Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

December, 2000

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

Hi Math Doctors,

I just finished compiling the statistics for December, and they look
like this:

                        Dec   Nov   Oct   Sep   
                        ----  ----  ----  ----
  Questions asked:      5874  8253  9023  8330  
  Questions answered:   2750  3082  2447  1821  
  Percent answered:     46.8  37.3  27.1  21.0  

While it's no surprise that the number of questions dropped around
Christmas, it's a very pleasant surprise that even with a week-long
holiday at the end of the month, we managed to answer more questions
in December than we did in October!

The big question is whether the percentage of questions answered for
the month (46.8) represents an anomaly, or is part of a long-term
trend.  I guess we won't know the answer to that until next month.
But as Alan Kay likes to point out, the best way to predict the future
is to invent it!

Special thanks

As always, thanks go to every doctor who answered even one question
during December.  But I'd like to extend a special thank-you this month
to the following doctors:

  * Drs. Ezra and Pat for averaging one or more answers per day;

  ** Dr. Alicia for averaging two or more answers per day;

  *** Drs. Aileen, Anthony, Douglas, Fenton, Floor, Jaffee, Jerry,
      Mitteldorf, Rick, and Shawn for averaging three or more answers 
      per day;

  ***** Drs. Roy and Schwa for averaging five or more answers 
        per day; and

  **....*** Drs. Greenie, Peterson, Rob, and Robert, who together 
            accounted for nearly a third of the answers that went
            out this month!


In the next few days, I plan to make some small changes to the system
that I hope will significantly improve our ability to get into
extended conversations with students who submit questions.  Briefly,
these changes will make it easier for the office software to connect
followup questions with their original threads, and easier for doctors
to find followups to their own answers.

In the mean time, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage
everyone to check triage for a few days after you've answered any
questions -- even if you don't really have time to answer any new ones
-- to see if you've received any followup questions. 

We may never get to the point where we can answer every question that
comes in, and we try to be up front about that in the automated
message that we send to everyone who submits a question.  But we want
to do everything possible to avoid leaving a student hanging once
we've engaged him in a dialog!

If you find a followup question for another doctor, please mark it
with a memo.  If you see a followup for yourself, please respond to it
before answering any new questions; or if you can't (perhaps because
you don't have time), please use a memo to let other doctors know that
it's open for anyone to respond to.  And if you see an open question
like this, please consider answering it before looking for new

Interns and residents should also get into the habit of checking
triage for followups, instead of going directly to the holding tank.

As I said, I'll be making gradual changes to the software each month.
But as the last few months have shown, we can do an awful lot with the
system we already have just by taking a few extra moments here and
there to look out for each other, and to help each other look out for
the students whose questions we answer.

New arrivals

Welcome to new interns Dr. Eileen, Dr. Kearns, Dr. Masha,
Dr. Michelle, and Dr. Rach.

Also, Dr. Keith has recruited several of his students at the
University of Redlands to answer questions during January as part of a
public service project.  They'll go through the same intern-resident
training program as everyone else, and the hope is that some of them
will stay on permanently once the project has ended.

I'll be setting up some accounts with the usernames Hydrogen, Helium,
Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, and so on for use by these
students.  If anyone else would like to try to set up a similar
program for their students or colleagues, please let me know.

That's all the news for December.  Go forth, be fruitful, and teach
kids to multiply...

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math