Miller got back today from the last of her solo escapades for a while (at least until Burning Man). She had just finished spending a week with her family back home, and the week before that had been grading Spanish AP exams down in San Antonio. Right before she had left, she had just gotten her iBook back from the Apple store geniuses for more out-of-warranty-yet-free repairs to the hinge. Unfortunately, once at home, her iBook shut down and then subsequently would not boot. She called me at work and asked me to take care of it while she was gone, and then made her way to the airport.
A week ago, I decided to take a peek. The iBook would boot for a ways and then blink the "I can't find a blessed drive" icon. I pulled out the trusty Tiger disc and tried to boot from that, and it gave me an icon I had never seen before: a circle with a slash through it. After some Googling, it seemed that somehow the boot sector of the DVD couldn't be found, which seemed unlikely. I booted it up in target disk mode and connected it to my TiBook and there was no hard drive even listed. It did, however, show the Tiger DVD. I hadn't seen that before previous versions of this error were easily rectified by selecting the drive in Disk Utility and selecting Repair, but with no disk listed...
I let Miller know I was going to have to take it in again. The geniuses tried the same stuff I did, and then said that it would need to go through a Repeat Repair. I was happy to find that it, too, would cost nothing. (It's nice that these repairs are free, but we've had to repair this iBook four separate times, and my TiBook has never needed anything!) They gave the perfunctory "make sure your data is backed up" speech, and asked whether I wanted to get in-house backup for something over $100. Here was my logic: If Miller had already taken this in before, and she got the same speech, and thus she's done everything she wanted with regards to data backup. I actually made the further assumption that she had, finally, taken my advice that she should back up the stuff she could not afford to lose. As it turns out, I was batting zero for two, but the final one was the kicker: My last assumption was, even if the hard drive was the culprit (rather than a controller or loose wiring or etc.), then they'd ship the damaged hard drive back with the machine so that I'd have a shot at recovery on the off chance that she hadn't backed up everything she wanted.
You don't get any broken parts back from Apple when they're replaced during a repair. I guess this makes sense, I just hadn't thought it through.
Fast forward to today, and I pick up her machine from the Genius bar, after having received the call that it had been received. They politely tell me what they did to it, and mention that they replaced the hard drive, as it had failed. I ask where the old hard drive is, and they respond, "Defective hard drives get scrapped or sent back to the manufacturer for warranty replacement, depending on the drive. It used to be policy that they'd retain them for seven days before doing so, in case someone wanted the drive, but that's no longer the case." Erp. I asked whether it was possible to retrieve it and their response was, "Probably not, since they would have already scrapped it or shipped it about the same time the iBook was shipped back here, but I can call AppleCare and check with the service manager to see what the deal is." I called Miller's parents' house and left a voice message about her machine having a brand, spanking new OS on it and that her hard drive was somewhere AWOL.
Miller called later, frantic, and said that this was a tragedy, and that yes, if I could try to get the drive back, that would be great. Apparently she had not backed up her drive... anywhere. No CD-R, not on her UW account, not in Yahoo, nowhere. I went through the AppleCare menu system with the feeling that I was asking the governor for a stay of execution. The tech investigated the case for me, said that the drive had already been scrapped and that they wouldn't really know how to look for it to get it back. But, he also said, that the reason it had been scrapped was that there wasn't anything they could do to revive the drive, so there wouldn't have been anything I could have done had I the drive. (Well, nothing shy of pulling out the plates and putting it another mechanism, which is admittedly, beyond my ken.)
We're still not quite sure of the information-lossage. Most of the, ahem, legitimate music can just be re-ripped. However, several years worth of academic papers, some amount of academic research, archives of e-mail correspondence, and most of her photo collection from Egypt are all resigned to the big bit bucket in the sky.
If there's anything to take away from this cautionary tale, it's back up your *#%^@ data.