My Favorite Data Viz Links

Note: I wrote this over two years and never published it. I have dozens of draft posts like this just gathering dust because of my crippling perfectionism and self-doubt. I'm going through and posting the ones that are still relevant. Hopefully the links still work. 

I'm a huge data visualization nerd and I've been compiling a list of my favorite data viz sites in a google doc for several years now. Thought I'd share it with the world:

Infographics: (Dutch) (Dutch)


Diagrams and Maps: - science “maps” - statistics


Critiques: - bad maps

Various Data Visualization: - analytics + infographics





The Best of The Listserve's Productivity Advice

On May 1st I was given the opportunity to write about myself to 25,000 people on The Listserve.  I chose to write about my struggle finishing things, and the responses have been amazing. Here are some of the best.

From a guy in NYC:

You have a very defeatist and victim mindset...Listen on Audible to autobiographies from people like Arnold Schwartzennegar, Ted Turner, and T. Boone Pickens for inspiration.

-Oh wait. I said I was going to include the best advice. How did this nugget get in the mix? 

Simple, Beautiful Advice:

- Do fewer things simultaneously. Simply. Just pick one project you love and focus on that every day, if only for a few minutes. Keep a journal/notes on ideas you're "rejecting" - because you're not rejecting them, you're just not doing them right now.

- Stop looking at how much others are doing (which probably isn't accurate anyway) and just focus on yourself, being the smallest bit better every day. Might be that you worked a bit longer, or that you didn't have to struggle as much with something or whatever. Celebrate that.

- Not to get too crunchy on you, but there's a quote I ran across from the bhagavad gita that I really love to turn over in my mind. It's basically "You're not entitled to the fruits of your labor, you're only entitled to the labor itself."  Not sure why that resonates so much with me, but it reminds me to concentrate on what I'm doing that day rather than what I think the outcome could or should be.

I'll also recommend reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (but you have to get the Gregory Hays translation). There's a lot of timeless wisdom in there, and the Hays translation is very modern. 

"Tax" Time-wasting activities:

Write down precisely when you start and when you finish distractions.

Before going to Facebook, before checking emails, or before attempting any activities that does not further the project, write down the current time in a (physical) notebook first. Go through with the distraction. And upon finishing the distraction, write the current time down.

Finishing things is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

I think you may have nailed an interesting point without realizing it: you finished this email. That's a thing. That counts. An email to 25,000 people no less! But an email is small -- maybe build on that? Pick small things that you feel confident that you can finish. A wise fellow once told me that finishing things is, in itself, a skill, so consider finishing lots of small things in order to build that muscle so it take on bigger, more ambitious projects.

From a fellow distracted person:

I downloaded some software called self-control when I was writing my dissertation. It doesn't let you away with the incognito mode trick! Maybe it will help.

Maybe you're getting bored because you already understand the problem.

I have also started lot of projects because they give me the chance to learn or figure out something new, and as soon as I think I understand the problem and know what the solution is, it is not that interesting to implement the solution and finish the project (although no project is ever finished, there is always more or better you can do with it, right?).

Listening Recommendations:

Brian Tracy - miracle of self discipline ( - crappy quality but couldn’t find better one) 

David Allen - getting things done -

Back to Work - (Listen from Episode 1, and give it an episode or two)

Overtired - (Awesome, jump in wherever)

Systematic - 

Reading Recommendations:

Read Wait But Why's Post about why procrastinators procrastinate.

Part 2 -

Part 3 -



I recommend 'Understanding Human Design'

If you are into the new age at all check it out. It is a synthesis of a few different things; astrology, Chakra systems, and the I Ching.


Be not deterred by the relatively cheesy title:

"Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love"

It re-framed for me my tendency to put a project aside after the first flush was gone.

Read it.

- I had three other recommendations for this book. It's definitely on my list now.

Advice for the unproductive programmer:

- Pick a project. Any project. Work on it until it's finished, no exceptions. Turn off Netflix, turn on your productivity apps. Finish the project, no matter how minor it is, or how little you care to actually finish it. The sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a single project can drive you to complete a handful of others. "Opportunities multiply as they are seized"...

- If you have people you spend time with, it can be extremely detrimental to your projects if they are interrupting your coding flow with normal human things. One of the best ways I have been able to help my friends and family understand what we do is to explain to them how much programming is like dreaming. There's a rather famous essay out there called "Don't wake the programmer", and it will help the people around you to minimize disturbing your flow.

- Speaking of flow, Facebook and the like is my greatest enemy when it comes to flow. It's just muscle memory to alt-tab and F5 Facebook every couple of minutes. This effectively nullifies any flow, or progress towards flow. Still to this day I have to actively work to build up to flow. Headphones are your best bet wherever you code, since there are ways around the productivity-killers (as you mention).

- Every programmer is always fighting yak shaving. Even the most productive programmers spend hours reading the install instructions of some library and fighting their OS and tools. I frequently had anxiety brought on by yak shaving. I always thought to myself how awful it is that other programmers are just banging out code and here I am totally blowing an afternoon on tooling. But the anxiety went away and my life got better when I finally talked to enough of our peers and understood that every one of us shaves yaks for more time than we code.

Shock Yourself.

I was just reading about this productivity tool that electrically shocks you before I got your listserve. A bit more medieval but I wonder how effective it'd be:

Documentation is Key.

It’s a good habit to document ideas, actions and results since it does give a sense of achievement in the long run. It also provides a larger picture a year down the line. Its annoying cause I always thought I could do without spending time on such documentation but that strategy is clearly failing. So for now, I try my best to write it down so that I can at least revisit and complete it when I am lacking ideas.

Find your productive time of day and break that time into manageable chunks.

For me, finding the time of day that I actually find myself productive (regardless of when I want to be) has been helpful. For some reason when I get up early and there's no prepping for something (i.e. showering for work, eating breakfast, etc.), I get stuff done. It's the preparing process that I take my time with and enjoy so much (I will spend a whole Saturday cleaning my apartment) that it ends up taking over the task I'm prepping for. A 4:30 wake-up kills this. I am too early to be hungry, I don't need coffee, it's still dark in my apartment and most importantly it's quiet. Somehow the internet isn't calling to me just yet.

I also limit myself to little ten minute stretches of time where I'll get things done. 10 minutes to pick up my living room, 10 minutes to do dishes, that sort of thing. I find that it's just enough time to get something done and just little enough time that I don't mentally allow myself to get distracted.

I read somewhere that the average person greatly overestimates how much they can get done in a day, but grossly underestimates how much they can get done in a year. I take great solace and comfort in that thought. But then the years pass.

We're very hard on ourselves. But it's hard not to be when we know that we're filled with so much potential. All of us are. But some of us know it more than others. And that in itself can be maddening.

I recently finished my doctorate thesis and it took me longer than others on my course. I finally got it done in the end, but it nearly killed my spirit. I wouldn't have finished it only for the fact that doing it allows me to practice as a clinical psychologist, something that I do enjoy. But I'm not sure I would do it again if I could go back and choose.

So if you feel pressured to finish a project you started, also remember that you don't have to, your happiness and health is more important!

Be Methodical.

Do a 1-pager every morning with an actual pen and paper, first thing, before you even open your computer. Write down:

The top 3-5 things you want done today

Then, within those things, each task that needs to be done in order to finish that thing.

Then, you write a list of people that you might be waiting on in order to complete a task

Then a list of people you need to contact to complete a task.

Final step: go into your calendar and input every single task that you're going to do based on that list.

Notice you only go into your email to either search for an email you were waiting for, or write one. There is no "checking email" slot that goes on for hours.


  1. 7:30-7:35 email Steve re: UI bugs
  2. 7:35-7:40 email Karen re: legal question
  3. 7:40-8:40 draft copy for homepage
  4. 8:40-8:45 break

Etc with reminders at the time and 1 minute before.

For some reason, just having even the simplest of tasks in there with reminders, means you see it flash up and you just DO it. There is no decision to be made of "shall I send that email or write that copy or read that article?"

It's already decided and so you expend zero mental energy and willpower choosing between what to do next.

Trauma and Adrenaline are ADHD Killers.

So I guess my advice would be to take at least a few months and go somewhere actually terrible things are happening in the world, and experience the struggle to improve some of the most basic things in life for people who don't have everything like we do in America. Longer would probably be better, but I know most people aren't willing to sign on for 4 years like I was (3.5 years ago, now. As someone leaving the military, i can't recommend it as an option for this sort of personal journey. Most members of the military that i know don't treat it this way- it's just a job.).

It's definitely not the sort of ADD or ADHD hack you read about on lifehacker. But it's certainly done wonders for me. I'm sure there are other ways to address the problem, but it is a fact that historically there are few cultures which have exhibited anything resembling what we call attention deficit disorders, and they are characterized by a constant detachment from the sorts of traumatic experiences that are very stressful, but perhaps necessary for balanced attention.

Don't Work.
"Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world...."

Focus on Friendship, Not Productivity

After almost ten years working for nonprofits I can tell you that work, regardless of how many you help, will never be as important as the ones you love. It's also true you should work at your friendships. And no, networking event participation does not count.

Friendship is more than bringing a case of beer to the barbecue or standing as a Godparent and failing miserably to even attempt to fill the role. It's being present and contributing to your peoples lives. It's not just making them laugh but also making sure they know you will be there to make them smile when they're too weak to laugh. It's holding their hand through the divorce and helping them get back into the dating pool when they're ready.

If people only wanna hang but completely disappear when sh*t hits the fan and you consider them a friend. You are selling yourself short. Lower the emotional investment you are making into that person and fill that space doing something for a friend that showed up for you.

Some people are meant to be associates and that's fine too. Invite them to the parties and barbecues and have drinks with them on their birthday and have great evening dinners together. But stop expecting more from people than they are willing to give. It's such a waste of time. And for the people who show up, do something BIG. They have earned it after all.

Since I've been out of the country for the past few years I have plans to execute my own personal friend appreciation week this Summer where I will dedicate myself to my friends for a full week, helping them out, sharing my big projects with them and overall showing that now that i'm back in town physically that I am back all those other ways friends are too. The vulnerability makes me anxious, but, hey, that's what drives me.

Thought from and old person

maybe you could just get comfortable with being an "idea person" ?- we need as many of those in the world, as the people that take them forward - productivity is way over-rated - especially when most worthwhile endings in life are really about the journey

Productivity is a Trap - My TheListserve Email

On June 1st, I got an email telling me that I'd won the listserve. This is what I wrote. In a future blog posts, I hope to share some of the great advice and comments I received.

I wake up at 7am because I’m so excited about working on the app that I had started writing the night before and I want to get a few hours of work in before my "real" work. I click the pomodoro timer in the upper left hand corner of Google Chrome to start the 25 minute count down. While it’s running, the pomodoro app blocks gmail, facebook and youtube. Ingenious, right? I love productivity apps.

In fact, I love productivity tricks so much that my friends ask me for productivity advice.


There’s a new productivity app that uses binaural beats that I signed up for...what was it called? I don’t remember, so I open my email. The timer is running so I can’t open gmail because it's blocked. No worries - I simply switch to incognito window in chrome and open gmail there. I search for the activation notice in my email. Ah, it was called Focus@will.

I open it up and try to start the music. It doesn’t work. I try different browsers and different buttons for about ten minutes before filing a support ticket.


Now that I’m not being blocked by my pomodoro extension, I decide to check facebook. Staring me in the face is an opinion piece on the New York Times about why women wear heals. Ok, I’ll take that bait. I read it. Then I see a link to another article in Fashion and Style that sounds interesting, so I start reading without finishing the first article.

The timer rings, reminding me of why I’m working already at 7:30am. I just wasted an entire pomodoro doing things besides writing that app. Facepalm.


I have trouble finishing things.

Two years ago, I made a list of my unfinished projects. I hoped that seeing what I hadn’t finished would give me the kick in the pants that I needed to be more productive. The final list had over 100 projects on it. Rather than help me, reviewing this list discouraged me.

Why did I start projects at all if I wasn’t going to finish them? Why wake up early, miss out on sleep, give up relationships, and then fail to finish?


I feel like I’ve been stuck in an uncreative slump ever since. I don’t want to start something that I won’t finish, so I don’t start it at all. This has been good for my relationships, and maybe even my job, but I feel like part of me is missing. As I keep rejecting the ideas as they pop into my head, they stop coming.

The funny thing is that reading over the list of unfinished projects, I did eventually finish most of them. It just took me longer than it might have taken someone else. I finished the relevant parts of the Design Patterns book. I learned to play poker. I went through all of Lady Ada's tutorials.  


It’s not that I don’t finish things, it’s that I finish them on my own timeline. I know that if I start washing the dishes this morning, I’ll finish them by tomorrow night (which is frustrating for my boyfriend). I wish that I wasn’t like this. I wish that I had better self-control and finished projects in four hours instead of four months. But according to modern science, ADHD cannot be cured. So for now, I’ll keep using my productivity apps to help me. Also, I’ll start lots of things and eventually I’ll finish them.


See, I finished this email :)


Why Not to Buy a Delorean - A Conversation with my DeLorean Owning Friend


January 30, 2pm:

Monica Simone Houston: Guess What! Hackster just bought a DeLorean!

DeLorean Friend: What kind of DeLorean?

Monica Simone Houston:(I didn't know there were different kinds of Deloreans, so I quickly look this up) 1981 DMC 12

DeLorean Friend: A real one?

Monica Simone Houston: Yup. We’re going to drive it across the country to do hackathons!

DeLorean Friend: Cool. I hope it runs well.


February 12, 12pm:

Monica Simone Houston: Sooo... Where is the fuel cap on a Delorean? Please answer quickly. I am stuck at the gas station.

DeLorean Friend: well. mine has a little flap on the trunk lid(in front of the car) on the driver's side, but later on they removed that flap so you have to open the trunk to get to it now. There are a few maintenance items you will might need to get done. You should read this book.

Monica Simone Houston: Uh... Reversing is also problematic...I was told to lift stick and pull back...But it's not working.

DeLorean Friend: I think I can help with that. I had to take mine apart for repairs and I made a video of the mechanism. It would help if you knew how it worked inside. I'll find the youtube video I pulled up to go in reverse one day and the shifter lever just broke off and I had to replace it with a part from a Lotus.

Monica Simone Houston: Which direction do I pull back? I'm in a bit of a tight spot right now

DeLorean Friend: Watch the video. I put it into reverse at about 0:45 in the video.

I also had problems getting into 2nd gear with mine and I had to have the linkage bushings all replaced and have everything re-adjusted by Toby at DMC Northwest. I think it was about $500 for the parts and labor. The parts are like $5. The labor is the expensive part. Those are NOT easy to get to. You pretty much HAVE to use a lift to get to them.

DeLorean Friend: Does that video help?

Monica Simone Houston: Thank you!!!

Monica Simone Houston: Ok, so I have to open the trunk to get to the fuel - is there a lever inside somewhere?

DeLorean Friend: it's near the floor on the driver's side

oh.. and there is no power steering on these cars, so it's hard to get the wheel turned when you aren't moving very fast. I find that it helps to make sure your tires are properly inflated. The PSI values are printed on the inside of the glove box lid. Did you find the trunk release?

Monica Simone Houston: It's broken.

DeLorean Friend: oh no! ok.. try pulling up on the trunk... while you pull the release. The hinge is on the front of the car, it opens near the windshield so you should be able to pull on both at the same time.

Monica Simone Houston: Worked!

DeLorean Friend: Sweet! It's a two person operation to get my engine cover open. Same problem. I keep a piece of wire in the car that I tie to the engine cover so I can pull up on it while I pull the release.

This is what the fuel cap on the DeLorean looks like...

This is what the fuel cap on the DeLorean looks like...

Monica Simone Houston: Is the middle one fuel? It's very weird.

DeLorean Friend: Yeah. One of the other ones is for brake fluid I think. Did your gas cap have a lock on it? Probably not since you have to open your trunk to get to yours. I replaced my locking cap with a regular one.

Monica Simone Houston: So you think the middle one in the picture is the one? I’m holding people up at the gas station here.


February 12, 2pm (a few frustrating hours later):

Monica Simone Houston: So, first day driving the car didn't last long...engine is having trouble and I would guess it is a fuel problem. I got it up to 60mph but it started 'bumping' and then despite giving it more gas, the RPMs started to decrease. May have to hit up DMC Northwest today...

DeLorean Friend: Uh oh. Turn off your AC. Could be straining the motor

Monica Simone Houston: I didn't think it was on but I'll check.

DeLorean Friend: Just turn the knob to off. How does the voltage gauge look? Should be about 13v when it's running.

Monica Simone Houston: voltage gauge looks good.

DeLorean Friend: Temp?

Monica Simone Houston: temp is fine also. So is oil. *(I later learned that neither of these gauges was working)

DeLorean Friend: Ok. Keep and eye on the temp gauge unless you know that all of the hoses have been replaced and your fan relays have been replaced.

Get a bottle of chevron techron from the parts store and dump it in your gas. Get the 12oz bottle. Fuel injectors could be dirty. That stuff will help clean them out.

Monica Simone Houston: thanks! I'll let you know how that works.

DeLorean Friend: If you have a multimeter you could make sure you have the correct voltage to the coil. could also be a clogged fuel filter.


February 12, 4pm (even more frustrating hours later):

DeLorean Friend: Did your car make it?

Monica Simone Houston: No, it's still stuck at a gas station near Lynwood I added the techron but since it was a full tank of gas I don't think it did anything. I let it run for a while anyway just for good measure and tried to drive it around the block, but ended up needing to push it back to a parking spot.

DeLorean Friend: Oh no. so the engine keeps dying?

Monica Simone Houston: Yeah it sounds like either fuel or air.

DeLorean Friend: Check the coil voltage. Someone on the forums said their car started loosing power and then wouldn't stay running after they started it and it was because of the coil.

Monica Simone Houston: Mmm interesting. Will do.

DeLorean Friend: Oh..and I just emailed you PDFs of the wiring diagrams for the car.

Got our sponsors' logos on the DeLorean!

Got our sponsors' logos on the DeLorean!

February 17, 4pm:

DeLorean Friend: Did your DeLorean make it to DMC NW safely?

Monica Simone Houston: yup it's having the fuel system fixed

DeLorean Friend: What was broken?

Monica Simone Houston: fuel pressures were off because gas tank had leaks

DeLorean Friend: Oh no!

Monica Simone Houston: fuel filter was also plugged up

DeLorean Friend: So I guessed right on the fuel filter

Monica Simone Houston: and pump wasn't working well, which is what I could hear when I ran the car


February 21, 4pm (The weekend of our first hackathon):

Monica Simone Houston: Hey, does your delorean come with a spare tire?

DeLorean Friend: Yes. I think it's in the trunk under the mat

Monica Simone Houston: Ours didn't come with one apparently. We're going to need a new wheel and tire. Any chance we could borrow your spare just to get it to the building. It's in my garage 10 blocks from the hackathon.

Monica Simone Houston: Any idea if a normal spare world fit on a Delorean? Can't reach Toby at DMC Northwest.

DeLorean Friend: I have no idea. Check the dmctalk message board. Maybe someone nearby has a wheel they can loan you.



March 3, 4pm:

Monica Simone Houston. More car trouble. I broke down on the way to Portland. The car is leaking gasoline.

DeLorean Friend: Where did you break down? Where is the gas leaking from?

Monica Simone Houston: I'm in Factoria. The gas is leaking from both the engine and the gas tank.

DeLorean Friend: both? That's weird. must be high pressure or something Get it over to Toby at least you aren't far away

Monica Simone Houston: Yeah tow truck should be here in 5

DeLorean Friend: ask him to check out everything let him know you plan to take it on long road trips. ask him about the tires and the hoses. and the trailing arm bolts (the original parts were made of inferior materials) They attach the rear wheels to the frame of the car.

Monica Simone Houston: I will ask all of that. Thank you! I really hope this works, but I think we will now have to tow the car between cities.

DeLorean Friend: I would suggest towing it anyways.



Toby’s amazing mechanics at DMC Northwest fixed the car. We ended up arranging towing for the rest of the trip, and driving in a mini van ourselves.

Stay tuned...the journey isn't over yet.


Special hanks to Jason Garland, for his infinite patience.