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What causes a person to become radicalized?
This was the subject of a fascinating talk delivered by Tamar Mitts, an assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, at a “data science day” hosted by the school on Wednesday. Mitts studied the efficacy of Twitter-disseminated propaganda supporting the self-identified Islamic State, or ISIS, in 2015 and 2016. To avoid the “obvious ethical issues” which attend to subjecting humans analysts to ISIS propaganda, Mitts said she used machine learning algorithms to identify and sort messages and videos into various categories, such as whether they contained violence. Then she parsed her dataset to uncover trends.
Mitts’ results were a revelation. Even though people tend to associate ISIS propaganda with heinous acts of brutality—beheadings, murder, and the like—Mitts found that such violence was, more often than not, counterproductive to the group’s aims. “The most interesting and unexpected result was that when these messages were being coupled with extreme, violent imagery, these videos became ineffective,” Mitts said. In other words, the savagery for which ISIS became famous did not appeal to the majority of its followers; positive messaging found greater success.
There’s a caveat though: Anyone who was already extremely supportive of ISIS became even more fanatical after encountering a piece of propaganda featuring violence. So, while violent acts turned off newcomers and casual sympathizers, they nudged ideologues further down the path of radicalization. Extremism begets polarity.
In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, Mitts’ research gains even more relevance. Tech giants are continuing to fail to curb a scourge of violence and hate speech proliferating on their sites. World governments are, meanwhile, passing ham-fisted policies to stem the spread of such bile.
Perhaps Mitts’ discoveries could help society to avoid repeating history’s darkest moments. My appreciation for her work grew after I finished reading In the Garden of Beasts, a gripping journalistic endeavor by Erik Larson, which details the rise of Nazi Germany through the eyes of an American ambassador and his family living in Berlin. Afterward, I watched a YouTube video—an innocuous one—recommended by the author: Symphony of a Great City, a 1927 film that documented the daily life of ordinary Berliners at that time. It amazes me to think how, within a few years, these souls would come under the sway of Hitler’s bloodthirsty regime.
While the Internet makes zealotry easier than ever to incite, today’s tools also make it easier to study.
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
Time passes quickly and the WiFi is spotty here in Trāyastriṃśa, so I apologize for taking so long to check out how you’ve been doing with our company.
Of course, truth be known, Apple was already on that trajectory when I handed you the company, but props anyway.
Beyond that, though, I feel I must ask: Is that ALL you could manage with that money and talent? Seriously?
OK… Let me calm down… Deep breath… Nam Myoho Renge Kyo… Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.. That’s better.
Look, Tim, I don’t want to go all heavy on your case, but here’s what you need to do to make Apple great again:
1. Invest in new technology.
You let our cash on hand get all the way up to $245 billion??? Earning maybe 3% interest? Are you out of your mind?!?! With those deep pockets, we should be making huge investments and acquisitions in every technology that will comprise the world of the future. You’ve let that upstart Musk make us look like IBM. That’s just plain wrong.
2. Attack and cripple Google.
Google is our new nemesis, remember? They attacked our core business model with that Android PoC. But, Tim, c’mon… Google is weak. They can’t innovate worth beans and most of their revenue still comes from online ads, which are only valuable because they constantly violate user privacy. You could cut their revenues in half if you added a defaul 100% secure Internet search app to iOS and Mac OS. Spend a few billion and make it faster and better than Google’s ad-laden wide-open nightmare. This isn’t brain surgery.
3. Make the iPad into a PC killer.
WTF? The iPad was supposed to be our big revenge on Microsoft for almost putting us out of business. All it needed was a mouse and could have killed–killed!–laptop sales. Sure, it would have cut into MacBook sales, but that’s the way our industry works. I let the Macintosh kill the Lisa, remember? And the Lisa was my personal pet project. The iPad could have been the next PC… and it still might not be too late.
4. Give our engineers private offices.
I get it, Tim. You’re not a programmer. You built your career in high tech but it was always in sales and marketing, which are the parts of the business where a lot of talking and socializing make sense. But if you’d ever designed a product, or actually written code, you’d know engineering requires concentration without distractions. Programmers and designers don’t belong in an open plan office. Give them back their private offices before it’s too late.
5. Don’t announce trivial dreck.
A credit card? Seriously? Airbuds with ear-clips? A me-too news service? Is that best you can do? And what was with Oprah And Spielberg at the event? Hey, the year 2007 called and wants its celebrities back. Look, when you gin up the press and the public up for a huge announcement and it’s just meh tweaks to existing products or me-too stuff, it makes us look lame and out of touch. If we don’t have anything world-shaking, don’t have an announcement!
6. Stop pretending we’re cutting edge.
There was a time–I remember it well–when people would line up for hours just to be the first to get our innovative new products. Heck, we even had “evangelists” who promoted our products to our true-believers. But that’s history. Until we come out insanely great new products that inspire that kind of loyalty, dial down the fake enthusiasm.
7. Make Macs faster, better, cheaper–more quickly.
I’m honestly embarrassed what you’ve done with the Mac. You’ve not released a new design in years. Sure, MacBooks were cool back in the day, but now they’re just average. And where’s our answer to the Surface? Tim, you actually let Microsoft–Microsoft again!–pace us with a mobile product. That’s freakin’ pitiful.
8. Diversify our supply chain out of Asia.
Tim, Tim, Tim… I love Asia, but you’ve bet our entire company on the belief that there will never be another war (shooting or trade) there. Meanwhile, China has become more aggressive and there’s a madman with nuclear weapons perched a few miles from our main supplier for iPhone parts. Wake up! We need to sourcing our parts in geographical areas where war is less likely.
9. Fix our software, already.
This was the one that surprised me the most. I knew that iTunes, iBooks, Music, and AppStore was a crazyquilt but I figured we could fix that in a future release. But here we are, ten years later, and we’re still asking people to suffer through this counter-intuitive bullsh*t? And what’s with the recent instability with our operating systems? And that wack Facetime security hole?
10. Make some key management changes.
Delete your account.
In doing so, it has cut its on-site hardware footprint from 24U to 4U, slashed equipment and licensing costs, and reduced data restore times from hours or days to minutes.
The move also gives Cranfield peace of mind in disaster recovery by gaining the ability to run all operations from any location using virtual servers running in Azure, should the entire site become unavailable.
The refresh comes alongside one in which the university replaced its existing Pure Storage flash storage arrays with 12 nodes of Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure hardware.
The entire project is a drive towards simplifying Cranfield’s on-site physical infrastructure in a move that encompasses cloud as a site for storage (and compute in case of outages).
Cranfield is a leading research establishment in science, industry and technology, with 1,600 staff and 4,000 postgraduate students.
Its IT stack is based around Microsoft and Linux servers with Microsoft and Oracle-based applications. It is effectively 100% virtualised on VMware, with 400-600 virtual machines running at any one time.
Its existing backup infrastructure was based on Veeam backup software and Data Domain hardware, with replication to a third party-hosted Data Domain box.
That setup had reached end of life and was showing the signs, said head of IT infrastructure Edward Poll.
“Data Domain did what it was supposed to do, but it was time to refresh things and we wanted to reduce costs, management time and complexity, and increase performance,” he said.
“The major issue with Data Domain had become restores. It ingests well, but recovering was more problematic. It would be fine for one restore, but if we’d had to restore multiple – 50, 100 or 150 – servers, we would have struggled.”
Cranfield’s IT department had already started a journey towards cloud by using StorSimple appliances – with about 80TB on site and 0.5PB in the Azure cloud – and had discovered how cost-effective it can be.
“Azure was a good fit and we started by thinking we could use Veeam and Data Domain instances in the cloud, but it was suggested to us, ‘why not get rid of a layer of software?’, and we looked at using Rubrik appliances,” said Poll.
Rubrik is part of an emerging category of backup appliances that come as nodes that build into clusters in a similar way to hyper-converged infrastructure.
Rubrik’s software appliance can come on approved server hardware from Cisco, HPE or Dell with flash and spinning disk inside. Capacities for a minimum four-node cluster are in the 64TB-160TB range, depending on the hardware.
Customers can set policies to specify how long data should be retained as a backup and which can be accessed for production use from Rubrik hardware. Rubrik backup data is seen as an NFS file share before being sent to an in-house physical archive or the cloud.
Cranfield has deployed eight Rubrik R348S nodes with a total of about 80TB of storage on site, with flash and SAS spinning disk tiers of storage inside. Data is ingested, then copied off to the Azure cloud.
The key benefits for Poll’s team are the substantially better restore times, plus the ability to potentially restore virtual machines in the cloud, allowing staff to work from any location in the event of a disaster.
Rubrik’s CloudOn enables rapid recovery to allow for business continuity in the event of a disaster, said Poll. “If our on-prem site is down, we can quickly convert our archived VMs into cloud instances, and launch those apps on-demand in Azure,” he added.
“We don’t notice any difference in data ingest, but performance on restores is very much better.”
In cost terms, Cranfield had been spending £50,000 a year on off-site hosting. It now spends about £25,000 a year with Microsoft Azure.
Meanwhile, time spent managing backup is down from about half a day a week to five minutes a day.
In terms of physical space and equipment savings, Poll said the university had turned off 42U of storage and backup devices, of which backup servers and Data Domain comprised 24U.
“Overall, it has given us a simpler, faster and more reliable backup service,” he said. “It is more easily integrated with a department that is moving towards a DevOps model, and when it comes to data recovery, we are down to minutes rather than many hours.”
The storage and backup refresh – with the move towards hyper-converged infrastructure – forms part of a wider plan to rationalise IT by making use of contemporary devices’ formats with a smaller physical footprint, as well as the cloud.
Poll added: “The university masterplan is to knock down the IT department and to no longer have two large datacentres on site. Instead, there will be one datacentre, a ‘resiliency room’ for redundancy of network equipment, and the cloud.”