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February 27th, 2009
09:10 am
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Google Protip: and Legend of Hero 036-037
People living in The Tomorrowlands Universe have DWIM magitechnology to do the heavy lifting when they hear a catchy song on the radio and want to find it again later. The rest of us aren't so lucky, and must get clever with mundane tools.

But! With a little finesse and simple memorization, Google can be almost magical in finding songs for you.

Let's say that you're listening to this mystery song on the radio and want to find out how to obtain a copy later (from your friendly local DRM-free online music seller such as Amazon, iTunes, some crazy Russian mp3 site, etc). Here's how to go about it:

1. Pick out and memorize some significant phrases.

By "significant" I mean "containing more than verbal filler." If you hear a sappy love song and only remember the phrases "Ooh baby," "oh yeah," and "I love you" you're not going to get anywhere. But if the phrase is sufficiently long or distinctive, you'll get it in one: "the airwaves are clean and there's nobody singing to me now" is more than enough. Even a pair of two- or three-word snippets will work surprisingly often.

The chorus of the song is generally good for this, especially since they'll repeat it several times and that makes it easier to drive it into your mind and get all the messy little prepositions right.

2. Make a beeline for a web browser.

Look it up as you're settling into work after your commute or the instant you get home. Keeping the memorized phrases in the front of your mind is hard enough; setting it on the back burner is a recipe for failure.

3. Use optimal search syntax.

What you want to do is feed Google (other search engines will work, but Google's very good about this) the search term:

"PHRASEONE" [ "PHRASETWO" [ "PHRASETHREE" ... ] ] lyrics

For those of you unfamiliar with Unix manual page syntax, this means that you enclose each individual phrase in quotes, include as many phrases as you want (one, two, three, etc), and end with the bare word lyrics. Like so:

"the airwaves are clean and there's nobody singing to me now" lyrics

Or, to repeat the one I ran this morning,

"make sure you're connected" "writing's on the wall" "stumble you might fall" lyrics[*]. Voila!

4. Optimization

This technique works better the more specific you get, but you have to have the words right. Searching for "airwaves are clean and nobody's singing to me now" and leaving out the "there" in the middle is totally useless. To get around this, split your single long phrase into a few brief ones and put in the words you're most certain of:

"airwaves are clean" "singing to me" lyrics[*]. See, it really doesn't take much!

Is the chorus the same line repeated over and over again? Feed in the duplicate phrase inside a single pair of quotes: "change i can change i can change" works MUCH better than "i can change". Throwing in a second significant phrase along with the repeated one works even better yet.

5. Success!

Enjoy your music, and go read Legend of Hero, where you can pick up other useful life skills such as "how to fight off a rampaging 30-foot bull-fish monster" and "etiquette for comparing notes with characters from inside your favorite role-playing game."

This week's tutorial is "how to deal with your sorta-boyfriend disappearing and your gaming buddies acting weird," led by previously minor character Crissy Ellenberg. Act II: See her doodle to escape the tedium of Mr. Henderson's lectures! Hear her banter about mythology as she paints character portraits! Watch her pick up the Magical Plot Brush! Act III: Feel the suspense as Kevin evades all her questions! Thrill as she remembers the business card we last saw a few months back ... and discover, along with her, what's actually on it!! THE SUSPENSE, IT MAKES ME SHOUT!!!!1!!

Current Location: ~spiral
Current Music: (Guess.)
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(14 comments | Leave a comment)

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[User Picture]
From:aprivatefox
Date:February 27th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
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This is the most succinct description of how I solve music-recognition puzzles at puzzling events that I've ever seen.

You're missing one small optimization step that helps, though:
Eliminate easily misheard words. Even if you heard the words correctly, the person who transcribed the lyrics online might have heard them wrong. If a word is mumbled, throw it out and break your phrase. That last step helps a lot when you're trying to get the words right.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
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Thanks! Excellent advice.
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From:feedle
Date:February 27th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
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... or, just use a tool like Shazam! on your favorite smartphone.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)

</smartphone>

(Link)
Linked for completeness.

That is pretty cool. ... Um. I mean: You kids and your danged newfangled technowhosy doodads! Get off my lawn!
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From:luna_torquill
Date:February 28th, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
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Yeah. That app just blew me away when I discovered it.

It alone has brought me from "0% likely to own an iPhone" to about "30% likely to own an iPhone". It's that cool. As it is, I have a few friends with Preciousssesss who are willing to point them at my speakers. :)
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From:krinndnz
Date:February 27th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
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Huh. In step 3, I've never been able to get Google to respect more than one phrase at a time.
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From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
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Really? I've never had a problem with it. Weird.

Do the [*] links above work for you as intended?
[User Picture]
From:krinndnz
Date:February 28th, 2009 03:10 am (UTC)
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Sort of. They indicate to me that your LJ has sufficient Google-juice to be the top result for at least one of those queries.

That's a little unsettling. Google is a benevolent Skynet sometimes.
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From:siege
Date:February 28th, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
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Indeed. Second asterisk reveals first this LJ post, and then the song.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2009 07:48 am (UTC)
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Uhh ... baah ... *sputter* But my pagerank is only like 3!

I think I'm getting points for being a fresh result. Google can give disproportionate points to a link for novelty.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:February 28th, 2009 07:08 am (UTC)
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Ooo! I've heard that violin line before and loved it. Now I know what song it is! Thanks!

[adds "Bitter Sweet Symphony - The Verve" to his list of songs to burn onto future mixdiscs]
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2009 07:50 am (UTC)
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Glad to be of service. :) It's a great song.

For the record, I picked my copy up from illegal-art.org, where you can also read some historical tidbits about the lawsuits surrounding it.
[User Picture]
From:kinkyturtle
Date:February 28th, 2009 09:28 am (UTC)
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Huh... I've heard of people writing new songs to the tune of old ones (e.g.: "To Anacreon in Heav'n" -> "The Star-Spangled Banner"), but this is a rare case of a song written to the tune of the slowed-down version of another song. :}

(I still like it, though!)
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From:goldkin
Date:February 28th, 2009 08:50 am (UTC)
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I was going to say: In the search world, PageRank is the closest thing to DWIM ever. The only things left for it to support are image recognition, full regexp search (instead of limited commands like *), and cheat codes. Oh, wait...

Personally, I've used the "lyric hack" for much more than just lyrics. It applies just as well for speeches, documentation, and just plain being lazy. Though, I like to take things one step further, as I find myself commonly searching things like foo doesn't work or specific error messages from obscure programs, only to be presented with hauntingly useful results.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if PageRank turned out to be a crystal ball connected by a USB cable.
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