Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

November, 2002

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

Hi Math Doctors,

Numerically, November was nearly a repeat of September:

                Asked      Ans'd     Pct
  August    |   3525       2042      58%
  September |   7052       3541      50%
  October   |   7655       3680      48%
  November  |   7109       3487      49%

More than 35 math doctors contributed answers this month, including:

  20/day  |
          | Peterson
  15/day  |
  10/day  |
          | Robert, Schwa
          | Fenton, Jerry
   5/day  | Rick
          | Anthony, Greenie
          | Roy, Wilkinson
          | Floor, Paul
   1/day  | Achilles, Douglas, Jeremiah, Mike, Mitteldorf,
            Nitrogen, Pete, Shawn, White
   1/wk   | Barrus, Helium, Jubal, Pepper, Rob, Sam, Wigton, Wilson, Tom

Welcome to new Math Doctors Harold and Helium!

Updating the Submissions Page (Part II)

Last month, I described some changes that I wanted to make to the
submissions page in an attempt to elicit more information from the
people who submit questions. 

After reading your suggestions, and consulting with other staff
members at the Math Forum about their experiences with user-specified
categories, I decided to put off having patients try to categorize
their own questions for now.  However, I'll be looking into ways to
make it easy for site administrators (and eventually any tenured math
doctor) to quickly select categories, which might turn out to be
almost as good.

But if you've been in the office in the last few days then you know
that the submission form has been updated to include three separate
text areas, with the following prompts:

  1. Write your question here, with one specific example 
     if appropriate.

  2. Tell us what you find most difficult or confusing 
     about it.

  3. Show us your work or thoughts on this question. 

The information from each box is preceded in the submission with a
corresponding heading:


Of course, there are still patients who just type their questions into
the first box and click the Submit button.  But so far I've been
pleased that so many others have used the second and third boxes to
tell us what they're thinking.  And I find that I'm more inclined to
answer questions where the patient has made extensive use of the extra

The wording of the prompts is still provisional at this point, so if
you have suggestions for improving it, please let me know.  (Keep in
mind that we're trying to keep them as brief as possible, to make them
more readable and less intimidating, especially for younger patients.)

Another change to the submission form is that patients now select
their ages from a drop-down menu, rather than typing (or not typing!)
them into a text field.  The menu breaks ages into the following
categories: 6 or under; individual ages from 7 to 18; 19 to 25; and
25 or over.  As with the wording of the prompts, these categories
should be considered provisional, so comments and suggestions are

For a while now, several of you have been requesting that ages be
included in the triage listings.  As of today, they are.  The
patient's age also appears in the operating room (just below the box
containing the subject line near the top of the page), so you don't
have to go back to the scrub room to find out how old the person
you're writing to is.  

In the triage/clinic listings, I've placed the age as a superscript on
the patient's name.  Of the several different placements that I tried,
this seemed to be the least obtrusive, and easiest to scan.  However,
I'm wide open to suggestions regarding other ways to display it. 

Other changes

I've made two other changes to the operating room, both in response to
suggestions that y'all have made in the past.  

The first was to add, at the very bottom of the page, a listing of the
complete exchange for the current thread.  This means that if you want
to check or copy something from an earlier message, you don't have to
leave the operating room, and you don't have to keep opening
individual messages until you find what you're looking for.

The second was to add a checkbox, 

            [ ] Email a copy to me

just above the 'Send Answer' button.  If you check this box, a copy of
the answer you just wrote will be sent to you via email.  This can be
especially useful for answers that you want to share with other people
outside the office, or for answers that you think you'll want to
re-use between now and the couple of weeks that it normally takes
something to get into the archive.  

And I've made one change to the scrub room.  Now the location (i.e.,
Triage, Post-Op, Holding Tank) of the current thread is displayed
above the thread-tree near the top of the page.  This should be
helpful for determining whether a 'thank you' message has already been
moved to Post-Op. 

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

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math