THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- JULY 1, 2017
The Fourth of July is the first big official holiday of summer and for many it is also the beginning of the vacation season. Americans will be traveling all over the place in a mad rush to relax. This fits in with a new poll just out that found the number one thing Americans want to do on vacation is – absolutely nothing.
According to the survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, “three-fourths of Americans say resting and relaxing is extremely important to them when they go on vacation.” However, they want to go someplace do accomplish this. “Ninety-two percent are going away and only eight percent are making it a staycation. More than half of those polled said relaxing at home doesn’t count as a real vacation.”
The good news is that “most Americans do avoid working on vacation.” About sixty percent of workers say they don’t check in with work, while thirty-two percent say they check in a little.
For those who do business during a leisure vacation, the travel industry has come up with a new term to describe this – bleisure. For the non-working types, the most popular activities are: sightseeing, experiencing local culture and cuisine, visiting family, and spending time in nature. This will probably be no surprise to you, but “shopping is more popular with women than men (22 percent versus 9 percent).” (https://apnews.com/176a6ae932a54ccb94a7d5e343d09963/Summer-vacation:-Never-mind-the-hike.-Where's-the-hammock?)
Since the Fourth is on a Tuesday this summer, many people will be enjoying an extended weekend. You might find it interesting that a three-day weekend every week is being considered in some countries. For example, some political parties in Italy, Australia and the U.K. have recently “floated the idea of a three-day weekend, for everyone, all the time.” Politicians figure this will create more jobs. “After all, if a 32-hour week were normal, more employees would be necessary to fill in the rest of the hours.”
Maybe, but here in the U.S. the idea has not really taken off. Some experiments lengthen the work hours on four days to accommodate the three-day weekend. “The state of Utah attempted something similar for public workers. But it turns out that just working longer shifts for fewer days can actually be detrimental to your health.”
Most vacationers coming into Northern Michigan will be doing so by car. If you have been paying attention to the news, articles about self-driving (or autonomous) vehicles have proliferated. This is a good non-political topic to bandy about around the campfire. I've read a lot of these articles and buried within are some interesting things to consider.
In case you think self-driving cars will not cost you anything unless you buy one, think again if you are a taxpayer. “Self-driving vehicles are synonymous with sophisticated sensors producing terabytes of data being analyzed by powerful computers. But it seems the success of this transportation revolution hinges on a decidedly low-tech material: paint. That's because when it comes to getting the nation’s infrastructure ready for autonomous traffic, the most critical upgrade amounts to making sure the lines on our 4 million miles of roads are solid, bright and preferably white so they can be picked up by computer vision gear.” In addition to this, there will need to be the “embedding of sensors in roads and traffic signals.” Guess who is going to be paying for all that? Oh yeah, and this in a state that can't seem to fix its deplorable roads already.
Painted lines aside, consider this. “Only half of Michigan’s 122,000 miles of roads are paved. The rest are gravel. While Michigan’s summers are glorious, its winter road conditions are treacherous and last months.” As in: News Flash – Snow covers over road lines in the winter. (http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2017/06/25/ready-not-self-driving-cars-coming/380845001/)
Self-driving technology is coming, but it won't necessarily be smooth driving in a business sense. “Self-driving cars are likely to disrupt business models, substantially reduce personal car ownership, reshape urban and suburban development, upend the insurance business and eviscerate millions of transportation jobs while creating others. Disruption on that scale could represent one of the most dynamic changes to the American economy in the 21st century.”
The insurance industry is a good example of this impact (pun intended). The key question is: “If humans aren't driving the cars, who needs a car insurance policy?” James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, says “if manufacturers have to bear the entire cost of insuring vehicles, that would create a huge, long-term expense.”
In the case of an accident, if you assume the human is not at fault because he/she is not actually driving, who get sued? “A recently passed Michigan law specifies an automaker assumes liability and insures every car in its fleet when driverless systems are at fault.” This “at fault” issue has “snarled courts” written all over it, eh? (http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/04/03/522222975/self-driving-cars-raise-questions-about-who-carries-insurance)
I'm a techie sort of guy, so here's what worries me. All of these autonomous vehicles rely on “technological systems that make it possible for a computer to drive humans through the real world.” Let me explain my concerns in newspaper terms. If you are reading this column in the print edition of the Cadillac News, you are in complete control of the reading process and (in essence) are “driving the car.” You decide the reading speed, when to turn the page, and when to start and stop.
If you are reading this column on a phone, tablet, or computer, you are at the mercy of the hardware and software that runs your technological system. Have you ever had your phone suddenly shut down, your iPad freeze, or your computer get fried by a lightning strike? Do you worry that a Russian hacker (or the kid next door) might implant a virus on your device?
Any of them might only cause moderate concern if they interrupt your reading of this column. The same glitches, though, might be a tad more alarming if you're screaming down I-75 at eighty miles an hour.
Finally, if you want to have some fun ask your fellow vacationers if they know what the last word in the Oxford English Dictionary is. “Zyzzyva" is the answer, pronounced – zih-zih-vah. A zyzzyva is a particular type of weevil beetle hailing from South America. Nothing says “doing nothing” like a bit of useless information on a holiday.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.