Microsoft Word Hits 1 Billion Installs on Google Play

2 days 18 hours ago
Microsoft Word reached over 1 billion installations on Android over the weekend. Microsoft's flagship document editor is arguably Microsoft's greatest success story on Android. With over 1 billion downloads, Microsoft Word is one of the most used productivity apps on the platform. From a report: Microsoft has continued to push Office on Android along with other apps like Your Phone, Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft Teams. The shift has helped Microsoft stay relevant in the mobile space despite the death of Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft has similar efforts on iOS in an effort to have its services available to as many users as possible. Some around the web have pointed out that Microsoft Office comes preinstalled on many Android phones in an effort to discount Word's milestone of 1 billion installations. While it is true that Microsoft's Office applications come preinstalled on many devices, the fact that Word recently hit 1 billion installations and other Office apps like Excel have "only" hit 500 million shows that quite a few users have downloaded Word from the Google Play Store.

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Swiss Group That's Supposed To Oversee Privacy For Libra Says It Hasn't Heard From Facebook At All

2 days 19 hours ago
Facebook said on Tuesday that authorities in Switzerland will oversee data and privacy protections of its new cryptocurrency Libra. But the Swiss regulator has yet to be contacted by Facebook, according to a spokesperson. From a report: In his testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, David Marcus, the head of Facebook's digital currency project Libra, said, "For the purposes of data and privacy protections, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) will be the Libra Association's privacy regulator." Asked about the agency's role regulating Libra, Hugo Wyler, head of communication at the FDPIC, said in a statement to CNBC: "We have taken note of the statements made by David Marcus, Chief of Calibra, on our potential role as data protection supervisory authority in the Libra context. Until today we have not been contacted by the promoters of Libra," Wyler said. "We expect Facebook or its promoters to provide us with concrete information when the time comes. Only then will we be able to examine the extent to which our legal advisory and supervisory competence is given. In any case, we are following the development of the project in the public debate."

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House Orders Pentagon To Say if it Weaponized Ticks and Released Them

2 days 19 hours ago
The House quietly voted last week to require the Pentagon inspector general to tell Congress whether the department experimented with weaponizing disease-carrying insects and whether they were released into the public realm -- either accidentally or on purpose. From a report: The unusual proposal took the form of an amendment that was adopted by voice vote July 11 during House debate on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which lawmakers passed the following day. The amendment, by New Jersey Republican Christopher H. Smith, says the inspector general "shall conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975." If the answer is yes, then the IG must provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a report on the experiments' scope and "whether any ticks or insects used in such experiments were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design."

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What Caused the 2019 New York Blackout? Infrastructure.

2 days 20 hours ago
On Saturday night in New York City a power outage struck Midtown Manhattan, hitting Hell's Kitchen north to Lincoln Center and from Fifth Avenue west to the Hudson River. The blackout darkened the huge, electric billboards of Times Square, forced Broadway shows to cancel performances, and even disabled some subway lines. But what caused it? From a report: According to reports, the outage was caused by a transformer fire within the affected region. Power was fully restored by early the following morning. [...] Saturday's blackout was most likely caused by a disabled transformer at an area substation. There are at least 50 of those in New York City, which are fed in turn by at least 24, higher-voltage transmission substations. When it comes to power, New York is unusual because of the city's age and the density of its population, both residential and commercial. That produces different risks and consequences. In Atlanta, where I live, storms often down trees, which take out aboveground power lines. In the West, where wildfires are becoming more common, flames frequently dismantle power infrastructure (sometimes the power lines themselves cause the fires). But across the whole of New York City -- not just Manhattan -- more than 80 percent of both customers and the electrical load are serviced by underground distribution from area substations. That makes smaller problems less frequent, but bigger issues more severe. When a transformer goes down in a populous place like Manhattan, it has a greater impact than it would on Long Island, say, or in Westchester County, where density is lower. The amount of power that central Manhattan uses on a regular basis also contributes to that impact. Times Square, the theater district, hundreds of skyscrapers -- it's a substantial load. In New York's case, supplying that load is not usually the problem. Generating facilities can be located near or far away from where their power is used, and New York City draws power from a couple dozen plants. Some of it is imported from upstate. But much of New York's power is still generated locally, in large part at plants along the waterfront of Queens. Those plants are older, and more susceptible to disruption from local calamities, especially severe weather. When peak demand surges -- most common during heat waves, such as the ones that struck the region in 2006 and 2011 -- the older, less efficient generating stations have a harder time keeping up, and brownouts or blackouts become more likely. [...] But new risks associated with climate change, cyberwarfare, and other factors haven't necessarily been accounted for in the design and operation of utility infrastructure. The perils build on one another. Climate change amplifies the frequency of heat waves, which increases electrical load, which puts greater pressure on infrastructure. At the same time, it increases the likelihood of superstorms that can cause flooding, fire, and other disasters that might disrupt nodes in the network. When utility operators designed their equipment years or decades ago, they made assumptions about load, storm surge, and other factors. Those estimates might no longer apply.

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More States Are Hiding 911 Recordings From Families, Lawyers and the General Public

2 days 21 hours ago
Rhode Island is one of about a dozen states that prohibit the release of 911 recordings or transcripts without the written consent of the caller or by court order. The goal generally is to protect the privacy of callers in what may be one of the most stressful moments of their lives. From a report: But Rhode Island's restrictive law also keeps families in the dark about how the state's 911 system has responded to calls involving their loved ones, and it has left the public oblivious to troubling gaps in how the system is performing, according to an investigation by The Public's Radio and ProPublica. In March, the news organizations reported on the 2018 death of a 6-month-old baby in Warwick after a Rhode Island 911 call taker failed to give CPR instructions to the family. The lapse came to light after a family member who took part in the 911 call requested a copy of the recording. In June, the news organizations reported on the death of Rena Fleury, a 45-year-old woman who collapsed while watching her son's high school football game in Cumberland last year. Four unidentified bystanders called 911. But none of the 911 call takers recognized that Fleury was in cardiac arrest. And none of them instructed the callers to perform CPR. The 911 recordings for Fleury were never made public. An emergency physician who treated Fleury testified about what happened during a state House committee hearing in March. Across the country, recordings of 911 calls for accidents, medical emergencies, mass shootings and natural disasters have provided insight into the workings of public safety systems and, in some cases, revealed critical failings.

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Sprint Says Hackers Breached Customer Accounts Via Samsung Website

2 days 21 hours ago
US mobile network operator Sprint said hackers broke into an unknown number of customer accounts via the Samsung.com "add a line" website. From a report: "On June 22, Sprint was informed of unauthorized access to your Sprint account using your account credentials via the Samsung.com 'add a line' website," Sprint said in a letter it is sending impacted customers. "The personal information of yours that may have been viewed includes the following: phone number, device type, device ID, monthly recurring charges, subscriber ID, account number, account creation date, upgrade eligibility, first and last name, billing address and add-on services," the US telco said. Sprint said the information hackers had access to did not pose "a substantial risk of fraud or identity theft," although, many might disagree with its assessment. The company said it re-secured all compromised accounts by resetting PIN codes, three days later, on June 25.

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Permission-Greedy Apps Delayed Android 6 Upgrade So They Could Harvest More User Data

2 days 22 hours ago
Android app developers intentionally delayed updating their applications to work on top of Android 6.0, so they could continue to have access to an older permission-requesting mechanism that granted them easy access to large quantities of user data, research published by the University of Maryland last month has revealed. From a report: The central focus of this research was the release of Android (Marshmallow) 6.0 in October 2015. The main innovation added in Android 6.0 was the ability for users to approve app permissions on a per-permission basis, selecting which permissions they wanted to allow an app to have. [...] In research published in June, two University of Maryland academics say they conducted tests between April 2016 and March 2018 to see how many apps initially coded to work on older Android SDKs were updated to work on the newer Android 6.0 SDK. The research duo says they installed 13,599 of the most popular Android apps on test devices. Each month, the research team would update the apps and scan the apps' code to see if they were updated for the newer Android 6.0 release. "We find that an app's likelihood of delaying upgrade to the latest platform version increases with an increase in the ratio of dangerous permissions sought by the apps, indicating that apps prefer to retain control over access to the users' private information," said Raveesh K. Mayya and Siva Viswanathan, the two academics behind the research.

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Amazon Offers $10 To Prime Day Shoppers Who Hand Over Their Data

2 days 23 hours ago
Amazon.com has a promotion for U.S. shoppers on Prime Day, the 48-hour marketing blitz that started Monday: Earn $10 of credit if you let Amazon track the websites you visit. From a report: The deal is for new installations of the Amazon Assistant, a comparison-shopping tool that customers can add to their web browsers. It fetches Amazon's price for products that users see on Walmart.com, Target.com and elsewhere. In order to work, the assistant needs access to users' web activity, including the links and some page content they view. The catch, as Amazon explains in the fine print, is the company can use this data to improve its general marketing, products and services, unrelated to the shopping assistant. The terms underscore the power consumers routinely give to Amazon and other big technology companies when using their free services. In this case, Amazon gains potential insight into how it should tailor marketing and how it could stamp out the retail competition.

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Amazon in EU Crosshairs as Vestager Fights Big Tech To the End

2 days 23 hours ago
Amazon.com faces a full-blown European Union antitrust probe as the bloc's competition chief Margrethe Vestager prepares for a summer finale to her five-year crackdown on U.S. technology giants. From a report: The Dane, who heads the EU's competition division, is poised to open a formal investigation into Amazon within days, according to two people familiar with the case, who asked not to be named because the process isn't public. Vestager has hinted for months that she wanted to escalate a preliminary inquiry into how Amazon may be unfairly using sales data to undercut smaller shops on its Marketplace platform. By ramping up the probe, officials can start to build a case that could ultimately lead to fines or an order to change the way the Seattle-based company operates.

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Los Angeles is Finally Ditching Coal -- and Replacing It With Another Polluting Fuel

3 days ago
An anonymous reader shares a report: The smokestack at Intermountain Power Plant looms mightily over rural Utah, belching steam and pollution across a landscape of alfalfa fields and desert shrub near the banks of the Sevier River. Five hundred miles away, Los Angeles is trying to lead the world in fighting climate change. But when Angelenos flip a light switch or charge an electric vehicle, some of the energy may come from Intermountain, where coal is burned in a raging furnace at the foot of the 710-foot smokestack. The coal plant has been L.A.'s single-largest power source for three decades, supplying between one-fifth and one-third of the city's electricity in recent years. It's scheduled to shut down in 2025, ending California's reliance on the dirtiest fossil fuel. But Los Angeles is preparing to build a natural gas-fired power plant at the Intermountain site, even as it works to shut down three gas plants in its own backyard. Although gas burns more cleanly than coal, it still traps heat in the atmosphere. It also leaks from pipelines as methane, a planet-warming pollutant more powerful than carbon dioxide. Critics say Los Angeles and other Southern California cities have no business making an $865-million investment in gas, especially when the state has committed to getting 100% of its electricity from climate-friendly sources such as solar and wind. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has touted his decision to close the three local gas plants as part of his own "Green New Deal" to fight climate change.

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How To Escape the 'Hyperactive Hivemind' of Modern Work

3 days 1 hour ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Our workplaces are set up for convenience, not to get the best out of our brains, says Cal Newport, bestselling author of books including Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, and a Georgetown University professor. In knowledge sector jobs, where products are created using human intelligence rather than machines, we must be switched on at all times and prepared to multitask. These are two things that are not compatible with deep, creative, insightful thinking. "In knowledge work, the main resource is the human brain and its ability to produce new information with value," says Newport. "But we are not good at getting a good return." Being switched on at all times and expected to pick things up immediately makes us miserable, says Newport. "It mismatches with the social circuits in our brain. It makes us feel bad that someone is waiting for us to reply to them. It makes us anxious." Because it is so easy to dash off a quick reply on email, Slack or other messaging apps, we feel guilty for not doing so, and there is an expectation that we will do it. This, says Newport, has greatly increased the number of things on people's plates. "The average knowledge worker is responsible for more things than they were before email. This makes us frenetic. We should be thinking about how to remove the things on their plate, not giving people more to do." What might being wired for work at all times lead to? Inevitably, burnout. Newport describes this way of working as a "hyperactive hivemind." Unstructured conversations on messaging apps and meetings dropped into diaries on the fly congest our day. His objective, to give people the space to do their best work without distraction, is the subject of his next book: The World Without Email. Newport's idea is to allow workers to do less work, but better. Cutting out unnecessary chatter is important but only if the organization's culture allows for slower communication. Newport advocates for a more linear approach to workflows. "People need to completely stop one task in order to fully transition their thought processes to the next one," reports the BBC. "However, this is hard when we are constantly seeing emails or being reminded about previous tasks. Some of our thoughts are still on the previous work -- an effect called attention residue." While it is very convenient to have everyone in an ongoing conversation, such as in a Slack thread, Newport says convenience is never the goal in business, it is value. "The assembly line revolutionized car production but it is not a convenient system -- it is the system that produces the most cars quickly."

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Machine Learning Has Been Used To Automatically Translate Long-Lost Languages

3 days 4 hours ago
Jiaming Luo and Regina Barzilay from MIT and Yuan Cao from Google's AI lab in Mountain View, California, have developed a machine-learning system capable of deciphering lost languages, and they've demonstrated it on a script from the Mediterranean island of Crete. The script, Linear B, appeared after 1400 BCE, when the island was conquered by Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland. MIT Technology Review reports: Luo and co put the technique to the test with two lost languages, Linear B and Ugaritic. Linguists know that Linear B encodes an early version of ancient Greek and that Ugaritic, which was discovered in 1929, is an early form of Hebrew. Given that information and the constraints imposed by linguistic evolution, Luo and co's machine is able to translate both languages with remarkable accuracy. "We were able to correctly translate 67.3% of Linear B cognates into their Greek equivalents in the decipherment scenario," they say. "To the best of our knowledge, our experiment is the first attempt of deciphering Linear B automatically." That's impressive work that takes machine translation to a new level. But it also raises the interesting question of other lost languages -- particularly those that have never been deciphered, such as Linear A. In this paper, Linear A is conspicuous by its absence. Luo and co do not even mention it, but it must loom large in their thinking, as it does for all linguists. Yet significant breakthroughs are still needed before this script becomes amenable to machine translation. For example, nobody knows what language Linear A encodes. Attempts to decipher it into ancient Greek have all failed. And without the progenitor language, the new technique does not work.

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Scientists Could Use Aerogel Sheets To Make Mars Surface Fit For Farming

3 days 7 hours ago
Scientists believe aerogel sheets could transform the cold, arid surface of Mars into land fit for farming. The Guardian reports: The "aerogel" sheets work by mimicking Earth's greenhouse effect, where energy from the sun is trapped on the planet by carbon dioxide and other gases. Spread out in the right places on Mars, the sheets would warm the ground and melt enough subsurface ice to keep plants alive. Should humans ever decide to spread beyond Earth, as the late Stephen Hawking declared we must, then growing food on alien worlds will be a skill that has to be mastered. But on Mars the conditions are hardly conducive. The planet is frigid and dry and bombarded by radiation, the soil contains potentially toxic chemicals and the wispy atmosphere is low on nitrogen. The aerogel sheets do not solve all of the problems but they could help future spacefarers create fertile oases on desolate planets where plants and other photosynthesizing organisms can take root. Because life would only grow beneath the sheets, the risk of contaminating the rest of Mars with foreign lifeforms would be minimal. The aerogel used to make the sheets is composed 97% of air, with the rest made up of a light silica network. The researchers, including scientists at Nasa and the University of Edinburgh, showed that 2cm- to 3cm-thick sheets of silica aerogel blocked harmful UV rays, allowed visible light through for photosynthesis and trapped enough heat to melt frozen water locked in Martian soil. The sheets could be laid directly on the ground to grow algae and aquatic plants, or suspended to provide room for land plants to grow beneath them. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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Elon Musk's Neuralink Will Detail Progress in Computer-Brain Interface

3 days 9 hours ago
Neuralink, Elon Musk's fourth and least visible company, will become a bit less secretive Tuesday with a livestreamed presentation about its technology to connect computers directly to human brains. From a report: Neuralink accepted applications from some folks to attend the San Francisco event to hear "a bit about what we've been working on the last two years," but the rest of us can tune in online at 8 p.m. PT Tuesday. "Livestream details will be available on our website shortly before event start," Neuralink tweeted Sunday. Neuralink, founded in 2016, is working on a way to let human brains communicate directly with computers. Goals include fast transfer rates and quick responses, but just establishing a connection and figuring out how to exchange useful information presents immense challenges. One possible approach involves an array of flexible probes inserted into the brain with a system resembling a sewing machine, an idea described by researchers reportedly associated with Neuralink. That's a lot cruder than the organically grown nanotechnological neural laces you'll find inside the brains of sci-fi characters, but it's remarkable that the technology is even under discussion.

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Social Media, But Not Video Games, Linked To Depression In Teens, Says Study

3 days 11 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: Screen time -- and social media in particular -- is linked to an increase in depressive symptoms in teenagers, according to a new study by researchers at Montreal's Sainte-Justine Hospital. The researchers studied the behavior of over 3,800 young people from 2012 until 2018. They recruited adolescents from 31 Montreal schools and followed their behavior from Grade 7 until Grade 11. The teenagers self-reported the number of hours per week that they consumed social media (such as Facebook and Instagram), video games and television. Conrod and her team found an increase in depressive symptoms when the adolescents were consuming social media and television. The study was published on Monday in JAMA Pedatrics, a journal published by the American Medical Association. The researchers "found that the increased symptoms of depression are linked to being active on platforms such as Instagram, where teens are more likely to compare their lives to glitzy images in their feeds," the report says. "They also tested to see if the additional screen time was taking away from other activities that might decrease depressive symptoms, such as exercise, but found that was not the case." Surprisingly, time spent playing video games was found to not be contributing to depressive symptoms. "The study suggests the average gamer is not socially isolated, with more than 70 percent of gamers playing with other people either online or in person," CBC.ca reports.

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Jet-Powered Flyboard Soars Over Paris For Bastille Day Parade

3 days 12 hours ago
New submitter HansiMeier33 shares a report from The Guardian: France's annual Bastille Day parade showcased European military cooperation and innovation on Sunday, complete with a French inventor hovering above Paris on a jet-powered flyboard. The former jetskiing champion and military reservist Franky Zapata clutched a rifle as he soared above the Champs-Elysees on his futuristic machine, which the French military helped to develop. The board, which was first created to fly above water, can reach speeds of up to 190km/h and can run for 10 minutes. The French armed forces minister, Florence Parly, said before the parade that the flyboard could "allow tests for different kinds of uses, for example as a flying logistical platform or, indeed, as an assault platform."

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Broadcom and Symantec End Buyout Talks

3 days 12 hours ago
phalse phace writes: Earlier this month, there was a report that Broadcom was in advance talks with Symantec about a possible buyout. It's being reported that those talks have now ended. "Symantec and Broadcom have ceased deal negotiations, sources tell CNBC's David Faber," reports CNBC. "The people familiar with the matter added that Symantec would not accept less than $28 a share. People familiar with the matter added that Broadcom indicated in early conversations that it would be willing to pay $28.25 per share for Symantec, but that following due diligence knocked that figure down below $28."

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Colleges Graduate 10,000 This Year With Masters In Data Science Degrees

3 days 13 hours ago
dcblogs writes: The Master of Science in Analytics was created in North Carolina State University in 2006. Today, there are about 280 colleges and universities that offer a similar graduate degree and in total, they will produce about 10,000 analytics master graduates in 2019. "The demand is there, but the supply [of data scientists] is catching up quickly," said Michael Rappa, who founded the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University. Graduates of these programs are typically called data scientists, a relatively new term that's often cited as one of the most in-demand occupations in the U.S. These programs aren't completely unique. Graduates with degrees in statistics, for instance, were forerunners of the shift to analytics. Despite the increase in graduates, the entry level salaries remain strong, typically beginning at $80K plus. Amazon recently cited data scientists as a second fastest internal growing occupations.

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Ajit Pai's New Gift To Cable Companies Would Kill Local Fees and Rules

3 days 13 hours ago
Ajit Pai is proposing a plan that would stop cities and towns from using their authority over cable TV networks to regulate internet access. His proposal, which is scheduled for a vote on August 1st, "would also limit the fees that municipalities can charge cable companies," reports Ars Technica. "Cable industry lobbyists have urged the FCC to stop cities and towns from assessing fees on the revenue cable companies make from broadband." From the report: If approved, Pai's proposal would "Prohibit LFAs [local franchising authorities] from using their video franchising authority to regulate most non-cable services, including broadband Internet service, offered over cable systems by incumbent cable operators." Pai's proposal complains that "some states and localities are purporting to assert authority" to collect fees and impose requirements that aren't explicitly allowed by Title VI, the cable-regulation section that Congress added to communications law with the Cable Act of 1984. Despite the Oregon Supreme Court ruling against Comcast, Pai's plan says "the majority of courts... have interpreted section 622(b) to prohibit states and localities from charging fees that exceed those expressly permitted by Title VI." Section 622 prevents local authorities from collecting more than 5 percent of a cable operator's gross revenue in any 12-month period. Pai's proposal also declares that "in-kind" contributions required by local franchising authorities must count toward that 5 percent cap, "with limited exceptions, including an exemption for certain capital costs related to public, educational, and governmental access (PEG) channels." But does the FCC have the power to preempt these local fees and requirements? "Having classified broadband as an information service (as part of its repeal of net neutrality rules), the Commission has determined that it is an unregulated service that it lacks regulatory authority over," consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge wrote in a November 2018 filing that urged the FCC to drop the plan. The FCC cannot regulate or preempt local regulation of "any service that does not fall within its Title II jurisdiction over common carrier services or its Title I jurisdiction over matters 'incidental' to communication by wire," the group said.

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Scotland Produced Enough Wind Energy To Power All Its Homes Twice Over

3 days 14 hours ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Wind turbines in Scotland generated 9,831,320 megawatt hours between January and June 2019, WWF Scotland said Monday. The numbers, which were supplied by WeatherEnergy, mean that Scottish wind generated enough electricity to power the equivalent of 4.47 million homes for six months. That is almost double the number of homes in Scotland, according to WWF Scotland. By 2030, the Scottish government says it wants to produce half of the country's energy consumption from renewables. It is also targeting an "almost completely" decarbonized energy system by 2050. "Up and down the country, we are all benefiting from cleaner energy and so is the climate," Robin Parker, climate and energy policy manager at WWF Scotland, said in a statement Monday. "These figures show harnessing Scotland's plentiful onshore wind potential can provide clean, green electricity for millions of homes across not only Scotland, but England as well," Parker added.

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