I went out and bought a new harddrive ($90 or so) and an external USB-SATA thingie to put the old drive in. Unfortunately, the old drive is so fouled up, the main partition can't be opened when it's in the external thing. I could let Spinrite try to recover the data -- but I've tried that a few times, and the most favorable estimate Spinrite's given me says I'd have to completely tie up my only decent computer, my newer laptop, for a week or two so Spinrite could finish the recovery process -- and even then, there's no guarantee I'd be able to get to the important data on there.
In an ideal world, I'd have an extra computer able to accept a laptop-size SATA drive and boot from a CD that I could just let run for the necessary week or two. I have no objection to tying up the drive or Spinrite; the drive is broken anyway, and that's what Spinrite is for. But I simply can't function without my only decent computer. That just ain't happenin'.
Since it's a Dell I got at BestBuy, I talked to the GeekSquad folks when I was up getting the new drive. I think they'd try to recover my data if I gave them $100 or so, if I understood them correctly. And in an ideal world, that, too would be no big deal. Being laid off, that's a whole lot of money to me. And they couldn't guarantee anything for the $100, either, i don't think.
Vitally important stuff, but what can I do?
Meanwhile, did a fresh install of Vista to the new drive (320 Gig Segate replacing the broken 250 Gig Western Digital), did all 74 updates, installed Firefox, Audacity, AVG Free, Mercury, Pegasus, Twhirl, Levelator, everything I could remember that I've been regularly using. I copied the Firefox Profile from my aged Win98SE laptop, so I got back at least my longest-standing website passwords and what-not; the others I had to dig out of my own memory. Lost all my pre-recorded intros & extros, so I'll either rebuild those or maybe surgically extract them from past shows. It's digital, shouldn't lose that much quality.
Now I worry constantly that something else'll break on me.