OK, I'm ready to backup my (mostly kid's) files. I see it every where and though my confidence in Macs makes me complacent, I have to heed all this great advice i see here.
First, an external hard drive seems to be the best and easy way as far as I can see. I've read it should be a firewire HD. I have a couple of Hard drives from seldom used pc's, These are a couple of years old and connect via a ribbon cable in the MB. Any adapters for this to firewire? What's my best move otherwise?
Yep those are just common ATA drives and you can buy Firewire enclosures online easily. Not sure what stores you have in your hometown - but you'd need a 3.5" ATA hard drive enclosure with Firewire ports.
Use SuperDuper! Pay the shareware fee and register it. You can clone your Mac to the external drive in a matter of an hour or so, and update the clone in about 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how much has changed. The clone is bootable.