Thanks to all for your comments. A few called for responses:
Yes I like bugs; it's not a ruse. In Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed, Shevek awakens his first morning on Urras and is overwhelmed by the sound of a bird chirping; on his home world Anarres there are no birds, and he is awed by this conspicuous abundance of life. I guess I believe I owe at least recognition to the embarrassment of riches that inhabits our planet.
Tori: Ah, yes. Your bug must be scaribuggus eiffeli; the reference to MIB was the tipoff. JK, I am no expert and would surely be completely deficient in European species. I do recall those guys in the movie reminding me of either roaches (order Blattodea or suborder Blattaria) or true bugs (order Hemiptera). If you would like to ever research bug id, try BugGuide an excellent site run by volunteer naturalists who know way more than I do or maybe ever will. Click on the Guide tab, and then make choices down the increasingly narrow taxonomic divisions. There are plenty of photos to compare to what you're trying to identify. BugGuide consists of North American species; however it can probably get you to the order if not the family.
Wow, so many of you have seen a praying (or preying?) mantis! I haven't seen any this year. The ones we have here in the city are not our very shy native species, but are bought by gardeners and released, the idea being they will thrive and eat plenty of garden pests. Walking sticks, while closely related to mantids, are herbivores and usually feed on a specific plant. If you saw them feeding or hanging out on plants, and knew the plant species, that would be helpful in identifying a walkingstick.
The camera I use for the pictures on this blog is a Sony Cybershot 4.1. It's very large; my kids call it retro. It has a macro function that's kind of limited. I try to make up for this by setting the image size at the maximum, so if necessary the shot can be cropped close. Also, since I like to capture some of the behavioral/environmental aspects of the subject, the wider angle works out OK, too. I am thinking about getting a digital SLR.
alex: Your photo of the dragonfly eye is great! Being restricted to life-sized observation, I have often been amazed at the geometry of behaviors. I saw a dragonfly the other day: grasping a high protruding stem, body held at about 30 degrees to the ground, wings outstretched, never walking, suddenly flying off and up, catching something in its basket of legs, flying up and then away. You'll always see this dragonfly act this way. That amazes and delights me.
sirbarrett: Flies do have a bad reputation. There are less unpleasant flies that will maybe soften your opinion of dipterans.