This was a looooooong day.
Didn't have a lot of time last night to check out the laptop; I had to hurry my prep on Friday. Bad move #1, After getting it back from the sysadmins and deleting 17G of mp3s so I could have some room to work in, I tried backing it up to a FireWire disk. That worked OK, and the first reboot from the FireWire disk as external worked, so I figured that my troubles were over. I could take my bootable backup and transfer it at leisure once I got to my hotel room. Bad move #2.
A sneaking suspicion came over me on the first leg (BWI to Denver) of my flights today (more on that later). I got the machine out, connected everything up, and the dreaded smile/question-mark/smile/question-mark ensued. No combination of alternative boot tried worked, and I couldn't remember how to coax Open Firmware into doing the job.
Legs 2 (Denver to San Francisco) and 3 (San Francisco to Portland) were pretty darn boring - I had a laptop, so I brought to CD player, no books... I'm currently booted up on my backup on one of the iMacs in the terminal room, transferring the backup to a folder on this disk via psync, and thence back to the Powerbook again.
I could just wait for someone from Apple to be around in the morning and beg an install disk to get things working again, but I may get an early-morning call to work on something back home.
On other notes, I was so charmed by Portland on the way in that I rode the MAX train to the end of the line and had to do a heck of a lot more walking than I planned.
I am now really tired but happy.