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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 Here's a scamperingly light post: an ad for Pears' soap making a very curious and probably intentional incorrect claim. Of course it is just an ad, and it is just soap, but it is... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2706 Raymond Pearl brought to the readers of Science in 1938 what seems to be the first scientific study1 on the effects of smoking tobacco on longevity, announcing that “smoking of tobacco was statistically associated... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2705 Why did Dr. Frankenstein create a male and not a female being? I guess it would be easy to slip into a rolling piece of guesswork as to why the good doctor took on... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I noticed a couple of peculiar flourishes in this work-a-day illustration from the 26 January 1878 issue of the venerable Scientific American. It is a simple image of an "Australian Model School" in North... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I set out to see when the first mention of "Einstein" occurs in the Physical Review to vaguely see how he was presented in what was even then in its first few decades of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a wonderful book that I found while looking for another "Hazen" (the 1930's servo-mechanism guy), one of a series of books that have appeared over the centuries that I've seen here and there,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is certainly a successful design in describing fear and possibility for the near future and the security (or lack of it) for France. Nothing quite conveys temporal disruption than a consolidated mass of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post A while ago--well, more than just a "while"--I bought a large non-collection of pamphlets from the Library of Congress. In this mass of material, all housed in 2000 blue document boxes that somehow managed... Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post There is a longish thread on this blog about Blank, Empty, and Missing Things: faces, ethics, beginnings, ends, causes, effects, insight, wisdom, clouds, blood, smoke, rain, depth, height, and so on. There are also... Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post There is a longish thread through this blog collecting images of The Earth Doomed--that, and the Exploding Earth, or Cracking Earth, or the Earth spinning into infinity; they are joined by other Odd Earth... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Here's a simple list I made using a search tool on the American Physical Society site showing the frequency of the appearances of the words "relativity" and "quantum" in the titles and abstracts of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post "We appreciate time by events alone. For this reason we define time (somewhat improperly) as the succession of events; but the fact itself — that events are our sole means of appreciating time —... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2804 The first six months of 1933 were extraordinary, and the progress and decline of civilization could be followed very closely by reading the January-June volume of the great political and arts magazine, The Nation.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post This is a follow-up to a post from yesterday about the transcendental/mystical science found in Edgar Allan Poe's last work, Eureka. Today I was looking at one of his great "Marginalia" pieces that appeared... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Before I recognized the importance of this book I was attracted to its endless title, which always seems to be truncated when looking for a version to cut-and paste: The House Servant's Directory, or... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post (Part of the History of Lines series) This part of tonight's entertainment comes from the unlikely source: The Highway, Street and Airport Manual, Equipment, Methods, Materials (1943), published by Public Works Magazine, and shares... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2803 I heard about Edgar Allan Poe's “prose poem”, Eureka, an Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe (1848) , and its mystical relationships to scientific bits and bobs, but not much more than that.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post In the long-developing series on Found Art (categorized here under "Absurdist, Unintentional", a header that certainly needs changing) is today's entry: two designs in the unintentional abstract, like a sort of colorless color school... Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2802 While pacing through a volume of Technical World for December 1911 I found an interesting paper on what the world of the future--in 1950--held for the average person in 1911. Introduction “Wait! Every ten... Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2803 (Reference Tools Post) Now HERE'S a wonderful and referenced and deep look at the history and future of electronics, and one that I believe is very overlooked. The article has the slightly opaque title... Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post It seems to me as though I've encountered other very unflattering introductions of the less-privileged to new inventions like the telephone along the lines of the following racist/Imperialist story. It isn't very pretty, but... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Ah, the mechanics of curving a baseball as found in the summery summertime pages of Scientific American, August 18, 1877, page 100. The author, an "H.C.", admits that they might not be correct, but... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post I happened upon these lovely technical drawings --in plan and cross section--of the newly-patented Holophane Globe. The inventors and coiners of the Holophane were French scientist Andre Bondel and the Turkish Spiridion Psaroudak who... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Post 2801 Among the earliest and lengthiest mentions of the newly-announced Daguerre invention of photography in the U.S. was "Pencil of Nature—A New Discovery" that appeared 13 April 1839 in the Corsair: A Gazette of Literature,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books
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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post It has been a while since I've added a post to the History of Lines series, but today I've found a good one: a graphical display of the limited comings-and-goings of the cable tram... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2019 at JF Ptak Science Books