home-construction (various)

Reviews, Books

180720 Who Cares About Particle Physics?

Momentous topic and clear content shine through ho-hum writing style

180707 On Photography

Wonderful, challenging intro to art photography

180402 How to Write for Percussion

Companion to my next composition session

180108 The Character of Physical Law

Skip and watch the videos

170909 Capturing Music

Ideas for taiko notation

170904 How the Universe Got Its Spots

The ins and outs of being a physicist

170808 The Quantum Divide

Quantum theory through the lens of history-making experiments.

170731 Drawdown

Great resource for environmentalist priorities

170708 The New Urban Crisis

Important topic, deeply researched... impact hampered only by my weariness for figures.

170617 From Mathematics to Generic Programming

Rewarding at any level of engagement, from general historical overview to deep programming study.

170524 Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Quick but insubstantial read.

170311 Red Rover

Recommended for NASA lovers (aren't we all NASA lovers?!).

170225 Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life

Highly recommended, for the physics and to fall in love with the author

170123 The Life You Can Save: Effective giving against extreme poverty

How to target your charitable giving

170112 Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance

Stiff academic writing contains gems

161224 The Spy Who Couldn't Spell

Slow start, didn't finis

161023 Los Angeles Union Station

LA nerds unite!

160927 The Art of Learning

What chess and competitive Tai Chi reveal about learning

160903 Walkable City

LA voters, please read!

160822 Ending Medical Reversal

Important book for navigating modern healthcare

160819 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

"Fixed" vs "growth" mindsets in excruciating detail

160815 Creativity: The Perfect Crime

An artists notebook

160808 The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World

Convincing case for role of econ in addressing climate change

160726 Whatever Happened to the Metric System?

For the love of measurement

160706 Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

Useful reflection on the tragedy of our country's founding.

160620 Audio Culture, Readings in Modern Music

About 30 pages in, I almost stopped reading. What a shame that would have been.

160613 Decorating with Architectural Trimwork

Examples of what not to do.

160613 More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home

Not so deep

160416 This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Fascinating and fair look at online troll culture

160405 Half-Earth

New environmental conservation goal: 50 percent of earth surface should be protected

160405 Birth of a Theorem

Rare insight into working mathematicians, charmingly opaque math.

160321 How to Bake Pi

Charming and though-provoking, if a bit scattered.

160319 Letters to a Young Scientist


160307 The Search for the Perfect Language

Only for language/history buffs

160307 Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance

Highly recommended for cyclists

160307 Black Hole

Recommended for cosmology lovers

150303 When Clothes Become Fashion

The best book I didn’t understand

150303 Art Power

Artful start, powerless end

150303 Brioni

Better than expected (the book and Brioni)

150303 This Changes Everything

Climate change facts and figures

150303 Designing, Building, and Testing Your Own Speaker System

Great starting point

150117 Pay Any Price

Useful info, shaky through-line.

150117 Cloudspotter’s Guide

Wanted to like it more.

150117 How We Got to Now

Science history!

150117 Closet Smarts

How to cover flaws (rather than redefine them)

150117 American Fashion

So-so intro to design of women's fashion design in America

150117 Charles James

Well-made cliche

141108 The Extreme Life of the Sea

A fun read for nature lovers

141108 Absolute Value

Vacuous book about a vacuous profession

141108 Real Talk for Real Teachers

The best book this month!

141108 The Dictionary of Fashion History

OK as reference, not useful to borrow

141108 Moving Through the Universe in Bare Feet

Not enough to take the leap

140919 Terpsichore in Sneakers

Awesome primer on post-modern dance

140919 It’s All About the Dress

It's too much about her

140919 Fashion

No theory, no groundbreaking fashion

140919 A History of Men’s Fashion

The best on the topic!

140919 Chanel

Uninspiring writing on an uninspiring designer

140909 Automotive Chassis and Body

The only source for this info!

140909 The Divide

Frustratingly important

140909 Missing Microbes

Slightly alarmist but worth reading

140909 The Code Book

Cryptography primer

140909 No Place To Hide

Thank you, Snowden!

140621 Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money

Agreeable premise, disagreeable writing

140621 How Bad Are Bananas

Facts and figures for the climate-aware

140621 Cool Tools

A bit thin on content

140621 The West Without Water

A CA water-drinker's resource

140412 A Perfect Moral Storm

Why accepting responsibility for climate change is hard

140412 The Sixth Extinction

Captivating, terrifying, motivating

140412 The Ethics of Climate Change

Life changing

140412 Climate Change

Good overview, likely outdated

140312 Climate Matters

Mix of esoteric philosophy and practical advice

140312 The Small Wood Shop

Inspiring ideas

140312 Sustainable Energy

Top-tier resource

140312 Eating Animals

Eat in line with your beliefs

140312 We are the Weather Makers

Not particularly inspiring

140312 Now or Never

Not my favorite on the subject

140312 How to Grow Fresh Air

So-so book on an awesome topic

140124 Mastery

Perfect for ambitious taiko players

140124 The Power Surge

Not groundbreaking but well-written and even-handed

140124 The Silent Pulse

Unnecessarily mystical

140124 Delusions of Gender

Part of the long march toward gender fluidity

140124 Stuff

Fascinating trivia yearning for more depth

140124 The Time of Music

Great for percussion composers

131121 The End of Money

Uninteresting book by a cash-hater

131121 Traffic

Required reading for LA residents

131121 Fresh Lipstick

Nuanced connections between fashion and feminism

130710 Web of Debt

Confirmation of why I don't like loans

130710 The Castle

Engagingly tedious

130710 Just Being At the Piano

The musician's path

130710 Contagious

How to trade integrity for popularity

130710 Pension Fund Politics

A useful, if biased, opinion

130710 Ethical Markets

Great points poorly written

130710 The SRI Advantage

The bottom-line benefits of socially-responsible investing. (Are those what matter?)

130710 Thinking, Fast and Slow

For all thinkers!

130710 The Fashion Reader

Critical fashion textbook

130413 Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire

A classic!

130413 Kanjincho

Serviceable summary of the play

130413 The Inner Game of Tennis

Great for teachers and students

130413 The Creative Director

Great for taiko teachers and composers

130413 Effortless Mastery

How to become the music

130413 The Green Collar Economy

A rising sea floats all boats

130413 A Universe From Nothing

Connections between the smallest and largest scales of the universe

130413 Steal Like An Artist

Thin. Should have stolen more content

130413 Antifragile

A challenging, deep tome

121231 Trust Me I’m Lying

Resist all advertising

121231 Notes and Tones

Felt guilty not liking this... will try again when I'm a more mature musician

121231 How Much Is Enough?

Info for the good life

121231 What Money Can’t Buy

Important read to resist the negative influences of markets

121231 How Music Works

Will check out again

121231 Which Side Are You On?

What page are you on? I stopped reading.

121231 Turing’s Cathedral

The personal computer's sordid start

121128 How Children Succeed

The fundamentals behind student success

121128 Basic MIG Welding Practices

Not useful

121128 The Handplane Book

Decent overview

121128 Towards A Poor Theatre

Interesting take on stage "honesty"

121128 Drift

Better than the TV show

121128 Welder’s Handbook

Great beginning welder's book

121128 Imagine

Can imagine worse... can imagine better

121128 Working with Handplanes

Good collection of articles

121128 Mathematics

Helped me love math

121128 Rethinking A Lot

Useful for LA commuters

120901 Choreography and the Specific Image

Not particularly inspiring

120901 Workshop Math

Oh to be a renaissance man!

120901 Kill or Capture

Still a pacifist but more understanding of Obama

120901 Being Watched

Useful inspiration when chorographing

120901 The Man Who Quit Money

Inspiring approach to life

120901 Consent of the Networked

The revolution will not be on Facebook

120901 The Net Delusion

Internet policy required to protect democracy

120901 The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

Why we lie and how to resist it

120701 The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Great. And video is even better.

120701 The Intimate Act of Choreography

Great for choreographer's block

120701 The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance

Expertise is an adaptation

120701 The Art of Making Dances

Absolutely inspiring!

120701 Predator Nation

Wasn't in the mood for self loathing?

120701 Flow

Didn't finish... flowed on to the next book

120701 Feelings Are Facts

Insight into genius

120701 Free

Decent but not as inspiring as Eben Moglen

120701 Redirect

How to create productive self-narratives

120701 iDisorder

Not my (tech-inspired) problems

120604 Canning for a New Generation

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Canning for a New Generation
Liana Krissoff
pub. 2010, 303p
source: LAPL

120604 Make Space

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration
Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft
pub. 2012, 272p
source: LAPL

120604 Salted

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Salted – A manifesto on the world’s most essential mineral, with recipes
Mark Bitterman
pub. 2010, 312p
source: LAPL

120604 Choreography Observed

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Choreography Observed
Scott Belsky
pub. 1987, 294p
source: LAPL

120604 Making Ideas Happen

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — June 2012"]

Making Ideas Happen – Overcoming the obstacles between vision & reality
Scott Belsky
pub. 2010, 242p
source: LAPL

120410 Adapt

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Adapt, Why Success Always Starts With Failure
Tim Harford
pub. 2011, 309p
source: LAPL

120410 Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars
William Patry
pub. 2009, 266p
source: LAPL

120410 The Creative Habit

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

The Creative Habit – Learn It and Use It for Life
Twyla Tharp
pub. 2003, 243p
source: LAPL

120410 A Guide to the Japanese Stage

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

A Guide to the Japanese Stage
Ronald Cavaye, Paul Griffith, Akihiko Senda
pub. 2004, 287p
source: LAPL

120410 Willpower

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
pub. 2011, 291p
source: LAPL

120410 Knocking on Heaven’s Door

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world
Lisa Randall
pub. 2011, 442p
source: LAPL

120410 IBM and the Holocaust

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — April 2012"]

IBM and the Holocaust, The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation
Edwin Black
pub. 2001, 519p
source: LAPL

111220 Creative License

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Creative License, The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling
Kembrew McLeod, Peter DiCola
pub. 2011, 325p
source: LAPL

111220 Program Or Be Programmed

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Program Or Be Programmed: Ten commands for a digital age
Douglas Rushkoff
pub. 2010, 149p
source: LAPL

111220 Using Drupal

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Using Drupal
Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker, Jeff Robbins
pub. 2009, 464p
source: LAPL

111220 The Chairs Are Where the People Go

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

111220 But Will the Planet Notice

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

But Will the Planet Notice — How Smart Economics Can Save the World
Gernot Wagner
pub. 2011, 258p
source: LAPL

The book’s ending provides the most concise summary.

111220 Moby Dick

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — December 2011"]

Moby Dick
Herman Melville
pub. 1851, 620p
source: LAPL

Just as I was lamenting my long lapse from reading fiction, my mom recommended Moby Dick. Why not be ambitious?!

I loved it.

111022 Moonwalking With Einstein

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Moonwalking With Einstein — The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Joshua Foer
pub. 2011, 307p
source: LAPL

111022 Life Inc.

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Life Inc. — How the World Became A Corporation and How to Take It Back
Douglas Rushkoff
pub. 2011, 247p
source: LAPL

111022 Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed — Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century
Howard Gardner
pub. 2011, 244p
source: LAPL

111022 The Art Instinct

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

The Art Instinct: beauty, pleasure, & human evolution
Denis Dutton
pub. 2009, 278p
source: LAPL

111022 Physics for Entertainment

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — October 2011"]

Physics for Entertainment
Yakov Perelman
pub. 2008, 330p
source: LAPL

110917 Freedom of Expression

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Freedom of Expression – Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity
Kembrew McLeod
pub. 2005, 375p
source: LAPL

110917 Learning OpenCV

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Learning OpenCV: Computer Vision with the OpenCV Library
Gary Bradski & Adrian Kaehler
pub. 2008, 555p
source: LAPL

110917 Small Is Beautiful

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

Small Is Beautiful — Economics as if People Mattered
E. F. Schumacher
pub. 2010, 324p
source: LAPL

110917 The Warrior Diet

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — September 2011"]

The Warrior Diet
Ori Hofmekler
pub. 2001, 359p
source: LAPL

110723 The Essential Touring Cyclist

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The Essential Touring Cyclist
Richard A. Lovett
pub. 2001, 160p
source: LAPL

110723 The One Pan Gourmet

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The One Pan Gourmet: Fresh food on the trail
Don Jacobson
pub. 2005, 182p
source: LAPL

110723 Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook — Worldwode Cycle Route & Planning Guide
Stephen Lord
pub. 2006, 288p
source: LAPL

110723 Designing Furniture

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Designing Furniture: from concept to shopt drawing, a practical guide
Seth Stem
pub. 1989, 215p
source: LAPL

110723 Great Soul

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India
Joseph Lelyveld
pub. 2011, 425p
source: LAPL

110723 The Perfect Edge

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

The Perfect Edge — The Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers
Ron Hock
pub. 2009, 221p
source: LAPL

110723 Practical Furniture Design

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews — August 2011"]

Practical Furniture Design: from Drawing Board to Smart Construction
various authors
pub. 2009, 268p
source: LAPL, no longer available

110708 The Information

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The Information: a history, a theory, a flood
James Gleik
pub. 2011, 526p
source: LAPL

110708 Decoded

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Jay Z
pub. 2010, 317p
source: LAPL

110708 Einstein: The Life and Times

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Einstein: The Life and Times
Ronald W. Clark
pub. 1984, 878p
source: LAPL

110708 The 4% Universe

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The 4 Percent Universe: Dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality
Richard Panek
pub. 2011, 297p
source: LAPL

110708 Celebration of Awareness

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

Celebration of Awareness: A Call for Institutional Revolution
Ivan Illich
pub. 1989, 189p
source: LAPL

110708 In the Mirror of the Past

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

In the Mirror of the Past, Lectures and Addresses 1978-1990
Ivan Illich
pub. 1992, 231p
source: LAPL

110708 The Workbench

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – July 2011"]

The Workbench – A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench
Lon Schleining
pub. 2004, 202p
source: LAPL

110509 The Happiness Project

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin
pub. 2009, 301p
source: LAPL

110509 Michael Polanyi

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Michael Polanyi
Mark T. Mitchell
pub. 2006, 195p
source: LAPL

110509 Organizing from the Inside Out

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Organizing from the Inside Out
Julie Morgenstern
pub. 2004, 320p
source: LAPL

110509 Massive

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Massive – The Missing Particle that Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science
Ian Sample
pub. 2010, 260p
source: LAPL

110509 Against Method

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Against Method
Paul Feyerabend
pub. 1978, 339p
source: LAPL

110509 Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite — Evolution and the Modular Mind
Robert Kurzban
pub. 2010, 274p
source: LAPL

110509 Modern Spice

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Modern Spice — Inspired indian flavors for the contemporary kitchen
Monica Bhide
pub. 2009, 265p
source: LAPL

110509 Making Workbenches

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Making Workbenches
Sam Allen
pub. 1995, 160p
source: LAPL

110509 Treasure Chests

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

Treasure Chests, the Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes
Lon Schleining
pub. 2001, 200p
source: LAPL

110509 The Workbench Book

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – May 2011"]

The Workbench Book
Scott Landis
pub. 1998, 247p
source: LAPL

110401 A Long Way Gone

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

A Long Way Gone – Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Ishmael Beah
pub. 2007, 229p
source: LAPL

110401 The Moral Landscape

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Moral Landscape – How Science Can Determine Human Values
Sam Harris
pub. 2010, 291p
source: LAPL

110401 The Science of Good and Evil

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Science of Good and Evil – Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Michael Shermer
pub. 2004, 350p
source: LAPL

110401 The Master Switch

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

The Master Switch
Tim Wu
pub. 2010, 366p
source: LAPL

110401 Piracy

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – March 2011"]

Piracy – The Intellectual Property Wars From Gutenberg to Gates
Adrian Johns
pub. 2009, 626p
source: LAPL

101024 Decoding the Universe

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Decoding the Universe
Charles Seife
pub. 2007, 296p
source: LAPL

101024 The Gift

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World
Lewis Hyde
pub. 2007, 435p
source: LAPL

101024 Very Special Relativity

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Very Special Relativity
Sander Bais
pub. 2007, 120p
source: LAPL

101024 Common As Air

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – October 2010"]

Common As Air – Revolution, Art, and Ownership
Lewis Hyde
pub. 2010, 306p
source: LAPL

101024 The Shallows

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains
Nicholas Carr
pub. 2010, 304p
source: LAPL

101024 Shop Class As Soulcraft

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

Shop Class As Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
Matthew B. Crawford
pub. 2009, 246p
source: LAPL

101024 The Matchbox That Ate A Fourty-Ton Truck

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

The Matchbox That Ate A Fourty-Ton Truck – What everyday things tell us about the universe
Marcus Chown
pub. 2010, 269p
source: LAPL

101024 Payback

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – December 2010"]

Payback, Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
Margaret Atwood
pub. 2008, 230p
source: LAPL

100828 Laban for Actors and Dancers

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Laban for Actors and Dancers
Jean Newlove
pub. 1993, 158p
source: LAPL

100828 Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body
Vladimir Ivanovitch Stepanov
pub. 1969, 47p
source: LAPL

100828 On the Count of One

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

On the Count of One
Elizabeth Sherbon
pub. 1969, 47p
source: LAPL

100828 Dance Notation – The Process of Recording Movement on Paper

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Dance Notation – The Process of Recording Movement on Paper
Ann Hutchinson Guest
pub. 1984, 226p
source: LAPL

100828 Dance Writing Shorthand for Modern and Jazz Dance

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Dance Writing Shorthand for Modern and Jazz Dance
Valerie Sutton
pub. 1984, 226p
source: author website

100828 Principles of Dance and Movement Notation

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Principles of Dance and Movement Notation
Rudolf Laban
pub. 1956, 56p
source: LAPL

100828 Movement Study and Benesh Movement Notation

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Movement Study and Benesh Movement Notation
Julia McGuinness-Scott
pub. 1983, 148p
source: LAPL

100828 Your Move

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Book reviews – dance notation"]

Your Move
Ann Hutchinson Guest and Tina Curran
pub. 1993, 158p
source: LAPL, no longer available

100630 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org as "Recent book reviews – June 2010"]


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami
pub. 2008, 179p
source: LAPL

100630 Healing with Whole Foods

I eat like this for totally different reasons

100630 Beautiful Evidence

More great Tufte!

100504 The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint


100504 Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value

Not my favorite on behavioral economics

100504 Brain Rules

Can you find the signed copy at LAPL?!

100504 The Ethics of Authenticity

Didn't finish

100504 Virtual Music, Computer Synthesis of Musical Style

David Cope is incredible!

100401 The Art of Possibility

Zander's TED talk outshines this book

100401 Ayn Rand and the World She Made

The best way to know Ayn Rand

100401 Visual Explanations

Good as primer to "V.D. of Q.I."

100401 The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The best in the field

100401 Envisioning Information

Read everything by Tufte

100401 Just Food

Good info, so-so writing

100401 Money for Nothing

Insight into a sleazy industry by a half-reformed opportunist

090709 Outliers

A classic

090709 Musicophilia

A scientist's appreciation of music

090709 This is Your Brain on Music

A fun look at the biology behind music

081227 home-construction (various)

All-things house design

home-construction (various)

[Originally posted at OnEnsemble.org]


I checked out these books early in my home-design phase.  All my philosophizing in the original post about how to build a home without exacerbating my privilege in society was made moot by my mother's purchase of a triplex in Torrance.  Suddenly my privilege skyrocketed as the "son of the owner" and now defacto manager.  Hiro and I kicked out one of the tenants to make space for ourselves (though in our defense we helped them find a new apartment closer to their work).  Hiro and I pay rent, but we have the privilege of fixing up the place however we please, plus all the power that comes with being manager.

These aspects of privilege make me uncomfortable, but they are partially balanced by the more humble apartment life we've adopted.  When I checked out the books reviewed below, Hiro and I planned to build the dream home, with advanced construction techniques and adventurous design.  Instead we moved into an old apartment with shag carpet, broken windows, and mildew-stained tile, and we're spending our own money and working ourselves to fix it up.  This feels great.

Original post

As design work continues on the mobile home, I've recently read a number of books regarding architecture. I have tried to limit myself to information that can be had freely online and from books that can be borrowed from the library. What follows are a few thoughts on the ethics of building a home, and a review of the books and publications I've read thus far.

I'm very sensitive to issues of privilege and economic inequality. I have been, without a doubt, incredibly fortunate. Despite my attempts to mitigate this advantage, I'm the poster-boy for privilege: white, male, American, with a happy childhood, an amazing partner, and dashing good looks. :) I can't give my supportive parents to a more needy kid, or give my health to someone sick. The best I've been able to do are little things, silly things, like wearing simple clothes (the t-shirt is the quintessential everyman's clothing), using Free Software (where edification is not dependent on wealth), taking the bus, riding my bike, eating vegetables. These things keep me removed from the upper eschelon of elitest culture, but they are ultimately ineffectual in lessening privilege; I've still got it better than everyone.

I worry about this a lot.

And designing and building a home greatly exacerbates the problem. I will graduate into the next level of comfort and security, a level that most of the world's people do not have. A mobile home might be less consumptive than a McMansion, but regardless, this project is steeped in self-satisfaction.  I'm spending hours and hours and significant funds designing and building something that is exclusionary -- the walls enclose "my space" from "others' space" -- and this home project runs the risk of being selfish.

So we've made a few goals for this project.  First we will try to minimize the negative impact of the project on others by using recycled and environmentally-friendly materials.  We will maximize the possibility that others can benefit from the design and concepts in their own projects by favoring readily-available materials and construction techniques. We will try and build a home that is less-expensive, requires fewer resources, and can be built with one's own hands, with the hope that such a design might make home ownership a possibility for more people.

Toward these ends, the most fundamental requirement is sharing knowledge. The intellectual aspects of the project, the design of this home specifically as well as the underlying information resources, should be available to as many people as possible. So rather than buying books, I will try to find my information at the library.  When I find gems of information relevant to building one's own mobile home, I will make them available here.

What follows is a series of book reviews.  Each review contains a summary and an Applicability/Interest score.  A score of 0 is for books that have absolutely no relevance to the project, and 10 for the (non-existant) perfect source of DIY mobile home information.  A score or 4 or higher constitutes a recommendation to check out and read the book.  Each review also includes "Things Learned", a place for me to list the personal revelations I had in reading the work.  Last are "Good Quotes" for each book, with a (sometimes lengthy) list of favorite passages.

I will continue to add reviews here as I read.  The Los Angeles Public Library is an incredible resource for information, and the "holds" system makes checking out books at your local branch remarkably convenient.


Title: Fundamentals of the Construction Process

Author: Kweku K. Bentil

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 4/10

Though a bit dated, this textbook would be a great read early-on in the design process.  It is a wide-scope overview of the construction industry, the building process, and construction project management.  With this wide scope, it necessarily glosses over many topics, but it has surprising detail in many areas and accomplishes its goal of giving the reader a basic understanding of the whole process and terminology of construction.  It is written in a confident, clear tone that is easy to read.

Things Learned

I made copies of the Means Forms (for cost estimates) and the example Gantt chart Project Schedule.

Good Quotes


Title: Building Your Dream House

Author: William P. Spense

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 1/10

This is a totally uninspired book, with bland, dated photos and less-than-helpful text.  It must be commissioned by the American Redwood Council or similar, with constant statements like, "The redwood siding... forms a pleasant, unified building", and "The beauty of the redwood siding blends this house into the surrounding water..."

Things Learned


Good Quotes


Title: Building for a Lifetime

Author: Margaret Wylde, Adrian Baron-Robbins, and Leon Whiteson

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 2/10

With the subtitle, "The Design and Construction of Fully Accessible Homes", this book is intended to serve as a guide to making homes that will satisfy users through all stages of life.  While some of the suggestions are very good, it was hard for me to get excited about making major concessions to possible future disabilities.  One of the major suggestions is to minimize stairs, for example, but they are a key element of the dream home.  Probably because I'm not particularly inspired by the subject, the book was a little hard to get through.

Things Learned

We should install push-button or rocker light switches and D-pull or lever door knobs so that we won't have to replace them later in life.

Outdoor solar ground lighting might be a good solution in the trailer park, where we can't install wiring runs to lights.

We definitely want a two-story home, so it might be worthwhile to consider the future location for an elevator.

The sink and counter heights might need adjustment in the future if one of us were to be in a wheelchair.

Good Quotes


Title: Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles

Author: Intro by Frank Gehry, essays by Aaron Betsky, John Chase, and Leon Whiteson

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 2/10

The essays were an interesting insight into Los Angeles architecture, at least as it was when the book was published in 1991.  The great bonus surprise was that the cover design and a section of the book is on Central Office of Architecture, Ron Golan's previous firm!  (Ron Golan is working on the DIY trailer home with me.)

Things Learned

There is a long tradition of innovation in Los Angeles residential architecture.

Ron is great!  One of the designs featured in the book is of a restaurant buffered from the busy street by a huge metal screen, billboard-like, in front of it.  The screen is wonderfully artistic to me.  It has the feel of a billboard in material and shape but it is semi-transparent and useful in an architectural sense, protecting the building from traffic and providing shade.  It even serves the purpose of a billboard, with the restaurant's name in the lower right corner, but without the gaudy offense of a normal billboard.  It's a uniquely Los Angeles architectural statement.

Good Quotes

From Frank Gehry: "But I'm troubled by the disturbing impulse among the establishment to rebuild Rome, to create a polite, almost classical order the people in power feel is the mark of a true city.  This wrong-headed impulse has made us miss several fundamental opportunities, such as the chance to build upon the kind of Wilshire Boulevard-type linear downtown Los Angeles pioneered in the 1930s.  Instead, we've created, in central LA, a belated and mediocre copy of Manhattan or Dallas that has helped foul up our transportation system."

From Aaron Betsky: "Los Angeles lacks a clear civic architecture.  Its government is housed in buildings indistinguishable from the surrounding office buildings, its cultural institutions are broken apart into fragmented, almost invisible, pavilions.  The so-called civic center of downtown Los Angeles has only one true focal point -- city hall.  This modest skyscraper, however, is not at the end of any clear axis, but sits outside of the major thrust of development and is dwarfed by surrounding boxes created in the 1950s to house bureaucracies."

From Leon Whiteson: "This extreme social imbalance between its private and public realms has long had a profound effect upon the character and range of architecture that characterizes Los Angeles.  Put simply, Los Angeles' residential architecture is as remarkable as its public architecture, both civic and commercial, is generally dull and trashy."

Title: The Ethical Function of Architecture

Author: Karsten Harries

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 4/10

Dozens of wonderfully thought-provoking concepts are buried here for the diligent explorer.  The writing swings wildly between pointed, direct prose, and dense, academic language.  The book opens with, "For some time now architecture has been uncertain of its way."  A beautiful beginning!  A few sentences later, "One might also point to Charles Perrault's distinction between positive and arbitrary beauty, the latter a matter of taste, dependent on ornament and changing fashion and 'the architect's special province,' a distinction that invites us to understand the architect as 'the artist who applies an ornamental dress of various kinds to the immutable substance of architecture,' invites the 'love affair with alternate visual conventions' that has made post-Enlightenment architecture both more interesting and more arbitrary."  Whew.  For the most part, I give Harries the benefit of the doubt; she's dealing with complicated concepts, so her language is necessarily complex.  But my sympathy only carried me through the first 50 pages of reading every word diligently, re-reading passages and referring back until I got it.  I hate to admit it, but after 50 pages, I read the opening and closing paragraphs of each section (usually about 5 per chapter, 24 chapters total), and random spots inbetween.  And although I fear my skimming is a disservice to the intricasies of the book, it was a freeing, delightful way to read.

Almost every chapter section has some question from the author, or quote from an architect that is enlightening.  For me, this book was almost as thought-provoking as A Pattern Language.

The major drawback to my selfish skipping through the book was that I sometimes lost Harries' narrative.  Reading bits out of context, I couldn't always tell if Harries was explaining a concept in the process of proving or refuting it.  My apologies to Harries!

Things Learned

I had one revelation that made the book extremely worthwhile: the mobile home needs to be built with the trailer park in mind.  It needs to be conscious of what community means in the trailer park and it needs to be a contribution to this community.  Thus far I've been thinking of the trailer park as a necessary evil -- the only place I might be able to put the dream home for the time being.  But that's not the way I want to be in this world.  I don't want to take advantage of the trailer park and I don't want my home to look down on other homes around it.

I came away fairly confident about my overall approach to this home; basically to design something exactly in line with who Hiro and I are, and how we want to be in the world. When the book describes a "problem" or "failing" with a particular school of thought (in the first quote below, for example) I was often relieved to feel like my belief system provided my own solution, even if I don't know what to call it.  I feel good to design around me, and try and figure out later what architectural terms to use to describe it.

Good Quotes

"Archtectural postmodernism thus represents, in Jahn's words, 'a realization and a response to the failures of modernism.  Architecture, along the principles of functionalism, programmatic determinism, and technological expressionism, produced buildings without connection to site, place, the human being, and history.'"

"To be sure, we can appeal to what seem to be obvious needs generated by our way of life and can look to scientists, especially to social scientists, to state these needs with a precision that would allow engineers to offer the solutions that would best meet them. But are these needs so obvious?  Do we know how to circumscribe the field of our needs?  Such circumscription demands a sound understanding of the requirements of human dwelling; without it, there is only stuttering dissatisfaction with all purely functional building."

"Our dwelling is always a dwelling with others.  The problem of architecture is therefore inevitably also the problem of community, which is only the other side of the problem of the individual."

Frank Stella: "I always get into arguments with people who want to retain the old values in painting, the humanistic values that they always find on the canvas.  If you pin them down, they always end up asserting that there is something there besides the paint on the canvas.  My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen is there.  It really is an object... All I want anyone to get out of my paintings, and all that I ever get out of them, is the fact that you can see the whole idea without confusion...  What you see is what you see."

"...to the extent that we measure works of architecture by the aesthetic conception of a successful artwork, architecture has to be considered deficient and impure, a not quite respectable art -- not quite respectable precisely because never truly autonomous, always bound to the requirements of building."

"Loos linked the replacement of ornament with 'art for art's sake' to the progressive inversion that characterizes modernity.  If he is right, then, like clothing, housing today has lost much of its former social function: those truly of the twentieth century no longer dress or build to represent themselves and their place in society to the world."

"We meet here not so much with a demand for decoration as with a refusal of what is experienced as the muteness of modern architecture, with a longing for architecture as text, for buildings carrying messages that can be read in some sense, for a new architecture parlante."

"How can a building, a material thing in space and time, signify an ideal, invisible community?  The Middle Ages found hints of an answer to this question in the traditional conception of the faithful as dwelling with God in an ideal city: the City of God."

"I offered the example of a bracelet, whose point is not so much to be appreciated as a self-sufficient beauty in its own right as to re-present the arm it circles -- beauty here as a re-presentational function in a very obvious sense.  Similarly the point of architectural ornament is not to be appreciated as a self-sufficient beauty but to re-present the ornament bearer.  Denied its re-presentational function, ornament turns into arbitrary decoration."

"Consider today's mobile homes.  We may deplore the still-continuing proliferation of such homes, but, as a guide to mobile, modular, and prefabricated homes points out, they do indeed offer what is demanded: 'Basic shelter at modst cost'... This suggests that what distinguishes more traditional homes from mobile homes are really just frills, ornament easily dispensed with.  What a house provides is basic shelter.  But what kind of dwelling do such homes reduced to basic shelter provide?"

"That mobile homes fail to meet the requirements of dwelling is suggested by the already-mentioned ways in which those who have chosen to buy a mobile home, most often no doubt because it does provide 'basic shelter at modest cost', appropriate and transform such a home to make it look like a real house, for example by using 'a tip-out, slide-out, or tag unit which will break up the boxlike appearance of the unit while adding additional space.  More help would come from adding a porch, patio, deck, trellis, or anything that visually ties the mobile home to its site'."

"When considering building 'as giving shape to the functions of life,' we have to keep in mind that our life in the world is essentially a life with others.  Whatever we build inevitably has a social significance."

From Le Corbuseir: "There is no such thing as primitive man; there are primitive resources.  The idea is constant, in full sway from the beginning."

From Heidegger: "Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build."

"The lure of freedom that challenges the binding power of place is as old as humanity.  The story of the Fall, an ambiguous story of both place and self-assertion, provides a paradigm for stories of human beings refusing to keep their assigned place, stories that are inevitably also stories of liberation."

"The full consequences of this attack on distance (by the modern metropolis) remain uncertain.  It seems difficult not to welcome the way it has helped free human beings from what I have called the accident of location: no longer is place destiny.  Such liberation, however, is attended by its frightening shadow: the attack on distance also threatens us with a homelessness nefver before known."

"The ease with which we relocate ourselves and replace buildings is witness to a more profound displacement that may be welcomed as an aspect of humanity's coming of age or deplored as a loss of genuine dwelling."

"Genuine dwelling means not so much a being at home but at most a continuous journeying home, a continuous homecoming, haunted by changing dreams of home."

"Le Corbusier recognizes this.  As emphatically as Ruskin, he denies that architecture can ever be reduced to the level of the machine.  Architecture, he insists, goes beyond 'utilitarian needs'.  Functional considerations only provide certain constraints.  It is with these that the architect must begin, but the genuine architect will not stop there: 'Contour and profile are the touchstone of the architect.'"

From Bernard Rudofsky: "There is a good deal of irony in the fact that to stave off physical and mental deterioration the urban dweller periodically escapes his splendidly appointed lair to seek bliss in what he thinks are primitive surroundings: a cabin, a tent..."

"The need for art, and especially for architecture, remains.  What kind of architecture?  Temple and cathedral lie behind us.  Not only has the kind of community their building presupposed and reaffirmed been lost, but few of us would wish it to return, for it is incompatible with one of our own ruling myths: the myth of the value of personal freedom.  That myth has freed art, too, from its former servitude to religion and state.  But if art has thus gained a new freedom, the price of such emancipation has been its peripheral placement in a world ruled by the economic imperative.  Where does that leave building?  Outside of art, it would seem, which has become 'a private concern of the artist'.  Where does that leave architecture?"

Title: Space - Japanese Design Solutions for Compact Living

Author: Michael Freeman

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 3/10

This book suffered from unfortunate timing and overly high expectations.  It was the first thing I read after finishing a few books on writing style and grace.  The writing of Space is clunky and awkward.  As a sample, the opening sentence is, "Our endless preoccupation with space -- which is to say living space -- is an acknowledgment of its role in our well-being."  It's certainly not awful, but I came away still yearning for the book on small living with equally compact prose.

The book's strength is its photographs, which are loosely organized into sections, "enjoy", "maximize", "compress", "open", and "conceal".  Although the book's title and these sections conspire to suggest over-arching themes to the concepts, the organization of the photos feels more haphazard at times.  The 'solutions' are never clearly stated or explored.  I was hoping for an exploration of specifics like "shelves", or even "storage", but the book often feels like a collection of photos of modern homes that happen to be small.  The "conceal" section was strongest, with a wonderful stairway that rolls sideways to disappear into the wall.

Generally, though, many of the homes seem to contain significant wasted space and emphasize a design aesthetic over livability.

Things Learned

Steep stairs don't draw me in.  I usually run up stairs two at a time, but steep stairs and ladders force the feet to follow every step.  They're authoritarian.

The houses in the book are made or broken by natural light.

Why are exposed metal beams always painted red?  I like it, but perhaps there's another color?

I like drawers tucked into the toe-kicks of stairs.

Good Quotes


Title: Insulate and Weatherize

Author: Bruce Harley

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 2/10

This was a frustrating read.  In retrospect, my expectations were probably misguided, but I spent the whole book waiting for applicable topics.  While I had hoped for detailed cross sections on SIP panels and housewrap comparisons, the bulk of the book deals with upgrading existing homes.  Very few of the materials and techniques apply to mobile home construction.  The book makes recommendations for hot/humid climates, and cold climates, leaving Californians to guess at suitability.  The entire book read like a long introduction, never getting to the "meat" of the topic.

Things Learned

Even small holes in the thermal envelope can significantly reduce efficiency.  If there is any pressure difference between inside and outside, air will be forced through even tiny gaps.

Perhaps I should consider blinds or shutters that will help insulate the windows at night.

If the home requires heating and cooling, is a heat-pump an option?

Good Quotes

"Every bathroom should have an exhaust fan of at least 50cfm.  Range hoods rated for at least 250cfm are also highly recommended, but they are not usually required by code."

"One advantage of a through-wall fan is that you don't need to install ductwork (with its associated drop in airflow).  This model, the Preventilator from Tamarack Technologies, has a motorized cover that seals tightly when it's turned off.  Both Fantech and Panasonic also make through-wall fans."

"I think that fans with sone ratings of greater than 1.5 are too noisy for this application (bathroom ventilation); if you can, choose a fan rated at 1.0 or less."

"A fan delay timer switch (National Controls Corp, Airetrak, Aube) turns on a bath fan when you switch it on, but when you switch it off, the fan runs for a preset time that can be adjusted from 1 to 60 minutes.  A windup timer is simpler in construction (but less automatic in operation)."

"When foaming around a new window, be sure to use a light touch, or you'll end up with problems.  The window opening shown above was sealed with low-expanding foam, but the space was so large that the foam distorted the window frame as it cured.  This window probably wont open without some remedial work."

"For years, passive solar and energy-efficiency guides have advocated the use of movable insulation to reduce nighttime heat loss.  Effective when used properly, movable insulation saves energy -- but at the price of human energy.  Insulation also cools the glass, so it must fit snugly; if indoor air touches the cold glass, condensation can result."

"Air source heat pumps, popular in some parts of the country, are basically air conditioners that can work in reverse to deliver heat into the house in winter.  Heat pumps provide heating and cooling in one machine, with one duct system, and no combustion."

"One of the thorniest problems in hot water efficiency is the waste of all the heat in the water that goes down the drain.  One product on the market, the Gravity Film Exchange (GFX) system, can recover up to 60% of that heat."

Title: Mobile - The Art of Portable Architecture

Author: Edited by Jennifer Siegal

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 3/10

Not so much that applies to my project but I'm excited to know that the architect and book's editor, Jennifer Siegal, lives right here in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the section on the LOT/EK Mobile Dwelling Unit, though I'm torn about the "slide-out" concept. It makes a lot of sense to open up room in the trailer, but might be overly complex for a trailer that only moves occasionally and emphasizes long-lasting and weather-tight construction.

Things learned

Even particleboard can be visually pleasing. I don't like inflatable structures and exaggerated curves; I like the efficiency of straight lines.

Good quotes

From Andrei Codrescu's foreword: "But while stationary, most new American houses are impermanent. Although a house in a subdivision is not portable, it is certainly interchangeable with any other house in any other subdivision -- and the subdivisions themselves often evaporate. This evaporation is sometimes brought about by company relocations, or by the city moving closer to what was once almost country. Quite often, suburbs become the abodes of new immigrants who have come to America in search of stability, after leaving behind old houses that will long outlive their new homes. The house in Sibiu, Romania, where I was born, was built in the seventeenth century and still stands. Nearly every American house I've lived in has long been demolished to make room for some other building. There is a delicious (though painful) paradox here: Americans long for stability, but all they get is stationary impermanence. No wonder, then, that many of us long to become permanent nomads, snails with houses on our backs, Touareg tribesman, and Gypsies."

From Jennifer Siegels' intro "The age of new nomadism": "(The trailers') anonymity, disregard for regional contextualism, and inability to work with the contours of the natural landscape force the mobile dwelling to remain on the periphery of environmental design discourse, making the argument for its acceptance arduous."

Title: LOT-EK - Mobile Dwelling Unit

Author: Curated by Christopher Scoates

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 7/10

Very interesting read about LOT-EK's design of a shipping-container-based dwelling. Theirs isn't necessarily my favorite shipping-container home, but they make a good case for slide-outs. I'm still not convinced that it can be done in an efficient way that will last.

Things learned

The use of shipping containers for housing is delightfully subversive, inverting American consumerism.

I'm not interested in the installation-art side of architecture; many of the prototypes lack real-world, satisfying solutions of keeping out the weather or minimizing waste.

The mobile home project we are working on is much harder than most projects because it's meant to last, it's meant to be our only home, it deals with transportation and land use law, and we care about environmental impact.

Good quotes

From Aaron Betsky's article: "Thus, two strands emerged in modern architecture's approach to technology. While some architects continued to see their work as part of the construction of a new world on a vast scale and in tandem with engineers, others looked more toward the integration of architecture into the daily practice of modernization. Futurist and Constructivist architects dreamed of whole mountain ranges of concrete, proposed airports in the middle of cities, and drew their projects as vast abstractions whose elongated forms took little note of the small specks that were human beings meant to huddle inside these behemoths. At the Bauhaus, meanwhile, architects were trying to use new techniques of bending metal, plywood, and synthetics to create forms that would conform to the human body. They were using radiators and bare light bulbs without covering them up, so that users could understand and possibly even fix these implements of comfort. They employed scientific techniques such as motion study and statistics to create efficient spaces that would minimize human action. Instead of glorifying the new as larger than man, they tried to make novelty accessible and useful."

Also from Aaron Betsky's article: "Finally, we can also see LOT-EK's work in relation to the wider acceptance of the world of motion and distribution in the world of architecture. Once the computer had reduced information and imagery to interchangeable bits, the designer was free to treat all data as equal and build up forms from these abstract elements. The same computer can produce a car and a building, and more and more we demand the same access to technology in those formerly disparate objects. The container became the symbol for the 'dumb box' to which the miniaturization endemic to digital technologies reduced buildings, cars, and the computer itself. Not final form, but the collection of information, its organization, and its (temporary) storage became the tasks of the architect."

Title: A Pattern Language

Author: Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 8/10

This extremely ambitious work attempts to explore the full range of architecture's problems and solutions. Particular problems and their solutions are presented as "patterns", and there are 250 or so in total. The authors start at the "Region" level, move to the "City" and "Community" levels, and finally discuss particulars of individual spaces like doorways, counters, and couches. I would very strongly recommend this book to anyone designing their own home, once they have a rough design in mind. It was very interesting for me to consider each pattern in relation to my current design.

Things learned

I want to think more about how this semi-nomadic home fits into American culture. I should treat legal challenges (like zoning laws which would ban such a small home) as opportunities to try and make a difference. I like my tendency to try and make spaces useful in multiple ways (containing multiple patterns).

Good quotes (the book is over 1100 pages so there are a lot of quotes)

"It is possible to make buildings by stringing together patterns, in a rather loose way. A building made like this, is an assembly of patterns. It is not dense. It is not profound. But it is also possible to put patterns together in such a way that many many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density, it becomes profound."

"We do not believe that these large patterns, which give so much structure to a town or of a neighborhood, can be created by centralized authority, or by laws, or by master plans. We believe instead that they can emerge gradually and organically, almost of their own accord, if every act of building, large or small, takes on the responsibility for gradually shaping its small corner of the world to make these larger patterns appear there."

"An overconcentrated population, in space, puts a huge burden on the region's overall ecosystem. As the big cities grow, the population movement overburdens these areas with air pollution, strangled transportation, water shortages, housing shortages, and living densities which go beyond the realm of human reasonableness. In some metropolitan centers, the ecology is perilously close to cracking. By contrast, a population that is spread more evenly over its region minimizes its impact on the ecology of the environment, and finds that it can take care of itself and the land more prudently, with less waste and more humanity: 'This is because the actual urban superstructure required per inhabitant goes up radically as the size of the town increases beyond a certain point. For example, the per capita cost of high rise flats is much greater than that of ordinary houses; and the cost of roads and other transportation routes increases with the number of commuters carried. Similarly, the per capita expenditure on other facilities such as those for distributing food and removing wastes is much higher in cities than in small towns and villages. Thus, if everybody lived in villages the need for sewage treatment plants would be somewhat reduced, while in an entirely urban society they are essential, and the cost of treatment is high. Broadly speaking, it is only by decentralization that we can increase self-sufficiency -- and self-sufficiency is vital if we are to minimize the burden of social systems on the ecosystems that support them.'"

"The artificial separation of houses and work creates intolerable rifts in people's inner lives."

"The fact that cars are large is, in the end, the most serious aspect of a transportation system based on the use of cars, since it is inherent in the very nature of cars. Let us state this problem in its most pungent form. A man occupies about 5 square feet when he is standing still, and perhaps 10 square feet when he is walking. A car occupies about 350 square feet when it is standing still (if we include access), and at 30 miles an hour, when cars are 3 car lengths apart, it occupies about 1000 square feet. As we know, most of the time cars have a single occupant. This means that when people use cars, each person occupies almost 100 times as much space as he does when he is a pedestrian... people are 10 times as far apart. In other words, the use of cars has the overall effect of spreading people out, and keeping them apart."

"In downtown Los Angeles over 60 percent of the land is given over to the automobile."

"People will not feel comfortable in their houses unless a group of houses forms a cluster, with the public land between them jointly owned by all the householders. When houses are arranged on streets, and the streets are owned by the town, there is no way in which the land immediately outside the houses can reflect the needs of families and individuals living in those houses."

"It is true that the large supermarkets do have a great variety of foods. But this 'variety' is still centrally purchased, centrally warehoused, and still has the staleness of mass merchandise. In addition, there is no human contact left, only rows of shelves and then a harried encounter with the check-out man who takes your money."

"Except where traffic densities are very high or very low, lay out pedestrian paths at right angles to roads, not along them, so that the paths gradually begin to form a second network, distinct from the road system, and orthogonal to it."

"People need green open spaces to go to; when they are close they use them. But if the greens are more than three minutes away, the distance overwhelms the need."

"But in a society with cars and trucks, the common land which can play an effective social role in knitting people together no longer happens automatically. Those streets which carry cars and trucks at more than crawling speeds, definitely do not function as common land... In such a situation, common land must be provided, separately, and with deliberation, as a social necessity, as vital as the streets."

"Indeed, it is very clear that all those processes which encourage speculation in land, for the sake of profit, are unhealthy and destructive, because they invite people to treat houses as commodities, to build things for 'resale', and not in such a way as to fit their own needs."

"For any given site, do not let the ground area covered by buildings exceed 50 per cent of the site."

"Buildings must always be built on those parts of the land which are in the worst condition, not the best."

"In order to ensure that both the kitchen and formal living room are conveniently located with respect to cars and that each space maintains its integrity in terms of use and privacy, there must be one and only one primary entrance into the house, and the kitchen and living room must be both directly accessible from this entrance."

"The roof plays a primal role in our lives. The most primitive buildings are nothing but a roof. If the roof is hidden, if its presence cannot be felt around the building, or if it cannot be used, then people will lack a fundamental sense of shelter."

"A vast part of the earth's surface, in a town, consists of roofs. Couple this with the fact that the total area of a town which can be exposed to the sun is finite, and you will realize that it is natural, and indeed essential, to make roofs which take advantage of the sun and air."

"Place the main stair in a key position, central and visible... Arrange it so that the stair and the room are one, with the stair coming down around one or two walls of the room. Flare out the bottom of the stair... so that people below will naturally use the stair for seats."

"If there is a beautiful view, don't spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it. Instead, put the windows which look onto the view at places of transition -- along paths, in hallways, in entry ways, on stairs, between rooms. If the window is correctly placed, people will see a glimpse of the distant view as they come up to the window or pass it: but the view is never visible from the places where people stay."

"Create alternating areas of light and dark throughout the building, in such a way that people naturally walk toward the light, whenever they are going to important places:seats, entrances, stairs, passages, places of special beauty, and make other areas darker, to increase the contrast."

"Give those parts of the house where people sleep, an eastern orientation, so that they wake up with the sun and light."

"... the home workshop becomes far more than a basement or a garage hobby shop.  It becomes an integral part of every house; as central to the house's function as the kitchen or the bedrooms.  And we believe its most important characteristic is its relationship to the public street."

"Internal staircases reduce the connection between upper stories and the life of the street to such an extent that they can do enormous social damage."

"Make sure that you treat the edge of the building as a 'thing', a 'place', a zone with volume to it, not a line or interface which has no thickness.  Crenelate the edge of buildings with places that invite people to stop."

"The street window provides a unique kind of connection between the life inside buildings and the street."

"Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used."

"A house feels isolated from the nature around it, unless its floors are interleaved directly with the earth that is around the house."

"In a healthy town every family can grow vegetables for itself.  The time is past to think of this as a hobby for enthusiasts; it is a fundamental part of human life."

"In every room where you spend any length of time during the day, make at least one window into a 'window place'."

"To strike the balance between the kitchen which is too small, and the kitchen which is too spread out, place the stove, sink, and food storage and counter in such a way that: 1) No two of the four are more than 10 feet apart. 2) The total length of counter -- excluding sink, stove, and refrigerator -- is at least 12 feet. 3) No one section of the counter is less than 4 feet long."

"When (a space for storing clothes and dressing) is not provided, the whole bedroom is potentially the dressing room; and this can destroy its integrity as a room."

"As you work out the exact slope of your stair, bear in mind the relationship: riser + tread = 17.5 inches."

"Cover the walls with narrow shelves of varying depth but always shallow enough so that things can be placed on them one deep -- nothing hiding behind anything else."

"Build waist-high shelves around at least part of the main rooms where people live and work.  Make them long, 9 to 15 inches deep, with shelves or cupboard underneath.  Interrupt the shelf for seats, windows, and doors."

"Make a place in the house, perhaps only a few feet square, which is kept locked and secret; a place which is virtually impossible to discover -- until you have been shown where it is; a place where the archives of the house, or other more potent secrets, might be kept."

"A first principle of construction: on no account allow the engineering to dictate the building's form.  Place the load bearing elements -- the columns and the walls and floors -- according to the social spaces of the building; never modify the social spaces to conform to the engineering structure of the building."

"Steel as a bulk material seems out of the question.  We do not need it for high buildings since they do not make social sense -- Four Story Limit.  And for smaller buildings it is expensive, impossible to modify, high energy in production."

"And, for any optimist who thinks he can go on using steel reinforcing bars forever -- consider the following fact.  Even iron, abundant as it is all over the earth's surface, is a depletable resource.  If consumption keeps growing at its present rate (1977?) of increase (as it very well may, given the vast parts of the world not yet using resources at American and western consumption levels), the resources of iron will run out in 2050."

"(A) novice-like and panic-stricken attention to detail has two very serious results.  First, like the novice, the architects spend a great deal of time trying to work things out ahead of time, not smoothly building.  Obviously, this costs money; and helps create these machine-like 'perfect' buildings.  Second, a vastly more serious consequence: the details control the whole.  The beauty and subtlety of the plan in which patterns have held free sway over the design suddenly becomes tightened and destroyed because, in fear that details won't work out, the details of connections, and components, are allowed to control the plan.  As a result, rooms get to be slightly the wrong shape, windows go out of position, spaces between doors and walls get altered just enough to make them useless.  In a word, the whole character of modern architecture, namely the control of larger space by piddling details of construction, takes over."

"One of a window's most important functions is to put you in touch with the outdoors.  If the sill is too high, it cuts you off."

"On upper stories, the sill height needs to be slightly higher.  The sill still needs to be low to see the ground, but it is unsafe if it is too low.  A sill height of about 20 inches allows you to see most of the ground, from a chair nearby, and still feel safe."

"Make the window frame a deep, splayed edge: about a foot wide and splayed at about 50 to 60 degrees to the plane of the window, so that the gentle gradient of daylight gives a smooth transition between the light of the window and the dark of the inner wall."

"Choose a natural way to cap the roof -- some way which is in keeping with the kind of construction, and the meaning of the building.  The caps be structural; but their main function is decorative -- they mark the top -- they mark the place where the roof penetrates the sky."

"The practice of walking on a Persian rug with outdoor shoes on is a barbarian habit, never practiced by the people who make those rugs, and know how to treat them -- they always take their shoes off.  But the modern nylon and acrylic rugs, machine-made for hard wear, lose all the sumptuousness and leisure of the carpet: they are, as it were, soft kinds of concrete.  The problem cannot be solved.  The conflict is fundamental.  The problem can only be avoided by making a clear distinction in the house between those areas which have heavy traffic and so need hard wearing surfaces which are easy to clean, and those other areas which have only very light traffic, where people can take off their shoes, and where lush, soft, beautiful rugs, pillows, and tapestries can easily be spread."

"... choose a material that is easy to repair in little patches, inexpensively, so that little by little, the wall can be maintained in good condition indefinitely."

"Make every inside surface warm to the touch, soft enough to take small nails and tacks, and with a certain slight 'give' to the touch.  Soft plaster is very good; textile hangings, cane work, weavings, also have this character.  And wood is fine, where you can afford it."

"Decide which of the windows will be opening windows.  Pick those which are easy to get to, and choose the ones which open onto flowers you want to smell, paths where you might want to talk, and natural breezes.  Then put in side-hung casements that open outward.  Here and there, go all the way and build full French windows."

"An opaque door makes sense in a vast house of palace, where every room is large enough to be a world unto itself; but in a small building, with small rooms, the opaque door is only very rarely useful."

"Divide each window into small panes.  These panes can be very small indeed, and should hardly ever be more than a foot square.  To get the exact size of the panes, divide the width and height of the window by the number of panes.  Then each window will have different sized panes according to its height and width."

"Build a special bench outside the front door where people from inside can sit comfortably for hours on end and watch the world go by.  Place the bench to define a half-private domain in front of the house.  A low wall, planting, a tree, can help to create the same domain."

"Surround any natural outdoor area, and make minor boundaries between outdoor areas with low walls, about 16 inches high, and wide enough to sit on, at least 12 inches wide."

"Build canvas roofs and walls and awnings wherever there are spaces which need softer light or partial shade in summer, or partial protection from mist and dew in autumn and winter.  Build them to fold away, with ropes or wires to pull them, so that they can easily be opened."

"On paths and terraces, lay paving stones with a 1 inch crack between the stones, so that grass and mosses and small flowers can grow between the stones.  Lay the stones directly into earth, not into mortar, and, of course, use no cement or mortar in between the stones."

"Most generally of all, the thing that makes the difference in the use of ornament is the eye for the significant gap in the continuum: the place where the continuous fabric of interlock and connectivity is broken.  When ornament is applied badly it is always put into someplace where these connections are not really missing, so it is superfluous, frivolous.  When it is well used, it is always applied in a place where there is a genuine gap, a need for a little more structure, a need for what we may call metaphorically 'some extra binding energy', to knit the stuff together where it is too much apart."

"Place the lights low, and apart, to form individual pools of light which encompass chairs and tables like bubbles to reinforce the social character of the spaces which they form.  Remember that you can't have pools of light without the darker places in between."

"It is far more fascinating to come into a room which is the living expression of a person, or a group of people, so that you can see their lives, their histories, their inclinations, displayed in manifest form around the walls, in the furniture, on the shelves.  Beside such experience -- and it is as ordinary as the grass -- the artificial scene-making of 'modern decor' is totally bankrupt."

Title: Walden

Author: Henry David Thoreau

Source: Los Angeles Public Library (also available online here)

Applicability/Interest: 4/10

It was a delight to read this literary classic with the dream home in mind.

Things learned

I've got Thoreau to back me up on loving simple clothes.

Good quotes

"Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions against the last day, not to betray too green an interest in their fates!  As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

"One farmer says to me, 'You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with'; and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of hones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerks him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle.  Some things are really necessaries of life in some circles, the most helpless and diseased, which in others are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown."

"Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood.  'Do you wish to buy any baskets?' he asked.  'No, we do not want any,' was the reply.  'What!' exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, 'do you mean to starve us?'  Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off -- that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic,wealth and standing followed -- he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do.  Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them.  He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.  I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them.  Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind.  Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?"

"I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing.  The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principle object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that the corporations may be enriched.  In the long run men hit only what they aim at.  Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high."

"In the savage state every family owns a shelter as good as the best, and sufficient or its coarser and simpler wants; but I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter.  In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole.  The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live.  I do not mean to insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to hire.  But, answers one, by merely paying this tax the poor civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the savage's.  An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars (these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefits of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and paper, Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump, spring lock, a commodious cellar, and many other things.  But how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a savage?  If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man -- and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages -- it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly; and the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.  An average house in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laboror's life, even if he is not encumbered with  a family -- estimating the pecuniary value of every man's labor at one dollar a day, for if some receive more, others receive less; -- so that he must have spent more than half his life commonly before his wigwam will be earned.  If we suppose him to pay a rent instead, this is but a doubtul choice of evils.  Would the savage have been wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms?"

"I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society."

"Having been my own butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for whom the dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually complete experience.  The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially.  It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to.  A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth.  Like many of my contemporaries, I had rarely for many years used animal food, or tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much because of any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they werre not agreeable to my imagination.  The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct.  It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination.  I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind."

"I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea!"

"Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.  We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.  Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man's features, and meanness or sensuality to imbrute them."

"What was the meaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition, with all its parade and expense, but an indirect recognition of the fact that there are continents and seas in the moral world to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone."

"Some or dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men.  But what is that to the purpose?  A living dog is better than a dead lion.  Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can?  Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made."

"Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.  Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."

"Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work."

Title: Skateboarding, Space and the City

Author: Iain Borden

Source: Los Angeles Public Library

Applicability/Interest: 1/10

With more emphasis on skateboarding than architecture, I found the book appealing to my skater instincts but not my interest in building.  The connections between skateboarding and architecture outlined here, including "Unknown Terrains" and "Performing the City" were briefly interesting, but I found myself skipping ahead in sections.  The academic language and approach to the topic left me a bit cold.

Things learned

I should consider "skatability" in my design.  Perhaps the bench near the front door can be made suitable for nose-slide practice.

Good quotes

"Skateboarding is perhaps an unusual object for a study in architectural history.  But it is precisely its marginal position which enables skateboarding to function historically as a critical exterior to architecture.  As such, skateboarding helps to rethink architecture's manifold possibilities.  To give some indication of why this might be the case, consider that skateboarding is local, being fundamentally concerned with the micro-spaces of streets, yet is also a globally dispersed and proliferous practice, with tens of millions of practitioners worldwide.  It addresses the physical architecture of the modern city, yet responds not with another object but with a dynamic presence.  It says almost nothing as codified statements, yet presents an extraordinary range of implicit enunciations and meanings.  It produces space, but also time and the self.  Skateboarding is constantly repressed and legislated against, but counters not through negative destruction but through creativity and production of desires.  It has a history, but is unconscious of that history, preferring the immediacy of the present and coming future.  It requires a tool (the skateboard), but absorbs that tool into the body.  It involves great effort, but produces no commodity ready for exchange.  It is highly visual, but refutes the reduction of activity solely to the spectacle of the image.  It is seen as a child's play activity, but for many practitioners involves nothing less than a complete and alternative way of life.  It is, therefore, architecture, not as a thing, but as a production fo space, time and social being."

Title: The Small House Book

Author: Jay Shafer

Source: tumbleweedhouses.com (I'm happy to lend my copy)

Applicability/Interest: 5/10

When I first came upon it, The Small House Book seemed perfect -- focused on the design and philosophy behind building small, high-quality, mobile homes in the United States.  Despite my desire to design my own home with only freely-available information (explained in the intro to this post), I couldn't resist buying it.  Unfortunately, I shouldn't have broken my rule.  The book wasn't able to live up to the exalted status I had given it.

I'm hesitant to say anything bad about the book since it is clear that its author, Jay Shafer, has noble intentions and is doing great work.  Jay lives in a home of 89 square feet and is very much the person I'm trying to become.  I really want to meet Jay and "talk shop".  The philosophy he outlines in the book is very refreshing: he rejects consumer culture, embraces environmental consideration, and values quality in construction and simple, satisfying aesthetics.  But I can't help feel that The Small House Book doesn't reflect Mr Shafer's enlightened approach to living.  The book itself does not feel particularly enlightened.  With the hopes that this honest feedback will be helpful to Mr Shafer, I will venture to explain my frustrations.

1) The book should be freely available in download form.

I say this first because I would have felt very differently about a freely available book.  To me, a seller-buyer relationship is very different than a mutually-sharing one, and this tainted my experience of the book.  Forced to be a "consumer" of the work, I wanted the book to satisfy various needs for me.  I wanted to come away knowing more about the particular design challenges I face (the legality of my plan, mainly) and where to go to learn more.  Note that this has nothing to do with the price of the book...  It's a very reasonable $20.  But the fact that a financial transaction was required makes my relationship to the work very different.  It made me want less of Jay's personal philosophy and more hands-on design and construction specifics.  I had to "get something" out of the purchase.

Had the book been available for free download (and with a suitable free license) however, I would have instantly connected with Jay and his writings.  I would have thought, "Here is a man living an exciting, conscientious life and trying to help others do the same."  If Jay had asked for a donation at the end, I would have happily sent him $20.  When I came to spots in the book where detailed information was lacking, I would happily have volunteered to research, add to, and fill in the gaps.

I emailed Jay about this concern and received this response from his assistant:  "Thanks for the information. We'll see what happens with that. When Jay started, he basically did everything open source. It didn't really work for him, but it doesn't mean it can't in the future..."  I'm pleased to know that there is a possibility that the book might be freely available someday.  As the producer of physical houses for sale, Tumbleweed Houses seems perfectly positioned for a business model that benefits from free sharing.  The ideals of the Free Culture movement are a mirror of the ideals outlined in the book.

2) More.  There needs to be more information, and more references to external sources.

There were numerous instances where I really wanted more depth.  "One of the leading causes of homelessness in this country is, in fact, our shortage of low-income housing.  After mental illness and substance abuse, minimum-size standards have probably kept more people on the street than any other contributing factor."  This is *really* interesting, but it's not supported.  If nothing else, where can I learn more? "Lawsuits concerning the constitutionality of minimum size standards have recently forced some municipalities to drop the restrictions...  Where negotiation and political pressure have failed to eradicate antiquated codes, lawsuits have generally succeeded."  Really?!  Where?!  Have any of these ground-breakers written about their experiences?  "Some remote areas of the country have no building codes at all..."  Again, where?  In all these instances I found myself frustrated.  Other than knowing that I too want to fight minimum-size standards, I didn't have any more idea how to go about this.

3) The design of the book itself should match the aesthetics proposed

The book spends a fair amount of time discussing the aesthetics of a small, satisfying home.  I liked this discussion but often found myself feeling like the book itself could be a better representation of these aesthetic goals.  "To be sure that a minimized space does not feel confining, its designer has to consider... 'human dimensions'."  This is great, but the book itself feels cramped.  Its small size and awkward binding makes it hard to hold and turn pages, and there's no space in the margins for one's thumbs.  Page numbers are left off pages where the text needs more space.  The text throughout is sans-serif and there are no ligatures or other subtle, satisfying touches.  It would be a powerful artistic statement to make the book more natural in its reduced size.  As it is, the aesthetics of centuries of typesetting tradition have suffered in the effort to make the book physically small.

4) Be careful with the quotes

I love many of the quotes (especially Emerson and Thoreau) but some are over-reaching and weaken the book's arguments.  For example, "The best government is that which governs least" and "Modern law has not protected us from stupidity and caprice, but has made stupidity and caprice dominant features of our society."  These quotes overstate the argument against mistaken zoning laws.  The reader needn't be libertarian to agree with the more important zoning points.

Things learned

My dream house (399 sq ft) will be on the large side of mobile dwellings.  I need to think carefully about the roof -- right now it's basically flat and not as appealing as a traditional gable roof.

Good quotes

"Under no circumstances does a 4,000 square foot house for two qualify as 'green' architecture."

"Our houses have, quite literally, become bloated warehouses full of toys..."

"In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. -Ivan Illich"

"Like anything else that is not essential to our happiness, extra space just gets in the way..."

"The scale of our homes should be derived from the real needs of our daily lives, not from vanity, insecurity, or a need for public display.  Home should be the setting for life, not the measure of it. -James Gauer"

"Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same. -Ludwig Wittgenstein"

"Too many of our houses are not a refuge from chaos but merely extensions of it."

"In a society that is as deeply mired in over-consumption as our own, embracing simplicity is more than merely counter-cultural; it can, at times, seem down right scary.  We are in many ways a herd animal, and to take the path less traveled requires more than a little courage.  We are living in a system that, if left to its own devices, would have us in debt up to our eyeballs and still clamoring to purchase more things than we could use in a thousand lifetimes.  Simplification requires that we consciously resist this system and replace it with a more viable one of our own making.  For some of us it requires that we either break laws or expend the time and money required to change those laws that currently prohibit an uncomplicated life."

Title: The Urban Homestead

Author: Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

Source: author (I'm happy to lend my copy)

Applicability/Interest: 3/10

I went to a lecture by Erik Knutzen at the LA Eco-Village this year and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I bought this book in appreciation for the free lecture. The Urban Homestead is friendly and fun, with a number of applicable tidbits.  The section on gardening was the most inspiring for me.  I particularly like the Five Gallon Self-Watering Container.

There are a few wonderful hints, that sound straight from wise grandma.  "Daikon radish pickes... Daikon radish... scrubbed, peeled and cut into rounds, quarters, or matchsticks... The only shape you should not use is long spears, because the idea is to keep the pickles under liquid.  We've figured out that as the jar empties, tall spears end up with their 'heads' above the brine level, which hastens their spoiling."  Good stuff!

The only thing I didn't like about the book was its use of sans-serif font and the countless spelling errors.  The book's down-home, positive feel makes up for it, but there's an error a page, on average.  The first quote in the "Good quotes" section below had two errors, one of which would have been easily caught with a spell check.

Things learned

I should start gardening sooner rather than later; pick a single vegetable and start practicing.

Untreated greywater can't be used in a garden of edible plants.

A roof garden on the mobile home is really important to me.

When choosing materials, think about how the countertops, tables, shelves, etc will be cleaned.  Only use materials that can be cleaned with simple, non-toxic cleaners.

Good quotes

"Indoor plants do better if you supplement your sunshine with articificial (sic) light in the evenings.  A traditional fluorescent bulb or a compact fluorescent will work well -- just position the bulb as close (sic) the plants as you can.  There is no need to buy fancy grow lights."

"For small gardens you are best off giving priority to fruit-bearing plants, because those just give and give and give, unlike, say, a cabbage, which takes a long time to grow and gives you one meal in the end."

"Keep a farmer's notebook, noting what you planted, when you planted it, and where you planted it, when you harvested it, and note whether it worked out or not."

"(For vegetable stock, use) all your peelings and trimmings and odds and ends -- potato peels, mushrooms, artichoke leaves, everything.  Even that half bag of slightly dried baby carrots at the back of the fridge."

"Vinegar should never be used on stone surfaces.  If you have granite countertops, marble floors, or the like, you might be stuck using the manuracturer's recommended cleaners."

"Castile soap works fine for cleaning jeans, t-shirts and dark cotton knits, especially when boosted with baking soda."

"Spray vinyl shower curtains with straight vinegar and then scrub to remove mildew spots."

"(When using greywater in the garden,) castile soap, vinegar, and baking soda are not so great for your soil... All of these substances are easy on the public water supply, and on aquatic life, but are not so good for terrestrial plants.  You must use products specifically formulated for greywater use..."

"...the truth is that if you want to take the truly environmentally conscious route, you can do two things: renovate an old house instead of building new and live in the smallest place you can..."

"...the average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons per person per day, with the higher consumption coming from residents of the desert southwest.  The average African uses five gallons a day."

"The equation below calculates how much water falls on your entire property, roofs, driveways and soil combined.  Collection Area (total square feet of your property) x 0.6 x Annual Rainfall (in inches) = Gallons per Year."

"To make our rainbarrel, we used instructions from a company called Aquabarrel which showed us how to use common PVC fittings available in any hardware store to hook a garden hose securely to the barrel.  Aquabarrel also sells kits..."

"For south-facing windows, an awning or horizontal window trellis will shade your living space in the summer months and let the sun shine in during the winter.  If you grow edible vines over your window trellis... they will also give you food and the moisture evaporating from their leaves will cool the house more than an awning."

"Electric heating elements... are an inefficient and expensive way to cook."

"We are particularly fond of our ConServ Refrigerator made by the Vestfrost company."

Title: Sustainable Environments

Author: Yenna Chan

Source: LAPL

Applicability/Interest: 1/10

Although there are some really beautiful homes, very few of the designs seem very environmentally friendly to me.  All but a few are huge dwellings, made of steel and glass.  The book is organized into sections like "Response to Place" and "Connection to Habitat" and most of the homes are only successful in meeting a singular criteria.  The "Salvaged and Recycled Materials" is the best section; one home uses stacked carpet tiles for the walls to great effect.

Things learned

I'm quickly frustrated by designs that favor appearance over functionality, simplicity, and sustainability.

Good quotes


Title: Green from the Ground Up

Author: David Johnston and Scott Gibson

Source: LAPL

Applicability/Interest: 4/10

Although it got off to a slow start with an overly-general and basic intro, Green from the Ground Up won me over by the end.  Much of it focuses on standard home construction that doesn't apply to the mobile home (foundation construction in particular) but most of the basic concepts apply, and there are a number of good tidbits.  Although it takes only a very brief look at the selection of topics (Framing, Roofs, Windows, Plumbing, etc), the book often gives specific recommendations and construction methods.  Green from the Ground Up is a good overview of the topic.

Things learned

I've been considering going without hot water in the kitchen but perhaps a tiny (DIY?) solar collector system for the kitchen sink might be the ticket.

I need to learn more about the kitchen stove options (gas vs electric).  I've been leaning toward an induction-type stove but like others before it, this book puts electric heating in a negative light due to the inefficiencies of electrical production.  Electric heating elements draw huge currents that would be extremely costly to cover with an off-grid battery system.  The only way to reach zero-energy is if our mobile home solar panels can make up for those surges of electricity we pull from the grid at other times when we're not using the stove.

Side-by-side casement windows opening in opposite directions might allow flexible wind capture for ventilation even though the placement of the building on the site can't be predetermined.

Good quotes

"Take, for example, the energy potential in a lump of coal.  Because of the different efficiencies of mining, transportation, and electrical generation, only 15 percent of its energy potential is actually delivered as usable power in a house."

"Infiltration -- unwanted air intake into a house -- can account for 40 percent of the heating load in existing buildings.  New homes are only slightly better at 25 percent."

"When choosing members of the design and build team, look for an open, positive attitude about green building techniques, not necessarily deep experience.  'Experts' not open to discussion may be more trouble than they are worth."

"LEED for Homes, a newer program outlines a number of specific requirements necessary for progressive levels of certification (see www.usgbc.org)... Regardless of which set of guidelines you choose, make sure the overall construction budget has enough money for performance testing once the house has been finished."

"At any given latitude, determine sun angles for December 21 and June 21 (the dates on which the sun reaches the year's lowest and highest points in the sky, respectively).  With these angles in hand, windows and overhangs can be placed so that on the winter solstice (Dec. 21) nothing blocks sunlight from coming in the window at noon.  On the summer solstice, the opposite is true -- the window should be completely shaded when the sun is at the highest point in the sky."

"Find out the direction of prevailing winds (they may change seasonally), and specify casement windows on walls facing those directions.  They do a better job of scooping up air for natural ventilation than do awning or double-hung windows."

"The (FSC program includes) strict requirements for how wood is harvested, how much can be clear-cut, and how the existing forest ecology is to be protected.  The program also determines whether indigenous people are affected by lumber harvesting."

"Urea is a water-soluble glue that is used for indoor products such as particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF).  The binder off-gasses formaldehyde for up to five years and is a major source of poor indoor air quality... Phenolic resin off-gasses a mere 4 percent of the formaldehyde that urea does and is not nearly as much of an issue."

"As a result (of termites nesting), manufacturers offer borate-treated panels and the SIPA suggests termites can also be discouraged by a steel mesh barrier.  Rigid foam insulation is a vital component of structural insulated panels.  Many people wonder whether using a petroleum-based product like that can really be green.  In reality, the amount of oil used to make insulating foam (which is primarily air) is very small and at least the petroleum committed to this product will serve a useful purpose for many years."

"The internal preparation (for roof-mounted solar panels) consists of installing two 1-in. insulated pipes and one 1 1/4" in. conduit from the attic to the utility room..."

"Install 6-mil polyethylene sheeting over the ceiling before you frame any interior partition walls to create a continuous air barrier."

"There's a lot to like about metal roofing: long life; fire resistance; innovative coatings that resist fading, chipping, and chalking; and, in lighter colors, high reflectivity, which helps control heat gain.  Steel roofing can contain up to 50 percent recycled content, while the lighter-weight aluminum roofing contains nearly 100 percent recycled content."

"The idea (of movable window insulation) is to let in light and open up views during the day while you're using the room, then close off the window with an insulating layer when the room is unoccupied or at night... Hunter Douglas makes a product called Duette that incorporates an insulating airspace between two layers of fabric."

"Insulated steel or fiberglass entry doors are several times more energy efficient than a solid wood door."

"If natural ventilation or some of the alternatives to conventional air-conditioning aren't enough, the best that can be done is to search for a system with as high a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) as possible.  Government regulations require air conditioners manufactured after 2005 to have a minimum SEER of 13... A... split system can have a SEER rating of 18 or higher..."

"Swamp coolers... can offer real relief in dry climates... Swamp coolers don't use much energy or water, and they're easy to install and maintain."

"Light-emitting-diodes... use 90 percent less energy than equivalent incandescent bulbs -- even less than CFLs -- but last as long as 100,000 hours before failing and do not contain any mercury or other hazardous materials."

"An electric heater might make sense in a super energy-efficient home where only limited spot heating is needed or in a bathroom just to take the chill out of the air after a shower.  There are specialized heating units for just those purposes.  Radiant heating units made by Enerjoy, for example, are designed to provide spot heating."

"EPS (rigid foam) uses steam or pentane to expand the foam pellets into a sheet product.  XPS (extruded polystyrene) often uses a hydrochloroflourocarbon (HCFC), a compound consisting of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon.  Although 90 percent better than earlier-generation CFCs, which cause ozone holes in the atmosphere, HCFCs still emit 10 percent of the gases that combine with stratospheric ozone... The same is true with polyiso boards... Newer types of polyiso board are manufactured with a proprietary non-HCFC blowing agent and are more benign.  This reduces the R-value to 6 per inch."

"Another advantage of cement siding is paint retention.  It holds paint two to three times longer than wood..."

"Dense and hard, Ipe can be left to weather without any chemical treatments as long as you don't mind it turning a silvery gray in color... When it's FSC-certified, this is a good choice for decking."

"Instead of standard drywall, look for the type whose core is made from recycled residue from air scrubbers at coal-fired power plants (U.S. Gypsum makes this variety)."

"An alternative for indoor wall finishes is natural plaster, a popular finish material available in a variety of colors that's applied to primed and sealed gypsum drywall, blue board, or other suitable substrate."

"Wood finishes, particularly solvent-based floor finishes... off-gas for a month or more.  Today, there are a range of water-based products that perform almost as well without the potential hazard.  A company called BonaKemi manufactures low-VOC floor finishes with various levels of durability, from casual household to basketball court tough."

"For each specific adhesive application look for the VOC content on the tube or can.  It should be less than 150 g/l and lower if possible."

"Stainless steel makes an extremely durable, nonporus countertop that's easy to keep clean.  If you want to keep it green, install it over a formaldehyde-free substrate."

"Not only should (tile grout) be nontoxic, but grout should also be sealed regularly, every three to six months."

"(Cork flooring) is beautiful and has natural anti-bacterial qualities, is soft underfoot, is made from recycled materials, and comes from a renewable source.  Cork flooring is typically made from the waste cork left over after bottle stoppers are manufactured...  The only downside is that cork trees grow only in a limited geographical area in the Mediterranean."

"The best and greenest way to install tile is in conventional thickset mortar.  The floor will last longer, will be less likely to crack, and has the lowest toxicity.  Thinset mortar is a combination of cement and epoxy.  It is the next best option as the epoxy sets up quickly and off-gasses for only a short time."

"Water catchment can be as simple as a barrel placed at the base of a gutter downspout..."