Articles by: Jasmine Williams

Ask An Engineer: Tips for Home Renovation

April 25, 2013 11:42 am
Ask An Engineer: Tips for Home Renovation

Phil Trott knows his way around a renovation site. Before landing his current job as a civil engineer and home inspector for structural upgrades, he worked in construction for several years. He has seen every mistake and has guided all kinds of homeowners, from first timers to house-flipping pros. Before you pick up that sledgehammer, here are his tips for a successful home renovation.

1) Do your research

“If you’re planning a renovation, no matter what size, even if you’re hiring designers and architects and project managers, it’s always good to be educated,” says Trott. For a homeowner, this means understanding your drawings and plans, knowing the right questions to ask, and realizing where your money is going. Trott recommends the City of Ottawa web site as a good place to start. The site has a building and renovating section ( with plenty of helpful features. It lists the different interior building codes and the qualifications you should be looking for in your trades workers. It also has sample plans and checklists to help you stay on track. Trott also suggests checking out trade association web sites like the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Canadian Wood Council for more technical information.

2) Make detailed plans

Before you contact a contractor or a project manager, it’s important to know what you want and where you want it. According to Trott, the best way to do so is to draw your renovation plans out on paper.

“The paper plan is the dry run,” he says. “It sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t know what should be on drawings.”

Trott recommends making the drawing as detailed as possible by including even the appliance in your plans. Additionally, you can ask friends, family members, and contractors for their input on the plan before you start. It is must easier, and cheaper, to make changes on a paper plan and you can spot potential conflicts before the renovation starts, says Trott.


“When comparing, it’s never going to be apples to apples . . . Usually, you get what you pay for.”

3) Get several quotes

You have a working plan in place, now it’s time to look for the right construction company to put it into action.

“When comparing, it’s never going to be apples to apples,” says Trott, who stresses the fact that the lowest quote is not necessarily the best. He adds, “Usually, you get what you pay for.”

Trott recommends asking lots of questions and discussing rates for all possible scenarios. Otherwise, companies can set the rate for extra tasks such as finding asbestos in your attic or moving unexpected electrical wiring and you have to pay for it. Additionally, he advises homeowners to specify the type of fixtures and appliances they plan to use as that can also make a big difference on the final numbers.

4) Be flexible

It’s understandable for first-time renovators, especially after weeks of perusing home and interior design magazines, to imagine the exact open-concept stainless steel kitchen of their dreams and desire to recreate nothing less. Trott says it is much better to be flexible.

“A lot of people get set on one thing, and you have to be open-minded,” he says.

Being flexible allows for vital input from your contractor or project manager, who has much more experience and would likely know better about what will work and what won’t for your space.

He adds that a lot of people also convince themselves that a certain design feature will be too complicated or expensive before consulting the experts.

“Ask what it would cost before assuming it’s going to blow the budget,” says Trott. For example, he states that knocking down a load-bearing wall may seem risky, but with the right people for the job, it is definitely possible.

5) Spend your money wisely

“You want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck,” says Trott. These days, with homeowners being more environmentally and financially conscious, renovating to improve your home’s energy efficiency is a popular move. However, before you go replacing your old leaky windows for new energy-efficient ones, be aware of the cheaper options available. Trott suggests adding more insulation to the attic or ceiling as an easy and inexpensive fix to cut down on heat loss. He also recommends reusing materials like hardwood flooring, which can be sanded down and repurposed.

6) Do-it-yourself

While it is still very important to get a professional for the more specialized work, Trott says that despite what a company might tell you, there are many areas of the renovation process that homeowners can do themselves.

“Sometimes contractors don’t want you to get involved,” he says. “But when the quotes come in it can be quite shocking.”

If you’re watching your wallet, Trott proposes doing some of the demolition process yourself with the help of a few friends and some safety equipment.

7) The incremental approach

Coined by Trott himself, this approach is best explained with an example. Say you have a leaky foundation. Before you roll up your sleeves and dig a huge trench around your house for waterproofing, start with the small stuff. Maybe it’s simply a blocked eavestrough or a disconnected downspout, which Trott says could be fixed by simply having water drain further away from the house. Or you could try landscaping your lawn and putting a layer of clay under the topsoil which can also help with drainage.

“Try all of those things first and see if it solves the problem,” says Trott. “It could save a lot of headaches.”

A home renovation is one of the biggest projects most homeowners will ever face. But, if you’re prepared and you follow these tips, you’ll be flipping omelettes in your new kitchen in no time.

Dishcrawl brings foodie fun to the Byward Market

March 21, 2013 11:04 am
Dishcrawl brings foodie fun to the Byward Market

It’s a brand-new take on an old college mainstay.

The pub crawl, also known as those boozy nights you can’t really remember, has been reclaimed by the adventurous people behind Dishcrawl.

The concept is simple: Forty diners, four hours, four restaurants. And the catch? You only know the first place ahead of time. The rest are a delicious surprise.

The latest installment in the Dishcrawl Ottawa franchise was held in the Byward Market and it began at Moji Italian Bistro.

The tiny place on Clarence Street was made even smaller by almost 40 crawlers packed in like sardines. The first course was a marinated apple and beet slaw with spiced corn seeds and red onions. The dish was the perfect balance of velvety sweetness from the dressing with a punch of acidity from the marinade. The corn seeds added a crispy crunch and a bit of an Eastern-inspired flavour to the dish.

Next up was a tomato balsamic soup that was decadently creamy and thick. Similar to the slaw, there was a bit of an Indian flavour to it, and it tasted almost like a butter chicken sauce. The added heat was an unexpected pairing with the classic Italian flavours of tomato and balsamic vinegar, but worked wonderfully.

Tomato balsamic soup from Moji

The last course was a shrimp crostini with a spec-infused cream sauce, which I practically inhaled, it was that good. The sauce was buttery and rich and the shrimp was cooked to perfection.

Shrimp crostini from Moji

For those who were craving a little more meat (sorry, vegetarians!), The Smoque Shack was the perfect second stop. The crowd of still-ravenous diners cheered when the meal was finally revealed: pulled pork and brisket sliders, with a side of coleslaw. Although Moji’s time-intensive slaw could not be beat, the Smoque Shack’s creamier version was the quintessential choice for barbecue. I preferred the brisket with its smoky coffee-infused sauce, but both options satisfied my craving for something a little less delicate.

Barbecue sliders from the Smoque Shack

Speaking of delicate, the meal at Side Door, a pork belly taco with beef tartar on a cucumber slice, was almost microscopic in comparison, but was also a nice come-down from the carb and meat fest that was Smoque Shack. The beef tartar had a lovely, almost citrusy flavour thanks to some ginger and cilantro, and the subtle cucumber helped meld it all together. The taco had a strong hit of parsley and a lovely thin crispy shell, and was also the cleanest taco I have ever eaten thanks to its bite-size proportions.

Pork belly taco and beef tartar from Side Door

And just like a good pub crawl isn’t complete without a safe cab ride home, a good Dishcrawl just isn’t complete without a dessert. Luckily the last stop, the Black Tomato, definitely delivered. Diners were offered a choice between three different options, which included a chocolate pecan pie and a mango strawberry cobbler. I went with the cobbler, which had a coffee whipped cream that added the right amount of bitter to balance the pie’s sweet fruit filling and buttery crumble crust.

Mango strawberry cobbler from the Black Tomato

While I might have waddled home rather than walked, this foodie did so with a smile on her face and four new restaurants on her radar. All in all, it was a successful

Mobile Technology Is Changing the Face of Health Care

January 22, 2013 11:56 am
Mobile Technology Is Changing the Face of Health Care

This was the first thing that caught JoAnne Sutch’s attention when she entered a walk-in clinic last November. Instead of a piece of paper and a clipboard, she was offered a tablet computer to enter her medical information. Many educational facilities such as devry university health information technology include curriculum that incorporate new technology. When she was finally seen, even her doctor was consulting one of the hand-held devices.

Soon, this kind of practice may not be so unusual. The use of mobile technology is a growing trend in the medical industry. According to a 2012 report by industry analysts Frost and Sullivan, the mobile health market in the United States earned US$230 million in 2010, and the study estimates that there will be 82 million tablet users in the country by 2015, up from 10 million in 2010.

In Canada, mobile devices are used for everything from ordering X-rays, to recording vital signs and reading results – all at the patient’s bedside. Almost every day, applications are being developed for these new portable platforms.

However, with such an avalanche of new technology, big rewards bring big risks. Teams of programmers and IT professionals are putting a strain on an already stretched health-care budget, and critics have raised concerns over the effect the additional screen time might have on the relationship between doctors and their patients.

Is Canada ready for an electronic health revolution?

“It’s a fact that we have to deal with, whether we like it or not,” said Dr. Avi Parush, a psychology professor at Carleton University who has done research on communications and health- care professionals. “The use of mobile devices is becoming very, very pervasive. You see people in the middle of the emergency room, operating room and ICU, taking out their mobile device and checking for guidelines and such.”

For example, the Ottawa Hospital has deployed over 3,000 tablets to its doctors and nursing staff since starting an experimental program in 2010. It is the largest installation of medical tablets on the continent, the hospital reported.

The overall response has been very positive. Doctors are excited about the new possibilities for medical practice. Tablets eliminate the need for paper charts and frequent visits to nursing station computers, said Dr. Glen Geiger, chief medical information officer at The Ottawa Hospital.

Geiger said that before the hospital started using iPads, daily rounds consisted of sitting down with a team of doctors and talking about the patients, without actually seeing them. With the addition of tablets, doctors now have more time to discuss results with the patient as time spent going back and forth from nursing station computers to printing results has been drastically reduced.

“It’s much better,” said Geiger. “The patient sees everybody. Patients appreciate being told their current information; they appreciate seeing their own X-rays; and they appreciate the quality of information they’re getting. They’re more informed and therefore, they’re getting better control of their health care.”

However, in a 2011 study on patient confidence done by the journal Canadian Family Physician, 27 per cent of patients surveyed responded negatively to their doctors accessing medical information on a personal digital device. Those patients indicated that as a result, they felt less confident in their doctor and believed they were getting a lower quality of care. Another study, completed in 2006 at the University of Toronto, showed that doctors are also concerned about how using a mobile device affects their credibility as physicians. Many felt that using a device in front of patients seemed rude or impersonal.

“The face-to-face encounter has a lot of power,” said Parush. “The personal contact builds trust between the physician and the patient, and is a critical component in the whole healing process.”

Dr. Glen Geiger (Credit: Chrissie DeCurtis)

“Sometimes you don’t even talk to the medical receptionist,” said Sutch about her experience with the clinic. However, she was less concerned with the lack of face time and more with the potential security risk. Sutch felt that with the tablet being passed around clinic employees, it could fall into the wrong hands.

“My concern was – ‘Do they put it down, and is it visible to other people?,’” said Sutch. “If I know how to use an iPad, why wouldn’t I be able to just start looking?”

Confidentiality is one of the main reasons new users are reluctant to adopt the technology, according to the same 2012 report on mobile health by Frost and Sullivan. “The realm of health information is so fraught with emotion and liability that the effects of security gone awry are all the more upsetting and may restrain wider mHealth adoption,” the report stated.

Additionally, the number of health care-related data breaches in the US rose by 97 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to a recent survey conducted by US medical technology publication GovernmentHealthIT. Geiger and his team took steps to address this issue with their tablets. The hospital set up physical depots with staff to dispense, service and repair the devices. It also installed special technology to track the location of the tablets. Everything, from the iPads themselves to the network they use, is fully encrypted, said Geiger. “Patient privacy is very important to us. We don’t want things being mishandled.”

However, from big hospitals to smaller clinics, standards of practice vary. The use of mobile devices and medical apps has yet to be fully standardized and regulated across Canada and many are concerned that the hand-held tablets are too unsanitary for health care. At The Ottawa Hospital, the infection control staff examined the devices thoroughly before distribution to ensure they were not a breeding ground for bacteria; doctors also use antibacterial cleaning cloths to wipe down the tablets after use. Yet at the walk-in clinic in Ajax, Ont., Sutch observed the tablets being passed around to different employees, from nurses to reception staff, and did not see them wipe down the devices once. “I was quite concerned,” she said.

Sutch even spoke to a nurse at the clinic who was also worried about the devices’ potential for spreading germs, especially with the  start of flu season upon us. In 2010, Alberta Health Services created guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting information technology, but it is unclear whether other provinces have followed its lead.

Despite her anxieties, Sutch feels that the tablets made for more productive and efficient use of time at the clinic. The nurse was able to access her medical records right in the room. “I think the fact that she had it all right there was perfect.” In a 2011 University of Chicago survey, 75 per cent of medical residents reported that tablet devices allowed them to complete tasks more quickly, and 78 per cent felt that they made them more productive.

Still, such efficiency comes at a steep price. The Ottawa Hospital budgeted $1.2 million for the tablets in 2011 and, on top of the $600 price tag for each device, there are the additional costs of replacing lost, broken or outdated iPads. There are also tentative plans to equip nurses and other staff with mobile devices in the future.

The hospital has recently come under scrutiny as it tries to cut $23 million from its $1.03-billion budget, due to provincial funding cutbacks. In 2012, 16 beds were closed and more than a dozen nursing jobs are being scrapped at the hospital, with more cuts likely on the way. Geiger believes the new technology is worth the added expense, stating that the cost of the tablets will be partly offset by reduced spending on desktop computers and lower training costs.

“We continue to invest regularly in this technology because it’s what we believe is the future of health care,” said Geiger.

According to Dr. Parush, the objective now is to weigh the pros and cons and continue studying and improving upon the existing technology.

In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released draft guidelines to regulate medical apps for mobile devices. The guidelines define what is to be considered a medical app and state that mobile devices using attachments, display screens or sensors as a medical device will be subject to the same classifications of the device it simulates. Health Canada is expected to follow suit in the near future. Although he believes in the potential of mobile health to change the medical industry, Geiger admits that, at the end of the day, it does have its limitations.

“We’re not making any outlandish claims about what it does,” said Geiger. “I don’t want to give the false impression you can do everything from an iPad. You can’t. But you can do a lot.”


Lynn Miles: 25 Years and Counting

January 17, 2013 11:53 am
Lynn Miles: 25 Years and Counting

An introverted wallflower who performs in front of hundreds of fans, this dedicated, headstrong, hard worker who can make you cry with a single sweet lyric. Singer, songwriter Lynn Miles is a bit of a contradiction, but one hell of a musician.

And 25 years after the release of her very first demo, Miles is still thriving at what she does best. She has multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards and a Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Solo Album of the Year and 10 albums to her name, with two set to be released this year. She has been compared to folk royalty like Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits. She has written over 700 songs.

With such a stellar career, the average person might feel inclined –  even entitled – to take a step back, be a little sentimental and reflect on everything accomplished. But if you haven’t noticed already, Miles is certainly no average person.

“It’s odd to realize I’ve been doing this as long as I have because I don’t think about it that way,” Miles says. “I just take it as it comes.”

For Miles, it all began in Sweetsburg (now part of Cowansville in south-central Quebec). The daughter of a harmonica player and an opera aficionado, her crib was her first stage, the place  where her mother said she would sing herself to sleep. Years later, Miles graduated to a real one, performing at 16 and playing multiple instruments in her school years. From there she went on to Carleton University in Ottawa, but continued her musical ambitions. Miles majored in classical music history and theory, and studied voice with a private teacher, later becoming one herself at the Ottawa Folklore Centre.

Still, she hadn’t given up on her dream of being a recording artist. And with the help of musician friends and a loan from the late Helen Verger of Rasputin’s Folk Café, it became a reality.

“I decided I had enough songs that I wanted to put on a tape. So I went and made a tape,” Miles recalls.

The modest, nine-song, self-titled cassette was released in 1987. A self- professed bibliophile and music lover, Miles says her early songs were inspired by what she surrounded herself with. Years later, things haven’t changed much. From Sufi poetry to Oprah Winfrey, Miles is constantly inspired not only by her own experiences, but by those of others.

“I keep my ears up,” says Miles. “I’m always listening for something. I’m always looking for something. I’m always looking for the next idea that I can explore.”

Her latest release, Black Flowers III, is an example of that. It’s the third installment in an ongoing series of albums that combines reimagined old favourites with previously unreleased songs in a stripped-down acoustic setting.

“I wanted to present them in their essence, as honestly and as bare as possible,” Miles said.

While the bare-bones production style might be a new twist, in a way it seems that it is just her music catching up to what her songwriting has always been: honest and vulnerable. From songs like Love Doesn’t Hurt (about domestic violence), to Drunks and Fools (about a regretful alcoholic), Miles’ songs are more than just pretty tunes – they’re therapy. Miles describes the times when women have approached her after shows, telling her how her songs have helped them through trials like divorce, chemotherapy and even childbirth.

“These are the greatest compliments I could ever receive as a songwriter,” Miles says. “Because it means that I’ve touched somebody emotionally.”

But while Lynn Miles the songwriter could be described as wearing her  heart on her sleeve, it might surprise a few to hear that Lynn Miles the regular person is a little more private with her emotions.

“I’m actually a bit of an introvert,” Miles says. “I’m not really a party girl, and I’m not very social. But I love being onstage.”

Last October, Miles graced a stage just like any other. It was small for someone of her calibre, in a simple pub on Bank Street in Ottawa. The crowd was predictably captivated by her tender, haunting performance. But the occasion was different. This wasn’t just another concert, but a celebration, honouring her career.

Humbled and moved by the outpouring of love and support from old friends and colleagues, Miles said the whole thing was still a little strange for her. She isn’t used to looking back. “I’m not a nostalgic person at all. So I started off the show playing a new song, and feel like I was still moving forward.

n a way, the move was a lot like Miles herself: a contradiction; a living testament to the work she’s done thus far and what’s waiting just beyond the horizon.

Singer-Songwriter Royal Wood

January 16, 2013 12:16 pm
Singer-Songwriter Royal Wood

On the phone from his parents’ farm in Lakefield, Ont., singer-songwriter Royal Wood sounds bright, upbeat, albeit, a little out of breath. On a rare but welcome break from a blistering touring schedule for his latest album We Were BornTo Glory, Wood is already at work at a different task: shoveling snow.

Never one to slow down, this is Wood’s idea of resting up before the last stop in his fall theatre cross-Canada Glory Tour, the National Arts Centre.

After the success of his 2010 album The Waiting, a collection of finely-crafted plaintive songs which earned him a Juno Award nomination for Songwriter of the Year,Wood toured extensively,completing four Canadian tours,as well as various shows in the United States and Europe. But he soon found himself looking for a new direction.“I was definitely road weary, and kind of bottlenecked in terms of being able to have some sort of creative output,” said Wood.

So he moved to Montreal, unplugged his phone and computer and wrote roughly 50 songs that he then narrowed down to 13 for his latest record, We Were Born To Glory. Positive and uplifting, this new record is certainly a departure from the beautifully melancholy songs that he is known for. But for Wood, it’s much more than that: it represents his maturity. He described his 20s as a ‘blur’, an unsettled period in his life where he was still trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted.

“Being in my 30s now and being married… you gravitate toward what’s really important. I’m just in a really good place, so my music is more positive than it’s ever been,” said Wood. “My life definitely channels itself into my music.”

What stands out about WeWere BornTo Glory is not just the fresh positive vibe,but the production style.Wood collaborated with long-time guitarist Dean Drouillard to create a sound that matched the bold lyrical ground he was undertaking, incorporating percussive loops into his music for the first time.

“Going into waters I hadn’t charted before and pushing myself and wanting to reach my own potential, I had to make a record that sounded unlike anything I’d made before,” said Wood.

Always one to challenge himself, Wood describes the Glory Tour as “a huge spectacle” that is louder and more epic sounding than previous shows, something that may be a surprise to his older fans, but that Wood says stays truest to the new album.“It’s the biggest show I’ve ever put on and it’s the largest band I’ve ever brought out on tour. It kind of runs that full journey that I feel the new record did,” said Wood.

Eleven years after the release of his first EP, Royal Wood is certainly not the brooding twenty-something balladeer anymore. But even in his new role of happily married family man, he’s nowhere near finished.

“In part, I feel like I’m just getting started,” said Wood.

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