Building My Own Board Game Table

Thou shalt not covet. When it comes to board game tables, I am almost willing to break a commandment. Very fancy board game tables have popped up at conventions, Kickstarter, and Etsy. I want it.

Board Game Table on Etsy

In most cases, a game table is just a dedicated surface for playing all manor of tabletop games. They usually include a spongy surface for being able to pick up cards and tokens easily, a wide frame to place your cards or area to write, and cup holders.

I decided to make my own gaming table.

The decision to make my own versus buying was helped by the fact that I had an attic filled with two-by-four pieces of wood and a giant 6’x3′ sheet of sub flooring. The previous home owner was in the middle of some unfinished woodworking projects. Since the sub flooring sheet was 6’x3′, I made that my dimensions for the table. This also means that many gaming mats will fit perfectly. Gaming mats are like giant mouse pads with a print and made of a spongy backing.

Design

My design was simple. Build a 6’x’3 frame out of the two-by-fours. Add table legs. Put 6’x3′ sub flooring panel on top. And, finally frame the whole thing to give the table a small ledge. I used 6″ oak panels from Lowes to build the ledge. The ledge is a seperate piece so I can swap out the gaming mat if needed or clean up spills without ruining the whole thing.

Tools and Things

I didn’t have any woodworking tools. So, I assembled a short list of tools and things needed to build this table…

  1. Snacks
  2. Beverages
  3. Friend with tools
    1. Miter saw
    2. Power drill and screwdriver
    3. Power sander
  4. Screws
  5. Corner brackets
  6. Sandpaper
  7. Pre-stain
  8. Stain
  9. Polycrylic sealer

To keep the costs down, I bribed a friend to help me. They get a lifetime pass for gaming action on a cool DIY game table… and, snacks and beverages. The main tool needed was a miter saw. This was used to make nice straight cuts. Other tools needed: power drill to drill holes for screws and a screwdriver to screw the screws into the holes.

Table Frame

I was only trying to make sure that the outside dimensions were 6’x3′. I made up the configuration on the spot.

Table Ledge

The ledge acts like a frame around the sub flooring panel. This gives you a nice place to hold cards or write notes. I used corner brackets to square up the ledge and used the sub flooring panel as my guide.

Table Assembly

The table is three separate parts: frame, sub flooring surface, and ledge. Obligatory selfie. First Game = Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Finishing

For awhile, I tried to talk myself out of sanding and staining the wood. The wood had sharp edges and rough spots. It took some convincing, but I decided to finish this off and it made a huge difference. The finishing process took way longer than the assembly.

My Process

  • Sanding – so much sanding – this creates a lot of dust – wear a mask – be prepared to clean up dust for months – use 80 grit first, 120 second, and 220 third – be patient
  • Pre-staining – apply pre-stain to the wood and let dry – this really helps with staining or so YouTube says
  • Staining – apply stain within 2 hours of the pre-stain and repeat
  • Sealing – use a water-based polycrylic sealer to seal the ledge – this will help with spills and cup rings and protect the wood or so YouTube says – let dry for 30 minutes – lightly sand with 220 grit and repeat two more times – it’s worth doing this as many times as you can fit into a weekend

Going Next Level

Deep-Cut Studio creates custom gaming mats for any size surface. I uploaded a custom piece of art to enhance my Arkham Horror: The Card Game campaign. Deep-Cut is based in England and it took less than two weeks to get my custom gaming mat. More on that on a later date.

Get Automated Email with the Latest Arkham Horror: The Card Game News

It’s hard to follow what’s going on with Arkham Horror: The Card Game without consistently checking out the Fantasy Flight Games blog. Fantasy Flight publishes several posts per month and they cover many of their active game properties. The news articles about Arkham Horror: The Card Game are important. Fantasy Flight often announced special events where they give out promos for participation or when they announce new products where you get promos by pre-ordering directly from them. It is possible to generate an RSS feed of just Arkham Horror: The Card Game news. I use IFTTT to monitor the RSS feed and send me an email when new posts are published about Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Here’s how to get an email when the latest news gets announced on the Fantasy Flight Games blog:

Check out more Arkham Horror: The Card Game tips, checklists, and stories chronicling my latest game obsession.

Real-time Colors on CheerLights

CheerLights now supports the MQTT protocol. This means that devices and apps can receive real-time updates to changes in the CheerLights color without polling for the latest color.

How to use MQTT

Connect your device to mqtt.cheerlights.com:1883 and subscribe to the “cheerlights” topic. When the CheerLights color changes, the color name will be streamed to your device. You no longer have to poll for the latest CheerLights color on the ThingSpeak API.

Here are the valid color names:

  • red (#FF0000)
  • green (#008000)
  • blue (#0000FF)
  • cyan (#00FFFF)
  • white (#FFFFFF)
  • oldlace / warmwhite (#FDF5E6)
  • purple (#800080)
  • magenta (#FF00FF)
  • yellow (#FFFF00)
  • orange (#FFA500)
  • pink (#FFC0CB)

Check out the CheerLights API documentation for more detail.

Star Wars R2D2 Lamp on Twitch

This news is just in time for an R2D2 Lamp live streaming on Twitch.

FTC is Providing Refunds to AT&T Customers for Mobile Cramming Practices

AT&T allowed for the placement of bogus charges on their customer’s wireless bills going back to 2014. This practice is known as mobile cramming. Back in 2016, AT&T paid back $88 million in refunds as a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States (Federal Trade Commission, 2016).

Do you check your wireless bill for extra charges every month? Most people pay their bill without checking for extra charges that are disguised to look like taxes or service fees from AT&T.

Most of the 2.7 million AT&T customers received charges from third parties that AT&T passed through and took a 35% cut. The problem was made worse when AT&T restructured their wireless bills which obfuscated the charges under an AT&T section heading (Consumer Reports, 2014). The mobile cramming scheme got noticed by the FTC after it received an increase in customer complaints from AT&T customers. To protect its customers, AT&T stopped third-party billing for premium text message services. To further restore trust, AT&T paid back an average of $31 statement credits for each customer that had third-party service charges.

Mobile cramming is considered fraud, but it is not tied to a specific law. In the AT&T case, the mobile cramming scheme was noticed by customer complaints. Some customers who noticed the charges call into AT&T where the customer representatives were instructed to give a 2-3 month refund of the charges back to the customer (Consumer Reports, 2014). Many customers didn’t even notice the extra charges. The FTC accused AT&T of obscuring the charges and taking a commission. Two of the third-party companies named in the settlement were Tatto and Acquinity. In both cases, the companies conducted illegal robocalls, messages, and added charges on their wireless bills. The charges showed up as premium text messaging services on the AT&T wireless bill.

Building customer trust is critical for a mobile marketing campaign. Companies need to be transparent about the mobile tactics they are using, how they are using customer data, and how they are securing customer data. It is more important for a company like AT&T to be upfront with their billing than to hide it, for example. The mobile cramming scheme erodes confidence even though the actions may not be tied to a specific law. The scheme is unethical and the companies are not holding themselves to a professional standard. Laws like GDPR in the European Union are being enacted and will continue to become more prevalent around the world. GDPR attempts to protect the user’s data and give them control of their data (Karnik, 2018). Mobile marketers can live up to a higher professional standard by making everything an opt-in for a mobile marketing campaign. Get the customer’s permission to do anything. Let them in on the process. Mobile marketing is personal and needs to build on trust.

References

Consumer Reports. (2014, October 16). AT&T Settles Unauthorized Charges Allegation – Consumer Reports News. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/10/refunds-available-to-some-at-t-cell-phone-customers/index.htm

Federal Trade Commission. (2016, December 8). FTC Providing Over $88 Million in Refunds to AT&T Customers Who Were Subjected to Mobile Cramming. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/12/ftc-providing-over-88-million-refunds-att-customers-who-were

Karnik, A. (2018, May 09). How Will GDPR Affect The Mobile Marketing World? Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/05/09/how-will-gdpr-affect-the-mobile-marketing-world/#432c9a2f6808

Marketing Advantages of Mobile Phones

I always have my phone with me. It happened slowly, but I have come to rely on my phone for almost every aspect of my day. I use my phone as an alarm clock. I use it to navigate through Boston traffic to find the best way to daycare and then on to work. At work, I use it to track my meeting schedule and to send quick replies to colleagues. At night, I watch Pittsburgh Penguin hockey games, watch the Daily Show, or read the news before I go to sleep. In 2018, I had my phone 363 days out 365 days. On one of those days, I forgot my phone at home. On the other day, I was waiting for a new phone to be shipped from Google after my phone crashed.

If you want to target me, you have to target my phone. It is what I have with me all day and the most reliable way to have your marketing message reach me. I am rarely browsing the web on a desktop or watching regular TV. 95% of Americans now have a cellphone of some sort and 77% have a smartphone (Pew Research Center, 2018). Any marketing strategy and plan has to account for mobile phones and the new advantages that they present to marketers as traditional marketing channels are becoming fragmented.

1. Follow Your Customers

Customers are going mobile. They are using smartphones for everyday tasks to communicate, navigate, buy things, and pass time. Your marketing strategy needs to have a mobile focus to target apps and websites that get served up on mobile phones and tablets. Even as painful as sitting around at an airport is, the airline industry is deliberately leveraging the mobile phone to improve passenger experience and provide a marketing channel to their partners using real-time notifications and apps (Florido-Benítez, 2018). If you follow your customers, you will incorporate mobile phone marketing into your marketing mix. The customer can be anywhere, but they will have their mobile devices with them.

2. Build a Useful App

If you have a product or service, you can target mobile users using a native app with push notifications or using SMS. People tend to read 95% of their text messages versus 22 percent of their email (Wachs, 2013). My incorporating notifications, you can get the word out about your products and services and consistently be able to reach your audience.

The challenge for marketers is to give the customer a reason to install your app or opt-in to SMS notifications. One compelling way to do this is to incorporate loyalty programs into your app (Fulgoni & Lipsivian, 2016). Customers are more likely to download and install your app to earn points to get exclusive offers. For things that I consume almost every day like Dunkin, I use their app to pay for coffee and earn points. They regularly send me notices about free drinks that I have earned or specials they have when I am near one of their stores.

Being silenced is another constraint that mobile marketing faces. Users control their notifications settings and your well-intentioned app could be silenced. The customer may never see your messaging or have a reason to open your app. In situations like these, it’s important to have other ways to communicate your updates. In 2018, Dunkin redesigned its mobile app, push notification strategy, and pay by app options after complaints that the app is slow and noisy (Wohl, 2015). Dunkin was able to get the word out about their new app using social media, billboards, and tech blogs.

3. Profit

If you follow your customers and incorporate mobile marketing strategies into your marketing mix, you will be successful at keeping your customers engaged and coming back for more products and services. If you give your customers a reason to install your app and opt-in to notifications with meaningful interactions, you will be able to seamlessly target them and build a strong, recurring engagement.

References

Florido-Benítez, L. (2016). The impact of mobile marketing in airports. Journal of Airline & Airport Management, 6(1), 1–18. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.3926/jairm.39

Fulgoni, G. M., & Lipsivian, A. (2016). The Future of Retail Is Mobile. Journal of Advertising Research, 56(4), 346–351. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.2501/JAR-2016-041

Pew Research Center. (2018, February 05). Demographics of Mobile Device Ownership and Adoption in the United States. Retrieved March 17, 2019, from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/

Wachs, D. (2013, May 09). Five reasons you should be using SMS based marketing. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://venturebeat.com/2013/05/08/five-reasons-you-should-be-using-sms-based-marketing/

Wohl, J. (2015, October 19). Dunkin’ Donuts Tells Customers Its App Needs a Jolt. Retrieved March 17, 2019, from https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/dunkin-donuts-tells-customers-app-a-jolt/300978/

Nintendo Switch: My Happy Place

Becky surprised me with a gift. I unwrapped the Nintendo Switch in front of my family. I didn’t contain my joy. Memories of my brother and I playing the original NES flooded back to me. The Nintendo Switch is a portable and dockable game console. I have always had a soft spot for Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and Donkey Kong and the Switch has them all covered. My first order of business was signing up for Nintendo Switch Online and getting access to the library of NES games.

My happy place is playing Tecmo Bowl for the first time since 1989.

Taking Photos of PowerPoint Slides

I recently gave a talk about people who take photos of PowerPoint presentations. I observed this behavior at a conference last year. Several people would take a photo of the PowerPoint slide. I imagine that they wanted to save the content to review later or to share with a colleague. This is me taking a photo of someone taking a photo of a PowerPoint slide.

I also noticed that during a keynote talk that I gave last year that no one took photos of my slides. Was I doing something wrong? Did I need something provocative on the slides?

Some slides have a lot of information on them. This slide from the Pentagon is the densest slide that I have ever seen.

I started thinking about how much data is contained on a normal PowerPoint slide. The average slide is about 150 KB. My Pixel 2 phone has a 12.2 MP camera. When I take a photo of a PowerPoint slide, I blow up the slide to 3,400 KB. That is a 22x multiplier of data.

No one is doing the studies, so I had to make up some stats. I assume that 2% of conference attendees take photos of slides.

“2% of all [conference] attendees take photos of PowerPoint slides.”
– Hans Scharler

Let’s play that out. For every 1,000 attendees of a conference, 68,000 KB of data gets generated by one 150 KB PowerPoint slide. 24 million people went to a conference in the United States last year. Yikes. Almost all of us back up our photos to Google or iCloud. So, now we have photos of slides stored beside photos of kids, significant others, and vacations forever. We will need to build data centers just to store photos of PowerPoint slides.

If you are interested in seeing my slides from my talk, check out SlideShare.

 

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Lovebox: Internet of Things for Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of year again… It’s time to show the person who you love how much you love them with an internet-connected gift. I got aggressively marketed to on Facebook to purchase something called the Lovebox. How did the Facebook algorithm know that I would be interested in an IoT device that displays messages? I got the Lovebox two days after I ordered here in the US shipped directly from France where the startup is based. The whole experience was excellent.

The Lovebox is an internet-connected device that displays messages that you write using their mobile app (for iOS and Android). Here’s what it looked like on my app. I got a flood of hearts on my screen when Becky acknowledged the receipt of my message.

The Lovebox rotates the heart on the front to tell the recipient that there is a message waiting. They open the lid to see the message. The device is sitting comfortably in my wife’s office. I love the idea of being able to send a notification to her without it being a text message.

The idea of the Lovebox is simple, but it is perfectly executed. I was quite impressed with the mobile app, the setup experience, and its utility. Love is all over every aspect of this device and system. Check it out on Lovebox.love.  C’est si bon.

(My) History of the Internet of Things

Back in 2007, Jason Winters and I started working on what would become ioBridge, RealTime.io, and ThingSpeak. The phrase “Internet of Things” got added to the discussion when Richard MacManus resurrected it from the RFID days in the late 90s and applied it to companies like ourselves in a 2009 article in the New York Times. Jason and I had experience with projects going viral such as a remote-controlled tractor with a webcam and an aquarium with real-time controls and monitoring. “Jason’s Fishcam” had sensors reporting temperature on a webpage and an interactive gator inside the aquarium. People used to watch the fish and control the gator mouth.

Jason’s Fishcam (January 2006)

The “Slashdot Effect” used to crush our homespun servers and render our projects useless for a period of time. Jason had the idea of moving the “control” part of our projects to the web. If all commands routed to and from a web server instead of going directly to a device, then we could control which commands went through, secure the connections using SSL, create access lists, and change things on the fly. This idea became our obsession for over a decade with several patents, licenses, open source projects, and customers from all over the world to show for the effort. We still work on large-scale IoT, Internet of Things for short, projects and have helped companies of all sizes reduce costs, predict equipment failures, and bring about connected products that serve a purpose.

“Twitter for Things” Demo App

When I first heard about Twitter back in 2006, I thought this is a perfect idea for things. Why would a human want to post short statues? Devices have a lot to say. “The HVAC system just turned on.” “The conveyor is drawing 3.1 amps.” “SYSTEM FAILURE: Code 87643.” If a web application could capture these messages, then the messages could be used for analysis. Jason and I started ioBridge in July of 2008 and built a scalable out-of-the-box solution plus a hardware dev kit. The only issue is that we only knew 30 people that were interested in the aquarium project. We sent an email to all 30 people and one person named Pete purchased a dev kit. He built a monitoring system for large aquariums in the Baltimore area. The next wave of users and customers didn’t come until Stephen Myers created an interactive pet treat dispenser for his dog. Stephen didn’t have an aquarium, but he did have a dog. Everything is a remix. Stephen blogged about his project on December 3, 2008, and his project got picked up by “The Unofficial Apple Weblog” since he used the iPhone as the controller.

iPhone Controlled Pet Treat Dispenser (December 2008)

To demonstrate the idea for a “Twitter for Things” to investors, I created @MyToaster – a Tweeting Toaster that used our system to send status updates about whether or not it was toasting. I followed Stephen’s idea and blogged about the toaster with my article, “Social Networking for My Toaster” on December 8, 2008, and described in detail how to build your own connected appliance. A few days later, Priya Ganapati picked up the story of MyToaster and wrote an article for Wired Magazine. This project and our company… took off.

First MyToaster Article in Wired Magazine (December 2008)

The toaster allowed me to start conversations with product manufacturers and designers that had ideas for new products. I worked on a number of consumer products and industrial systems that all use the same technology that Jason and I created. The Amazon Echo wouldn’t be possible if the Echo device had to understand all aspects of speech and user intents locally. The web allows Echo to tap into a huge data set that enhances its functionality. ThingSpeak is still going strong. You can still sign up today for a free, non-commercial account and join a community of over 350,000 developers around the world that are all learning about IoT and building new IoT applications.

ThingSpeak System Diagram (December 2010)

Fast forward 10 years, and we are still working on the same thing, but the things are now factories, agricultural systems, windmills, and space probes. I was really happy when Katie Blackley from Pittsburgh’s NPR New Station asked me for an interview and an update regarding the MyToaster that started my journey. It has been 10 years and the toaster still works. It is now outfitted with a Particle Photon and uses the ThingSpeak web service to update its thousands of followers. I am glad she reached out to me as it caused me to reflect a bit about the journey and prompted me to share my history of the Internet of Things.

Appendix: MyToaster

MyToaster has been popular on its own for a long time. I have gotten requests to talk about the toaster on news stations, interviews for magazines, and to have the toaster brought to IoT conferences. Every trade show we did had MyToaster on display. The “touring toaster” was a stand-in and took a lot of abuse over the years.

Another significant event for MyToaster is when the Washington Post posted an infographic on “The Marriage of Appliance and Internet“.

They listed that MyToaster from 2008 was a significant event that shaped “Connected Appliances” and “Consumer Internet of Things Products”.

2008 – @mytoaster joins Twitter. It’s a toaster that Tweets. Hans Scharler rigged up his toaster to his Twitter so the appliance Tweets one of two things: Toasting or Done Toasting.

Time Logo

A man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has rigged his toaster to tweet “Toasting” or “Done Toasting” with each use, and — despite the account’s lack of variety — has gained more than 2,000 followers.

In order to further connect us with our possessions, Scharler and his friend Jason Winters created a platform for developers called ThingSpeak— a sort of Twitter for things — that lets objects send messages, broadcast their location, graph their temperature, and more.

 / Time

Wired Logo

“Tweeting appliances speaks to this whole ‘internet of things’ idea,” says Hans Scharler, a tech consultant who also writes comedy material. “If your appliances were outputting information, it can always go to a database. But we love to share information. So why not find a way to do that?” Scharler found online fame for his twittering toaster, whose tweets alternate between “toasting” and “toast is done.” @mytoaster has about 200 twitter followers.

Priya Ganapati / Wired