Do not adjust your monitor -- all this really did happen in 2003

Technology might make our lives easier, but it's also good for a yuck or two. Or 10. Actually, the list of the most bizarre tech-related stories of 2003 could be a longer and more convoluted mess than Mr. and Mrs. Liza Minelli's divorce papers. But we've culled 10 that stand out.

10. Even 'Steven' had a Dell of a year

"Dude, what's in the bag?" "Dude, you're gettin' a cell." "Dude, you're goin' to jail." When the Dell dude gets busted buying marijuana, it's open season for the punslingers and their deluge of dude digs. Benjamin Curtis, who played "Steven," the ditzy and ubiquitous Dell pitchman, was arrested earlier this year in New York for having a baggie of illicit flora. Even more shocking -- he was wearing a kilt when he was arrested. Since then, a judge has agreed to clean Curtis' record, as long as he behaves himself for a year. And Curtis' career as Dell's spokesslacker? It's pretty much gone to pot -- a "dude" awakening if you will.

9. Gulp! Widget whacks Web in 'greatest innovation' poll

It's nice to see that in this age where information and communication matter so much, they're light, flat and tepid compared with a decent can of suds. Readers of U.K. tech site www.T3.co.uk were asked, "What's the greatest technological invention since 1963?" The winner? The widget, a capsule that releases nitrogen into canned beer and gives it the kind of foam you'd see on a pint in the pub. Nearly half of 8,921 respondents to the T3 poll said "cheers" to the widget. Nothing else even came close -- not e-mail, the cell phone or the PC. The Web came in a distant second, with 13% of the vote.

8. 'Bullfighter' sticks it to corporate bull

So many words, so little meaning. Terms like "incentivize" and "extensible repository" belong on the sole of your shoe, not in your vocabulary. Enter the jargonslayer. Or, in this case, the "Bullfighter." Deloitte Consulting rolled out this software program, which takes business bull by the horns and helps writers of business documents steer clear of corporate drivel. Offending "words" like "commoditize" are red-flagged by this digital matador and replaced with more intelligible verbiage, like "sell." Hey, that sounds an awful lot like English! Deloitte officials said that firms with something to hide (like Enron) tend to ride the bull hard. The most hated word among Deloitte employees? "Leverage." Ole!

7. Hormel: Where's the love?

"Spam" is the four-letter word of the Internet age -- you probably grit your teeth and use additional four-letter words when you delete it. But did you ever stop to think about Hormel's feelings? The company that put flesh on the bones of the canned-meat market is sick of the fact that its product's "mmm mmm" good name is synonymous with the carrion of cyberspace. Why does the bad taste you get from killing junk e-mails taste like Spam? Now Hormel is doing something about it, playing the trademark card and taking one company, Spam Arrest LLC of Seattle, to court over its use of the "Spam" name. Maybe we should all call junk e-mail something else -- like New Coke, McDLT, Gatorade gum or something else that's been put in the pantry of history.

6. Warning: This music may be too baroque for small children

From Hormel we go to Handel. You might have thought Apple Computer Inc. flew off the Handel when its iTunes Music Store put classical composer George Frideric Handel in the same category as 2 Live Crew, Eminem and Marilyn Manson -- the "explicit" category. Yep, Handel's famous "Messiah," written nearly 250 years before Tipper Gore tangled with Twisted Sister over bad words, came with a parental warning. Maybe Apple thought it was a little too baroque for young ears. The company did eventually get a grip and removed the red-warning label a few hours later. Hallelujah. They blamed a technical glitch.

5. Cyberspace hears a Who -- but why?

You think that The Lord of the Rings movies are geeky? The BBC's Internet division (BBCi) will see your Twin Towers and raise you a Matrix. The BBCi has put the Godfather of Geek on its Web site and made available for download an animated version of Dr. Who. The longest-running sci-fi program ever, Dr. Who aired from 1963 until 1989, and it will return to the small screen in 2005. The Web version is the BBC's way of keeping all the "Dr. Whooligans" happy until then. The episode is called "The Scream of the Shalka." And if I have to watch it, the Shalka won't be the only one screaming.

4. Can you hear me now? Eww!

Of all the weird stories this year, this news gem ranks as one of the most, um, rank. A New York man was on a suburban train when he went to the loo to make a private phone call. He would have been better off if he'd just answered nature's call and gone back to his seat. But he didn't -- he dropped the phone into the toilet. At that point, he should have realized that he'd made a sacrifice to the porcelain (or, in this case, aluminum) god, and just walked away. But if people will answer their mobiles during a movie, there's got to be at least one person out there who will fish his phone out of a public toilet bowl. And this was the guy. When his arm got stuck in the hole of the bowl, rescuers had to use the "jaws of life" to free him, which required shutting down the track during rush hour. Last we heard, the guy's phone was still somewhere in the bowels of the train's septic tank -- right next to his dignity. At least he got to keep the arm.

3. Dead wrong -- CNN a little too quick with the dead

Rumors of several deaths were greatly exaggerated, thanks to CNN.com. Anyone who works for a major news outlet will tell you that they have prepackaged obituaries ready to go in case a celebrity dies. The idea is to hold the obits until the person actually dies. But CNN.com made public a bunch of design pages for the obits of several public figures, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. That's the kind of snafu that would make Wolf Blitzer turn over in his grave -- if he weren't still alive. CNN says the obituary pages were never posted among the news items on the site.

2. Beyond heaven and cell

Morbid? Yes. Drop dead bizarre? Oh heck yes. A family in Belgium freaked out when they heard a cell phone ring. You would have, too, if said ring had come from the closed coffin of your recently deceased loved one. Someone who evidently hadn't heard the bad news unwittingly called a corpse -- while the family was gathered around the casket. The sound of the cell phone shrieking from inside the coffin scared the wits out of the mourners; several of them bolted out the door in hysterics. Now they're calling the undertaker -– calling him on the carpet. They want charges filed against him for not removing the phone from the dead man's pockets.

1. Microsoft on a roll

This story just wiped the competition away. If you've ever wondered just how soft Microsoft is, the answer could be hanging from a bar in your bathroom. This year, about 3 million pages of shredded documents from an old scrap between Microsoft and Caldera International (now SCO Group) were sent off to a pulp mill. These reams will be reincarnated as toilet paper. So at least in one market, the software behemoth from Redmond, Wash., will definitely hit bottom.

No scientific polling models of any kind were harmed -- or used -- in the making of this list. It is based purely on the author's depth of disbelief and dread of a deadline.

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