Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the hotness points are only displayed in a few places, such as the hot questions on StackExchange. This is insufficient feedback for people to grasp what hotness really means. If we insist on displaying an arbitrary "hotness" number on the hot questions list, I think that we should increase the visibility of that hotness by displaying it on every question next to information such as asked, viewed, and active (on the right side of the screen). Seeing the hotness of each question—and how it changes in real time—may help people to develop an intuitive sense of what it means.
I also find it strange that hotness points are not displayed under the hot tabs on Stack Overflow and Meta SO, especially considering the following comment from Cody Gray.
[...] if we didn't display [hotness points], we'd get just as many
people wondering how [the questions] were sorted and why they
apparently appeared in random order. Then we'd have to explain that
there were actually "hotness points", and they were used to sort the
questions in the list. People would just look at us like we were crazy
and quickly try to forget about the Meta site altogether.
If that's the case, I don't see any reason why the hot questions on Stack Overflow aren't accompanied by hotness points, as well.