I don't know how much time you've spent with a camera since highschool. I tried to get back into photography last November and it was a wonderful decision. Here is what I've learned:
- Buy a used DSLR to begin with. Get a used bottom line camera from any of the big manufacturers like Cannon or Nikon. After 6 months you'll know if the limits are your camera or you.
- Have somewhere to store your photos in redundancy. Storing all your photos on your laptop will work until your hard drive dies. Then you're fucked. I store them on my WHS with duplication enabled. Your Flickr account will probably suffice for the important photos.
- Use the highest quality settings. You bought a DSLR, put that image sensor to use. Storage is cheap. Also DSLR pictures can be pretty large. My D40X on its highest setting takes pictures in the range of 3-4mb.
- Buy a case and tripod at the same time as your DSLR. You can manage without either of them but the case will lengthen the life of your camera and a tripod enables a lot of really cool shots.
- RTFM. I read the manual every few months and everytime I learn something new.
Here's a Mauna Kea panoramic