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10 - Fireball

Bulging Hats and Forecasting


The knitting needles clicked rhythmically.  I stared unseeing at the TV.  My hands kept moving.  I scowled at the wool yarn.  It was hot!  My hands were sweating in the warm Texas spring.  But I needed something to keep me busy.  I needed something to do.


Covid Lockdown had turned my busy social life into lots of Zoom lunches and Zoom happy hours.  My days of Alteryx User Group meetings had come to a screeching halt.  Zoom was good, but it wasn’t.


And the hat was going badly.  I couldn’t get the crown to shape in a nice smooth fashion.  No clue how I made it lumpy and weird.


When was this going to end?  Each day I looked at the models and the infection numbers. There was the John Hopkins Model and another good one out of Washington.  FiveThirtyEight even did a great piece comparing the different models, their strengths and weaknesses.


Someone had started a spreadsheet at work, tracking our internal infection rates.  I wondered if we could join that data and create a forward-looking model for our own infection rate.


The next day I pulled the Excel spreadsheet into Alteryx.  I downloaded a few different models and started playing.  Can we say join, and then Covariant Forecasting?  Like my lumpy hat, a few of them had some weirdness.  But one of them worked.


All of a sudden, we were looking at a forecast of infection rates internally—how many people would test positive each day for the next two weeks.


On our next WebEx Team meeting, I showed my boss.


“Cool.  Can you do that every week?”


“It’s an Alteryx workflow.  Can I do it every week?  Ah . . . yeah!”




I may not be able to make a hat that is symmetrical, but I can push run on a workflow.


Getting the hat right and getting forecasting closer to automatic


August heat faded into September chill.  Covid Infections continued to rage.  The public models showed rising trends, and the internal models followed right along.


I finally figured out my hat pattern.  The decreases for the crown needed to be evenly spaced.  Once I understood the ratios, I was able to do it the same way every time.  Like Unions where the data needs to line up, my decreases had to be the same way every time, spaced out so everything lined up.




But while my nice neat unions were working with my hats, things were falling apart with Covid.  Infection Rates and Hospitalization Rates now included Testing Rates and Positivity Rates.  Internally the spreadsheet was failing due to multi-infection and long Covid.  No evenly spaced decreases here.


A couple of dashboards had been built upon my output.  My workflow was now supporting dashboards seen at some of the highest levels.  They depended on me to produce consistent data, the same fields every time.  Alteryx to the rescue.


In this case, though, my Alteryx workflow was failing nearly every week.  It was an octopus breaking free.  Numbers were wrong in different ways every single week.  Patch, and patch again.  Test, browse, and test again.


Like my hats, the issue was in the unions and joins.  Things weren’t coming together.  Due to changes in the model data, and changes in our internal infection data, things weren’t joining right.


I didn’t know how to solve it.  But at least now I knew WHAT I was trying to solve.


Cables and ETL Logic


Thanksgiving was virtual that year.  We dropped off Thanksgiving dinner with my grown boys, masks up.  And then rushed home for a Zoom call so we could see them and talk. 


Christmas was on the back porch around a fire pit.  There were lots of blankets to help ward off the cold.  We live in Texas, so this was a real option.  And while Infection rates shot thru the roof that holiday season, our family continued to avoid Covid. 


I was bored with hats, and so went on to cable head wraps.  They covered my ears for morning dog walks.  Cabling is almost braiding.  It’s a really cool technique of picking up stitches and moving.  A cable hook is used to move the stitches to their new location.




Then in February, the snowpacolypse hit Dallas/Fort Worth.  My wonderful quiet home had power and water.  We put my parents and their dog in the guest bedroom.  One of my boys slept in my office, and the other boy slept in my husband’s office.  Somehow we crammed six adults and two dogs in that house.


Most of my teammates lost power, and one lost a roof to heavy snow.


Meanwhile, I suddenly solved my Covid problem!  Like cabling, I needed to move the data around.  I needed to braid my data thru the workflow.  Voila, my Alteryx cables!




I needed to handle each section individually.  Still Unioned at the end, but first, each section had to be cabled thru.  I had to pick it up and move it.  The Select tool allowed me to pick up just the data I needed for each “cable.”


I also borrowed a few lessons from our Database team.  What’s the stable data, and what is the transactional data?  Personal Information, and Event data. 


Three days of bursting at the seams, and I had a workflow that was stable.  I never had to fix or patch it again.  The house was full of family and dogs.  Cables.


And that’s how I really won the Excellence Award for 2021.




In memorial: Fei Li Wilson-Perez




We will be having an event at Inspire – Stix at Alteryx!


So, if you’ve read this far, we could use your help!  And you don’t have to know anything about fiber or yarn to help.  But you do have to LOVE Alteryx!


  • Volunteer to transport items to Inspire
  • Share links to Stix at Alteryx all over your socials
  • Visit us at the Inspire!


Transport: If you are attending Inspire this year, please volunteer to transport things to Inspire.  Many people don’t have the budget to attend but might be participating in Stix at Alteryx virtually.  Let your User Group leader know that you’d be willing to help.  Show up to the User Group meeting, and you’ll get loaded up.  At Inspire, we’ll exchange the contributions and send you back.  You’ll come back from Inspire with things to deliver back!  So, we need you to attend a User Group meeting at least twice.


Personally, I’d encourage you to attend a few more times.  But that’s a personal opinion.  I learned so much about what can be done with Alteryx at User Group meetings, but that’s a different blog post.


Share: Get the message out to people.  There are many craft and fiber people out there.  Yarn isn’t “normal” in the work environment, so you don’t know.  Share, and share widely. 


Visit: We’re Alteryx Innovators, so come visit us at the Innovator’s booth.  Between sessions, we’ll be crafting away.  We want to talk with you.  We want to share our creations with you.  We want you to see what we are doing.  We want you to get excited. 


And we might be willing to show you how to do a few stitches! I’m sure there will be some innovators that you can chat with.