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Ask Dr. Math: The Math Doctors' Newsletter

by Ian Underwood

October, 2002


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

Hi Math Doctors,

October is traditionally one of our busiest months.  Compared to last 
month, we received about 20 more questions per day.  However, we answered
questions at about the same rate as last month.

The raw numbers:

                Asked      Ans'd     Pct
            +---------------------------
  August    |   3525       2042      58%
  September |   7052       3541      50%
  October   |   7655       3680      48%

More than 30 math doctors contributed answers in October, with more than
half averaging more than a question per day:

  20/day  |
          |
          | Peterson
          |
          |
  15/day  |
          |
          |
          |
          |
  10/day  |
          |
          |
          | Greenie, Rick
          | Anthony, Fenton, Robert, Mitteldorf
   5/day  |  
          | 
          | Roy, Schwa
          | Achilles, Jeremiah, Paul, Rob, Shawn, Wilkinson 
   1/day  | Floor, Jerry, Nitrogen
          /
   1/wk   | Douglas, Guido, Mike, Pepper, Pete, Ricca, White, Wilson
   
Congratulations to newly tenured Dr. Nitrogen!  And welcome to new
intern Dr. Wigton.  


Updating the Submissions Page
-----------------------------

I'd like to make some changes to the submission page, but before I do I'd like to get your input on a couple of things.   

1. I'd like to add a set of radio buttons that a patient can use 
   to indicate a general category for his question.  I think this
   will address a few goals:
   
   a.  It would, I hope, encourage people to provide more substantive
       subject lines.
              
   b.  It would allow the clinic page to be updated to show (or hide)
       questions in certain categories. 
       
   c.  It would make it easier for us to generate statistics 
       characterizing the kinds of questions that are being 
       asked and answered.  
   
   The categories I have in mind are:
      
     ( ) Arithmetic/Early Math     ( ) Probability/Statistics
     ( ) History/Biography             Calculus
         Algebra                       ( ) Single Variable
         ( ) Basic                     ( ) Multivariate
         ( ) Linear                ( ) Differential Equations
         ( ) Modern                ( ) Analysis
     ( ) Geometry                  ( ) Logic
         ( ) Basic                 
         ( ) Euclidean  
         ( ) Other                 ( ) Real World
     ( ) Trigonometry              (*) Other/Don't Know
          
2. For those who haven't looked at it lately, the submission page 
   contains the following set of instructions, above a single text
   area:

       Write your question below. Tell us how you've tried to answer 
       it yourself. If you're stuck, please let us know where so that 
       we can help you without doing parts you've already figured out.
       
   Occasionally, people actually get past the first sentence!  But 
   not very often.  Which means that in many cases, we have to guess
   what the source of the difficulty might be, something we wouldn't
   have to do if we could get patients to 'articulate their stuckness'
   a little better than they do now. 
   
   So I'd like to try breaking the input up into a few different 
   boxes, e.g.:
   
      Write your question below.  If possible, provide 
      a specific example of a problem that you're having
      trouble solving.  
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      |                                                   |
      /                                                   /
      |                                                   |
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 

      What is it about the question that you find most 
      difficult or confusing?
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      |                                                   |
      /                                                   /
      |                                                   |
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
       
      What steps have you taken to try to answer the 
      question on your own?  
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      |                                                   |
      /                                                   /
      |                                                   |
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 

      What thoughts do you have about what the answer 
      might (or can't) be? 
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      |                                                   |
      /                                                   /
      |                                                   |
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 

      If you tried looking in our archives, where did you 
      browse?  What keywords did you search for?  
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      |                                                   |
      /                                                   /
      |                                                   |
      +---------------------------------------------------+ 
      
                 [ Send your question! ]
      
So here's what I'd like to hear from all y'all:

1. Do you see potential problems with either of these changes?

2. Which categories should (or should not) be included in the
   category menu? 
   
3. Which questions do you think would be most helpful in
   eliciting additional information from patients?
   
4. Is there additional information that would be useful
   (and easy) for patients to provide when submitting 
   questions? 
      
I'm going to try to make the changes in the next week or so, so if you
have suggestions, please try to get them to me as soon as possible.
     
That's it for October!  Go forth, be fruitful, and teach kids to
multiply...

Dr. Ian
Attending Physician
Ask Dr. Math
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