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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 The photoelectric cell was a mature invention (appearing in 1883) when it became armed and lethal in 1930. Popular Mechanics published this photo (explained with only a caption and a paragraph) in its July... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Just a very quick entry here on some interesting and arresting images relating to flight, all from the July-December 1930 volume of Popular Mechanics. The first is a full-page illustration for October (1930) showing... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books (The First Entry in the Department of Two Eric/Eriks) My polymathic friend Eric Sacharaow clued me into a wonderful image in the history of motion pictures: an encounter between The Three Stooges and Franklin Roosevelt. It... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books I've found this article by physicist Louis A. Turner to be very helpful over the years. He was an I-was-there guy (and actually an I-am-here guy) who wrote a stuccato article on the history of nuclear... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I found this fine illustration in an 1873 volume of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, a "road locomotive", the first one produced by the firm Aveling & Porter, who, we are told, "had... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Well, this isn't technically "canonical", but it was close to the word "conical" that is in the title to this image, so I went with it. In any event what we are seeing here... Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Hugo Gernsback--(1884-1967) the very busily creative pioneer in science fiction, author, and editor of some of the finest sci fi, pre-sci fi, and pop science journals from the 'teens into the 1940's—though big and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books In the “Spirit of Discovery” section of the British weekly magazine The Mirrour of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction for 22 October 1836 is a short notice on the “physiognotype”, “a machine for taking casts, lately invented... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 3836 I just came upon a very early image of a cowboy, finding it in an unusual publication, American Agriculturalist. It is vacquero in a branding scene, and even though the word "cow boy"/"cowboy" has... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2835 Poland, a Factual Statement that Every American Ought to Read (published by the Polish Information Center, 151 East 67th Street, NYC) sounds like a semi-dry academic pamphlet, waiting to be ignored. But it was... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a good example of the mapping of a non-existent entity: the Kingdom of Fusang, or the Chinese/Fusang people, located in British Columbia/Washington state, appearing in the considerable Philippe Buache's map, Carte des Nouvelles... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2834b Being quite filled up with Bruegel's orderly disaster of death's chaos control, I went to the other end of his work, to the Alpha of his death Omega: Children's Games (1560). It is the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2834a Somehow I was drawn to take a close look at Pieter Bruegel (the elder's) massively complex painting, The Triumph of Death (painted ca 1562), in which people were skeletonized by skeletons, killed in fantastic... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2833 I came to be working in the great and problematic Athanasia Kircher's glorious Mundus Subterraneus..., printed in 1665, which is a compendium of most things scientific though with the heavy flavor of application to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Part of the series on Blank and Missing Things) There's something unusual here about the bibliographic marginalia, the White House library, and the Great Depression. My attention was initially distracted by the design on... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2832 This piece of propaganda from Italy in 1944 made the case for a gangster-like bloodthirsty U.S. Soldier being deployed to an immoral imperialist war in a place of ancient culture and high morals. The... Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2831 History of Lines series Fresh on the heals of a post a few days ago on Athanasius Kircher's great map on ocean currents is this famous 1687 map by Edmund Halley1--it is recognized as... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I used fifteen minutes of my life to collect some of the most outrageous/anti-subtle subtle, non sequitur , and just plain odd pseudonyms used by the great Ambrose Bierce in his long and wide... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2831 This is one of the earliest depictions of what we know today as the Gulf Stream, and it appears one among many wonders in Fr. Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus (1678). The map appears about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2830 One of the most striking news items I found while browsing a volume of the newspaper The Independent1 was on the front page of the very first issue of this volume--a very strong, emotional,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2829 The Manzanar Free Press is a remarkable publication, issued by the “internees” of the Japanese Relocation Center/Concentration Camp, Manzanar, near Lone Pine, California. It was located in a beautiful and desolate-mountainous AnselAdams-scape made of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2825 The great semi-mystifying polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) lived for a long time and filled his life with ideas and words, producing dozens of books during his time on Earth, some of which were never... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is the Union Inland Terminal, a massive Art Deco structure built in 1932, occupying the entire city block on 111 8th-9th Avenue between 15th and 16th. It was the city's biggest building (by... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2824 This is quite the piece of anti-U.S. Propaganda, printed in 1943 and targeted so to speak against the B-17 Flying Fortress. (I'm not sure why this is in French, though no doubt it was... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is the lovely response by the great mathematician J.J. Sylvester to Thomas Huxley's muckety comment on the lack of imagination in the mathematical sciences. Huxley's remarks were made at a meeting of the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2020 at JF Ptak Science Books