It took me a while to decide, but I finally did it: I bought a new camera. It's a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7, a high-end compact camera that was released in February 2007. You can read the technical specs elsewhere; I'm not going to cover them here.
The H7 is not a bargain, but the price is quite acceptable, even accounting for the import taxes we're burdened with here in Argentina. I got it together with a 2 GB Memory Stick, which should be enough for about 600 pictures, so the manual says. I have been shooting at all sorts of stuff since Monday afternoon, but I haven't tested that limit... What I did notice, to my dismay, is the Gimp chokes on these larger images in my comparatively memory-starved PC, especially when I try to work with four or five layers. I also think that I'm going to need a new hard drive if my tendency to produce multiple variations of a picture is not contained.
The H7 is part of the new line of hyperzoom cameras. Most manufacturers went with 12x, but Sony gave the H7 a whooping 15x. You can actually use the camera as a telescope, or to spy on people far away. (Expect to see a proliferation of lunar shots and mist-shrouded buildings on the horizon.) Of course, as is the case with all compact cameras, you'll have chromatic aberration aka "purple fringing" in the extreme settings. Other than that, the camera has a nice array of standard functions to control aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and ISO number (up to ISO 3200 — which lies in the Land of Noise), and a few extras.
I could've gotten a used DSLR for the same money. I actually saw one for sale on MercadoLibre (the Latin American take on eBay, I guess), and spent a lot of time pondering it. My professional photographer friend insisted that I should get a DSLR because "you can't do serious photography without a reflex camera" — she was indignant when I told her I'd decided against her counsel. But the kind of photography I like to do isn't compatible with carrying around a bagful of expensive bulky lenses which you have to mount and dismount and care for as if they were fine diamonds.
Maybe I'm not ready to become a pro, or maybe I think the division between a pro and a skilled amateur is meaningless in this time and age. My friend's firm opinion on photographers who don't have reflex cameras was very close to insult, which I'm sure she didn't notice; if she weren't a true friend that I've known for ages, I would've taken it as such. In any case, I have so much to learn that I feel I can very well survive a couple of years without a DSLR, until I exhaust the possibilities of my not-so-amateur H7.
There are lots of things I couldn't picture the way I like with my old camera, which I can now. So for now, if you notice I'm writing less, it's because I'm out there!