Julian, Gregorian, Easter and Leap Years

The calendar we plan our lives with has a name: it’s called the Gregorian calendar. It’s named after Pope Gregory XIII because he’s the one who implemented back in 1582 by papal decree. He did so because the calendar that had been used up to that point, the Julian calendar, implemented by none other that Julius Caesar in 45 BC* was wrong. While the solar Julian calendar was a huge improvement over the Roman lunar calendar, it wasn’t quite good enough. Here is what you need to know. It all […]

Great Schism

The next time the Great Schism comes up in conversation (which I’m sure is frequently), remember that the Great Schism of the Catholic religion, also called the East–West Schism, happened in 1054 and was the break between what are now the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic church was based in Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox in Constantinople, known as “new Rome”. There are an abundance of political, cultural and theological reasons for the split, going back to the early days of the church, but a significant […]

Commonwealth or State

A “commonwealth” is defined as a “free state, or republic, characterized by a representative government”. So technically any of the United States can be considered a commonwealth. But four of the States formally refer to themselves as Commonwealth rather than State: The Commonwealth of Kentucky, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Commonwealth of Virginia. There are no differences under US law between a State and a Commonwealth. So why did four of them opt for this name, considering they are part of the United States and not the United […]

Whiskey, Whisky, Bourbon, Scotch, and Rye

First off, whiskey and whisky are the same thing with different spellings. In Scotland it’s spelled “whisky” while in Ireland it’s “whiskey” with an extra “e”. The US chose the Irish spelling, so “whiskey” also refers to American varieties. Regardless of spelling, whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash (the grain can be barley, corn, rye or wheat) and typically aged in charred white oak barrels. Mash, by the way, is the mixture of the grain, water and yeast that is fermented to produce the alcohol […]

Holland and Netherlands

Why do we sometimes refer to the country of Holland and other times refer to the same place as the Netherlands? The correct name is Netherlands, or rather the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although it is informally known as Holland for historical reasons. Holland used to be a political region of the Holy Roman Empire called the County of Holland. Later, the province of Holland, as part of the Dutch Republic, rose to become a maritime and economic power, overshadowing the other provinces. Today, the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces, […]


Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you see the word Transylvania? Vampires of course, because that’s where they come from. The Romanians are so very happy that Bram Stoker warned the world when he published Dracula and inspired an endless stream of books and movies, because otherwise visitors might not take the proper precautions. Transylvania is actually a region of Romania with a rich culture and an important place in European history. But nowhere in its rich history has anyone documented any vampires. Why then did Bram […]


Nothing to do with Star Trek, vulcanization is a chemical process for converting natural rubber into hard rubber for use in the many rubber products you rely on today. Without it, you wouldn’t have car tires, rubber hoses, conveyor belts, saxophone mouthpieces, bowling balls or hockey pucks, to name just a few. The process was invented by Charles Goodyear as a vast improvement over the traditional rubber curing process known since prehistoric times.

Offside in Soccer

The rule for “offside” (always without an “s”) is a simple concept yet oh so subjective and chock-full of nuance. It basically aims to prevent what Americans call “cherry picking”, or skulking near the goal waiting for a pass and an easy opportunity to score. IFAB (International Football Association Board) has codified the rules of association football (aka soccer) in its 200-page Laws of the Game. FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football), as the ruling body for association football, recognizes IFAB as having the […]