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A roundup of the most bizarre tech stories of 2013

On any given day, amidst the Apple rumours and reports of tech acquisitions, we are bound to see a few bizarre stories in our Twitter and RSS feeds or email inboxes. And 2013 was no exception, as companies from Google to Dell served up news that made us chuckle or do a double take.

Some stories involved well-known personalities – from Ashton Kutcher being named Lenovo's latest product engineer to Senator John McCain complaining about having to update his iOS apps.

There were also a few eyebrow-raising fashion tech stories. How about a bra that can help stop emotional eating or raise breast cancer awareness? And let's not forget about Google's "Talking Shoe" from SXSW, which sends witty messages to users and their friends based on your activity.

Those are just a few of the truly strange stories that crossed the wire this year, and we’re going to detail eleven more in this roundup.

Google Calico

There's enough information on the Internet for you to surf the web until you can no longer click a mouse or tap a touchscreen. But what if you could prolong your Internet time with the help of Google? It sounds bizarre, but in September 2013 Google announced Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, aiming to research how technology can positively affect aging and associated diseases. The company is still in the early stages, but Arthur D. Levinson, chairman and former CEO of Genentech and chairman of Apple, will service as Calico's CEO and a founding investor.


In March 2013, a spat over the term "ungoogleable" prompted Swedish language officials to ditch the term from its list of new Swedish words. Google wanted the Swedish Language Council to specify that "ungoogleable" referred to something not available on Google, not search engines overall, and that Google is a registered trademark. The language council did not take too kindly to that request. "Google has wooed [the] Language Council to amend the definition of the word ogooglebar the new order list," the council said in a translated statement. "Today we instead delete the word and mark ... our displeasure with Google's attempt to control the language."

Anti-incest app

A nationwide genealogy project that kicked off in 2010 spawned an Android app in 2013 that lets users check to see if their new friend is actually their cousin. Strange, yes – but in Iceland, a nation with just 320,000 residents, the likelihood that you are related to any given person is a bit higher than in larger countries. The free ÍslendingaApp, now in the Google Play store, includes data on Icelandic residents dating back more than 1,200 years, so you can double-check to make sure your date isn't a relative.

Sergey's pink Tesla

In April 2013, a Tesla owner posted a photo of a Pepto Bismol-coloured Model S on the forums. "Rumour has it this is Sergey Brin's car, getting a touch-up for April fool's," the poster wrote. The photo showed a Tesla Model S with a Batman logo on the hood, silver eyelashes protruding from the headlights, flames on the side mirrors, zebra-striped seat covers, pink fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror, the Chrome logo on the rims, and Batman wings coming off the back. Joke or not, Brin was later spotted driving the tricked-out electric car (see the picture at the top of this article).

Pressure cooker search monitoring?

In August 2013, the Internet was abuzz after a woman said in a personal blog post that law enforcement showed up at her house after family members searched online for pressure cookers and backpacks. Given that those were the items used to make the bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon, the story seemed to suggest that law enforcement officials were keeping tracking of Internet users' searches and flagging those that popped up suspicious terms. However, it turns out that the details of the case were a little more mundane. In a follow-up post, the woman said that she later found out that the Internet searches that prompted the investigation were conducted by her husband at his old job, on a company machine, and that his boss alerted the authorities.

Bieber in space

In June last year, pop star Justin Bieber announced that he (and his manager) will blast off on one of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceflights – a journey that costs $250,000 (£150,000) per traveller. Not surprisingly, news of Bieber's space outing was met with some virtual eye-rolling on Twitter, with many users asking Branson to leave the teen singer in space. In other weird space news this year, Elon Musk isn't the only one who wants to die on Mars. The Mars One colony project launched its search for astronauts willing to take a one-way trip to Mars.

Space Invader galaxy

In March 2013, NASA published a photo showing a distant galaxy that bears an uncanny resemblance to an alien attacker from the classic arcade game Space Invaders. Alas, the alien-like object seen amidst the Abell 68 cluster of galaxies (some 2 billion light years from Earth) wasn't a Space Invader and didn't even look like one in reality, according to scientists. Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, the image was actually the result of an effect called "gravitational lensing," which acts to create a distortion not unlike what we see when we look through a warped glass lens, according to astronomer Phil Plait.

Apple facilitating porn use

In July of last year, a Tennessee man requested that Apple add a "safe mode" to its Internet-connected products that will prevent users from easily accessing pornography. According to Chris Sevier, who filed the suit against Apple in a Tennessee district court, Cupertino supports "pornography online, explicit sexual content which has led to the proliferation of arousal addiction, sex trafficking, prostitution, and countless numbers of destroyed lives." The 50-page filing, however, was rambling, grammatically incorrect, and generally unhinged.

Sevier is still pursuing the matter, and the latest filing asked that the Apple case be combined with another case he filed – against A&E, President Obama, GLAAD, Hearst, and Disney over the Duck Dynasty controversy. In that case, Sevier claims that the reality show's star, Phil Robertson, "spoke out to limit a bad form of sex in the same way that I am speaking out to limit a bad form of sex in this case."

Dell PC smells like cat pee

For several months last year, a number of Dell users complained of a mysterious cat urine-like smell coming from their Latitude 6430u Ultrabook. But in a statement posted to the Dell forums in October, an employee identified as SteveB said that "Dell has determined that the smell is not at all related to cat urine or any biological contaminate."

Pee-powered battery charger

Dell was not the only pee-related tech story to appear in 2013 (unfortunately). In July, we learned of Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, an expert in harnessing power from unusual sources, using microbial fuel cells (MFCs). He is now experimenting with a process that turns urine into a battery-charging mechanism.

While we're on this subject, in March the Inspiration Mars Foundation team said they were looking into combatting radiation from cosmic rays by having the two-person crew use their own faeces to help block the harmful rays.

Facebook shock

Are you addicted to Facebook? Robert Morris and Dan McDuff, doctoral candidates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, came up with a device called the "Pavlov Poke" to help out those who might otherwise find themselves spending far too much time on "email, social networking, or other online distractions." Those who spend too much time perusing Facebook could get a shock via an Arduino controller attached to the user's computer via USB.

Image Credit: NASA & ESA