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Google: What would Stan have made of it?

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Impressive bit of kit: Google News Lab’s drone

Impressive bit of kit: Google News Lab’s drone

THE DE RIGEUR toolkit of the journalist back in the day was a Speed Graphic camera armed with a flash bulb, which could singe the eyebrows of Dennis Healey when activated, a notepad, a pencil or pen, possibly a satchel of sorts and a stout pair of shoes for sure.

Stanley Phillips was a reporter/ photographer for the Welshman and a couple of other titles in the 1930s, long before The Herald became the people’s choice. He would set off by bike, or in the doctor’s car in emergencies, to cover the local news, which was promptly sent by mail or by telegram if urgent to the head office.

Stan favoured a pipe and would stand and yarn with those he interviewed, more often than not having a cup of tea at his leisure too. He then went back home and developed his sheets of film, washing them under the village pump.

What on Google Earth would he have made of what is on offer today to the humble journalist, no longer in stout shoes and most likely puffing on an eCig contraption while travelling in the modest BMW with connections in every orifice.

One thing that has not changed is that the world was round then and it is round now. The difference between Stan’s view and our view is that we can all now see it through 360 degrees and virtual reality, available to view in all its glory from just about any internet-enabled device smaller than one of Stan’s sheets of film.

Journalism is quickly utilising new technology and gadgetry to provide those seeking the news with a far more interactive and descriptive view of the world, wherever the news may be. 360 degree cameras are being added to the journalist’s toolkit. Google Earth is being used by the leading TV networks around the world to place the viewer at the centre of the action before, during or after an event, without so much as having to find the curator of a museum with a set of keys to blow off the dust from the maps. This is the future for journalism according to Google NewsLab, who are offering training to journalists across the globe.

The Herald attended one of the workshops in Cardiff, where we were shown how Google is aiding and abetting reporters in ensuring the information they are using including words, photos, videos and audio are factually reliable. We have all seen hoax images and hoax videos but Google have provided a system whereby this data can be instantly checked for its legitimacy.

They were also demonstrating the use of Google Earth and Google Maps for journalists to use to illustrate the stories. This may seem familiar to some but the scale and variety of use of Google’s facility is mind boggling.

Huge news corporations have found ways in which to take whatever they can from Google for free and incorporate it into their presentations.

Stan would have had to travel by horse, cart and biplane over weeks to provide a fraction of what the journalist can provide today without leaving his or her drawing room.

The world of 3D, virtual reality and 360 degree views is in demand as the audiences, most of whom are now upwardly mobile young things, turn to their phones for their news content and they want digital media in spades. Google wants to help journalists provide rich media content, which attracts viewers to ‘binge watch’.

We are all familiar with Google as a search engine, Google Maps, YouTube and Google Earth, but there is far more and it is growing. There is Google Public Data, which allows you to access a world of data to create high quality visuals. Google Alerts keep you up to date with the news you want tho see and hear. Google Fusion Tables combine data sets to tell a story using powerful charts, maps, graphs or custom layouts. Google Trends allows you to search data to allow you to bring people the stories they are looking for.

What Google appear to be doing and wanting is placement of as much information and digital media content online and they are encouraging just about anyone to contribute. Journalists can then access this information and weave it into their stories be they international, national or local. Most of the journalists on the training course whooped with joy at what they were seeing but The Herald looks and listens before it leaps and we were slightly skeptical, not to mention suspicious of the motives for Google providing so much for so little, in fact for FREE.

We were told that the Google NewsLab team consisted of only 10 people. How on Earth could 10 people gather and provide so much information? The truth is that it is we, the Google-reliant public, do so each time we search or ask a question. A clever algorithm takes and regurgitates every single word, number, photo, video and audio file as well as maps gleaned from their street patrols and somehow turns that all into even more searchable and usable content for journalists to use.

We will give one such example to finish off. Let us say that you are writing a story about the 10 most popular towns in Wales. In Stan’s day, he would have had to burn some leather to get around that one. He would have had to construct a survey of sorts and actually go out and ask people questions. Can you imagine doing that today as a journalist? He would then have to calculate all the answers from his questionnaires culminating in a result based on the percentages of answers. He might go to those 10 towns on the Brodyr Davies bus service to get some photos, which would take an age and then eventually put it all together longhand or by typewriter and send in the negative to be magically turned into newsprint. You get the idea, eh?

Today, a simple search on one of Google’s areas for journalists reveals the answers to those questions’ complete with statistics, photos, videos, audio, longitude and latitude and virtual tours, if required, all delivered to the internet-enabled device in the hands of those who just cannot wait until a Friday for the paper version comes out. The name of this magic? Google Fusion Tables.

Now there is something to be said for the good old days and Stan, bless his real wool socks, worked like a Trojan to do his job and we are all much the richer for his archives, paper and photos, which might just fill a large filing cabinet. What we have today is millions of Stanley Phillips across the world sending in their work and millions of us, the public, enabling and enriching that through our internet habits, however intelligent, stupid, significant or insignificant they may be.

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Lecture considers the future of war

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INTERNATIONALLY renowned war scholar and military conflict expert, Professor Christopher Coker delivered this year’s Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture on Thursday (Nov 16).

Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is a prolific author on all aspects of war. He is a former NATO Fellow, a former twice serving member of the Council of the Royal United Services Institute, and a regular lecturer at Defence Colleges in the UK, US, Rome, Singapore, and Tokyo.

In his lecture entitled ‘Still ‘The Human Thing’? Thucydides, Waltz & the Future of War”, Professor Coker discussed war as a feature of what we call ‘human nature’ or ‘humanity’ in general, while focusing on urgent contemporary issues such as possible changes in the nature of war by the blurring of the distinction between humans and machines.

He also considered how, as Artificial Intelligence becomes ever more a fact of life, the traditional functions and forms of war could change, discussing such questions as: will we still need war and will war still need us?

Talking ahead of the the event, Professor Ken Booth of Aberystwyth University said: “Chris Coker is a very imaginative, interesting, and controversial thinker. Intellectually ambitious, he always addresses the biggest questions. The titles of some of his most recent books attest to this: Future War, Can War be Eliminated?, Warrior Geeks: how 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think about War, The Improbable War: China, the US, and the Logic of Great Power Conflict and Men at War: what Fiction tells us about Conflict. We can be sure of a fascinating and challenging lecture about a supremely important area of human behaviour.”

The Kenneth N. Waltz Annual Lecture brings distinguished scholars to Aberystwyth to talk about issues that were central to the concerns of the late Ken Waltz, the leading theorist of international relations over many decades.
Hosted by the David Davies Memorial Institute and the Department of International Politics, this year’s lecture was held in the Main Hall in the International Politics Building on the Penglais Campus.

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Youth Service invited to international training event

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TWO Youth Workers from Ceredigion Youth Service have been selected to represent the UK on a week’s training opportunity in Horažd’ovice in the Czech Republic.

‘The danger of a Single Story’ is a training course funded by Erasmus+, that combines stories, media, global education and active citizenship to empower trainers, educators and youth workers with the tools to educate young people on issues such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and online harassment.

Elen James, Head of Youth Engagement and Continuing Education​,​ said​:​ “We are extremely proud of both Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton, 270 people had applied, for 24 places, 2 were allocated for the UK and both places have been assigned to Ceredigion Youth Service staff.

“This is an excellent training opportunity for them, which will inform them and encourage them to reflect on the evolution of media and the consequences that it has on the formation of stereotypes and prejudices. We wish them all the best in Prague!​”​

Rebeca Davies and Guto Crompton will join 22 other Youth Workers from Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. The week will be hosted at the PROUD Environmental Centre approximately 120km from Prague, from ​Sunday (Nov 19) for a week.

Rebeca Davies, School Based Youth Worker said​:​ “I’m really looking forward to visiting Prague, and meeting other Youth Workers from across the World. It will be a fantastic opportunity to learn new tools and techniques to encourage and empower young people back here in Ceredigion.”

Guto Crompton, School Based Youth Worker ​added​:​ “I’m looking forward to learning more about different Youth Work methods and approaches. I’m also eager to develop a greater awareness around education, active citizenship and democracy.”

Cabinet member for Learning Services, Children and Young People’s Partnership, Councillor Catrin Miles, ​commented: “As a Council, we are very proud of the hard work of our Youth Service to the young people of the county. This will be a very important and worthwhile opportunity for Rebeca and Guto to represent Ceredigion and Wales and we wish them all the best at the event.”

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Pot Noodles bought with theft proceeds

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ON WEDNESDAY (Nov 15), Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court heard that a 23-year-old man stole an HDMI cable from a store and sold it for a tenner to buy ten Pot Noodles.

Joel Alexander Owens, of Portland Street in Aberystwyth, pleaded guilty to stealing alcohol to the value of £24.96 belonging to his hometown’s B&M Bargains on June 29. He also admitted stealing an HDMI cable to the value of £14 belonging to Tesco in Aberystwyth on September 24.

Prosecuting, Helen Tench said a staff member at B&M was notified by a member of the public about a male who left the store without paying for items.

CCTV footage was checked, which showed Owens select a number of alcoholic items and leaving the store without making any payments.

Police officers later viewed the footage and identified the defendant.

On October 14, a member of staff at Tesco was informed of the incident at B&M. The Tesco CCTV footage was viewed as a result and the defendant was seen removing an HDMI cable from its box on September 24 and leaving without paying.

Ms Tench said Owens was interviewed on October 19, where he admitted committing the offences in his personal statement.

The defendant also admitted he sold the HDMI cable for £10 in order to buy ten Pot Noodles.

Defending, Katy Hanson said Owens pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and admitted to stealing beer and cider from B&M.

Probation officer Julian Davies stated that the defendant was currently serving a 12-month community order for two previous offences of theft and a breach of a conditional discharge.

Aberystwyth magistrates revoked Owens community order and imposed a 12-month community order with 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days and a four-week curfew.

Owens was told to pay prosecution costs of £85, compensation of £14 to Tesco and compensation of £24.96 to B&M Bargains.

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