Things that I used to know

North Macedonia used to be the Republic of Macedonia

pay phoneAmong the things that I used to know were area codes. The phone rang; I see the unidentified caller and the number, starting with 513. And I tell my daughter, “It’s from Ohio.” And it was.

What’s no longer true, thanks to changes in telephony, is the area code limitations. It used to be that area codes in the United States and Canada, the middle digit had to be 0 or 1. And the last digit was never 0 except for the toll-free 800 calls.

So I can tell you that 205 is an area code in Alabama. Back in the second season of American Idol, Ruben Studdard had a 205 shirt. But I had no idea that the state now has 251, 256, 334, and 938.

If the fourth digit of a seven-digit number were 9, there was a good chance it was a payphone. Youngsters, you should go to a museum and see one of these contraptions.


I was pretty good with countries and capitals. But that’s pretty much limited to their configurations prior to about 1975. So if the country split in two, such as Czechoslovakia, I might know that Czechia’s capital is Prague and Slovakia’s is Bratislava.

But the former Yugoslavia or those Asian countries in the former Soviet Union, not so much. I can suss out the countries through convoluted mnemonics, but the capitals don’t stick to the mind.

(I did get this recent JEOPARDY clue watching the Tournament of Champions that none of the contestants answered. Category: 1921. “Alexander I became ruler of the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which would soon be renamed this.”)


As I’ve noted, my father painted the solar system on the ceiling of my bedroom when I was a kid. I believe there were 12 moons for Jupiter, 9 for Saturn, 5 for Uranus, 2 for Neptune, and 1 for Pluto.

But now, we know Jupiter has 79, Saturn 82, Uranus 27, Neptune 12, and Pluto 5. At least Mars still has two, the Earth only 1, and none for Venus or Mercury.

And other stuff

Last I checked, there were 103 elements. Now, there are 118. Nihonium (element 113)? Flerovium (element 114)?If you insist.

While I can learn new stuff – I work on knowing the Cabinet members, e.g. – some changing facts remain beyond my grasp.

The Belgian Congo and Yugoslavia

One of my co-workers came up to me and asked how many of the five former Yugoslav republics I could name; I remembered four.

During the Vietnam war, it was widely reported – I don’t remember if it was apocryphal or true – that most Americans could not find Vietnam on a map. Likewise, today’s students might be challenged to find Afghanistan or Iraq on the globe.

By contrast, I was a bit of a cartology fanatic when I was a child. My paternal grandfather, who lived upstairs, would give me maps from his National Geographic, which I would study at length. I still have some of them in the attic, BTW.

Unfortunately for my recall, the world kept changing. French West Africa and British East Africa became a slew of independent countries. What was once Belgian Congo became Zaire, but is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes referred to as Congo-Kinshasa; this not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of the Congo, also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, which used to be under French control.

Later, Germany merged. Czechoslovakia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, and the USSR broke up; fortunately, the former two only broke into a pair of countries each. But Yugoslavia… One of my co-workers came up to me and asked how many of the five former Yugoslav republics I could name; I remembered four. Then I looked it up and there are SIX:

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia (which I forgot)
Macedonia (which I remembered because the Greeks got all bent out of shape)
Montenegro (which I remembered from WWI)
Serbia (which has two autonomous regions, Vojvodina – which I had never heard of; and Kosovo, which I had)
Slovenia (not be confused with Slovakia, part of former Czechoslovakia; I forgot it)

It SHOULD be easy to remember: BCMMSS

Now the former Soviet Union is tougher, and I have developed a bizarre way to remember, roughly from northwest to southeast:

Baltic states-ELL

Eastern Europe-BUM

Southern Caucasus, Russia-RAGA

Central Asia-KKUTT

ELL-BUM-RAGA-KKUTT? Well, it worked for me; sounds like a musical selection.

World, stop changing. I’m kidding; change is inevitable.

I is for Iceland

The area of Iceland is about the size of Virginia or slightly larger than Ireland.


There were two things that particularly fascinated me about Iceland, one as a child, the other as an adult. The childhood recollection is that the explorers named Greenland and Iceland as they did to throw others off about the beauty of Iceland. Apparently, this was not true. Still, despite its latitude, Iceland is relatively moderate in temperature because of the Gulf Stream.

The other is that the population is so relatively homogenous that scientists believe Iceland’s population, a mixture of descendants of Norwegians and Celts, should make it a good place to investigate the genetic factors involved in human disease, although the project was not without controversy.

Here’s what the US State Department has to say about the country:

Iceland was settled in the late 9th and early 10th centuries… In 930 A.D., the ruling chiefs established a republican constitution and an assembly called the Althingi (Alþingi), the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland remained independent until 1262 when it entered into a treaty establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy. Iceland was then passed to Denmark in the late 14th century when Norway and Denmark were united under the Danish crown.

… In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland limited home rule, which was expanded in scope in 1904. The constitution, written in 1874, was revised in 1903. The Act of Union, a 1918 agreement with Denmark, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state united with Denmark under a common king. Iceland established its own flag, but Denmark continued to represent Icelandic foreign affairs and defense interests.

The area of Iceland is 103,000 sq. km. (39,600 sq. mi.); “about the size of Virginia or slightly larger than Ireland.” Population (January 1, 2011) was 318,452, less than half of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY, metropolitan area.

I also associate Iceland with:

In chess, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972; see this video
The Reykjavik summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev on October 11-12, 1986 over nuclear weapons.
The fact that Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state.
The abundant amount of volcanic activity. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull – easy for YOU to say – closed airports in Europe, hundreds of miles away.

Read Inside the Reykjavik Art Museum

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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