I suspect your problems are all configuration. What have you done to configure your wireless interface?
If you have not installed WICD in /extras; ( on your install media ) I would recommend it.
This is what I use, and I find it much easier to configure wireless, and change settings depending where I am with my netbook.
You could also install Network Manager applet. I have seen several posts where some users like it over WICD. I had a lot of frustration with NM on another distro, started using WICD on Slack, and have never found a reason to use NM. Your choice here.
You do need to know some information on the access point you are trying to connect to. Usually you need the ESSID, and you need to know if encryption is used; and the type.
Something you can try, is in a terminal, run the command '/sbin/iwlist scan' ( without the quotes ) and see if you are seeing any access points.
If you see nothing, then you are either out of range, or have some more serious problems with the driver. I would guess you are using ath9k. It works well with most modern atheros cards.
Hope this helps.