Tablet PC solutions

This is the first of two sets of suggestions to help with using a tablet PC with Windows Journal and Camtasia to give and record lectures. These suggestions are based on my experiences, problems and solutions, as discussed in detail on my blog Explaining Mathematics ( )

It is also worth looking at my two case studies on using tablet PCs and recording lectures, available from
or directly from

Part I: Toshiba tablet PC solutions

(Based on the blog post
See that post for more details, including details of the precise settings that I used.)
The background to this is my current style of lecturing. I usually prepare a pdf skeleton of my lecture with gaps to be fill in. I then generate a Windows Journal note from the pdf file, and give my lectures using this note (adding additional pages if necessary) and a data projector. Additionally, I may make audio or video recordings of my lectures. I then make all of the resulting materials available to students from my module web pages.
It is not hard to learn the basics of using Windows Journal. Here I give some problems and solutions that I came across after learning the basics.
  • I have lots of strange problems when I run my laptop on battery power

This turned out to be the single main cause of almost all of my problems! Especially when running several programs at once (e.g. Windows Journal + Camtasia, recording audio and video), laptops can struggle when they are running on battery power instead of on mains power. See my blog for descriptions of some of the symptoms! The solution is easy: always use mains power when you are giving a presentation using your laptop.

  • I am disappointed with the quality when I export my pdf files for use in Windows Journal
Note that I use the seminar document class to produce A4 portrait pdf slides for my lectures.
However, most of the time I view these slides at full page width, so that only half of each slide is visible at any one time on the data projector screen. 

I found that the pdf “lecture skeleton” files I had produced using pdflatex looked fine on the screen, but when I printed them using the virtual printer Journal Note Writer to produce Windows Journal notes the results were disappointing. However I was able to obtain improved results by first “improving” the pdf file. I produced a new pdf file from the original by printing it via one of the available virtual pdf printers (e.g. Primo PDF or Adobe PDF). I then printed the “improved” pdf file using Journal Note Writer. This did produce better, but still imperfect, results. Different varieties of pdflatex also produce different results of different quality: I found that the results I oibtained from pdflatex under linux were better than the results obtained from using MikTeX’s pdflatex under Windows.

If you want the PDF to display perfectly during the class, it is better to use alternative software such as PDF Annotator.

  • No matter what I do, I end up with the wrong display orientation on my tablet

There is a standard control panel Tablet and Pen Settings: in the “Display” tab you can specify your preferred orientation, and also you can choose to change the sequence of orientations the tablet uses if you use a tablet button to change orientation.
BUT this control panel can be overruled by the Toshiba Tablet PC Rotation Utility, which you can find via the Start Menu.
On both the M400 and the M750 I found this under

Start Menu -> All Programs -> Toshiba-> Tablet PC -> Rotation Utility

I always use the orientation Primary Landscape myself.
  • Menus keep opening while I am trying to write in Windows Journal.

This and other strange behaviour I observed was due to me accidentally clicking the tablet pen side button while writing. Not everyone has this problem! In my case, I had to disable the tablet pen side button completely.

On the Toshiba M400: There are two relevant control panels, and also some options within Windows Journal. I started with the control panel Tablet and Pen Settings and, in the Pen Options tab, I unchecked “Use pen button to right click”.

However, I still observed some unusual effects when I pressed the button while writing. Further investigation revealed another control panel, Pen Tablet, which, under the Pen tab, allows you to disable the tablet pen buttons completely. In my case, this control panel appears to be designed for a pen with two side-buttons (in addition to the tip and the eraser). My tablet pen has only one of these side buttons: the one I needed to disable was the side-button shown as nearest to the tip in the control panel.

Finally, in Windows Journal, under Tools->Options->Other, I unchecked “Enable press and hold while writing” for additional safety. (This still allows you to obtain a right click using “press and hold” under other circumstances.)

On the Toshiba M750: The first difference here is that, on this machine, by default, “touch” is enabled so that you can use your finger instead of the tablet pen for some purposes. This caused me trouble, so I used the Touch Settings control panel, and unchecked the “Enable touch” box. However, I made the mistake of also unchecking “Press-and-Hold to Right-Click” here, and this disabled press-and-hold for the tablet pen too. Be warned! The control panel Tablet and Pen Settings is as above.

There is no Pen Tablet control panel on this machine, so I do not know for certain whether I have completely deactivated the pen button this time. I have not, however, been able to produce any ill-effects by pressing the button while writing.

The Windows Journal press-and-hold options are as above.

  • Problems with widescreen tablets

The M750 has a widescreen display: it has an aspect ratio of 16:10 instead of 4:3. However, I have been using this tablet to present my classes using data projectors with the old aspect ratio of 4:3. There is apparently no entirely satisfactory solution to this. In the end, rather than putting up with distortion on one display or the other, I settled for using one of the 16:10 resolutions on the laptop. The data projectors recognize this, and you simply lose a bit of the vertical space on the display. This is a pity given that one of the main drawbacks of using tablet PCs to present is the limited amount of material which can be displayed at a time. However I did not find it was a significantly worse problem with 16:10 rather than 4:3.

  • Windows Journal default page settings

I am sure that everyone will want to tune their Windows Journal default page settings to fit their own needs. Here is what I have used to fit with my teaching methodology.

Recall that I currently work with A4 portrait slides, but that these are usually displayed at “page width” view (continuous), so that about half of each slide is visible at a time.

Under tools->options

In the View tab I have Insert space in full line increments checked.

I also started with Prompt when inserting too much space checked, but when prompted I chose “Insert a new page and move items …” and checked “Always use this setting”, so that this becomes an easy way to insert new pages in the middle of a Windows Journal document. (I have put a short video about this, with rather poor sound quality, on YouTube!)

Still under tools->options, clicking the Default Page Setup button gives several more tabs.

In the Paper tab, I have A4 Portrait (with usual width and height).

In the Style tab, I have my own custom style. On my old M400 I used thin blue horizontal rules spaced at 7mm, with no vertical rules and no margin rule, as this worked well when used at “page width” view (as described above). I have modified this slightly for the M750, where I use 7mm squares instead.

In the Background and Title Area tab I have no picture, and have unchecked Show title area on note.


11 responses to “Tablet PC solutions

  1. Pingback: Where is the Windows Journal Tutorial? « Explaining mathematics

  2. The best results I get so far when going from LaTeX to Journal are obtained when I use pdflatex on our unix system to produce the first PDF file (which I then “improve” using Acrobat). When I use the MikTeX version, even after using Adobe Acrobat to “improve” the PDF file, the results when printing to Windows Journal are very disappointing. Still, whatever I do, the results are imperfect.


  3. “Printing to Windows Journal” is, I believe, done through a rasterization process: so you get pixelized graphics if you print those journal pages out on paper.

    I can get scalable graphics on screen and *perfect* (i.e. not in any way “pixelized”) printout on paper with a pen-enabled shared whiteboard of my own construction. This is because my whiteboard allows me to directly insert XAML graphics (i.e. a kind of vector graphics that is particularly easy for my .NET Framework 3.0 application to display) from the clipboard.
    I create that XAML graphics by converting PDF files generated by pdflatex (and other tools) to XAML (using a PDF to XAML converter of, again, my own construction).
    I have also written a tool that allows me to display a library of such XAML graphics (entire pages of pdflatex generated text, formulas and drawings) and have it copy any rectangular area from those pages of PDF/XAML graphics that I select to the clipboard from where I can paste it into my whiteboard. So I do *not* have to slice my PDF / XAML graphics before a tutoring session: I can just copy and paste vector graphics (i.e. without any loss of quality on screen or when printed out) in an ad hoc fashion: a theorem, a definition, or a drawing – no matter what – and resize and move that vector graphics freely within the writing surface of my whiteboard.
    However, I would not want to recommend using my whiteboard as a replacement for Windows Journal. – It works great for me as an online math tutor, but it has some weaknesses of its own. – Maybe someone can get Microsoft to allow the pasting of XAML graphics into a new version of Windows Journal? – It would be rather easy for them to implement this, I think. (However, there might be a problem as regards fonts and, maybe, copyright: if you can get a perfect vector graphics copy from a document written by, maybe, someone else…)


    • Thanks!
      Actually, there are various options when you print to Windows Journal, and the default does work with fonts rather than images.
      When I print back to PDF again from the Windows Journal documents I have created starting from pdflatex output, the results become pretty much perfect again. So the font information is all there: it just won’t display properly in Windows Journal for some reason I don’t really understand.


  4. You wrote: “Actually, there are various options when you print to Windows Journal, and the default does work with fonts rather than images.”
    You are right. I have mistakenly assumed that Windows Journal works the same as Microsoft OneNote 2007 in this regard. OneNote 2007 can only *rasterize* things that it is asked to “print” into one of its documents. – The behavior of Windows Journal, on the other hand, is indeed very strange when it comes to rendering fonts, as you wrote.

    As regards font rendering after “print” to OneNote 2007 *and* Windows Journal are defective in other ways, too. For example, I have so called XPS documents (=Microsoft’s PDF) that are rendered correctly by Microsoft’s XPS viewer, but render as complete nonsense when printed to Windows Journal or OneNote 2007 (it looks like both Journal and OneNote are mixing up font references – and they seem to be doing it exactly the same way!)
    I have asked Microsoft about this but was (essentially) told that what I was complaining about was working properly with OneNote 2010. They do not seem to care about the old 2007 version of OneNote, nor about my current version of Windows Journal. – A bug even makes a good marketing argument for the new version it seems…
    Since I do not have easy access to OneNote 2010 I do not know (at the moment) whether OneNote 2010 would behave any better than Windows Journal does for your purposes. But, maybe, if you can just walk into someone’s office and try it out this might be worth the effort: OneNote is rather similar in functionality to Windows Journal (at least it seems that way in version 2007) – and if it is true, as I was told, that the font rendering part of OneNote has been significantly improved in version 2010, it just *might* be able to render your PDFs properly as well.


  5. Even OneNote 2007 appears to render the PDF fonts quite well for me on my desktop. (Unfortunately I only have OneNote on my desktop, not my laptop!)
    So if OneNote 2010 does even better, that will be helpful.


  6. Dear Professor Joel, I am trying to use my tablet to record some screencasting. If I use the built in microphone to capture the audio there are just too much noice of the pen since I am writing on the same surface where the microphone is. Not only that every time during writing I move my had the built in microphone makes a annoying sound as if someone is removing a sticker from something. As a solution I got a headphone with a microphone but those noices are still there. I guess both builting microphone and the one with the headphone are capturing the audio!!! So my problem is not solved. Can you please suggest me some solution. How come your lecture does not have any of those noices?



    • Hi Viv,
      With my laptop, when I plug an external microphone into the microphone socket, the internal microphone is deactivated.
      I am using a Sennheiser wireless microphone: the receiver plugs into the laptop mic socket, while I wear the transmitter + lapel microphone. I can walk around the room if I want. (But not if I want to be seen on webcam video!)
      If you use a USB microphone instead, then you will need to select the appropriate audio source in your software settings. Otherwise you might still be recording using the internal microphone.
      Of course, there is the possibility that the internal microphone is still active even when you plug an external microphone into the mic socket. You should be able to establish whether this is the case by appropriate experimentation.
      Good luck!


  7. Another cheap PDF solution that works quite well is Bluebeam PDF Revu… I use it for all my tablet PC screencasts and lecture projections.


    • Hi, yes I really like Bluebeam. I’m using that now in all of my classes.
      I will write a proper comparison of features from my own personal perspective. But briefly …

      Bluebeam PDF Revu is a mighty piece of software, with more bells and whistles than I will ever need, but with loads of really useful features.
      It does a much better job of saving the annotated PDF files than my version of PDF annotator does (my version of PDF annotator loses the vector information in the PDF annotations, resulting in loss of quality). Also, you can change the colour of annotations/objects after writing/drawing them, which is something that I don’t think you can do in PDF annotator. I have also made some use of Bluebeam’s “split-screen” facility e.g. in order to show the statement of a theorem (with any annotations) in the top portion, while proving the theorem in the bottom portion.

      It does take up to a minute for Bluebeam to load on my tablet, and I have trouble getting used to the fact that the pan tool also acts as a select tool. I do also keep accidentally double-tapping, which results in unexpected dramatic changes of scale unless I am paying attention! Also, there appears to be a bug in Bluebeam’s PDF page cropping at least on my tablet, so I still use PDF annotator to crop my PDF pages at the moment. But generally I am very pleased with my move from PDF Annotator to Bluebeam PDF Revu.



  8. Hello! If you are having trouble with your PDF you may try PDFfiller. I mostly use it to open and edit my PDF files. It also allows you to erase in a pdf, esign, efax, add logos, pics to pdfs, etc. Its pretty easy to use and its pretty cheap. I think you can get a free week if you and a friend both register.

    In addition, their iOS and Android app can be an aid in opening and saving PDF forms.

    Such a great experience!


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