Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

December, 2001

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

Hi Math Doctors,

Happy New Year!  We certainly finished 2001 with a flourish. 

In December, we received 4890 question (about 157 per day), and were
able to answer 3089 of them (about 99 per day), which comes to a
smidgen over 63 percent!

This is, of course, fabulous, even though the absolute numbers are
relatively small compared to recent months.  There are a several
potential factors that may have contributed to the reduced volume and
the increased percentage:

  1.  The end of the month was an extended holiday period.

  2.  For a few days we were discouraging submissions from patients
      with addresses.  (We've done what we can to fix
      the process from this side; but let me know if you're still
      experiencing problems.) 

  3.  We no longer get spam via email!  Also, it's possible that 
      some patients, unable to submit questions via email, are 
      electing not to use the submission page. 

  4.  Follow-ups are almost always being added to existing threads,
      rather than generating new (separate) threads.  

  5.  Y'all are (or should be!) receiving email notification when
      patients write back, so fewer follow-ups are sitting in triage

  6.  Y'all now have (and have been using) the capability to move
      thank-you messages from triage to post-op after viewing them.

Anyway, on to the chart!  I'd like to thank all 35 of the math doctors
who contributed answers this month, with special thanks going to the

  15/day  |
          | Peterson
  10/day  |
          | Jeremiah, Rob 
   5/day  | Achilles, Jerry, Mitteldorf
          | Tom
          | Anthony, Greenie, Paul, Rick
          | Fenton, Jaffee, Schwa, Tim
   1/day  | Floor, Jubal, Pete, Roy, Shawn, White
   1/wk   | Allan, Ameis, Ann, Douglas, Jody, Jordi, Terrel

Changes to the office

1. By now, many of you realize we've added email notification to the
   office.  When a patient follows up on a thread, email is sent to
   all of the doctors who have contributed answers (and not just
   memos) to the thread.

   The notification contains a URL that you can use to view or respond
   to the new message, e.g.,

   You may, from time to time, wish to bow out of a thread when you
   feel that you have nothing else to contribute, especially when
   other doctors have picked up where you left off.  (Thanks to
   Dr. Jordi for pointing this out.)

   Because the notification also tells you the name of the patient and
   the subject of the thread, e.g.,

     From:    Snidely Whiplash
     Subject: Word problem involving a train

   you can elect to ignore it without having to log into the office to
   see what thread the URL refers to.

   (If you're the only math doctor participating in the thread, you
   may wish to move it to post-op and forget about it.  Or you can
   attach a quick-memo to open it up to the floor.  Feel free to do
   either... or neither.)

   I think this provides a reasonable alternative to setting up a
   mechanism that would allow you to 'opt out' of a particular thread
   when you don't want to know about subsequent activity (or a
   mechanism that would require you to 'opt in' when you do).  But if
   you disagree, please let me know.

2. A second change to the office this month is the addition of a pair
   of buttons in the scrub room, which will let you move the current
   thread to post-op or triage.  The buttons only appear when you're
   looking at a thread in which you've participated.  (Administrators
   see them for all threads.)

   One use for the 'Move to Post-Op' button that I'd like to encourage
   is this: When someone has written to thank you for an answer, use
   the button to move the thread to post-op, rather than leaving it in

   The 'Move to Triage' button is especially useful for those
   occasions where you meant to leave a question in triage when
   answering it (to give other math doctors an opportunity to pile
   on), but forgot to check the appropriate radio button in the
   operating room.  (Thanks to Dr. Jeremiah for suggesting this

Caveat doctor

As I said earlier, I believe that the problem has been
fixed.  However, it's possible that you may still experience
delays after submitting an answer.  If you notice any, please let me
know as soon as possible. 

Also, it appears that now and then, a notification that ought to be
sent, isn't.  So (a) please continue to check triage for follow-ups to
your questions (if you use the clinic interface, your name will appear
in red, making it easy to find; and you can use the search form at the
top of the page to search for them directly); and (b) if you find a
follow-up for which you didn't receive a corresponding email, please
let me know as soon as possible. 

That's all the news for December.  Make the most of the new year, and
go forth, be fruitful, and teach kids to multiply...

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math