Because I’m both a teacher at heart and a quasi-geek, I sometimes find myself talking about simple things in incredible minutiae. This doesn’t always endear me to my audience.

This morning, I received a sideways, face-not-blurred version of this image, along with a request to rotate it and explain in step-by-step detail what I had done.

Moiré-pattern in a shrunken image

Backtrack to that minutiae thing, and I’m the right guy for the job. But Holy Cow are there a lot of things I can talk about when asked a simple, one-line question.

Being oh-so-clever and knowing that the person who had asked for this help is a Macintosh user, I began with these instructions:

  1.  Get a PC
  2.  See how much easier your life becomes

Of course, that doesn’t solve my correspondent’s problem, which in real terms was “I know I’ve asked you this before and feel silly so maybe you can write down the steps for me?”

The problem with that is that because everybody’s computer is set up a little bit differently there are no universal instructions that can be shared, not even for describing something as simple as rotating a picture. So I did a little movie of the process of me rotating the image to illustrate my point:

The steps are simple

  • I opened the attachment from inside my email program using the program I have set up to open .JPG files
  • I pulled down the “image” menu and “rotated right”
  • I pulled down the “file” menu and saved the new version

And that’s actually harder than it would have been if I wasn’t shooting the movie and describing the steps; in real life the second step is tapping “r” for Right (as opposed to “l” for Left)

The program I use is called “IrfanView”, and it’s free. And it exists only in PC-Land. I do most of my image manipulation work using it, even though I have “better” software, because for 99% of jobs, 99% of the time it’s all—and as good as—I need. Are there Mac equivalents? I’m sure of it. But here’s the thing:

Macs come with a couple of pieces of image manipulation software built in, but as with most things Apple, they’re set up to make everything seem simple, but introduce problems if you don’t know what you’re “doing”. This is because when you get too simple you also become accustomed to not needing to think. So obvious stuff like “rotate” gets lost. Is rotate the name of the command? Is it in a menu or on a button? Does that button show up all the time or not until you click the photo in the image manipulation software?

This means a couple of things in real terms. First, despite having chosen to use a Mac (look Ma, computers are easy!!!), you might still need to think like a PC person and start digging into menus (“Image/Rotate”). Then you might need to look at the shortcuts next to the options in the menus to see if something as simple as “L” and “R” would have worked—for next time. Already too much work for most Mac users who expect flat-out intuitive.

That’s annoying, along the same painful lines as reading my description. But then it gets worse.

Your software probably assumes you want to shrink your image for easy handling. That’s become almost a standard; most current-generation image handling (which isn’t the same as image editing, by the way) software—for Mac, PC, Linux, you name it—will shrink pictures to a manageable/easily-emailed/appropriate-for-a-web-page version instead of leaving what came out of your camera intact. This is fine assuming the software picks a size you like and that you wanted that done in the first place; if you were going to order a print, for example, you wouldn’t want that done to your original.

In a default-configured Mac, it’s even worse. Pictures gets handled that way, and a really tiny version gets created, too, for icon display on your screen. I’ve seen people try to print that icon because they couldn’t find the better version. And not the already-shrunken original, which at least is print-worthy as a small image in a paper or in the corner of a homemade greeting card. I’ve seen Mac users print the icon version only to find that it’s unsuitable for anything larger than a half-inch square; anything larger and you get nothing more than a mess of pixels.

By the way, the whole shrink-your-image thing doesn’t even account for degradation in the image’s quality if you don’t know what you’re doing. See that moiré pattern in the couch? It’s not there in real life.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t an Apple rant. Yes, I have issues with the way Apple does business, but Macintosh computers, while not for me, are really pretty cool. It was about the fact that computers are too hard. I’ve described similar problems to this one a couple of times; Older People Can Have Quite a Difficult Time Using SmartPhones, and my favorite: Where’s The Any Key?

So, here’s the shameless self-promotion: don’t mess with computer tasks you don’t understand or have the time to do right. Instead, hire The Computer Answer Guy, or PC-VIP.

Because, sure, you can figure out how to rotate a picture. But can you stop 60 Minutes from stealing your browser history?


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