Saturday, December 12, 2009

Consumption and health: Morgan Farms

I publish this column as a favour to John Bastian, a long-time friend who devoted much of his life to organic agriculture and livestock breading. He wishes to address you the message below.

«Dear friends and customers,

For over 20 years now, my dream retirement project has been to grow organic healthy food for as many people as possible. And it has been quite a journey, a wonderful journey—and as all journeys are, they come to an end of some sort. This project grew a little larger than I planned. Almost all of you tell us that you appreciate Morgan Farms as a place where you can get a good variety of organic meats and baked goods from our freshly ground whole flour. And we sincerely thank you for your support and feedback these past years.

However, with me turning 70 next year, and my wife Janice getting busy again with her Chiropractic practice, we are approaching a different path in our lives. With the world’s economy as it is, and the absolute need for local, organic foods, we find this painfully sad that unless we find a solution, we may have to close down almost all of the farm operations. Our participation at the yearly organic markets and our availability here at the store would come to an end.

We are writing to you, our valued friends and customers, to inform you of our situation and the possible consequences of what may happen next year. These past years we have looked at different solutions to keep the farm operation up and running, but so far have not come up with anything viable. We therefore want to get the word out and ask people like you who have been close to the farm, if you know anyone who may have the dream of becoming involved and continuing this type of venture. The farm has grown to where several individuals could make a good living from the farming, food processing and distribution activities. Among all the buildings we have, there are three houses that would be available for rent to people settling on the farm. The farm has a big infrastructure.

South of the border we heard of consumers grouping themselves together to operate their own farm to ensure a good quality food supply. There is an interest already at Morgan Farms to open a Co-op for which there would have to be many consumers who want to become members, with either an active or passive contribution.

If you are interested in any kind of participation, want to share ideas or have questions, please e-mail us at or call us at 819-687-9021. We plan to set up information sessions here on the farm and would welcome your presence and participation.

We have come to a point where having tried many different options, we feel we don’t have many solutions left at our disposal to keep the farm open for another year. Therefore, any interest or creative ideas are welcome. We want very much for our dream of the farm to live on, to continue providing healthy and sustainable food alternatives, and we hope that new fresh solutions come our way for Morgan Farms to continue its journey!

In appreciation, »

Janice and John

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Consumption, a form of compensation

The following are extracts of « Consommation et image de soi, Dis-moi ce que tu achètes… » (Consumption and compensation, Tell me what you buy...), a book I published in 2005 (pages 108 to 110); it's in French only... for now. In it, I demonstrate that consumption is a form of compensation for some people.

Continuing the reflection on the relationship between product image and self-image, I would like to demonstrate the compensatory role consumption may play for people whose self-image is negative, established by their low self-esteem. I propose to call «compensatory self-incongruity» the relationship between a product’s positive image and negative self-image of a person who nevertheless buys the product, despite the incongruity between both images.

My demonstration involves six types of products (goods or services): perfumes, luxury products (cruises, renowned hotels, designer clothing, etc.), art objects, eating out in a restaurant, cosmetics and clothing. To establish this compensatory self-incongruity, it is mandatory to demonstrate that the image of said products is positive, something confirmed by three facts.

Firstly, those who mention said products deem those to be representative of them; to classify as representative products whose image is negative would violate the self-image enhancing principle. Secondly, the foremost symbolisms associated with these products are all positive. Thirdly, consumption of these products generates positive emotions, such as the feeling of well-being mentioned by all interviewees. Moreover, the persons in question have a negative self-image, as evidenced by their low self-esteem.

Therefore, according to Sirgy, the relationship between the (positive) image of those products and the (negative) self-image of said persons is an example of positive self-incongruity. Consequently, the latter should not purchase the former because the incongruity between images initiates a conflict. However, such in not the case since, on the contrary, these people actually buy these products. I see a form of compensation in this phenomenon; through their consumption, these people want to express something positive about their image, project a more positive image of themselves. This is thus an example of compensatory self-incongruity.

This assertion is supported by the existence of significant differences between those whose self-esteem is weak or very weak and those whose self-esteem is strong or very strong. Thus, an analysis of the level of consumption reveals that 60% of people whose self-esteem is very weak consider that they consume more than most people; this proportion is only 24% for those whose self-esteem is very strong. Significant differences also exist in terms of representativeness of products. Thus, 80% of people whose self-esteem is very weak mention perfumes as products representative of themselves, against 38.5% of those whose self-esteem is very strong; this difference is maintained for luxury products (66.7% against 38.3%), for art objects (60% against 7.7%), for eating out in a restaurant (40% against 21.3 %) and for cosmetics (71.4% against 28.6%).

These results demonstrate unequivocally that consumption as a whole, especially of the products mentioned, is much more important for people whose self-esteem is low; in their case, consumption seems to me to be a form of compensation.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

From the Consumer Society to a Society of Hyperconsumption

Technology improves everyday life, producing useful, many would say indispensable, consumer items. Think of how easy it is to wash dishes or clothing. Machines, at the heart of which are microprocessors programmable at the touch of a few buttons, carry out tasks our grandmothers took hours to perform. Like it or not, material comfort is neither a flaw nor a shame, it is one of the small pleasures of life. The phenomenon is universal: when a country becomes economically richer, we immediately see its people turn to consumption of all kinds of products and services that make their existence more enjoyable. What is wrong is not consumption per se, but excesses which lead to a society of hyperconsumption. These excesses can be found amongst consumers as well as producers.

In the book «Consommation et technologie» (Consumer and technology – in French only for now) that will be published shortly, you will discover what these excesses are and how technology has contributed to the emergence of a society of hyperconsumption.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Origins of the digital computer

I'm finished writing Consommation et technologie (Consumption and technology); the book will be published this fall before Montreal's book fair. I now have a little more time for my blog's column which I hope to resume presenting more regularly.

In my last regular column, Sunday July 19, I've begun exploring the origins of the computer, presenting the analog calculator. Let’s pursue with the digital computer.

Most people consider the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) to be the first digital, electronic programmable computer. Conceived by engineers John Mauchly and Presper Eckert assisted by mathematician John von Neumann, this 30 ton monster used 18,000 vacuum tubes; its design was funded by the U.S. military who wanted to use it to calculate ballistic firing tables (P. Breton et S. Proulx, L’Explosion de la communication, La naissance d’une nouvelle idéologie, 3e édition, Montréal, Les éditions du Boréal, 1994, p. 87). The two engineers later leave University of Pennsylvania and join to form the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation; by lack of sufficient funds, the company will not succeed in commercially exploiting the concepts developed with ENIAC. The honor of producing the first commercial computer is bestowed to Remington Rand; the company acquires Eckert-Mauchly Computer in 1950 and produces the first line of business computers, the UNIVAC series.

During World War II, IBM also works on the design of a computer in collaboration with Harvard University. In 1946 it produces the Mark I, a much smaller computer; it weighs only 5 tons. At about the same time as Remington Rand, 1n 1952, IBM also launches a commercial computer, the IBM 701.

These events mark the beginning of a digital revolution that will transform methods of production and business management before spreading to the private sphere and weave around the world a communications network that allowed the emergence of the online social networks we know today. In the book I will soon present, I explore the different facets of this major transformation of our world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11 Moon Walk, a giant leap for Mankind

This is not a regular column and thus doesn't follow the one published yesterday. Its purpose is to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mankind’s first footstep on the Moon and inspire all generations to follow in kind.

I will always remember where I stood at 10H56 PM EDT on July 20 1969. Only 18 at the time, I had just finished my evening shift as a lifeguard at St-Helen Island pools. With a few friends, I walked to the nearby Man and his World exposition, the aftermath of EXPO 67. On Notre-Dame Island, between the British and French pavilions, expo authorities had erected a giant screen for visitors to witness live Mankind’s first step on the Moon.

Then and there, it struck me that a generation 20 years younger had brought Mankind to the Moon. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was part of new generation, the baby-boomers, for which the sky was literally the limit. I’m proud to be from a generation that had, and still has, the feeling we could do anything and, above all, the will to go ahead and do it.

Yes there are problems in our world today; but there were problems in the world then, the Vietnam War and the Cold War’s nuclear sword of Damocles to name but these two. We have overcome these problems, not because we were lucky, not because we were smarter, but because we never gave up. Another world for problem is challenge. We have our creativity, we have the know-how, we have the technology, and what we do not have we can invent. So just go ahead and do it and don’t stop trying until you’ve either succeeded or deceased.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Origins of the computer, the analog calculator

Absorbed by my next book, Consommation et technologie (Consumption and Technology), due out this fall (in French only for now), by my daily microblog on Twitter and by other publishing activities, amongst which an article titled « Le luxe de 1950 à 2020 : une nouvelle géoéconomie des acteurs » (Luxury from 1950 to 2020: a new geo-economics of actors) in the GÉOÉCONOMIE journal, I am forced to space out the columns of my blog, through lack of sufficient time. I beg you to forgive me.

Contrary to what I wrote at the end of my last column, this one will not be devoted to technological development of air weaponry in the United States. Pursuit of a series such as the one about war technologies, which began June 6, must be more sustained; I must interrupt it. I may take it up again one day.

Today I will give you a glimpse of my next book’s content, by talking about the origins of the computer. Two very different types exist: analog and digital. Let us begin with the analog computer.

It’s a mechanical data management device «expressed through physical measurements (for example, intensities, tensions or hydraulic pressures) », whose gear work is driven by electric motors or hydraulic pistons. The Chinese abacus and the slide rule formerly used by engineers are examples of manually operated analog «computers». Vannevar Bush, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was the first to develop the first functional analog computer in 1931; he called it «continuous integraph», later renamed «differential analyzer».

The «differential analyzer» is a huge machine that uses the ten digits of the decimal system rather than the binary system of today’s computers; it’s one of Bush’s student, Claude Shannon, who suggests in his master dissertation the practical application of Boolean algebra and binary arithmetic to electrical circuits, work on the «differential analyzer» having led him to look for ways to improve the device, by replacing the wheels with electric circuits amongst others.

During World War II, the Norden bombsight which equipped USAF bombers uses an analog computer to calculate the point of impact of bombs. Until the 1960s, perhaps even the 1970s, banks have used electromechanical calculators using Bush’s analog computer concept. Digital machines subsequently relegated these first computers to history’s oubliettes.

Bush is nonetheless visionary. In «As We May Think» an article published in 1945 in «The Atlantic», he foresees the dominance of digital programmable computers over their analog cousins: «The advanced arithmetical machines of the future will be electrical in nature, and they will perform at 100 times present speeds, or more [...] they will select their own data and manipulate it in accordance with the instructions thus inserted. » Bush recognizes the advantages of digital calculators and programming languages developed during the Second World War.

In my next column, I will continue with digital computers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

War technologies: the Royal Air Force

1940: The Blitzkrieg allows Hitler to conquer France in 6 weeks. In May, France capitulates and in June the British Expeditionary Force withdraws hastily at Dunkirk, abandoning most of its military equipment. England is alone, but luckily for her, has an ace up her sleeve: the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In the 1930s, England worries about maintaining an air force capable of defending the kingdom against all attack from the European continent, a sort of air parity. It draws on expertise developed by aircraft manufacturers while participating to the Schneider Cup events: «Jacques Schneider, one of the legendary Le Creusot dynasty, was among those who, in the inter-war years, strongly believed in the future of seaplanes. Convinced that the seaplane was the aircraft best suited to long range air travel, he sought to stimulate development through a cup that will remain the symbol of an era in aviation history. The Schneider Cup will not only be responsible for the creation of legendary aircraft, with superb lines and dazzling performances, such as the Bernard HV-220, the Macchi MC 72 or the Supermarine S6. It will also greatly contribute to significant progress. Besides the development of V-engines, it will impose the low-wing monoplane design for fast aircraft. There is no doubt that the experience gained by Reginald Mitchell and Henry Royce in their quest for the Schneider Cup has been profitable in the creation of an aircraft that will later become well known: the Supermarine Spitfire. » (Aerostories Web site)

The Luftwaffe's (German Air Force) demise during the famous Battle of Britain, from July 10 to October 31 1940, forces Hitler to abandon his plan of an amphibious assault on the English coast; the excellence British fighter aircraft, the Hurricane and the most recent Spitfire, coupled to the courage of RAF pilots saves England from German invasion. In a speech to the House of Commons on 20 August 20 1940, these events led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to say: «Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. »

In my next column, I'll review technological development of air weaponry in the United States.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

War technologies: the Blitzkrieg

If at the end of the First World War, France has a powerful air force, such is not the case in September 1939; inconsistencies in government policies, misunderstanding of aviation's strategic and tactical importance by the high command and insufficient production capacity of national aircraft manufacturers prevents France from rebuilding an air force capable of facing the challenges of the day (T. Vivier, La politique aéronautique militaire de la France, Janvier 1933 – Septembre 1939, Paris , L’Harmattan, 1997). The fighter plane most used by the French Air Force is the Morane-Saulnier 406, inferior to the German Messerschmitt 109. Despite their heroic efforts, French aviators are unable to effectively oppose bombing from the Luftwaffe's (German Air Force) attack aircraft, the drearily notorious Stukas. It is one of the factors that explains the success of the «lightning war» (Blitzkrieg) developed by Hitler's High Command : «The combination of Stuka dive bombers and Panzer [German tank) forces quickly secured victory» (D. Mondey (dir. publ.), J. Liron, J.W. Dennison, K. Munson et P. Pletschacher pour l’édition originale 1977, A. Hérubel (dir. publ.) et J.A. Rabet pour l’adaptation française, Encyclopédie de l’aviation, Compagnie internationale du livre, 1980, p. 151). This is what allowed invasion of Poland in a month and later of France in six weeks.

«Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, it was forbidden for Germany to maintain an air force, but she was entitled to a Ministry of Defence which featured a small air staff. German aircraft manufacturers designed a range of airliners and of training and liaison aircraft which later served as prototypes for bombers, fighters and assault planes. The national airline, the Lufthansa, provided flight training and spirit was maintained through air sports: gliding and motor flight. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he launched a massive rearmament starting with the Luftwaffe» (Ibid., p. 150).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

War technologies: introduction

Today, we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings (D-Day) which mark the beginning of the reconquest of Europe by the Allies. I believe it is only fitting, indeed essential, to have a thought for the thousands of women and men who have given their lives to repel the invader and to reconquer occupied territories. It is also the opportunity for me to begin a series of columns on the technologies of war. But first, let's begin with a bit of history.

The late thirties see the Great Depression, which lasted for the better part of the decade, subside little by little. Western democracies focus on how to kick start their respective economies; therefore they primarily aim to maintain peace in Europe and, in doing so, show tolerance for Hitler. The annexation of Austria resulting from the 1938 Anschluss, is Germany's first step to expand the boundaries imposed by the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War. At a conference in Munich in September 1938, in an effort to appease of the German Führer, English and French leaders endorse the Munich Agreement which conceded to Germany annexation of the Sudetes Mountains in Czechoslovakia. On September 1st 1939, Germany invaded Poland; two days later, the United Kingdom, France and other countries declare war on Germany. It will last six long years and spread to several continents and oceans.

Like all conflicts, the Second World War accelerated technological development; periods of crisis are favourable to new inventions, in part because the sense urgency promotes creativity and also because funds allocated to technological development by Governments are, if not unlimited, at least greatly increased. I will not attempt to exhaustively list all technologies of war. For these chronicles, I have chosen to cover aviation and space.

I will begin next week with the Blitzkrieg period, the concept of lightning war which allowed Hitler to invade the Europe, then Africa.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Buyer beware!

What we have all noticed in supermarkets has been confirmed by Statistics Canada; for the period of 12 months ending in April, the price of food bought in stores has increased significantly. The average increase is 8.3%, but this statistic hides another reality; the price of some foods has increased much more. Such is the case of fresh vegetables (+26.0%) and fresh fruits (+16.8%), of which Health Canada recommends between 7 and 10 portions daily for adults. For these products, the consumer must absolutely compare prices in different stores, because differences are important and prices vary considerably from week to week.

The consumer must also be vigilant with respect to changes in product sizes, a phenomenon that manifests itself in recent years, but gains momentum it would seem. Thus, I have recently noticed that the large size of cheese bar of a well known brand has recently diminished from 600 g to 500 g... while its price increased.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why abandon the Pontiac brand?

April 27 2009, GM announced that it will phase out the Pontiac brand as part of a restructuring effort to reduce costs. Is this decision wise? Consider this.

Pontiac is a grand and old brand to which millions of people were and are still loyal. Introduced in 1906 by Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works, it derives its name from the famous Native American Chief Pontiac (Obwandiyag, 1712-1769) who led a rebellion against British occupation of the Great Lakes (1763-1766).

Over the years many distinguished cars have appeared. Amongst other the Star Chief with its rounded shapes (1955), the Bonneville with its rear fins (1959), the famous Firebird (1967) introduced to compete with the Ford Mustang, the GTO (1969), the Gran Am (1973), the Trans Am (1985) descendant of the Firebird, and the two-seater Fiero Coupe (1985), to mention but these few.

I understand the necessity for GM to cut its costs; its survival is at stake. However, I believe that the same savings could be achieved while keeping the Pontiac brand whose value is not only sentimental and cultural, but economical; in fact, if GM abandons it, I would not be at all surprised to see investors propose to buy it.

Pontiac’s problem originates from the duplication of several models with the Chevrolet brand; this leads to excess costs as much for manufacturing than for marketing. Those costs could easily be reduced by eliminated Pontiac models for which a corresponding Chevrolet model already exists; doing so would reduce manufacturing costs. In addition, sales of Chevrolet and Pontiac product lines, now complementary, could be grouped under one banner, thus reducing marketing costs.

Obviously, Pontiac and Chevrolet models will need to be adapted to present economic and environmental requirements, and of course to customer expectations.

Are you a Pontiac fan? If so, I would really like to read your comments on the subject.