Friday, January 31, 2014

The Morris Number: A Way to Quantify How Gender-Neutral an Organization Really Is (Morris Number 00)

The Morris Number Series

01  Introduction (
02  A Few Questions and Answers(
03  How to Determine Ranks (
04  Calculating a Morris Number - Some Hypotheticals
05  Morris Number Ranges for Some Tech Companies
06  The Weighted Morris Number (
07  PhD Ideas (
March 18, 2014; updated 20140321
        Posts added May 08, 2014 and thereafter
08  Women in Silicon Valley - A Prediction from 2000
09 Google's Diversity Numbers and the Women CS majors of
        the Class of 1994 (here or

Genkster (Neologisms 01) (Advice for Story Writers 02)

Genkster:  a writer who engages in GENder Knee-jerk STEReotyping.  Pronunciation:  See note below.

When a GENKSTER writes a story, nis important, active characters are male. The passive characters are female.  Ne does not do that on purpose. It's just that gender stereotypes rule nis unconscious mind.  A genkster imagines the protagonist, and the people who make the plot move, and then the doctors, lawyers, cops, criminals, politicians, scientists, writers, artists, athletes, entertainers, and teachers who also enter the story and, guess what, they are all guys.  So are elderly parents and sandwich generation offspring (think of Nebraska).   Victims and dupes may be women, but not if they pro-act rather than re-act.  There are far more examples than counter examples among the books, movies, plays and television scripts of our time.   Today's writers make Shakespeare, Thackeray, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Balzac look like feminists.

A GENKSTER with a partially raised consciousness may be so broad-minded (npi) as to make a small minority of the important characters female (think of Now You See Me) and may include a few females among the less important characters, but GENKSTERs never strive for gender equality, in number, interest, or importance to the plot.  It just doesn't occur to them that art should be like life in this particular respect.

Why I felt the need TODAY to invent this word:  I just read Robin Sloan's excellent Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  I recommend it, by the way.   Sloan's book does have a very important female, Kat Potente, but she is not the protagonist. She is the narrator's love interest and she is the only female among the main characters. She is also the last one to appear -- we meet her on page 51 of a 288 page book -- and she is pretty much gone after page 229.   Alas, Sloan is something of a genkster.

Sloan has some delightful secondary females but they are scattered, one here, one there.  When they appeared, I would think "Ah. Proof that he knows that women exist.  How refreshing."  But then the men would take over again.

What most bothered me is the number of males in the story whose Y chromosome was irrelevant.  Mr. Penumbra himself could easily have been Ms. Penumbra.  A female Penumbra might have lent the plot more spice and made the character less 2-D: He is charming but rather flat. She might have been charming and alive.

When the movie rights are sold -- I couldn't find any news about that today, but maybe I didn't look hard enough -- I am available to identify for the screenwriters the other characters with male names who could as easily have female names and be played by women, all without harming the plot.  The changes might in fact improve the story.  They would also raise its Bechdel Test scorel.

Sloan has good intentions.  I thank him for Kat and Rosemary Lapin and some other minor but beautifully drawn female characters.  But he could benefit from some advice that I offered here to Pixar after seeing Up and here to playwright Kenneth Lin, and which I could have included here for Hurt Locker's Mark Boal.  Here's the idea:
Write your first draft or outline the way you usually do, without bothering to think about the M/F ratio.  Then ask yourself:  Are all or most of the important or active characters male?  Are all or most of the unimportant or passive ones female?  If yes, go back and switch things around to achieve gender equality, not just in number but also in importance and interest.  I bet you will find that the changes bring you more ideas and make your story better.  If you do not think so, please send me both versions and I'll see if I agree. I'll even give you comments for free, at least the first time.  And if your work improves by having true gender equality, please let me know that too.
Is the initial sound in GENKSTER a hard g as in gangster or a soft g as in gender?  The word started out in my mind as genster, soft G, no K.  Then I added the K for knee-jerk because KJ is the abbreviation I use in my notes on books for my blog wordswellused.  The K moved the sound closer to gangster.  Maybe the hard G has a certain amusing appeal. 
When I told a friend my views on Up, she told me about the Bechdel Test. She had learned about it when her daughter introduced her to The movie Up had focused my attention on how much better older movies were for actresses than newer ones are.  For example, most of the old Disney animated movies had female protagonists with title roles, as I noted in Up: Against. The other day I thought about She because of Her.   The ads for She, both the 1935 and 1965 versions, feature a woman's face. In both, an actress had the title role.  The ad for Her (2013) features a man's face. A machine has the title role.  (The only good news is that the machine's voice comes from a woman not a synthesizer.)  She v. Her may also have been why I wanted to write about GENKSTERism.

In the spirit of the Bechdel test, I have now developed a test of my own, but one for all employers, not just movie producers. I call it the Morris Number. Unlike Bechdel, the Morris Number can go much higher than three and the bigger the number the worse the situation. In its ordinary form (OMN), you count how many men you pass on the way down an organization's org chart to finding the fifth-highest ranking woman. In the weighted form (WMN), the number of males between the top of the org chart and the first female are given more weight (npi) than the number of males between the first and second female, and so on. 
minor revs, typos corrected 2/11, 5/19/14; 1/12/15

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tenting and the Effect on Batteries (PhD Ideas 03.1)

After writing Tenting and Tempurpedic, I noticed something else that may be caused by one of the gases used in fumigation.

I started having to replace AA and AAA batteries in my clocks, radios, flashlights, etc.  Each time, when I opened up the battery compartment, the batteries and contacts were encrusted with salt.  Apparently the battery acid had leaked and crystallized. Batteries that were not connected -- the ones in packages or loose in my spare battery drawer -- were fine.

I suspect that the vikane, or more likely the chloropicrin, is responsible.  A PhD student might be able to do the experiment -- but very, very carefully because vikane is lethal and chloropicrin is tear gas.  A younger student looking for a science fair project might be able to work out the chemical equations or collect some data by doing a survey of battery failure among people who have been fumigated.

If I am right, the instructions for fumigation should include one that says, "Remove batteries from battery-operated devices."