Inspiring Ingenuity

Alteryx, Bicycles and Teaching Kids Programming.


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Alteryx Mapping: US at Night

US From Space

Click for more variables…

I love maps.  A picture is truly worth a thousand words.  Creating a great map is writing a story.  Sometimes that story tells the viewer what to think and sometimes it conveys information that lets them reach their own conclusion. Continue reading

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Teaching Kids to Program: Pong

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Last time I introduced the concept of teaching kids to program.  Can kids really program?  Let start by skipping to the end.  Click on the game on the left and play it for a bit…  I can wait.

Its fun, right?  Very simple but fun.  Our 8 year old was at the keyboard to make this game.  I was there for coaching and support, but all the design and behaviors came from the kids together and was “coded” by an 8 year old.

Programming with kids is no different that programming for a living.  You need to start with a plan.  It is OK, and even encouraged to diverge from the plan from the beginning, but you have to have an idea of where you want to go and you have to know where to start.  In this case we set out to write the classic Pong game.  We had no idea if we could do it in one session or how long it would take, but every journey begins with a step. Continue reading


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Alteryx: Reading XLSX Directly

Sometimes, it seems that Excel is the most popular database format for our customers.  My response has always been that Excel is not a database, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter – they have data there that they want to use in Alteryx.  In reality I am sure other formats get used more, its just that I hear about Excel so often because there are so many issues.

Our support for Excel files is through a Microsoft driver.  In the case of modern Excel (XLSX files) that support comes from the Access Database Engine.  There are a bunch of issues with this;  if you have a 32bit version of office installed, you can only have the 32bit driver which makes us have to jump through additional hoops if you have a 64 bit Alteryx.  For various reasons, it is a hard one for us to install as part of Alteryx, so it is left to the user.  This leaves these files unreadable on many machines.

Recently I got the following on our internal support email:

… The issue here is that when you bring the data of the spreadsheet into Alteryx, it rounds up the decimal points to fewer than from data that is showing in Excel. Where the spreadsheet shows 5 decimal points, Alteryx only brings in 4 decimal points. The user doesn’t need the entire decimal range, but at least wants to have the 5 decimals of data. …

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Teaching Kids How to Program

SONY DSC

Robo Puppy!

When I was 8 years old (or so, my memory isn’t very good any more), my school got access to a PDP-11 computer owned by another school 3 towns away.  We had 8 terminals running over a dedicated 2400 baud leased line, which gave us a whopping 300 baud connection at any given terminal.  At the time I couldn’t imagine needing more than 300 baud, since that was about as fast as I could read, why would anyone need more?

Being an 8 year old kid, my primary interest was playing games.  If memory serves me right, the only games available were the original Colossal Cave Adventure and a game called Skis where you had to build a business selling skis or something.  Of course I wanted more.  Someone handed me a copy of BASIC Computer Games and after hours of typing I was off and playing amazing games like Hunt the Wumpus!  Having to type in the source code was a quick jump start to learning how to program. Continue reading


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Alteryx: Ensuring fields are in a data stream

This week’s question:  How do I ensure fields are in a data stream?

This is a common issue when you are reading data that changes from time to time.  If you use a Crosstab Tool or are reading from an XML file, the output fields can change based on the presence (or absence) of specific input data.  This makes it very hard to write formulas, or really do any down stream processing on those fields.  In particular, what we want to do is ensure fields are present, but NOT change them if they are already in the record. Continue reading


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The Zen of Road Biking

imageProbably the only thing I remember from my 9th grade english class is Mr Brody emphatically saying “Start with the moose!”  Well, here’s a moose…

Road biking can be a very data centric activity.  I have a power meter; a GPS; I have contributed to open source software and used Alteryx for analyzing the data; I have had training plans.  Some days my work life and my play life aren’t that different.

Today was about none of that.  Today I pointed my bike uphill (west) and rode to the end of the road.  Most of the time around Boulder, the point when you can go no farther is Brainard Lake at more than 10,000 feet – which happens to be one of the most beautiful places I know. Continue reading


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Alteryx: Encrypting Data

Question: Can Alteryx do field encryption and then decrypt the field?  For example Example Social Security or Account Numbers?

I couldn’t help but take the challenge – I have been thinking about encryption a bunch lately…  Of course Alteryx has no built in method for encrypting data at this point, although it is a fine feature suggestion.  Don’t be surprised to see an AES_Encrypt(…) function at some point in the future. Continue reading