I'm not good at taking my own advice. After ripping at length on the poor image quality of compact cameras, I blew the last of my cash on two of them. One I got and returned, and the other is never coming.
As I mentioned, I did buy a Canon SX10, refurbished. It came with a small blemish on the lens coating, but otherwise was clean. The functionality was very good and the movie mode was great. At $300, for a very good compact superzoom, it did all it promised.
But the image quality was still just "compact" quality, which is not even close to DSLR quality. And the lens was also soft in one corner on the wide end. Given that it was about as big and expensive as a refurbished DSLR, and with image quality as a priority, there was no sense in owning and using an SX10. So I've returned it.
The great virtue of compacts is that they are compact, so I also purchased a Canon SD1100, which is a very small "card compact." I want to have a camera on me all the time, and the SD1100 was quite inexpensive, small and light. Unfortunately, Dell canceled my order, due to unavailability of product. So, two and null.
At the same time, Adorama has made available a few more refurbished Canon A590s, which have been discontinued and otherwise dried up in retail channels. It is a popular compact camera with enthusiasts because it is one of the last entry-level compacts Canon (or anyone) has made that offers SLR-type exposure controls (Manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, etc.). It also has optical image stabilization and, while plastic, performs to Canon's usual high standards.
And importantly to me, it can use a hacked firmware called CHDK, which gives supported Canon compacts all kinds of amazing capabilities they otherwise lack, such as RAW file support, RGB live histogram, ultra-high shutter speeds, scripted actions, and tons else. It really is off-the-charts crazy great stuff for camera geeks, and I have to have a least one camera that can run it. For less than a Benjamin, this SD590 will do the job just fine.
Otherwise, I'm just saving up for DSLR gear. I have the use of an old Canon Rebel XT from work, but will probably replace that with a refurbished Canon Rebel XSi in the not too distant future. Next stop beyond that will be a Rebel T1i. But in Life After Dissertation, I'll be setting my sights on a professional camera and lens, namely a Canon 5D Mark II with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS zoom.
Hey, let me dream.