Bugs & Fixes: Dealing with iPhone flash, low-quality Netflix, and Outlook junk issues

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For today’s Bugs & Fixes, I offer potential remedies to a trio of unrelated problems, each one too minor to justify an entire column to itself.

Preventing washed-out iPhone flash photos

Ever since getting my iPhone 5s, I’ve been having trouble with flash photos. Especially in very low-light situations, the result was often a washed-out picture, as you might get if the flash level was set far too bright. As there is no way to manually adjust the flash level, I was unsure how to deal with this.

After checking online, I found a 2010 Apple Support Communities thread that described a similar issue with prior iPhone models. One recommendation was to remove your iPhone's case, assuming you were using one.

I was skeptical. I had used the exact same case with my iPhone 5 and had never had this problem. Still, I gave it a try. To my surprise, removing the case had an immediate and dramatic positive effect on my flash pictures. I can only assume that the iPhone 5s’s new True Tone flash and my particular case (a Moshi iGlaze, which I otherwise consider outstanding) do not play well together.

Dealing with a loss of HD-quality Netflix streaming

After installing the latest Apple TV update, I was dismayed to find that, for several TV series I was watching, Netflix streaming video quality had mysteriously deteriorated from its prior “Super HD” level to a distinctly inferior standard definition. Actually, the display was even worse than standard definition. It was grainier and blurrier than anything I had ever seen on Netflix previously, presumably Netflix's "Low" quality level.

I found at least one Apple Support Communities thread confirming the issue. A recommended solution was to restart the Apple TV. That didn’t work for me. Instead, as one of my Twitter followers advised, I logged out of Netflix and logged back in. Success. Super HD returned.

It was a short-lived success. The streaming problem returned the next day. So I did some further investigation. Based on reports such as this one, it appears that the problem goes beyond Apple TV and is a general issue with Netflix itself. Essentially, the company may be unable to meet the demand for bandwidth necessary to run Super HD, especially at times of greatest network traffic. I partially confirmed this when I found the same loss of quality running Netflix via my “smart” Blu-ray player. When it appeared that the re-login fix on my ATV had been successful, it may have instead been that I was watching Netflix at a “better” time of day.

The issue is specific to Netflix. I am able to get HD quality from other video sources, such as HBO GO, even when Netflix is failing. Oddly, I never had (or never noticed) this quality loss until after installing the latest Apple TV update—which is what led to my initial speculation. I am certain that I previously succeeded in getting HD quality from Netflix at times of day when I can no longer do so. Perhaps there is more than one cause involved. In any case, it doesn’t seem to be something with an end user solution.

Resolving Outlook's junk mail misdirection

I owe Microsoft an apology. I have long complained about how poorly Outlook (from Office for Mac 2011) filters my junk mail. In particular, mail from some of the lists to which I subscribe would keep getting sent to junk mail despite my efforts to prevent this.

It didn’t matter if I selected “Mark as Not Junk” for a particular message. The next email from the same domain went to junk mail again. It didn’t matter if I added the email address to my Contacts list. Nor did it matter if I added the address’s domain to Outlook’s Safe Domains list. The messages still wound up in my Junk E-mail folder.

Adding a domain to Outlook's Safe Domains list should prevent the domain's emails from going to junk mail — unless you have created a rule to the contrary.

As it turns out, I only had myself to blame for this confusion.

One clue was that these emails were typically labelled as “Uncertain Junk.” This led me to consider whether I might have created a rule that was behind the mishandling.

Sure enough, after selecting the Rules command from Outlook’s Tools menu, I located a rule that I had set up long long ago, designed to catch mail that I did not want to go directly to my Inbox. I had set the rule to detect certain words in a sender’s email address that often indicate the mail was spam. I further set the rule so that such messages were marked as…you guessed it…”Uncertain Junk.” That way, I could still detect and attend to them if desired.

One of the words in this rule list was “mailer.” As it turned out, this word was also in the addresses of the emails that were unintentionally going to junk mail. Understandably, rules you create override all other settings to the contrary. As a result, these messages were being misdirected to junk mail. Deleting the “mailer” item from the rule list resolved the matter. Lesson learned.

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