I did something stupid. I got good advice and then ignored it just because my mental game-theory-matrix calculator said there was a possible payoff: Chip Salzenberg himself told me to get and attempt to install Debian, but when I noticed I had a Red Hat CD kicking around, I tried installing it instead, hoping I'd save download time.
Note to self: Take more heed of your betters, because they have good reasons.
Anyway, it took me all of last night and an hour this morning to find out that it was a mistake. I'm going off in search of the Debian downloads I'll need, then I'm going to burn a CD with just the stuff I have to have, and then I'm going to install it, come hell or high water.
Well...I'll try my damndest. Time is a variable I cannot control; it may take me days to get it installed right, and years more to learn it.
I can only say that I will be there, trying again.
There'll be time to rest in the grave...