Using Data to Find Bin Laden

Map picture

Where they thought he was and where he was.

Great piece — Geographers Had Predicted Osama’s Possible Whereabouts – ScienceInsider (thanks Daily Kos- Geographers predict Osama’s location) which tells the story of Thomas Gillespie, a UCLA geographer

who, along with colleague John Agnew and a class of undergraduates, authored a 2009 paper predicting the terrorist’s whereabouts, were none too shabby. According to a probabilistic model they created, there was an 88.9% chance that bin Laden was hiding out in a city less than 300 km from his last known location in Tora Bora: a region that included Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed last night.

Here’s their original paper: It’s not as if these guys identified the town correctly (and the Science article has had to backtrack on some of its original assertions and the comments aren’t kind), but they got a lot of things right: They figured out he was much likely to be in a house than a cave, and in a relatively large town rather than a village, and that he was in Pakistan rather than somewhere else. They also predicted the kind of building he would be living in. In the end they were less than 300 km off.

Not bad, when you look at what the CIA was saying about him before (of course, they may have been trying to put people off the scent, but we know that it was only earlier this year that they had an idea he might be in the house:

Bluetooth And The Art Of Safe Sex

I’ve been researching Islam and technology for a story due out later this week. There’s been some interesting gadgets enter the market place recently aimed at Muslims but what also interested me are the attitudes of Muslims towards technology: Was there any life left in the non-Muslim perception that Islam does somehow not approve of technology? Short answer: No.

Anyway, long introduction to what I hope is just a mere misunderstanding in a piece by Ali Al-Baghli, Kuwait’s former oil minister, in the Arab Times last week (thanks to blueserker), who writes an interesting article on the relationship between Muslims and technology. While I think I follow his tack, towards the end I share the confusion of blueserker who says “I’m really hoping there is a translation issue here”.

Al-Baghli’s main point is that technology can be used for good and bad. While ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘extremists’ have long opposed the use of technology, from satellite dishes to mobile phones, it is the extremists, he says, who have also benefitted from this such tools such as the mobile phone “because it can be used to carry out terrorist acts”. True: Jemaah Islamiyah relied on the mobile phone to plan and execute the Bali bombing in 2002. (It also led to their capture.)

But I lose him in his last paragraph on Bluetooth: “This device is being used by thousands of people and is most beneficial to engineers and medical staff because of the voice and view facility.” Can’t disagree so far. However he goes on:

This new device has sent shock waves in Kuwait because some young boys and girls make wrong use of it and the Ministry of Justice was prompt in forming a committee – comprising legal and legislative experts in addition to attorneys – to regulate its use. If what we have heard is right, the reaction is shameful. The Bluetooth is like a knife – you can use it in the kitchen while cooking or to kill someone. It is also like a ‘safe sex’ tool mostly used by whores to prevent pregnancies. Can we prevent people from using knives and ‘safe sex’ tools… just because some are making wrong use of it?

I can only assume the former minister is referring to the emergence of Bluetoothing — the art of picking up partners in public via Bluetooth — which, according to a comment added to this posting to back in April, has been going on for quite a while in Kuwait. I have to confess, however, I’m not sure where the knives come in, and how, exactly, Bluetooth is used in safe sex. Can anyone explain?