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Gates's Austin powers, online dwarf towers

With WebTV, must-see TV, PC-TV, CNET TV, and soon even ZDTV lighting up the media landscape, I can't help but think that this week's Rumor Mill column would make a great...well...Skinnyseries.

With WebTV, must-see TV, PC-TV, CNET TV, and soon even ZDTV lighting up the media landscape, I can't help but think that this week's Rumor Mill column would make a great...well...Skinnyseries.

The premise is the stuff of which James Earl Jones voice-overs are made: "They were two men from different worlds. The first, the richest man on Earth...with a craving for code. The other, an angry person of unusually small stature...a regular on the Howard Stern show. Little did they know that fate--and the Internet--were about to bring them together."

Goose bumps, right? I thought so. But first, more mischief from Microsoft.

The story takes place in laid-back Austin, Texas, where our protagonist was mysteriously denied access to a certain Microsoft-sponsored Web site--hosted by the University of Texas Graduate School of Business--that offered a "practicum in site building." But why would the forces of education and Web development single out this particular individual?

It seems our hero, who is an educator himself, became a digital pariah shortly after publishing a harsh commentary about the site on Ralph Nader's AM-INFO mailing list. His critique lambasted the UT site for focusing exclusively on Microsoft tools; for omitting crucial skills like advanced HTML, Perl, and platform-independent Java; and for gearing itself toward the creation of material that could only be viewed with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The next day, when the dissident tried to go back to the site, he was completely blocked out. Could it be that international man of mystery Bill Gates was telling our intrepid educator to "behave"--and to scram, while he was at it?

Efforts to reach the Texans in charge met with no success. Various alerted Microserfs still were looking into the matter as this column went to pixels, so this Skinnyseries may have a sequel. Stay tuned.

For more info on Microsoft's back-to-school plans, I defer to Mitch Stone, editor of the "boycott Microsoft" site. His "Universities of Microsoft" essay details the software giant's doling out of both cash and free software to professorial types willing to sing Redmond's siren song to their captive audiences. His tales will make Gates's previous attempts to buy bookish British brains and envelop the world's largest university system seem hardly worthy of the fear and loathing they no doubt inspired.

Enough about the world's most loaded person; onto the world's most beautiful person. Who would you guess is leading the pack in this online beauty contest: Gillian Anderson, Leonardo DiCaprio, or JFK Jr.? No, it's the one and only Hank the angry, drunken dwarf, whose 161,113 votes currently dwarfs second-place DiCaprio, frozen out of first with a mere 7,241 votes.

The Skinny on how this came to be: A campaign to cast write-in votes for Hank--a regular presence on the Howard Stern show--sprung out of newsgroups devoted to Stern and the University of California, sending his tallies to their current tall totals. Whomever said "small is beautiful" must have been envisioning a moment like this. On the Net, after all, little can trump big--whether it's a microcelebrity trouncing Leo or your smaller competitors gaining on you. Opera, anyone? Since I can't match Hank in the looks department, I must depend on my wits--and your rumors! So send, send, send!