Inspiring Ingenuity

Alteryx, Bicycles and Teaching Kids Programming.


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New York Times COVID-19 Data

Updated on 2020-03-29 with the latest data and minor style changes.

Once again, I had thought that I was done blogging about either Alteryx or COVID-19… But then the New York Times had to go creating an awesome data set – which you can find here. It is the only data set I have found that has county level data going back to the beginning of the pandemic.

My daughter, Calais Harding, helped me build the maps – it is very time consuming to get right. This time I wanted to make a thematic map that showed both cases and deaths. The trick for doing that – with Alteryx or any other mapping package – is that the thematic ranges have to be set once and reused for all the maps. In this case, that meant we had to use manual tiles. We also picked some colors anticipating future growth in the data. Hopefully it won’t grow too far!

For deaths, we chose to go the blob route. There is a second layer themed on the absolute number of deaths overlaid on top.

Finally, the animated GIF was getting to large for online platforms, so we used ffmpeg to convert to an MP4 this time and upload to YouTube. This really shows the flexibility of Alteryx that you can accomplish all this with 1 click of the run button.

The Alteryx workflow can be found here. And the original high res MP4 without the YouTube processing can be found here.


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A tale of 2 maps

Update 2020-03-26 – updated animated map

I often see maps in the news that I find extremely lacking. I considered showing some particularly shameful maps, but the world has enough negativity in it right now. I am hoping that I can teach by example and show some nice techniques and maybe in my small way change the conversation.

Designing maps that display data clearly and honestly is exceptionally difficult. At first it seems so easy, but there are so many ways to go wrong. For example, we have all seen the political maps that make the entire country light up in one color, even though the candidate of the other color won the popular vote. In this particular case, the map is mistaking land area for popular support. If only mountains could vote.

So in general, whenever you paint a map with colors, be careful not to just make a plot of land area. Generally you can do this in 2 ways.

  1. Plot a rate or a ratio or something similar.
  2. Make all the geographies the same size (see here or below.)

Either, it takes land area out of the equation making a rural area on equal footing with a city. In the below map, I chose to show the rate of infections per 100,000 people. I feel that it is very easy to understand and conveys a very accurate picture of the problem facing our country. This is among the simpler maps that Alteryx can do and should be the default type of map unless you have another idea.

So where did the above map fail? It has a difficult time showing the intensity of the problem in New York City. The city (as as today, March 24th) is nearing a 1% infection rate! It is really horrifying. We could make the colors brighter or darker, but since the city is so small on the scale of things, that doesn’t help very much. Really the only way to address this is with physical scale. Many maps will paint blobs all over the map. In order to have the visual impact needed, they need to be quite large. Unfortunately, this means they almost certainly will overlap

So for the next map, I am making 2 changes. The first is that I am going to show a dot for each person that is currently infected with COVID-19. This is easy to understand. Since I don’t have actual point data of the real people being infected, I am picking a random point in their state. Going out to the state level leaves more room to disperse the NYC points and show the severity of the problem.

The other major thing that I changed is adding movement. Our eyes are amazing at picking out movement and that really helps draw us in to where the problem is. Did you know Alteryx can do animated maps? It sortof can’t, but its not that hard. This is a batch report writing to all separate PNG files that I combined with Image Magick. But since Alteryx can run command line tools it all happens seamlessly with one click of the run button.


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COVID-19 Data

Update – new data for 2022-03-24 I have no words!

Update – new data for 2022-03-23 More of the same – not looking good.

Update – new data for 2020-03-22 Lots more cases and older people getting hit harder than ever.

Update – new data as of 2020-03-21 It shows that it continues to big a big problem for the older population.

Wow – I did not think that I was ever going to be writing another Alteryx blog post…  I have been out of day to day operations for a few years and starting this year I have no association with Alteryx at all.  However, it is still the best data analysis tool out there and Alteryx has been kind enough to let me keep a license. If you just want the conclusion, here is my Colorado COVID-19 report.

Like everyone, I have been obsessively following the COVID-19 data.  We are all scared. Colorado has upped its game on data reporting for this crisis with this portal: https://covid19.colorado.gov/data In particular though, I have a few issues with it. While Tableau produces very nice looking charts and maps, Tableau is not the best way to publish high volume data. The site is crashing periodically and having various issues. If you look at the # of network requests it takes to serve up this one page, it is insane. I have argued for years that static reports are generally more appropriate than interactive for this reason among many. But if the report was just a static PDF, it would make it much easier to put on a content distribution network.

My second issue with the Colorado was one particular chart. The reported positive tests by age just end up looking like an age histogram of the state. I was afraid that this diminished the threat of this virus to older people. See the chart below (copied from https://covid19.colorado.gov/data on 2020-03-21):

It kind of makes it look like there is no problem with the older crowd. I found this hard to believe. I am not an expert on data visualization (I am a software architect/programmer). But I do know a thing or 2. Most importantly is that reporting absolute numbers can often be misleading. It is always better to normalize values. In this case a chart with infection rate instead of raw #’s paints a very different picture:

In this case it is very obvious that older individuals are not getting this disease at a lower rate. And the hospitalization rate for older individuals is very high.

So long story short, I decided to make my own static report on COVID-19 for the state of Colorado. I used the data from the Colorado open data portal: here. This data seems to be 1 day out of date for Colorado. I also wanted to add some national data charts which I got here. Because of the nature of the update schedule, this data seems to be 2 days out of date. And finally the age breakdown data for Colorado does not seem to be anywhere for download, but it was a small enough amount of data that I just typed it in. This would all be very easy to adapt for your own state. For obvious reasons, Colorado is where I am interested right now.

So here is what I did: Colorado COVID-19.yxmd and Colorado COVID-19 report. If there is interest, I will re-run and update the report daily. Let me know.

Footnote: thoughts about Alteryx now that I am a few years removed from it (note: many of these issues are probably originally my fault, I am not placing blame):

  • The download tool temporary file mode is not really documented. Being a few years out it took me a few minutes to figure out how to follow that with a dynamic input tool. That should be easier and better documented. It makes it really easy to read a CSV from the web.
  • The interactive chart needs an option to have a logarithmic scale. Especially for this data.
  • Why is the chart tool in pixels when the other report tools are in inches/cm? And why does it default to 72dpi when the rest of the report tools (and windows in general) default to 96dpi? And what’s up with LaTeX? And finally – it doesn’t work sometimes if you haven’t run your workflow recently. It would be awesome if it told you that.
  • Getting all the tools lining up and connections not intersecting is as hard as ever.
  • I have a fairly big laptop screen, but with almost requiring the config and output windows up all the time, you have a very small amount of work area left. And it still doesn’t support high resolution screens very well.
  • Tabs within tabs within tabs. All with different styles to try to make you think you aren’t in tabs.


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Changes and Thank you

In 1997 when Dean, Libby and myself founded SRC we had a 5 year plan.  Little did we know that 5 years would bring 9/11, the dot com bust and some of the most difficult business times of our lifetime.  By 2010 we had rebuilt and reimagined the company as Alteryx and are now 8 years into another 5 year plan. I have given my working life to this company and product called Alteryx and I am super proud of what we have created.  But with so many 5 year plans come and gone, the time has come for me to move on to the next phase of my life. While I will no longer be working at Alteryx on a daily basis, I will be available as an advisor to the company and developers for the foreseeable future.  I am proud to have earned the titles: “Co-Founder of Alteryx”, “Creator of the Alteryx Engine” and “Creator of the Alteryx Designer.” I will wear them with pride for the rest of my life. I consider myself extremely lucky and wish to thank everyone in the extended Alteryx community.  So a huge thank you to everyone in the community and specifically to:

Co-Founders:  I am lucky to have had the privilege to found this company (twice!) with Dean & Libby who have worked tirelessly to create something bigger than all of us.  Thank you.

Investors:  We have been very fortunate to have investors who believed in our vision.  I think that we have built a foundation that will stand the test of time. Thank you.

Contributors to the product:  I first want to thank Tara, Rob B and Linda.  They were so instrumental to the creation of the product that it wouldn’t be the same without each of them.  I also want to thank Adam, Amy, Ben, Chris K, Chris N, Dan, Darren, Gary, Jarrod, Josh, Kory,
Kurt, Melissa, Nathalie, Rob M, Scott, Steve A. and many others who have helped in so many ways to make the product better.  Thank you. There is a much larger list who are continuing to work on the product today. I hope everyone gets to know them in the future, because the product is in great hands and I am excited to see what they accomplish.

Contributors to the company:  A product is worth exactly nothing without a great company behind it.  Alteryx is a great company and has so many people that are passionate about serving customers, users and other employees.  It has truly been a pleasure working with everyone. In specific I would like to thank Anna R, Chad, Grace, Jack, Keith, Kim, Lonny, Margarita, Margie, Maureen, Mike C, Paul, Reed, Rod, Seema, Wendy and many many others.

Users: Without users, there is no product.  From before 1.0 to the present day, we have always had an amazing group of passionate users.  At any given time, there has always been a few users that have had my direct phone number and have given me invaluable feedback and advice.  Never once has anyone ever abused that privilege. I hesitate to name anyone because there are so many I can’t fit them here, but in specific I would like to thank Adam, Adrian, Andy, Cady, Chris L, Gary, James, Jim, Joe L, Joe M, John, Ken, Mark, Mike, Nathalie, Ron, Sean, Steve P., Todd and Tom.

The Alteryx Community:  The community that all of you have built around Alteryx is amazing.  Never in the history of software has there been such a vibrant community of amazingly nice and kind people.  You guys are amazing. Thank you. Alteryx would never have made it without you.

My Family:  Thank you to my parents for buying me that TRS-80 when I was 10 years old.  I think we can say the investment finally paid off. Thank you to my 4 children for being on the ride with me.  You make life interesting and worth living. And last, but very much not least, a huge thank you to Nathalie – you are the love of my life and I am so excited to be with you every day.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

I am certain that I have forgotten many people that I individually want to thank – so many people have helped me along the way.  So a huge thank you for reading and sharing this journey with me. I would love to hear from all of you. Reach out to me on social media or ned (at) inspiringingenuity (dot) net.  And if you find yourself in Colorado, lets get together for a bike ride, hike or coffee.

Thank you,

Ned.


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Alteryx: New in 10.1 – HTML SDK

With the release of Alteryx 10.1, we’ve added a new software development kit that will enable our users to easily write their own Alteryx tools using web technologies – HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. We think these changes will make Alteryx tool development quicker, simpler and more accessible than ever before – we hope you’ll give our new SDK a try! This is the first in a series of tutorials that will demonstrate how the SDK works.

I’d like to welcome Mike Niland as a co-author.  He is a developer here at Alteryx  and has been working on the HTML SDK feature and graciously offered to help me write a series of posts exploring the new HTML/Javascript SDK.  Read on for more details: Continue reading


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A Classic Colorado Ride

I am obviously passionate about Alteryx, being one of its creators, but I am equally passionate about cycling in general, and Colorado in particular.  Now that I have subscribers from all over the world on this blog, I think its time to show off this amazing state of Colorado.

I was fortunate to have time to ride the Copper Triangle course today.  It is one of the classic Colorado bike rides.  Enjoy the ride and Colorado in pictures. Continue reading


Alteryx: Open Source YXDB

A few years back, we mentioned a open source YXDB reader/writer on LinkedIn.  After that, a whole lot of nothing.  It turns out that Alteryx did release the open source YXDB code, but it was so stealth that no one noticed.  This code is used inside of an R plugin, which had to be GPL’s because of R’s licence.  But since it was never published as a way to read/write YXDBs, no one noticed.

The thread on LinkedIn was recently revived, so I decided it was time to expose it to a bigger audience.

Continue reading