Getting started with AVR - newbie question

I've picked up my soldering iron again after 30 years in software.
I've been at it for six months, and I'm at a point where I want to
start working with a microcontroller. After doing some research
(rhymes with "boogle"), here's what I came up with as far as
* Inexpensive (both the chip itself and the development hardware/
software. E.g., I don't want to buy compiler and have to pay to
upgrade every time a new chip comes out).
* Programmable in C (vs. BASIC or some custom language). Ability to
write bare assembly a plus.
USB/Flash programming interface (serial and parallel ports are
getting scarce on PCs these days), and I don't particularly want to by
an EPROM burner...
* Decent memory (both program and data) - I want room to write however
complex code I need without having to count bytes. 32K (program) seems
like a comfortable minimum. I could probably get by with less RAM.
Decent speed - Less critical since I'm not writing in interpreted
BASIC, but still nice not to have to count instruction cycles during
an interrupt service routine when coordinating umpteen sensors and
OK, so I've looked into PIC, BASIC Stamp, AVR, and a few others. I'm
leaning toward the AVR (the ARM sounded promising, but I can't find
much on it...).
Any comments about my conclusions so far?
I'd appreciate any advice about a good AVR kit or bundle that includes
Chip, Compiler, Programming software, ISP hardware, etc.
Thanks very much in advance.
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