The bloody external switch was off. Yes, off.
When I bothered to look at the side of the notebook and saw the state of the switch I could have screamed. I had basically forgotten that it was even there. I looked at my E6510 that runs Windows 7 Enterprise, and yes, the switch enables WiFi. And of course it works. But the switch on the side of the E6510 I've been installing various Linux distributions on, it was disabled (red showing on the switch). As soon as I turned it on the WiFi icon changed state on the panel. And it found all the local WiFi hotspots. And I was able to log in just like I log in for every device in this house, from Windows notebook to Apple Macbook to smartphone and all the various Barnes & Noble tablets. And WiFi under Fedora 17 on the E6510 with Centrino 6300 WiFi is running like a champ.
It's situations like this that cause support personnel to ask "Have you plugged it in" and "Have you turned it on?" It's situations like this that cause support personnel to call you an idiot (or far worse). It's also situations like this when I wonder why some little dialog or message doesn't appear saying "Have you checked the external switch", or words to that effect. Now I know to check for external switches in the future when I see cryptic messages such as "RF_KILL bit toggled to disable radio." Yeah. Thanks a lot for that crystal clear message.
Everything on this notebook is now fully enabled and running smooth as silk in all the critical ways I care about. I have it tweaked to give me pretty much what I want on the desktop. I still haven't figured out how to add launchers to the panel (specifically for Eclipse), but I can live without those little refinements. Cinnamon goes a long, long way into turning Gnome 3 into a first-class desktop.
And if you're wondering how I have an eight-core notebook, it's really a quad-core notebook with hyperthreading enabled. Linux (along with Windows and Mac OS X) sees the hyperthreads as distinct cores.
I also modified the file system to combine the root partition and home partition into a single partition. RHEL splits them up as does Fedora (and openSUSE too, but with the majority of the disk space in home). With both combined I have more efficient use of the 120GB SSD total disk space.
I am quite happy for the moment. I hope I don't jinx this moment of happiness by blogging about it.
Update 29 October
Discovered everything wasn't up to snuff with regards to VMware Player. When I installed version 5.0 and attempted to play one of my known good VMs, Fedora immediately dropped me to a text screen showing a general protection fault. A little googling found this Fedora forum thread (http://forums.fedoraforum.org/showthread.php?t=283460) with a link to a patch (vmware9_kernel35_patch.tar.bz2) which I dutifully downloaded, unpacked, and applied the patch to my current kernel. Once that was done then I was able to run my VMs. Note that the patch is for kernel 3.5, but it appears to work equally well for my kernel, 3.6.3.