MySci Round-Up, August 25: Dex-Mania!

blog post photo
On this day in 1910, pre-digital office technology and information management pioneer 
Arnold Neustadter, who popularized the Rolodex, was born in Brooklyn. (He also invented the Swivodex and the Clipodex, but you don’t hear too much about those.) As a young man, Neustadter briefly joined his father’s box manufacturing business, before striking out on his own as an inventor and starting his own manufacturing company, American Zephyr. Neustadter had two passions. One was eliminating time-wasting, inefficient fumbling around for information, which people did a lot of in the early 20th Century. The other passion was giving his creations names with a “dex” (apparently, short for index, though some of his inventions had nothing do to with indexing) at the end.

Neustadter’s first big brainstorm was a spring-mounted personal phone directory, the Autodex, that retrieved all the phone numbers whose owners’ names began with whatever letter of the alphabet you pressed. He and his employees also created the Swivodex, an unspillable inkwell, the Punchodex, a paper hole-punching device, and the Clipodex, basically a fancy name for a clipboard that attached to a stenographer’s knee when he or she was summoned to the boss’s office to take a letter.

In 1940s and 1950s, Neustadter and his chief designer, a Danish-born, self-taught engineer named Hildaur Neilson, set out to make the retrieval of contact information by business people as efficient as possible. (The Autodex, after all, would only pull up all the people whose names began with a certain letter, not a specific person.) Instead of storing the data in a book, they got the inspiration of having it rotate around an axle. Their first simple version was a circular card holder called the Wheeldex, but Neilson eventually added a second circular rail, plastic handles for easy turning, and a clutch. The result, which American Zephyr marketed as a Rolodex, quickly became the standard tool for secretaries and executives in the “Mad Men” era. As the New York Times noted in Neustadter’s 1996 obituary, the Rolodex “quickly made its way into offices around the country, ultimately reaching the status of a cultural icon.

Drought, high winds cause bizarre fiery tornado in Brazil. You have to see this video. It’s weirder than anything Hollywood computer-generated f/x wizards have come up with.

Your urine someday could power your mobile phone—or maybe even your car. 
Researchers say vast quantities of hydrogen fuel can be cheaply produced from the world’s pee. We’re totally serious.

A new species of microbe is consuming Gulf oil spill, scientists say. 
Remember that alarming report by the Woods Hole researchers, who calculated that the oil plume from the BP spill could not have disappeared as fast as the U.S. government says it did? Well, yet another study, 
by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has found that the plume did in fact disappear, because it was gobbled up by a previously unknown species of bacteria, which massively multiplied and chowed down on the hydrocarbons. So there.

High-ranking Hyena mothers give their sons a privileged upbringing, researchers discover. 
The gold-card shopping sprees at Neiman-Marcus are a bit too much, though.

Manipulating pain-control cells in the brain causes them to shut down. This is disappointing news for researchers who’d hoped to find a targeted neurochemical treatment for pain relief.

New study indicates that working out makes you want to eat less. Exercise apparently helps the body feel less hungry, slowing overeating.