Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

October, 2001

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

Hi Math Doctors,

We missed about a week at the beginning of October while we migrated
the Math Forum site to our new servers.  However, during the period
from 10/7 to 10/31, we received 6549 questions, and sent out 3293
answers (an average of more than 130 per day)... which is to say, we
answered 50.2% of the questions that came in!

And that was during a school month.  Awesome job, y'all!

Thanks to all 36 of the math doctors who contributed answers this
month, with special thanks going to the following:

  35/day  | Sarah
  30/day  | 
  25/day  | 
  20/day  | Peterson
  15/day  |
  10/day  |
          | Rob
          | Greenie
          | Tom
   5/day  | Douglas, Jeremiah
          | Anthony, Fenton, Mitteldorf, Roy
          | Jodi, Paul, Rick, Schwa
          | Achilles, Floor, Jerry
   1/day  | Code, Jubal, Pete, White
   1/wk   | Aileen, Ann, Budrow, Jackpo, Jaffee, Luis, Terrel

Dr. Sarah is about to rejoin the Math Forum staff full-time.  That's
good news for the other Math Forum services, but bad news for Ask
Dr. Math, since she won't be free to respond to anywhere near the
number of questions she's been fielding over the last few months.  I
hope that we can find some way to fill the void that she'll be

This month we welcome new math doctors Amy and Meeron, and offer our
congratulations to newly tenured Dr. Jubal.

Problems of the Week

Submissions to the Problems of the Week (PoW's) are intentionally
being held to lower volumes than in the past while we search for ways
to make them more cost-efficient.  However, they are still operating,
and some students still try to get Dr. Math to do their work for them!

The Clinic and Triage pages contain links to a page (which is updated
each Monday) containing a one- or two-sentence summary of each problem
for which submissions are still being accepted.  If you see that a
student has submitted a PoW question, there are a couple of ways that
you might respond:

  -- Point out that the PoW mentors are there to help students work
     their way towards solutions to these problems, and suggest that
     the student submit his or her best shot at a solution to the PoW
     office.  (A canned answer has been added to let you do this

  -- Try to provide a gentle hint that can start the student on the
     path to a solution, without taking him or her too far along that
     path.  (The PoW administrators don't like it when we give 
     students too much help!)

If you decide not to respond, please mark the thread (a quick-memo for
this purpose has been added to the drop-down list) to let the other
math doctors know that it's a PoW question, in case they haven't
checked the most recent problem summaries.

Other changes to the Office

I tend to type the same handful of greeting and closing sentences over
and over again.  On any given occasion, it doesn't take very
long... but over the course of dozens (or hundreds) of answers, it
adds up!  

In keeping with the theme of saving hours by shaving seconds, the
office now allows you to specify a default greeting and a default
closing.  You can create or change these at any time by visiting the
admin page (the same place you go to to change your password or other
information).  If you specify a greeting or closing, it will be added
automatically in the operating room.

In my case, I've specified a few different closings.  The office
includes them all, and I delete the ones that aren't applicable.

Changes to the Clinic

For those of you who haven't been using the Clinic interface, you
might want to give it another try.  It has a few new features:

  1. The listing specification form has been rearranged to make
     it more readable. 

  2. The 'checkmark' feature is now supported.  When you are looking
     at a thread in the scrub room, you have the option of marking it
     as interesting to you.  (You can also unmark a thread that you've
     previously marked.)

     While a thread is marked, the index of the thread in any clinic
     listing will be displayed in red.  In addition, you can generate
     a listing of _only_ those items that you've marked, instead of
     hunting for them in larger listings. 

     I use this feature to track questions whose answers I would like
     to see, as well as answers I've written that I think I may want
     to re-use in the immediate future.  I'm sure other math doctors
     will find other uses for it.  
  3. A second form has been added to allow you to search the office. 
     The search results appear in a separate window, so you don't have
     to lose your place in the current listing. 

     The search index is regenerated each night, so it should be
     fairly current.  If something doesn't turn up, you should be able
     to find it near the top of a post-op listing. 

     Currently, the office search returns items dating all the way
     back to the creation of the service, in more or less
     chronological order.  Sometimes this is just what you want; other
     times, it can be a little overwhelming. 

     Consequently, two changes I plan to make in the very near future
     are to (1) sort the results from newest to oldest, rather than
     oldest to newest; and (2) narrow the search to include only
     answers that you've written.

  4. Some doctors had noticed that, when looking at an 'Any Source'
     listing, it was impossible to distinguish among threads in
     triage, post-op, or the holding tank.  The listings now include
     the flags '[t]', '[p]', and '[h]' just before the thread number
     to indicate the location of each thread. 

That's all the news for October.  Thanks again for making this such a
memorable month!  Go forth, be fruitful, and teach kids to multiply...

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math