As a Linux noob myself that's still trying to work out half of what I am doing, I would suggest the Ubuntu approach, as it is fairly simple and the installation is a snap.
I am liking Fedora again, but without the Yum extender (the package manager), it's just not as easy as uUbuntu. . . . . .sorry Fedora fans.
If you are adventurous, and have a spare copy of Windows somewhere, VirtualBox is a nice Virtual Machine and quite easy to use as well.
The wireless networking utility has com a long way, and should pick up whatever networking hardware you have in the laptop (if it's not fried from the backtrunk sessions you mentioned.)
Mkae sure turn on all the repositories as well. . . . .and add the medibuntu repository when you get it all setup. Download the LiveCD, as everything is pretty much a snap once you're in the GUI.
Hope that helps and I look forward to reading the stories from this little adventure. You can read some of my stuff here
, and here
. . . this is the digital projection of your mental self. . . .