Driving to and from Bakersfield, CA across the “Grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 to teach at DeVry University presents unique challenges I might not otherwise encounter on a more urban commute. It’s not your typical drive, but it is reasonably painless and free of traffic.

However, there is one factor about commuting over the “Grapevine” that has the most impact on my ability to get and return home from work: weather. It is by far more extreme than weather even just a few miles north or south. I suppose being at an elevation of 4,000 feet might have something to do with that! Weather makes or breaks my commute — often without warning.

I’ve already driven through snow once this season (and drove through it three times last year on  January 23, 2008January 24, 2008 and February 4, 2008 — each time without chains). I’ve also driven through rain, sleet, wind and ever-changing combination of these and other phenomena.

For some strange reason I don’t mind the wild weather, though that might change if I ever find myself stuck for a few days in a snow drift!

On the morning of Tuesday, January 6, 2009 I drove through some outrageously thick fog while heading north to the DeVry University center at which I teach. I often drive with my camera at the ready (either the one in my Palm Centro or my woefully inadequate but somehow trustworthy Canon PowerShot A410) and that day was no exception.

I captured the photos and video below as I made my way to work roughly between Gorman and Lebec, CA.

Notably, I also encountered a similarly thick level of fog while coming home from work the afternoon of Thursday, January 8, 2009 — heading south and heading north — so I am unsure what the rest of this winter season has in store:

January 6, 2009

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

Driving Through Fog on Interstate 5 North (January 6, 2009)

 

Adverse weather is not something we experience very much of here in Southern California.

Usually, whenever there is the slightest hint of moisture in the air our cadre of well coiffed weathermen, meteorologists (I forgot they have advanced training in meteors), start proclaiming armageddon and calling it the “Storm of the Century.”

However, the past few days have actually brought some wild winter storms to the area (see KTLA, KNBC, KCBS, The Signal and Los Angeles Times).

Weather has been a mess elsewhere too — across the country temperatures have plummeted as we seem to be deluged by some kind of nuclear winter (fortunately, without the nuclear part, but the result seems similar). Even Las Vegas is dealing with its biggest snowfall in 30 years!

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has now closed the “grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 (Castaic through Lebec) and also, quite surprisingly, the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) from Soledad Canyon in Santa Clarita through 10th Street in Palmdale. Several other major freeways have been shut down as well.

It’s been a wild few days.

Fortunately, I quite literally just missed getting stuck in this storm. I was teaching at DeVry in Bakersfield on Tuesday, December 16. In the afternoon, when I drove to campus, there was a light dusting of snow atop some of the higher points in the Grapevine. However, there was no immediate danger or impediment to my progress.

Here are some photos I took that afternoon with my Palm Centro and sent them to my Twitter account using a service called TwitPic. (Note: My orginal desire was to embed the images from my TwitPic account into this page and avoid duplicating them. Unfortunately, that only worked for a short time before the image seemed to expire — so I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the photos to WordPress):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Pyramid Lake: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Lebec: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Later that night, after finishing my classes I headed home. As I approached Lebec at roughly 11:30 p.m., the steady rain that began 30 minutes earlier in Bakersfield transformed into sleet. By the time I reached the Tejon Pass (elevation: 4,144 feet), I was driving into a steady flow of snow.

It got fairly dense at one point, and I became slightly concerned as I was driving my Scion xB and had no chains. Mercifully, the snow began to dissipate once I made it through Gorman. I continued onward and made it home without any problems.

Photos from that adventure follow (taken, as before, with my Palm Centro):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Hopefully my luck will continue the next time a big storm blows into Southern California! Either way I will be sure to post some pictures and/or video from the experience. Stay warm!

After twice trying to find a doctoral program that satisfied my intellectual curiosity while giving me the tools and credentials I need to become a university-level researcher and teacher, I’ve decided that the time is now for me to finally make it happen.

pic_phd_degreeTo anchor this desire to a tangible goal, I will give myself until Tuesday, December 1, 2009 to prepare and submit all of my applications to doctoral programs.

From this point forward I will refer to this date is my “PhD-Day.”

Why this date?

Simple: of all the doctoral programs that interest me, December 1, 2009 is the first application deadline for fall 2010 enrollment. This is the date on which I will finally take that “one giant leap” into my long awaited career in academia.

Although circumstances beyond my control were partially the reason behind my pulling away from my doctoral pursuits, I know now that I was also not clear enough about my goals. I just wanted a doctorate and did not give any meaningful consideration to the discipline in which it was anchored and how that would impact my future career options.

Previously I thought having a PhD qualified you to teach any subject, but I now realize that, with rare exceptions, the discipline in which you earn you PhD is the discipline in which you will concentrate your research and teaching.

Knowing the purpose of a PhD is to, as one of my colleagues comically suggests, know more about less, I must start with a question of “what” first, then determine “how.” I have therefore stopped first looking for a program (the “how”) that I will then try to make work with my interests (the “what”).

Instead I will take the opposite approach and first determine the topics I want to research and teach (the “what”) and then find a program that offered opportunities to study it (the “how”).

After evaluating what most interests me, I realized it had been staring me in the face the entire time: social media. I have previously mentioned my interest in this burgeoning topic in previous posts and in my list of research interests, so this is not breaking news by any means.

However, I have finally embraced the idea of studying it academically so I can understand it as a researcher and not just as a user.  Specifically, my research interest is to investigate the impact of social media on the creation and distribution of information.

What is social media?

I define social media as follows:

Social media includes information generated with and shared by individuals using various web-based tools including blogs, message boards, video sharing sites, wikis, chat, IM and similar technology.

I also feel it is related to concepts such as crowdsourcing and collective individualism.  Social media also touches on the idea of distributed computing, though in the case of social media the “nodes” are human and not computers.

In a more abstract interpretation, social media could also cross into the realm of artificial intelligence — especially as the tools we use to connect socially online continue to become more intuitive and personalized to each user.

The main use of social media is knowledge sharing among individuals for the greater good. However, it can also be leveraged (or exploited, depending on how you look at it) for commercial gain. Of course, marketing in this medium is not without its challenges and it certainly can’t be done in a traditional way (e.g. forced and artificial vs. the natural, organic feel of true social media).

Beyond products, people who participate in social media often market ideas or even products by the information they share (consider the metoric rise of Barack Obama who, despite your political persuasion, was impressively effective at using social media in his presidential campaign).

Social media can also be used as a training and development tool.  As a father to a child diagnosed with autism, I also wonder how social media might help my son learn social skills and share information in a virtual environment. As a parent, I have already been impressed by the power of social media to connect me with important information and individuals focused on autism.

I am also fascinated by the thought of using social media to enable many individuals to complete parts of a larger task (what first piqued my interest in this was when Steve Fossett went missing and there was an attempt to find him using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, even though that effort was not successful in finding him).

Clearly, social media can be both a communication tool and a marketing channel. I am interested in social media in both of its forms. It intrigues me that technology can so intensely enhance our human experience.

How will I study social media?

My investigation into current doctoral programs that include social media revealed it is relevant to several disciplines. Information Technology/Computer Science and Communication are the two I have most frequently found. Social media is also relevant to the disciplines of Psychology, Marketing and Sociology. Given the impact social media has had on the workplaces, Management is also a reasonable discipline in which to study it.

It makes sense that social media crosses into several disciplines — it is quite pervasive, but can also be investigated from many different angles. Perhaps what angles I want to study, or maybe how I want to study social media, will ultimately dictate the discipline within which I will investigate it further.

At the moment my assumption is that I will most likely be studying social media either within a Communication or Marketing program.

Where will I study social media?

Given my practitioner mindset and entrepreneurial orientation I would like to be able to teach in a business school. To do that I will need a PhD from an AACSB-accredited program.

However, given my background in communications and journalism I wonder if Communications would be a more suitable environment (especially since I am not as interested in traditional business subjects like finance and economics)?

I am still evaluating my options, but right now my top choices include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Information Systems (Interfield)
  • Claremont: PhD in Management and Organizational Behavior (Interfield)
  • UCLA: PhD in Marketing (Anderson School of Management)
  • UCSB: PhD in Communication (Technology and Society Emphasis)
  • USC: PhD in Marketing (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Management (Marshall School of Business)
  • USC: PhD in Communication (Annenberg School for Communication)

Aside from the obvious criteria of being accepted into a program is the issue of funding. Having already borrowed my way through an MBA program, my goal with the PhD is to get the cost of the program covered while also earning additional income through fellowships and other related methods.

Why do I want to earn a PhD?

I have always wanted to understand why and how certain things work (or don’t work). Whether I am contrarian by nature or unquenchably inquisitive, I was never satisfied with a surface level answer about anything. My problem was, and remains, not having the proper “tools” with which to conduct proper inquiry.

I also fundamentally enjoy creating and sharing knowledge. Looking back to my years in journalism, I think the desire to craft a story and share it with readers is related to the same idea. Notably, I recently learned the first academic paper I wrote and presented was referenced in a book called “MBA in a Day” and an article I wrote about non-profit fundraising five years ago in Marketing News (the bi-weekly trade paper of the American Marketing Association) was cited in a recent academic paper.

I was energized knowing that something I wrote helped someone else create something of their own. I want to be an active part of this process. On a related note, my experiences at academic conferences were unquestionably positive and motivating. I relished those opportunities to exchange ideas and information with difference people, creating knowledge in the process. This is why I am so endeared to the concept of “generative learning,” which Peter Senge defines as learning that “enhances our capacity to create.”

My long term purpose in embarking on this undertaking is to secure a position at a university where I can engage in active research while still teaching. I have been adjuncting online and in person for roughly 18 months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It has been a very liberating and affirming time for me, especially when I continue to get positive reviews and comments from students. But I also want to be adding to the academic dialogue, not just guiding students to a basic understanding of what has already been produced.

Also, although I have no pressing desire to go back to the corporate world, I am open to partnering with industry on research and also potentially consulting on the side. I just really don’t want to have to worry about red staplers and TPS reports! Even when I was in industry I tended to approach things in a more intellectual way than most. I even had two managers with whom I had good relationships tell me I was definitely “an academic” and would do well in that world.

I am a thinker and a tinkerer, but not a hard-core corporate type. I enjoy discussing and debating a topic sometimes more than “doing” whatever that topic is related to. For example, I enjoy the concept of branding and understanding how people develop allegiance to a brand, but don’t necessarily want to go launch a branding campaign.

How will I stay focused on my goal?

Staying focused on achieving my goal of earning a PhD will be challenging, given the various personal and professional obstacles I will need to overcome to see it through. At the same time, I find myself thinking about a PhD with increasing frequency: it is something I must do, not just something I want to do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of distractions. Ironically, during the past eight months, I have repeatedly encountered one kind of distraction while driving to and from my adjunct teaching job: a delivery truck with graffiti on the roll top door that reads “PhD.” I am sure this is some tagger’s initials, but for me it represents and reminds me of my dream: a PhD.

What makes it more significant to me is that I have seen it numerous times — driving north or south, in the morning or afternoon. Usually I encounter it on or near the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5. I am unsure where it is driving to or coming from, all I know is I have seen it numerous times — at least a half dozen.

Perhaps this truck is my albatross — or maybe its just coincidence? Maybe it was sent by the “PhDMV” to keep me on track?

Below are two photos I took of the truck on March 25, 2008 while heading home from DeVry (southbound on Interstate 5). Following the photos is a short video clip I filmed the morning of October 6, 2008 while heading north between the base of the Grapevine and the split between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 North (near Lebec, CA):

What are my next steps?

Now that I have defined and committed to this ambitious goal, how do I intend to achieve it? My next steps include the following:

  • Thoroughly research the PhD programs at the aforementioned schools.
  • Read “The Craft of Research” and write a specific research statement.
  • Begin reviewing the academic theories relevant to social media.
  • Speak with colleagues and mentors to understand my options.
  • Start writing my statement of purpose.
  • Explore grants and scholarships.

See you in a year on PhD-Day!

California: land of surf, sun, and… snow?

I took the photos below on the morning of Wednesday, January 23, 2008 between roughly 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. as I made my way North on Interstate 5 through the Grapevine portion of the freeway (the area between Gorman, CA and Lebec, CA). This was the start of what I believe was the first major storm of the season.

By 3 p.m. that same day, the California Highway Patrol closed the 5 between Castaic and the base of the Grapevine; it remained closed through a good portion of the following day. I had planned to stay in Bakersfield that night anyway so this development didn’t immediately affect me.

However, the continued closure of the 5 the next day, Thursday, January 24, 2008, necessitated my taking the “long way” home which I normally drove on Mondays to get to my class in Palmdale: the 58 Freeway East through Tehachapi — my “favorite” drive (the topography is beautiful; I feel as if I am driving through a train set!).

Here are pictures from my journey (click the image for a larger version):

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Once I cleared the Grapevine and began the descent into the valley below (the portion of the 5 just before the 5/99 split) I saw a full rainbow! It began roughly over the freeway a few miles ahead and actually seemed to end at an IKEA distribution warehouse!

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Photo from the 5 North (the Grapevine) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I hope you enjoyed these photos — more to come soon!

A blur.

That’s what the past two months feel like. When I last posted to this blog the new year had just begun and I was a few days away from beginning several new classes at various campuses across Southern California (in addition to my continued online teaching).

The experience was both overwhelming and invigorating. I would not have traded it for the world. The schools for which I worked and the classes I taught included the following:

  • Axia College of University of Phoenix (Online): Contemporary Business Communication (COM/140), Effective Essay Writing (COM/150) and Utilizing Information in College Writing (COM/125).
  • DeVry University (Bakersfield): Composition (ENGL-112), Critical Thinking and Problem Solving (COLL-148), PC Hardware and Software (COMP-129), Project Management (MGMT-404).
  • International American University (Palmdale): Marketing (BUS-505) and one class of Organizational Behavior (BUS-525).
  • UC Santa Barbara Extension (Goleta): Buying Behavior (BUSAD X409.47).

20080124_hwy_58_east_16

Most surprisingly was the number of miles I found myself driving each week. In the first week alone I logged 950.6 miles (across six days)! Initially I was scheduled to make the round trip from Santa Clarita to Bakersfield on Interstate 5 five days a week with one return trip through Palmdale (via the 58 Freeway) where I teach an additional class on Mondays. I also spent five consecutive weekends making a round trip to and from Santa Barbara for my class at UCSB Extension.

Fortunately I was able to revise my schedule and cut out a round trip to Bakersfield, reducing my total days of driving from six to five. However, this  only marginally reduced my total miles to 842.2 miles the following week. Overall I wound up averaging between 700 and 800 miles weekly — and had my oil changed twice!

In total, from January 1st through February 29th I estimate that I drove a total of 6,212.80 miles! Granted this is not exact (and it could be over or under by a 100 to 200 miles), but suffice it to say I enjoyed some serious quality time with my car!

To alleviate the strain of constant travel, I stayed a total of seven nights in Bakersfield (on Wednesdays when I had a late night class followed by an early one the following morning — plus one additional night on a Tuesday).

I made the mistake of spending the first night in a Motel 6 for the bargain price of $35. I knew I was in for a treat when my room had no working television, the heater was stuck on and the thermostat was missing all of its buttons. Plus the shower closely resembled the “Orgasmatron” from the Woody Allen movie “Sleeper!”

The next week I discovered the Vagabond Inn (Bakersfield South) — a veritable palace compared with the Motel 6, and with their Internet rate — was only $5 more! All of the rooms offered a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker — in addition to free wireless Internet (which was unfortunately unreliable — good thing I have a Sprint Mobile Broadband account!).

I was unable to get from Santa Clarita to Bakersfield three times in a row during the two month span. The first time, the last Monday in January, was due to a personal matter and then two days later, on Wednesday, Mother Nature stepped in and blasted the Grapevine with a snowstorm, resulting in the closure of Interstate 5.

After traveling no more than one mile, I was stuck on the 5 in Castaic for an hour after the CHP closed the freeway and forced everyone off at the Hasley Canyon exit. Humbled, I retreated home and admitted defeat.

I then missed the very next Monday, which was the first one in February and also the day after the New England Patriot’s heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in Superbowl XLII (I was born in Boston and was avidly following the team’s amazing season — now the “perfectly imperfect season” as I like to call it).

Still in a state of shock and cycling through the stages of grief, I decided I would make a valliant effort to circumvent the snowed-in Grapevine.

20080124_hwy_58_east_13

So, I drove all the way to Palmdale on the 14 Freeway, intending to make my way West to Bakersfield on the 58 Freeway (the reverse course I normally took on Mondays to get to Palmdale for my afternoon class). Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the storm had moved East and the 58 was closed too!

For a brief slice of time the freeway re-opened, and I got as far as Tehachapi until the CHP, concerned with the weather once more, began escorting traffic, which resulted in a three to five mile backup. Drained, I admitted defeat and realized I was stuck and would not get to Bakersfield that day. I also missed my Palmdale class. What a day!

And now, slightly more than two months later, I have embarked on another session of classes with DeVry, completed my class at UC Santa Barbara Extension and cycled through to new blocks of classes at Axia. I am also now facilitating a new course online: Written Communication (COM/215).

Despite these various changes, one thing has become clear: I thoroughly enjoy teaching and, even though I realize I have a long way to go to refine my craft, I am very grateful for these opportunities to do so. What is also glaringly apparent is that it has been far too long since I updated this blog. It isn’t as if I didn’t think about it, however.

Every few days I kept thinking that I really needed to post something new — a quick update, a brief note, a random picture or two — but every day I was overwhelmingly busy just being busy. I found that there were some small points I wanted to make but that I felt compelled to explain the bigger ones first, thereby resulting in a back log.

20080123_5_freeway_north_14

Ironically, I used this blog as a launching point for assignments in two of my classes: English 112 (Composition) at DeVry and BUSAD X409.47 (Buying Behavior) at UC Santa Barbara Extension.  My students had mixed reactions to the experience, but, all things considered it was an engaging experience for each of them that I think (well, at least hope), provided some helpful hands-on exposure to blogging.

Despite the fact that I did not add anything to this blog for some time, I did take several photos of my various trips to and from the many locations at which I was teaching. I will post them separately in a few days along with several new posts I have been waiting to make. Thanks for your patience and, to whoever out there reads this blog, your interest!