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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 This is one of the many small articles that appear in major sci/tech/engineering journals in the 19th century that are absolutely so filled with human spirit that it fills your heart with hope for... Continue reading
Posted 15 hours ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I was working on this 1885 pamphlet1 on petroleum in Wyoming territory, and was stopped by the cover illustration. As you can see, the cover shows a teepee (which would be about right seeing... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post There's very little detail of the aircraft in general, though like a lot of free-thinkers the artist has imagined plenty of life being lived in the interior of the plane's wings, where all of... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post William Lockyer experimented with photography and lightning to test an explanation of the apparent appearance of "dark lightning"--it is an interesting go and a great phrase that sounds like the name of a Marvel... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I've not made a study of this, but it seems to me that of the industrial-related pamphlets and manufacturer catalogs and such that I have here the majority of their covers show as big/heavy/bulky.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Yes, this is a great cover, and it belongs to the designers for the National Fire Protection Association, who I guess were trying to, um, emphasize the terrible nature of The Big Fire in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found these lovely illustrations in a grade-school books by Edwin James Houston, The Elements of Physical Geography, for the Use of Schools, Academies, and Colleges, printed in 1892. The first two images are... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post What a great running title this is: "The Earth a vast bombshell"! It appears in a section on earthquakes and volcanoes in a popular series by Dionysius Lardner's The Museum of Science and Art... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post George J. Romanes1, “Sense of Humour and Reason in Animals” (from Nature, volume 12, 1875, p 66) [With a few added annotations] "IN the recently published edition of the Descent of Man there is... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Right at the start here I'd like to say I know nothing about the Chicago subway system--I would however like to share this little gem on it that I just found. The pamphlet looks... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2794 Here's another example of a book that I catalogued for the books-for-sale section of this blog that may be of some interest to general readers: the first weather map printed in the U.S. (1838).... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The butt of an old tag-line for a gullible person convinced of something that could be easily disproved was something along the lines of "...and if you believe THAT I have a bridge to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Okay, so I really don't have any idea of what might be the earliest use of a telephone with a dog--I mean, who does? However I do have some long experience in looking at... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I've written here before about the early incursion of technology into the spheres of human creativity and imagination. Now, some of those bits have stretched the idea a little, but when people (or Our... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a very interesting engineering and building feat: placing the foundations for a new building to replace an older one while the older one was still (1) standing and (2) in use. The recipient... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post If you ever had any interest—known and unknown—in reading about very impressive amounts of corruption and its constituents in the coroner’s office for NYC 104 years ago, here’s your chance to satisfy it. I’ve... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's an interesting twist on electricity and the telegraph, but not quite what you'd expect. The note, written by "Moderator", appeared in Mechanics' Magazine for 15 June 1825 (volume iv, p 148). Since this... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (From the series on "Naming Things") I'm returning to this post (from ten years and 4300 posts ago) on the question of "where is the West?" because I thought I had stumbled upon a very early... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I'm having a little fun with the Google Ngram viewer--you can too! (https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=&year_start=2000&year_end=2012&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=) which if you look for the most recent date will default to 2008 and has a limit of 12 variables. I'll... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Part of the series on the History of Holes) There could have been many dozens of posts in this sub category--many. There are posts dedicated to B-17 belly gunners, sappers tunneling under trenches, workers... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This October issue of Popular Mechanics 1922 is robust! Here's another attractive piece of design with loads of character and one central question: "why?" The image is that of a giant aeroplane capable of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This diagram reminds me of an enormous and mega-completed versions of the imaginary Joey the Juices' "Stop 'n Go Inn 'n Out" motel down on the nice part of Rt. 1. This exploded version... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2792 For various obscure and unknown reasons I rarely share a post from the books-for-sale section of this blog here in the "readerly" part. Today is an exception, mainly because I can't quite hammer down... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is part of a report of the Bridgeport Brass Company for 1943 detailing the company's activities in the war effort. This was apart from the general war products industry, and included what the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found this arresting map in a tiny publication called ...Sans Condition, which was published in the first half of 1943. The publication is only 12 pages long but has a number of evocative... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books