Surface Pro 4: Episode 9

Well, currently I can’t use my Surface Pro 4 to teach. The mini-display port has gone from being intermittently a bit of a problem to “intermittently almost working”. Last Friday it became completely unusable. (I have tried with multiple adapters in multiple rooms.)

I am temporarily using my previous (Lenovo) tablet laptop, while we decide what to do. There is a Microsoft dock for the Surface 4 that might help, but it isn’t cheap! It does provide extra USB ports, though, which could be useful.


Misunderstood times

I just misunderstood a spoken time in a way I hadn’t come across before.

Someone tried to tell me a bus was due at 22:11 but I thought they said twenty to eleven!

I guess there are a few more of those …

Surface Pro 4: Episode 8

Latest developments in my lecturing using the Windows Surface Pro 4

The new stylus nib works fine, and this has led to a slight improvement in my handwriting.

I only had one unexpected menu appear today during the lecture, when I accidentally touched the middle of the bottom of the screen.

I have successfully found ways to protect the video port by supporting some of the weight of the video cable on the nearest suitable structure.

I am having some serious problems with my wireless connection from the Surface. I’ll have to try to resolve these next week. Otherwise I can use the resident PC to show the students what they have voted for when I ask them multiple choice questions (mobile phone voting), but it is a bit better when I can show them using the tablet.

I took a break from the tablet to show the class a cylinder and a Moebius strip today. I asked the class “Why did the chicken cross the Moebius strip?” and one of the students came up with the correct answer!

Surface Pro 4: Episode 7

Latest developments

  • I have started to make some use of “pinch and spread” to give myself larger areas to write in when necessary.
  • I am starting to have some problems with the display port adaptor. Because I currently use the Surface on a sloped laptop stand on top of a blue plastic box (to give myself extra height and a better writing angle), the VGA cable can pull on the adaptor, and it can wobble and lose connection. Last lecture I solved this by wrapping the slack of the VGA cable over the top edge of the Surface, which reduced the tension. Hopefully the problem won’t get any worse.
  • Something bad has happened to the tip/nib of the stylus. Hopefully replacing the nib will fix that! That is, if I can find the set of spare nibs.
  • Having reduced the number of unwanted menus from touching the bottom part of the screen, I have now started getting unwanted BlueBeam menus from touching the right of the screen. I am beginning to think that I am always going to have more trouble with touch than without it. The benefits of touch at the moment are panning using touch (which is good) and pinch and spread during annotation (which I am starting to use a bit). But the unwanted menus are definitely a nuisance, and I am not sure I have the skill to avoid them.

Surface Pro 4: Episode 6

Latest progress with my Surface Pro 4:

  • I moved the taskbar to the top of the screen, and this has helped a little with the “unexpected menus” problem.
  • Another thing that helps with the unexpected menus, and which also helps with my handwriting (slightly), is  if I try to avoid writing too near the bottom of the screen. It is better for me (using touch control to pan) to move the relevant area up slightly when I want to write there, if it is too near the bottom of the screen at the time. I haven’t yet taken advantage of the pinch and spread zoom features to give myself more space to write between lines, but I do have that option too.
  • I am experimenting with some printed handwriting rather than joined up writing. It is slower, but probably easier to read in my case! Where I use my usual joined up writing, writing larger and more slowly helps.
  • I have switched to Bluebeam’s “classic” menu (but not the full “classic mode”), as this provides a little more space (vertically) to write on the screen. I have also chosen not to automatically show tabs, and that provides another bit of vertical space.
  • I have moved to a thicker line width, and this helps with the earlier problems when Bluebeam makes my strokes thinner afterwards. Generally I don’t get unexpected gaps appearing in my text now. I still haven’t found out why Bluebeam is doing this or whether I can stop it. But I still prefer Bluebeam to the alternatives at the moment. (I am still using Bluebeam 12. Possibly the latest versions have eliminated this issue?)

Surface Pro 4: Episode 5

Continuing my adventures with my Surface Pro 4 ….

I observed today that  one of the main sources of “mystery menus” appearing is when my left hand touches the bottom left of the screen unexpectedly. I’ll just have to get used to avoiding that one in particular.

I rebooted the machine yesterday hoping that this would leave it in the best possible state for today’s lecture. But when I got to the room today the Surface Pro 4 could not detect the pen or my hand. Only my mouse worked. Fortunately the machine is fast, and rebooting was very quick. (It is just as well the machine didn’t have lots of updates to install though!)  After that I had no problems with the pen, and (as mentioned above) touch was working a bit too well!

One student (so far) has pointed out politely that my handwriting can be difficult to read. Looking at recent classes, I can see that I should try to keep the writing big, and perhaps avoid the temptation to cram too many comments between the lines of my PDF skeleton notes. Either that or practice a bit more! I could also consider printing instead of joined up writing, or just write slower. Not that my handwriting was ever that good, but I do feel it has become a little worse this year. Whether this is just aging, eyesight, lack of practice, or the machine’s doing is not obvious to me. I think I would have even more trouble with a smaller screen, though. So I don’t think I could get by with a Surface 3.

Adding new pages in Bluebeam is easy in theory: I just need to click on the blank page icon in the bottom right corner of the window. However I am finding it a little harder to click this icon than I used to. Either the pen/screen interaction needs re-calibrating, or I should use the mouse, or maybe just put my glasses on! I should certainly take my glasses with me when I go round the room in workshops, as I am finding it hard to see the students’ attempts properly otherwise.

My pace in today’s workshop (Workshop 4) was definitely off: we didn’t get through as much as I wanted. Fortunately the later questions were covered in previous years’ videos. (See for links to the G11FPM Echo360 video archives from the autumns of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.) So anyone who does want to see the remaining details of this version of the proof of Bezout’s Lemma can find them there. (The whole workshop is devoted to slowly building up a proof of Bezout’s Lemma, with the students proving a set of easier facts first about sums of multiples of integers.)

Surface Pro 4: Episode 4

I am continuing to use my Surface Pro 4 for PDF annotation in my first-year lectures.

Although there are many good features, I am still having some problems with unexpected menus opening up.

Some of these are caused by my hand hitting a key point near the edge of the screen (my Bluebeam PDF Revu settings mean I should have no problem with touch in the middle of the screen.) But I think my main problem is caused by the side button on the stylus. This generates a right click. Now I already told Bluebeam not to use right click to activate the lasso while I am inking, which helps.  But you can still get right-click menus appearing due to accidental right clicks. I would rather like to be able to deactivate the side button on the stylus, but I haven’t found any way to do that. (Does anyone know if it can be done?)

There are also some menus which suddenly appear and where I can’t yet duplicate the operation that brought them up. I think that touch is involved. Maybe I’ll get to the bottom of this some time!