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Attempting a VERY minimal install (using --no-install-recommends ;)

I'm attempting a very minimal install because:
1. small size in and of itself is a good goal
2. fending for oneself is a valuable educational experience compared
   to having everything handed to you on a "golden platter" {Debian's
   default installer}

My current experiments revolve around defining my personal take on a minimal MATE desktop. Part of the motivation is that some recommended packages clash with ones I wish to use. Just removing offending packages after the fact is unaesthetic.

My test machine has both a default install from DVD 1 and my minimalist install. I had done a standard install without specifying any GUI or extra packages.

My base setup was installed by doing
  apt-get --no-install-recommends install task-mate-desktop
  apt-get install pluma gparted synaptic

All it lacks is internet connectivity.
I have a WiFi hotspot from T-mobile which I effectively use as a modem (WiFi is intentionally disabled). On the standard install it appears eth2 on Network Manager Applet.

I used Synaptic to install network-manager-gnome
The apparent problem is that connecting the hotspot does dot trigger the "connecting" icon.

How do I determine what else I need to install?
[Recall point #2 in my first paragraph ;]