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Filling time (and space) December 1, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers.
Tags: ,

I’ve been knee-deep in journal articles covering at least three different topics, all of which are very different in focus. In one of these areas, the papers have been…extremely lackluster. I’ve read 2-3 dozen papers, and I’d say that a handful really having anything new to say.

Without getting too specific, I’ll say that the general area is electrical engineering. The handful of useful papers suggest a new method to dealing with this specific engineering challenge. The remaining papers focus on variations of the original idea to improve the characteristics of the device or miniaturize it without losing performance.

And then there was this other paper.

The authors, I will mention, are non-native English speakers. The paper makes a very bold attempt to use vivid and descriptive language. The words chosen, however, have a slightly different meaning than I believe the authors intended. (It struck me that the author fancied him- or herself a fluent speaker.) Then there are the differences in language structure that make it slightly difficult to read. So simply reading the paper gave me this odd mixture of frustration and amusement. It was like reading a poorly translated version of some literary classic.

Once I did manage to make it through the paper and look at the results, I was horrified. The paper uses a very straightforward solution to the problem that no one else uses. However, the reason no one else uses this solution is because it really does nothing to eliminate the problem.

To use an analogy, you’re trying to get Sally and Danny to sit next to each other. However, when they are that close to each other, they don’t play nice. To get them to play nice, you have to set them a particular distance apart, but then there is no room for everyone else. This is a very difficult problem because, for a practical implementation, you need to decrease the distance between them by two orders of magnitude.

The authors of this paper decided to move Danny over so that the distance between them would be cut in half. So first of all, this is really not much help. They are still too far apart to fit anyone else into the space. Second, in order for Danny and Sally to not bother each other, the authors propose coating the floor between them with napalm and setting it on fire.

So basically, we have really not done much to solve the problem, and we may have made it worse because now we have to figure out how to get some napalm and pour it between them. This makes their solution worse than the original problem, from my perspective.

That’s an hour of my life I will never get back. (Forty-five minutes on the paper and fifteen writing this blog post.)



1. Fluxor - December 1, 2010

I was just wrapping up a blog post on reading a really crappy paper when I read yours.

Coincidence…or a conspiracy?


mareserinitatis - December 1, 2010

It would be even more amusing if it were the same paper…but I seriously doubt that. 🙂


Mike - December 4, 2010

No coincidence, no conspiracy. Just another expression of Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. Of course, he was talking about literature (science fiction in particular). If he had been talking about journal articles, he would have said 99%.

Been reading too much of that junk myself lately…


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