Thursday Things

What I’m Reading

What I’m Playing

  • I worked in two different Advanced Squad Leader sessions over the past two weeks and will be playing again tomorrow. I’m joining an online league for beginners which will allow me to mix up my playing partners more, hopefully leading to more learning and tactical improvement.
  • Allen and I snuck in a game of Twilight Struggle after our ASL game.
  • Ken, Spence and I took another go at Triumph & Tragedy and we fought it out big time. Whereas last game I won without ever going to war, in this one we were at each other’s throats from 1937 on.
  • We invited neighbors over to teach them Tichu and it went over well.
  • On Thanksgiving we played Wits & Wagers and Power Grid with friends. Power Grid was a big hit with the 4 new players.
  • While Matthew was home we played Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game and the newish expansion to Dominion, Dominion: Adventures. Adventures is not technically a standalone expansion but we played with only cards from it and liked the new (to us) mechanics.

What I’m Contemplating

Thursday Things

What I’m Playing

  • Of course, more Advanced Squad Leader with Doug. We are in the middle of a German / Dutch early war campaign.
  • I played Combat Commander: Europe with my young friend Peter who just shipped off for US Army basic training.
  • I taught newbie friend Spence how to play Twilight Struggle and it has reignited the flame for me to play more on my iPad. I also tricked out my 1ed box with some foam core inserts I built.

What I’m Contemplating

Thursday Things

Skipped a few weeks so there’s a bit more than usual this time.

What and Where I’m Drinking

Overall I’m not drinking much at all – 1 or 2 nights a week at the most, and I feel better for it. I’m two weeks into an intense weight training program and trying to reduce my body fat percentage from about 15% to 8%. Wish me luck.

  • Tried the beers Flower In the Kettle and Oathbreaker at Wayfinder Beer, one of my new favorite spots in downtown Portland. Close to Guardian Games and a solid menu.
  • Tried the beer Altbier at Verde Cocina Café, with beer being the highlight (16 oz can!). Food was bland.

What I’m Playing

  • Matthew was home for about 32 hours total and Julie and I played Small World with him. Big hit and fit into about a 2 hour window.
  • We also played Ninety-Nine while at the aforementioned Wayfinder Bar.
  • Julie and I dropped by our friend Chuck’s game night to play Honshu. Lite, city building fun.

What I’m Reading

What I’m Watching

  • Julie and I watched First they killed my father on Netflix. We both read the book and wanted to see this. Worth it.
  • On the other hand, the third movie in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy Heaven and Earth was a waste of time. Book was OK, movie awful.
  • We went to a free preview of Goodbye Christopher Robin and enjoyed it.
  • Right now we are working our way through The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. I like how they take their time revealing what the true nature of this alternate reality is. Fun show.

What I’m Listening To

What I’m Contemplating

How We Setup Our New House for Automation

We moved into our townhouse in Beaverton Oregon almost exactly a year ago. The smaller footprint and mostly clean slate coming in allowed me to take some steps to automate the home for convenience, safety, and money saving. Here’s what we did.

Wemo Switches

While I was tempted to go all-in with some high end automated lighting solutions (like Philips Hue and Ikea TRÅDFRI), they all felt too proprietary and costly for our needs. I wanted to automate lights in our main family room gathering area and my game room. I settled for the Wemo Smart Plug (I have both the older chunkier version and the new mini version). These plug right into a normal 3-prong wall socket and are easy to setup and provision. You can control them with a button on the plug, a mobile app, or other home automation hubs like the Amazon Echo.

We have these setup on a timer via IFTTT (see below) that turns them on near sunset and then off after we go to bed. This creates a variability in the lighting automation which is handy as we are out of town for about 40% of the year.

Light Motion Sensors

This is hardly in the category of high tech home automation, but I installed a few motion sensors to control lighting. The first step was a motion sensor switch replacement for the garage light which Julie and I love and can’t believe we didn’t do in our old home. The second step was to install two different battery powered motion sensing LED lights in spots where we had poor lighting but didn’t want to invest in a permanent solution. These take D batteries but are on so infrequently that it seems like they’ll last about 1 year on a set.


We had a Nest Learning Thermostat in our old house and this was one of the first purchases I made when we moved in. I don’t like the automated learning features so we just keep it on a fixed program. This device shines the most though when wired into other services like Alexa and IFTTT.


For security and convenience I was very interested in garage door sensing and automated opening / closing. After some research I settled on the Garadget device, which attaches easily to an existing garage door opener. It hooks into our WIFI network and uses a laser sensor that it bounces off a reflective circle that you put on the garage door. The supplied reflector was too small and would trigger false opening alarms with even a small shift of the sensor, so I bought some extra reflective tape to broaden the hit zone on the garage door and it has been perfect ever since. I get automated notifications on my iPhone whenever the garage opens or closes or is left open for more than 20 minutes.


I’ve been using the IFTTT for 5 years now and it is simply one of the most indispensable services I use. It allows for “if this then that” triggers between dissimilar web services. For example, I have a few home automation related applets:

  • Turn on family room lights when it gets dark
  • If every day at 09:30 PM, then turn off family room lights
  • When my nest auto-away turns on, send me a notification
  • Send Amazon Echo ToDos to OmniFocus

USB wall outlet

Rather than plug in a bulky USB charger for our iPhones, Bluetooth headphones, and Kindles we decided to install a High Speed USB Charger Outlet into our kitchen. This was a simple install, replacing an existing wall two-plug outlet.

Amazon Echo and Alexa

I saved the best and most important component for last. I purchased our first Amazon Echo when we were in an apartment between houses, primarily as an experiment but also for the music. Once we moved into this house I started to unlock the power of the Echo as a voice controlled home automation hub. It also serves as a ubiquitous capture device for me when I roam around the downstairs. Some examples of how we use it to control our environment:

  • “Alexa, turn on the downstairs”
  • “Alexa, turn on the game room”
  • “Alexa, trigger open the garage”
  • “Alexa, play the album Astral Weeks by Van Morrison”
  • “Alexa, play Jeopardy”
  • “Alexa, flash briefing” (plays NPR news, BBC news)

All what you read above probably cost about $300-$400, with the major expenses being the Nest and the Amazon Echo (we also have an Echo Dot in our master bathroom).