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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 Long-distance audio communication pre-telephone looked a little like this, brought to the world by Thomas Edison. What we've looking at here is a fellow positioned between a megaphone and listening devices--used in concert, they... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1387 (from 2011, extended) I'm revisiting this post again as I'm going to send off the book that provided its source, and before it goes, I wanted to make sure of the damning quote found... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2795 Sometimes “surprises” are quick to come to recognition, and sometimes they are slow, and sometimes they do a fast-creep into existence. The following surprise is a combination of the three—it may not have developed... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the Outsider Logic series Aha. Here we have a curious piece of multiple fakery of color combinations presented in blue-and-white. It was written by Col. Dinshah P. Ghadiali in 1930 in support... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The title for the source of this image--"On Crystals Enclosed in Blow-Pipe Beads"--is nearly as lyrical as the image itself, and obscurely residing in The Monthly Microscopical Journal, volume 1, published in London in... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books 1895 was a great big year in science--there were major contributions by Cantor, Poincare, Ramsay, and Perrin, among others, though the biggest of them all was the semi-accidental discovery by Roentgen of X-rays, a monument in... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post It seems to me that comic books have a place, sort of, in my work in the history of science and culture. They were issued and purchased in huge numbers, in the millions and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding on an earlier post from 2011.) The Chiricahuan Apache leader and chief, Geronimo (1829-1909), famously led a progressively diminishing band through the Apache Wars of the 1850's-1880's. For thirty years of so he quirted the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is well outside what I usually write about here, but I could not resist sharing this interesting find. "All Negro Cast Features" is a five-page section in a 150pp film distributor catalog from... Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Even though Churchill was enormously popular in the public mind (well over 80% approval rate in 1945...I guess the question would have been what was up with the remained who disapproved?) the Conservatives and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Vincent Riggio (1878-1960) was a classic rags-to-riches story: Sicilian-born, lower East Side, quit school to work, opened barber shop on 117th, etc., and by 1947 was one of the highest paid execs in the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post To Women Voters1--a short and thin-lipped tearsheet printed by Sir Joseph Causton (viz Midsomer!) of London--was printed in 1918 for the Lloyd George U.K. Coalition Government. (The coalition government of Lloyd George lasted until... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This vision of The Apocalypse doesn't look overwhelmingly apocalpse-y, to me, but the message was put across to the viewer that something bad was happening, what with the hail and brimstone and lightning and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post It seeped into recognition that the photo below is remarkable to my experience for showing an early airplane being pushed through a puddle--marsh, actually--prior to flight, and we can see its progress and its... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Posts I've looked through all of the issues of the very-popular magazine, the Illustrated London News, for the First World War and I think that the image below is one of the most harrowing of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This slightly altered detail is from the central perspective of a photo of workers completing the base for a 10 million cubic foot gas tank1 in Chicago, and appeared in the Scientific American on... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This addition to the Found Art category (sub-cat of the Found-Dadaist thread) comes today from Creations Techniques Francaises ("French Engineering Achievements", 1935), which is a pretty straightforward semi-propagandist/glowy work with two gems tucked inside.... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post So, at first glance, this chart may look like a simple statement of nut and bolts specs. The importance of this chart is its commonplace appearance, and the overt statements about what all of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post The following is section is from mathematician/logician Augustus DeMorgan’s (1806-1871) classic Budget of Paradoxes second edition of 1912). It is a short expository on the plurality of worlds and life on them beyond the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post “Is t he Future War-Ship to be Aeroplane or Balloon?”, is a glorious 2pp (16” x 23”) illustration in the Illustrated London News, published August 31, 1907, and drawn by Harry Grant Dart1 only... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Scemce Books Quick Post “Fishing for the Enemy, Hooked Bombs for Catching Dirigibles”, a drawing by H.W. Koekkoek, in the April 12, 1913 issue of the Illustrated London News. Samuel F. Cody (born Cowdery, adjusting the surname of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a wonderful and short editorial comment from the Scientific American on the possibilities of human flight, coupled with the observed fruitless pursuit of perpetual motion machines. There wasn't much hope expressed in flight,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This fantastic image was found in an 1854 article1 on pre-wireless ship-to-ship audio communication. The point of the article of course was deadly serious: using a steam-driven whistle not only for signalling to other... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here we go: I found this fascinating little table in the article "Diet in England and France" in the Journal of the Franklin Institute for July, 1828. I think that the table displays what... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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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 Mar 18, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books