Thoughts on Creator Mode

I have been experimenting with LinkedIn’s new “Creator Mode.”  It offers some features that should help to promote my consulting practice.  This is a for-profit enterprise, not merely “building my personal brand.”  I hate that expression.  Personally, I am a human being (and a nice guy) and not actually a product.

I am not a number! I am a free man! – Number Six

Among other things, Creator Mode allows people to “follow” me.  This emulates the Instagram concept, which is fundamentally hierarchical, having followers and influencers instead of the peer relationship we know as “connection.”

This makes it a little awkward when I want to connect with someone.  No one on Twitter or Instagram sends a personal request to “please follow me.”  On the flip side, if I think we have a relationship, I want it to be mutual.  I don’t want to become your follower.

I guess if you’re a superstar influencer with thousands of followers, that’s more valuable to you than connections.  Not to me, though.  I have built up my reputation through, as Tom Peters says, “having accomplishments and people who know about them.”

As I wrote here, I try to limit connections to people I have worked with, or met, or could at least identify in a police lineup.  Followers are people whom I don’t know, but who enjoy my content.  I try to post relevant material from HBR, McKinsey, and my own blog.

There should be a way to have both connections and followers, so here’s the workaround: when I am sending out connection requests, as I did this weekend for Autovate Austin, I turn off Creator Mode.  When I’m back to posting content, I turn it on.  This is a partial solution, and maybe LinkedIn will figure out a better one.

Edtech Unicorns and JIT Training

Udemy went IPO last week, and PitchBook just published a note on the category, so I thought to write about my positive experiences with Coursera.  Online learning is segmented by subject, level, and quality of instruction.  See the research note for a complete rundown.

The edtech boom has not waned now that most schools and universities are again meeting in person. 

Coursera is oriented toward college credit and professional certification.  My instructor for neural nets, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, is a professor at Stanford.  They offer online degree programs in conjunction with major universities.  For example, you can earn a Master’s in Data Science through CU Boulder.

I was intrigued by that, but … I have a specific business problem to solve, and I already have grad-level coursework in statistics.  It doesn’t make sense for me to sit through STAT 561 again.  For me, the “all you can eat” plan is a better value at $50 per month.

What I need, today, is to move this code off my laptop and into the cloud.  For that, I can take the cloud deployment class.  If I run into problems with data wrangling, there’s a class for that, too.  This reminds me of that scene in The Matrix, where Trinity learns to fly a helicopter.

People can gain the skills they need, as and when they need them – not as fast as Trinity, but fast enough to keep up with evolving needs on the job.  I think this is the future of education, and 37 million students agree with me.

The Robotaxi Myth

I started following the Waymo situation a few weeks ago, when Ars Technica asked “why hasn’t Waymo expanded its driverless taxi service?” My glib reply on Twitter was that ride hailing is not a good use case.  Since then, we have learned that the recently-departed executive team had not been moving fast enough to satisfy their investors.  First to go was the Chief Safety Officer – not a good sign.

Indeed, the robotaxi is the absolute worst use case, according to this very thorough analysis by Tim Lee.  Lee’s recommendation is to put autonomous cars on the road, now, doing something they can actually do, and proceed from there.

Lyft has just bailed out, as Uber did last year.  The New Republic calls self-driving cars “a series of very expensive and glitzy pilot projects” which, while unkind, is pretty accurate.  Level 5 automation will be in the pilot stage for a long time.  We (and Alphabet) should temper our expectations.

Good use cases for self-driving exist in SAE level 4, constrained conditions – like airport shuttles, food delivery, and taxi services in closed communities.  Shuttle services like this are popping up all around the country. 

A zero-to 25-mph self-driving car—we believe that problem is very, very solvable.

This quote from Voyage founder Oliver Cameron sums it up – and vindicates Waymo’s decision to hunker down in Chandler, Arizona.  I agree with Lee that the winners will be those companies that are able to commercialize level 4.

Who asked for self-driving cars, anyway?  Certainly not consumers.  This study from MIT, Consumers Don’t Really Want Self-Driving Cars, and this more recent one from AAA found the same result.  Nearly half of respondents said they would never purchase a car that completely drives itself. 

They’re looking for driver assistance systems that work to help them stay in active and safe control of the vehicle.

What do they want?  You guessed it: automatic emergency braking, lane keeping, and blind spot warning.  These features come under the heading of SAE level 2, also known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). 

Several people have come to grief from thinking that their level 2 vehicles were “full self-driving.”  Ironically, the better the system, the greater the false sense of security, says AAA’s Greg Brannon.  This is a shame because the robotaxi myth prevents us from properly appreciating level 2. 

List of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Anti-lock Braking System
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Blind Spot Detection
  • Dynamic Brake Support        
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Lane Departure Warning      
  • Lane Keeping Support
  • Parking Assist           
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Rear Visibility System

Proponents say that replacing human drivers will save lives, but ADAS is already doing that. It’s also, as I wrote here, adding value to new vehicles.  I suspect that, just as the technology must work its way up from level 2, so must we drivers.  As we become more accustomed to ADAS features, we will be better prepared to supervise semi-autonomous (level 3) vehicles.

Penetration Chart with Bokeh

I have been honing my charting skills lately, because Bokeh is so amazing, and looking for practical applications (outside my stock trading hobby).  Here’s one I found recently.  This chart explores the timeless question, “are product sales off because the dealer isn’t supportive, or are vehicle sales off, too?”

I am thinking of protection products, but the same question could be asked of finance contracts or, indeed, anywhere you need to consider “penetration.”  That is, the percentage of vehicle sales that are also sales of your product.

Are product sales off because the dealer isn’t supportive, or are vehicle sales off, too?

In this chart, we consider year over year change in contracts relative to the change in vehicle sales for a collection of dealers.  Bubble size indicates the size of each dealership in sales volume.  We’ll get to bubble color in a minute.  Also, note the horizontal and vertical zero lines.

The dealers in the lower left quadrant have an excuse.  Riverside, for example, is down 30% in product sales.  When you call them, though, they’ll counter that they’re having a bad year.  Volume is also down, albeit only 11%.

The dealers in the lower right quadrant have no such excuse.  Downtown, for example, is also off 30% but on much improved vehicle sales.  So, we can infer that penetration has declined, and color them a darker shade of red.  Similarly, although contracts are up at National, they should be up more considering the good year they’re having.  So, orange.

O’Malley is green because, while contracts are off a bit, vehicle sales are worse.  O’Malley is doing the right thing and ramping up products to compensate for weak sales.  What the chart shows on the X and Y axes is straightforward enough, but it shrewdly assigns colors according to the change in penetration.

Bokeh is the visualization library Python programmers use instead of R or Matplotlib.  The color scheme here comes from running its red, yellow, green “linear color mapper” diagonally across the chart from lower right to upper left.  Dealers where penetration is unchanged from last year are yellow, like College and Bellevue.