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2001: The weird world of tech

From slugs to scooters via corpses in the freezer - there were some strange stories out there in 2001...
Written by Laura Stobart, Contributor
IT's a funny old world, someone famously didn't quite say. ZDNet UK strives all year round to bring you the latest news in the tech sector, and once in a while there are stories that are just, well, odd. We can't resist covering them -- and here is a selection of our favourite quirky stories of the year. Love goes cold
Shortly after Valentine's Day, the danger of Internet love was revealed in a story that was both horrifying and hilarious. A British man met the woman of his dreams in a chatroom, but discovered when he flew out to meet her in the US that not only was she 38 years older than he thought, she also had the corpse of her ex-flatmate (who died of natural causes) in the freezer. Once a dedicated Internet user, he vowed never to log on again. Some are clearly more confident in the power of electronic love. A tech businesswoman in the UK advertised herself for sale as a wife on eBay, but the auction site pulled the ad, saying gimmicks like marriage weren't really the sort of thing they were comfortable selling. Email makes the world go round
The power of email as a persuasion tool was proven yet again shortly before the UK census earlier this year. Following an attempt in New Zealand, Star Wars fans started an email going round suggesting that people put 'Jedi' as their religion on the census form. Many believed the email: it said that if enough people claimed the religion, it would be recognised by the Office of National Statistics. Sadly, as with most emails that seem too good to be true, it was utter balderdash. Dot-com desperation
Desperate dot-coms often sink to any measure in order to stay alive -- and one of the biggest lessons of the Internet is that sex sells. Even uber-online retailer Lastminute.com decided to pander to the 'adult' market in order to increase revenue, announcing extensions to their range including edible underwear and inflatable friends. A 'tongue-in-cheek' move according to Martha Lane Fox, it helped move the e-commerce site out of just the travel market and into indoor fun. Careless tools cost lines
Serious though it may have been to Telewest subscribers, the story of an engineer who cut off customer phone lines by starting an accidental fire couldn't help but raise a chuckle in the office. It wouldn't have been at all funny had it not been for the classic headline, "Man drops spanner and cuts off 70,000 phone lines". Need we say more? The case of the missing pigeon
September 3rd has a good tech pedigree -- in 1976, the unmanned spacecraft Viking II took the first pictures of the surface of Mars, and it's the birthday of Harold DeForest Arnold, the physicist whose research led to the development of long-distance telephony and radio communication. And this year it was a bonus day on ZDNet UK. NEC and Sony announced technology designed to turn methanol, better known as colourless liquid member of the alcohol family, into fuel cells for portable devices. No more charging batteries -- just pull out a hip flask. On the same day, a breeder of racing pigeons found an unusual culprit to blame for the disappearance of two-thirds of his feathered flock: a mobile phone mast. He argued that the signals were messing up their homing instincts -- nothing to do with the birds simply deciding it was time to leave the nest then. And if that wasn't enough, the revered Professor Stephen Hawking went on record saying that genetic modification of humans was the only way to stop increasingly sophisticated AI from taking over the planet. We're all doomed... ...Unless all great tech developments are as overhyped and underwhelming as the Segway Human Transporter, code-named Ginger. It's a scooter, not a life-changing piece of technology, yet it got mass coverage throughout the mainstream and tech press. Sewers and slugs
Robots, we love 'em! And they just get better and better -- from toys like Sony's AIBO to potentially serious applications. One company is aiming to use robots to wire up the sewers of major cities in order to provide last-mile bandwidth to busy metropolitan networks. Some might argue that the best use for robots was unveiled in mid-December: a slug-eating machine that not only clears your garden of the pesky beasts, it powers itself with their decomposing flesh. Technology just doesn't get more useful that that. See ZDNet UK's Christmas & New Year Special for our look at the tech world in 2001, and what's coming up in 2002, plus a shopping guide with reviewers' best buys. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet news forum. Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.
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