Ubuntu 10.10: System hangs after login

Hello Ubuntu List,

I seem to have experienced a slight failure with my Ubuntu machine and I was
hoping that someone here, might be able to help me out.

Earlier this morning, I had my cpu up and running Ubuntu 10. 10 with no
problem as was normal. I shut down my computer, went for lunch and then
rebooted the computer at which point, I discovered this problem. After
lunch, Ubuntu was able to load up until the login screen. I then enter my
login information, and Ubuntu begins to log in as normal. This is a far as I
get and my computer hangs with the default Ubuntu 10.10 screen visible, no
icons or trays visible and the hard drive light glowing but no activity.
I've waited for a long period, still to no avail. Ubuntu hangs after login
here. The only resolution out of this is a hard reboot at this point.

Here is what I have tried up to this point:
1) Boot from a different Kernel
2) Boot into recovery mode, open a terminal and try to update the system -
So here I am able to boot into Ubuntu and start tty1. When I try to update
the system, Ubuntu fails to fetch anything... I am assuming it can't access
the internet.
3) Also Ubuntu sometimes tells me that I have a hard drive error that needs
fixing. So I fix it but that doesn't seem to affect the outcome here. And
this error message is new today and only on some boot attempts.

Has anyone ever encountered this problem before? I tried plugging in my
external hard drive to see if I could back some of the data that I have on
this machine and it was not recognized in /media.

Can anyone recommend a good way of either sort this hanging issue out or a
good way to get the data of this machine so I can simply do a OS re-install?
Basically I am bit unsure as to how to proceed and I haven't been able to
find any help on this particular issue in the forum. Most posts refer to
installation issues. As you can probably guess, I am a bit of novice.

Many thanks in advance for any help that you might be able to offer.

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