Friday, September 30, 2005

New Delta Green write-up on HyperBear

Will wonders never cease! I actually added three roleplaying scenario write-ups to HyperBear in one week! As promised, I added the latest Delta Green write-up. This was for the September 17 session, and it clears up the question of which M cell member died in St. Louis.

The direct link the write-up is:

The list of write-ups is here:

The next game session is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, October 1.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dysfunctional Louisiana

By now most folks have heard ex-FEMA director Mike Brown's comments about Louisiana. During the testimony on the abysmal response by FEMA to hurricane Katrina, Brown — in the process of blaming everyone but himself for the failure of his organization — said, "My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional."

Tonight on The Daily Show, after playing Brown's clip, Jon Stewart replied, "You didn't know Louisiana was dysfunctional? Have you ever been to Louisiana? It's a miracle the state's name is right on the license plate!"

Alana and I both laughed so hard we almost fell off our chairs. Although, come to think of it, it was more ironic than funny...!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New HârnMaster write-up on HyperBear

I just posted the most recent HârnMaster write-up on HyperBear. The story has shifted away from Hârn itself to a fantasy world of my own creation.

The HarnMaster pages are found at

The new scenario write-up is found at

Monday, September 26, 2005

Eating out

Monroe has a surprising number of restaurants. I could be catty and say that there's nothing much else to do in Monroe but eat. I could be cattier and say that I can prove it by the appearance of most of the people in the city. On the other hand, I shouldn't talk...

Anyway, a new Chile Verde just opened within five minutes of our apartment! I was surprised to discover, after moving down here, that I really enjoy authentic (or a reasonable facsimile) Mexican food. Chile Verde is the best in town. It's a local chain (now with four stores) with good prices, large portions (see the above paragraph) and great food. There are a couple of other Mexican places in Monroe, the worst being El Chico's, part of a large franchise chain.

The best burgers are found at local dives. I like the burgers at Bayles Landing, a place a short distance from where I work, over the bridge in West Monroe, and at Melvyn's, another dive on 18th Street. Neither has much in the way of decor and both look like they are this close to collapsing, but the food is good. Other non-franchise (or local chain) favourites are Eskamoe's (frozen custard, yum!), Jade Garden (Chinese buffet), Pickle Barrel (lunches a specialty), Bubba Luigi's (semi-fine dining), and La Bella Vita (which may actually be part of a larger chain). Because it was so expensive we've only gone to the Tokyo Steakhouse once, but it was worth it. Our favourite pizza place is Johnny's, a local chain found throughout northern Louisiana.

Like most places in the U.S., most of the popular restaurants are franchises. You have your Olive Gardens and your Red Lobsters. Our favourites are Lone Star and Logan's for steaks (though Lone Star has gone downhill recently, and for over a year now has been plagued with skunky-tasting Diet Coke), Corky's for barbecue, and Olive Garden (tied with La Bella Vita) for Italian. A southern chain called Copeland's does wonderful cajun food. The best chicken fingers, without a doubt, are from a New Orleans based restaurant called Raising Cane's, which is good because chicken fingers is all they sell.

In spite of all these restaurants, there are some gaps in the culinary landscape. There are only a smattering of doughnut shops, and none of them are as good as Canada's Country Time doughnut stores (and I think Country Time takes a back seat to the ubiquitous Tim Horton's!). You'd think someone would bring in a Crispy Creme at least, but the only time you can buy those in Monroe is on special occasions when grocery stores ship them in from Shreveport. As such I've gone from a serious doughnut addiction to one every two or three months. There are a few fish places that are heavily into catfish and shrimp, but none that do Canadian/British style fish and chips. The local Chinese places are almost all buffet style, and Chinese take-out consists of pulling items from the buffet table. Aside from Mexican, Asian and Italian, there are almost no ethnic restaurants in Monroe. A Greek place opened, then closed, and is now a Mediterranean restaurant.

With so much to choose from, it's depressing to see people lined up at the local Cracker Barrel, Outback, or (*shudder*) Hooters, but they do! I really don't understand it. Okay, I admit to having a craving for Outback, but only because they are one of the few places that serve lamb and I love lamb. But the others don't make sense to me. There's better food at better prices elsewhere in town, if they'd only look. Most Americans (and, to be honest, most Canadians) have an obsession with "safe" eating establishments. They'll stand in line outside of Cracker Barrel when they could be sitting down to eat in La Bella Vita a short distance away.

I can't complain about the food choices in Monroe. Alana tells me there are more restaurants in Monroe per capita than in any other city in the state (Monroe may be number one if the city beating it out was New Orleans *sigh*). Still, if we ever win the lottery we're opening up a Tim Horton's franchise!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Updates on HyperBear

I posted updates to my HyperBear web site. Along with some cosmetic changes, including links to this blog, I posted the latest Delta Green campaign write-up. This write-up marks the first time a character died in our campaign. Just to heighten suspense, the write-up doesn't explicitly state which character died. Later this week I will post the write-up from the last session, which was conducted on September 17, so readers won't be kept in the dark for long.

My web site is found at The Cthulhu site updates are found at The list of write-ups is found at The most recent write-up is at cthulhu-scenarios-dg-2005-09-03.html.

Yep, I was wrong...

Less than an hour after my last post, at almost exactly 4:55 p.m. CDT, the power went out. The wind was gusting, but I didn't think it was any worse than we had seen earlier in the day. We were without power for between 19 and 22 hours. I'm not sure how long, as the lights came back on while we were out.

Around 10:30 a.m. the sun poked out, and the apartment started to warm up. Since the air conditioning was out with everything else running on electricity, we went out for lunch. While we were gone we saw a fair bit of damage. Oh, I know that Monroe wasn't hit bad at all and that what we saw was a drop in the bucket compared to the damage in Sulphur, LA and Beaumont, TX. What we saw was surprising since the winds "only" got up to tropical storm strength.

Here are some pictures of things we saw while we were out.

Shredded shedThis picture is from a house at the end of our street. The debris is an aluminum shed, now wrapped around a chain link fence. We don't know if the shed was attached to the cement foundation nearby or not, but it's all sort of moot now.

Uprooted tree near our houseThis uprooted tree is about a quarter of a mile from our house. We saw a lot of small branches and bits of trees down in our area, but this was the first uprooted tree.

Downed transformer and power linesDown another nearby street we saw what probably caused our power to be out. A tree took out a power line, which in turn pulled the transformer from the power pole.

Downed transformerHere's the transformer, lying on the ground. Downed power lines and flying debris are the reasons they tell you not to go out on the street during a storm.

Tree that took out the transformerThis is what's left of the tree that took out the trans- former. No idea who cut up the tree and stacked it. It could have been Entergy, but we only saw one of their trucks the whole time we were out. Apparently a lot of their crews are down in the New Orleans area, trying to restore power after Katrina.

Pine straw on the roadAlong with tree limbs and bits of trees, there's a lot of pine straw on the ground. This picture, taken near the university, is typical of the streets in our part of the city.

Broken tree near ULMThis street runs in front of the University of Louisiana at Monroe colliseum (currently being used as a special needs shelter for Katrina evacuees). This tree split, taking a light pole with it.

Downed power lines in the Garden DistrictThis is a downed power line in Monroe's Garden District. We saw half a dozen downed power lines while we were out.

Uprooted tree in the Garden DistrictThis is the tree that took out the power line in the previous shot. It blocked half the street. Fortunately, it looks like it didn't hit anything. The vehicles in the picture were parked in front of it.

So, all things considered, we are probably lucky we were without power for less than a day.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Okay, so maybe I was wrong...

A heavy band of wind and rain has swung into Monroe. We've been getting a lot of rain and strong winds for about half an hour now. Water is puddling in the grass behind the apartment. This rain may last a while. I see on the news that the band that's hitting us extends well past Alexandria. The one saving grace is that this band is not as bad as the one that's hitting Jackson, MS. That band is spawning tornados.

The weather is very odd. The rain just died down, but the wind has picked up. I suspect we're going to go through a period of lulls and gusts into this evening. As long as the wind doesn't get any worse than this, we should still have power.

Oh, well, we had three straight weeks of nothing but sun. It's nice to have a change! *grin*

Not as bad as we feared

Here's an update for the family. The hurricane, so far, hasn't been as bad as we feared. Right now it's over Shreveport, but it's been downgraded to a tropical storm. The picture to the left shows the storm as of about an hour ago.

It rained heavy this morning, but it's only been spitting for the last couple of hours. In fact, it's not even raining right now. The wind is still pretty strong. We've seen worse.

Our biggest worry is that the storm will stall and dump a lot of rain on us. shows that the storm is projected to move north of us through Arkansas by tomorrow evening. With some luck we won't even see a lot of rain out of this.

The only real problem we've had is a slow internet connection. People at work were complaining about that, too, this week, though it seems to be worse today. Ever since Katrina hit the high speed connections at work and at home have been slower than usual, with lots of "timeout" errors. Our home connection seems to be slower today than it was yesterday. I'm guessing that the extra people in the area, damaged telephone and data lines in the south of the state, and the bad weather are all to blame.

It's a bit too soon to say that the worst has passed us. The picture shows a cell heading for us (which seems to be hitting about now as the wind has picked up). We still have power, which means we still have air conditioning, and everyone is having a lazy day. As long as we have seen the worst of it, today may turn out to be the quiet, relaxing day we've needed since Katrina hit.

Just rain so far...

This is a note to our friends and family to let them know how we're doing during the storm. Hurricane Rita made landfall last night. So far we've had a lot of rain, but not much wind. (Oops. As soon as I typed that, there was a strong gust of wind!) Unfortunately, Rita is supposed to stall over Texarkana this week. That's bad for us, as they are calling for rain for the next several days. It's worse for our friends in Texarkana, as they will be right underneath it!

Here's a satellite/radar image from 9:31 EDT (8:31 CDT, our time):

As you can see, the long tendril that curls down to the southeast is in line to run right over Monroe as the storm moves north.

It will still be a couple of hours before the real wind hits us. I'll be surprised if we don't lose power. You'd think they could harden the power system down here, given all the storms, but either it's not possible or the energy companies figure it's cheaper to repair damage than to prevent it in the first place.

Anyway, w'ere hunkering down for the rest of the day, though we may have to make a run somewhere to buy more batteries for our flashlights!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Living in the CD Player - 9/23/2005

I don't know if I can keep it up, but every Friday I'll post the CDs that have been living in our CD players (which usually means the Toyota Corolla and the Chevy Tracker, as we don't seem to play a lot of music at home except during our roleplaying games) over the past week.

My favourite disk in the Corolla this week is Fuel's Something Like Human. The more I listen to this CD, the more I like it!

In the Tracker is Lullabies to Paralyze by Queens of the Stone Age. This is a bit harder than the Fuel CD, but it, too, is a very strong album that gets better every time I hear it.

The biggest disappointment for us has been X and Y by Coldplay. Don't get me wrong, it's a good album, but it's only good, not great. There's not a lot of energy there. It's the kind of album I'd happily play while reading to fill in the silence, but it's just not grabbing me while driving. "Speed of Sound" is a good song, but it doesn't have the vitality of "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face". On the other hand, I made a compilation CD that has "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" from their A Rush of Blood to the Head CD, and I can't help but singing that song every time it comes on. It's fresh and it's alive. "Speed of Sound" doesn't do that for me, and "Speed of Sound" is the best song on the album. I like Coldplay and I want them to do well, but I don't think this album lives up to the hype.

Tendrils of Rita

When I was leaving the house this morning I saw clouds to the south of Monroe. The clouds arced across the sky from the southwest to the southeast. These whispy clouds are the outer tendrils of hurricane Rita.

Here's the radar image, taken from, from about the same time:

Think of Louisiana as "boot shaped". Monroe is in the top part of the boot. You'll see on the (eastern) border with Louisiana and Mississippi a ">" shape. This is near the top of the picture, in the middle. Monroe is pretty much due west of that ">", about half way between Texas and Mississippi.

I see that Monroe is just slightly outside Rita's projected path. As it makes landfall it will lose energy. However, we'll still be on the eastern, strongest, side of the hurricane. Jackson, Mississippi is due east of us. It sustained hurricane force winds when Katrina made landfall. We're expecting to be hit with rain and high winds come tomorrow, with the strong possibility of losing power. That's what we worry about the most, given that the temperature this last week has been around 100F. Jimmy and Jason, our friends in Texarkana, look to be right in the path of the storm.

We're fortunate, though, as I expect there to be a lot of devestation on the coast. With luck, we'll only get hit with a tropical storm. Just in case, we stocked up on water.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Katrina and Rita Evacuees in Monroe

One aspect of hurricane Katrina that doesn't get much airplay is the way communities in Louisiana have banded together to help the evacuees. Every city, and most towns, in the state are housing evacuees. The major media outlets don't mention this much, probably because it's "known", and because it's easier to do the same story from a single location with lots of people (i.e. Houston) than it is to tell about the effect the evacuees are having on the various communities within their own state.

Monroe's shelter was cited by Governor Blanco as a model for the rest of the country. State Farm (*hiss* *spit*) pulled out of Monroe over a year ago. They left behind a couple of buildings that they eventually gave to the state. One was planned as a campus for a local community college, but is now the Community Residential Center, housing Katrina evacuees. It has its own post office, it's own laundry facilities, and a cafeteria. Being an office building, it also has offices that have been transformed into private, or semi-private, rooms.

Alana, my wife, told me that they are expecting another 900 evacuees sometime today. Most of these folk are escaping ahead of hurricane Rita. A special needs shelter is being set up in the Monroe Civic Center.

A number of people at work are peeved at the owners of the Civic Center. The owners refused to clear their schedule of events (though some recent events were cancelled). This has led people to accuse them of greed, suggesting that Monroe could hold more evacuees than it is. I haven't been able to get an official number, but I believe it's around 3,000, possibly more.

There's a convention center in West Monroe that's not being used. Some West Monroe residents accuse Monroe, FEMA, and the Red Cross of playing politics to keep the evacuees in Monroe. The simple fact is that West Monroe does not have public transit (the city has been studiously avoiding public transit for years). Many of the evacuees don't have a car. How are they to get around West Monroe, on foot?

For the most part the evacuees have been warmly accepted into the community. They are causing a strain, though. The local Medicaid office now has to process applications for the local parishes as well as for the people from the evacuated parishes. The local job market is flooded with potential employees. Apartment vacancy rates have plunged. It will be interesting to see how the communities of one of the country's poorest states cope with this situation.

The apartment complex we live in had a run-in with Entergy, the power company. They needed to get the power turned on in a couple of vacant apartments so that they could rent out the apartments to evacuees. Entergy said it would be a couple of weeks before they could turn on the power, as they were too busy with higher priority work due to the hurricane. Last week, Entergy contacted our apartment manager asking if they had rooms to rent. Entergy needed a place for their out-of-town crews to stay. The manager said something like, "Oh, you mean the apartments that you won't turn on the power to?" Needless to say, Entergy had to go looking for another set of apartments...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Announcer-less Football a Hit

I miss the CFL. That, Tim Horton's doughnuts, and buttertarts are the things I miss most about living in the U.S. My wife found some buttertart recipes, and Tims is reportedly as far south as Louisville, Kentucky. That just leaves the CFL.

Canadian football is my favourite sport. It's far faster playing than the NFL (mostly due to the CFL's timing rules), where the last minute of play matters. Unfortunately, many Canadians (more precisely, the vast majority of residents of Toronto and Vancouver) don't appreciate what they have. I was hoping that digital cable would provide a channel that would, in football mad Louisiana, would at least run a game or two. I was wrong. Fox would rather devote an entire channel to soccer. (No rugby or Aussie rules football for me, either.)

So, it came as a surprise when friend Michael Skeet told me that, due to a labour lockout, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was running games without announcers... and the ratings are up. Way up. The first announcer-less game had ratings equivalent to the highest rated game of the season. The following week there was a 16% increase over that. What's more, viewers are sticking around. By the fourth quarter the game had half-again as many viewers as at the start of the game.

The announcers are, of course, rallying around each other. So is the league, which probably feels it needs blabbering league-supporting cheerleaders in the announcer chairs. The fact is, though, that people tune in for the games and they are sick of listening to the constant chattering of half-witted commentators.

My dad always hated North American sports announcers. He didn't see the need to yap through every game. British soccer announcers are far more sparse in their yammering. When I went to see CFL games live I liked to know why such-and-such a foul was called, or who had the ball at any given minute. I didn't need someone constantly talking the whole time. It's one reason I preferred going to the games than watching them on TV. Apparently I wasn't alone.

It will be interesting to see if this is just a blip, or if it actually has an effect on American sports commentating. Probably not, but one can wish. At any rate, John Madden better not ask for a raise any time soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Guns, Ammo, Knives, American Flags

When I arrived in Monroe, Louisiana, one of the first signs I saw advertised:

Guns, Ammo, Knives, American Flags

That was on the sign of a Citgo gas station.

To many Canadians, that sign epitomizes the United States. Now, I've travelled the U.S. enough (26 of the 50 states) to know that the country is far more than guns and flags. Still, there was something humorously stereotypical about it.

The theme for this blog, as much as it has one, is the culture shock of a liberal-minded Scottish-born Canadian now living in the conservative Deep South. In all fairness, I'm not a typical Canadian. You probably figured that out by the "born in Scotland" part. I'm also an avid "Civil War" buff. My wife Alana likes to tell folk that I know more about American history than most Americans. That may be true, but as I'm finding out, knowing American history and knowing Americans are two different things.

I was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1962. My parents moved to Canada as part of the big emigration wave out of Great Britain in the mid-1960s (we arrived in Canada's centennial year, 1967). I grew up in Oshawa, Ontario, about 50 km east of Toronto. I attended Wilfrid Laurier University (big mistake!) in Waterloo, Ontario, about an hour west of Toronto, and I lived in Toronto itself for 12 years. Now I'm in Monroe, a small city mid-way between Shreveport and Vicksburg, Mississippi in northern Louisiana.

For those readers who think "New Orleans" when they read "Louisiana", Monroe is about five hours away from the Crescent City. It's also about five hours away from Dallas, Houston, Little Rock, and Memphis. (We like to say that Monroe is five hours away from some place interesting). So, it's like Monroe is in a different state than New Orleans, which is true culturally and politically, if not true geographically. Monroe is in the middle of a rural, conservative area known for its fishing and hunting. Monroe has its charms (it has a lot of good restaurants), but if I come across as somewhat critical of the city, that's because there's not much "there" there.

Thanks for reading, and I'll try not to be boring.