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Howard Tayler — LiveJournal
Ramblings of a Happy Cartoonist
 I lost my parents over twenty years ago. I've been alive longer without them than with them, and I'm not an old guy. So yes, from time to time my thoughts wander across the minefield as I wonder things like "how would Mom feel about this?" or "I bet Dad would have figured this out by now."

Unlike a real minefield this is one you can build up a resistance to. What used to blow off a leg now just means I need to brush my pants clean. The metaphor fails in extended application.

Today I'm positively giddy with excitement. A new (but very good) friend and consummate professional is joining me and some of my other consummately professional friends (also very good) for two days of recording sessions. I sprang awake at 5:15am with the sort of enthusiasm I usually reserve for Christmas.

And I wondered, casting my mind back to my early years "when Dad was 43, was he ever giddy with Christmas-morning-esque enthusiasm?" 
[CHING-KLICK] goes the pressure plate to the mine I've just stepped on.
"No," I say to myself in irritation. "This isn't 'I miss Dad,' this is a serious question. Do you ever remember him being giddy?"
I ponder the matter, poring through the jumbled mess of poorly indexed memories from twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-five years ago.

"No," I reply. "I don't."
Did it explode because I can't remember something I should, or because I wish my Dad had been a happier person? Regardless, I'm going to need to change these pants.
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I wore a t-shirt in public today, and threw a "Halo ODST" cap on my dome to complete the grungy ensemble. My usual crisp, professional look stayed in the closet.

I think this is the first time I've been this grubby while shopping in around two years.

It's also the first time a checker has asked not just to compare the signature on my card, but also checked TWO photo IDs (one on my Sam's Club card, one on my Driver's License) to confirm my right to pay with Howard V. Tayler's Discover card.

The moral of the story?

Dress nicely if you want to get away with stealing other people's credit cards.  
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 I used to share nap time with my youngest. Well... it was nap time for me. Or it was supposed to be. I'd lie down for a nap and he'd tumble into the bed and decide that it was play-time. He'd offer me his blankie, I'd accept, snuggle it, and then he'd steal it away. I would petulantly say "hey!" and he would giggle. Then he'd offer it again. Repeat.

It was called "The hey game." 

I lay down for a power-nap about 45 minutes ago and discovered that my youngest, now almost eight years old, had left his blankie in my bed. It's a nice, thermal item -- too small to be an adult blanket, but perfect for wrapping around a bald head, turban-style. I did so.

Nobody stole it from me. On the one hand that left me longing for the days when my children were younger. On the other hand, I got a nice, warm nap with a blankie wrapped around my head.

Sometimes the good things in life are better when they're enjoyed while savoring the memories of other good things in life.

Current Location: United States, Utah, Orem
I feel: content content

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I'm on vacation right now. It's not something I'm very good at. Vacation, to me, means completely unwinding and relaxing. Touring the Grand Tetons, even just for half a day in the rain, means something else entirely.

But it was certainly pretty.

Now we're back at the hotel, the kids are swimming, and I'm pouring sweat in the dry sauna trying to accelerate my caffeine detox. Later I think I'll unpack some paints and base-coat a couple of trolls in the hotel lobby.

Sandra is stressing over the vacation a bit. I think that this first attempt in years is a little bit like other, more intimate things a couple might do for the first time: it probably requires practice before it's as awesome as everybody else makes it out to be.

Posted via LiveJournal.app.

Current Location: US, Wyoming, Teton, Jackson, W Deloney Ave, 27

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I've been harboring three big worries about Doctor Who for the last several months.

1) The Professor River Song story seemed to be broken.
2) The trailers showed The Doctor punching someone.
3) The trailers showed The Doctor firing a pistol.

As of right now, all three of my concerns have been put to rest (though in truth #2 and #3 didn't worry me all that much.) I'm confident that The Doctor remains true to the overarching elements of his character, and that the River Song story has not only not been broken, it's going to rock the Tardis. 

I'm also of the opinion that Stephen Moffat is going to succeed in turning the Weeping Angels into a returning Doctor Who villain worthy of upstaging the Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen (all of whom have been played pretty far past their shelf life, so upstaging shouldn't be a big trick.)

In short, I'm really, really happy with Season 5 thus far. 
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So.. I just confessed to replacing XP with a drive-scrubbing clean install of Windows 7. Why didn't I move to Linux instead? 

Three things, really:

1) Text boxes in Microsoft Word 2003: These things have defined my process for creating scripts, and are now so integral that I can't imagine life without them. I tried Open Office, and the boxes didn't work right. No Open Office means no Linux.

2) Photoshop's learning curve: I've figured out how to make Photoshop do what I want it to do. GIMP may do all those things, but I'd have to learn how to make it do that. I'm not interested in spending time learning how to do what I already know how to do. I'd rather spend that time learning something new that makes the comic better.

3) InDesign and my Print Broker: I have to use InDesign to make books. It's not available on Linux. Books are my livelihood. End of argument.

We can shout about technological superiority, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, market forces, and disruptive innovation until we're BSoD in the face. Ultimately everybody complaining about my choice of OS will realize with frustration that I quite amenably agree with most all of their points. 

What it comes down to, really, is that I love the idea of open-source software, but I don't want to use it. Sure, sure, if everybody felt that way then open-source software would die, but everyone CAN'T feel that way. Humanity, even just the computer-using slice of it, is just too diverse. So I can choose freely without worrying that I'm somehow hurting the cause.

The open-source movement has gained enough momentum, Linux and Open Office have enough market penetration that Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and others must compete aggressively for customers. They have to bring their 'A' game, and they have to play HARD. In that world I, the customer, win EVERY TIME. Even when I choose something too expensive and technologically inferior, I'm still choosing something that is worlds better than it would have been without the competitive marketplace.

When I worked at Novell I felt very passionate about what was on my computer. I loved certain software because my friends had helped to make it, and I was helping them sell more of it. These days I have no such connection with what I run, and that's okay. It leaves me free to run what I believe will work best for me, and I'm pretty sure my friends at Novell, Apache, UTOSC, and Penguicon will understand. Though only indirectly, their excellent work makes my life better.


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Don't panic. I didn't lose 15 years of data. I lost an evolutionary dead-end. But that's skipping ahead...

UNBOOTABLE_MOUNT_VOLUME is not a happy BSD (Blue Screen of Death) to see when you restart. My 5-year-old PC running Windows XP Media Edition ("it seemed like a good idea at the time") had gone a long time without BSDs, but apparently the attempt to use Windows Explorer instead of Sonic MyDVD LE to burn DVDs (an honest mistake, for which I forgive Sandra) resulted in sharp, steely sorts of data caltrops being thrown about in precarious places.

The final straw, the BSD from which I could no longer boot, only came when I ran out of space on my portable backup drive. Don't worry -- the stuff I ran out of room on was some movies I don't need. Apparently that BSD kicked some of the caltrops into the boot sector, and Drive C became unbootable, only in ALL CAPS, and with underscores attaching it to other words.

I'll spare you the story of my wrestle with inner demons. I won't bother to regale you with the strings of ear-blistering obscenities, vulgarities, and profanities I concatenated with angry abandon. I'll make only passing mention to my friend Bob Defendi who talked me down from the ledge twice, and my friend Jake Bingham who provided me with hope, if not with the actual tools to solve the problem.

No, the important part of the story is the part where I realized that while I still had all my data (on two different backup drives, as well as on one internal drive), I was going to have to choose whether or not to keep my processes. Installing a new operating system (Win7, about which I've heard wonderful things, and which is, as of this writing, performing flawlessly) necessitated wiping drive C. From there I could easily copy all my documents back, but those directory trees were convoluted.

"Evolutionary dead-end," I said. An example: Before I started creating Schlock Mercenary I used AOL Instant Messenger to chat with friends. At the top of My Documents was a folder labeled "AIM Chats" which hasn't seen new data in over five years. It's at the same level as a directory called "SchlockDocs," which is the parent directory of dozens of nested children. You see, back in 1995 when I first realized I was going to want to save some things pretty much forever, I decided that it made sense to organize them by taxonomy, and the only taxonomies I was familiar with were very general at the top, and increasingly complex at lower and lower layers. So that's how I stored my stuff.

And that's how I stored it for 15 years. When I first started storing stuff that way, the directory trees were on a Mac LCii, or some such. They moved with me, always growing, because if there's one thing you never do to a taxonomy, one thing such trees are never subject to, it is PRUNING. (Note: Feel free to comment with examples of taxonomies that have been pruned. But I bet they got bigger afterwards.) 

Windows 7 seemed to suggest, through its "library" interface, that the things I do most should not be leaves on twigs on branches on limbs of a huge tree. They should be front-and-center. In fairness, my old processes included creating shortcuts to the leaves, but this meant my desktop was a mess of shortcuts. Now Win7 was suggesting that there might be a better way. No, it didn't hold my hand through the process of deciding what goes front-and-center. But by looking at how it tried to organize content, I realized that files I am currently working with should go at the top of the library, front-and-center. Once I am done with them, they should be shuffled off onto the D drive (and backed up to G, H, and beyond...) where it's okay to maintain a deeper directory structure.

So that's what I did, and I did it aggressively. My desktop has exactly one icon on it right now. "Recycle Bin." I should point out that I preferred the name "Trash" from the old Mac interface. Files are not "recycled" unless you reuse their contents. Disc sectors are reused, yes, but when I put a redundant copy of Schlock dialog into the Recycle Bin it's not going to show up on your computer as witty repartee. It's TRASH. But I digress. I should have used parentheses. (Like this.)

One icon. My task bar, which auto-hides, is only half full: Windows Explorer, IE, Google Chrome, FileZilla, Windows Fax & Scan, Media Player, and iTunes. Why so spartan? Because the things I do most often are script, blog, trawl, upload, scan, and jam. Oh, and watch Doctor Who. 

All my other cruft is buried. I created a directory called, appropriately enough, "cruft" in the My Documents directory, and any time I find myself hitting folders there more than once in a day, I give them a new home on Drive D. Eventually the Cruft folder will go away completely. As I mentioned elsewhere, this is like moving all your stuff into a storage unit, then going into a new, empty house, and only furnishing it from storage as you need things. That cedar chest full of sweaters that don't fit anymore? It never shares four walls and a roof with you again.

This process is painful, but it's the right kind of painful. It's like losing ten pounds and realizing your pants fit correctly again (apropo of nothing, I've done that three times in the last 15 months, each time with a downwardly-trending size of pants. There! I used parentheses this time!) 

Soon I'll be replacing this worn-out PC. But migrating my data to a new machine will be fairly painless, because I don't have to carry around a cedar chest full of sweaters that don't fit, and the pants I'm wearing DO fit. 
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Your Schlock Mercenary fix for Sunday, February 21st, 2010
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I blogged about the final round of the easily-spoofed Washington Post poll, and I made a mistake. I mentioned that it was easily spoofed.

This was not meant as encouragement to spoof, but apparently it was taken as such. For this I am sorry.

You see, when I blogged at 9:15pm local time, Schlock Mercenary had around 120 votes. Three hours later Schlock had 211,000. That, for those who are interested in this sort of thing, is more unique IP addresses than hit my own website in the course of an entire month. I don't for one minute believe that more than 1,000 of those votes are legitimate. And by curious coincidence, during the one minute for which I'm not believing, about another 1,000 votes arrived.

I'm embarrassed and saddened. It's much more fun to mock an easy-to-rig popularity contest when it's not one of your own fans doing the rigging. You see, now if tens of thousands of Penny Arcade fans visit the poll (and they will) they will associate "Schlock Mercenary" with dishonesty.

Whoever you are, mister or missus Inappropriate Expressor of Enthusiasm, you are damaging my name with your antics. Worse still, you are making all of the smart, discerning, tastefully dressed, and bewitchingly attractive Schlock Mercenary fans look dingy and disreputable.

Shame on you.
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So... This last thursday Cafe Zupas had a sign up saying that all proceeds that day were going to the Red Cross to help out in Haiti. I had been planning to use a free meal coupon, but decided to save it and spend money instead.

Then I decided to get a dessert, because hey, it's for a good cause. Then I added a soda, and then a soup.

As I was eating, and filling up long before my comestibles were consumed, it occurred to me that I was overeating so that others might not starve. The irony was so thick I could spread it on that delicious bread I got. So I did.

If charity through excess is wrong, I want seconds. Of that custard, please...

Posted via LiveJournal.app.

Current Location: US, Utah, Utah, Orem, N 600 W, 1286

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Last night's RPG session was a one-shot adventure with completely fresh characters. Instead of having us start the game in a tavern, Bob had us wake up in jail.

Apparently, three days ago the dwarf took us to a dwarven bar, vouched for us, and we ended up on a bender whose details were lost in an alcoholic haze. The dialog with our jailer was memorable:


Jailer (played by Bob): You set fire to an outhouse.
Mika the Cleric (played by me): I... I think I remember that.
Jailer: It was a very nice outhouse. It had running water.
Mika: Yeah, it's coming back to me now. That water can't be safe. Not in an outhouse.
Jailer: The owner is very upset.
Mika: We were doing him a favor.
Jailer: You burned his outhouse to the ground.
Mika: The outhouse had it coming.
Jailer: "had it coming?"
Mika: Look, if "Lance of Faith" sets a building on fire, the building is obviously an unholy abomination.

All of this was just a prelude to us getting recruited to clear out the kobolds in exchange for some charges being dropped. Which meant, of course, that most of the rest of the dialog in the game was nowhere near as interesting. Well, maybe except for the part where I related the legend of the Gnomish village of Riverton that had dwarven ale delivered for their big celebration. Three days later the village was in the next county over and all the buildings were upside down.
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The Physician's Assistant, Whitney, called me to talk about the blood work we took a week ago. Short version: Epstein-Barr, which is pretty common but usually latent. Mine acted up, and I had what amounts to a relapse of mononucleosis, or "mono."

As I said on the Twitter feed, the diagnosis may have been mono, but it felt more like Dolby Surround Sound 5.1.


Anyway, I'm fine now. As an added bonus, I'm not crazy. I really WAS sick. Also, I have yet another reason to eat nutritiously. A strong immune system is the best defense against another relapse. Okay, okay, fine. I'll have another salad.
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Today I:

- got up at 6:30 and helped make breakfast
- wrote three tricky scripts that had been stuck for more than a week
- outlined a week of comics (in my head, but that still counts)
- went shopping
- spent 90 minutes at the gym doing both resistance and cardio
- ate a salad
- took a power-nap (not a "can't stand up anymore" nap)
- penciled two strips
- inked six rows of comics (four days' worth)
- did assorted business tasks
- wrote this

And during all that time I didn't once feel like I was going to fall down because I wasn't getting enough air.

I will concede the following:
- maybe my determination to get better coincided with actually getting better
- maybe my illness was just laziness and depression
- maybe the improved air quality had something to do with it

You know what? I don't care. That thing I've got on right now? It's my game face. I have my boots on and a pen in my hand, so if things need kicked and names need taken, I'm up to the task.

It's nice to be back.
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Last Friday I decided to not be sick anymore. It didn't work. Today I went to the doctor, and based on everything they were able to measure right away there's no explanation for me being so continuously SOB (Short Of Breath. My mother was a lovely woman, thankyouverymuch.)

In a three-hour ordeal that was mostly waiting we poked, prodded, listened, discussed symptoms and medical history at great length, measured my blood oxygen several times, took some X-rays, and drew blood for further tests. Now I get to wait for results from that. There were no immediate red-flags on the X-rays, which, coupled with the healthy sounding lungs almost certainly means I'm not walking around with pneumonia. Sure, the radiologist still needs to look at the pictures, but at this point if there's a smoking gun somewhere it's going to be in the blood work.

I have to confess to being SERIOUSLY pissed. I'm angry enough at all the waiting around and not knowing that I'm ready to put on the "can-do, eff you" hat again and just man up to my regular schedule tomorrow. If I feel like I'm not getting enough air, well, I know that's a lie so I'll just keep going. And if I fall down and need to be hospitalized, well, at least there'll be some proper symptoms for people to argue about.

I hate being sick, but what I REALLY hate is lying around and doing nothing for two weeks.

I feel: cranky cranky

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I've been mostly flat on my back for the better part of the last two weeks. I've complained about the air quality (it's bad) and my asthma (it's still around), I've pointed at a chest cold as a trigger event, but for the life of me this does NOT make sense. I'm in fine physical condition, I no longer feel sick, but the air around me is just too thin to support life.

I tried muscling through it with albuterol and a positive mental attitude on Friday. That didn't go well. I walked to Church this morning. That was fine... up until 30 minutes later when I was quietly gasping for breath while doing nothing more demanding than sitting in the pew. So no, I guess that didn't go well either. I've spent six waking hours today flat on my back.

Counting backwards, I think I've spent at least 100 waking hours laid out flat in the last two weeks. My workaholism is raging at this impotence.

Part of me knows that I need to be forced to take a vacation sometimes. Part of me thinks that this is all psychosomatic, and that if I can just find the right combination of "can-do" and "eff-you" I'll be able to get some work done. That part of me was given a shot at things on Friday, and again this morning. He got the "eff-you" part down pat, but I ended up very "can't-don't" in the process.

So... I'm off to the doctor tomorrow. Let me tell you, if there isn't a solid, measurable, medical reason for me to feel this way I'm going to be seriously pissed off. I don't want to be told that I've developed a psychosis that enforces laziness. I want to be told I can't get any work done because there's a massive colony of intelligent bacteria slum-lording my lungs out to their unevolved brethren.

Real sick is better than fake sick because sane is better than crazy. (Though I've always had to settle for "high-functioning" instead of "sane.")
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There's an old man who comes to the gym in the mornings. He has a walker with an oxygen bottle, and bears visible scars from open heart surgery and a pacemaker implant. Monday morning I loosened up in the hot tub, and the two of us talked.

I learned that he had his first surgery in early December of 1999. I was reminded of my bout with myocarditis that same month, and how, as I lay in the Intensive Care Unit at UVRMC, the rooms around me were full of what I have come to call "gray people." Their skin was literally deathly pale, and I assumed that the majority of them were going to die there.

I asked where this man had gone for treatment back in '99, and he told me he was at UVRMC, and spent most of December in the Intensive Care Unit.

One of those gray people not only survived, but did so for a full decade at current count.

The last decade has been huge for me. I started a new job, rose to prominence, and then quit to do the same thing again. I created Schlock Mercenary, and Sandra and I had two more kids.

All of this in a decade.

I don't know what my elderly friend at the gym has done with the ten years the doctors, God, and/or the Fates gave back to him, but I'm sure they are precious.

Whine about the "aughts" if you must, but as we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, know that at least two of us are really thankful for the last ten years.

Current Location: US, Utah, Utah, Orem, W 1325 N, 676
I feel: Thankful

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Short version, cutting to the punchline as quickly as possible:

My mother-in-law sent us a plush nativity, complete with wise men and a camel. Its job was to sit under the tree and get played with.

About five years ago my son was playing with them, and from the other room I heard "Wap! Him dead! Now my take camel!"

That poor wise man was apparently unwise enough to get ambushed by some other toy (a Hamtaro, if memory serves.)
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Or waiter. Or sushi-chef.

I've only got anecdotal evidence supporting this, but the impression I get is that with tighter economic times people are eating out a little less, and tipping a LOT less. The restaurant managers I've spoken to (I know a few, yes) have said that average tips have dropped from around 18% to around 10%.

Sure, sure... a lot of us look at tipping as a way to reward excellent service, and will withhold a good tip from a lousy waiter or waitress. But that's not what's happening here. What's happening is that a lot of us don't want to give up eating out, so we're cutting back on our tips.

Two things:

1) Be the guy (or gal) who tips well. Start at 20% and round up. Factor that into your budgeting.

2) Crummy service? A low tip just says "I'm cheap." Unless the service is absolutely execrable, it's not really your job to discipline your server. Tip your server well, and then call the manager over and complain. If it was really that bad you'll probably come out further ahead than if you'd skimped on the tip. If not, well... you don't want to eat there again.

My friend Bob has a great policy when he eats out with a large group. He hands the unsuspecting server a $20 at the beginning of the ordering process and says "I want to make sure this is a great experience for everybody... including you." At the end of the meal he strongarms the rest of us into tipping a solid 20%. Funny thing... when Bob's around we ALWAYS have a great time at the restaurant.

But you don't have to go the extra mile. Just make sure you don't skimp. Waitresses and waiters are feeling the crunch at least as badly as the rest of us are.
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If you've been following the news, there are lots of people screaming about how incredibly expensive the stimulus package was, and how it didn't create enough jobs for the money spent.

I'm not a fan of stimulus, nor big government, but I do know how to do math like a capitalist. An employee costs a lot more than just salary, and I haven't seen much reporting in this vein.

Let's say you've been given stimulus money to hire somebody. GREAT! Do you start writing them paychecks immediately? No. You find work for them to do. Let's go on to say that the employee is (as many of them are reported to have been) a construction worker. How much is it going to cost to put that person to work? Well... you have to have land on which they can put a building, materials to put up the building with, and tools for them to use. Some of this you might already have, but with stimulus money you're going to go buy MORE of it so you can grow your business and (here's another form of the word) STIMULATE the economy as a result.

Pulling numbers out of my butt: if twenty guys can build a subdivision of 40 homes in a year, and the homes cost $120,000 each to build, you've spent just short of five million dollars creating 20 jobs, at a cost of $240,000 per job.

You also created forty homes (in a depressed real-estate market that is saturated with defaults, foreclosures, and short sales, but I digress...)

Also, somebody out there sold you a whole mess of lumber, nails, concrete, PVC, etc.

Sure, if all we wanted to do was feed people tax money we could do it much more efficiently by just dumping the entire stimulus package into the existing welfare system. But that doesn't stimulate the economy, and it provides incentives for the wrong sort of behavior.

Again, let me say that I'm not a fan of the stimulus package, not as implemented, and not in principle. But the math I use as a good capitalist who wants to be able to create jobs tells me that the critics of the stimulus package are being very loudly dishonest in their criticism.

(Note: If you gave me $240,000 and told me to create as many jobs as I could, I would hire a writer, two line-artists, and a colorist and create graphic novels out the wazoo. If the books sold well, I'd be able to keep my employees. If not, well... they worked for a year, and we all had a good time with taxpayer money. DO NOT SEND ME TAX DOLLARS IT WILL ONLY END IN TEARS.)
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I ran sound for a comedy troupe called "The Garrens" back in the mid-90's, and one of their largest performances was to be held at a Brigham Young University freshman orientation event. There were about 2,000 kids (even then they looked like kids to me) in attendance.

There was a dance before the show, and the huge floor area was packed. The DJ's stage was in the middle of it all, and I was up there with him setting up the gear for The Garrens while he dropped jams, or mixes, or beats, or whatever you kids call that stuff. The heads and shoulders of 2,000 freshmen were a tumultous, rhythmic sea that came up to my knees.

Then the DJ dropped in "Macarena," and there was order in the chaos. Like iron filings in Hell's own magnetic field, 2,000 freshmen aligned themselves and oscillated in unison.

It was amazing, and just a little frightening. This was the sort of power supervillians crave, and it was being used as a party game.
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