## Archive for May, 2009

### Thyroid storm

May 31, 2009

For some reason, while most medical terms are consistently baffling, polysyllabic and scary, now and then there’s one that just screams “Reclaim me as a heavy metal band name!”

I’m just noting this one case so that later, when I brainstorm the archives for “band name”, Thyroid Storm will pop up — because someone like me who likes to write stories has to occasionally refer to many made-up things, and both fictious and cool band names aren’t that easy.

The earlier “cool made-up bands, I think” cache goes as follows: Sodomite, Intersphincteric Groove (performs as Hilton’s White Line when in Prudetown), Reckoned Without Naked Mole Rats (from the Selfish Gene), Homocoprophagia (death metal; album art censored) and Stotting. I guess the last plays folk music by the sound of it, but the rest are rockers. (If really troubled for a name, I could hark back to the time I misread Revolting Cocks as Revolving Cocks — that was not an image I wanted in my head, and now it’s in yours. Enjoy!)

And of course mentioning fictious bands with medical name origins I cannot pass the fact that there’s a new CD from Spinal Tap this summer, “Back from the Dead”. And it begins with “give me reincarnation… or give me death!”

This is a very good news.

(And for Thyroid Storm you have to blame the only medical show I watch, House, specifically ep. 3/14, “Insensitive”.)

### Random thoughts on fan fiction

May 31, 2009

Happened to type the words “tolkien fanfiction” to a Google box today; was rather shocked to see the number of results. I had thought Tolkien was impenetrable because of the sheer number of things that are “fixed” one way or the other; but apparently there is plenty.

Not that that is news to me — many, many, many long years ago I came across two lengthy Tolkien fanfics, and read one of them: it was, I think, about Isildur and the lost men of Dunharrow.

Now, fan fiction — and you note this is the third spelling for the word I’ve used in so many paragraphs — is not alien to me. A slightly lesser amount of years ago (the spring of 2003, I think) I fell in love with manga, Japanese comics, and the first and strongest object of that love was Rumiko Takahashi’s comedy-drama Ranma 1/2. And, as I was more net-savvy by then, I found there was plenty of net-buzz about the by then concluded series, and plenty of fan continuations, complications and reboots.

Some of these were silly, some serious, some heart-wrenching. My stash of things scraped from the net then comes to some 50 megabytes of pure text, a fifth or so of which I actually read (that is still, in colloquial terms, “an enormous shitload of stuff”), and so much of it was so good and went in so surprising directions, to moods and problems so different from the original, and so impossible in it, and to imaginations so deft and true — less like playing children and more like Gaiman’s Beowulf — that I haven’t been able to just dismiss fanfiction (like some do) ever since. Some was inexpertly written, or had nothing original, or just plonked; but enough was more than good enough. Some was better than some stuff I’ve seen published, though that’s the faint praise thing, right? Publication is no sure test of quality, and there are fields where (as in fanfic for legal reasons) “official” publication is neither the aim nor an option.

I even wrote a few pieces of my own — of these, the less is said, the better — before being swept along to other titles and horizons new. (Though for a couple of years my “need to stop worrying and get to sleep now” exercise was to start doing an intracranial simulation of resolving all the relationship problems in the series as originally imagined in some kind of a new happiness-maximizing way — I inevitably escaped to dreamland somewhere around “So, starting with Ranma-chan plus Happosai, who do I have left for Kodachi?”)

Finally, rather deep in the “Things that should not be” territory, there was that piece where I tried to fuse the Lord of the Rings and Ranma into one unified tale: basically the first told with the characters of the second. The results tended towards comedy. I think Ranma ended up mapped to Aragorn, and Tatewaki Kuno to Frodo. This, “naturally”, meant Soun as Elrond, Akane as Arwen, Ukyo as Legolas, Happosai as Gandalf, and after that, things got really strange. (Also, “Kodachi Sackville-Baggins”?)

Now, while this concluding item isn’t very far-fetched for Ranma, given its certain essential plot elements, it was something that, when I once by pure accident (I swear!) came across a Tolkien-based example of it, shocked me much more than the volume of Tolkien fanfiction I just discovered: erotic fanfiction. (Basically, Middle-Earth Gone Wild!)

You don’t want no details; I am not going to give you none; okay?

PS. There’s one spot I recently noticed where Tolkien is very nicely open for fan fiction to flesh out a certain obscure spot — what company did Saruman have when he settled in Isengard? Surely the Steward of Gondor wouldn’t give such a fortress to just one lone man, no matter how powerful — and just as likely his companions couldn’t have been orcs or half-orcs, and given the recent Dunlending trouble in Rohan (Wulf, Helm and all that), probably not people of that land either. Who were his companions — men of Gondor? men of Rohan? — and what happened to them and their descendants when the White Wizard became that of Many Colors?

PPS. And if you expected me to opine on other facets of fanfic — well, I think that while the names and likenesses belong to the original author, it would be immense prick-ness and ofermod for the author to go screaming and stopping anything short of someone trying to make money out of their creations or going around claiming them as his own from the very origin — and I think sans printing expenses there isn’t much that breaks the first, and even that is rare, and there’s none that I know of that goes for the second.

### Three things I can do without

May 31, 2009
1. Bicycling in winter, hitting a patch of bright ice; wheels go whirwhirwhir and the bicycler goes “Waah!” and “Crash!”
2. Bicycling up a steep hill; then a pedal breaks off, and the driver breaks off his grunt of surprise by contacting the asphalt.
3. Bicycling anywhere at all; then the handlebar goes snap; that snap is next to nothing compared to the snap in the biker’s head as he realizes the painful combination of descent and lithobraking that is to follow.

Number two happened today. Grrr.

Well, the bicycle took no other damage and I only bloodied a knee; and a broken-off pedal is a cheap and quick thing to replace, once I get to… the Bicycle Repairman! (This does not exaggerate my admiration of his skills.)

(I’ve expounded on all I know about bicycling in a Finnish city, and about bicycling generally, before — it took 29 bullet-points — and also hymned about this heirloom bike of mine.)

### Pitfalls for the Hobbit movie

May 30, 2009

Was reading Rateliff’s History of the Hobbit; and this is my excuse for this Hobbit-movie-speculation repost (scroll down a bit) from the days before we knew Guillermo del Toro would be directing — so this has nothing to do with him, and everything with the way Hollywood mangles things.

Because reading Rateliff’s History — a history of the surviving drafts and early versions of the book, that is; a delightful set — has made me, again and again, think that the book has so many glorious little bits that could so easily end up cast away, much like the Golden Compass movie that had all the big parts, and nothing else, and as a result was a dismal, rushing thing. (Then again, there’s space in a two-movie set-up, and the writers are no novices.)

Because if I don’t get to see Thorin quaking and calling Bilbo “a descendant of rats”, I will be most unhappy. If I don’t get Smaug conversing with Bilbo, full of power, insight and malice, no mere dumb roaring thing —

“I  don’t know if it has occurred to you that, even if you could steal the gold bit by bit — a matter of a  hundred years  or so — you could not get it very far? Not much use on the mountain-side? Not much use in the forest? Bless me! Had you never thought of the catch? A fourteenth share, I suppose, or  something like it, those were the terms, eh? But what about delivery? What about cartage? What about armed guards and tolls?” And Smaug laughed aloud.

— if I don’t get Beorn, doubtful and dangerous, and the dwarves, overcome by greed, and the other little bits of subtlety and gray, I shall be unhappy. (Yeah, big frickin’ deal and all. And I could very well do without the Rivendell choir of silly elves.)

Then again, in Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings movies I disliked a lot of the changes and decisions: I loathed Denethor’s exaggerated lunacy, and his ridiculous end; I disliked the changes to Faramir and the drama at Mount Doom; I frowned at the action-movie gymnastics in Moria and Aragorn’s mystical connections and wolf acrobatics, and all the showy flash, bang, clash and glitter: but over all these gripes I loved the movies, and love them still. (And I understand everyone doesn’t agree with me when I say the especially enjoyable parts of the books include the whole Council of Elrond — not all people are as patient as I, and a thousand-page book is much less likely than a four-hour movie to make your buttocks bleed.)

* * *

An office somewhere in Hollywood. A director’s phone rings; it is his lord, the dread studio executive, calling.

Executive: Hiya! I’m calling about this new Hoggit —

Director: Hobbit?

Executive: — Hobbit film of ours. It’s a prequel to those previous three megahits, right?

Director: Uh, yes.

Executive: Excellent. Love the idea, by the way. Grand concept, grand concept. Maybe we could expand it into a prequel trilogy, huh? Just asking. Now, what people really want to see are the previous heroes coming back.

Director: Well, the film’s got Bilbo, and Gandalf —

Executive: Gandalf. Splendid. Everyone loves wizards. But we need more. How about a young Frodo? That’s maximum appeal, pure maximum appeal. Put Frodo in. And we need that, uh, that pointy eared guy —

Director: Legolas?

Executive: — yep, him too. And put that funny short guy in too.

Director: Well, I suppose I could write Legolas in into the Mirkwood scenes; he’s a son of the Elvenking and all, and Gimli — the short guy — could make an appearance after the Battle of Five Armies —

Executive: Super! But there’s one really serious lack in here, you know. We’re really worried about that. No movie works without it.

Director: We’ve got a dragon…

Executive: Splendid! No movie works without a fricking big dragon either! But what you really need is a romantic subplot.

Director: What?

Executive: Hear me out. A spunky hobbit maiden decides to follow this, um, this Bilbo — couldn’t we change that to Frodo? — whom she is secretly in love with. Bilbo — I’ll just call him Frodo for now — Frodo doesn’t approve, so she’s sneaky, and pretends to be one of the, uh, short — short — one of the dwarfs. Then she’s exposed, and Frodo tells her to go back, but she won’t. And she saves his life!

Director: Uh —

Executive: And this whole stuff with spiders has to be cut. It’s been done already, and it’s too scary. Couldn’t you put the ringwraiths in there? And this big eye guy?

Director: Well, Dol Guldur —

Executive: Bravo! And we need a tagline — here’s one — “Love was stronger than a dragon.” Super, right?

Director: Ahm, —

Executive: Just listen! We have a stable of talented young writers ready to create at least twenty-seven interquels in book form for this — ‘the Further Adventures of Young Frodo’ we call them. A trilogy of trilogies of trilogies. And, by the way, drop the eagles. Much too corny. Put in some gnomes with flying machines. And make this big hairy guy a full bear, all the time — talking bears are in. And Elrond needs to be evil. And Gandalf doesn’t go away gallivanting on his own. And what’s Frodo doing, being knocked out during the deci-fricking-sive battle? We need Frodo out there, battling the Orc King, alone, for the rule of all Middle-Earth! When at the very last moment this… this dwarf whatsit jumps in and takes the bullet… Orcs have guns, right? …for Frodo! Tragedy and victory! Except he can’t really die.

Director: Well —

Executive: And this fellow Bard needs to be cut. A totally extraneous character. Make Frodo shoot the arrow instead. And put a prophecy in there somewhere. “Not by the hand of man will he fall; only by the hand of a halfling.” Better still, make Candy shoot the arrow.

Director: W— who?

Executive: Candy, the spunky hobbit maiden. And a good thing that you mentioned names. Any chance that we can use those, you know, traditional seven dwarf names? Are they copyrighted or something? Find that out. If nothing else, we’ll have to call them Dwarf Two, Dwarf Three and so on — make it into a running gag — people can’t memorize so many names.

Director: The fana—

Executive: Wait! I have it! You have Frodo, Candy, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and four dwarves. Then you can make a running gag out of Frodo saying that “It would be better to have hobbits instead” — hilarious, a little bow to those folks that have seen the original trilogy. A little nod to the fans. And we think that the name’s very important.

Director: Um, we can lose the “There and back again” if —

Executive: No, that’s not the problem. Brand recognition. People have to immediately notice that this is the same ring-hauling stuff as the Original Trilogy. We’re thinking like: “The Lord of the Rings Saga Prequel Trilogy: Episode One: The Return of the Hobbit: Or There And Back Again”! That’s something!

Director: Uh —

Executive: Don’t worry. It’s original. Legal legerdemain. We just add a little bit of Star Wars parody and we’re covered. No trouble. But all the drinking and smoking has to go; can’t have that in a kid-friendly movie. And we’re a bit worried about the big battle at the end; what about if we make Gandalf conjure up the sun, so they all turn to stone! That’s huge! And it’s foreshadowed by those three big Danish guys —

Director: Trolls.

Executive: — Danish guys turning to stone! Abso-bulously-lutely superhuge! One more thing: the riddles.

Director: Oh yes, the Gollum —

Executive: The riddles have to go. Fabu-solutely-lously supercorny. Have Frodo and Gollum fight over a pit of lava — nice foreshadowing, what? — and just when Frodo’s about to lose, Candy finds the ring, puts it on, and shoots lighting out of her fingers and zaps Gollum straight into the lava! I can hear the standing fricking ovations already! Then they kiss; supatastic! That’d be the end of the first movie —

Director: Um —

Executive: — the second one would end with Frodo and Candy sneaking out to kill the dragon alone — you know, original derring-do, while the dwarfs are kidnapped by a bunch of evil orcs. In the third part we’d have Frodo duelling the dragon over the flaming pits of the Lonely Volcano — protected only by the force field of the ring! — until Candy comes and shoots the dragon! And reveals that the dragon was Bilbo, bewitched by the big eye guy, all along! Think of the cheers! Bilbo swears revenge, Frodo and Candy get married, and then everyone lives happily ever after! Super! Call me when you’d got these little changes worked in; it was nice talking to you! Bye!

The call ends; the Director sighs and has a brief vision of irate fans doing unspeakable things to his carcass with trowels, corkscrews and mathoms.

### Tama Angrous

May 30, 2009

Some people jog; others dance; still others buy hamburger, make cute little three-dimensional animals out of it and leave them saran-wrapped on the porches of their co-workers.

Me, well, my pass-times are a little weirder. Probably because of an early childhood bout of Tolkienitis, I tend to now and then fall to sketching imaginary worlds: a map, a few names, rising and falling kingdoms and empires, flags, battles and successions, exotics and old familiar things, all that.

And, of course, annals, like the following gloomy excerpt where my immense irritation about one specific storytelling cliche bursts out, bursts out like a self-confident starry-eyed youth with a Destiny, taking up the lead when his superiors fall, and charging to victory showing that thirty years of experience apparently aren’t that big a thing, really.

* * *

Year 1899 of Falyon Founding: The Shimondan Free Kingdom splits from the Great Union.

The only battle during this split was that of Deep Well — a relatively minor clash between the Free Kingdom militia and a heavily armoured unit of Tionite Knights. The latter were ambushed but their superior, better-trained and better-armed numbers might have won the battle despite the early loss of most of their leading officers, had not ”fate” intervened. That fate was the combination of a consumptive but charismatic young woman and a self-confident young cadet — and most surprisingly for all those that read tales, these two were on the Tionite side.

Tama Angrous, the young cadet, with only a few weeks of training under his belt, stepped up and took command, and the shocked and momentarily leaderless Tionites obeyed. Ganina, the ”prophet woman” (actually a questionable companion of one of the officers fallen early during the battle), took a spear and charged alone at the foe, and half the Knights charged after her. The rest were swerved away by Angrous on a risky flanking maneouver. Ganina’s attack failed to break the Free Kingdom lines but held them in place, giving Angrous’s men time — time that they wasted trying to first ride over a treacherous bog (many were thrown; some sunk into the swamp under the weight of their armor and drowned), and then leading their horses, losing much time and exhausting themselves (the heavy cavalry armor again): when their flanking move was done, they were in no condition to fight, and stopped to rest.

Meanwhile Ganina’s part of the Tionite Knights was driven back and torn to pieces; when Ganina and her ad hoc bodyguard were surrounded by the enemy, she cried out in a great voice, and like a fool Tama Angrous came, leading his sore and unfit-to-fight Knights to slaughter against a flank long warned of their approach, and well armed with spears and stakes. Ganina was struck down and taken prisoner; Tama Angrous swooned out of either despair or heat and was likewise taken.

The defeat of their better-trained and numerically superior force was such a shock that Tionites hesitated, and by the time they had divined the full causes of their defeat, the Free Kingdom was too strong to be toppled without a major war they were unwilling and possibly unable to start. The Free Kingdom leaders were kind to their two prisoners, knowing full well they couldn’t do them any worse than they had already done to themselves. As a ”gesture of goodwill” they were returned to the Tionite Knights a year later, when the threat of war had passed. Tama Angrous was court-martialled and sentenced to death, but escaped before the sentence was carried out. Ganina was very eager to testify against the young cadet, no doubt wishing to save her own skin. Thus it no doubt was a great shock to her that after Angrous’s escape the next court-martial was hers; she did not escape, and was hanged.

An unconfirmed tale (memoirs of a Korite ship captain published in 1950) tells that Tama Angrous took the name Taman Shinos (recorded as living 1882–1917) and tried to enlist in the War Navy of Kor; failing this, he became a bouncer in a Kor waterfront bar, retired from that job after being blinded by a drunken sailor, and spent his final years as a basketmaker somewhere in the city’s Poor Artisans’ District. If this tale is to be believed, he was happy in these two vocations: the first, where no-one followed his commands without backbiting and authority-questioning, and the second where he had no followers at all, and no chance of harming anyone at all. Reputedly he died sad, but at peace with the world and himself.

* * *

All I can say is this is a marginally better way to spend your free time than kicking old ladies with steel-toed boots. (Because some people say old ladies with steel-toed boots are aliens in disguise. Okay, one person says that. Maybe. Okay, no-one has said it.)

Well, a nice pass-time, unless you let the silly little thing get to your head. Whipping up lies, no matter how artistic, entertaining and self-consistent, is a little thing compared to the study of reality — but it’s entertainment for yourself even if for no-one else. And, since I began with a mention of Tolkien, let me say that the construction of a whole world, not just a lazy photocopy of ours but something big, a bit alien, pretty complex, and somehow realistic and consistent within its own subtly different rules (“How come 4000 years passed without a single bit of technological or social innovation?” should be the most common consistency question in fantasy), is a game like no other.

### Zero Zen

May 29, 2009

Ah, the Zen things a mathematician sees. This is for today:

a non-zero zero

This is less insane than it sounds like, as in maths a zero is, in addition to the number (0), a name for any point x in which a function gets the value zero: 2 is a zero of the function $f(x) = x-2$.

That’s a non-zero zero, while to that function zero is not a zero.

Oy vey.

And this has been a yet another part of my attempts to explain Tom Lehrer’s comment of “Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore: How they got that way?”

Maybe this will help:

### “Silly?”

May 28, 2009

I’ve heard it said Manowar is silly and overblown. I of course don’t agree, and I can show you why.

Silliness and overblown-ness are human perceptions, not some natural facts. Thunder is real; blood is real; whether something is seen as “silly” is just an accident of culture. It is not something you can gouge a bit out of and measure; it’s a crowd opinion, a bovine prejudice, and more inside the heads of those calling it than in the thing itself.

A thousand years ago there was nothing “silly” in men singing of war, blood, struggle and death. Look at Beowulf. That was no Miley Cyrus; that was Manowar. Three centuries ago there was nothing silly in the bombastic music of Bach: and that was no Kris Allen; that was Manowar. The music is the same: it is the people that have grown fat, sluggish and cynical, labeling as “adolescent” all things not petty enough for them to understand.

And what part of Manowar is silly then, exactly? Extolling the archaic virtues of bravery, loyalty and going down with your teeth (or his) in your enemy’s throat, maybe? Not singing soft and timid songs of pretty nothings, perhaps?

Or maybe the “silliness” is playing half-naked and leather-clad, playing with all your heart and mind, playing instead of play-acting, instead of slinking to the stage like these “serious” musicians do: scruffily dressed mewling bunches of millionaire soft-rocker shills with no guts, no passion and no love of their crowd, but with a Pepsi sponsorship sticker where their hearts used to be!

If what Manowar does is silliness, it is still a million times less so than reality television or some American Idolatry, a travesty of people back-stabbing and degrading themselves for nothing but fleeting fame and empty lucre, grinning plastic smiles as their hearts fail, as even more ridiculous and petty weather-vane ghouls obsess over their personal minutiae and wallow in their sordid little scandals before moving on to the next hopeful carcass to feed.

If Manowar is silly and American Idol serious, then the problem is in the society, not in the Gods of War.

And here’s Loki, God of Fire.

(And if you defend metal, you do it to eleven. It was Bill Hicks who said it the best: “I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!“)

### Books where people are killed

May 28, 2009

I have a confession to make: I own books where people are killed.

Not real people, of course — no, just made-up secret agents and innocent bystanders and terrorists: the usual thriller casualties of dan-browns and robert-ludlums.

Surely this makes no difference, though.

Clearly such works are wrong — they cannot be excused because of any literary, artistic, political or scientific value (hah!), and murder is illegal. It’s an abomination. Have you seen how trigger-happy the people in some of these filthy tomes are? Bang, bang, people are dropping left and right, often in gruesomely contrived ways, all for the sick titillation of the reader!

Why, I could probably claim this… this smut increases the likelihood of me going postal; who knows, I might even be right in some statistical sense. For me this just seems a silly puppet show, and maybe a chance of letting off some steam: but maybe thrillers increase the chance of me wrestling someone to the ground and sticking an icicle in his eye — because I certainly sympathized with the villain of the Day of the Jackal more than with the heroes (heck, I can’t even remember them) — how’s that? I’m a perverted would-be head of state assassin aficionado! I heard on Wikipedia the man who killed Yitzhak Rabin, plus one that wanted to kill the Great White Bush, had read the book — what more evindence do you need for the malign potency of such evil works no-one but the degenerate and deviant would ever find any pleasure in!?

In addition to this, in such books even the “heroes” engage in manifold other illegal and distasteful acts in addition to murder — theft, trespassing, vandalism, and so on. And most of these books certainly have, I repeat, no artistic value whatsoever. They’re just filthy titillation!

Away with them! To the bonfires, friends of decency! Allow these perverts hide among us no more, hide like they were actually human! They’re murderers! Murder-enablers! Death-lovers! Evil, evil subhuman scum people!

Evil!

Given that I am irrevocably stained and mutilated by exposure to this filth, maybe I should turn myself in to the pol —

Oh, wait. That would be silly.

Apparently getting off on exciting make-believe violence, theft and trespassing is somehow different from that one suite of things that would, too, be illegal if done to real people: all kinds of distasteful pieces of sex and sexuality. And while no-one objects to Dan Brown wasting a few people to titillate his readers, and (almost) no-one thinks the Saw movies should really be illegal for being such murder porn, just draw a naked minor, and —

Well, Boing Boing has a horror story of prudish overreaction Gone Mad!, involving an American collector of Japanese comics; and Neil Gaiman says all that needs to be said in answer to that. Read what Neil says; I agree with it all.

Curious how many people are willing to defend the rights of imaginary people when there are so many real ones in need of help; I always though the wrong and sick part in murder (and other crimes I don’t find appealing either) was that there was a real person being hurt… but apparently some people don’t see things that way.

### For your viewing pleasure

May 28, 2009

I hereby note the following web-comics are exceedingly worthy of your patronage:

And I don’t really need to mention xkcd, do I? Because if you are the sort of person that can understand it (math-science-computer geek), you almost certainly have heard about it already.

Also, I’ve been toying with the idea of taking a second WordPress blog, that one with the Monotone theme designed for photo-blogging, and making it into “an irregular webcomic” of my own — I reckon I have at the very least 200 pieces like the following here and there around, half of them unscanned. Not that I could approach the wit or the regularity of those above (much less the audience — but just amusing myself would be reward enough for all this that I do), but due to my monkey nature I can’t see anything beautiful without thinking “maybe I should try doing that myself”.

Insert gross Pygmalion joke here.

### Working Mathematicians’ International Olympiad and Games?

May 27, 2009

There’s such a thing as an International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). It’s for children, though — well, children and children — since you must be under 20 to enter. (Years, not inches.)

Now, why isn’t there a similar thing for adults? And don’t tell me doing actual mathematical research is that, since in research you don’t often have a lot of people pitted against each other in a bitter timed and graded contest, each working on the exactly same and already well-documented problems.

What the world clearly needs — as a PR vehicle for maths if not for anything else — is a big-spectacle Working Mathematicians’ International Olympiad and Games.

The sports could include things like Tricksy Integration, Proof By Tricks Beyond the Undergrads, “Trivial or False?”, Pi Memorization, Six-Digit Integer Speed Factoring (with or without paper), Blackboard Ballet, Handout Out-Handing Gymnastics, Pronunciation of French Mathematicians’ Names, Smooth Anecdote Insertion, Duplex Copies, Soporific Audience-Baiting (held before nine in the morning), Hide the Faux Formula, and Coffee Drinking (speed, endurance and underwater).

Me, I would immediately join the Finnish Bad Bad Bad Math Jokes team. (“What’s purple and commutes?” — “An Abelian grape.” — “Aaand Finland takes the lead with three facepalms and a groan!”)

My suggestion is this: every country in the world takes 10% off its regular Olympics budget and puts the money into this. I think holding the first Mathematolympics in, say, Helsinki in 2011, is quite doable. (I would suggest Hawaii, but one has to suggest a place one can reasonably get funding to get to.)

Or rather the doability depends on how long it takes to mock up rigorous definitions and rules for the sports, because for a mathematician rules are all, and if the rules allow participating naked in the slim hopes of getting more points from that female judge, or with a faucet in your neck for the endurance coffee, well, that’s what a mathematician will do.

And sooner or later there would be something like a doping scandal: “No wonder he’s so fast! He’s approximating!