Do not let your waitress take your group photo!

Posted in Problems on April 1st, 2018 by Michael

My sister and me at schoolSee those cute kids? As you can no doubt tell, that’s my sister Sandy and me in front of Charles Lindbergh Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan. I believe the occasion was my first day of elementary school in September of 1962. Photo courtesy of my loving, well-meaning father.

Honestly, could that photo be any worse? You can’t see Sandy. You can’t see me. You can barely even see the school! Why did my dad find it necessary to stand so far away from us? Did we smell bad? Was he permanently banned from the campus? (No to both questions.)

And this is why you should never let your waitress take your picture. Just about every time we go to take a picture of a group in a restaurant, a kind waitress will come by and offer to shoot the photo right as we’re lining everybody up in a selfie. In the past, we’ve handed over the camera to the nice waitress and smiled for the camera. She steps WAY back and snaps a couple of photos.  Just about every time, though, the results have been mediocre, and it’s usually because two simple rules have been broken.

Honestly, we should have just taken the selfie.

Listen, I’m not a professional photographer. But I have taken a couple of classes and read some articles and I have learned two simple rules about photography:

  • Rule one: Fill up the frame with your subject.
  • Rule two: Follow the rule of thirds.

And there’s maybe one more rule:

  • Rule three: Lighting matters

These rules are not complex. Just a few words about each:


The biggest mistake your waitress makes is simply that she stands too far back. She thinks she has to do that to get everybody in the picture, but she really gets WAY too far back. For one thing, you don’t need to see everybody from head to toe. You’re interested in seeing their faces, not their shoes. So leave their shoes out. You’re interested in seeing the people, not the restaurant decor (usually), so get close. Get right up there and fill the frame with everybody’s faces. Don’t forget to make sure everybody’s there, but get everybody into the frame and stop backing up right there. How about an example?

I noticed a pretty bouquet on the coffee table near my comfy chair and thought it would make a nice picture. Can you see it there right in the middle of the frame (more on the rule of thirds later)? It looks so … small and hard to find. Kind of like my sister and me in front of our school. Let’s try that one again:

Oh, that’s better! Now I can see the flowers and just a bit of background. It’s obvious what the subject of the picture is and I can see it in detail. I got up close and filled my frame with it and I rather like the result.


Pictures are more aesthetically pleasing when the subject isn’t right in the middle of the frame. For example, here’s another flower vase by my comfy chair:

This picture is okay, I guess, but it’s just missing something. Top Scientists tell us it’s because this picture violates the Rule of Thirds, which is defined by Wikipedia thusly: “The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”

In other words, put your subject a third of the way from the left or right and/or a third of the way from the top or the bottom. Easy as can be.

Let’s see how that last photo looks with I follow the rule of thirds:

Much more visually pleasing. This is another photo I like.

This rule is so important that your camera makes it easy to follow! On iOS, Apple has provided a “Grid” setting in the Camera preferences:

It couldn’t be easier:

Turn it on and you’ll be taking beautiful photos in no time.

And now for the last rule:


Lighting matters. Look at how your subject is illuminated. Take pictures when the sun is low in the sky whenever possible. Pose people in front of a window. Or just keep looking for beautifully illuminated subjects. Here’s one of my personal favorites:

So fill up that frame. Get that subject off-center. And use light to make things look interesting. Go forth and take beautiful images.

Alexa works on iOS! Mostly.

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Internet, Problems, Software on April 24th, 2017 by Michael

I was delighted to learn today that Alexa is finally ready for iOS! And it seems to work great, except for one glaring problem – one of my very favorite Alexa apps: Jeopardy.

Like many people, I’m a big fan of the Jeopardy television show. I’ve loved it since the Art Fleming days, when little-boy me ran home from school for lunch and watching Jeopardy with my mother. They may not have any more-loyal fans than me.

So I was delighted to learn today that Alexa was now working on iOS, within the Amazon app. I tried it out first by asking for a joke. No problem! Immediately, I asked it for today’s Jeopardy clues, since I’m out of town and don’t have access to my beloved Echos.

That’s when I discovered the problem: Jeopardy hangs the app very frequently when it’s waiting for a user response. Maybe they forgot to test that functionality. The only recourse seems to be to close and reopen the app, at which time it allows you to either start over or resume from where you left off.

But there was a bug with that too. One of the several times it hung, I closed and reopened the app and asked it to play another joke, just to be sure it was still working. Jeopardy had apparently not really closed that time (although it seemed to do so every other time I went through the close/open cycle) and interpreted my joke request as an answer.

I lost credit for my correct answer! Noooooo!

Anyway, please fix the iOS app to allow Jeopardy to work properly, Amazon. In the meantime, it works fine on my Amazon Fire tablet. So that’s plan B until they fix the iOS implementation.

Another OS X calendar quirk

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 16th, 2014 by Michael

angry-computeruserOkay, it just keeps getting weirder for me with in OS X. I created a calendar event just now and wanted to include the restaurant’s name, address, and phone number in the “Location” tab. When I enter that information into the Location box, the app pops up a suggested address that’s identical to mine, but doesn’t include the restaurant’s name or phone number, which I want there. When I click outside of the box to dismiss it, the app deletes my entry and puts in its own “suggested” data.

The only way I can get it to keep what I want there is to tab out of the field. If I subsequently click in that field (ever!), it changes it again.

Now, I love Apple products, and they usually do things well. But dammit, if I want to put additional text into the Location box for an appointment I have, Apple has absolutely no business forcing a change there. None.

Unacceptable, Apple.

Flaky iOS camera behavior

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 9th, 2014 by Michael


I’ve been getting an unrepeatable error with both my iPhone and iPad under iOS 8. The Camera app’s shutter sound doesn’t work on the first photograph. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s frequent enough that it’s noticeable. When I take a second photo, the sound is there.

I just tried to duplicate the problem with the Camera app started cold and again with it brought up from the background, and the sound worked great. I have no idea how to get it to repeat, but I swear I’m not going crazy!

I did a quick web search and couldn’t find any reference to this issue. Has this happened to you?

OS X Calendar app quirk discovered!

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on March 26th, 2014 by Michael

I just added an appointment to OS X’s Calendar app. It’s supposed to run from 10:00 AM until noon. I go to the app and double-click on a date, fill in the event description and location, and then click on the date/time and get this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.09.06 PM

From the keyboard, I enter 10:00 AM as the starting time. Then I tab to the next line and try to enter 12:00 PM as the ending time. It won’t enter that time. It enters it as 10:00 PM, after which I have to go back and manually change it:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.11.35 PM

In fact, it won’t let me type anything in the Hours space other than 11 until after I’ve changed the AM/PM indicator first. Now, I know I could do that and I know I could click on the time and select from Apple’s pre-ordained choices (from 30 minutes to 3 hours in half-hour increments). But what if I just want to type in an ending time? Don’t you think Apple’s programmers would automatically allow meetings to go past the noon/midnight barriers?

Am I the only one to discover this issue?