The Self-Driving Cars Are Coming

On March 10, California released proposed rules for self-driving cars to be tested and operated on public streets and highways without a driver.

Google set up an independent company, Waymo, to develop a self-driving car. Waymo says “We’ve self-driven more than 2 million miles mostly on city streets.” Waymo cars have driven through our city streets for several years. Shown above, a Waymo car with a driver is in front of our home.

We may soon see cars without drivers. According to Waymo, “94% of crashes involve human choice or error in the US”. Self-driving cars promise to reduce these accidents and the resulting damage and injury. Self-driving cars will increase the independence of senior citizens who no longer drive.

But self-driving cars will mean changing some habits. I recall coming to an intersection with cars waiting on three streets while a person walked a dog. Drivers used hand signals to communicate who should go first. How do we signal to a self-driving car with no driver, and get acknowledgement?

As a pedestrian, I catch the driver’s eye before crossing in front of the car. To cross in front of a self-driving car, do I assume that the car sensed me and won’t proceed unless it knows I’m safe?

With time, we’ll figure this out. We always do.

It’s All Greek to Me

When we visited Russia and Greece this fall, we struggled with signs, since both languages use letters unfamiliar to many English speakers. Consider this street sign for Nevsky Prospekt, a major street in Saint Petersburg. The top two lines show the street name in Russian Cyrillic, while the third line shows the street name in latin alphabet based on the corresponding sounds.

In ΠΡOCΠEKT from the sign, the Π is a capital pi, and the P is a capital rho, where both letters are from the Greek language. Substituting the sound for each letter yields PROSPEKT. Happily for us, Russian incorporates some French words spelled out in Cyrillic — Hermitage, cafe, restaurant, for example.

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From the Dutch Golden Age

In Amsterdam we visited the Museum Van Loon, a mansion built during the Dutch Golden Age, held by the same family, and preserved intact with the furnishings. The above peacock decorates a mantle in the house.

In the 17th century, the Netherlands dominated world trade, including the spice trade with Indonesia. The Dutch East India Company made enormous profits importing spices. Willem van Loon, who built this house in 1672, co-founded the Dutch East India Company.

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Passage Charlemagne

Paris is a large, busy city, but there’s a private part that visitors might miss. Paris is laid out with squarish blocks supporting interior courtyards hidden behind doors and gates. These courtyards give privacy and light to mansions and apartments.

We experienced this calm side of Paris during our April visit. From our Marais apartment, each day we walked through the 100-meter-long Passage Charlemagne. Built in 1825 and closed to the public in 2013, the passage spans four courtyards. A metal gate guards the passage at 119 rue de Rivoli, steps from the Saint Paul metro station.

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