It also seemed a bit frustrating that there was no apparent way to "force" an association attempt and get feedback, i.e saying iwconfig wlan0 connect or something while outputting feedback.
Simply find what's happening behind all those configurations and pinging you made, see them at /var/log/*
Try what happened of the packets if they were sent or not:
~$ tail /var/log/syslog
or you can even cat them all to see if wlan0 was noted by the kernel--
~$ cat /var/log/syslog | grep wlan
~$ cat /var/log/messages
~$ dmesg | tail
~$ netstat -s <to examine what you have for network>
~# cat /proc/net/wireless
Just read the manuals for many networking utilities for configuration and debugging net problems:
~$ man netstat [ man ifconfig, man route, man iwconfig ]
There are more ways than that. Just "PLAY" with your gnu/linux, but don't take it too seriously as to obfuscate the mind with emotions
HOpe that helps.