Our Macbook had been crashing frequently over the past week or so. It would hang randomly when doing minor things, like copying a new program into the Applications folder. Sometimes it would take the computer two or three minutes to get itself together. Other times, it wouldn't get itself together at all and a hard reboot was the only option.
Eventually, I took a look in Disk Utility. The hard drive was listed in red. It told me the disk was dying. I used smartmon to give me more information, and this is where I got the image at the top of this post - my "Reallocated Sector Count" was at 0, and my disk was "FAILING_NOW". I'll spare you the gory details of what this meant, but the shorthand version is "ABANDON SHIP! WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!"
Necessity: the mother of invention
Fortunately, we had a spare laptop hard drive lying around, so that wasn't a major issue. We also had a spare 400GB desktop hard drive, with a USB adaptor. Unfortunately, we only had two power adaptors. Which meant I couldn't power the macbook, the hard drive to be backed up and the hard drive I was backing up to.
We'd bought a bunch of spare power adaptors in the airport before we came but in our excitement, walked off the plane without them - oops.
So for the past month, we've been carefully swapping power adaptors around as needed. The hairdryer, the iron, our phones, the PlayStation, the computers, the wireless router... it got a little silly, but we managed. When I'd google for a place to buy electrical equipment in rome, I'd found that the main place is called "GPL". And Linux has completely ruined that search term.
So when the hard drive began to die, I ran out and didn't stop using my broken Italian and eleborate hand gestures until I came back with a bunch of power adaptors and two-prong figure-eight plugs.
(PS, for anyone searching google for 'electrical equipment' or 'travel adaptors' in Rome, I found a GPL on the corner of Viale delle Milizie and Via Giordano Bruno.)
Backing it all up
I'd heard a lot about SuperDuper, an application for backing up your Mac. A lot of people have said how it saved their necks, so that was the first thing I tried.
Unfortunately, it's not so good for saving your neck when your hard drive is already on the way out. When it encounters a bad block on the disk (and your disk can't replace the bad block, as mine couldn't), SuperDuper will try a bunch of methods to access the data and then crap out. It throws its hands up in the air, shouts "I can't work with these amateurs" and goes back to its trailer.
Tar wasn't much better. In the end, I created a disk image on the 400GB hard drive and used plain ol' 'cp'. When it came across a bad block, it complained of an I/O error but kept on truckin'.
So now I've got a proper backup, we're working off the spare hard drive (with half the capacity, but it'll do), and I got an RMA from the hard drive manufacturer.
Hopefully things will be back to normal next week.