Wireless Robert Johnson

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Looking for something else, I stumbled on this unexpected Google Books description of Peter Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson:

The description of another edition is more plausible:

And likewise this one:

The "unprecedented growth in wireless applications" blurb actually seems to belong to I.J. Bahl, Lumped Elements for RF and Microwave Circuits, 2003:


I'll leave it to someone more versed in Library Science — or forensic software engineering — to figure out where Google Books mix-ups like this one come from. It's not a simple scribal error in the Google Books ID — the ID for the cross-blurbed edition of Searching for Robert Johnson is lyV4PwAACAAJ, while for Lumped Elements for RF and Microwave Circuits it's a5UzngEACAAJ.

At least such errors are less likely to mess up research results, compared to the type of errors that Geoff Nunberg wrote about in "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck" (8/29/2009). In this case, as far as I can tell, all of the cited editions are more or less correctly dated, and the assigned categories are plausible, though inconsistently applied — the three different editions of the Guralnick work are variously categorized as "Blues musicians", "Biography & Autobiography", and "African American singers". Overall, the state of Google Books metadata seems to have improved considerably since 2009, though I haven't tried to quantify the change, and there are certainly still some problems.

Looking on the bright side, maybe transferring the blurb from Lumped Elements for RF and Microwave Circuits to Searching for Robert Johnson will help advance the "Integration of knowledge" recommended by Randall Munroe and Walker Percy.


  1. Bill Benzon said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 7:58 am

    There's a very simple explanation for this, Mark. I take this as confirmation of the legend the Johnson made a deal with the Devil. It's the Devil's work you've witnessed.

  2. peter said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 10:24 am

    I was reminded of the famous review on Amazon of the children’s by Marjorie Flack about a duck called Ping:


  3. Sili said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 11:06 am

    Not directly relevant but I was brought up sorry by "poisoned by a jealous husband". My twenty-first century brain insisted on interpreting that as "*his* husband" and I actually had to work to consider it had to be someone else's husband.

  4. guilty bystander said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 2:37 pm

    Not directly relevant but I was brought up sorry by "brought up sorry". I've never heard that expression before. It looks like an entirely plausible idiom but I can't find a single specimen of it by googling.

  5. Rubrick said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

    I'm guessing "brought up sorry" was a typo or autocompletion error for "brought up short".

  6. Rubrick said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

    On the other hand, Brought Up Sorry would be a great title for a blues album.

  7. Sili said,

    December 31, 2017 @ 11:33 pm

    Half a dozen of one, 5.9 of the other.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 8:14 am

    Perhaps low-cost solutions for RF and microwave communication systems will finally make it feasible for a new generation of ambitious guitarists to make questionable deals with the devil without the old-economy logistical hassle of having to physically visit a crossroads at midnight?

    [(myl) My understanding is that the disintermediation of crossroads has been a fact of the music industry for several decades.]

  9. D.O. said,

    January 1, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

    Do you think requiring more than 220 equations and 200 illustrations is less of a hassle?

  10. the checker said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 3:28 am

    I think you have the two Google Books identifiers swapped around.

    [(myl) True — fixed now.]

  11. richardelguru said,

    January 2, 2018 @ 7:42 am

    Bill Benzon had it right.
    Not many people know this, but Mr Johnson is still alive at the age of around 550! He first came to attention in Scotland as a composer of motets, then resurfaced as one of Shakespeare's favourite lutenists around 1600, and again in the later C18 spreading his artistic endeavours as an apprentice of Thomas Bewick. He kept a low profile till the early C20 when he moved the States and took up the Blues. It's not really surprising that he has also taken interest in wireless applications, is it!

  12. ajay said,

    January 8, 2018 @ 10:36 am

    A sort of musical equivalent of the Wandering Jew.

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