Thanks to four days dedicated to restoring a crashed hard drive and the expert help of our software team, my laptop is back in action. I was in a good enough mood to make a nice roast leg of lamb tonight for dinner. (Did I mention that Toby really loves meat?)
If this happens to you, assuming the crashed drive is still somewhat read-able, here are the things that I wish I had known as a note-to-self if it happens again:
Make (and, ideally, test) an image of the drive
Use Ghost. Or, as suggested one note down, Acronis. That way, you hit a few buttons, and ka-blam-o! your hard drive will magically come back.
Joyce-ian Aside: Astute lovers of humorous rap may enjoy the following video, "Ka-Blamo!", from The Lonely Island. Safiri may insist that pottery is, indeed, ka-blamo, and others may point out the benefits of forgetting what coal is. These are left as exercises to the reader.
Restore My Documents correctly
First, make sure "show hidden files" is on. Then figure out what your home directory really is when you log in to XP. Our head of SW had to tell me that the directory names in XP have an arbitrary aspect to them - e.g., although I log in as "ACTUALITYSBS\favalora", my working directory is the "favalora" one, not the "favalora.actualitysbs" one. You can see my confusion. Also, the "my documents" directory names itself dynamically.
Microsoft Outlook is smarter than you think
It is actually quite easy to load your old outlook.pst files. You just load them. Outlook is smart enough to return to its pre-crash personality. (Except, in my case, for an IMAP account through Gmail. Although the old email was there, it was stale. You have to explicity re-add IMAP accounts.)
The Windows XP migration and restore agents are reportedly worthless
Install the apps you lost, make everything just right, and then make a disk image
...and having Mozy run in the background can't hurt.
Although, for the record, the restore DVDs from Mozy that I ordered on Friday still haven't arrived yet. So perhaps I will cancel the Mozy service.
Whew! Back to normal. And this was with, what, five quasi-redundant backups?