Thanks very much for the replies! I was hoping folks wouldn't see my question as too lame.
corfe: acpid and hotplug look real cool...the site I found even mentioned an HP Pavilion which by coincidence is my Suse machine. I didn't think I wanted to get into working with the source to Linux (skill and time limitations) but you make a good point that if I just looked at an open source *program* then it might be more manageable...don't expect to see any patches checked in by me soon, though.
firedance: I'm not 100% sure I know what you mean about the perfect desktop. I certainly installed some screensavers and adjusted the theme. All my Logitech mouse buttons work, including the scroll wheel, but you're right about my video card! My ATI Radeon 7500 is too old for the proprietary Linux drivers (at least I think so). I'll put that on the list of things to look into again later. Yes, I've heard of perl, and ruby and python...I haven't delved into them enough to know the relative advantages. Never heard of fluxbox...I'm not clear on the relationship between Gnome, X Windows and something like fluxbox, but I'm sure a drink from the Google firehose will help.
Thanks again for taking the time to share these ideas!