Kinetically Constrained A place to keep the longer thoughts of Doug Ashton.

A physics of society?

Is it possible that we’re not as in control as we think we are? We spend our entire teenage years convincing ourselves that we’re individuals, but when it comes to our collective behaviour is that really true? From governments to economists to red top newspapers, everyone wants to understand why society is how it is. Physicists are no exception. I recently finished reading Critical Mass by Philip Ball. Philip Ball is a chemist come physicist come science writer. From reading his book he sounds like a physicist at heart, perhaps I’m biased. The book is enormous and contains many of the things I’d like to write about here.

Critical Point

I’m finally getting around to sharing what, for me, is the most beautiful piece of physics we have yet stumbled upon. This is the physics of the critical point. It doesn’t involve enormous particle accelerators and it’s introduction can border on the mundane. Once the consequences of critical behaviour are understood it becomes truly awe inspiring. First, to get everyone on the same page, I must start with the mundane - please stick with it, there’s a really cool movie at the bottom… Most people are quite familiar with the standard types of phase transition. Water freezes to ice, boils to water vapour and so on.


I’ve been meaning to post something interesting about stat-mech about once a fortnight and so far I’m not doing so well. For today I thought I’d share my perspective on entropy. If you ask the (educated) person in the street what entropy is they might say something like “it’s a measure of disorder”. This is not a bad description, although it’s not exactly how I think about it. As a statistical mechanition I tend to think of entropy in a slightly different way to say, my Dad. He’s an engineer and as such he thinks of entropy more in terms of the second law of thermodynamics.

Mac vs. PC vs. Linux

When I started my new job I was given the option of having an iMac instead of the standard issue Linux PC. They’re really nice looking machines and I’d seen the impressive iSight in action so I went for it. I’m a seasoned windows user (from home), Linux user (from the PhD) and after a month getting all my work up and running on the mac I’d say I’m approaching blanket coverage of the major operating systems. Most importantly I’m now in a position to tell those people who get on their high horse about their particular OS to shut up.

Glass in the New York Times

When people think of physics they tend to think of particle accelerators, string theory, E=mc² and so on, so when I tell them I’m studying glass they always look a little disappointed. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we got a New York Times article from a guy called Kenneth Chang so we’re all quite pleased about it. I had written a long post about it but I ended up just repeating what’s in the article, so I’ve decided to list some main points and provide a few extra links. He managed to give a good sense as to how much debate there is in the field.

First Post

Welcome to my new blog. I haven’t quite worked out what to do with it yet but I think it’s good to have a blog, the internet’s already full of useless crap so this isn’t going to make it any worse. Right now I’m writing my thesis so I doubt I’ll be putting much on here but when I do I suspect it’ll mainly be based on the two things: physicsy stuff and statistics stuff. The former should be mainly positive (things I think are really interesting) and the latter will be mostly negative (ranting about stats-abuse). I guess we’ll see how it goes.