The Journey

Whitworth Alum Has Hands in Every Pot
Graduate Carlson Brews Success

By Derek Casanovas

The alarm goes off around 8 a.m.

Groggy, he rises out of bed and makes his way into the kitchen. A clatter echoes through the house, as he ritualistically gathers the coffee beans and a mug. After grinding, dosing, tampering and extracting, steam billows out of the La Pavoni Europiccola espresso machine. The aroma besieges him, and the morning double shot is ready.

Another busy day is underway for Jeff Carlson, '92.

"The world moves much better with a bit of espresso in the morning," Carlson

It must. To avoid nasty caffeine headaches, Carlson drinks about four or five double espressos in his average 18-hour day.

"God forbid, my parents grew up drinking instant coffee," Carlson said.

One might say Carlson's world grinds along at a constant pace. He deals with content daily as the managing editor of TidBITS (a weekly electronic newsletter on Apple and Macintosh news), a biweekly column in The Seattle Times on recent Apple news, a how-to Adobe software book, freelance writing and editing and two online blogs. With all this on his saucer, it's easy to see why Carlson reaches for the java.

In the midst of his responsibilities, it's clear that Carlson's life centers around his career as a freelance writer. To do so, however, Carlson doesn't always have freedom in writing.

"In order to be freelance, you have to say yes to a lot of things," Carlson said.

The most important "yes" Carlson may have ever made might be sending in book ideas to a Peachpit Press editor after a Macworld Conference & Expo more than 10 years ago.

In conjunction with Peachpit, Carlson has put out nearly 30 books and articles on working with software and technology that people may otherwise have no idea how to use.

"Most programs these days don't come with manuals," Carlson said.

In lieu of the manuals, Carlson hopes his step-by-step guides will help people who want to use Adobe Photoshop to organize and tweak their photos or people who want to design Web pages use Adobe Go Live to create layouts with graphics.

Carlson has also put out three books on Web design through Rockport Publishing.

Much of his success can be attributed to his upbringing as, well, a nerd.

"It was completely growing up a geek," Carlson said. Computers piqued his interest at a young age. Carlson brought a Commodore 64 with him when he packed up and came to Whitworth his freshman year. The Whitworthian had just bought two brand new Macintosh computers when he came to school. With his technical know-how, Carlson keyed the early days of The Whitworthian's move to the virtual world.

"I did most of the layout for the first two issues," Carlson said. "Then I taught everyone else how to do it."

His interest in cutting-edge technology never waned. Carlson said it is just fun to use and follow the newest of the new toys manufacturers come out with.

The same can't be said for his wife, Kim (Thompson, '92). "My wife doesn't care about it at all," Carlson said. "I can put her to sleep talking about video editing."

Another way Carlson has scooped up work as a writer and editor has been through the company he founded, Never Enough Coffee Creations. The name is a creative moniker Carlson came up with to show his passion for coffee.

"I didn't want to be 'Jeff Carlson Inc.'," Carlson said.

Carlson also markets Never Enough Coffee merchandise like T-shirts, mugs and postcards adorned with his own coffee themed graphics and photos.

Many of the projects Carlson does through Never Enough Coffee Creations fell into his lap after Carlson's previous employer, Open House Books, folded.

"There have been lots of happy coincidences and accidents that have led to books," Carlson said.

Some of the coincidences have come about through Carlson's own interests. During a vacation in Alaska, he picked up Apple's iMovie to edit some of the footage he took while on the trip. Carlson also picked up a PalmPilot to stay organized in day-to-day operations. Both led to book projects.

Coincidences aside, Carlson is a rarity in the modern media world. Many writers who attempt freelance fail after a short time trying to land work on their own. Making a personal decision to fly solo following an interview with then start-up company Inc., Carlson feared the worst.

"I thought, 'I made a terrible mistake'," Carlson said.

Twelve years later, though, Carlson has brewed up a pot full of success working independently. He shares an office in Fremont, Wash., with two other self-employed entrepreneurs, where he does some of his writing. Carlson also works out of his own home in North Ballard, Wash.

Most recently, Carlson developed and published the second edition of the Apple TV Pocket Guide. Additionally, Carlson is putting together the most recent edition of Peachpit's Visual QuickStart Guide for Adobe Photoshop Elements. Carlson was also tied up writing and editing articles for TidBITS following the 2008 Macworld Conference & Expo in mid January. Being busy as he is, there are some tasks he simply doesn't have time for. "About the only thing I don't do during the day is clean my office, which is truly unfortunate," Carlson said in an e-mail interview.

Carlson's most recent project, though, might be his most important: the arrival of a new bean in the Carlson family bag, Ellie Wren Carlson, he and Kim's first child. Carlson said in an e-mail interview that the common conception about having kids is an Earth-shattering experience can be a bit overstated.

"Becoming a father has been a remarkably natural change for me, like walking into a room where you feel immediately more comfortable," Carlson said. Even as the feeding, sleep patterns and diaper duty have incorporated some different duties into his life, Carlson said this life change has been less drastic than he once imagined.

As he and Kim embark on this adventure of parenthood, Carlson will certainly be armed with one of his most essential survival tools. He will gather the coffee beans and mug in the dim morning light. He will make the usual double shot to get the day jumpstarted. He will press the day's first cup to his lips and sigh in approval. Then, and only then, will the world start moving better for Jeff Carlson.