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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 Overall Post 5124 This is a fine and understanding obituary of Charles Babbage--it appeared in Nature on 9 November 1871, just two weeks after the death of the Great Man on 20 October, and... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall Post 5123) Science heavyweight and Nature editor and founder J. Norman Lockyer wrote in 18971 a three-page summary of the recent experimental work of aviation pioneer Percy Pilcher. Mr. Pilcher (1866-1899) was rather... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post --Overall Post 5122 (Part of the History of Lines series) John McKendrick had a long scientific career, with a lot of very widely-spaced interests on which he wrote well and often. What caught my... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Overall Post 5121 Here's probably an obscure bit on the coming of a very large change in journalism and the dispersion of information: a short announcement of the use of the electric telegraph in... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Overall Post 5120 I found a short article on human flight ("Flying Machines") in the fourth volume of Scientific American (1848). It is an interesting and occasionally predictive piece that saw a bit into... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (reprint series) Overall Post #5119 Youth of Czechoslovakia1 was a Czech-in-exile response to the situation in the country as it stood in 1943. The situation of course was critical, and the compiler of the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall post 5119) I thought it would be interesting to share this engraving of a portable electric light apparatus. This does come very early in the modern (post 1850) sense of "electric light", but,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall Post 5118) "The water of those wellis sprynge vp with grete bobles."--W. Caxton tr. Myrrour of Worlde ii. xxi. sig. h4 OED Rummaging again through the eminently-rummagable early years of Nature1 I found... Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall Post 5117) I found an interesting article in Nature1 just now, a piece by Carl Runge on 19th century heavier-than-air human flight by the remarkable Otto Lilienthal. Lilienthal was an international authority on... Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2021 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2907 (Overall Post 5116) Years ago I wrote short post here on the influence of eyesight and modern art, something along the lines of Impressionism owing itself to artists with poor/uncorrected vision. It was along... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall Post 5115) I found an interesting article by Francis Galton in an 1884 issue of Nature magazine, the polymath addressing a device called "the Identiscope", which sounds a bit like Victorian facial recognition.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Overall Post 5114) “Euery Cloud engenders not a Storme.”--Shakespeare, Henry VI, Pt. 3 (1623) v. iii. 10 “Vapour, previously unseen, makes its appearance as cloud, or mist, or fog.”--T. H. Huxley Physiogr. (ed. 2)... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2906 (Overall post 5113) Mr. Burns, the terminally-alive money monster from The Simpsons, evidently gets it right when he answers his telephone with the phrase "ahoy ahoy". It seems to me that was the established... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books (Really) Quick Post I was writing a bit on the C.G. Foster paper on Fizeau's experiments on Newton's Rings, found in an early volume of the great journal Nature (volume 2, June 9, 1870) In tidying... Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The Future of Nuclear Science, Princeton University Bicentennial Series, Series I Conference I (1946), with a forward by the director of the conference, E.P Wigner, is mostly just a short (36-page) introduction to the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Overall Post 5111 Part of the series A History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things Concevons qu’on ait dressé un million de singes à frapper au hasard sur les touches d’une machine à écrire … [translation:... Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2906 (Overall post 5110) In the past of the past of the Thinking Machine, back when Alan Turing was only 15, the prodigious and fabulous Frank R. Paul was creating this image (left) of such... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (An episode in the series on the History of Anticipation.) This ad appeared only 66 years ago in 1954--that's four generations in dog years, two human generations (or one for the more later-in-life crew, which is... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is one of the few remnants that I have of a larger collection of surrender and various sorts of propaganda leaflets dropped on the Wehrmacht and Germany in general in the last two... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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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 Nov 23, 2020 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