Category: Longform


  • Honestly, being on a self-imposed break from checking social media too often has left me wondering what “social media” can be for me. My circle of friends is incredibly small, but scattered all across the United States’ East Coast, as well as parts of Europe, and Australia. Social media is basically required to keep up with any of them.

    In middle school and high school, at least here in the US, you had a few options: iMessage or Snapchat. And basically everyone had Snapchat. It’s what we all used to communicate with each other. I’ve been on the app since 2012, when it first became available on Android, and I’ve grown used to Snapping back and forth with classmates or whatever.

    Even after all these years, and the drama that shit on Snapchat caused during high school specifically, I think it is one of the healthier platforms out there. Twitter certainly isn’t, Facebook feels like a place to go for “old people drama,” and Instagram is fine, I guess but really isn’t the same. Which is why I elected to keep Snapchat on my phone: most of my friends are on it, and there’s an incentive to keeping in regular contact with them.

    I have my own gripes with Snapchat, of course, but they aren’t shoving ads down your throat or some algorithmic timeline. It’s an intent-based social media network: you want to talk to your friends, you talk to your friends. You can either Snap them, or Chat them, or both! You can talk almost daily and inevitably start a streak. There are no barriers to entry, and no algorithms telling you what you can or can’t see based on what you might like. The timeline’s there, of course, but you have to go looking for it.

    Bottom line is: You just do the thing you want to do and just like that, it’s done.

    It’s the same thing with platforms like Mastodon and Bluesky, which are similarly intent-based: you tell it what you want to do, and it does the thing you want it to do. It doesn’t complain, it doesn’t tell you you’ll lose functionality (because you don’t), it just does. It makes things less addicting and more engaging. In my opinion, that’s a balance we all need to have in this heavily internet-connected world. I’m so happy to have finally found that balance.

    And frankly, there’s something to appreciate about that approach to creating software: giving users the tools to use the thing however it works for them. Especially in this day and age, where companies demand more and more control over how their things work alone, or with other services (or, rather, how they don’t do either and close off their products to other third-parties, requiring first-party subscription services for the device be fully functional. I’m looking at you, Apple.)

    I’m happy with what Snapchat has offered in this space. Intent-based social media apps matter, and regardless of some of my own complaints with it, it has honestly made a significantly positive impact on my friendships, and helped make them stronger… so I can forgive some of its shortcomings, for sure.


  • Honestly, I’ve found myself getting way too addicted to the ebbs and flows of social media. I doom-scroll and am anxious about what the next thing I’m going to see constantly, I’m consistently refreshing and pinging people when I really should be talking to them one-on-one. According to the Screen Time metrics on my iPhone, I spent 26 and a half hours on Twitter in the past two days. That’s not healthy!

    So, instead of continuing to develop a bad habit, I’m making the call to step back and take a break. The last post on any of my social media accounts until that exile date arrives will be a link to this blog post. Explanation on the decision below:

    It wasn’t, by any means, an “easy” or “clear-cut” decision — social media is part of my job, after all — but at some point it has moved beyond that and become a problem. I need to kick this now before it gets there. I spent about a half-hour cleaning up my phone, and utilizing Apple’s built-in Screen Time function to limit what websites and apps I can open. My failsafe is to move to an older, unsupported phone (iPhone 6 Plus) for a few days if this does not work, though it has been good today!

    My iPhone’s home screen has gotten a bit of a redesign. I basically live on Messages and Snapchat, and literally only use both to communicate with friends and family, so those stay pinned on my dock. Then–my home screen is made up of apps I need to access when unlocking my device. Apps such as password manager I’m testing (Proton Pass), two-factor authenticator (Authy), Apple News (yes, I actually use that), Duolingo (I’m learning Spanish!), and of course my Photos app, and Maps to stalk my dad.

    On my Mac, it’s a different story. I’m using Focus to eliminate those social media sites we talked about prior. The site not pictured that’s blocked here is Reddit, and that’s honestly because I don’t use it anymore. I deleted everything off of that hellscape anyway. If I want news, I open Apple News now. I’ve given up on Reddit. (You should, too.)

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do for my other computers filter-wise, but I really only use them for games anyway, so I’m not signed into social media on them to begin with. It’s the temptation that’s hard to resist with them, honestly.

    Oh, and until as such time as I deem it proper, I’ll be blocking social media sites from appearing on the linklog. At the very least until my self-imposed social media exile has ceased. Right now, I’m thinking of staying well away from it until the 17th of February, 2024, but honestly–I’d love to stay away until at least March 2024 just to really give myself time to detox and breathe for once.

    In the meantime, Slade’s Corner (this very blog) will continue, but I’ll be spending most of my regained time talking with friends privately (like I should have been doing in the first place) and working on some really cool projects that I look forward to sharing with you very soon.

    See you around the internet!


  • [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

    You can thank my grandfather for this, but the first operating system I ever used wasn’t Windows. It was actually Ubuntu 8.04, code-named “Hardy Haron” and released in April of 2008. Well, the 16th anniversary of its third Alpha release was on the 10th of January, 2024, and I wanted to mark the occasion with some sort of post since it’s such a huge part of my story and why I love computers so much.

    The operating system launched with GNOME 2 as its desktop environment, Firefox 3 for web browsing, OpenOffice 2.4 for its office suite, Transmission for torrenting, and–perhaps most notably–system sounded routed through the (at the time somewhat new) PulseAudio subsystem.

    Since Ubuntu 8.04’s release, Microsoft’s choke-hold on PC operating system market share has only grown. In fact, according to GlobalStats, Microsoft Windows holds around 72% of global desktop OS market share as of December 2023. For the same time period–Apple’s macOS (OS X) holds around 16.3%, and Linux holds around 3.8%. Windows’s marketshare is down around 3% (from around 75%) in December 2022, while macOS gained roughly 2% marketshare and Linux gained about 0.9%, give or take.

    My best guess as to why macOS and Linux are gaining users? Microsoft’s bloatware and privacy-invasive practices. The fact of the matter is that Windows is considered by many in the tech industry to be spyware, and they’ll go out of their way not to use it. Microsoft made this worse with recent versions of Windows 10 and 11, which barely let you switch off any telemetry, and whose browser–Microsoft Edge–will steal your data from other browsers on your system, too. I have a whole blog post about how I feel about the company here.

    I both miss (and don’t miss) how simple computers were back then, and I wish Linux-based operating systems started taking off much sooner than 2023. But now that there’s real competition in the space with Valve’s Proton compatibility layer, among other things, I’m excited to see Microsoft lose its foothold.

    And hopefully, with some regulation, their privacy-invasive practices will cease. Maybe one day…


  • The tech industry has been obsessed with AI for close to a year now. But it’s not just Silicon Valley. From Microsoft’s Copilot to Duolingo’s own AI-powered adaptive learning features, every company has been jumping on the AI bandwagon. What gives? Does this even matter to the average consumer? I’d hazard a guess that it doesn’t. Despite the marketing, AI mostly only gets used by enthusiasts, random people who want to have fun with it, or bad actors right now.

    That doesn’t make the tech useless, however. AI can be useful. But it’s also incredibly dangerous and highly unregulated—see Taylor Swift’s AI ‘nudes’ spreading across the internet from just the past week (don’t worry, the article I linked doesn’t have them), requiring Twitter to temporarily block searches for the musician on the platform. It’s easy to manipulate media with AI, and that’s something the U.S. Congress and lawmaking bodies across the globe should absolutely be working to get a handle on now, not later.

    Companies only see AI as “the next big thing” now because of the work OpenAI is doing on ChatGPT. Industries are trained to basically follow the money, and there’s money in AI. Apple is rumored to be doing some sort of implementation for their upcoming iOS release based on their own models, too. This sort of shift in every industries’ focus happens anywhere from once a year to every few years. Then, they quietly shut down all the work and pour all that investment down the drain in search of larger profits. It’s a cycle that lasts forever.

    The thing is, AI is another piece of technology that shouldn’t advance until there are guardrails in place protecting real people—of which Taylor Swift is—from getting hurt in the process. But then again, it’s possible this is just part of the cycle, and AI will fade into obscurity within the next few years.

    I don’t know for certain; and only time will tell.


  • First off: I want to be clear that I like Apple’s products. I have an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and a Mac. I don’t always have my personal SIM in an iPhone, but I use the other three fairly regularly. I enjoy their approach to software design. But the fact of the matter is, their concerns about “security” fall flat. They shouldn’t be making those decisions for their users on whether or not they can install any app they want–the users should. I’m not saying open up the filesystem or anything, but allowing third-party app stores and even direct installing of apps isn’t a bad thing.

    And if users are concerned about security, they can just not install anything from third-parties. Including from the App Store, which Apple touts as this mega secure thing (we’ll come back to that point in a sec.)

    That said, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) writes (emphasis mine):

    “[…] let’s take Meta as a good example. Their Instagram app alone is used by over 300 million people in Europe. Let’s just say for easy math there’s 250 million of those in the EU. In order to distribute Instagram on, say, a new Microsoft iOS App Store, Meta would have to pay Apple $11,277,174 PER MONTH(!!!) as a “Core Technology Fee”. That’s $135 MILLION DOLLARS per year. Just for the privilege of putting Instagram into a competing store. No fee if they stay in Apple’s App Store exclusively.

    DHH and I don’t always see eye-to-eye–who does?–but this is something I can absolutely rally behind him on. I’m not an EU resident, nor an expert in US or EU law, so take what I say with a grain of salt from here on out.

    Like DHH said in the title of his post, it’s an “extortion regime”–and I’d take it one step further to say it’s literally two giant middle fingers raised directly at the EU Parliament, who passed the Digital Markets Act not that long ago. It’s no secret that Apple makes a shit ton of money from the App Store, and for the EU to say “you can’t do that anymore here” literally hurts their wallet.

    The thing is, Android has been open since the platform’s infancy, so it really hasn’t had this problem. Don’t want the Play Store? Install another store. Google doesn’t care. Samsung doesn’t care. It might warn you about installing from “unknown sources” or whatever, but it won’t hinder you. No matter what kind of device you have, you can install whatever you want on Android. No questions asked. Play Protect will scan things for malware, but it still won’t stop you.

    Apple, however, seems committed to not allowing anyone to do what they want with their mobile devices that cost upwards of $1,000 USD. On the Mac, however? It’s a different story. Install what you want, no problem. It’s really absurd to me and I don’t fully understand why this hasn’t been taken up by regulators until now.

    Watching Apple list a bunch of requirements for “alternative app marketplaces” to even exist on iOS with their proposed rules seems like it’s the most bad faith attempt to comply with any law ever.

    iOS is one of the most secure platforms out there. My friend and fellow tech enthusiast ChiefGyk3D said in a mention to me on Mastodon that “stock ios [sic] is way more private” than Android is judging by his firewall logs. That’s not because of the App Store lock down. Remember how I said we’d come back to the whole “even third-party apps from the App Store are insecure” thing? Well, my friends at Mysk discovered a huge privacy-invading tactic that apps like TikTok use to collect your data every time they send a notification on iOS, too. (Oh, and their discovery has since made international headlines, so hats off to you guys if you’re reading this!)

    My point is, iOS’s leg up in security doesn’t come from being locked into the App Store. It comes from Apple’s own development and PR investments. The platform can still be cracked and exploited–that’s why jailbreaks are still popular to this day. There are ways around Apple’s own third-party app installation restrictions, too, that I won’t name here. You can find them with a Google search if you’re interested.

    The truth is, these rules Apple set forth this past week are preliminary and haven’t been approved. They probably won’t even go into play, and they’ll be forced to drop and tweak some things. I hope to God that they’re not accepted and they don’t move forward, for the sake of everyone involved. Apple is simply moving the “Apple Tax” they collect from the App Store over to this new “Core Technology Fee” of theirs, and then adding another shit ton on top of that. It’s a scare tactic, plain-and-simple, to keep people in their storefront and no-one else’s. They just want to make more money off this legislation, because again, it hurts their wallets. They cannot (and should not) be allowed to.

    And by the way–regardless of what their excellent PR team wants you to think–they’re kind of lying to you about some of this. I was always taught there are two sides to every argument, they’re just litigating their side in the court of public opinion instead of where it belongs. They have a lot of evangelists dedicated to their brand who won’t see why this is such a big deal, and why Apple is in the wrong. They’re using them against the EU right now.

    The law is clear, the EU shouldn’t accept this attempt at extortion. Apple must be put in their place once and for all.


  • No more Substack for Slade’s Corner

    After Substack declared they wouldn’t remove extremists and Nazis from their platform and ultimately doubled down on this stance, many blogs including Casey Newton’s child Platformer elected to leave. Like many, I patiently awaited what sort of “response” the company would give to the flooding of hate-filled speech on their site, and I was disappointed that they elected not to do that much in the interest of not censoring anyone.

    Act I. Hamish McKenzie responds, then Platformer leaves

    Hamish McKenzie, Co-Founder of Substack, wrote in the company statement (emphasis mine):

    “I just want to make it clear that we don’t like Nazis either—we wish no-one held those views. But some people do hold those and other extreme views. Given that, we don’t think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.

    How exactly? It isn’t censorship to say “we don’t want hate speech on our platform.” The fact of the matter is that not allowing them on your platform gives them one less meaningful place to spread their hate and lies, or call for violence against Jews and others. It should be a platform’s goal to remove that sort of hate speech from their website and not give it space. And it’s certainly not an opinion that the Holocaust happened — it is a fact that it did.

    Casey Newton writes:

    “In the end, we found seven that conveyed explicit support for 1930s German Nazis and called for violence against Jews, among other groups. Substack removed one before we sent it to them. The others we sent to the company in a spirit of inquiry: will you remove these clear-cut examples of pro-Nazi speech? The answer to that question was essential to helping us understand whether we could stay.”

    And why was the conscious decision to simply not do anything until the folks at Platformer stepped in to give you a (small) list of publications that were promoting this garbage? Whether or not Substack believes it, they’ve set themselves up for failure with this decision, as publications like mine and Casey Newton’s elect to leave it behind.

    That’s a huge loss in revenue and readership for them. It hurts their bottom line. And in my opinion, that’s a good consequence for their inaction. I have a feeling that Substack won’t stick around long, and it’s probably for the best in this case.

    Act II. Do I build something of my own, or use a turnkey solution?

    With McKenzie responding the way he did, I knew I couldn’t stay with Substack. As someone who is both gay and autistic, I have a very low tolerance for hate–and if Substack would allow Nazis and other hateful speech on their platform, they’d allow the sort of thing that targets both of those underrepresented communities I’m part of, too. That doesn’t sit right with me.

    Therefore, I knew I had to do something. In collaboration with a couple of my friends who will be testing it, I’m building Beauregard CMS out to fill the gaps that Substack will leave for publications like mine. It’ll have email newsletters, memberships (through Stripe), and so much more community-focused features. Oh, and if any friends still “stuck” on Substack want to migrate off of it, I’m happy to help you move to Beauregard CMS. I’m building this for you, not just me.

    In fact, the website you’re reading now was made with Beauregard. My mom’s website (when it’s finished) is also powered by Beauregard. Everything about your website in Beauregard is customizable, from the themes to the plugins, all backwards-compatible with anything that targets WordPress 6.3+.

    I have called upon a couple friends I trust to help build this. They’re readers like you who will be assisting me in testing the platform–from locking things behind memberships, to testing random little features I happen to build. As a thank-you, they (along with their partners) will get access to everything I’m writing and working on here, for free, forever.

    Not everything’s in place yet, though. Email subscriptions don’t work right now (don’t worry–this will return soon, and existing subscribers will get moved over), there are some SEO things to clean up, there will need to be some design tweaks and other enhancements made over time as well to make sure this website is accessible.

    On SEO: SladeWatkins.net isn’t a new domain name, but it has historically redirected to my main website, so search engines will need some time to crawl and grab the latest info again. I’ve made sure tags are in place to move this along as fast as possible.

    Act III. Slade’s Corner expands

    A side effect of the move off of Substack is the expansion of what Slade’s Corner has to offer. I’ll be updating more frequently, and more freely. I won’t be restricted by Substack’s limitations. That will lead to some interesting things.

    For example, you’ll see commentary from me on news (similar to this), alongside random things about Pokémon and others. Paid memberships will return and things will be exclusive to that. I’ll be able to offer more out of a paid membership than I ever could before. For the first time in a long time, I’m actually excited to have my own little weblog again.

    This comes at a cost, of course, and that’s my development energy. I’m developing Beauregard for my family, friends and I to use. In order to help myself not burn out, I’m following the same exact “cycle” schedule that 37signals uses, with some slight modifications. I’ll be collecting feedback from my friends, as well, and compiling all into one place as “quick wins” to work on during a “cooldown.” While this ultimately means slower development times, I think it’ll keep me sane making something that’s meant to “compete” (not really) with Substack.

    Conclusion

    Blogging is a beautiful thing that can turn into a career or side hustle on the modern internet. I want that to happen for me one day, but that can only happen by building Beauregard. My family and friends being on it gives me the motivation to keep building cool stuff. Things I think people will want to use.

    But one thing’s for sure, this is going to be fun! Thanks for joining me, I hope you’ll stick around.