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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 Just a quick note about this fine and explicative image: it is a lithograph in color from Gustavus Ragn Schlyter's Monumenta Antiquitatis, printed by Junkopings Lithografica in 1876. It is rather large (19"x14") and... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Albert Robida, a fabulous visionary born in France in 1848 (dying in 1926) was an illustrator, etcher, lithographer, caricaturist, and novelist. His greatest achievement is his futuristic trilogy, including Le Vingtième Siècle (1883), La Guerre au... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I was working on a paper by H.C.Corben on time dilation ("Time Dilation Effects in Space Travel" 1959) and the clock paradox and thought about just time moving backwards, in whole or in part,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (A small but useful part of the History of Blank and Empty Things series) This wide expanse of white and unmodified map space exhibits the more-or-less total absence of daily (or weekly) newspapers in... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a fine and somewhat misleading representation of the U.S. Congressional war allocation of 1918 for what was then the staggering figure of $18,000,000,000 (or about $387 billion in 2020 according to the BLS),... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Liggett & Myers, the producer of Chesterfield cigarettes, sounds the triumphal blast of "the greatest cigarette improvement in thirty years" in this LIFE magazine ad from 1953. It was all made possible by SCIENCE... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Tonight I found a wonderful little biology pamphlet sandwich between two other very thin pamphlets—Free Our Political Prisoners, by the League for the Amnesty of Political Prisoners, ca. 1920, and A Grammar of the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's another of my Quiet-Likes in cover design of pamphlets: simple representations of industrial/factory scenes with smoke and windows! This example is the cover of For a Better Tomorrow, published by the State Labor... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's another very striking cover for a pamphlet embracing once-radical semi-socialist pseud-Commie agendas that are today a de rigueur part of our social existence. This is a pro-Union, pro-educational work presented by the International... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall post 5101) I think that there are several dozen aircraft cutaway and cross section aviation schematics on this website, and tonight's main entry is for the British (Hawker) Hurricane (predominantly by Hawker Aircraft... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2905 Breezing through a volume of Popular Mechanic for 1942 I came across an article on refitting the French ocean liner, the Normandie. The only thing I knew about her was that the ship was... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (Older post #2248 from July 2014 expanded) [Image source: Joshua Robinson, "A Machine Before its Time", Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2010. See below.] Somewhat Zelig-like, Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907) is a sort of shadowy Oxford-educated... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Here's another in this developing and fun series in the What-is-It? category. At first it reminded me of Renaissance woodcuts of various stages of creation anointed by a coy hand of the creator. This one though... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is just a small and short post about an unusual bit/bob from the White House. William Howard Taft to me was Mr. In-Between: he was the president between Roosevelt and Wilson, and he... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's another happy and unexpected find, this coming from one of my very-early-on scientific heroes, Hermann von Helmholtz. The two papers1 in question (French translations that appeared in 1850 and 1851 about a year... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This little pamphlet packed a lot of bitter bilious hope into its small-framed four pages. The Committee of 1,000,000 was the work of the past-and-present pastor Gerald L.K.Smith, a rabid far-rightist who seemed to... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found the following while strolling through a volume of teh Edinburgh Review for 1811. The ER was an excellent "magazine, with much in common with the New York Review of Books and The... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found this fantastic cross-section of the Harper & Brothers publishing house in Jacob Abbott's The Harper Establishment, or, How the Story Books are Made, published of course and thankfully by Harper in 1855,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is just a very quick post based on a book that I'm trying to sell over on the bookstore end of this blog--the images are arresting and interesting, and I at least wanted... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here we go: I unearthed a beautiful if not a very good solution to the traffic congestion problems in 1939 Los Angeles. It is a rare, self-published work of what seems to have received... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Another great example of the artistic display of information using alternative comparison, and this just hours after finding/writing about another example in this area. This morning's find uses several different types of comparisons, the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Well. The Scientific American (1913) delivered quite a blow against the current "craze" of spiritualisms and seances, which they characterize as a mixture of "self-deception and knavery". They had no room for it whatsoever,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I've made a dozen (or two?) posts on this website on measuring things with other thigs. And by that I mean instead referring to something in terms of measurement units like miles or tons... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2904 J.B. S. Haldane (1892-1964, scientist/philosopher/veteran/Communist) contributed a provocative little one-hour read warfare and morality, making a case for the use of chemical weapons during war. I thought that this might be a Modest Proposal... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2903 As is often the case in looking through the early-ish issue of Scientific American, I usually find much more than what I was originally looking for, finding a lot that I had no idea... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books