Web

UCLA undergrads predicted where Osama bin Laden was hiding — 2 years ago

UCLA-Osama-bin-Laden-locationMore than two years before President Obama declared “mission accomplished” on Osama Bin Laden, a class of UCLA geography undergraduate students accurately predicted the world’s former most-wanted terrorist hideout location.

Led by professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew, the students used satellite imagery and geographical theories to create a probabilistic model, which gave an 89.9 percent chance that Bin Laden was hiding out in Abbattabad, Pakistan — the exact location where US Navy SEAL operatives successfully found and killed the al-Qaeda leader on Sunday.

The students accomplished their work so well that their study was published in the prestigious MIT International Review under the title “Finding Osama bin Laden: An Application of Biogeographical Theories and Satellite Imagery.” (PDF)

Two geographical scientific theories, known as “distance-decay” and “island biogeography” (which are usually employed to keep track of endangered species) were used by the students to pinpoint what they believed was Bin Laden’s location. The students explain how these theories applied to their search for Bin Laden:

“Distance-decay theory and island biogeography theory are two biogeographic theories associated with the distribution of life and extinction that can be used to identify the location of bin Laden at global and regional spatial scales. Distance-decay theory states that as one goes further away from a precise location, there is an exponential decline in the turnover of species and a lower probability of finding the same composition of species (5-7). The theory of island biogeography states that large and close islands will have higher immigration rates and support more species with lower extinction rates than small isolated islands (8-9).

“These theories can be applied over varying spatial scales to posit bin Laden’s current location based on his last reputed geographic location. Distance-decay theory would predict that he is closest to the point where he was last reported and, by extension, within a region that has a similar physical environment and cultural composition (that is, similar religious and political beliefs).”

In addition to photos taken by satellites, the students used the information they knew about Bin Landen (e.g. that he was 6-feet 4-inches tall, where he was reportedly last seen, etc.), as well as data about past known Bin Laden hideouts like, for instance, that wherever he was hiding probably had surrounding walls more than 9-feet high.

Unfortunately, their work concluded that the most likely location — that with 98 percent probability — was the city of Parachinar, which is located almost 300 miles West of where Bin Laden was eventually killed. They came to this conclusion because Parchinar, the closest city to Bin Laden’s last-known location of Tora Bora, contained three different buildings that met all of the six criteria they believed the structure Bin Laden was hiding in possessed. It also had 16 buildings that met five of the criteria.

The students accurately predicted that Bin Laden would hide out in an inconspicuous house in a city, rather than in a mountain cave, as many presumed.

“The theory was basically that if you’re going to try and survive, you’re going to a region with a low extinction rate: a large town,” said Gillespie in an interview with Science Insider. “We hypothesized he wouldn’t be in a small town where people could report on him.”

Gillespie, who is currently in Hawaii studying trees, says that, despite zeroing in on the world’s most sought-after criminal well before the CIA, he has no intentions of switching to a career in counter-terrorism.

“It’s not my thing to do this type of [terrorism] stuff,” he said, adding: “Right now, I’m working on the dry forests of Hawaii where 45 percent of the trees are on the endangered species list. I’m far more interested in getting trees off the endangered species list.”

Read the full study here (PDF).

(Image via study)

Web

How much!? British Airways glitch results in $4.2M quote for family vacation

Website errors sometimes cause flight prices to display at way below the correct price. But British Airways recently experienced the opposite issue when it tried to charge a family more than $4 million for a vacation in Mexico.
Home Theater

Banish the bunny ears (and monthly bills) with these excellent HD antennas

When transitioning away from cable and satellite, finding the best HDTV antenna for your area can be tricky. To aid in your cord-cutting quest, we've compiled our picks of the best indoor HDTV antennas you can buy.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Gaming

Here's what we know about the Dark Souls developer's next game

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest game from Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer From Software. Here is everything we know about the new game, including its setting and combat changes.
Computing

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.
Computing

Delete tracking cookies from your system by following these quick steps

Cookies are useful when it comes to saving your login credentials and other data, but they can also be used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across multiple sites. Here's how to clear cookies in the major browsers.
Mobile

You can now listen to Google Podcasts on your desktop without the app

The Google Podcasts app is no longer entirely necessary to listen to the podcasts it offers. With a simple tweak of the sharing URL, you can listen to a Google Podcasts podcast on your desktop or laptop without the app.
Social Media

A Facebook, Instagram bug exposed millions of passwords to its employees

Facebook, Facebook Lite, and Instagram passwords weren't properly encrypted and could be viewed by employees, the company said Thursday. The network estimates millions of users were affected.
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
News

Drunk shoppers spend $48B per year while intoxicated, mostly on Amazon

Drunk shoppers spend more than $400 per year, according to the results of a survey carried out by The Hustle. The drunk shopping industry is apparently worth $48 billion, and Amazon is turning out to be the biggest beneficiary.
Computing

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. The best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Movies & TV

Apple’s next big event is minutes away: Here’s what you can expect

Apple's next big event takes place on March 25 in Cupertino, California. The company is expected to make several announcements related to its services, including Apple TV, so follow our guide to get ready for the big event.