Mike Scalise

Mike Scalise

My thoughts on SQL Server, Project Management, Fitness, and all points in between

GREATEST / LEAST Function Alternatives in SQL Server

One of the most upvoted requests on feedback.azure.com is for Microsoft to add MAX/MIN as non-aggregate functions in SQL Server. In other words, the GREATEST and LEAST functions that we have been able to find in MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle for a while.

These functions are fairly simple in nature. They’ll return the highest or lowest value from a list of values or fields. In other words, the greatest or least value out of values on the same row. So it’s a bit of a mystery why something so simple and readily available in other RDBMSes hasn’t been included in SQL Server…until now…kinda.

As of 4/14/21, Microsoft has officially announced that the GREATEST and LEAST functions are in Azure SQL Database and SQL Managed Instance. Unofficially, it seems they had silently included these functions in at least (no pun intended) SQL Managed Instance several months prior. In any case, here we are today with official Microsoft documentation on GREATEST and LEAST. This is all great news. What’s also great is that, in their statement, Microsoft stated they would be including these two functions in the next version of SQL Server.

But what about all of us on SQL Server 2019 and prior? Fortunately, there’s a way to mimic these two functions in your queries using a correlated subquery in the SELECT clause.

In the simplest form with just a list of static values, you can use this syntax:

SELECT (SELECT MAX(val) FROM (VALUES (10), (30), (20), (5)) val_tbl(val)) AS Greatest,
       (SELECT MIN(val) FROM (VALUES (10), (30), (20), (5)) val_tbl(val)) AS Least;

Here’s an example querying a table of values:

SELECT t.val1,
       t.val2,
       t.val3,
       (SELECT MAX(val) FROM (VALUES (t.val1), (t.val2), (t.val3)) val_tbl(val)) AS Greatest,
       (SELECT MIN(val) FROM (VALUES (t.val1), (t.val2), (t.val3)) val_tbl(val)) AS Least
FROM   (VALUES (151,275,179),
               (64,268,240),
               (216,29,156),
               (252,271,200)) t(val1, val2, val3);

Or, if you happen to have the Stack Overflow Database, you can try this example:

SELECT p.Id,
       p.AnswerCount,
       p.CommentCount,
       (SELECT MAX(val) FROM (VALUES (p.AnswerCount), (p.CommentCount)) val_tbl(val)) AS Greatest,
       (SELECT MIN(val) FROM (VALUES (p.AnswerCount), (p.CommentCount)) val_tbl(val)) AS Least
FROM   Posts p;

While it would’ve been great to have had these functions all along, I’m happy they’re on their way and that there’s a viable alternative in the meantime.

T-SQL Tuesday #136: Blog About Your Favorite Data Type (Or Least Favorite)

T-SQL Tuesday

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Brent Ozar (b|t) and the topic is “Blog About Your Favorite Data Type (Or Least Favorite)”

A Little Background

For those of you who don’t know, T-SQL Tuesday is the brainchild of SQL Server Guru Adam Machancic (t). It is a monthly blog party where a person is chosen to be the blog “host” for the month, chooses a topic (can be technical or non-technical), and charges IT professionals to write about the topic on their respective blogs, then link back to the host blog.

Once the month has concluded, the host makes a roundup post comprised of links to each participant’s post. It’s a great way for people to learn a lot about a topic from incredibly knowledgeable people, and it’s wonderful for the participants as they get to contribute to the community and the greater good.

I’m sorry but you’re not my type.

I was planning to kick this T-SQL Tuesday off by writing about my favorite SQL Server data type–the VARCHAR. Yes, it has many good qualities, not the least of which is its fairly high data type precedence, allowing it to be implicitly converted to several lower-precedence data types. A real forgiving type…

But instead I’ve decided to focus on a data type that I really, really dislike–TEXT. Sure, it sounds like it would fit the bill for…well…anywhere you need to store large amounts of text….but did you know that this fun data type has been deprecated since SQL Server 2005? That’s 16 years ago. 7 SQL Server versions ago. Yet it still finds its way into modern versions of SQL Server. I mean, sure, Microsoft has announced that it will be removed in a future version (in favor of VARCHAR(MAX)), but until then, here are some fun facts about the TEXT data type:

  1. You can’t use it with the = operator. You read that correctly. The most common operator in the WHERE clause. Can’t use it. You have to use LIKE or convert the field beforehand.
  2. You can’t use it in a UNION or UNION ALL because it’s not comparable.
  3. INTERSECT? Nope.
  4. EXCEPT? No.
  5. Well surely you can sort by it, right? Haha no.

See a pattern here?

It’s not me. It’s you.

It’s easy to see the myriad limitations of the TEXT data type–which is probably why Microsoft has encouraged developers to use VARCHAR(MAX) instead. It has served its purpose for earlier versions of SQL Server, but it’s time to move on.

And honestly, I don’t like focusing on the negative as there’s enough of that going around in this world, but I can make an exception for a data type that has no place in our beloved SQL Server databases.

I’m a Completist

It dawned on me recently. My wife and I have been watching the show “White Collar” on Hulu over the past couple of months, and now we’re on the brink of completing the series. This fact made me immediately think about how I would have another show under my belt. Maybe it’s the sense of closure, maybe it’s just a deep-rooted need to finish what I start, but looking back at the past 20 years or so (so essentially my adult life), I’ve done this quite a bit, oftentimes tracking my progress. So, I thought I would share with you some of the journeys I’ve completed over the years.

Note: At the time of documenting, I had completed the items. That’s not to say there weren’t new ones after the fact that put me behind again.

PARKER’S HERITAGE

I’m a big whiskey enthusiast. Of the variations, my favorite continues to be bourbon. The Parker’s Heritage collection from Heaven Hill Distillery is comprised of mostly bourbons, which a new and different release each year. Not only was it one of the first high-end and rare bourbons to get me into fine spirits, but it has a story behind it that makes it interesting. Couple that with the fact that once a year’s release is depleted, it’s gone for good–so it was important to me to try them all, which I talk about ad nauseam here. It didn’t help that I got into the collection around the release of the 9th edition–so I needed to seek out 8 years’ worth of releases to catch up. This year, Heaven Hill released the 14th edition.

Parker’s Heritage Editions 1-13
Parker’s Heritage Editions 1-13

G HUGHES BBQ SAUCE

In 2017, I began following a very strict diet in combination with a workout routine that was even more strict. I had a goal of losing about 20 lbs of fat (which I did!). When eating all of the “right” foods, I found myself consuming a lot of the same, oftentimes boring meals (e.g., chicken, broccoli, rice, etc.). To help jazz things up a bit, I used hot sauce, mustard, and the like. BBQ sauces were just not in the equation because they’re usually loaded with sugar. However, a friend of mine turned me on to G Hughes’ offering of sauces, which are completely sugar free. We often joke that they’re lying to us on the label because of how good and close to the real thing these sauces are. Unfortunately, only a couple flavors are available around me, so I had to look beyond my city’s limits to get ahold of each kind. I’m so happy that I did. Even though at the time I had tried them all, it looks like there’s yet another one they’ve released and now I must get (*sigh*).

G Hughes BBQ Sauces

DINERS DRIVE-INS, AND DIVES

My dad and I loved this show. It started in 2006, shortly after I had graduated from college and while I was living at home with my parents. We would watch it every chance we got. We both love food, so to see Guy Fieri travel around the country and vet all of these great local places was exciting for us. As such, we made it a goal of ours to try to hit up as many of these restaurants as we could. I would argue this was probably my first time attempting something with a completist mindset. We started with places that were in our home state of New York, with the very first being The Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, NY. Since we also traveled to New York City fairly frequently, this was an easy one to visit on the way home. We often piggybacked on trips to try more and more restaurants. Others include Mo Gridder’s BBQ in the Bronx and The Mad Greek diner, that we visited on our drive from Las Vegas to LA in 2008. Those were some great times, with great food and great company. We even gifted my dad the book in hopes we could keep it going as long as we could.

I moved out of the area in 2009 and Guy visited way more restaurants than we could keep up with, but we sure as hell tried. On a few one-off trips, like to visit my friend Mike in Baltimore, I visited restaurants that were on the show (e.g., The Blue Moon Cafe for their Cap’n Crunch French Toast). It was still a lot of fun, but I do miss those road trips with my dad.

My Dad in Front of Mo Gridder’s BBQ
The Mad Greek Diner
My Friends Sitting Next To Blue Moon Cafe

BROOKE AND JUBAL SECOND DATE UPDATE

This is a former radio segment originally on Movin 92.5 in Seattle,WA where listeners would call in to talk about how they went out on a date with another person and can’t understand why they never got a callback or text after the date. The hosts, Brooke and Jubal, would call the person who ghosted the listener and say, “Listener called us and explained your first date, which sounded nice, and so they’re wondering why you haven’t returned any of the texts or calls for a second date.” After usually being weirded out by the fact that a radio station was calling them, the person would inevitably explain what happened on the date and why they weren’t calling back. Meanwhile, the listener who called in would be hanging out listening on the other line. After everything was explained, Jubal would tell the person that the listener was on the other line (further weirding them out). Then the two would either talk or duke it out. Sometimes the listener wouldn’t even wait for Jubal’s cue, and instead just interrupt the conversation to defend or explain themselves. Finally, each call concluded with Jubal asking the person if they would like to go on a second date with the listener and that the radio station would pay for it.

While the methods were a bit unorthodox, the concept is relatable, because I think a lot of people in the dating world who have been ghosted would love to know why. The stories and dates the people would talk about were damn interesting, like when one listener took the other on a mac and cheese spree to find out which restaurant had the best mac and cheese in the city. Actually, there I go again…even my example there is “completist” requiring that they hit up all of the restaurants that offer mac and cheese. Anyway, equally as interesting was the conversation that ensued after the reason the person wasn’t calling back was revealed. Surprisingly, I would estimate an even split for people who would agree to go on a second date (because of a misunderstanding or just wanting to give a second chance after hearing the other side of the story), and those who had good reason not to call the listener back.

While the show debuted in 2011, I began listening in early 2018 when I was doing a fair bit of commuting. The episodes were just about the right length for me to complete at least two a day–and eventually I had completely caught up, which was a good feeling. These days, I believe Jubal has moved on to other adventures and a host by the name of Jeffrey works alongside Brooke on the segment. While I’m sure content is still very amusing, I too have moved on from this endeavor.

NEWBURY PARK PASTRIES

In the summer of 2018, my wife and I decided to finally remodel our kitchen. Trust me, it needed it. We got a recommendation from my wife’s cousin for a great contractor, Scott–a person who had remodeled numerous kitchens and bathrooms, and whose craftsmanship and meticulousness was unparalleled. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the outcome.

Since Scott was working out of three rooms of our house (tools, equipment, etc.), it was fairly common for he and I to strike up a conversation. Oftentimes, we would talk about food and grilling, an which places we should each try. He turned me on to a place near one of his supply stores called “Pot Pies” by Newbury Park Pastries.

Now who doesn’t love pot pies? They come in a variety of sizes with a variety of fillings and toppings. They’re a blank canvas. However, despite their options and versatility, they’re globally recognized, in general, as a comfort food, and not something you would typically want to get in the summertime.

But I don’t subscribe to that. Who says you can’t have dinner for breakfast? Who says cake has to be cut in squares or triangles? Just because something seems normal doesn’t mean it’s right or that it’s the only way. So given my stance, I took Scott’s advice and paid a visit to the small commercial kitchen/establishment, where I met the owner, Kate Schlenker.

Kate is a wonderful person. She has a background in the culinary arts and an appreciation for fine foods. As such, she will only work with quality ingredients in everything she makes, which, as a consumer, I also appreciate and gladly pay for. In the early stages of Kate’s career, she produced and distributed homemade desserts to area restaurants who didn’t necessarily have the capacity or desire to do so in-house. Over time, Kate perfected pot pie crusts and began to shift her focus in that direction, developing numerous staple and specialty offerings (weekly) to her customers. Much like my experience with Parker’s Heritage, there were several I hadn’t tried, so I took it upon myself to make it a goal to sample all of them. Fortunately, Kate offers both small and large pot pies, which made it easier and more affordable for me to contour my purchases to my situation that week. For example, if there was a pot pie that only I cared to try, I would by the small one, but if it was going to be a family meal, I would get the large one.

So what are some of the flavors of these pot pies, you ask?

Well, the four staple pot pies that are available each week are Chicken, Veggie, Shepherds, and Panang. The list of specialty pot pies is much, much longer. Here’s my list of all of the pot pies I’ve tried so far, in the order I’ve tried them, followed by the ones I know Kate makes, but haven’t yet tried.

Pot Pies I’ve Sampled

  • Chicken
  • Veggie
  • Shepherds
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Philly Cheesesteak
  • Panang
  • Lobster Mac and Cheese
  • Guinness and Steak
  • Panang with Chicken
  • BBQ Beef Brisket
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu
  • Bacon Double Cheeseburger
  • Chicken and Biscuit
  • Quiche
  • Chicken and Dumpling
  • Turkey Dinner
  • Crawfish Étouffée
  • Sausage, Onion, and Pepper
  • French Canadian Savory Tourtiere
  • Sea Amigos
  • Aussie
  • Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

Pot Pies I’ve Not Yet Sampled

  • Chicken Tarragon.
  • Chicken Enchilada.
  • Proper Pork
  • Shrimp Panang

Oh, and if you remember, I mentioned that Kate got her start with pastries and desserts–so she very frequently offers sweet pies, tarts, cakes, cookies, and the like alongside the savory pies. Again, all with the highest quality ingredients. In fact, as much as my wife and I enjoy her pot pies, we sometimes think her sweets are even better. Here’s my list of what I’ve had (in order) and not yet had of those:

Desserts I’ve Sampled

  • Peanut Butter Pie
  • Rugelach – Raspberry, Strawberry, Poppy Seed, Orange Marmalade, Fig, Apricot, Morello Cherry, Grapefruit Marmalade
  • Vanilla Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache
  • Apple Tart
  • Triple Berry
  • Biscotti – Lime Cashew Biscotti with Chocolate Drizzle, Almond Biscotti, Malted Milk Chocolate Almond Biscotti
  • Banana Cream Pie
  • Key Lime Pie
  • Chocolate Caramel Tart
  • Vanilla Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache and Strawberry Topping
  • Creme Brûlée
  • Mocha Chunk Cheesecake
  • Lemon Raspberry Tart
  • Carrot Cake Tart
  • Cherry Cheesecake Tart
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Tart
  • Cherry Tart
  • Blueberry Cheesecake Tart
  • Apple Bavarian Tart
  • Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Cream
  • Raspberry Cheesecake with Whipped Cream
  • Vanilla Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping
  • Coconut Cream Pie
  • Lemon Tart
  • Cherry Cheesecake Tart
  • Black Raspberry Cheesecake Tart
  • Chocolate Cream Pie
  • Cranberry-Orange Bread
  • Strawberry Chocolate Silk Pie
  • Chocolate Cherry Tart
  • Chocolate-Mint Brownies
  • Irish Creme Cheesecake
  • Chocolate Pecan Pie
  • Peanut Butter Brownies
  • Lemon Cream Pie
  • Triple Berry Cream Pie
  • Lemon Crème Brûlée
  • Raspberry Lime Cheesecake
  • Cranberry Orange Pound Cake
  • Yuzu Meringue Tart
  • Oreo Brownie

Desserts I’ve Not Yet Sampled

  • Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Tart
  • S’mores Brownie

Now simple lists can’t possibly do these pot pies or desserts justice, so here are a plethora of pictures I’ve compiled over the years.

Turkey Dinner Pot Pies
Sea Amigos and Tourtiere Pot Pies
Bacon Double Cheeseburger Pot Pie
Lobster Mac & Cheese and Chicken & Biscuit Pot Pies
Quiche
Array of Sweets
Array of Sweets
Array of Sweets

UTICA GREENS

Utica Greens (or “Greens” if you’re in Utica) are simply one of my favorite foods. Created in and popularized by Joe Morelle in Utica, NY, this dish is a combination of escarole, cheese, peppers, breadcrumbs, potatoes, and other wonderful ingredients. If you were to visit any Italian restaurant in Utica, the changes are high that they would have their version of Utica Greens on the menu. I’ve written about my favorite place to get Utica Greens along with a recipe I use when making them at home here.

That’s part of the problem. Now that I no longer live in Utica, if I want them, I have to make them myself. Granted, I still live in New York, so periodically, restaurants around the state will offer Utica Greens as a special. Of course, the completist in me needs to place an order every time I see them somewhere. Each time, I think I’m going to taste the real thing, and unfortunately, each time I’m let down. It’s nothing against the restaurants, and it’s not that they’ve tasted bad, it’s just that they’ve not been the Utica Greens that I know and love (and I like to think that the ones I’m accustomed to are the real deal). Alas, I share with you some photos of my journey trying Utica Greens from around the state.

Utica Greens – Perlo’s, East Rochester, NY
Utica Greens – McCann’s Local Meats, Rochester, NY
Utica Greens – Proietti’s, Webster, NY
Utica Greens – Pete’s Trattoria, Watertown, NY
Utica Greens Pizza – Dragonfly Tavern, Rochester, NY
Utica Greens – Wintonaire, Rochester, NY
Utica Greens – Pig Bleecker, New York, NY
Utica Greens – Veneto Wood Fired Pizza, Rochester, NY
Utica Greens – Georgio’s, New Hartford, NY
Utica Greens – My Homemade Recipe

TV SHOWS

Who doesn’t have their favorite TV shows that they could watch over and over? I know I have my share. Generally speaking, if I can get into a show within three episodes, I tend to follow the series all the way through. I’ve compiled a list of the shows I’ve completed here, in the order I’ve completed them.

  • The Office
  • Entourage
  • Friends
  • House
  • Silicon Valley
  • Modern Family
  • Breaking Bad
  • Girls
  • Catastrophe
  • You
  • Cobra Kai
  • Jack Ryan
  • Love
  • Workin’ Moms
  • Master of None
  • Below Deck
  • Below Deck Mediterranean
  • Suits
  • The Good Wife
  • American Crime
  • Everything Sucks!
  • Sneaky Pete
  • I’m Sorry
  • Million Dollar Listing
  • Imposters
  • Shameless
  • A Teacher
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • White Collar

Running The Utica Boilermaker for the First Time

I’m a Utica native. Utica, NY is a relatively small city in Upstate, NY. With a population of only about 60,000 people, the city boasts quite a few attractions. For one, we have the F.X. Matt Brewing Company, where you can get your fix of Utica Club and Saranac beer. For another, we have the Utica Zoo, has over 200 animals patrons can visit. Turning Stone Casino is a short 20-minute drive away. I could go on and on about the delicious foods exclusive to or popularized by Utica (like Utica Greens). But arguably, the most notable attraction of Utica, NY is The Boilermaker.

The Boilermaker is a 15k road race that brings together 14,000-18,000 runners from around the world and what feels like even more spectators. The race got its start in 1978 when a local Utica business, Utica Radiator Corporation, was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Earle Reed, an avid runner, and whose family owned the business, decided to hold the event and name it after the Utica boilers his family’s company produced. The first Boilermaker had 876 runners and is the only one in which Reed competed.

This race’s route leads itself right past the street I grew up on. So for decades, I would walk down my street and watch all of the runners whiz by, handing them cups of water and encouraging them to keep going and finish. Granted, the fact that the race ends right at the F.X. Matt Brewery where cold beers await may well have been motivation enough. Regardless, it was fun to watch.

In my mid-20s, after getting in great shape from weightlifting, I thought it would be cool to make running the Boilermaker a bucket list item and cross it off. Why not? I’m a native Utican, and this race put Utica on the map. The event has existed all of my life, so I’ve never had a good excuse not to run it. And, by this point in my life, I’ve had numerous friends run it multiple times. So it was time for me to add a bit of cardio to my otherwise exclusively weight training workouts.

What’s great was that my then girlfriend, now wife, was completely on board for Boilermaker training too–so we were able to support one another through the journey. In 2012, I began training on the elliptical machine in the gym, slowly increasing the duration, until I could complete 3.1 miles. At that point, I knew I could at least complete a third of the big race. I then began signing up for 5k road races, realizing that they would be more difficult than the elliptical machine (due to uneven terrain), but at least I knew I would be able to complete them. I never worried about how fast I could finish these races.

Here I am at some of those 5k races.

My first 5k: The Brighton Fun, Fit, 5k
Halloween-themed 5k Race
A Winter 5k
5k Race during Rochester Real Beer Week.

After successfully completing several of these 5k races in a variety of different weather conditions and locations, I became more confident in my running abilities. While I had only completed what amounts to a third of the distance of the Boilermaker, I signed up in January 2013 to run it in July of that year.

In the meantime, while I continued to run 5ks, I started to look at my times, and see how I was progressing since the distances were constant. Eventually, I began running longer distances on the elliptical machine in the gym, knowing that I would need to progress my distance if I was going to finish the big race.

The farthest I traveled on the elliptical machine in any one workout was 9.3 miles, the exact distance of the Boilermaker. Some might argue I should’ve surpassed the distance so that the actual race would be easier, but I was also told that the energy of the crowd the day of actually helps runners along a surprising amount–so I took my chances.

I should also mention that I had had shoulder surgery in May of 2013, three months prior to the race–so it was a bit challenging between my recovery from that + PT + training for the race. Suffice to say, I was just happy to be in a position to be able to train and run the race at all. I was just going to give it my best shot. I thought, if I succeed–great; if not–it was a hell of a journey.

As the date of the race approached, I looked for one more road race in late June 2013–ideally a 10k (6.2 miles). Unfortunately, there just wasn’t one. The closest I found was the Firecracker 5 Mile, about a week before the Boilermaker, which was a little shy of the 6.2 miles I was hoping for. Oh well, I thought it was better than nothing. My wife and I finished without an issue. Granted, my time was not great, but that didn’t bother me at all.

The following weekend arrived quickly. What excitement. It had been a while since I had dedicated myself so much to one thing. All of the training, all of the sweat, all of the pain (yeah, not gonna lie–there was pain with my shoulder, the running itself at times, etc.). I think the magnitude of the situation hit me when I went to pick up my running bib the day before the race. I realized there was no turning back.

Boilermaker Running Bib

The next day, two of our friends, my wife, and I all got up at my parents house, made our way to the starting line, and prepared to accomplish all of this together. We all ran it, we all finished successfully, and we all celebrated the shit out of our accomplishment afterward with some great food, laughs, and people. Much like Earle Reed, this would our one and only Boilermaker (at least as of writing this nearly 8 years later). I don’t know if I or we will ever run another, but I am happy for all of the preparation and determination we put in toward making this a reality. It was a significant accomplishment for us all.

Here we are celebrating afterwards.

Celebration after successfully completing the Boilermaker.

How to Increase Your Bench Press with Ed Coan’s Bench Press Routine

One of the most common questions strong-looking individuals get asked is, “How much can you bench?” The bench press is one of those exercises that has become the standard for gauging strength (and, some may argue, coolness) despite the fact that there’s so much more to weightlifting. And more specific than weightlifting in general, is powerlifting, which is comprised of the bench press, the squat, and the dead lift.

One of the most famous powerlifters of our time is Ed Coan. Coan set 71 records in his powerlifting career, which is an incredible feat. He is renowned as a legend in his sport, and his numbers prove it, with these single best lifts:

  • Squat: 981 lbs
  • Bench Press: 584 lbs
  • Dead Lift: 901 lbs

Suffice to say, he is a guy who knows what he’s talking about, and he has mentored numerous young lifters coming into the sport. Granted, he has failed drug tests in the past and been suspended and subsequently banned for life from the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), but his training techniques are tried-and-true. My dad and I were fortunate enough to meet Ed Coan at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH in 2009.

My Dad and I with Ed Coan (middle)

I want to share with you Ed’s bench press training routine. It’s a 12-week cycle that consists of regular bench presses, narrow-grip bench presses, and incline presses. Simply download this spreadsheet and type in cell D1 your current one-rep max bench press (in lbs). The spreadsheet will do the rest and calculate the weight, number of reps, and number of sets you should be striving for across the three aforementioned pressing exercises.

If you find that you are not able to meet the goal for any of the exercises on a given week, lower your number in D1 accordingly and continue following the plan. This is a great routine for anyone looking to increase their bench press, so stick to it and be safe!

T-SQL Tuesday #123: Life Hacks to Make Your Day Easier

T-SQL Tuesday

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is hosted by Jess Pomfret (b|t) and the topic is “Life hacks to make your day easier.”

A Little Background

For those of you who don’t know, T-SQL Tuesday is the brainchild of SQL Server Guru Adam Machancic (t). It is a monthly blog party where a person is chosen to be the blog “host” for the month, chooses a topic (can be technical or non-technical), and charges IT professionals to write about the topic on their respective blogs, then link back to the host blog.

Once the month has concluded, the host makes a roundup post comprised of links to each participant’s post. It’s a great way for people to learn a lot about a topic from incredibly knowledgeable people, and it’s wonderful for the participants as they get to contribute to the community and the greater good.

This 123rd T-SQL Tuesday is particularly special to me because it’s the first one I’ve participated in.

Life Hack

A life hack I learned about relatively recently is the Apple “Speak Screen” option on iPhones. This feature, which has apparently been around since the iOS 6 days, allows iPhones to speak the contents of web pages to you. How did I not know this existed?

When I first used this feature, I was blown away. My backlog of websites, blogs, and articles to read had been growing, and it seemed I would never make my way through all of the material. Now, when I’m in the shower, in the car, heck–even when I’m cleaning the house I can bring up a page I’ve been wanting to read and simply have Siri dictate it to me.

Here’s how to turn it on:

Settings –>Accessibility–>Spoken Content–>Toggle “Speak Screen” On

Or, just go to a web page ask Siri to “Speak Screen.” If it’s not enabled, it’ll give you the option to go to the aforementioned settings area and enable it; if it is enabled, it’ll speak the page to you.

There are several other related options you can set in this area, like whether text gets highlighted as it’s spoken, the rate at which text is spoken, etc.

As we all know, time is one of the few resources we simply cannot make more of, so our next best option is to be as efficient as we can with the time that we have available to us. “Speak Screen” has allowed me to significantly improve my efficiency and overall productivity. I highly recommend exploring this to see if it can help you too. If you want to do more reading on it, head over to Apple.

At The Arnold Classic, I Bench Pressed My Body Weight 25 Times

I graduated from college the first time in May 2006. I moved back home to Utica and lived with my parents for the next month while I interviewed for jobs. Interestingly enough, my first offer was for a company that also was in the Utica area. I took the opportunity to extend my stay with my parents and save some money (which was really helpful–thanks, Mom and Dad!). Aside from the financial benefit of living with my parents, I would be remiss not to mention the extensive gym my Dad had built in his garage over a couple of decades. And I don’t mean just bought equipment into a room. He actually designed and upholstered a lot of the benches and machines himself (well, ok, with the help of my Mom too). It was a really great setup.

My Dad had been working out for around four decades, and I knew he wouldn’t mind showing his son the ropes. Well over the next three years, my Dad and I turned into really great workout buddies. We knew the drill–get in the gym every other day, work out hard, get out of the gym and rest. Rinse and repeat. If nothing else we were disciplined. by 2009, I was in the best shape of my life. I had benched over 300lbs the prior year, my arms, shoulders, and chest had all grown in size. Even though my Dad was a little bit older than me, he grew quite a bit too. We worked well together.

In March 2009, we decided to go to the Arnold Sports Festival, put on by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. During the Expo, MHP Strong held a contest to see who could bench press their weight 25x. That’s 25 reps of your body weight, not 25x body weight ;-). My Dad encouraged me to try it. I thought, “Why not!?”

So here I am, at the ripe age of 24, weighing in at 173lbs and benching my body weight 25 times.

Mike Scalise Benching His Body Weight 25 Times

Earning My Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

THE HISTORY

The year was 2008. I was a young fledgling working for a safety and industrial supply company. The organization had just brought in a new director of Information Technology. As we began to email one another about business-related topics, I noticed in his signature that he had “PMP” after his name. As a curious individual, I decided to Google what that credential meant. What I found was that it stood for “Project Management Professional” and that it was (and still is) the world’s leading project management certification. I can see why, because the criteria to earn this distinction is as follows:

  • Must have at least 3-5 years of experience leading and directing cross-functional project teams and responsibility for project delivery
  • Earner must have minimum of 35 hours of formal project management education
  • Successfully complete the 200 multiple-choice questions, 4 hour PMP® certification exam
  • Earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years to maintain the PMP certification. Education PDUs earned focus on the areas of the PMI Talent Triangle – technical project management, leadership, and business and strategic management.

I thought, “wow, this could really help me build my skill set and advance my career.” However, at the time, it was just a thought. My priorities were different then–I was much more focused on physical fitness and my technical skill set. Despite not pursuing it at the time, I tucked the goal away for future date.

DIPPING MY TOE IN THE WATER

In 2009, after changing jobs and moving out of Utica, I felt like I had a fresh start my career (and to some extent, my life). I decided to do some self reflecting to figure out what I wanted from this change and how I could make the most of it. My new position’s schedule was actually one hour less than my prior one. There are approximately 260 work days in a given year, so this actually amounted to a fair amount of time savings…in my case over 7 weeks total each year.

Personally, I use a lot of this time savings and my other free time to enjoy my social life–playing kickball, hanging out with friends, etc. Professionally, I used some of it to attend Project Management Institute (PMI) events, like the PMI Research and Education conference in Washington, DC. PMI is the governing body of the PMP certification, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to network with others and see if it was an area I wanted to devote more time to. I also joined the local PMI chapter to meet like-minded people in the area and attend the myriad events they host. All of these experiences were incredibly positive, and it made me realize the PMP certification was something I wanted to pursue.

PULLING MY TOE OUT FOR A LITTLE BIT

Even before my goal of earning my Project Management Professional certification, I had wanted to return to school to earn my Master’s degree. Unfortunately, my previous position didn’t offer much with respect to education expense reimbursement. Conversely, my new position was actually at a higher education institution, which afforded me the opportunity to attend graduate school essentially for free. This was an incredible perk that I simply could not pass up. Therefore, while I had some peripheral experience with the PMI organization, I had to put my PMP pursuit on hold while I focused on my graduate work over the following 2 1/2 years.

While it was challenging, earning my Master’s degree was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I’m extremely grateful for the education I’ve received and the friends I made in the program. Furthermore, I was promoted the week after graduating, so it was an exciting time in my life. However, one of the reasons for the change in positions at my employer was that my mentor (and a great friend) had announced his retirement. My new responsibilities coupled with the need to hire and train a new employee meant that I had to, yet again, put my PMP pursuit on hold.

JUMPING IN

Finally, after years of managing and contributing to numerous projects, and after hiring someone into my old position, and training them over the course of 1-2 years, I was able to shift my focus yet again to the PMP certification. This time, I discussed it in depth with my boss and stressed the importance of accomplishing this goal (for both me personally and the organization). She completely supported my aspirations and asked how she could help me achieve my goal.

Fortunately, after having earned my Master’s degree and after working on projects for the organization for the previous 5 years, I had already met some of the pre-requisites. The two that I was missing were the 35 hours of formal project management education and the passing of the 200-question, four-hour test.

As someone in this position, I had a few options:

  1. I could’ve enrolled in a course that meets the education requirement, then studied books or online materials separately at my own pace and scheduled to take the test when I was ready. While I probably could’ve made this work, it wasn’t appealing to me at all. I needed some accountability and structure, and if I did everything self-paced and without the ability to ask questions, I think it would’ve been even more challenging.
  2. Attend a PMP boot camp, where you pay a lot of money, sit in a classroom (or virtual classroom) for several hours and several days (meets the education requirement) and get a ton of test material and questions thrown at you, followed by taking the test right at the end. These oftentimes come with a “guarantee” of your money back or a free second chance at the test if you fail. I’m sure this approach works for many people who want to just pass the test. However, as I mentioned before, I wanted to grow my skill set, not just regurgitate information to pass a test. So instead, I opted for the third option…
  3. Take a class, locally and in-person, over the course of 10 weeks, and schedule my exam shortly thereafter. For me, this was ideal. For one, the class was after work, right down the street. For another, the instructor was amazing, making some of the driest project management material exciting. For a third, taking the class over a two-and-a-half month period allowed me to digest the information each week, ask intelligent questions, and practice using quizzes they provided at the beginning. Speaking of materials, Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep book in combination with the book’s testing software. What an amazing combination. The book explained every topic clearly and concisely, and the software presented you with questions framed similarly to how the actual exam would ask them. They also provided explanations as to why certain answers were correct or incorrect (especially helpful because on the PMP exam, there can be many correct answers, but only one “best” answer).

Needless to say, the third option made a lot of sense for me, and my incessant and unwavering study habits led me to a point where I consistently scored 90% or above on the practice exams by the 10th and final class. In fact, I felt like I could teach the class. The instructor would say, when you reach this point, it’s time to schedule your exam. Once the class had concluded and my requisite education hours met, I documented everything I needed to apply for the exam using an earlier version of the PMP Application Assistant spreadsheet located here. Then, it was easy to copy and paste from the spreadsheet to submit my application and schedule the exam.

Another suggestion our instructor gave us was to visit the testing center a day or two before the exam to get an idea of how long it takes to get there, where to actually go once inside, etc. Essentially, his rationale was, there’s already a lot going on in everyone’s heads, including anxiety over the test, so don’t let simple matters like driving to the testing center and getting to the right suite add to the stress.

I took each and every one of his suggestions. While I hadn’t gotten a great night’s sleep the night before the exam, I still felt confident in my abilities. PMI states that 25 of the 200 questions are experimental and don’t actually get counted, so I figured I would need to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of the questions correct in order to pass the exam. My worry wasn’t knowing the answer to 75% of the questions–it was doing so within the 4-hour time limit. I’m traditionally a fairly long test taker. Add to that the fact that there could be multiple correct answers on a given question. So I needed to be sure about my answers quickly so that I didn’t spend 5 minutes on a question going through an elimination process etc. I needed to know the answers, be confident in my selections, and move on, which is exactly what I did.

The test took me over 3 hours and 50 minutes. I had only marked one or two questions as ones that I wanted to return to because I couldn’t decipher the “best” answer. I returned to those questions, answered them to the best of my ability, and then submit my exam. The beauty of modern technology and the fact that this exam is entirely comprised of multiple choice questions, means that the software will tell you immediately whether or not you passed. After clicking that final button and waiting for the next screen to load, my heart was pounding. After what felt like forever, the screen came up and displayed a message that said I passed.

This sounds weird, but I felt so many emotions at once (relief, joy, etc.) that I didn’t know which one to express. I think I just looked stoic. I got out of my seat, made my way over to the coordinator, and picked up my certificate, which I believe they stamped or embossed. Once I got to my car, I let my girlfriend, family, and my boss know that I passed. Not only was it on a Friday, but it was also my Dad’s last day of work before retirement. There were many reasons to celebrate that day.

I should also mention, that my girlfriend (now wife), had been waiting very patiently for a proposal, hung in there with me through all of the grad school work and the nearly three months of non-stop studying for this exam. About a month after earning my PMP, I proposed to her, and we got married the following year.

Video of How I Solved a Rubik’s Cube

I enjoy challenges. Actually, let me clarify that–I enjoy challenges that lead to a greater understanding of a subject, an increased skill set, and a sense of accomplishment. I do not like challenges just for the sake of a challenge if it makes things harder for me without any noticeable benefit.

To that end, nearly a decade ago, I thought it would be kind of cool to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube. I believed it would challenge my brain, occupy my down time, and give me a good story. I would argue that it accomplished all three. My myriad failed attempts, studying, and eventual solution also gave me reason to create a video tutorial to share with others who were interested in tackling this puzzle.

So without further ado, here is my approach to solving the elusive Rubik’s Cube.

Mike Scalise Solving the Rubik’s Cube

Solving this puzzle not only gave me a great sense of accomplishment, but it also inspired a cake I made for a square-themed IT holiday party!

Rubik's Cube Cake
Rubik’s Cube Cake

How to Make Utica Greens: The Right Way

Utica Greens cooking on the stove

As a native Utican, I’ve tried my fair share of Utica Greens over the past 25 years, from restaurants in both the Utica and Rochester areas. I believe Georgio’s Village Cafe in New Hartford makes the best, and this is my recipe that is as close to them as you can get:

The way I made the greens is really in three separate parts (the oreganato, potatoes, and greens themselves), then I assembled them right at the end. Obviously you can adjust the recipe any way you want (e.g., if you don’t like potatoes, just skip that section).

1) The Oreganato:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup bread crumbs (I used Progresso Seasoned)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Romano, grated (I used the Wegmans brand and got it grated)

Mix the oil, bread crumbs, and cheese until well blended. It should have the texture of moist beach sand. Set aside.

2) The Potatoes:

1 cup Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1” cubes
1/2 tsp. dried parsley (or 1 TBS fresh)
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss in a bag with 1/4 cup oil, parsley, garlic and onion powders and paprika.

Roast for 1/2 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3) The Greens:

3-4 heads escarole
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 chopped Vidalia onion
6 minced garlic cloves
8 oz. chicken or vegetable broth

Clean thoroughly as shown in this video

Follow this video to a tee, washing the escarole multiple times until the water is clear, then put it in a salad spinner.

In a large pan, sauté onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until it gets a little brown (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and cook for another minute. Chopped and add escarole to the pan. Cook down (about 5 minutes). Add broth, cover, and simmer until broth is reduced (about 45 minutes). Use tongs to move escarole to a bowl. Set aside.

ASSEMBLY:

1/8 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Romano, grated
6 oz. thin sliced hard salami (optional)
3-5 thin sliced sweet or hot cherry peppers (optional)
1-2 thin sliced sweet bell peppers (optional). I used these (https://www.mezzetta.com/mm5/graphics/00000001/Deli-Sliced-Sweet-Bell-Pepper-Sandwich-Strips_lg_2.png)
banana peppers (optional)

In a large pan, combine salami, peppers, and potatoes. Cook at medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add the greens you set aside. Add enough oreganato mix to cover the greens. Add cheese. Mix together in the pan. Transfer to a pan or baking sheet that can go in the oven and put under the broiler for about 2 minutes or until crisp. Serve.

On a side note, the oreganato recipe makes more than you’ll likely need. The idea is to mix it in good with the greens. You can always add more. Same with the potatoes. I had maybe 1/4 of the diced potatoes left over. I may have just started with a bigger potato, so adjust accordingly.

The final product:

Utica Greens served with a side of homemade garlic bread
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