I didn't return my laptop to it's original configuration last night. Instead I came into Linux Caffe with it still putatively configured for NetworkManager operation... at it failed. So I copied back just the one configuration file (the /etc/conf.d/net configuration) and suddenly NetworkManager could pop onto one of the 3 open networks here...
The other two still time out, but it looks like even with NetworkManager the system is still using the conf.d file to configure wpa. Now I just need to figure out a way to tell it to allow a longer period before timing out on a connection (it seems to take about 60 or 70 seconds to lock onto a network).
Another tick in the "once you give up the struggle the struggle disappears" (almost) column.
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