About the title

About the title

I changed the title of the blog on March 20, 2013 (it used to have the title “Notes of an owl”). This was my immediate reaction to the news the T. Gowers was presenting to the public the works of P. Deligne on the occasion of the award of the Abel prize to Deligne in 2013 (by his own admission, T. Gowers is not qualified to do this).

The issue at hand is not just the lack of qualification; the real issue is that the award to P. Deligne is, unfortunately, the best compensation to the mathematical community for the 2012 award of Abel prize to Szemer├ędi. I predicted Deligne before the announcement on these grounds alone. I would prefer if the prize to P. Deligne would be awarded out of pure appreciation of his work.

I believe that mathematicians urgently need to stop the growth of Gowers's influence, and, first of all, his initiatives in mathematical publishing. I wrote extensively about the first one; now there is another: to take over the arXiv overlay electronic journals. The same arguments apply.

Now it looks like this title is very good, contrary to my initial opinion. And there is no way back.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Simons's video protection, youtube.com, etc.

Previous post: What is mathematics?

Technically, this is a reply to a comment by Dmitri Pavlov. But it is only tangentially related to the discussion in Gowers's blog. At the same time, I see in it a good occasion to start a discussion of issues related to the infamous by now copyright law. This notion had some worthwhile components just 10 years ago. Now it looks like a complete nonsense obstructing progress. It does not even succeed in making big movie studios and music labels (the main defenders of extreme forms of the copyright law) richer. At the very least, no proof was ever offered.


Dear Dmitri,

Thanks a lot. You certainly know that I am not an expert in software. I am not using UNIX, I am using Windows, and I have no idea what to do with your code. I definitely have the latest version of Adobe flash, or at least the previous one. I doubt that there is some version released in March which is required to deal with a video posted more than a year ago. 

The browsers I use most of the time, Firefox and Opera, have several extensions allowing downloading almost everything by just pressing a button and selecting the quality of the stream. These extensions don’t see any video content on Simons’s page.

I got the idea, and it looks like I will be able download these files even without your list. But your list will save me a lot of time, if I decide to do this (at the time, I am not inclined).

But this does not mean that files are not protected in the legal sense. Files are not protected if there is either a download button, or a statement like the following: "You are free to inspect our code and download our videos if you will find a way to do this". Your suggestion amounts to doing the latter without permission.

A third party software told me that it is able to see the video (actually, another one, much more interesting for me), but will not download it because this would be illegal. Moreover, the software stated that I have only one legal option to have the video in my computer: to take screenshots of each frame.

“If they were aware of this issue,
 they would almost certainly
 add HTML5 video elements and direct download links.”

You see, I contacted a mathematician who is to a big extent responsible for this whole program of interviews, posting of them, etc. He agreed that videos should be downloadable, and said that he will contact appropriate persons. I have no reasons not to trust him. So, the people at the Simons foundation are aware of this for more than a year and did nothing.

Even if these links would be on the page (I am not able to see them, and I don’t know what do you mean by “plain video URLs are embedded in the text.”), there are 26 files for Lovasz alone. This is a far cry from being convenient. I will need to use an Adobe video editor (which I accidentally do have on another computer by a reason completely independent from mathematics – most mathematicians don’t), and to glue them in one usable file. It would be even possible to add a menu with direct links to these 26 parts, very much like on a DVD or a Blu-ray disc. But, frankly, why should I to this? Is Simons’s salary (which he determines himself, being the president and the CEO of his company at the same time) not sufficient to make a small charitable contribution and hire a local student to do some primitive video-editing? His salary a year or two ago was over 2 billions per year. I did not check the latest available data.

Concerning youtube.com, I would like to say that if something looks like an active attempt to protect a video for you, it is not necessarily so for others. Personally, I don’t care how their links are generated. For me, it is enough to have a button (even three different!) at my browser which will find this link without my participation and will download the file, or even several simultaneously. Moreover, I doubt that youtube.com really wants to protect videos from downloading. They have a lot of 1080p (Full HD) videos, and I don’t know any way to see them in 1080px high window at youtube site. There are two choices: a smaller window, or a full screen. I haven’t seen a computer monitor with exactly 1080px height. Anyhow, the one I have is 1600px high, and upconverting to this size leads to a noticeable decrease of quality. The only meaningful option for 1080p content is to download it.

Buy the way, the Simons foundation site suffers from a similar, but much more severe problem. The size of the video window appears to be small and fixed. And they may stream into it 1080p content; this was the case with the video I wanted to watch a year+ ago. A lot of bandwidth is wasted. And my ISP hardly can handle streaming 1080p content anyhow.

Please, do not think that I am an admirer of youtube.com policies. Nothing there is permanent, i.e. everything potentially interesting should be downloaded. Their crackdown on the alleged (no proof is needed) copyright violators is the online version of the last year raids of the US special forces in several countries simultaneously.

Next post: To appear.


  1. “extensions allowing downloading almost everything by just pressing a button and selecting the quality of the stream”:

    Yes, and the way these extensions operate is by extracting the video URL, which is highly nontrivial
    and explicitly prohibited by Section 4C of YouTube's Terms of Service (“You agree not to access Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Service itself, the Embeddable Player, or other explicitly authorized means YouTube may designate.”)
    The Simons Foundation has nothing even remotely similar to YouTube's scheme, and the links to videos appear in unobfuscated form even though they are not displayed (except that the part before ‘jwplayer‘ is not stored and has to be appended manually, which might explain why you were unable to find them).

    Also, each video hosting website uses its own particular URL encoding scheme. Whatever works for youtube.com will not work for other video hosting website such as dailymotion.com or metacafe.com. Thus the browser extensions that you mentioned will only work for the few most common websites. It is hardly surprising that they don't work for the Simons Foundation website.

    Anyway, I am almost certain that in the case of the Simons Foundation Hanlon's razor applies, and either their laziness or unawareness of these problems is responsible for the current situation.
    It could be the case that the mathematician to whom you talked simply forgot about your request, or perhaps he didn't and talked about it to the administrators, but then they forgot about it etc.
    Perhaps it makes sense to email him and inquire about this problem one more time?

    1. Well, that part is what I figured out with the help of your list. But I did not try this before your comment. I only checked that standard downloaders do not work. Concerning different schemes of encoding, I have no idea how the authors of extensions deal with them. Some write extensions for a particular site only. But, amazingly, before Simons I was able to download any video I found remotely interesting. They don't work with dailymotion.com now (they did in the past), or, more precisely, it seems that dailymotion.com breaks any video into many very short fragments. It seems that they can be downloaded and then reassembled. But I never found there anything interesting enough even just to add an extension.

      As of TOS, I trust that Google, who owns youtube.com, will sort this out, if needed, with the Mozilla Foundation, which distributes the extensions. Google supports the Mozilla Foundation financially and this support is critical for its existence (I think it gives more than 80% at some years).

      I don't think that one can explain the behavior of Simons foundation so simply. This issue fits into general pattern of Simons's "charitable contributions" to mathematics. He never gives a cent without conditions. The amount of his conditional donations (he always wants an equal sum to be raised from other sources) is negligible if compared with his salary, not to say about with his net worth. He can afford a different approach. Namely, he could have as a goal the widest possible distribution of these interviews. Would such a goal be outlined to the programmers, they would be very happy to have a simpler job than usual and will put direct download links onto the webpages. This wasn’t done, and this fact alone makes me rather unsympathetic to the whole enterprise.

      As of writing again to that mathematician, I don’t want to put both him and myself into an uncomfortable position. It looks like nobody except me is interested in downloading. Otherwise people would write to the SF. It is not hard to guess to whom I had written and to whom I did not. If somebody is interested, he or she may write to the same person I wrote, or to somebody else, including Simons himself. I think that I did my part; others may try to finish the job.