My beloved Mac iBook which I have had for several years won't boot, I get a folder with a question mark when I try to start up. And while I have followed all the suggestions in the online support documents, I haven't had success.
I have scheduled an appointment tomorrow morning with the local Apple Retail Store at their Genius Bar. We'll see how much of a genius the bartender is, and whether or not s/he can get it working without initializing the hard drive.
I'm not in horrible shape if all is lost. I would have been in much worse shape a year ago, but my backup system has improved greatly in the last year.
I have an external 200gb hard drive -- though the last time I backed up to it was several months ago. But when I did, I backed up everything.
I also have a wristwatch with 4gb of storage. I've backed up much more recently to that (I like the idea that if there is a fire, the only thing I really need to grab, besides the cat I am caring for for a friend, is my watch.)
I don't have room to save everything there, but I was saving what I consider my most important stuff. My fiction and poetry writing, as well as my family history folders. I was very good at saving new scanned documents immediately to my wristwatch. For some reason though, the last save of my GEDcom was in June. There hasn't been a lot of new people added to the database in these three months, but the work I did adding citations in August would be lost.
I think my primary losses will be a few downloads from iTunes, but not many, and I've heard they sometimes allow you to re-download lost items for free. And some personal photographs I took -- though the most important ones I ended up emailing to friends or family so I have at least a reduced-size stored in my Gmail Sent Mail folder.
Old hard drive declared deceased by M.E. (Mac Examiner). New hard drive has been ordered. It will take 10-14 days. Luckily I have a work laptop PC so I can access my Gmail account, and the internet, so I still have some connectivity.