Money for Nothing, Chicks for Free

I was reading about contests between mathematicians in the 16th Century. Specifically, I was reading about a public problem-solving contest in 1535 where Antonio Maria Fiore challenged NiccolಠTartaglia to solve 30 problems (each devised the problems to be solved by the other contestant) within 40-50 days. Tartaglia solved all 30 problems in two hours while Fiore was never able to solve any of the problems he had been given. Fiore had posed all cubic equations to be solved by Tartaglia since Fiore knew how to solve these, but was certain that no one else (at that time in history) had found the general formula to solve such problems. Tartaglia had independently discovered this general formula eight days before the contest commenced.

Why don't we have things like that nowadays?

This idea came to me from reading The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved by Mario Livio. You may be asking yourself, why would mathemeticians engage in such contests, sometimes wagering large sums of their own money on the outcome? Livio quotes a "nineteenth-century historian of mathematics" that explains this type of contest being sponsored by the nobility because they "esteemed it an honor to count among their retinue scholars skilled ... [in] difficult and rare mathematical problems."

Parallel and concurrent programming has been and remains a "difficult and rare" skill. Why can't I get someone to pay me for showing off my multithreading skills (besides Intel, that is)? The ACM sponsors an annual programming contest and there are several others scattered across the web. That's fine for personal glory in a limited social circle, but I'm looking for screaming fans, unquestioning disciples, sycophants, and other groupies along with a tidy chunk of change.

Without a feudal system to support them, there's no noble class to sponsor such contests. The closest thing we might have today is venture capitalists. When they're in the mood, they vie for the next big idea from competing proposals. This is nice, but the money is hit or miss depending on the product that gets financed. You can't always have the next Google, Second Life, or YouTube; you're more likely to put out one more failed dot.com. No groupies for that.

It may sound dull to watch two programmers trying to parallelize a CFD application. But, if you put those programmers in brightly colored tights and masks, have them throw insults at each other, and surround themselves with scantily clad eye-candy, then you've got a ratings winner, in my book.
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