Very nice report. I think that you guys played it smart. Ubergamers who grasp the game very well can play an alien decently after one game, but I think you learn more playing humans and their flexibility lets you recover from sub-optimal play very well. I still like to play with humans, because once you have the game down you appreciate their flexibility even more (and that 3 move *GRIN*).
Check out Vassel, I am always looking for good gamers to play with.
4) The influence action is very important. In the last game I used it early to clear out my empty sectors and then put control back on the last turn. Knowing when to abandon/recapture systems seems to be crucial for good play.
This is really a subsection of influence management, often you can remove disks through "bankruptcy/deficit spending" and having the disks even at the end of the game can often get you more victory points than retaking those 1VP worlds (buying a tech can often get you 1 VP for 1 action, combat that you win can get you much more, being able to do a build/move/upgrade to better defend a hex can save you more as well). Retaking hexes often worth only 1VP costs you 1 action per hex (up to 2) + 1 action and the resetting colony ships doesn't usually help much in the last turn once you get good at squeezing the most of the game's economy.