Asus Wifi Router AiMesh Odyssey

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This post was rattling around in my head before the current stay-at-home situation arose. Somehow, it never found its way to my fingers, until now.

This will be a typical techie post by me, in that it will be long, rambling/meandering, and likely bore the people who used to mostly read my music blogs.


Most newer (even years old) Asus routers now support AiMesh, a method of turning normal routers into a mesh system. When configured correctly, it works remarkably well and has some serious advantages over pre-built mesh systems (like Google WiFi, Eero, etc.).

My start with Asus Routers

For years, I purchased cheap (often refurbished) routers. I typically flashed them with dd-wrt firmware to make them better than new.

On December 13th, 2013 I broke the mold. I purchased my first high-end router, the Asus RT-AC66U. It was my first “AC” router (now called WiFi 5) and the first time I ever spent that much money on a router of any kind ($179.99 before tax!).

It has a (theoretical and nonsensical) top speed rating of 1750 megabits per second (mbps). That’s still pretty good even by today’s standards.

Back then, this router was glorious. I was very happy with my purchase and it was my main router for many years. It only got replaced when I switched to Verizon FiOS which at the time came with their own branded router.

This router still gets firmware updates (what a credit to Asus!). More on that later in this (happy ending) saga.

The big move

In 2015 we moved from NY to VA. Our house in VA is large, but not that large. The layout puts our master bedroom far away from every other room (no centrally placed router would reach that room).

Mesh routers hadn’t exploded in popularity yet, so I never considered one at the time. Given that I was installing FiOS there (the previous owner had FiOS as well), I knew that my main router would be a Verizon branded one.

I had an electrician put in a hard-wired Ethernet port in three rooms, in addition to the closet where the FiOS router lives. There is an Ethernet port in the wall in our office, the master bedroom, and the basement (where the TV is). Each of the three rooms is a home-run back to the closet, so each of the rooms connects into one of the four LAN ports on the back of the FiOS router.

The office is very close to the closet with the main router in it, so to begin with, I didn’t put another router in there.

The master bedroom and basement each got routers. Those routers were put in AP mode (Access Point, or Bridged). That meant that the main FiOS router still handed out all IP addresses (no matter the room or which WiFi router our devices were connected to).

For simplicity, each of the AP routers got a separate SSID (the WiFi Network Name). Devices that were fixed in a particular room always connected to their local SSID/Router (e.g., the TV, or a Fire Stick/Roku, etc.). Our cellphones had to switch to a new SSID when we moved from one room to another.

Since the main router signal really doesn’t reach the master bedroom at all, the phones would switch pretty quickly (without any manual intervention), simply because they would lose the signal completely and immediately begin searching for a new signal.

It wasn’t instantaneous, so you would have to think about starting something before you walked out of a room, because the connection would definitely drop for a few seconds.

After a few months, the FiOS router started getting flaky on the AC channel (this eventually straightened out years later after some arbitrary firmware update). This led me to pull out my old Asus RT-AC66U router (which was in a drawer for a while by then) and install it in the office.

Even though the office was close to the main router, I could no longer trust the WiFi on the main router, so I used the wired connection in the office to hook up the Asus as an AP and all was well again.

Growing the Asus family

The above setup continued for a while and worked fine. In the master bedroom I had an old TP-Link router (another brand that I really like). It worked fine, but wasn’t the fastest thing and would rarely cause me tiny frustrations.

Six weeks before buying my first Asus router, I bought a Nexus 5 phone from Google. That marked my switch from Verizon (where I was using the Galaxy Nexus) to T-Mobile. I’ve been a happy T-Mobile customer ever since.

My house had effectively zero coverage on T-Mobile when we moved in (it’s marginally better now, though I rarely ever have to use it in the house). After a few months in the house, I saw an ad for a T-Mobile Cellspot. It’s a rebranded Asus RT-AC68U router (one step up from the 66U that I owned).

T-Mobile was selling them very cheaply (much cheaper than the Asus branded 68U). I bought it not only because the price was excellent (if memory serves me well, I think I paid $75 for a new one, when the 68U was going for $199 new), but also because it was (supposedly) optimized for T-Mobile WiFi calling (which given my cell signal at home sounded like a great addition).

I replaced my (rarely) flaky TP-Link router with a T-Mobile Cellspot one in the master bedroom.

The dreaded, complicated upgrade

The new router ran great for months, but I never used the WiFi calling feature (that’s a long story for another post that I will likely never write).

At some point I stumbled on a post about “Turning a T-Mobile Cellspot into a Full Blown Asus RT-AC68U“. If you skim that article, and more importantly the tons of comments with a lot detail in them, you’ll see that this is not for the feint of heart.

Fortunately or otherwise, this is exactly the type of thing I enjoy (hey, you get your kicks your way, I’ll get mine my way…).

With some twists and turns, and needing to read a bunch of comments when I got stuck, I eventually turned the Cellspot into a full blown Asus router.

Why bother?

That’s a fair question. The Cellspot worked perfectly (for some definition of perfect). There are a few good reasons to consider the upgrade. By far the most important one is that the Cellspot firmware was way behind, and while occasionally upgraded, pretty rarely.

That meant that when the various kracks that have been discovered in recent years against WiFi routers are revealed, a real Asus router will be patched months (or years!) before the Cellspot will. That’s reason enough to bother if you don’t require any special handling of the WiFi calling feature for T-Mobile specifically.

Another reason to upgrade is to flash different firmware, e.g., dd-wrt (mentioned above). That’s not possible from the base Cellspot firmware, but is from the Asus firmware.

Finally, if you want to run the AiMesh software, you need to be on the real Asus firmware.

A quick look ahead

I’ll deal with this later on, but there are newer (shorter, better) ways of upgrading a Cellspot, and very important warnings and caveats which didn’t exist at the time I upgraded my first one.

The point of this interlude is to tell you to read on rather than follow the instructions in the article linked above.

Another Asus added to the family…

A year later, my better TP-Link router running in the basement started to have some issues (again, I think it was a firmware issue that I later resolved). I decided to replace it with another upgraded Cellspot.

I bought one refurbished on Amazon for $48. I followed the same upgrade instructions linked above, and had another working Asus RT-AC68U router installed in the basement the same day it arrived.

I now had four routers in the house. The main FiOS one which was mostly acting as a wired router to the Internet (a few legacy devices, security cameras, etc., were connected directly to the 2.4Ghz channel on that router), plus the original RT-AC66U in the office, and the two upgraded Cellspots, in the master bedroom and basement.

What? Asus doesn’t make infinitely perfect hardware?

About six months ago, I walked into the office and the old 66U router was dead. No lights, no Internet (obviously).

I disconnected the cables and pulled out the TP-Link Archer C9 that had previously been running in the basement. That’s the one that I asserted was flaky only because of a specific firmware.

I reconfigured it to take the place of the old 66U, made sure it was current on firmware, and turned it on. Problem solved, we were back in business.

I decided to try and diagnose what went wrong with the old 66U (just out of curiosity, as it was 6 years old at the time and didn’t need to provide any additional service to make it one of the more outstanding tech purchases).

I connected it directly to my laptop using the wired port and fired it up. The lights blinked for a second and then went dead. It only took me one more try to realize what was wrong. The power button was broken. It simply wouldn’t click and stay on.

In typical MacGyver mode, I found a round hard piece of plastic, scotch taped it on to the power button, then put a rubber band around that to ease the pressure on the scotch tape.

Voila! A working 66U router, once again…

I swapped it back for the TP-Link, which was now perfectly configured to be an instant backup router should my MacGyver skills prove unworthy.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about AiMesh???

Oh yeah, though I did specifically mention that this would meander and ramble and I didn’t want to disappoint on that front either…

Unfortunately, a bit more meandering is necessary, just for historical accuracy, not to discuss the merits of AiMesh.

Getting into trouble

Before getting the second Cellspot router, I upgraded the first one using the built-in Asus firmware upgrade tool once, and it worked great.

When I got the second one, I (of course) upgraded it to the same version of firmware as the first one was on, with no issues.

Toward the end of last year, another krack was discovered, and I checked whether Asus had an updated firmware to mitigate it. They did.

I updated the old 66U first, and it upgraded perfectly.

I updated the first 68U and it reverted back to the original Cellspot firmware (which had even more issues than I was currently trying to fix!).

Whoah, what just happened?

A bit of Googling and I found that Asus decided that if they noticed that a Cellspot router was being flashed with Asus firmware (rather than a T-Mobile branded firmware), they would roll it back to the original.


Silver Lining?

This caused me to find newer methods of turning it back into an Asus router, including ways to thwart Asus from rolling it back. The old method (linked above) still works, and has the appropriate warnings and methods to avoid the rollback, but it’s still more complicated than the new ones.

This is a link to the instructions that I used the second time around. It looks long and complicated, but that’s because there are three different (analogous) methods for accomplishing the upgrade. The key point is that this avoids the full downgrade which the original method requires.

When I did this and got my first router back to the new firmware, and made sure that it wouldn’t downgrade again, I flashed the second one as well, apparently successfully.


Wait, what? Either it worked or it didn’t. Well, yes (and no).

I was so smart (being a seasoned techie) that I was incredibly stupid (being a seasoned know-it-all).

The first time that I upgraded each router, I meticulously followed the dozens of steps in the original article linked above. Amazingly, following detailed instructions worked (can you believe it?).

This second time around, using the simplified instructions (which are 100% accurate and would work if you followed them exactly!), I skipped one crucial section (a few commands) because I assumed that they were unnecessary the second time around (meaning, I thought I had the correct files from the first time around just sitting in my folder waiting to be reused).

Again, why apparently then? Because I don’t end up using the router in the basement all that often, and it took trying to get AiMesh to work (still coming, I promise) to finally see what I had done so wrong…

AiMesh, finally!

Well, actually, getting closer, not there quite yet…

Now that everything was running fine (or so I thought), I decided to finally experiment with turning on AiMesh in all three Asus routers.

I really didn’t need it, my setup was working well enough, but I was curious and now that I was running the latest version of Asus firmware on all three routers, I was in a position to find out. I could always roll back to non-AiMesh mode if it wasn’t to my liking.

Unfortunately, I hit a snag immediately. It turns out that the old 66U is not capable of running AiMesh software. There is a newer revision (RT-AC66U rev B) that can run full AiMesh, but mine is too old and can’t do it.

So, I popped on to Amazon and ordered another Cellspot for $48 (this time, it was labeled renewed rather then refurbished).

Unfortunately, I compounded my error by skipping the exact same block of steps on this newest router as I had on my others, because I hadn’t yet noticed the problem that I had introduced into my network…

Turning on AiMesh, finally, really, this time

I flashed the real Asus firmware onto the newest Cellspot and retired the old 66U once again. I was now ready to flip the switch and turn the three routers into an AiMesh mesh network.

All attempts to get them talking to each other failed! After some searching, it seemed that some people had more success using the Asus Router App on their phones, than using the web browser interface.

I broke down and installed the app on my phone. I did seem to get a bit further, but if I got something going on one router, another would disappear, and then that would be flipped. It was maddening.

Discovering the problem

Well, the problem was entirely created by me, so I was the problem. The crucial steps involved the following:

Upload original_cfe.bin to
Select US US for AC68P or US AiMesh for AC68U with AiMesh as Source CFE
Download the new .bin
rename it to new_cfe.bin

I assumed that having done that once on the original router, I had the correctly modified CFE (now called new_cfe.bin). Meaning, I thought that all Asus routers (at least of the same model number, which mine were), shared the same identical new cfe.bin file.

You’ve all heard what the definition of the word assume is, right? I’ll spare the gentler ears/eyes from seeing it here again…

It turns out that the file is unique to each and every router. Why? Because among other things, it contains the MAC Address of the routers ports (both Ethernet and WiFi) embedded in it. So, by reusing the same cfe.bin file on all three routers, they were all running with the same exact MAC Address.

To be clear, they each had different IP addresses assigned, but that doesn’t make the problem better. The way local networking works, there is an ARP table maintained that tells the network how to reach the physical machine associated with an IP address, by translating it into the MAC Address.

So, when I tried to reach any of the three routers via their IP address, all of them returned (at a very low level) the same MAC Address, and therefore it was entirely random (perhaps based on distance in the house) as to which router would see my request!


The solution

Once I understood the problem, the solution was obvious and straightforward, but by no means simple. I needed to fix the individual cfe.bin files, but I could no longer follow the original instructions (uploading them to a website which would edit them) because I didn’t have the original files to upload!

Worse, I needed to figure out which MAC Address was correct for which router, which meant going to each of them and finding the stickers with the serial numbers and MAC Address printed on them.

Once I did that, I had to use a HEX Editor to load up each file, find the wrong MAC Addresses (yes, plural, since there are multiple interfaces in each router) and type over them (very carefully).

Then I needed to copy them over to the correct router, flash them, reboot the router, and pray.

Yes, that worked!

Are we there yet?

So, was I really done? Unfortunately, not quite.

I was able to get AiMesh going, but the speed in the bedroom was pathetic (reliable, but pathetic). The speed in the basement was great!

This one didn’t take long to diagnose, but it did take a while to fix…

By default, AiMesh sets the backhaul (how the mesh routers communicate with each other, rather than with the client devices or the Internet) to auto.

In the case of the basement router, that ended up using the wired connection over the Ethernet cable (which is exactly what I expected the default to be).

In the master bedroom, even though the router is fully wired like the basement one is, auto defaulted to wireless backhaul.

If you recall from a few days ago, when you started reading this post, the master bedroom is too far away to get a reliable signal, so the backhaul was awful (amazing that it worked at all!).

The solution is simple, force the backhaul to be wired. Yes, simple, in theory, but I couldn’t find any way to do that!

More searching on the Internet and I finally found a single forum post where someone linked to the official guide with highlighted screenshots.

Bless that individual, and Google, for surfacing the correct post (after much tribulation).

Here is a link to the guide, with step 6 being the secret sauce to finally see where the default backhaul could be changed/


So, was it all worth it? Yes, of course.

First, I love technology puzzles, even ones created by me. Once I screwed up the settings really badly, I just had to figure out how to get myself out of it. It wasn’t fun (on any level), but it was instructive, informative, and satisfying (in the end).

Much more importantly, I am now running a full mesh network and I like it. Our phones don’t drop when walking from our office to our bedroom. All three routers are effectively managed from the one main AiMesh one.

Why AiMesh is really cool

Most importantly, it’s a mix and match network. You don’t have to buy kits. You don’t have to have identical routers at each node. As long as a router supports the AiMesh firmware (which many Asus routers do!), it can be a node (or the master) of your AiMesh network.

This is crucial. Today, I don’t own a single WiFi 6 (AX) device. So, it would be overkill for me to buy a WiFi 6 router, let alone a WiFi 6 Mesh Kit.

However, if/when I get a new laptop (I’m typing this on a 6-year-old one) that has WiFi 6 in it, or a new phone (mine is 2.5 years old), I’ll be able to get an Asus WiFi 6 router (any of them!) and use it as my main AiMesh node (and place it wherever I use the laptop most frequently, which now, is in the office).

I won’t have to change the other routers, or change any settings on the other routers either. They will all just work. My laptop (and phone) will work with WiFi 6 when they’re connected to the new router, and automatically and gracefully downgrade to WiFi 5 when they roam to another AiMesh node that’s still on WiFi 5.

Further, I can even do the WiFi 6 upgrade piecemeal. For example, I could get a lower-end WiFi 6 AiMesh router first, and make that the master. Then, as I have more devices that can take advantage, I can get a higher-end WiFi 6 router, make that the main one, and move the older WiFi 6 router into the bedroom.

The ultimate beauty is that each of the routers can always be instantly returned to be non-AiMesh routers. So, I can pass them on to friends when I replace them with a WiFi 6 one and those people can use them as standalone routers, AP bridges, or create or augment an AiMesh of their own.

That’s what makes these more flexible than full-time mesh systems.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that the models I’m running can be picked up for $48, if you’re willing to be super careful and avoid the stupid mistake that I made.

Email Spam Coordination Across Different Services?

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Surprise! It’s been 1,743 days since my last post. This isn’t a music post, so even if you are momentarily pleased to see a new one pop up in your feed, you’ll likely be disappointed by this “techie” one…

Disclaimer: this is 100% speculation on my part, I have done zero research to see if my theory is correct. I’m sharing it mostly to remember these thoughts as they occur, and perhaps in the distant hope that someone will either confirm or disprove the hypothesis with real proof.


There is high level coordination among disparate email providers to determine bulk senders, in a completely unintuitive but ostensibly extremely clever manner.

I put the above hypothesis first, so that you can stop reading right now if you have no interest in this topic, because as is my usual style, this is likely to get long, quickly…


I have operated my own email server for over 20 years. My CTO friends think I’m insane (perhaps for other reasons as well, but definitely for running my own email server). For clarity, it’s Postfix, not an email server that I wrote, just one that I operate on a dedicated server (where this WordPress blog is hosted as well).

I’ve been through the wars with email, sometimes caused by my misconfiguration or misunderstanding, but sometimes entirely out of my control (e.g., when my dedicated server was transitioned to a new data center and the static IP changed, and it had previously been on many RBL blacklists!).

Over time, I’ve tamed the configuration into a very stable setup. That has included complying with SPF, DKIM, DOMAIN-KEYS, DMARC, etc. Basically, anything that Google or Microsoft claim will help them validate email from me as a sender, and not mark it as spam or worse, just bounce it back to me.

The Problem

While my setup works flawlessly most of the time, on occasion, Lois or I will get a bounce back from someone (typically Google/Gmail, but sometimes Microsoft/Outlook/Hotmail). Once that bounce occurs, we’re often shut out from sending email to that service for a full day (rarely, longer!).

As you can imagine, it’s wildly frustrating to not be able to send an individual mail (this is not spam or bulk mail, but rather one to one emails to friends).

This is the error message we get in the bounce:

               The mail system host[] said:
550 Action not taken (in reply to end of DATA command)

Wow, very helpful, “Action not taken”. Nothing indicating what we did wrong and why Google rejected the email. It feels like it should be a transient error, but it not only persists, it typically stops us from sending any further emails to anyone on that service for the rest of the day.

This has been going on for at least a couple of years. Just not often enough for me to pull out my (one remaining) hair trying to track it down.

What is going on?

Until this week, I literally had no idea (perhaps I should have diagnosed it earlier…). While I can’t say with certainty that my new understanding covers all aspects of this error, I can say with certainty one use case that definitely causes the error, and it might explain every single occurrence that we’ve had in this regard.

We (Lois more than I, but I do it too) share identical emails individually with a variety of friends. Specifically, if a group that we love puts out a new music video, Lois will send a link to that video to a group of people, but each will get their own separate email with the same email body and subject, so that they can reply just to us and not be BCC’ed in a large group.

I had never made the connection before that this somehow triggered the bounces, even though they were short emails, sent to people we’ve sent emails to 100’s of times, that almost always respond to those emails, and that we’re likely in the contacts list of the receivers. I couldn’t imagine that we were tripping any spam filter.

What do I think is going on?

I now believe (very firmly, with zero proof) that the body of the email (not including the subject, or the receivers) is being hashed. When another email with the identical hash (of the body) comes through (not sure if there is a time-limit or not), the service bounces it immediately with the above error message of “Action not taken”.

How did I come to this conclusion?

A week ago, I sent out invitations to a number of people to a house concert in March. Most of them went out fine, a very few bounced, so I didn’t have any suspicions over those bounces just yet.

This week, we discovered that one of the band members couldn’t make it, and we agreed with the head of the band that we would simply cancel the show. So, I sent an email to everyone that I had previously written to (except those that already said they couldn’t make it) telling them that the show was cancelled.

The cancellation emails were all bouncing, except for the first one!

I complained to Lois that the cancellations were bouncing, and that we would likely have to wait at least a day for the bounces to clear before I could send them again (still having no idea why they were bouncing).

Lois asked me why I thought the vast majority of the invitations didn’t bounce (to the same people, and those had links to the band in them, so if anything, they would have appeared to be more spammy).

It was a good question, to which I had no answer.

But, my brain often needs to sleep on problems before enlightening me, and indeed, the next morning I woke up with a theory to test.

While the bodies of the invitations were nearly identical, they each started with “Dear XXX,”. So, they couldn’t have hashed into the same exact body. On the other hand, each of the cancellations were identical in every way (copy/paste) without the lead Dear XXX. So, they indeed would hash into the same body.

To test the theory, I added back the “Dear XXX” to the cancellations, and sure enough, every single one went out without any bounces!

How is that Cross Provider Coordination?

Aha! It turns out that once Gmail (for example) bounced an email, so did Microsoft, Verizon/AOL/Yahoo, Apple (via and likely others (like Comcast).

To be clear, once Gmail bounced an email, if the next email went to, but was the very first such email to any Microsoft address, it was bounced immediately.

That implies (to me, proves) that it’s not just that they too hash incoming emails and bounce duplicates, but that they share the hash (somehow) among the competitive service providers, in order to more efficiently identify bulk senders quickly.

Please don’t ask me to conjecture on how they do that, I don’t have a clue.


We are both unbelievably relieved to understand what has been going on with these bounces (or at least to delude ourselves into thinking we understand it now).


I doubt anyone who normally reads my blog will have an interest in this, but I needed to get it off my chest anyway.

I can only hope that an expert will weigh in and either confirm or provably deny my hypothesis.

Also, I have at least one more (completely picayune) email issue (rant?) that I will share if I get any feedback that this kind of stuff is interesting to anyone…

A Wicked Birthday

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Today is Lois’ birthday (Happy Birthday Lois!).

We had expected to be in VA all of May. Unfortunately, a few details got in the way and we returned to NY this week and will remain here for the rest of the month.

If we were down in Richmond, we’d likely have gotten together with a bunch of people for dinner tonight, but that too will have to wait until later this summer.

So, what’s a couple to do to celebrate? We don’t exchange gifts, so I just asked Lois if there was anything she wanted to do. She wondered whether I’d be interested in seeing Wicked again.

Given that it’s been 1,207 days since we last saw it (but who’s counting?), it couldn’t have been a serious question. I immediately grabbed two tickets and we were both very excited to see it again.

For those of you who have lost count, Lois did too. 😉

For a couple that rarely disagrees, we were both sure we knew how many times we had previously seen Wicked. I said 13, Lois said 14. She has given me permission to officially call this one 14, since I blogged that it was 13 the last time we saw it. That doesn’t mean she believes that I was correct (then or now)…

Here’s a link to that blog. As you can see, we loved it then.

Today’s verdict?


As always, some nits could be picked, but the two witches (both new to us) were fantastic:

Caroline Bowman as Elphaba


Kara Lindsay as Glinda.

One highlight (of many): the final song, For Good, has occasionally been a weak point (for me) even in otherwise terrific shows. It’s a trickier song to nail than it appears, especially to get both witches to perform it perfectly, individually and in harmony. Today: flawless and chill-inducing!

I’ll close with a series of three photos with a few words between them. (You can click on any image to see a larger version.)

I title the first Inviting. Here you see Caroline/Elphaba and Kara/Glinda inviting the rest of the cast to join them in what was a rousing standing ovation.

No matter how successful we are, individually or as a couple (in their case, individually and as a couple of witches), the achievement comes with the help of every single other person on and off the stage.

We should never forget to invite everyone who helped us, to join in whatever praise we may earn.

Next is titled Bowing. Receiving praise is wonderful, but we should never forget to give the most heartfelt thanks for that praise. Never forget that even if you deserve the praise, people (in this case an audience) don’t have to lend you their attention to begin with, so be grateful for their attention first, and for the opportunity to earn their praise.

Finally, Waving. You’ve been praised, you’ve returned thanks, now take one final moment to share in the joy collectively.

Lois and I never lose sight of these principles, even on the few days a year that are not either of our birthdays.

But, especially on a day like today, we invite everyone who helped create the wonderful life we live to hold our hands. Collectively, we offer our gratitude (via a bow) to everyone who has given us any amount of love.

We send out a smile and a wave to those who are still on the journey with us.

Goodbye New York

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I’m rusty at the blogging thing. My two most recent posts were 10 months apart and this one clocks in at nearly 9 months after those (see a pattern emerging?).

That might explain why my first attempt at writing this one left me uninspired and had Lois groaning. To describe it as dry and lifeless would be an understatement.

Undaunted, I’m back with another take. Rather than blog, I decided to simply include the full text of an email I sent to a friend describing what we’re doing. I only changed a single word (removing the name of another friend).

In that regard, I’m communicating with the rest of the world in exactly the same manner I communicated with a very good friend (exactly as my blogs used to and should be).

First, a classic tl;dr (Too Long Didn’t Read) summary.


We’re officially Virginians/Southerners now. We’ll come to NYC often, so if you’re one of our Northern friends, you will likely see us as often as you always have. But, we won’t be calling New York home any longer.

The Infamous Email

Things are great. I’ve been meaning to write to you for weeks (literally), so having you jog me out of my routine to finally do it is great.

First, we were toying with doing a real cross-country car trip this September. I was actually actively planning it, Lois was more toying with the possibility of allowing me to plan it.

While we were going to stop in a bunch of places to visit friends, the two highlights for both of us were going to be Austin and SF.

So, why didn’t we do it?

Our bigger news caused that.

Last summer, one of our friends in Richmond made a strong case for us to move down there. In a nutshell, he said that as we age, we’re going to need to rely more on a “community” of people, and we already have that built in Richmond (over a 33 year period). He said if we wait too long, we’ll likely never make the move.

At the same time, the house between them and our closest friends was up for sale. He suggested that we look at it, since if the three of us lived side-by-side, it would be a blast in any event.

So, last August (2013) we looked at the house, and everyone hated it, so that was that. A few weeks later, the real estate agent told us that another house was about to come on the market a few doors down the other way and we looked at that.

Everyone thought that was a perfect house for us to buy. Unfortunately, it would have required a 100% gut job. It was priced to do that (so it wasn’t a financial reason to pass), but Lois couldn’t get comfortable with ripping a house to the studs and building it back up, over a period of 6+ months, etc.

So, we passed.

But, we kept talking about the concept, and it made sense on a lot of levels. So, every time we visited Richmond in the past year (lots of times), I would look online for houses on the market. While there were a number that I likely would have been very happy with, I knew Lois would reject every one, so we didn’t look at a single house after those original two.

Then this last trip, right before Labor Day, I found a house that looked perfect on paper. We made an appointment to see it on Labor Day, and every person that walked through the house with us (11 people) loved it.

A few days later, while we were in Birmingham, we decided to make an offer. Everything from making the offer, to negotiating, to signing the contract, to signing amendments, was all done online. What a brave new world.

We just closed on the house last week. We have some light renovation to do over the next few months (no construction, no walls coming down). In the meantime, we need to get our house ready for sale (given the clutter, neither of us is looking forward to that task!).

For the foreseeable future, we’ll hang on to the apartment in NYC. We’ll do the reverse of what we’ve been doing with Richmond for the past 33 years. We’ll come often to NYC to visit our friends here, but our base will now be down there.

We’re both quite excited about the prospective change. Here’s hoping reality exceeds (not only lives up to) that expectation!

Miracle on I-81

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We take multiple multi-week trips a year. The first two weeks of February happened to be one such trip. Before we left, the south got hit with the big ice storm. Northerners were making fun of people in Atlanta and Birmingham (even I recalled some locals panicking from 1/4″ of snow on a past Birmingham trip). That turned out to be an absurd reaction when actual photos and videos started flooding in.

On Wednesday (2/12/2014) we were in Birmingham (one of our regular stops on these trips). They were predicting a big snowstorm overnight. We were more than a bit worried, because we had plans to meet friends in Atlanta the next day for lunch, then head home (a two day journey). Atlanta was predicted to be hit even worse than Birmingham.

After saying goodnight to our godchildren we hunkered down in the hotel. Sure enough, the snow came in fast and furious, going from zero to a few inches really quickly. We let our Atlanta friends know that we’d make a final decision in the morning, but were leaning toward canceling.

Our car was buried in snow and the roads were pretty slick. Having heard that Atlanta was worse, we decided to head north rather than east. We left early, while people were being warned to stay off the roads (silly northerners!). We did fine getting out of Birmingham, but we had to travel super slowly, largely because of the over-caution that other drivers were exhibiting (we were completely fine with that, in non-New Yorker fashion…).

Once we were on I-59 north conditions remained bad, but there were so few cars/trucks on the road, that it was a pretty good ride. In fact, that ended up being true for all of I-59, then I-24, then I-40 and I-81 as well. We were making reasonably good time.

When we leave Birmingham early, we usually make it all the way to Winchester, VA for the night. It was clear we’d never be able to do that in these conditions, but it seemed we’d make it to Roanoke for sure.

As we were approaching exit 92 on I-81, we saw traffic was slowing to a crawl ahead of us. It seemed to still be moving, albeit very slowly. I considered getting out at exit 92, but the sign said “Service Road”, no town name, no route name. It seemed it could be a bad detour, if this was only a minor hiccup on I-81. So, foolishly, I decided to fight on.

A minute later, we were in a 100% standstill, about 1/2 a mile from exit 94, Pulaski. After about 20 minutes I shut the engine off. About 10 minutes later, we started to move, but that turned out to be only about 1/4 of a mile (still not close enough to see the exit ramp) and then I turned the engine off again.

We happened to be stopped in the right lane, staring at the on-ramp for exit 94. In the 30 minutes that we sat there, only one car came up the ramp. I kept thinking we were so darn close to being able to back down that ramp, but it could be hours before we could inch up enough to find out. Then Lois said the same thing and I told her I’d been thinking the same thing for the past 15 minutes, but I didn’t think we’d get the chance to find out.

All of a sudden, we see a guy get out of a car behind us, in shorts (it was 30 degrees out) and walk by our car to scout the situation. When he returned, he was looking directly at us, so I rolled down the window. He said if a few cars moved over a bit, including a truck reversing diagonally from the right lane to the left lane, he thought we might just be able to squeeze through on the shoulder to get to the on-ramp and back down. He stopped to talk to us because we were directly in front of him and he was curious whether we’d be game to try.

I told him if he could convince everyone else to shift around, I was certainly willing give it a go!

So, I fired up the engine, and went into the shoulder with him following me. We passed a couple of cars, who (I’m sure) thought we were jerks for going into the shoulder, but then I saw what he meant about the necessary ballet movements. There was a tractor-trailer that had switched lanes from the left to the right, but hadn’t completed the maneuver before he hit a wall of traffic.

The guy behind me went to speak with him about backing up to return to the left lane. The truck driver came to talk to us (super nice guy). He said he was willing to try, if the guy behind him would back up a bit. The guy behind us had already gone to speak to him (and the car behind him), and as we were talking to the truck driver, they were starting to inch backwards.

The truck then successfully reversed back into the left lane. Then the mini-van in front of him maneuvered to left-most edge of the right lane, to give us some more room to maneuver.

You can click on any of the images to see a larger size. I stripped out identifying marks on the truck and blurred license plates in the hopes of not getting any good Samaritans in trouble.


We were still a hundred feet from the entrance ramp with a big mound of snow blocking the shoulder right in front of us. There was a car carrier in front of the mini-van without the slightest hope of being able to budge even an inch. So close, yet so far.

But, I have 4-wheel drive (in a 14-year-old Ford Explorer, with 266K miles on it!) and I decided to try and make it over the snow mound. I gave it a few shots, but the wheels were spinning aimlessly each time. Luckily, I was able to reverse back into the shoulder each time. I have a feeling that a few dozen more tries might have gotten us over the hump. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out the hard way.

Out of my side mirror, I noticed someone talking to the guy with the original plan. He was holding a shovel. Not a snow shovel, the kind of shovel that you would dig up a giant yard with (a man’s shovel). He walked in front of our car and starting shoveling a path without saying a word to us. It was surreal (and amazing and beautiful).


When he was done, I put the car into drive, and while my tires spun quite a bit, I made it over the remaining hump on the first attempt. Victory!

Here’s a shot of what we saw as we started backing down the entrance ramp.

Goodbye I-81

The rest of the story is not uninteresting (to me) but it has nothing to do with the miracle on I-81. We ended up spending the night in Christiansburg, VA, about 40 minutes south of Roanoke. We made it home the next day (Valentine’s Day, awwww) with a couple of minor incidents along the way.

I can’t begin to thank the many people who were willing to do some pretty odd things on a major highway to see if some adventurous souls could try some unsafe things in order to escape a multi-hour traffic jam. If any of you end up stumbling on this post, please do reach out.

For those who are interested in knowing more about the jam we were in, here’s an article that implies that it lasted through the night!

Happy to be home, though we returned to over two feet of snow in NY. Of course, to us Northerners, that’s nothing. 😉

Ray Ferrer and Lagond Music School Partner for Fundraiser

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I haven’t blogged in 10 months. Lois asked me to write about our experience last night, so my self-imposed silence is now broken.

Last night we attended a fundraiser at the Lagond Music School. I’ve written about the school a number of times. Every time we have an interaction with anyone associated with the school, we leave more impressed than the time before. That’s saying a lot.

Rosanne Lana (Executive Director) and Charlie Lagond (Musical Director) run the school. Last night, Rosanne related the following story to the crowd (I’m paraphrasing):

I saw this painting by Ray Ferrer (she points to a specific work) and fell in love with it. I took his card, which had a photo of that work on it and every time I stared at the card, I fell more in love with the painting.

I finally called Ray and asked if he would consider doing a single piece for the Lagond Music School. He and his wife came by and spent an afternoon learning about what we do here. Afterward, Ray offered to cover an entire wall with paintings, an installation just for the Lagond Music School.

You are all looking at the wall now. After it was up for a while, Ray made an extraordinary offer. He said that if we held a fundraiser to sell the art, we could keep 100% of the proceeds for the school programs.

That would be extraordinary enough, but not enough for Ray! Ray said that for every painting that was sold, he would replace it with another one, so the wall at the school would remain permanently populated.



(You can click on any photo to see a larger version of it in a new tab/window.)

That’s extremely generous. Having met Ray last night, I am not surprised. We rarely buy art, but we were moved to buy some pieces last night both to help Lagond and to be able to appreciate and share Ray’s work.

Ray Ferrer (links to his Blog) works with an exacto knife and spray paint. Here’s a YouTube video of his process.

One of the works that we discussed took him over 20 hours of cutting and spraying!

You can find him on your favorite social network:

Ray Ferrer on Facebook

Ray Ferrer on Twitter

Ray Ferrer on See Me

Ray Ferrer on Google Plus


Here are three photos that cover the majority of the installation at Lagond:




The evening began with a reception, giving people a chance to look over the art and decide which piece(s) they were interested in. During that time, one of the many Lagond student bands played an incredible Jazz set in the background.

I believe that this particular band is called The All Stars (a name, well deserved):

TheAllStarsPianist TheAllStarsBassist TheAllStarsDrummerGuitarist

Later we all moved into the performance space and were treated to a set by The Speakers. This is a band made up of Special Needs kids. To see them put on a professional set and wow the crowd is an experience no one should miss.

TheSpeakersSingerGuitarist TheSpeakersDrummer TheSpeakersBassist TheSpeakers

To be 100% accurate, there is typically one extra person in The Speakers who is not special needs, to help coordinate. The first time we saw them, it was Greg Mayo. Greg is their primary teacher at Lagond (and one of the two people responsible for us discovering Lagond to begin with, the other being Chris Anderson).

Last night, it was someone from The All Stars (the piano player), who played both keyboards and saxophone with The Speakers (he’s in the middle in the last photo above). One of their teachers, Rusty Cloud, also sat in with them on one song, playing the keyboards. Unfortunately, the one photo we have of him came out too dark.

The lead singer and guitarist was also the Ambassador of last night’s festivities. He gave an amazing speech before The Speakers set, explaining how the Lagond Music School essentially gave him the opportunity to live a happy, fulfilled life. He introduced himself as “an Autistic”.

The evening also featured a new partnership with YAI Network. YAI sends some of their students to Lagond and the director noted that they all come back beaming about their experience there. YAI is moving into new facilities toward the end of May, and the students will be featured in another Lagond show at that time.

A personal icing on the cake. One of the teachers at Lagond, Steven Salcedo was there last night, running sound for the main show. We met Steven a while ago when he was playing saxophone with the Greg Mayo Band. In addition to being an exceptional saxophone player, Steven is one of the nicest people we know. Both Lois and I look forward to seeing him whenever we can.


If I had to break my self-imposed silence, I’m glad it was for something as joyous and heartwarming as the music and spirit of the Lagond Music School, coupled with the incredible art of Ray Ferrer.

Music Blogging Hiatus

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This post is about a week later than it should be. My apologies to those who had to ask why I hadn’t blogged this week.

If this were any other Sunday over the past five years, I’d be blogging too. The difference is that this would be the first of three posts (we saw three sets at Rockwood Music Hall last night) and between them, I would probably spend six hours writing, editing, selecting photos, cropping, color-correcting, etc. (including researching the names of sidemen that are impossible to find on some band’s websites).

I started this blog in January 2007 to memorialize events in our lives. That included documenting which shows we saw (hint: a ton) and how I felt about them. I didn’t care if anyone else read any of the posts (people say that, some mean it, including me).

Over time (2009 to be specific), we accidentally discovered and fell madly in love with the local NYC indie music scene (all over, but primarily centered in Rockwood Music Hall). My musical posts took on more significance for me, as I wanted to share our love for the many talented people with a wider audience. That meant more photos and a generally more positive spin about each show (I never lie, even when I don’t like a show, I just find something positive to focus on).

Because of that subtle change, it starting feeling more like a job than documenting our lives. That was still OK, since we were leading quite an unusual existence. We were working 10-12 days a month in VA. That meant work was a break from blogging (except when we saw shows in VA, which was semi-regularly). When we were in NY, Lois worked full time (remotely), but I had the time to blog during the day.

If you’ve kept up, then you know we are no longer involved with the VA-based company. Our future lives are still undefined (and I am very happy about that at the moment). While that sounds like I have infinite time to blog, it also means that I could end up spending every day, all day, blogging. That’s more of a job (more correctly an obligation, since I derive zero income from blogging), which is the exact thing we just transitioned away from.

I didn’t want to avoid going out to see shows because I knew what lay ahead of me the next day. So, after very careful consideration, I decided that I would take an indefinite hiatus from music blogging. I may never do it again, or I may start up tomorrow, or have a random post here or there. For now, assume that no shows will be blogged about.

I feel badly that I didn’t announce it in advance, which probably caused people whose shows I attended this week to assume I didn’t like them. I particularly feel badly that there were two perfect CD Release shows this week (Martin Rivas on Thursday and Matt Simons last night) that richly deserved fully-detailed posts. Still, I had to stop sometime, and their shows simply came after my decision was made.

I’ll still blog occasionally, but mostly about technology. As we get closer to the election, and almost definitely afterward, there will be a political blog or two (I’ve been very good about keeping my promise not to be publicly negative during this entire 4-year Presidential term).

As for filling up my days, that’s been no problem. We’ve caught up with friends that we’ve had trouble scheduling in the past and I’ve finally attacked (and beaten!) a number of outstanding technical issues/projects. If you’re a friend that we haven’t spent enough time with, please reach out soon. We have the time, and more importantly the desire to catch up and build new memories.

Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. It was their final residency show. They’ve played every Friday in May 2012 at 10pm on Stage 2. I’ve heard about them for quite a while now but this was my first time seeing them play.

I’d describe them as non-stop, hard-charging, loud (but balanced) rock. A number of people broke out dancing during many numbers and those that didn’t were certainly bobbing, swaying, tapping, stomping and generally unable to simply stand still.

Wil Farr is the front-man, singing on every number and playing electric guitar. He has a very good voice, but in classic hard rock fashion, it often feels like he’s screaming at the audience. He played mostly rhythm guitar last night (Hurrah also has a lead guitarist) but he did take one sweet lead.


I’ve seen Wil perform with Abby Payne as well. He’s also producing her upcoming CD. This is the first time I’ve seen him front and center.

Rebecca Haviland on vocals. If anyone is responsible for us going out to see Hurrah (yes, I’ve shortened it), it’s Rebecca. Basically, we’ll go see anything she’s in. Her voice is always great. She and Wil really get into each song and display a passion that is also classically rock.


Jacob Pleakis on grand piano, electronic keyboards and vocals. Jacob is one of two people in Hurrah that I’ve never seen before. He was quite good on the keys and quite passionate on the vocals as well.



Kenny Shaw on drums. If you’ve read this space before, you don’t have any questions as to my opinion of Kenny. Hurrah’s music is particularly hard-charging and Kenny was working equally hard (but making it look and sound easy!). Absolutely fantastic drumming. The fact that he was in constant motion the entire set before made it all the more impressive.


Doug Drewes on electric bass. Doug is the other member who I’ve never seen before. He too was quite good on the bass (no surprise given the rest of the talent in the band).


Dave Freedman on electric guitar. I just heaped a lot of praise on Dave a few weeks back when we saw him perform with The Thang Band at Lagond Music School. He was even better last night in this set, where he takes more frequent leads. He even spoke a bit into the mic and I think he sang a bit as well. I wasn’t sure before that he ever opened his mouth. It seemed he was satisfied to let his guitar do the talking. Smile


Hurrah themed each of the weekly residency shows, mixing their originals with those of a specific band. Last night was The Pixies.


Jay Stolar headlined the set before them and toward the end of their set they called him up to sing with them. After the song was over, they invited anyone who appeared in Jay’s to join. Kenny was already on stage, but four more members stepped up to the plate.


Jay Stolar stayed on stage to sing. Jason Wexler joined Jacob at the keyboards. Rob Pawlings played the cowbell. I still can’t believe that I could actually hear every strike of the cowbell with 11 people on stage all making some kind of noise, but I could, and I liked it!


Seth Faulk and Jim Perry each grabbed tambourines and help keep the lively beat. It was controlled mayhem. Smile


Here’s the set list:


Summary: the crowd loved it, and I appreciated the driving rhythm and individual talents. It just isn’t the type of music that I want to listen to for long stretches, so I’m not sure I’ll be catching future shows. They won’t miss me, they have quite a following!

Jay Stolar EP Release at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Jay Stolar released a new EP (The Acoustic EP). Numbered CDs were available for sale at his headlining show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2.


If you read my last post about Jay then you know that we weren’t going to miss this show (and there was strong competition for our attention down in Philly!). We made the correct decision, as I can summarize the show/performance in one word: Wow!

Seriously, among the many things Jay has going for him, the top three are:

  1. Extraordinary voice
  2. Unreal stage presence
  3. A band that can keep up with him (at every position!)

I couldn’t help thinking how lucky we are (were) to experience them (Jay and the band) in such an intimate (yet mobbed!) spot like Rockwood 2. I have no doubt that Jay has the energy to fill Madison Square Garden to every fan’s satisfaction. I hope to get the chance to verify that claim some day.

In addition to playing all four of the EP songs, Jay mixed up his classic Soul/Rock/Pop genres to keep every song fresh throughout the set.

I’ve mentioned before that Jay could thrill on his own. He likely couldn’t do that at MSG though. He certainly could with his 4-part harmony and kick-a** band. Left-to-right on stage:

Jason Wexler on grand piano and vocals. We’re big fans of Jason’s and our fandom grows each time we see him (we had seen him guest with Jeff Litman the night before). He was atypical last night in playing only the grand (no electronic keyboards) with such a big sounding band. That’s perfectly fine with me, his piano skills are exceptional.


In addition to singing a ton of background vocals throughout, Jay gave Jason a really long lead during When I’m Acting Crazy. Holy moly Batman, Jason slayed it (and everyone in the room).

Jay took over the piano duties on one number and Jason stepped to center stage and played the accordion.


Grace McLean on vocals. Fantastic, but no surprise (other than I didn’t know Grace would be singing with him). I recently saw her for the first time at one of Sam Teichman’s Leave a Lasting Mark benefits and was instantly taken with her voice (and performance). I may as well repeat what I said about her that night:

Grace McLean was the final newcomer to us. Grace performed perhaps the second most famous song (to me at least), Chain of Fools. Let’s see if I can be succinct in describing her: Wow! (OK, that was succinct, but not sufficient, how about: Holy Wow, Unreal!, yes, that’s better).


In a small-world story, Grace’s upcoming EP was mastered by my good friend (and expert Masterer) Larry Lachmann. I discovered that just days after seeing Grace for the first time.


Seth Faulk on drums, percussion and vocals. Seth completed the vocal superfecta. In addition to adding his wonderful voice to the mix, Seth was one of two drummers/percussionists, another touch that makes Jay’s shows so special (I think 10 drummers might be too many, but less than that is all a plus for me, as long as they’re good, and these guys are more than good!).


Here’s Seth as part of the 4-part power harmonies:


Kenny Shaw on drums. Kenny is always great. Having him coordinate with Seth cranks it up a notch and is a sonic joy. Kenny and Seth are a large component of why I feel that Jay could fill MSG with sound. Let’s get on that one folks, please!


Rob Pawlings on electric bass. I’ve written about Rob a number of times lately and they’ve all been raves. No difference last night, another amazing performance.


Paul Maddison on electric guitar. When I last saw Paul, on May 12th, I wrote that I would finally introduce myself to him at the next show. I can’t say I totally followed through, but we did shake hands, so I’m making progress. He’s getting married on Sunday (tomorrow), so I didn’t want to break his concentration. Winking smile


On a more serious note, Paul is an excellent guitarist and Jay gave him one long lead with a bunch of other tasty licks. Wonderful!


That takes care of the core band. There were three additional guests.

Wil Farr came up to sing with Jay on a song they co-wrote. Very well done. Wil was the front-man for the band that was up next, so I’ll be writing more about him shortly.


Matt Simons joined for one song on the sax (I believe it was When I’m Acting Crazy). We had seen Matt perform a solo set on the grand piano right before this one. Now he switched to the sax and when he was let loose, he destroyed the room. That he ended up taking such a great solo in the same song that Jason did on the piano, made a great song all the more amazing.


Jim Perry on drums/percussion. Jim joined for two of the final numbers. I think I heard Jay say that Jim co-wrote one of those songs with him, but don’t hold me to that. For the first number, Seth gave up his kit (Seth stood and played a tambourine and shakers while singing). On the second number, Jim took over Kenny’s kit and Kenny played the tambourine between Seth and Jim. Jim did an excellent job in both spots.



Here’s the set list:


An absolutely incredible show. When do we all get together to do it again? Smile


Matt Simons at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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Matt Simons headlined a set at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 last night. It was a last-minute surprise and such a lovely one at that. We were planning on attending the 8:30 set (the subject of the next post) which was originally scheduled to be the first one of the night. Once we heard that they added a set at 7:30 for Matt, our entire evening was set.


It’s a rare treat to see Matt solo at Rockwood 2. The grand piano there is fantastic and Matt tickled those ivories to perfection. His voice was spot on as well, as was his set selection (including 2.5 covers, which complemented his originals wonderfully).


I was surprised to catch myself toe-tapping (and even quietly foot-stomping) a number of times. The point is that even though it was understated, Matt’s piano play had a rich rhythm to it that filled the room and made me move (apparently involuntarily). Beautifully done.

Here’s the set list:

Miss You More
Fire and Rain
Emotionally Involved
Let Me Go On
Already Over You/Rolling In The Deep
With You

I’m not going to try and stretch this out to my typically long post because I’ve already said all you need to know, which is that if you weren’t there, you missed a chance to hear a solo singer/songwriter captivate his audience completely.


Matt was also a special guest on one song in the following set so we got an extra dose of goodness from him a bit later on.

On June 9th at 10pm, Matt Simons is having a CD Release show at Rockwood 1. It’s doubtful that this will be a solo show (though I bet there’s at least one solo number). If you miss that one, I might have to refer you for some professional help. Smile