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John F. Ptak
From 1985-2003 I operated a bricks-and-mortar bookstore dedicated to the history of science. The stores were located primarily in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., with a short excursion to Old Town Alexandria, Va., and a warehouse in Silver Spring Maryland. The store's website has been in operation in one form or another since 1998, and it is now the principle venue for business. The blog associated with the online store is pretty mature at this point, with about 1.5 million words and thousands of posts, for good or ill.
Interests: art, math, history of science and technology; connections between/among physics, literature; the found-surreal; outsider art and logic; discrete ephemera.
Recent Activity
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The fire-proof home was not much seen as a topic (so far as I can tell) in the early 20th century when Frank Lloyd Wright wrote about his proposal for one in the Ladies... Continue reading
Posted 9 hours ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I have opened dozens of thousands of pamphlets over the years, and usually the only thing that happens is that the pamphlet opens. On very rare occasions, something will fall out. Today, that happened... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post What caught my eye in this piece of data visualization were “bomber” types and the date (1937). First of the seven aircraft six are bombers—the German Junkers JU 52 was a transport aircraft. The... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The Panama Railroad was flat-out more costly in the terms of human lives than any railroad ever built in the Americas. Probably anywhere in the world, at any time, mile-for-mile. From 1851 until it... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2751 By the title, Ce qu'ill faut savoir en territoire occupe1 (“what you need to know in the occupied territories”) we see that this short/small and rather plain pamphlet is an outline of expected behavior... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2750 "Blapo" A provocative article appeared in the somewhat obscure magazine Illustrated World suggesting a gigantic apparatus for signalling to possible observing beings on Mars. John B. Flowers, author of "Signaling to the Planets with... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post A short article (with a smaller photo illustration) on a very big topic appeared in Illustrated World in June 1921. The photo showed a remarkable plane constructed by aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni (1886-1957)--three planes,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I stumbled upon this, a fine notice on a matter of fact that was somewhat obscured, then and now--that the surrogate chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge was Emily Warren Roebling, the wife of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I haven't seen too much in the venerable journal Nature (begun in 1869), though I did not the following two papers written1 in 1883. In the second paper there is a discussion of various... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding on an earlier post) Blog Bookstore I wonder what is was like to be a traveling salesman hauling around hundred-pound barrels of pig bristles? We don’t really find out the answer to that question in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post 1876/7 were pretty good years for science and technology (though a poor one for U.S. presidential elections): there was the telephone, cathode rays (Eugen Goldstein), John Draper's photography of the solar spectrum, Berliner's microphone,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I don't have that much to say about the series of images that I found in the 5 December 1908 issue of Scientific American--except for "Wow!" Sometimes that is about all I can manage,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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[This is an expansion of an earlier post on Herzog.] In 1982 Werner Herzog, in what may have been the culmination of a weirdly fashioned and irresistible death-wish effort, released a film that he wrote and directed: Fitzcarraldo. It is... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I've been mostly on a sabbatical this summer. The blog will return to its normal output of 20-40 posts per month by September. This is fantastic artwork is for the cover of the pamphlet... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2749 The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy1 (1855-1931) in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Western Hemisphere. The Christian Socialist Baptist Minister Bellamy started the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2748 Neige Russe is a straightforward-looking and scarce1 little pamphlet, though the cover photo is really quite provocative. No publisher, year, or place of publication is mentioned, though it is almost certainly 19422--and as a... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This was a big gulp of a very colorful possible futureworld in which intergalactic travel has become possible, this image of this model being given an advanced peek prior to the New York World's... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post What Ho! The pamphlet, Figures on Immigration, presents the reader with info necessary for the continuation of “desirable” immigration. Published by the National Liberal Immigration League (150 Nassau St., NYC), the League exclaims immigration... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2747 Grazing through old scholarly journals is never a completed task—the more you have to bring to the adventure, the more you will take away from it. This is probably a general truth, though it... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2746 I just came upon this fine word, which for a moment challenged my probably under-corrected vision, and saw that it contained three consecutive f consonants! On a Saturday, cranky with a fever and stiff(f)... Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2745 Another piece of great serendipity fell from the sky, again this week, this time on the idea of the history of childhood--more accurately, it is on the history of kindness extended to children. The... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post In the history of aircraft, there's big, really big, and then Hughes H-4 ("Spruce Goose") big. Then there's the ocean-going aircraft below, found on p. 529 in the 1936 volume of Popular Mechanics. The... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Jules Jaeger proposed this mammoth project for bridging the English Channel: a double-jetting/bridge structure with a 1000'-wide channel between the two. Claire Price wrote a story on the idea for the New York Times... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's is an interesting bit of data display, showing the distribution of animal life in torrid, temperate, and frigid zones. It is relatively small, 4x4" or so, and is found in James Orton's Comparative... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found--or bumped into--the following short note in Nature (September 5, 1878) . At first glance it has a flat-earthy/Nazis-on-the-dark-side-of-the-Moon quality to it, or at least to me it did. It is a very... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books