Here’s what’s been on my mind over the past week:

Had a root canal last Tuesday. It was amazingly low-pain and low-stress, all things being equal. The only thing is that I need to chew on one side of my mouth, as the rooted tooth only has a temporary crown on it right now. My appointment for filling and fitting of the permanent crown isn’t until February 3rd, unless there’s a cancellation and the doctor can work me in earlier. Until then, well, it’s a lot of careful, mindful chewing.

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So are there any other folks having a tough time getting digital TV reception in their apartments – especially those living in basements or other locations with challenging exposure? It seems that the DTV standard, as ratified and endorsed by the FCC, doesn’t account for folks who can’t place a high-exposure outdoor antenna to draw in signal. Sure, they have suggestions for folks who only have indoor antennae (e.g. folks who rent), but the ultimate suggestion is to get an outdoor antenna.

So even though I’ve bought a DTV converter box and use an amplified antenna, I still get a fraction of the channels that are available on the still-extant analog transmission lines. Under the old (and still useful, at least until February 17th) analog system, we receive NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, CW, MyTV, MHz, ION, Telemundo and three PBS stations – 12 stations in total. With our DTV converter and the antenna placed near our window (as suggested by many sources), we get NBC (with its two digital sub-stations), Fox (sans sub-station), CBS (with its weather sub-station), and Telemundo (sans sub-stations).

No ABC. No PBS. No CW, MyTV, ION or MHz.

And folks keep suggesting that I get cable to fix things. But I’m loathe to spend $15 per month ($180 per annum) on something I currently get for free. And while Hulu is a reasonable substitute for now, my guess is that The Powers That Be will begin charging users to view current programming.

Furthermore, there’s the “cliff effect,” where a digital signal goes from full clarity to zero signal very quickly. this is a marked difference from analog, where static may cause the picture to get fuzzy but still provides a watchable program stream. Not so with the digital replacement: it’s an all-or-nothing venture. And in an area where there are many interference variables, watching can be very frustrating. For example, there is a lot of low-flying helicopter traffic in northwest DC (thanks to the presence of government agencies, the VP’s residence, the White House, embassies, and three hospitals), and each time one of these silver birds flies overhead, the digital signal freaks out and drops.

So this isn’t really an improvement in quality, is it? Methinks that somebody will go class-action on this, and I hope it happens – this “new, improved TV” is anything but. Something fishy is afoot, and I think that the telecoms, cable providers and TV manufacturers were at the wheel of this change: looking for money at the expense of serving the public.

For shame, for shame.

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Now back to better things:

I spent Sunday mid-day on a wonderful dirt road ride with Darren out in Loudoun County. Of the almost 35 miles we traversed, climbed and descended, only a handful were on paved roads. The dirt was damp and occasionally glue-like, but offered great traction. Also, it was a lot of fun to take out my old mountain bike on the kind of surface for which is was designed. Sure, Darren had a decided advantage with his cross bike (as well as the fact that he rides off-road far more often than I), but it was great fun on an otherwise mellow weekend.

The best part is that riding the dirt roads of Loudoun County provides a unique view of a very scenic part of Virginia. Sure, you could drive these roads, but the view wouldn’t be nearly as good or all-encompassing.

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And another great thing about bikes? They’re one of the only vehicles that will be allowed across the Potomac bridges on Inauguration Day. So to all my Virginia-based readers (all, what, two of you?) who want to commute into the District and not take Metro: dust off those bikes and ride in! Plus, riding in will keep you warm with the workout (it’s forecast to be bitterly cold – or at least seasonably chilly – on the big day).

I hope this is just the beginning of the end of stupid, single-occupant car commuting from Northern Virginia (as well as nearby Maryland) into the District. We have plenty of easy ways into the city that don’t involve increasing traffic volume, spewing pollutants into the air, and otherwise driving locals nuts when you take all the zoned parking for hours at a spell: try Metro, try a bus, ride in on a bike, walk, or do a mix of these. It’s not difficult, and it’s better for all of us.