Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas and Stuff


I was going to try and get a post going every day, but the last few days have been a bit of write off due to the snow here in Victoria. It's the biggest snowfall in at least ten years and we have had to shovel the road (yes, the whole road because the snow plough can't get up the hill) on more than one occassion - the car was snowed in as well, so that combined with having to do all our christmas shopping in one day means I've barely had a chance to get my real work done let alone anything else.

So, let's call it a day until the new year.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Safe travel, don't get too stressed and say g'day for me.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The World Is An Amazing Place

I'm only 27 years old and already I've experienced what some people can only dream about...
  • I've been scuba diving with giant clams in Fiji, and my first diving experience was to a WWII shipwreck in PNG
  • I've been awestruck while flying over the many attolls of the Great Barrier Reef, and the breathtaking snow-capped Rocky Mountains
  • I've stood under the Northern Lights while gazing across the eerily beautiful wastelands of the arctic
  • I've been pike fishing in the Great Slave Lake
  • I've watched the sun set over the sunburnt outback of central Queensland at 30,000 feet
  • I've walked through the rugged wilderness of Tasmania
  • I've driven across the ever-changing scenery of New Zealand
  • I've watched the first sun-rise of a new year
  • I've walked through an 800 year old forest on Vancouver Island
  • I've watched as hundreds of monkeys were playing in the jungles of the island of Borneo in Indonesia

I feel so lucky and blessed that I've done all this, and I've still got so much to look forward to.

Above all though, I'm amazed that through all the different cultures and traditions, beliefs, races and languages, every single human being is the same. We all smile, we all bleed, we all feel pain and emotion, we all live, and we all die.

Through all this, how can I possibly think that there is no god; that this all happened somehow by chance?

I can't.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


This was meant to be my previous post, but that somehow turned into "Be a Traveller, not a Tourist" so let's try take two.

While working at MinVu over the last 5 years I have had many opportunities to travel, for both business and pleasure, so I thought I'd just show off where I've been. Working in mining means you get to go to some pretty remote places, and similarly I feel very blessed that I've been able to afford to do some of the pleasure trips as well. I should point out too that a lot of my personal trips have been church related - going to camps and conventions and such.

So without further ado here is a summary of all my trips so far...
  • Fiji four times - for 6 months in 1991, family holiday in 2003 for 10 days, honeymoon in 2006 for 1 week, and we stopped there for 10 days on our way to Canada
  • Indonesia three times - all for work, spending all of my time at Balikpapan, Sangatta and the Kaltim Prima Coal mine on the island of Borneo
  • Papua New Guinea twice for work (at Tabubil and the Ok Tedi mine, near the border of Indonesia)
  • PNG for a missionary type trip with a couple of guys from my church. We went to a Pastor's conference in Lae, then a couple of us went down to a place called Apahuhuna, down on the eastern tip of the country and spent some time with our church down there - a truly life changing experience for me.
  • New Zealand twice - once for a church convention in Christchurch (no sightseeing this time) and once when a group of us guys went on a boys week away where we started in Wellington for a church convention then hired a motorhome and drove from Wellington to Auckland, stopping everywhere in between.
  • More trips than I can remember in Australia - so much so that I have been all up and down the east coast - from Cairns in northern Queensland right down to the Grampians in western Victoria, and also Tasmania as well (Launceston to Hobart, Hobart to the Freycinet peninsula)
  • Spent more time than I care to admit at the Ekati Diamond mine and in Yellowknife, NWT, Canada
  • Currently living in Victoria, BC, Canada as part of a 12 month world trip (and so have seen some of the sights of Vancouver Island)
  • Also been to many places on stopovers (from a couple of hours to overnight) - Singapore, LA, San Francisco, Honolulu, Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle...

I have mentioned a few times that DW and I are currently on a 12 month world trip. The main purpose of this trip was to help out our church in Victoria, Canada, so that is where we are spending most of our time. But it would be a waste if that is all we did - so we spent 10 days in Fiji on the way here and on the way home in July 09 we will be having a 6 week holiday. We are planning on doing a week in New York, a week in London, spend three weeks driving from Paris to Rome, then spend a week or two in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong - with possibly (if there's enough time) a side trip to an orangutan sanctuary on Borneo in Indonesia.

There are so many other places I want to go as well but of course that depends on finance and how and when my family grows (no kids yet but you never know). I want to do a missionary trip to Africa (our church has over 7,000 members in Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique), I want to swim with the jellyfish in Palau, I want to go to the islands of Tristan De Cunha (the most remote in the world), Easter Island (because of the statues) and Socrota (an amazing diversity of plant and animal life), I want to spend some time in what I think are the most beautiful places on earth - Niue, the Seychelles and the Maldives - before they disappear forever under the rising sea, I want to spend time in the middle east talking to people on both sides of the conflicts (Palestinians, Israelis, Iranians, Shiites, Sunnis - everyone), above all, I want to experience life everywhere :-)

And when all is said and done, I want to retire to Fiji to run a little cafe on a beach in the middle of nowhere, where both travellers and locals can come and relax.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Be a Traveller, Not a Tourist

While working at MinVu over the last 5 years I have had many opportunities to travel, for both business and pleasure.

I am a very firm believer in being a traveller instead of a tourist - experiences like being part of a tour group has no attraction for me whatsoever. Right from the beginning I have always felt that wherever I am is where I am - that once I am in a place, then that is home and there is no other. I will always try to experience the local culture and people rather than the place - though there are some very beautiful cities and environments all across the world.

I guess a lot of this stems from the fact that my family and I lived in Fiji for 6 months when I was about 9 or 10. I don't remember a lot from that time, but my parents tell me that even then I was able to fit right in with the local kids and even the adults. I know though that it did open my eyes and thoughts to being more tolerant and accepting of other cultures, and if you can ever give your own children the same opportunity then I implore you to do so.

In this modern age, the internet has certainly made the world a smaller place, and there is more focus on people trying to find the lesser known travel path, with many websites dedicated to this. This is a good thing, but only if you a traveller, not a tourist. How do you do that? Here are my thoughts...
  • Above all, be respectful of the people and places around you
  • Learn some of the language of your destination
  • Don't assume that just because someone doesn't speak your language that they are stupid
  • Talk to the locals - not just to ask questions, but find out what their dreams and aspirations are, find out what they like about living where they do
  • Accept that things like the standards of service will not be the same as where you live (it might be higher, might be lower)
  • Accept that just because you are a visitor does not mean that you are entitled to better service than the locals
  • Be sensitive to the 'speed' of the culture. You may have to be patient (some cultures may not have the same sense of urgency as you), or you may have to step it up a notch (some cultures expect things to be done now)
  • Enjoy wherever you are, whether it be the airport, the middle of a city or a beach where you are the only person
  • It's ok to take photos, but try not to be too snap-happy. By that I mean don't get in people's way, don't focus on taking photos so much that you don't enjoy where you are, don't draw attention to yourself etc.. Always try to ask before you take a photo of someone, and be aware that it may be illegal to take photos of children or certain buildings.
  • Read up on the culture where you are going and be aware of the little idiosynchrasies that can happen e.g. in Fiji it's considered offensive to touch someone else's hair; in Canada you can turn right anytime, even if it's a red light; if you play golf with someone in Japan and get a hole in one you are expected to buy expensive gifts for the other players etc.

There's almost certainly things I have forgot to mention, but you get the idea.

UPDATE: This article from Vagabondish explains what I've tried to above but in a much better way...

As long as you are happy, tolerant, respectful and at least look like you are trying to make an effort, while there will always be some people who will look down on you, most will go out of their way to help you, and who knows, may even become a new lifelong friend!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Today I thought I'd write a little bit about Yellowknife, seeing as I have spent quite a bit of time here over the last couple of years.

Yellowknife is the capital of the North West Territories, a province of Canada. It is a strange little town, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, and only about 500km's south of the Arctic Circle. It has a population of only about 20,000, but still manages to retain the feeling of a bigger city. The official website ( provides a good summary - "built on gold, nurtured by government and growing with diamonds". An alternative view however is the one that I saw on a sign at one of the local restaurants - "a small drinking town with a big government problem"

The government is the biggest employer of the town, with the diamond industry a close second. The NWT is a territory, which means it is primary controlled by the federal government. I have heard it said that Yellowknife would not have the facilites (and not be able to survive) if it didn't have the continuous injection of funds provided by the federal goverment. You do notice it though that there is a LOT of government departments/sections/offices.

It has a fully functioning airport capable of handling Boeing 737's, quite a few high-rises, all the major fast food chains and quite a few restaurants and bars, a number of full-service hotels and all the required shopping stores (Wall-Mart, Extra Foods, Shoppers etc.)

It can be a very beautiful place - both in the summer and winter. As I write this I am looking out the window from the 9th floor of one of the office towers. It is -32 degrees celsius outside (-40 when I got here a couple of days ago), but the sun is shining, there is snow on the trees, the wind is still and honestly it looks like the magical Christmas winter wonderland that you find on postcards of Sweden or the Swiss Alps. There are lakes everywhere, as is common in this part of Canada, (I can see at least three from my window, and Yellowknife has been built on the Great Slave Lake, one of North Americas biggest), and in the summertime, when the temperature gets up to the high 20's and the lakes have all melted, and everyone is outside enjoying themeselves, you can really see why people love to live here. The fall, when all the leaves change and drop off the trees, is something else again. Of course it's not always like this - the fall also brings out the a fierce wind though, and it snows for a few weeks at the start of winter, and it can be dreary, especially when fog closes the airport for days at a time.

Aeroplanes are more often than not the only way to get to a lot of the places in Alaska and Northern Canada, so the airport really is the lifeblood of the town. It takes the workers (and supplies) up to the mines, provides food and emergency access for all the little settlements around, and drops the tourists off.

Tourism is also a major part of Yellowknife. In the summer there are all sorts of water sports out on the Great Slave (including pike fishing, which I've done), game hunting and spotting (caribou, elk, muskox, bison, buffalo), and other wildlife viewing (eagles, foxes, wolverines etc.). In the winter you can go and look at the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), go winter camping, cross country skiing/snowmobiling, take an air charter to a remote log cabin, etc etc.

Here are my recommendations if you ever need to come here...

The best hotel by far is the Explorer. It has it's own restaurant and lounge (food is better in the lounge but restaurant is great for breakfast), most of the rooms have been newly renovated (with plans to do the rest), the rooms are big and clean and it also has an extensive set of conference rooms. They have a laundry service but it is next business day return. If you can't get into the Explorer (and if you don't book early there is a big risk of this), try the Super 8 (on the other side of town and restaurant is only open for breakfast), Chateau Nova (rooms are clean but getting a bit old, restaurant was closed and looking for a new owner when I stayed there last month) or the Fraser Tower (again rooms were big but old and smelled musty - used to be apartment suites, restaurant was closed and no laundry service).

There are a few good pubs - being a Christian I don't drink but these have been recommended by others - The Black Knight, followed by Surly Bob's Sports Bar, and the Monkey Tree on the other side of town near the Super 8 motel.

My favourite restaurant is Diamante's which is attached to the Monkey Tree pub. It has the best food with prices that are not outrageous, is quiet, and has great service. The other two great options are Bullocks (bad service but some of the best fish anywhere which makes up for it) and the WildCat cafe but I think both of these are closed in the winter. For a more upper class option you can try Le Frolic, Our Place or Fuegos but in my opinion are all a bit over priced for what you get. There are also a couple of chinese+little bit of everything else type restaurants, some of which I've tried, some I haven't - these are cheap but you get what you pay for. If you are in the mood for vietnamese next to Fuegos is a good one called A Taste of Saigon. There are also the usual chains - Boston Pizza, Pizza Hut, Subway, McD's, KFC, A&W etc. etc.

I recommend you give Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures a call for anything adventurous - from photography walks to unique aircraft charters, Carlos, the owner, can do it all (or if he can't has been in Yellowknife long enough to know who can). He took my boss and I out pike fishing on the Great Slave lake and it was awesome - see my review on TripAdvisor.

Well, I think that's enough for now. I tell you though, it's bizarre seeing a busling city and airport going about their daily business as normal in -40 degrees!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Canadian Diamond Industry

In my last post I mentioned that I was on my way up to Yellowknife in the North West Territories of Canada for a work trip. This is where Ekati Diamonds (and essentially the entire Canadian diamond industry) is based. When you think of diamonds Canada is not the first country that comes to mind but Ekati alone produces 3% of the worlds diamonds by weight, and 6% by volume.

Ekati started production in 1998 and was the first diamond mine to in Canada. Two geologists (Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson) followed the mineral trail and found the first kimberlite pipe in 1991, sparking the biggest mining claims rush in Canada's (and I think the world's) history. They each now own 10% each in Ekati Diamonds, (and are two of the richest people in Canada) with BHPBilliton owning the other 80%.

Diamonds are formed in the intense heat and pressure of the Earth's inner crust, and were spewed up into the upper crust approximately 40-60million years ago when the pressure became too much, forming large carrot shaped ore bodies called Kimberlite pipes. Ekati alone has over 150 such pipes on it's property, but only 6 of these have been considered economically viable to mine from. The first of these pipes to be mined was Panda, followed by Koala, Fox, Koala North, Beartooth and Misery. Panda and Koala have moved into underground production (the first of it's kind in Canada), with Koala North doing the same soon.

Ekati has a very well set up camp that has been built extremely well for the weather (sometimes down to -50 in winter). There are a few hundred accommodation rooms (most with separate bathrooms), a full mess hall with 24 hour snacks room, fully equipped gym, recreation room with pool tables, books and large screen televisions, three squash courts, a sports hall with running track, full maintenance workshop with offices, process plant, a full diesel powered power station and a very well equipped medical centre in case of emergencies.

Two other mines have become operational in the last few years in the NWT - Snap Lake (DeBeers) and Diavik (Rio Tinto).

You may have seen the TV show on the History Channel called "Ice Road Truckers". This is all about a road that gets built in winter across all the lakes between Yellowknife and the three mines, taking in supplies that can't be flown in (too big, too dangerous etc.). It can only be driven on for a few weeks of the year when the lakes are frozen enough to drive on.

You may think that the extreme weather means that things just stop during the winter, but it's business as usual. For communication, they have a satellite link and a high-speed microwave link between the mine and Yellowknife, shared between the three mines. All three mines have airports, with flights going up and back at least once per day (sometimes more). Sometimes of course the fog or snow means that you get stuck up at the mine, but this is only at certain times of the year and in cany case the buildings are all enclosed so you can get anywhere you need without going outside.

If you want to know more about the Canadian diamond industry, here is a good summary from the Canadian government.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Work

One of the reasons I am in Canada is for my work, so I thought that I might just mention a little bit about what I do.

I work for a company called MinVu - who is the market leader for production reporting in the mining industry. My official title is a Senior Consultant, but what that really means is that I am a Jack of All Trades.

At the moment I am working with Ekati Diamonds in northern Canada (I am writing this from Vancouver airport on my way up there now), helping to streamline their data reporting and processes (stopping data being stored in spreadsheets, automating reports etc.) So this and previous MinVu work has got me wearing a lot of different hats - I am part Business/Data/Reporting Analyst, Requirements gathering and analysis, SQL Server Database Administrator, SQL Programmer, Excel VBA Programmer, C# Programmer, Application Support, Technical Writer, plus a number of various MinVu specific tasks (configuration of modules, collating data, setting up meetings and organising current and future work etc. etc.).

My biggest concern is that because MinVu is a niche product in a niche area, if/when I ever decide to move on I won't be able to because I don't have enough experience in any one area. Or I could but not for the same pay that I am getting now.

I love the Data Analyst side of things, and there seem to be an increasing number of jobs in this area so maybe that's where I will end up - but at the end of the day I believe that God looks after me and He will put me where I can do the most for Him.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to my dad! Oh and Dave Horne too :-)

Sorry Joel

One of my interests of late has been computer programming. The company I work for is a Microsoft Partner so I have been getting into .NET 3.5 and C# - with my latest focus being WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation).

I've always been a fan of the underdog - the minority voice that speaks out against current popular thinking - and two of the guys I've been keeping an eye on for a while now are Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky, who coincidentally have recently joined forces and created - a programming Q&A site with new ideas that has absolutely taken off.

I have a lot of respect for Jeff and Joel, who are incredibly talented and intelligent, have both had a lot of software development experience, and both making money for themselves in various business ventures. They also both have quite a following on their blogs. The thing that attracted me was that their ideas they present about programming and software development are well thought out, well presented and are not mainstream. They are doing what their beliefs and experiences have told them is right, not what some textbook or Highly Paid Consultant tells them is right.

There has been a couple of posts from Joel lately that I don't agree with.

The first one was this: Don't Hide or Disable Menu Items. In this article, Joel argues that rather than disable menu items (i.e. make them grayed out and unclickable) if they're not relevant to the current page/window/action, you should instead leave everything enabled all the time and explain to the user via a text box or some other mechanism why you shouldn't click on it.

I completely disagree.

It's like if I do a Google search to try and solve a particular problem, and I see a link that I get excited about because it looks like it might be interesting or solve my problem or whatever, and then I click on that link and I get an “Under Construction” page or “404 not found” error, then I am disappointed and will probably never visit that site again. There are many articles around the web that agree with me on not having "Under Construction" pages – including at least one from Jakob Nielsen ( - it’s old but it is still relevant today).

I think it’s the same with leaving menu items enabled. I think it would be better to hide them completely until they are relevant to whatever action I’m performing. If I am trying to do something and I see a menu item that could be what I need (because let’s face it, menu items are ambiguous a lot of the time) and I click on it only to find out that I’m not allowed to do that action, then I get disappointed and/or frustrated, and the more that happens the less I am going to use the product. Isn’t usability all about reducing the choices that people have to make, about making it easier for them? (Which reminds me, Joel is being a bit hypocritical here beause in an earlier post he argues against offering too many choices to the user!) Also, if I do display a message box, then that means another click for the user. If you really must insist on displaying a message then I think a tooltip over a disabled menu item would be better because then there is no extra work for the user.

As an example – in most modern MP3 players, if a song isn’t playing the stop button is either grayed out, doesn’t exist, or doesn’t do anything if I click on it. If I click on it when a song is stopped it would be overkill (and annoying) to display a message telling me I can’t stop the song because it is already stopped – and it means an extra click where it’s not necessary.
Along the hypocritical lines is his post on Anecdotes. In it he laments that there has been a lot of so-called "research" that is simply unproven stories and anecdotes presented as fact. Later in the same post he then explains:
"Now, I am not one to throw stones. Heck, I practically invented the formula of 'tell a funny story and then get all serious and show how this is amusing anecdote just goes to show that (one thing/the other) is a universal truth.' And everybody is like, oh yes! how true! and they link to it with approval, and it zooms to the top of Slashdot."
And it really is true - that is his style! But come on Joel - this "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude is really disappointing.

Sorry Joel, but these two articles, along with your increasingly NPD view of the world is starting to make me wonder whether I will continue to read your blog.

That's the internet for you though. Question everything you read and if you don't like what you see, go somewhere else!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Best. Meal. Ever.

Last night I had what I think is the best meal of my life.

It's DW and my 2nd year anniversary today but for various reasons we can't really do anything today so we went out to dinner last night.

The restaurant we went to is called Chez Michel, it's on Oak Bay Road in Victoria, B.C., Canada.

If you are living in Victoria, or are planning to visit anytime in the near future, put down your pens, pencils, crayons, blackberries or laptops and book a table right now - I promise you won't regret it.

The menu is unpretentious with standard fare (lamb, beef, fish) while still having a french direction, but it is in it's simplicity that makes it shine. Rather than dressing up the meal with unnecessary sauces, garnishes and extras, Chef Michel cooks the base item so well it speaks for itself.

I had the Seafood Vol-au-vent as an appetizer, Rack of Lamb with Vegetables for my main course, and a French Connection crepe (filled with ice cream and covered in Chocolate fudge sauce).

I love my rack of lamb (DW will attest to this!). I have eaten in more places around the world than I care to think about, and if they have a rack of lamb then I will order it. I can say without hesitation that Chez Michel's was the best I have ever had!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rant: Disclaimers

So I was watching TV last night and an ad came on for the new Pizza Hut special offer - you know the one where you get three 1-topping pizzas for $6 (which in itself is ridiculous and I'll probably tell you why in a later post). Well right at the very end of the ad was Mr Speedy Voice Man and the last thing he said was "prices may vary".

I just about fell off my chair!!

The whole point of the ad was to advertise the $6 deal so come on YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! So I had a look at the web site - and there it was again - but this time it was "prices may vary by region". Fair enough. But on the TV ad, wouldn't it be easier to say "from $6"? Why go to all the trouble of repeating 230 times on the ad that it will be $6, then have a ridiculous disclaimer that is basically saying "don't listen to us because now we can really charge anything we like!!!"

I'm not sure whether it was a Canadian or US ad but are you as a nation so bogged down in the miry clay of litigation that you have to resort to this? I have noticed that there are disclaimers everywhere here in North America - so much so that you eventually just ignore the ads completely because you just start thinking they're lying anyway.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

First Post

Good evening and welcome to Life Home Travel!

My name is Paul Murray and I am your host for this weird, wonderful, ranting, raving, thoughtful and insightful excursion into my life.

I am 27 years old, married for two years to a wonderful woman who shall be now known as DW ("darling wife"), and currently on a year-long working holiday in Victoria, B.C., Canada. Lived in Australia for most of my life - born in Rockhampton, spent 6 months in Fiji during my childhood, grew up in Brisbane, and moved to Melbourne a few years ago to be with DG (who is now DW).

I have many and varied interests
  • Programming
  • Hi-Fi, home theatre and home automation
  • Home design and building
  • Music (I play piano, bass guitar and am learning guitar)
  • Design in general
  • Travel
  • Video Games
  • Photography

I am also a god-fearing spirit filled christian.