A Guide to Troubleshooting Your Pilot

I've now lost all the data on my Pilot at least five or six times, and it's a painful experience to lose so much personal information. Having my Pilot always with me makes it a kind of memory extension for my brain, and losing it can feel like losing a part of me. If you depend on your Pilot and one day it goes haywire, here's some advice for dealing with the situation.

First, remember that the most valuable thing on your Pilot is your personal data. You may be tempted to take your Pilot apart or otherwise try to repair the hardware, but keep in mind that after all is said and done, you will be happier with your data and no Pilot than with a Pilot and no data. The Pilot is replaceable; the data isn't.

If you have backed up your data or performed a HotSync recently, then your data is safe. You have very little to worry about: you can be assured that your costs will not exceed the price of a new Pilot ($200 or so). Otherwise, your first priority is to retrieve that data.

Okay. So your Pilot has stopped working. I know from personal experience that this can happen in many ways:

Here are some things to try.

  1. Turn the contrast dial on the side of the Pilot. This might bring your display back.

  2. Try to HotSync your Pilot. Put it in a cradle, activate the HotSync function on your computer, and press the HotSync button. You may have to press it many times. Try hitting the power button and the HotSync button several times in a random order. If pressing any buttons or tapping the screen causes your Pilot to make that familiar ticking noise, it means your Pilot is running and your data may still be alive! Be patient while trying to get a successful HotSync. If the HotSync takes place, you may save your data.

  3. Reset the Pilot by pushing the end of a paper clip, a pin, or a mechanical pencil into the "Reset" hole in the back. (If you are lucky enough to have one of the original Palm III pens, you can unscrew the top end of the pen to discover a perfectly-sized reset-button-pusher there.)

  4. Give the Pilot a whack. Hold the body of the Pilot flat in your right hand and smack the top-left corner of the Pilot into the palm of your left hand. Or try it in the opposite direction. Don't worry -- these things are pretty sturdy. I can personally attest that in one case, when the Pilot blue-screened, a firm whack suddenly brought it back into perfect operation. (Don't overdo it, of course!)

  5. Try applying a bit of torsion. Hold the Pilot face-up, sideways, with your right thumb over the top edge (IR port) and your left thumb over the bottom edge (buttons). Twist it a little by pushing the right side away from you and the left side toward you, or vice versa. Do this gently -- don't shatter the screen! This has brought the Pilot back from the vertical-bars state into correct operation for me before.

The following measures are guaranteed to destroy your data, so only use them as a last resort (or after you are sure you have a backup of your data). Do not try any of these measures until you have tried all of the things listed above!

The above are only my suggestions, of course. I disclaim any liability for what may happen to your device or your data as a result of following this advice.

copyright © by Ka-Ping Yee <ping@lfw.org> updated 1 May 1999 7218