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Belles on Their ToesBelles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Cheaper by the Dozen decades ago, and it stuck with me; the humor, and the deeply moving sadness at the end. I recently read to it to my nine-year-old son, who loved it (we watched the 1950 movie of the book immediately after; for his own sake, we are not watching the trashy and completely unrelated Steve Martin movie of the same name).

He wants to move on to the sequel, and so did I. Fortunately our library was able to obtain a copy. Just to be safe, I decided to read it through before deciding if it was appropriate to read to him.

It is. The humor isn't as rich as it was in Cheaper by the Dozen, but that's because this is the story of the family after Frank Gilbreth died, and he was apparently a font of humor. That said, I smiled, laughed, and chuckled many times throughout the book. It's as well-written as the first, and nearly as enjoyable. The ending isn't as moving as the ending of Cheaper by the Dozen, but it's both touching and thought-provoking. I liked this book, and I'm going to search out other books by the authors and about the Gilbreths as well.

There was one jarring point. Just as the family minstrel show suddenly brought home just how much time has passed since the events of Cheaper by the Dozen, in this case my jaw dropped when I read the following. The two oldest girls had taken up smoking, and were caught by their mother:
"I've been trying to think up some good arguments against smoking," Mother said, "but when you analyze them, they don't seem too convincing."

She started to enumerate the arguments, counting them off on her fingers.


"It's bad for your health. That's open to debate. Not so bad as overeating, or not getting enough sleep."

She ends up reluctantly giving them permission to smoke - quite a shock to a modern reader. Or at least it was to me! But then, I wasn't alive in the 1920s. Oh I knew, intellectually, that the attitude towards smoking was very different then, but after getting to know the Gilbreth family through their books it's strange to suddenly realize how long ago they lived.

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I just did a quick Googling for something really funny, and it doesn't seem to be anywhere on the net. Part of it was somewhat blue, so I'll be putting that part in SUPER-SECRET INVISIBLE INK (i.e. "white").

It was a long time ago, back in the early 1990's; maybe 1992 or '93. I was having a lot of fun with BBSes, electronic bulletin board systems. Kids, this was before the internet was really available for most people, although I'd had some experience with it already in college.

One of the BBSes was called Argus. It had 50 to 100 phone lines, which made it a HUGE local business in those days. And you actually had to pay to use it, which was pretty unusual. I think it was based in Lexington, MA, if that matters.

Anyway, they relied pretty heavily on volunteers to run forums on various subjects. The guy who ran the Argus Politics board was a real prick - ahem, "jerk"; he made a big deal out of his libertarianistic, Ayn Randian purity while deleting any posts that he disagreed with. As a result, the Politics board became a fun hangout for his libertarian and Nazi friends, but was pretty much a waste of time for anyone sane.

Complaints to the Argus management fell on deaf ears, of course.

Anyway, high among the ranks of the pricks jerks was a young punk who called himself "Whitewolf". He was clearly involved with neo-nazism, but refused to admit it - he was one of those "I'm just proud of being a member of the white race, what's wrong with that" morons. FYI, White Wolf the roleplaying company didn't exist yet (or if it did, nobody had heard of it).

The energy of youth and stupidity made Whitewolf particularly annoying, because he would not leave anybody alone. Ever. He'd just go on and on and on, no matter how clearly it was pointed out that he wasn't wanted in the discussion.

And then one day, some genius (I've forgotten his name) posted the following ditty. I read it, and literally fell to the floor laughing. Then I crawled to the stairs and actually flowed downstairs to tell my roommate about it. I was laughing so hard that he actually cracked up before I managed to get a word out. The highlight is, unfortunately, in white font for obvious reasons:

(to the tune of the second part of "I've Been Working on the Railroad")
Someone's in the kitchen with Whitewolf,
Someone's in the kitchen I know-o-o-ow.
Someone's in the kitchen with Whitewolf,
Shoving a statue of Hitler up his ass!
And singing:
Fee! Fi! Fiddly-i-oh!
Fee! Fi! Fiddly-i-oh-oh-oh-oh!
Someone's in the kitchen with Whitewolf,
Shoving a statue of Hitler up his ass!

Whitewolf never showed his face in the forums again, as such. The user did try to come back a few weeks later as "Squadwolf", but it was obvious who he was. I'm not the creative genius who wrote the song, but I couldn't resist posting a new version aimed at "Squadwolf", changing "a statue" to "a squad of statues".

And as I recall, he didn't come around much after that.

Argus is long gone, of course. Still, I'd hate for such a glorious moment in pre-net electronic history to be forgotten. :D


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