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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 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
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2743 Only months into the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison (at Menlo Park in December of 1877 and patented in January 1878) Alexander J. Ellis reviewed a version of it constructed in London... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2742 WIlliam Spottiswoode (1825-1883), an English mathematician and physicist, president of the Royal Society from 1878 to 1883, and of the British (Science) Association in 1878 as well, wrote a very appreciable piece on the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2741 “Atomic Bomb” appeared in print for the first time thirty years before there was one. It appeared in H.G. Wells' The World Set Free, written in 1913 and published in 1914, evidently before the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2740 The other day former CIA director John Brennan (2013-2017) dug up the word kakistocracy from its dirt nap to describe the Trump government. I had never heard of the word before, and so went... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here are a few things I learned from a ten-minute graze through a pamphlet1 describing the conditions and circumstances of the almshouses facilities on Randall's Island (NYC) in 1876. Randall's Island was pretty far... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The great Woo-woo (a blanket term used by James Randi to describe all manner of fake and fraud) of astrologers picking moist bits out of an imagined future during WWII proved to be of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's another bit of graphic design, a very aggressive cover from 1932 for Krieg in China! by Ernst Schneller1. Schneller--a long-time KPD member--wrote this short work as an expose on the "war" and in... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2018 at JF Ptak Science Books