Trek tech: Pilots can't fly

David Bard and Mike Jackman are en route to the Himalayas where they'll report on high-altitude tech and climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. Here's what Mike learned recently about the need to protect his beloved handheld from the effects of gravity.

PalmPilots are fragile machines to be taking to twenty thousand feet. Since I’ll shortly be carrying one around the Himalayas (see "We're going to Nepal"), I worry about the effects of gravity on my PalmPilot handheld computer. A recent demonstration of Newton’s laws upon my PalmPilot Professional made me realize I’d better prepare a way to keep it safe.

Sure, drop anything, and it might break—a laptop, a satellite phone, your fellow climber—but delicate handheld devices can easily fall and fail, especially when handled by fingers swollen from climbing all day at high altitudes.

This possibility really hit me the other day. I was typing my journal while in my favorite work position at home: reclined, my old Newton keyboard propped on my stomach, the Pilot balanced in its cradle in the hollow where stomach meets chest, or so I thought. I made a false move and the Pilot tumbled to the floor.

Unlike your average open-faced sandwich, it landed face up—all the better to show the message: "Fatal Error." Luckily, I only needed to reset it—I didn't lose any programs or information.

But it made me think ahead to what might happen when my cold fingers try to handle the Pilot. If it drops and doesn't skid off Island Peak in the Himalayas, will all my notes be lost anyway? And even if not, the last thing I want to see, up where the air is thin and I'm gasping for breath as I trudge slowly on a glacial moraine, is a “Fatal Error.”

So now I'm investigating the kind of rig I might use. I’m lining up a bunch of rugged, shockproof, and waterproof cases to try out, which I’ll write a future article about. I’ll also rig up a way to attach the case to a leash so I can pull the Pilot out from its incubation under three or four layers of clothing, without danger of it turning into the world’s smallest snowboard.

This recent near-tragedy, call it Pilot error, reminds me that finding cool ways to protect your high-tech investment is not just for cold, swollen, high-altitude climbers, but also for comfortable users down at sea level—though I have to say it may be a tad bit more important up yonder, where I don’t need any "fatal errors."
Tech equipment and assistance for TechRepublic’s almostEverest expedition was provided by:MVS (MiniSat satellite telephone)
Compaq (Armada laptop)
TRGpro (TRGpro Palm III with Compact Flash memory slot)
Think Outside (Folding keyboard for PalmPilots)
Precision Navigation (Weatherguide and Palm Navigator attachments for PalmPilots) (Everest expedition reports)Want to win a TechRepublic baseball cap? Share your climbing experiences or give the guys encouraging words by posting your comment below, or send us an e-mail. It's that simple.And so you don't miss one step of David and Mike's climb up Island Peak, subscribe to our free TrekMail. Be one of the first 2,000 subscribers to our TrekMail, and you'll get a cool TechRepublic flying disc!

Mike Jackman is an editor-in-chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor-in-chief David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox