Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Jesse Kriss

Jesse Kriss

Software designer and developer (Netflix)

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I'm Jesse Kriss. I build software for humans, mostly on the web. I work on the Information Security team at Netflix, where I focus on making security software reasonable (and reasonably easy) for people who have access to Netflix corporate stuff. We open source our work when we think it might be useful to others.

Before Netflix, I did various mixes of software design and development at NASA/JPL, the Obama 2012 tech team, Figure 53, and IBM Research.

I've been lucky to find interesting pockets of software work that's outside of the typical sales paradigm–I get to solve problems with technology without having to worry about who will buy it.

Outside of my day job, I try to wrestle with the question–to put it bluntly–of how we survive the present and the future. I used to believe that global and national institutions were more or less on track, and would address the key problems of our era. I don't believe that anymore.

Given my professional area and training, I feel a particular responsibility regarding questions of technology, society, and sustainability. Much of my recent reading is in this area. I'm also an adjunct thesis advisor for Art Center's Media Design Practices MFA program, where students are engaging with critical questions about our present and future through a lens of design.

I'm fundamentally interested in resilience. Who and what do we depend upon? How can we be intentionally interdependent at a human level while building systems, both social and technological, that can adapt to new conditions and lead to better futures? What can we practice now?

While I love my job, I also think it's critically important that we all actively engage in imaging and building the futures we want as individuals and as community members, outside of the bounds of the workplace. Unfortunately, very few of us have the energy for that once we've done our days work, compensated or not. I realize I am lucky to have any surplus at all, and I'd like to try to make it count.

I write a bit, infrequently, sometimes about anti-capitalist, human scale software, the web and authoritarianism, future practice, and other stuff. Sometimes I also help out with projects over at Ragtag.

My latest experiment is around community lending. You can read about some of the background, if you like.

What hardware do you use?

My work setup is mostly uninteresting: I've got a 13" Touchbar MacBook Pro, plus a Pixelbook that I drag around to meetings and stuff. I have an Evoluent VerticalMouse that I swear by, and have been using for about 15 years now. I started getting wrist pain in grad school from using a trackpad all the time, and this cleared that right up. It sits on a MouseRug.

I used an iPhone SE for a long time, until the logic board gave out, which messed with the power consumption. I kept using it for a while even though I had to charge it multiple times a day. It was partially out of stubbornness, and partially as a reminder of what it's like when those resources we take for granted - like power - get scarce.

As a replacement, I picked up a weird Android phone: the Doogee S90. It's ruggedized, supports additional internal storage with a micro SD card, and has some other features that I like. I can't access work stuff with it, though, so I have my main SIM in my work phone - a Google Pixel - that I carry with me most of the time. I have a Twilio SIM in the Doogee, just in case I want to use it when I'm out and about.

I was a latecomer to the Bluetooth headphone camp, but I spend a lot of time on the shuttle to and from work, and my Sony MDR-100ABN headphones are really fantastic. They're light, super comfortable, sound amazing, and have really impressive battery life.

Outside of work, I'm getting increasingly interested in minimal computing. What's most necessary for a given task? What solves the problem at a lower price point? What does computing look like in a degrowth society?

My favorite piece of hardware right now is my AlphaSmart Neo 2, an electronic word processor built in the early 2000's for the educational market. It has a six-line display, a full size keyboard, and memory for storing up to 8 text files. It runs on 3 AA batteries, and has an advertised battery life of 700 hours. (Yes, seven hundred.) I wrote a bit about why I think it's so great. I can actually plug it straight into my Android phone to transfer text, which is very satisfying.

I started with the AlphaSmart 3000, which is a little bit cheaper, and has a fun iMac aesthetic to it. I prefer the keyboard on the Neo 2, though, and it can fit a bit more text on the display at one time.

I'm quite happy with my Kindle Oasis, which gets a lot of use. I like real books, too, but it's great not to carry them around all the time.

I play around a bit with Raspberry Pis of various flavors, and low-priced Kindle Fires to see how cheap and portable I can go and still do what I want to do with computers.

I'm also increasingly skeptical of the reasonableness of our all-in-one devices. They're convenient, sure, but why should I be using mobile data to stream music to a $1000 phone when I can get an MP3 player for $26 that can hold 7000 songs on a micro SD card and has 80 hour battery life? The ethical and ecological impact of cheaply made products isn't so great, but I think it's at least worth being somewhat aware of the tradeoffs we're making.

I used to make DJ mixes with real records and a couple of Technics 1200s, but now it's pretty much all Serato Scratch Live and a Pioneer DDJ-SR. It's definitely more portable and space efficient, but it's honestly not quite the same.

I kind of collect Bluetooth speakers, which is a problem. I've got a pretty beefy BoomCase, which is fun, plus a few more typical ones like the Ultimate Ears Boom and a few cheaper, smaller ones.

And what software?

My software tools are pretty simple these days: Google Docs is unavoidable, and most of the other text ends up in Atom, Slack, or my email client. Most of my design work these days starts on a whiteboard, and moves to code from there.

My phone software is pretty run of the mill, too. Most time there is spent with the Twitter app, email, Spotify, and some Instagram here and there. Instapaper kicks in if I'm on a plane.

I use altcloud for all my little web projects these days. It makes it easy to run a whole bunch of websites on a cheap cloud provider, and can do just a little bit of fanciness if you need more than a simple static site. It handles custom domains and automatic https, too.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream is to have a small set of specialized tools that cover my core tasks and optimize for battery life, portability, and durability over speed, features, or connectedness. I'd be really happy to ditch my laptop and my platform-locked devices.

Here's how I think it would break down:

Reading: an e-ink reader with the display quality and build quality of the Oasis, but without being locked into Amazon's ecosystem.

Writing: the AlphaSmart Neo 2 is nearly perfect, but a version with a modern, slimmer, quieter keyboard would be ideal.