Notes on “The Heterogeneous Home”

November 17, 2008

The Heterogeneous Home: Ryan Aipperspach, Ben Hooker, Allison Woodruff

The gist: Homes are becoming too similar. More variety will help us be healthier and happier. We can use technology to provide some variety.

The good: <This space intentionally left blank.>

The bad: The authors don’t provide evidence for anything of their claims and they didn’t do anything.

The abstract of this paper begins,

Due to several recent trends, the domestic environment has become more homogeneous and undifferentiated. Drawing on concepts from environmental psychology, we critique these trends. We propose heterogeneity as a new framework for domestic design, and we present design sketches…

The introduction begins,

A growing number of scholars have noted the increasing homogeneity, or uniform and undifferentiated nature, of the domestic environment. For example, the modern housing landscape has been critiqued as offering limited variation in internal form and structure…

It is remarkable how much information I gleaned from these few sentences. From these alone, I immediately inferred:

  • The paper would be full of needless words. (Yes. E.g.: “Increased homogeneity in the domestic environment plainly offers attractions such as convenience.”)
  • The references list would be short on peer-reviewed journal articles in Ubiquitous Computing and long on books, old material and non-academic fluff. (Yes. By my count 19 of 55 references were peer-reviewed research in Ubicomp. Most of these were “We built something cool” conference submissions)
  • It would be hard to find a contribution to knowledge in the paper. (Yes.)

Just for fun, I quote from the “Approach” section the crux of the method:

“To generate the design sketches, the authors engaged in a collaborative dialog with each other that drew on several resources and perspectives.”

This crucial sentence almost slipped by, buried in a giant paragraph on the third page of the paper. To paraphrase: “We talked about homes and fluffed it into a nine-page conference paper.”

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2 Responses to “Notes on “The Heterogeneous Home””

  1. Ian Says:

    This reminds me of a comment a very sage colleague of mine made many years ago. Paraphrased, if the reward system is flawed, then what is produced will be flawed . At the time, LOC and schedule were the basis for the reward system, so we got lots of crappy code. When the system was revised to focus more on customer, function and testing, LOC decreased, but quality improved. So, be careful what you reward, because that is what will be produced!

    In this case, if producing quantities of papers is rewarded (tenure, conference attendance, etc), and there is no/little measure of the quality, then lots of poor papers will be produced. I only read a small fraction of the papers you read … and then mostly on a fairly focused subject area that is mature. Most of those papers are pretty complete … although I have read the occasional one that left more questions then it answered – mostly because the underlying experiments were flawed/incomplete.

    For conference papers, I some times have to wonder if the presentation made at the conference was more useful then the paper. I have certainly see some poor papers presented well, and some good papers presented poorly too :(.

  2. George Says:

    Worst paper award? I bet there are some REALLY bad papers about ubiquitous computing. Although I will try to find some competitors in other areas. I think you could find some bad distributed systems papers. I will look for the worst machine learning paper possible. Then we can make a “hall of shame” and warn the children not to write papers that suck.


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