We live in an old house, which has the unfortunate side-effect of lacking a wired network of any kind. All of our machines connect to a wireless network, and my desktop is no exception. I’ve got an old WUSB54GC wireless stick that was manufactured some time in 2007. In computer years, this is way old hardware. But with a bit of work, I managed to get it working with my Gentoo install.
I started out by installing the NetworkManager applet with a tutorial on the Gentoo Wiki. This was a straightforward process, and after a restart, the applet icon appeared in the top right corner of my screen. If you left-click on the icon, it drops down a menu that lists your wireless interfaces. Under the Wireless Networks heading, it said that it was missing the firmware necessary to talk to my hardware.
The next step was to look around the net and figure out the firmware/kernel module combination that supports this stick. I found my answer over at the SerialMonkey project, which is run by a group that took on maintenance of older Ralink firmware after the company of the same name dropped support. According to the SerialMonkey hardware guide, my stick (or at least a very similar stick called the WUSB54GR) works with the rt73usb kernel module and related firmware.
This known, there are two methods of proceeding. Those running older kernels may need to manually compile the necessary packages using instructions similar to these, from the Arch Linux project. For more modern kernels, the Gentoo project provides a Wiki entry detailing the necessary steps.
After following the steps in the Gentoo Wiki entry, I restarted my system, and now have full wireless support. Genius!