Thursday, December 31, 2015

Regarding Flight UA6407 out of SFO, that was unexpectedly and unnecessarily cancelled (aka, screw you United!)

Regarding Flight UA6407, confirmation number ETMME4, from SFO to SNA on Dec 28th, 2015, which was cancelled, without warning or due consideration to myself or other passengers.

I've been flying regularly since I was 5 years old and this was single-handedly THE WORST experience I've ever had with an airline. United cancelled at LEAST 11 flights out of SFO on Dec 28th, 2015, one of which was my flight from SFO to SNA. Presumably, all of these were due to "weather."

Most importantly, the scheduled in-bound flight from Mammoth that supposedly "never took off" in-fact did take off and land as scheduled

It's worth noting at this point that neither SFO, nor SNA were experiencing inclement weather at this time, or any time within 24 hours before or after. Most importantly, the scheduled in-bound flight from Mammoth that supposedly "never took off" in-fact did take off and land as scheduled, according to flight tracking resource flightaware:

Which brings us to, why was UA6407 cancelled at all? What of the inbound flight? Why were all of Flight UA6407's passengers not issued refunds for undelivered service? Because United is a terrible company. Read on...

Then comes the utter lack of customer service. After announcing two delays of UA6407, pushing it's take-off to nearly 8:40pm, United abruptly cancelled flight UA6407 in the most casual of ways. A soft-spoken ticket-agent comes on the P.A. and gently informs us that the flight has been cancelled with no explanation. She said it so softly in fact, that that many passengers didn't hear anything at all. Only moments later, when the displays changed to reflect a LATER flight to Phoenix, was it made obvious that our flight had been cancelled. After some murmuring in the crowd, another agent comes on the P.A. and announces again the cancellation, along with instructions to see the Customer Service Counter (a misnomer) for help re-booking.

Then begins the mad dash to customer service, where upon arrival, myself and over a hundred other passengers face an enormous, ~500 person line of angry and distraught United castaways. There's no further communication from United at this point. No one traversing the line to offer condolences, or refreshments. No one to inform the line that there's actually a SECOND line for Premier Access members (presumably United's frequent flyers). Still no explanation as to why our flight was cancelled.

Several clever passengers begin polling the other gates to be added to their standby/wait-lists. While this strategy was effective for some, for others (like the lady two spaces ahead of me) it proved to be a fruitless endeavor.

I try calling United's customer service phone number, because a tiny spark of hope resting deep within my soul peeks out momentarily to bash wisdom over the head with a mallet

More flights cancelled and the line continues to grow behind me. I try calling United's customer service phone number, because a tiny spark of hope resting deep within my soul peeks out momentarily to bash wisdom over the head with a mallet. After listening to elevator music for over an hour, and realizing that my phone is at 2% battery anyway, I hang up--what was I thinking? I consider, briefly, renting a car and driving home (it would have be faster), but alas I have checked bags and I can't trust United to get those to my final destination, so I wait in line.

Hours pass. The line barely moves, but as more flights are cancelled continues to grow behind me, now wrapping around the terminal. Finally at the stroke of midnight, five hours after my scheduled departure, I can see the front of the line. There's 3 customer service reps for a line of well over a 1000 angry passengers. I take the photo below, using my tablet's front-facing camera. Weeeeeee lots of people in line.

After 5.5 hours of waiting, I can see the customer service counter! Notice the still-growing line of castaways behind me. Taken with my tablet.
Moments after this photo was taken, an elderly man ahead of me takes a spill, because he simply couldn't stand anymore. People are obviously upset and after some commotion, FINALLY, a United representative rushes over to see if he's OK--the guy should sue. He's really nice about it all, and to United's credit, a Rep offered him her computer chair to sit on. 15 minutes later she took him out of line to help him at the counter.

At this point, another castaway notices a cart full of refreshments--water and oreos. No one from United mentioned this because apparently it's a secret. Too bad all those people in the back have no ideas it's here. Word does spread quickly.

Nearly 7 hours in, and I'm three people away from the counter. We finally discover that "weather" is the cause of our woes and that the "plane coming from Mammoth never even took off." I'm skeptical. The two young girls en route to Australia can't catch a break with their rebooking. The United rep actually has to get on the telephone to call corporate for permission to book them on another international flight? We're all baffled. The elderly man that fell earlier is still standing at the customer service counter--apparently no one has been able to help him and he looks weary.

My turn at the desk--Woooo! The guy trying to help me is very nice and apologetic for United's practices. He seemed genuine and I wish him no ill will, so I'm not going to reveal his name. I explain that all I want is a refund for my ticket, and my checked bags, so I can book on another airline. I explain that I find it ridiculous that they've cancelled our flight without notice, or without reason. There is no weather, and our inbound flight showed as arriving. Initially, the man tells me that a refund is impossible, then as the supervisor lady next to him issues a refund to another passenger, he explains that only she can do refunds.

The elderly man finally leaves but I overheard that they booked him on another day, and offered him no Hotel or Taxi credit. Wooo, fantastic.

United "always overbooks flights" and counts on passengers not showing up, or missing their connections.

While waiting for the supervisor to help me, the male ticket-agent begins to quietly explain to me, that this is United's business strategy and that United flights cancel all the time without notice, and that there is never any concessions made to passengers. He says that they give out excuses about tickets being nonrefundable due to weather, or having been purchased with "mileage points" but that it's all part of the business strategy, and assures me that the supervisor lady can issue my refund. He also explains to me that he can put me on standby for several flights the next day, which I'm "guaranteed" to get on, because United "always overbooks flights" and counts on passengers not showing up, or missing their connections. He assures me that this will definitely work, as he sees it all the time at the ticket counter. I'm not buying it and I push for my refund.

Roughly an hour goes by, while I'm waiting at the counter. The male ticket-agent leaves, as apparently his shift is over (?) The supervisor lady continues to ignore me for a time, and then finally approaches me with hostility. "There is no refund!" I again explain the situation, and posit my argument that the weather back east doesn't have any bearing on my flight, and that I simply want a refund for my unused ticket. She's not really interested in hearing it and comes up with some poor analogy about buying food and sending it back. Finally she walks away from me and helps two other customers.

"United is a bad company and we will never fly them again!"

An elderly Italian couple now to my left, simply wants to get back to Italy. The man leans over to ask why I've been waiting so long without help--I have no answer. After watching the Supervisor crush their hearts with her icy coldness, the man exclaims that "United is a bad company and we will never fly them again!" They leave without hotel or taxi service, visibly upset. I hope they eventually made it home =/

The guy to my right is trying to get his family to Hawaii, when their connection to LAX was cancelled. United has no help for him either, because they don't offer anything to guests originating from SFO (they don't offer anything to anyone it seems).

I finally catch the supervisor lady again and ask her to simply get me out of here, so I can book another flight on another airline and go home. She looks at me with disdain and asks me what I'd like her to do; I ask her for her manager and wait. While waiting I book another flight home (via LGB) on experience by the way!

...the only way to receive a refund is to complain to corporate on

The manager shows up around 3:00am, but he also ignores me and helps other customers. I become agitated and raise my voice. Finally, he helps me. I again explain everything and he assures me that the only way to receive a refund is to complain to corporate on I'll try that, just "Get me out of here so I can go home." He begins to look up my baggage and lo-and-behold, they were sent to SNA without me. How this is even possible blows my mind. Why wasn't I on the flight with my bags? Why were they sent without me? What if I booked a different flight altogether? I'm livid at this point. The man agrees to refund me the checked bag fees. Whoopdeedoo.

I ask the guy what I'm supposed to do until my next flight, he has nothing for me, but finally offers me an "overnight bag" which consists of a disposable toothbrush, some toothpaste and a deodorant towel (new experience for me). I guess it's something.

I end up staying in the airport, because at this point, my JetBlue flight takes off in 2 hours. I find a place to charge my phone, and then walk back out of security to get over to the International Terminal for JetBlue. I finally made it home the next morning and hours later collected my baggage, amongst a sea of lost luggage, at the United Baggage Claim in SNA.

All in all, the experience was terrible and I will NEVER fly United again. There was a complete lack of communication from United as to what was happening or how we might be able to get help. Further, and most insidiously, it appears as though our inbound flight, which purportedly "never took off" did in fact arrive in SFO and landed at another gate. United allowed hundreds of passengers, many of which were elderly, to stand in line for HOURS without any information, nevermind consolation or condolences. United then shipped my bags off to SNA on a flight that I damn well should have been on. Refused a refund for failing to deliver upon services promised, and showed a total ignorance towards the concept of Customer Service. Terrible experience and I will NEVER fly United again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Determining probability in pen-and-paper RPGs: d20 v 3d6

So back in early 2009 I began looking at the possibility of creating my own Pen and Paper (PnP) roleplaying system, which I dubbed ENSEMBLE. The game system never fully came to life, I started experimenting with Fate and eventually Fate Core, but I had fun at the time.

I was looking for something that could fully function in any setting (or a multiverse setting) without drastic changes to the rules. I had also just experimented with d20 Modern and was dissatisfied with the system as a whole, so I began experimenting with different gameplay mechanics. I had read somewhere that 3d6 offers a better representation of real-life chance than a single d20, so I wrote the piece below in a wiki I had for my burgeoning game system. I stumbled upon that wiki recently, and thought this was mildly interesting and worth sharing. Here we go...

Note: I'm not crazy (really! =P). This reads somewhat conversational because my brothers were posting comments and notes alongside this and other posts on the wiki.

d20 vs. 3d6

Ok, so here's the deal. For quite some time now I've been considering the pros/cons of utilizing a 3d6 system vs. the d20 system… I have a feeling that the initial reaction may be opposition, but hear me out. I'm trying to decide if its really worth it…

See, the benefit of a d20 system is simplicity. Its one die to roll, the bonuses are universal (statistically) and the math is straight forward enough that you can do it in your head. However, its downsides are linear probability that results in unrealistic outcomes in every event and significantly more effort required to balance the system between archetypes. This is the reason that the DnD has the "take 10" rule. Any roll you make is just as likely to turn out a 1 as a 20, so a smart player will "take 10" whenever possible, to avoid the 9/20 chance that they'll fail a roll.

Whereas, a 3d6 system (e.g. GURPS) relies on Normal Distribution, which produces a bell curve. The result being that the mean is more probable than the min/max. This type of modeling more closely resembles real world behavior (as noted in the wikipedia article.) There are many benefits to using this kind of system, the first and foremost is definitely the realism. Having a system where outcomes are statistically realistic allows for more balanced gameplay, as a less-experienced character will be more likely to fail at an event than an experienced character (see charts below). In addition, this facilitates new content creation, as less concern needs to go into balancing each new ability between varied characters. Also, there's the immediate benefit of accessible game tools. Six sided dice are readily available and a new player can find a set at his local gas station. An ancilliary benefit is the slight mystification of the odds. The average player will understand intuitively that as he progresses he will succeed more often, but wont know precisely his chances of success on any particular roll (unless you're Musil =P)

The downsides to a 3d6 system, lie in the personal preference of the player. For example, its just as easy to roll three dice and add your modifiers as it is one die, however the perception is that one die is simpler. In addition, a 3d6 system would likely utilize a "roll-under" mechanic, as opposed to the more common "roll-over" mechanic (as you would want a higher percentage of success vs. high stats) (After additional research I can't say this is true anymore). Also, to utilize a 3d6 system might require some adjustments in thinking, as an attribute score of 15 is significantly better in a 3d6 system than in a d20 system (the odds of rolling under 15 are higher in a 3d6 system, see charts below). Players familiar with a d20 system may be confused by these changes.

So to summarize, and then to present the graphs. the run-down is like-a-so…

single-die system:

  • Pro's
    • Seemingly More Simple
    • Statistically Universal Bonuses (+5 provides the same benefit to a young, or old character)
    • Simple Probabilities
  • Con's
    • Unrealistic Probability
    • Increases the difficulty of balancing the system, as regardless of skill, the odds are always 1/20.

3d6 system:

  • Pro's
    • Normal Distribution of Probability (They call it "normal" cos it occurs so often in nature). Realism.
    • Accessibility. I'm willing to bet that every house in America has at least 3 six sided dice laying around.
    • Experienced characters will always have better odds for success than newer characters. (i.e. Balance)
  • Con's
    • Arguably Less Simple
    • Less transparent odds.

fig 1. Comparative probability of rolling 1d20 vs. 3d6 with no modifiers

Ok, so here are the graphs. On the first, you'll see the comparative probability of rolling 1d20 vs. 3d6, with no modifiers… on the second, the same dice, rolled with a +4 bonus compared to unmodified rolls… Its important to note that you are comparing Green vs. Red and Blue vs. Orange here. So for our examples above, where we compare a target number of 15 in both systems, you'll see that in a 3d6 system it'll be harder to roll extremely high numbers (making it much more significant an event), but much easier to succeed at low target numbers… This makes it much more difficult for a veteran character to randomly fail at something in which they are skilled..

fig 2. Comparative probability of rolling 1d20 vs. 3d6 with plus 4 modifier

Also, the third graph is unique.. It shows the probability of rolling over x… Its hard to convey how this graph effects gameplay, b/c it largely depends on how bonuses are applied.. bonuses in a 3d6 system hold much more weight than in a d20 system (as this graph shows).. And note, that none of this takes into account critical successes or failures…

Also, before I leave you to the beauty of my excel graphmanship, consider the optional rules in DnD's Unearthed Arcana where they allow for a change to 3d6, with some slight modifications to system-wide bonuses, etc. So perhaps its possible to utilize 3d6 in a more simple manner than that I touched upon above.

fig 3. Comparative probability of rolling over X with 1d20 vs. 3d6 

sorry if some of that doesn't make sense… it is 3:00am afterall.. haha…

P.S. I just realized that I think the math is wrong on the 3rd graph… I'll have to work on it tomorrow…

P.S.S. No actually, the math is correct, its just that the graph shows conflicting data… the 3d6 data would be viewed for rolling under whereas the d20 represents rolling over … thus its a flawed representation of "success"… I'll make another one tomorrow to replace it.

The problem with the third graph is that the probability of rolling under with d20 remains 1/20 up until the target number, where it drops off to zero (obviously)… so you would see a flat line, like the other graphs. This further justifies my belief that 3d6 is the way to go, as rolling under a target value is much much more realistic (and easier!) than d20.

Many many months later...

I've decided on 3d6, and want to try and implement it game-wide. The reasons are many, but I'll try to cover them below:
  • Normal Distribution of Probability — This makes sooooo many things easier as far as balancing and stats in general go.
  • Every house in America and most houses across the globe have at least three 6-sided dice. If they don't, probably 90% of gas stations do.
  • Adds a sense of wonder to the game mechanic. Most people can't figure out the odds in their head and will rely more heavily on Heroism Points to pad their rolls—this is highly desired.
  • I want to unify the game mechanic to use 3d6 UNIVERSALLY. I'll elaborate more on this in another post, or possibly in a dedicated page, but the idea being that as you raise in level, your bonuses will raise, thus your roll becomes more powerful. Additionally, all weapons damage can be determined with 1d6 - 3d6, with base damage, bonuses and multipliers enhancing the value (a giant plasma railgun on a mecha might have a base damage of 50 + 3d6, for example)
  • It will differentiate us from the d20 system in a big way. This will be good, as it reprieves us of d20's shadow.
  • I'm not aiming for a Shadowrun-style 30d6 dice pool craziness… it should remain 3d6 at max.. bonuses and base values should handle the rest.
I think that basically covers it. There might be other reasons, but I'm tired and semi-distracted.. so I'll review later and append if needed.

Deciding on this is great though, it allows me to move forward and begin fleshing out the combat systems.

Wrap Up

So yeah... I don't think I ever really figured out what bugged me about that 3rd graph, but I did eventually move forward with a 3d6 concept. It worked pretty well for as far as this system developed.

Anyway, it was fun to revisit this old idea and reread my thoughts at the time. I'm far to busy now and never even play PnP games, but maybe one day I'll revisit ENSEMBLE and flesh it out!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jacek Yerka

Welcome to Yerkaland

I love surrealist art and Jacek Yerka is one of my favorite artists. He was born in Torun, Poland in 1952 to an artistic family and basically raised with a paintbrush in his hand. It shows. His work has been exhibited all over the world.

The City Is Landing by Jacek Yerka

Wikipedia has a pretty cool page on him here, but I prefer his personal bio as it has a more intimate feel. He sells his paintings on the internet at and I strongly urge you to check them out!

The Winter Wave by Jacek Yerka

Brainton Header Image

The art piece that crowns this blog, which I have named Brainton.jpg on my computer, seems to be unanimously credited to him. That said, I can't find it in his official gallery and I have no idea where I came up with the name "Brainton". In my opinion it looks somewhat digital, and may not actually be his, but this piece of art is responsible for my discovery of Yerka, so for that I'm thankful.

UPDATE: So I discovered that this is a digital work of art titled "A Hunger After A Thousand Year Nap" by Marcin Jakubowski. His online gallery can be found at and features many great pieces, though few are surrealist in style. I also found that this piece, like many of the other pieces I discovered around the same time, is actually from an CGSociety & NVIDIA NVArt 4 Surreal competition from April of 2009. You can see all the contest winners and runner ups here: NVArt 4 Surreal

A Hunger After A Thousand Year Nap by Marcin Jakubowski
The real beauty of discovering art like this, is that it leads you to other artists, like those below.

The Octopus World by Heri Irawan

Arrested Expansion by George Grie
Industry by Simon Dominic

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