Thursday, October 3, 2013

Answer: What's the name of that song?

I'm running kind of late today... spent all day on the plane to Detroit.  Giving two talks tomorrow, Oct 4, in Ann Arbor, MI.  Talk at 10AM:  "Mindtools:  What does it mean to be literate in the Age of Google?" (details) and another at 12 noon "The story: Teaching 150K+ students." (details)   If you're in Ann Arbor, Michigan tomorrow, come on by! 

Q1:  What's the name of the song with this line...? 

When searching for the lyrics fragment I gave, if you do the obvious search for

     [ “the invisible power of the hidden hand of fate” ]

will get you… Nothing.

One thing to realize about quoted phrases like this is that the longer they are, the more likely they are to have errors.  

In particular, since I’d only HEARD the lyrics (and then wrote them down a little later), the chance of having an error in the remembered line is pretty high. 

So when this query didn’t get me much of anything useful, I started trimming to see if I could use a fragment of the lyric I'd heard.  My next query was:

     [ “the invisible power of the hidden hand” ]

and as everyone found, that is clearly a line from Johnny Clegg’s song “Asilazi” from the album, “Human.”  (Although I note that an earlier version appeared on the album “One Life.)

Album cover artwork for "Human"

Q2 –  What language is it?  And what does the non-English lyric mean?  

I found the lyrics translated on the website.  To see if I could find a better translation, I did a search for:

     [ Asilazi lyrics translate ]

to find…  -- which tells you it’s in Zulu.  The translation (quoted here):  
Asilazi, asilazi thina ilanga lethu lizofika nini
Silindile ngenhliziyo, yonke kodwa senzeni na?
Asilazi, asilazi thina ilanga lethu lizofika nini
Silindile ngenhliziyo, yonke kodwa senzeni na? 
in Zulu language:
(We don't know when our day of freedom will come)
(We have been, waiting for it with all our hearts,)
(What have we done to deserve this?)

Unfortunately, Google Translate (which will also do language identification of a random bit of text droped into the translate box) doesn’t work to identify this language as ZULU.  That works for many indo-European languages, but not a major language like Zulu.  And when it fails to identify a language, it really fails.  

Q3 – Is this band is playing nearby? 

     [ Johnny Clegg band California 2014 ] 

– to find on the SeatGeek website that they’re playing in Berkeley…  AND Saratoga, both near my house.  

Why did I search for California (rather than Bay Area)?  To cast a wide—but not too wide—net as possible.  From what I know about bands, I know they’ll tour in an area for a bit.  So searching through all of the hits in California (in the year 2014) is a good strategy.  It’s quick to filter out any hits that are far from the Bay Area.

(And yes, we now have tickets to see them perform in Saratoga…) 

Search lessons: 

1.  Long double-quoted queries have to be pretty accurate to be useful. When you use double-quote, you’re telling Google “this is what I really want!”  So be sure it’s right. 

2. Explore other possibilities:  Since long lyrics can be misheard (see previous posting on modegreens) and/or mistranscribed, you have to explore other possibilities.  Here, the switch between “fate” and “hate” is pretty easy to do, so it’s an understandable error.  The good news is that the structure of English makes it relatively simple to find what you want with only 4 or 5 words in a row.  If you’ve got 5 (correct) words in a row, it’s usually pretty distinctive. 

3.  Limit your search to a well-defined area. When searching for an event, it’s often useful to search for events within a well-known (and clearly delineated) area, especially when the number of hits will be relatively small. 

Search on! 


  1. darn Dan - was hoping to invite you to lunch at the GC@MF… but, alas, like the server data sets… probably better fud at the Gplex anyway.
    Perhaps another time when there isn't a shutdown/shutup?

    Moffet Field/Ames

    Dr. Gary Larson:

    then (2011)
    outlaw SF pedalists
    meanwhile, 220 million miles away…

    btw, a nod to Detroit, even though it is in a deep hole… Ann Arbor is nice.
    Cranbrook AoA, worth a look too, if you had the time

    1. stormy, but still warm - you might be amused, especially after the UofM… it's a different place.
      the museum

      current exhibits

  2. I made my error in letting bias get in the way. I was more interested in seeing the choir. :-)

  3. Hi Daniel - I have two quick questions. First - has Google disabled the ability to turn searches into RSS feeds? I know that Google Reader is gone, but I had still been using the Search -> Feed functionality to track news on another Feed Reader, and as of one-two weeks ago, I don't see the friendly RSS button at the bottom of the search results.
    Also, for some reason, around the same time period I stopped receiving a copy of your blog. I didn't unsubscribe - it just stopped coming. The last post I received was on September 26. I can't remember how I originally signed up, but it was being sent to my work email (which is a non Gmail account).
    Any help with these two issues would be greatly appreciated!

    1. @SMP -- I'm pretty sure that News searches as an RSS feed was also deprecated. Sorry about that. I'll ping the folks in the Help center and get them to update that article.

      WRT getting copies of my blog posts -- I push them out to my Google Group. Drop me a msg at my dmrussell@gmail email address and I'll re-invited you (in case you somehow managed to fall off the list).