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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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Warning of serious disruption on M4 and M5 today due to fuel prices protest

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POLICE have warned of “serious disruption” to drivers using the M4 and M5 on Monday 4 July due to a planned protest.

Protesters intend to block the Prince of Wales Bridge from 7am until 7pm as part of a nationwide campaign against rising fuel prices.

The protest is due to start at the M4 Magor services at junction 23A eastbound and the Clevedon Interchange at junction 20 of the M5 westbound.

It is also expected to cause disruption to the M48 Severn Bridge and the M32.

Drivers are being urged to avoid the area or plan alternative routes.

Bristol Airport has issued a warning urging travellers to allow extra time if heading to or from the airport.

Police said additional officers will be brought in to ensure the protest is carried out legally.

Drivers have been advised by Gwent Police to work from home where possible and avoid the area between 7am and 7pm, with protestors planning to block parts of the road between M4 Magor services, junction 23A eastbound, and Junction 20 of the M4 between those hours.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: “Gwent Police, and Avon and Somerset Police, are working jointly with neighbouring police forces and partner agencies to ensure emergency and critical services continue and to reduce disruption to both road users and local communities, however we are preparing for serious disruption throughout the day.

“I would encourage drivers to reconsider their journey, consider working from home and avoid the area where possible.

“The right to protest under UK law must be balanced with the rights of the wider community who may be affected. We have additional officers and support in place on Monday to ensure the protest is carried out in accordance with the law.”

The planned protest is thought to have been organised by the Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, and has attracted both criticism and support online.

The latest travel disruption comes following the closure of the Severn Bridge for a second consecutive weekend, as well as the Severn Tunnel rain line which will be out of use until July 10 due to essential work. Motorists will be unable to cross the M48 Severn Bridge until 6am on Monday as it is undergoing essential work for eight months.

The bridge was first shut last weekend as painstaking work to repair and replace corroded suspension cables began. Traffic on the bridge is likely to be very heavy on Monday due to the fuel protest.

Police have told protesters banners must be tightly secured to vehicles and nobody should be walking around on the bridge during the demonstration. Protesters will stay inside their vehicles or stand beside them.

An organiser said: “We will now only be doing it on the Prince of Wales Bridge. We have to keep in mind everyone’s safety and if we block the bridge totally and there is an emergency there would be hell. Yes it means only one bridge but [due to the amount of traffic caused] there will still be a massive impact.”

Two weeks ago one of the initial M4 bridge protest organisers Ashley Fowler said : “We’re all car enthusiasts and we have all been worried about fuel prices and when I saw the post about blocking the bridges we began talking about it. Then people started asking me to make an event so we could update each other.

“I made the event because I run a car club in Cardiff which I started on social media during the pandemic lockdowns to help people’s mental health. When we can we go out to car parks and just meet up and have a chat but during the pandemic we weren’t able to do it so I made the group.

“Now we can’t meet up so much again because of the cost of fuel. I know some of them can’t drive so much because they need to feed their kids. It’s serious. People are getting really depressed about it. One of the boys in the group has actually sold his car due to fuel price rises.”

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Ascona Group announces new Car and Truck wash facilities

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Charlie's Truck Wash

ASCONA GROUP, one of the UK’s fastest-growing forecourt operators, is pleased to announce two new vehicle washing partnerships as part of improvements to its unique roadside retail proposition across its forecourt estate.

As part of a new partnership with the American based PDQ Manufacturing, a leader for in-bay automatic vehicle washing facilities, Ascona Group will be the first in the UK to install the ‘Laserwash 360 Plus’, a touchless car wash system for its customers.

The partnership will initially expand the wash options at the Hinton Service Station, with a view to roll out the system to other sites under the Ascona Group’s brand, ‘Charlie’s Express Car Wash’ later this year. The partnership is a significant investment for Ascona and demonstrates its commitment to ever improving the experience for customers.

Ascona Group is also delighted to announce a strategic partnership with WashTec UK that will see Ascona introduce a ‘First of its Kind’ truck washing facility at the Tenby Road site on the A40 Eastbound in Carmarthenshire, which offers the very best technology available to HGV drivers.

The truck wash employs a fully ‘closed loop’ total water recycling system, the first of its kind in Wales, which recovers all water used within the wash process, filtering it for reuse with little or no water entering the mains drainage system. This system ensures Ascona not only has the best commercial wash in South Wales, but also offers customers one of the more environmentally friendly approaches in operation.

Commenting on the announcement, CEO Darren Briggs said: “From the very beginning, we knew that our sites must present our customers with a unique and compelling offer which is why we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to improve our roadside retail facilities.

“These two new partnerships further demonstrate our focus on creating industry-leading propositions and we are really excited to be working with PDQ Manufacturing USA and WashTec UK. Together, we are keen to continue to build on the success of these new operations and we are actively reviewing multiple opportunities across the Ascona portfolio to roll out more units such as these.”

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Community

Nearly £50,000 of National Lottery funding for community groups in Carmarthenshire

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FIVE local community organisations across Carmarthenshire are celebrating after being awarded a share of £49,575 of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund over the past month.

One successful project was MolTân Makers who will use their £9,820 grant to provide metal working workshops for people wishing to improve their mental health and well-being. The group will reach out to mental health groups and the wider community and also allow people to reconnect with the community following the pandemic.

One participant with MolTân Makers explained, “ The course was professionally run by four hard-working people who helped us with one to one tuition when needed. They were so welcoming and adaptable to individual needs and allowed me to attend the course at different hours due to health reasons.

“They were great company and created an interesting and positive atmosphere to help people with mental and physical health problems feel included and understood and we all took home what we made in the course.”

The Hangout received £10,000 and will help young people improve their mental health and wellbeing through structured outdoor activity programmes. The project will build on a previous pilot project that led to more young people becoming re-engaged in school following the pandemic and continuing to volunteer with the group after the initial sessions finished.

The Alternative Learning Company in Llanelli were awarded £9,955 and will recycle plastic bottles to build full size greenhouses. They will propagate plants for growing schemes in local schools and communities. The project will reduce the levels of plastic sent to landfill or polluting open spaces, and give young people an understanding of the impact of climate change.

Newcastle Emlyn Town Council will build an outdoor structure in collaboration with the community, to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Jubilee. This £10,000 grant will fund building and design materials, and a water harvesting kit.

Messy Projects will use their £9,800 grant to run the activities and events they missed due to the pandemic. Activities will include celebrating the Queens platinum jubilee, a BBQ, and a Bonfire party.

John Rose, Wales Director at The National Lottery Community Fund, said “These groups play a vital role in supporting their communities and these grants will allow them to continue being there for people in future. 

 ”National Lottery players raise more than £30 million each week for good causes across the UK and the projects funded over the past month show the crucial difference players make through their tickets. I look forward to following all of their progress.”  

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