don't want to become a writer, his stories are entertaining and his writing advice can't help but improve your writing style. Stephen King reads the book in audiobook format which makes it all the more entertaining.

On Writing is available from Amazon and Audible.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman has created a young adult story that will appeal to readers of any age. The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens, or "Bod" for short, who escapes death at the hands of a man named Jack and is raised by the long-deceased residents of a graveyard and his adoptive guardian, Silas, a man not dead, but not alive either. With their help, Bod grows from infant to teenager and learns what he needs to survive in the world outside the graveyard and to deal with the man named Jack too. Neil Gaiman brings the book to life himself in the audiobook format.

The Graveyard Book is available from Amazon and Audible.
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Give Yourself A Time Out
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Aug 31, 2011 Everyone needs a break from the everyday work and chores that sometimes seems to take up all the time of our lives. Give yourself a time out. Take a break and do something fun. Here are some ideas.

Time Out At Work
  1. Quick Exercises. Exercising doesn't need to take a lot of time. Do a few toe touchers or squats. Don't want to exercise in your cubicle? Exercise in the bathroom instead.
  2. Discover new things. Find new and interesting websites. Stumbleupon or Google Reader Play pseudo-randomly deliver those websites to your browser.
  3. Listen to Music. Cue up your favorite music on your iPod or smart phone. Sit back, close your eyes and let work drift away for a few minutes.
  4. Take a Walk. Get out of the office and take a quick walk around the block. The fresh air will do you good.
  5. Read a Book. Grab a paperback or your kindle and read a few pages. Pick a book for fun, not work-related.

Time Out At Home
  1. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Have breakfast on your deck or porch and watch the sun rise. Or sit with a glass of wine and watch the sun set. Or do both.
  2. Playtime with your kids. Whether you play sports, a board game or just get down on the floor and play with blocks, spend some with your kids just playing.
  3. Sing loudly. Whether you are singing in your car, in the shower or just around the house, put on a good song and sing as loud as you want. Let it out and don't worry about what other people think.
  4. Carpet picnic. Turn the TV and computers off and lay a blanket out on the floor. Grab some fruit, cheese, crackers and other goodies and have yourself a indoor picnic with the ones you love.
  5. Don't act your age. Do you remember what you like to do when you were 7 or 8? Why should they have all the fun? Pick something you liked to do and do it again. Legos or model airplanes anyone?
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Wellness 101 - Blood Glucose
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Aug 29, 2011 Blood glucose is a blood test done to test the amount of glucose, a type of sugar, in the blood. Glucose is the primary source of energy for your body's cells. The amount of glucose in your blood is expressed as a ratio of the milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood. But, what do these numbers tell you?

Why is it important?
Blood glucose comes from carbohydrates in the food we eat. It works with insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, to supply your cells with energy. The amount of glucose increases normally after you eat and this causes more insulin to be produced to help use the excess glucose. Prolonged high blood glucose levels can damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels. Low blood glucose may result in palpitations, sweating, hunger, irritability, confusion and headaches.

What is considered normal?
There are three main tests for blood glucose. A Fasting test is taken after you have not eaten for at least 8 hours. Another test is done 2 hours after you eat. The third test is taken at a random time during the day.

Fasting70 - 99 mg/dL
2 hours after eating70 - 145 mg/dL
Random70 - 125 mg/dL

How can I try to regulate high blood glucose?
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
  • Maintain normal weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat.
  • Reduce the total fat in your diet.
  • Manage stress levels.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to regulate your blood glucose.
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My Bookshelf - August Reads
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Aug 11, 2011 Each month, I will tell you about three books that I have recently read or listened to. This month, Seth Godin tells us how to get started, David Allen helps us to get things done and Michael Crichton spins a tale of pirates.

Poke the Box
Poke the Box is best-selling business author Seth Godin's call to action for your job and your life. His message is simple. The only way to get something done is to start. Don't plan to start. Don't wait for permission. Start. Now. The book is not a step-by-step guide on what to do to get started. Rather, it outlines the many ways that we stand in our own way and what we can do to let ourselves move forward and make a difference.

Poke the Box is available from Amazon and Audible.

Getting Things Done
In Getting Things Done, personal productivity guru David Allen shows how to free your mind to focus on the tasks you need to accomplish. Our lives are full of things we have to do and that list is clogging our brains and distracting us from the tasks at hand. This book provides us a framework to deal with all the information and ideas that come into our lives and our work and helps us create a set of files and lists that transform that information into a manageable action plan.

Getting Things Done is available from Amazon and Audible.

Pirate Latitudes
Pirate Latitudes is the story of Captain Charles Hunter, a privateer living in a remote English colony in the Caribbean. In 1665, the Governor of Jamaica commissions Hunter to capture a Spanish galleon thought to have a treasure of gold and moored in a heavily fortified harbor nearby. It is an adventure of sword fights, sea battles, hurricanes, sea monsters, treachery and politics and gives us a peek at the life and customs of 15th century cutthroats and pirates.

Pirate Latitudes is available from Amazon and Audible.
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Wellness 101 - Blood Pressure
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Aug 5, 2011 Blood pressure is one of the vital signs taken by health professionals along with body temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate. It is expressed as a ratio of systolic over diastolic pressure. But, what do these numbers tell you?

Why is it important?
Blood pressure is the pressure on the walls of blood vessels exerted by circulating blood. It varies between a maximum pressure referred to as the systolic pressure and a minimum pressure referred to as the diastolic pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension puts stress on the heart muscle and can lead to strokes, heart attacks and heart failure. Low blood pressure or hypotension can lead to dizziness, weakness and fainting.

What is considered normal?
CategorySystolicDiastolic
Hypotension< 90< 60
Desirable90 - 11960 - 79
Prehypertension120 - 13980 - 89
Stage 1 Hypertension140 - 15990 - 99
Stage 2 Hypertension160 - 179100 - 109
Hypertension Crisis> 179> 109

How can I try to regulate blood pressure?
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintain normal weight.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
  • Increase the amount potassium in your diet.
  • Increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products in your diet.
  • Reduce the saturated fat in your diet.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to regulate your blood pressure.
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Wellness 101 - Triglycerides
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jul 14, 2011 One of the common blood tests done for an annual checkup, or available as part of a workplace wellness program, is the lipoprotein or lipid panel. One of the numbers measured in a lipid panel is triglycerides. But, what does this number tell you?

Why is it important?
Triglycerides are important as energy sources and transporters of dietary fat. They contain more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates and proteins. There is a strong relationship between high Triglycerides and low HDL levels. High levels of Triglycerides in the bloodstream have been linked to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

What is considered normal?
Less than 150 mg/dL Normal
150-199 mg/dL Borderline High
200-499 mg/dL High
500 mg/dL or higher Very High

How can I try to reduce triglycerides?
  • If you are overweight, losing 10% of your body weight can significantly improve your health.
  • Reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet especially if they exceed 60% of caloric intake.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Exercise more.
  • Take Omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to decrease your tryglycerides.
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Get Organized - Small Steps
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jun 15, 2011
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher (600-531 BC)

There are two keys to getting organized. The first is to take that first step. Nothing will get done unless you start first. The second key is to keep taking steps until it is done. But sometimes a project seems so large that it overwhelms us and procrastination sets in. We can beat procrastination get organized with a four step plan.

1. Break It Down
We can make any project more manageable by breaking it down into smaller tasks. If you are cleaning out the garage, maybe you could break it down into clearing out the garbage, going through those storage containers in the corner and organizing the tools. These smaller tasks are less likely to overwhelm you. If a project is very large, the first round of tasks may still be too large. You may need to continue to break those tasks down to smaller ones until you feel that each task is manageable.

2. Prioritize
Now that you have a list of manageable tasks, decide what order to do the tasks. There may be some tasks that are time sensitive. Some tasks must be done before you can tackle other ones. And you may want to do a few easy tasks to start with just to get your feet wet. You can choose any order that works for you.

3. One Step at a Time
Now, take the first task on your list and do it. This is where procrastination will want to interfere. Don't let it. Don't worry about how much is left on the list, just concentrate on the task at hand and do it.

4. Take a Step Back
This last step is often overlooked, but can be the most important. If you start to feel overwhelmed at any point, stop and take a break for a few minutes. Step away and clear your head. After a few minutes, come back and start again fresh.

Every project is a series of steps. Take each step one at a time and keep moving. Before long, you'll find you're done.

"One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time." - Barbara Walters, TV personality
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RE: Writing - Long Sentences
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jun 10, 2011 Some people say that long sentences should be avoided like the plague. Others say that short sentences are hard to read. The length of sentences is a topic that sparks heated debates. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject. Here's mine boiled down to three guidelines.

Stay Focused
Each sentence should be focused on a single idea. The job of a sentence is to convey that idea from your mind to your reader's mind. When you try to include too many ideas in a sentence or try to pack too much information about an idea into a sentence, you may lose your reader.

It Isn't Literature
Many of the examples of long sentences used to show how long sentences are fine and dandy come from authors such as Shakespeare, William Faulkner, and Jonathan Coe who has a 13,955 word sentence in his novel, The Rotter's Club. Novelists have the luxury of writing long sentences. In business writing, no one would bother to read a sentence that is several hundred or several thousand words long.

Variety is the spice of life
Sentences should be as long as they need to be. In the end, you should have a variety of sentence lengths. The length of a sentence isn't as important as its readability and its ability to convey the message you need to convey.
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Wellness 101 - "Good" Cholesterol
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), Jun 8, 2011 One of the common blood tests done for an annual checkup, or available as part of a workplace wellness program, is the lipoprotein or lipid panel. One of the numbers measured in a lipid panel is how much cholesterol is contained in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles and is often referred to as "good" cholesterol. But, what does this number tell you?

Why is it important?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in food from animals such as meat, eggs and dairy products. HDL particles transport cholesterol to the liver, adrenals, ovary and testes. This cholesterol is then excreted from the liver into the intestines or used to synthesize steroid hormones. Unlike total cholesterol and LDL, a higher number is better.

What is considered normal?
Less than 40 mg/dL Low
40-59 mg/dL Borderline Low
60 mg/dL or higher Desirable

How can I try to increase HDL?
  • Increase the amount of regular physical activity.
  • Reduce trans fats and eat a balanced nutritious diet.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to increase your HDL.
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Wellness 101 - "Bad" Cholesterol
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), May 20, 2011 One of the common blood tests done for an annual checkup, or available as part of a workplace wellness program, is the lipoprotein or lipid panel. One of the numbers measured in a lipid panel is how much cholesterol is contained in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles and is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. But, what does this number tell you?

Why is it important?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in food from animals such as meat, eggs and dairy products. When cells need cholesterol, they create LDL particles to collect the cholesterol. These particles can also transport cholesterol into the artery wall where they attract white blood cells which engulf the LDL particles and start the formation of plaque. This plaque can lead to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

What is considered normal?
Less than 100 mg/dL Optimal
100-129 mg/dL Near Optimal
130-159 mg/dL Borderline High
160-189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL or higher Very High

How can I try to reduce LDL?
  • Know Your Fats.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
  • If you are overweight, losing 10% of your body weight can significantly improve your health.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to decrease your LDL.
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RE: Writing -Fonts & Typefaces
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), May 17, 2011 The words font and typeface are often used to refer to the design of a particular set of characters such as "Times New Roman" or the infamous "Comic Sans" typefaces. However, a font is actually one instance of a typeface that includes size, weight, spacing and more. While not knowing the difference is not a major mistake, using the wrong font or too many typefaces can be.

The Right Font
Using the right font is important to make your writing legible. Using Old English or French Script typefaces might seem cool to some, but they can make it hard to read your message. The same is true about the size of your text. You might be tempted to shrink the text down to fit everything on one page, but unless your reader has a magnifying glass on hand, your message may go unread.

Fewer Typefaces
When you use too many different typefaces on a page, it can be distracting and your message can become disjointed. Also, keep your font choices few. Too many different sizes and styles can also detract from your message.

Recommended Typefaces
Although choice of typefaces is often a personal preference, several publishing websites recommend the following guidelines. Choose typefaces appropriate for the media. For print media, use serif typefaces such as Times, Palatino and Century for the body text or smaller text. Serif typefaces have details on the ends of the letter strokes that make it easier for your eyes to follow from one letter to another. For headlines and larger print, use sans serif fonts like Helvetica, Arial and Calibri. For screen and web, the opposite is true, sans serif for smaller text and serif for headlines and larger text.

Don't let your typefaces stand in the way of your written message. Keep it simple and let your message speak for itself.
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Get Organized
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), May 12, 2011
Get Organized - Everything in its Place
Is your desk hidden under a layer of papers? Do you often need someone to call you so that you can find your phone? One of the purposes of getting organized is to be able to find what you need. And the key to being able to find something is to have everything in a place of its own.

Find it a Home
Whenever you put something down, ask yourself if that is where it should go. Papers should be in a simple filing system. Keys and phones could be placed in a bowl next to the door. Dirty clothes should be in a basket not under the bed.

Do it Now
Even if you think you will get back to it later, put it away now. By the time later comes around, you may not remember where you left it. If you need a reminder to finish it, don't use the pile of papers as a reminder, make a note of it on a to-do list and file the papers away.

Make it a habit
It might take a while to make this a habit but if you keep working on it, it will become second nature and finding something will be fast and easy. Now if we could just get our kids to put their toys away.
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Get Organized
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), May 3, 2011
Capture
One of the first habits that you need to cultivate in order to bring more organization into your life is to capture all the tasks, ideas, projects and information that come to you each and every day and keep that information in one place so that it can be dealt with rather than forgotten and lost.

To capture this information, you need an easy-to-use and portable tool. Below are three tools that you can use to capture this information.

Notebook
You can keep a small notebook and pen on you at all times to write down all the information that pops into your head. This is probably the easiest method of capture, but you have to remember to add this information into your master to-do list when you get back to your home or office.

Evernote
Evernote is an internet based system with applications for the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Palm, Windows Mobile and Android phones. Their basic account is free. While it is a little more complicated than just a notebook and pen, the information stored in Evernote is automatically synced with the apps on any other devices that you use.

WorkFlowy
WorkFlowy is a web-based system of lists. Although they don't have apps for specific devices, it is a simple application that will work in the browser of your PC, Mac or smart phone. Their accounts are free. Being a web-based system, the information stored in WorkFlowy is available via the internet anywhere.

The key to organization is to capture the tasks, ideas and information so that you can act on them. Find a tool that works for you and carry it with you everywhere.
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RE: Writing
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), April 19, 2011
Corporate-Speak
Imagine you saw an advertisement peppered with corporate-speak like this.

Individuals who purchase our goods are advised to action their sporting deliverables at their earliest convenience and with the minimum of delay.

Are you ready to rush out and purchase their product? Probably not. More likely, you wouldn't know what they are talking about. Corporate-speak is used to try to make writing sound more authoritative or just to sound like a big corporation. Unfortunately, it usually just confuses the message.

Good writing is about communicating a clear message, not demonstrating your vocabulary or confusing the message with corporate-speak. However, avoiding corporate-speak isn't about dumbing down your writing. It is about communicating your message with short, simple sentences.

Nike avoided corporate-speak when they came up with their slogan. Rather than using the statement above, they got straight to the point.

Just Do It

When it comes to avoiding corporate-speak, take their advice.
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Wellness 101
by Steven Cameron (Programmer/Analyst), April 19, 2011
Total Cholesterol
One of the common blood tests done for an annual checkup, or available as part of a workplace wellness program, is the lipoprotein or lipid panel. One of the numbers measured in a lipid panel is total cholesterol. But, what does this number tell you?

Why is it important?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and found in food from animals such as meat, eggs and dairy products. The body needs some cholesterol in order to produce hormones, Vitamin D and bile acids that help digest fats. If your cholesterol is too high, it may lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

What is considered normal?
Less than 200 mg/dLDesirable
200-239 mg/dLBorderline High
240 mg/dL or higherHigh

How can I try to reduce total cholesterol?
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Increase the amount of regular physical activity.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
  • If you are overweight, losing 10% of your body weight can significantly improve your health.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a medication specifically to decrease your cholesterol.