Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

August, 2002

To: All Dr. Math Doctors
From: Ian Underwood 
Subject: Ask Dr. Math in August

Hi Math Doctors,

Summer is over!  During the first week of September, we're already
averaging more than twice as many questions per day as we received
during August.

During August, we received 3525 questions (117/day), of which we
answered 2042 (68/day, or about 58%).  About 30 math doctors
contributed, including the following:

  15/day  |
          | Peterson
  10/day  |
          | Greenie
          | Rick
   5/day  | Anthony, Jerry
          | Fenton, Tom
          | Roy
          | Douglas, Paul
   1/day  | Jaime, Jeremiah, Nitrogen, White, Wilkinson
   1/wk   | Achilles, Aileen, Floor, Jaffee, Mike, Pat, Pete, Rob

Rating the Ratings

Recently, a feature was added to the office to allow y'all to indicate
when a particular question seems especially worth answering ('thumbs
up'), or not worth wasting time on ('thumbs down').

It's too early to draw any conclusions yet, but I think it's
interesting that 57 percent of the questions marked as worthwhile
ended up being answered, compared to 72 percent of the questions
marked as unanswerable!  (Of course, 2/3 of the questions in the
latter category were answered by the administrative staff, which is
more or less what I expected to happen.)

Anyway, if you have comments about this feature - whether you'd like
to see it improved or removed - please let me know.  I mentioned that
the number of questions coming in has doubled since the beginning of
the school year.  So has the number of answers going out!  It's
starting to seem as though a 60% answer rate is some kind of
theoretical maximum, and we'd like to understand (1) whether that's
really the case, and (2) if so, why. 


From time to time, we get questions from students who have been
instructed to do projects or papers on particular numbers, e.g.,
"What's special about the number 73?"

Often these questions are simply ignored; occasionally they receive
answers questioning the value of the assignment.

But it turns out that there is a resource to which you can refer these
students:  Numberland!  The URL is

The site contains entries for the numbers from 1 to 100.  You don't
need to copy the URL down, because I've included it in the FAQ/Link
menu that appears in the scrub and operating rooms.  

I'll close with the following thank-you, which concluded one of the
threads in post-op this month:

  P.S. - Thanks for giving me the formula and helping me understand
  the formula, but making me do the work to arrive at the answer.
  This is the true definition of helping people.  I run into so many
  people who just want the answer (not to this but other things) and
  get mad at me because I give them the information to help them learn
  how to arrive at something instead of just giving them the answer.
  My feelings about that have always been just giving someone the
  answer doesn't help them but giving them the information that helps
  them arrive at the answer empowers them.  You have truly empowered
  me because I not only have the answer I want for this problem but I
  know how to arrive at the answer if I'm ever confronted with a
  similar problem in the future.  Thanks again.

That's it for August!  Go forth, be fruitful, and teach kids to

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math