Archive: November 2005

Book Review: Prefab: Adaptable, Modular, Dismountable, Light, Mobile Architecture, Alejandro Bahamon (2003)

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Well, the pictures are pretty…

one out of five stars

As a consumer and soon-to-be first-time homeowner, I borrowed PREFAB: ADAPTABLE, MODULAR, DISMOUNTABLE, LIGHT, MOBILE ARCHITECTURE, by Alejandro Bahamon, from my local library, in hopes of learning more about prefabricated/modular homes.

Although the book’s Amazon listing implies that PREFAB is a useful guide for individuals looking to build a prefabricated home (“PreFab will prove to become the definitive reference for architects, contractors, homeowners, and anyone else interested in creating a prefabricated structure”), the author doesn’t really offer any practical advice for consumers who are considering building a modular home. Rather, PREFAB seems as if it’s geared more towards art or architecture students – it features a number of unusual and/or experimental prefab projects, many of which are NOT single-family dwellings. Some of the modular buildings profiled in PREFAB include bus dwellings, small office buildings, studios, visitor centers, apartment buildings, and pedestrian bridges. Those buildings that are meant as single-family dwellings are highly customized, with little general appeal: cliff houses, tree houses, tiny, 200-square-foot homes, even a “floating island”! Thus, I definitely would NOT recommend this book to the average consumer, who’s just looking for practical, real-world information on modular construction.

Although I picked up PREFAB expecting something totally different, it would be unfair to give the book a negative review just because it was not what I anticipated. Yet, even as an art/architecture book, PREFAB is fraught with a number of problems. The book was originally written in Spanish (I assume, given the author’s name), and translated into English by Bill Bain. Consequently, the text is absolutely atrocious. I don’t know if this is the author’s, translator’s, editor’s, or publisher’s fault (or some combination thereof), but the book is almost unreadable! There are a number of grammatical, punctuation, and even spelling errors. Sentences run on and on, and many don’t even make any sense at all!

Some examples, taken word-for-word, typos left as-is:

“The Yardbird prototype was constructed in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, where the client and the architect shared common go a is with regerd to the region’s landscape, which to a part of the neoclassical architectural legacy of Thomas Jefferson and the developmental center of modern architecture during the first decades of the twentieth century.”

“The Studio couldn’t be simpler in its desingn. It is a room some 64.5 by 37.5 square feet elevated by raw steel columns a small building is based on standard dimensions and prefabricated building materials.”

Huh!?

As if the writing isn’t hard enough to read, most of the text is white, printed on a black background. It literally jumps out at the reader in a migraine-inducing optical illusion!

This design issue is particularly puzzling, as the rest of the book is aesthetically pleasing. PREFAB is filled to the brim with color pictures, floor plans, and elevations of the various projects featured within its covers. Many of the buildings are simply breathtaking; even the ones that are bare and minimalist have unique and unusual qualities that make them interesting to the senses, if nothing else.

Unfortunately, the text that accompanies the pictures is sub par (and that’s putting it nicely!). I suspect that this is mainly due to the English translation and editing as opposed to sloppiness on the author’s part. If you’re an architecture student or aficionado who speaks fluent Spanish, try to find a copy of PREFAB in its native language. On the other hand, if you don’t speak Spanish or are a consumer looking for practical advice on prefab/modular home construction, steer clear of this book – it will offend both your wallet and your senses!

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Prefab, Allison Arieff (2002)

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Interesting overview of prefab homes, past, present and future

four out of five stars

In PREFAB, author Allison Arieff presents an interesting overview of “prefabricated” buildings, past, present, and future. Yet, I would not recommend this book to average modular home consumers, as many of the projects described in PREFAB are highly customized, somewhat eccentric, and generally impractical for those looking to save time and money by utilizing prefab construction as opposed to regular, stick-built construction. Some of the buildings aren’t even single-family dwellings, but apartment buildings. Nonetheless, PREFAB is a helpful resource for those who’d like to learn more about the history of prefabricated buildings, as well as the current state of affairs, and in which unusual directions the industry will be headed in the future.

Arieff begins PREFAB with a lengthy (29-page) discussion of the history of prefabricated homes, starting with panelized wood homes in England and the US in 1624, through the American mobile home boom after WWII, and ending with the current state of the industry. The next three sections of the book are devoted to various modern prefab projects. The first, titled “Production,” presents “a diverse group of well-designed houses and multi-family dwellings that are either in production, or poised to be.” Of the three groups, “Production” is perhaps most relevant to the average consumer; it illustrates the sheer diversity of prefab homes that are available around the world. It also reflects how beautiful prefab homes can be, both inside and out. Next up is “Custom,” an eclectic mix of “unique homes by architects less interested in the mass production of houses than in the aesthetic, environmental, and economic benefits of prefabrication.” The buildings in this section are stunning – the Penthouse at Albert Court, which sells for $4 to $5 million, is my favorite. Finally, “Concept” features the strangest buildings of the bunch. According the Arieff, the concept buildings represent “a diverse array of virtual and conceptual prefab projects that employ everything from websites to neoprene in order to create the next generation of prefabricated housing.” Experimental to the extreme, these plans seem geared towards architects, artists, and other design/construction professionals.

For the beginner, PREFAB is an interesting and engaging introduction to the history of prefabricated housing. As my knowledge of construction and architecture is limited, I can’t say whether students or professionals will find PREFAB especially enlightening. I found the author’s writing to be crisp and captivating, and I thought there was a good balance of pictures and text. I would definitely recommend PREFAB to newbies who would like to know more about prefab housing; yet, I would direct those looking for a consumer or how-to guide to go elsewhere. Overall, an interesting read, but probably not for everyone (for example, I can see how pros might want additional pictures, larger graphics, and more detailed floor/elevation plans, especially given the book’s high price tag).

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: The Modular Home, Andrew Gianino (2005)

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

The Go-To Guide for Modular Home Consumers

five out of five stars

Whether you’re merely considering building a new home, or you’ve already made up your mind to purchase a modular/prefabricated house, THE MODULAR HOME by Andrew Gianino is a must-read! Gianino, founder of The Home Store (now going into its 20th year of business), has written the Bible of modular home construction. In THE MODULAR HOME, Gianino covers all facets of buying and building a new modular home, from choosing and tweaking the building’s designs, to arranging financing and obtaining all the required permits, working with the dealer, manufacturer, and general contractor, and even dealing with warranty issues long after the house has been delivered and “buttoned up.”

Modular home construction holds a number of advantages over traditional, stick-built homes, and author Gianino begins by helping you decide if building a modular home makes sense for you. Although he’s quick to point out the assets of modular construction, THE MODULAR HOME isn’t just a sales pitch for the modular home industry; Gianino also explains when it makes little sense to go the modular route. He also goes to great pains to list the special concerns that arise when building a modular home. As a result, THE MODULAR HOME is a fair and balanced look at the pros and cons of modular construction. ANYONE thinking about building a new home (or even remodeling an existing house) should read THE MODULAR HOME in order to get a firm grasp of ALL the available options.

Once you’ve made a firm commitment to go modular, buy a copy of THE MODULAR HOME immediately! Gianino has packed the book with all sorts of helpful information to guide you through the process. The book is divided into eleven chapters: Why Build Modular?; Selecting a Dealer; Designing a Home; Specification and Features; Selecting a General Contractor; Finding a Preparing a Building Lot; The General Contractor’s Responsibilities; Building a Modular Addition; Financing a Modular Home; Warranty Service; and Building on Schedule. Additionally, he’s also included a 15-page, full-color Modular Home Gallery, which illustrates the many styles of homes that can be built inside a factory.

As you can see, Gianino truly does cover all the bases – and in great detail, to boot! Each chapter is jam-packed with useful information, helpful hints, in-depth explanations, illustrative sketches, useful checklists, and even individual case studies (usually of other peoples’ mistakes) that everyone can learn from. Unlike the watered-down Dummies’ Guides, THE MODULAR HOME does not dumb the material down, or repeat the same information ad nauseam. Gianino is an excellent and engaging writer, and he manages to make complicated information comprehensible to the layperson – without sounding as though he’s talking to a 7th-grader. He also reminds his audience of previously addressed material without beating you over the head with the same redundant advice (thus wasting both your time and money).

Currently a renter, I’m planning on buying or building a house in the next few years. Thus, I’ve read a countless number of books on manufactured, modular/prefab, and stick-built construction. THE MODULAR HOME is by far the best of the bunch, hands down. Five stars, all around!

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Billy’s BootCamp: Ab BootCamp, Billy Blanks (2005)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Ab-solutely Awesome!

five out of five stars

Ab BootCamp is part of Billy Blanks’s newest (circa 2005) Tae Bo series, Billy’s BootCamp. I’ve been a Tae Bo fan for about two years now, and own many of his early DVDs, including the original 4-pack, Tae Bo II: Get Ripped (still my favorite), Ultimate Abs/Butt, and Ultimate Upper/Lower Body. While I love the early stuff, the Tae Bo workouts that he’s produced since switching studios (from Ventura Distribution to Good Times Entertainment) seem more stylish, but considerably less difficult, than his earlier work. I was especially disappointed with Tae Bo Cardio and the Tae Bo Capture the Power series. However, I found myself growing bored with what I had, so I bit the bullet and bought the Tae Bo BootCamp series. I’m happy to say that I don’t regret my decision one bit!

Unlike the other BootCamp workouts, the Ab BootCamp does not require the “Billy Bands” (a pair of elastic bands that loop around your feet and hands, thus adding considerable – almost impossible – resistance to your workout). Thus, you can purchase this one DVD on its own and not have to worry about buying extra equipment.

The workout runs about 35 minutes in length – and boy, oh boy, what a butt-kicking 35 minutes it is! As always, Billy starts out with some stretching and warm-ups. Next up are calisthenics, including a series of squats with pelvic thrusts that I’ve never seen in Tae Bo before. The class also spends a good amount of time in horse stance (squatting, butts thrust towards the floor), arms up, torsos twisting from side to side. This REALLY allows you to concentrate on your abs and work the waist. Billy has introduced this particular exercise in many previous workouts, but never in this much depth or for such a long period. You can really feel your abs and legs working here. Finally, it’s down to the floor for a series of crunches and similar ab exercises. Thankfully, Billy mixes it up a bit and allocates some time for stretching, which definitely takes the edge off the more extreme ab work.

I’ve only done Ab BootCamp about five times now, but I already notice a difference in my abs. I’m adding this one to my regular rotation, no doubt. Since it’s also slightly shorter than many of the other DVDs I own (by 15 to 20 minutes), it’s good for those mornings when you’re running a little late but still want to squeeze a decent workout in. A must for anyone who wants to work their abs (and who doesn’t!?). Five stars all around!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Tae Bo Flex, Billy Blanks (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

More Flexing, Please!

four out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for about two years, and have mostly mastered the serious cardio workouts (of which Tae Bo II: Get Ripped is the most difficult). I purchased Tae Bo Flex because I wanted a Tae Bo workout that would focus on muscle definition (particularly in my abs) as opposed to cardio endurance. For the most part, Tae Bo Flex delivers.

Tae Bo Flex is different from previous Tae Bo DVDs in that the moves are performed more slowly, allowing the class to concentrate on the desired muscle groups. Additionally, after a certain number of sets, a move – for example, a roundhouse kick – is held, muscles flexed (hence the title of the workout), in order to strengthen specific muscle groups.

In general, each move is performed as follows: two sets of eight normal repetitions, a held position for eight counts, another set of eight normal reps, and then a final round of a flexed pose. Then, on to another move. During the course of Tae Bo Flex, you’ll do a number of moves in this manner, including the roundhouse kick, side kick, front kick, back kick, various punches, and some pseudo-speed bag. Most of the concentration is on your lower body, but the workout does include a few positions in which you’re flexing your arms as well.

For the most part, I enjoy the workout; it’s definitely something different than what I’m used to! However, it isn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The cardio (i.e., the “normal” sets) is relatively light, and I never really work up a sweat. Also, you only hold the flexed position for eight counts – essentially, this only amounts to about eight seconds! – which isn’t very challenging. And this is coming from someone who has a very poor sense of balance, mind you! In fact, some of the previous Tae Bo workouts, such as Get Ripped Advanced 1 and 2, feature longer flex times than this. Finally, at just 45 minutes, Tae Bo Flex is about 10 minutes shorter than many other “Advanced” Tae Bo DVDs.

Although I’ve owned this DVD for about five months, I usually only use it on my “off” days – those mornings when I’m just too beat to work through some of the more advanced Tae Bo videos. Nonetheless, newbies might find Tae Bo Flex helpful. The leisurely pace makes it easier to learn the basic moves, and the flexing does allow you to focus in on your body. You really gain a sense of which exercises work which muscle groups, because you can literally feel them in action. Overall a decent DVD, but I’m going to knock off one star because there really should have been more flexing!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Product Review: Gripmaster Hand Exerciser

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Great Product + Great Price = Great Way to Work Your Hands & Forearms!

I recently purchased a pair of the Gripmaster Hand & Finger Exercisers in order to help build forearm strength. As I was unsure which tension would be appropriate, I bought one each of the Light/Blue (5 lbs. tension) and Medium/Red (7 lbs. tension) grips. I’ve had them for a little more than a week now, and I just love, love, love them! Perhaps that’s a little more enthusiasm than anyone should muster up for exercise accessories, but I really do enjoy the grips. I leave one out on my desk at all times, and get in a little work here and there when I stop to read a document or whatnot.

The Gripmaster Exercisers are different from conventional grips in that you can either work your entire hand at once, or each finger individually (great for guitar players, I’ve heard!). One side features four small levers, each with its own spring, that can be squeezed together or one at a time. The plastic on the flip side is molded together so that you can work your whole hand as one unit. The black rubber cushion is removable, and you can place it on either side of the grip. It’s an awesome idea, and allows for maximum versatility!

Just for reference, I’m a female, in relatively good shape, but with painfully little forearm strength (my biceps are huge from years of Tae Bo, though!). The 7 lb. Medium/Red grip is do-able, but challenging. The 5 lb. Light/Blue grip, on the other hand, makes for a much easier workout; I oftentimes find myself squeezing it while doing other things, and I only feel it after a number of reps. If you’re a female and not in great shape, you’ll want to start out with the Light/Blue grips (or even the Extra Light/Yellow ones), and work your way up. Out-of-shape guys can probably get away with the Medium/Red ones to start. If you’ve got good hand/wrist/forearm strength, don’t even both with the lighter tensions – skip ahead to the Medium/Red or Heavy/Black.

Although I’ve only owned my Gripmasters for a week or two, and can’t personally vouch for their durability, they do seem sturdy and well-crafted. My fiancé’s brother, an amateur boxer and guitar player, used his for years without a problem, so I have faith that I’ll be squeezing these babies well into 2015!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: The Method: Pilates Target Zones (Upper-Mid-Lower Body), Jennifer Kries (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Ab-solutely Awesome Mix of Pilates & Yoga!

five out of five stars

Although I mainly stick to Tae Bo and kickboxing, I also like to throw the occasional yoga and/or pilates workout into the mix for flexibility and strength. I love Jennifer Kries as an instructor – she’s always peppy and cheerful without becoming annoying, and she does a great job of explaining the poses in such a way that even yoga newbies like myself can easily understand. Because I’ve enjoyed Kries’s DVDs in the past, I chose The Method: Pilates Target Zones: Upper-Mid-Lower Body when I needed a dedicated abdominal routine. As usual, Jennifer does not disappoint!

The workout is divided into three 25-minute segments: Abdominal/Centering, Lower Body/Grounding, and Balanced/Lengthening. The segment titles are a bit misleading, however; the first two, Abdominal/Centering and Lower Body/Grounding, focus on the abdominals via a series of “roll ups,” while the last portion, Balanced/Lengthening, is an interesting mix of yoga and ballet. The distinctions between Upper, Mid, and Lower Body aren’t as discrete as the titles would have you believe. Nonetheless, each segment is challenging and effective – I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my abdominal strength and overall flexibility since incorporating this DVD into my fitness program.

Abdominal/Centering, the first segment, begins with some breathing exercises, and then alternates between yogic stretching and increasingly difficult pilates “roll ups” that really (and I mean REALLY) challenge the abs. Lower Body/Grounding is more of the same, but this series incorporates the use of a lightly weighted bar to assist in the standing stretches and give a point of focus in the “roll ups.” Even so, you don’t have to run out and buy extra equipment in order to take full advantage of this workout – you can very easily substitute a broomstick or similar object for the bar (I use my Richard Simmons Ab Roller!). Finally, the Balanced/Lengthening section leads you through various yogic postures, including the Sun Salutation, the Proud Warrior series, and Awkward Chair (this one really works your legs!). Kries also includes a few ballet exercises, such as pliés and ankle presses (again, great leg work!).

I have absolutely no complaints about this DVD – which is very rare for me! The exercises are great, the instructor is engaging and encouraging, and the DVD format is suitable (i.e., each segment is its own chapter on the DVD, so you can easily customize your workout). Upper-Mid-Lower Body is especially worthwhile for those looking to firm their tummies. Along with Tae Bo: Billy’s BootCamp: Ab BootCamp, this is my favorite ab workout. And it shows – my six-pack is coming in quite nicely!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

DVD Review: Tae Bo: Ultimate Upper/Lower Body, Billy Blanks (2003)

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Awesome Assortment of Upper/Lower Body Exercises

three out of five stars

I’ve been doing Tae Bo for almost two years now; I started with the original 4-pack, gradually made my way through the Basic and Advanced workouts, and am proud to say that I can now do the Tae Bo II: Get Ripped DVDs (generally considered to be the most difficult in the Tae Bo series) without missing a beat. Along the way, I lost 30 pounds and gained a ton of confidence. Tae Bo is a fun and effective workout – if you’re in search of a new program, look no further!

However, if you’ve never done Tae Bo before, I definitely do not recommend the Ultimate Upper/Lower Body for beginners. This DVD features two 55-minute workouts, each of which is made up of clips from previous workouts. As the title implies, one workout focuses on upper body work (i.e., arms), the other, on the lower body (mostly legs, with some ab work thrown in for good measure). Both of the compilations tend to jump from move to move very quickly, with little explanation or chance for recovery. As usual, some of Billy’s instructions can be confusing or erratic, and the format in these “best of” DVDs exaggerates these flaws rather than eliminating them. This is disappointing; you’d think that the editors would have chosen the best representations of each exercise, but they don’t always. These problems also plague the other “Ultimate” DVD, “Ultimate Abs/Butt.”

Nonetheless, I love this DVD! I’m less than thrilled with some of Billy’s newer workouts – ever since he switched from Ventura Distribution to Good Times Entertainment, it seems like his DVDs have gotten more stylish but less challenging (e.g., the Capture the Power series). Thus, I find myself hoarding as many of the old workouts as possible. Luckily, Ultimate Upper Body/Lower Body makes a fantastic addition to my library!

The Lower Body workout, in particular, offers a steady yet challenging cardio workout, with lots of roundhouse kicks, sidekicks, knee raises, and squats. You’ll definitely feel this one the next day! I’m not as impressed with the Upper Body workout, though; many of the punches are performed while you’re balancing on one leg and thrusting the other foot to and fro. Consequently, I find myself worrying more about keeping my balance than executing strong and controlled punches during these exercises. Even so, the Upper Body workout really does work your arms!

An added perk of having split Upper/Lower Body (and Ab/Butt) workouts is that, if one part of your body is feeling especially fatigued, you can still put in a good workout without falling over from exhaustion. As my arms become more muscular, and I put more effort into my punches, I find that my arms wear out more quickly than my legs. On days when I can barely manage a decent punch, I just pop in the Ultimate Lower Body workout, since there’s very little arm work involved. I know Billy and the crew were probably just in search of a way to better maximize their profits when they pieced these compilations together, but the Best Of/Ultimate series definitely makes for an effective workout program, particularly in the long term.

In regards to the workouts themselves, I think the Lower Body deserves 5 stars, the Upper Body, 3. Production quality and editing is less than stellar, though, so I’ll have to knock 1 star off of the final average, bringing the rating to 3 stars total. The Lower Body workout alone is worth the price, though, especially if you’re starting to become bored with the Tae Bo DVDs you already own and find the newer ones a tad too easy.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)