May 31, 2024: jgwkia has moved to substack

JGWKIA (jg will kick its ass) has moved to substack. You can access (and subscribe to) it by clicking here.

The full URL to my substack is There will be no more new posts here, and eventually will point there, not here. Bye bye Blogger!

If Nothing Comes Down, Then I'm Forced to Swim Up

Blogging Tunes: Chum Rehearsal 3/19/2014; somafm: drone zone; TOR@PHI (via Slingplayer); Kentucky/Louisville (via Slingplayer)

TL; DR: I started this blog post in January 2014 on our flight to Mexico (to see Furthur Paradise Waits) and haven’t been able to find the time to finish it until recently. If there’s one thing that tells me, it’s that it’s time to close it down.  For good.  For real.  Forever.

Oh, and I joined a Phish tribute band called Chum.

Chum playing Rift at the Boom Boom Room - 3/7/2014

- - - - - - - - - - -

As I look back on this crazy journey, there's so much I want to say and so many people I want to acknowledge, that's it's hard to know where to begin.  If that opening sounds like it has some finality to it, that's intentional.  95% of all AML relapses happen within the first 3 years.  The 3 year anniversary of my transplant is in two days.  I'm down to two meds (Acyclovir and Gleevec) -- both at half the normal dose.  If all is well at my next appointment, we will stop all meds.  Forever.

So let's start here: I am so unbelievably lucky it's astounding.  I mean, right now, as I type this, Heather and I are on a flight from SFO to Cancun on our way to see 4 Furthur shows.  Most of the band (we saw Bob, Phil, Jeff C., and Sunshine) are on our flight.  Heather's parents are at our house watching the kids, so unlike the heads a few rows in front of us with the screaming infant, we're happily/peacefully on our own this time. :)

If that's the yang, here's the yin: I've been fighting a flu for the past 7 days.  I definitely feel better than earlier in the week, but definitely not 100%.  Also, I got a ticket for "failing to come to a complete stop" at a stop sign yesterday, driving Floyd to his flag football game.  The cop showed me the video.  Fine.  He's right.  By the letter of the law, I didn't come to an absolute complete stop.  But I probably slowed to 1 mph at corner that's at the bottom of a little hill, where you can't even really see what's going on in the intersection until you move beyond the stop line to glance left.  Also, later that day when I drove home, I watched 5 cars in a row roll through the same stop more egregiously than I did.  How's that for annoying?

Still, let's put it all in perspective.  Ticket, a fine, possible points.  Yeah, that all sucks, but 3 years ago or so, I was given about a 40% chance of survival, so if I have to choose...

When your daily routine is all about survival, you sometimes forget about actually enjoying this short precious journey called life.  Well, right now, at 35,000ft, I'm really enjoying it.

So the intention here is for this to be the final blog entry.  I say intention largely because I don't want to jinx it like last time.  So if it turns out there's another entry after this one, so be it.

Anyway, I would like to dedicate it to two very important groups of people:

(1) Everyone who helped Heather and me when we needed it most back in Nov/Dec 2010 and the following Spring when I was recovering.
(2) Everyone who has, in some form or another, mentored me, or otherwise profoundly influenced my life.

This list of folks for (1) is probably 100-long.  You all know who you are.  If you're reading this and saying to yourself, "hey, I'm one of those people," please take a virtual bow and acknowledge yourself and your family, and know that we remember (and are thankful for) each and every person who helped us.

The remainder of this blog post is dedicated to (2).

There are two mottos I've been living by for years -- I can't remember whether someone explicitly taught me the first one or whether I eventually just realized it at some point.  Essentially it is: (a) "always surround yourself with the smartest people you possibly can.  Learn from them *and* figure out what you have to offer them.  Once you figure it out, offer as much as you can and keep learning.  Do this genuinely and selflessly."  The second motto is easy, albeit cliche: (b) "work hard, play hard."

Let's talk about (a).  Did you ever have a moment when you realized that there people out there that were going to be 10x / 100x better than you at something?  Happened to me when I was 12.  I had broken my collar bone a couple weeks before the end of the school year, so I couldn't go to my normal camp that year.  So, for the last two weeks of the summer, after I healed, my mom signed me up for two weeks of Atari Computer Camp at Lehigh.  Talk about a game changer -- I loved it so much that I went back the following year for the full eight weeks.  In those first couple weeks, I met a kid my age who had written a game that was as cool as some of my favorite Atari games. "So THAT'S what a future killer computer programmer is doing at 12," I thought.

I befriended the young genius -- whose name escapes me -- and tried to learn as much as I could from him while figuring out if there was something I had to offer him.  Turned out there was (related to some sound programming stuff that I won't bore you with.)  That was a defining moment for me.

For the 30 years I've lived since then, when I meet smart people (that aren't pricks or prima donnas), I try take the same approach.  What can I learn from them?  Is there anything I have to offer that can help them, in return?

Many of such folks wound up naturally playing a mentor role, while others, simply based on what they had to teach me, nudged me down a positive path.

Let's start with family.

Dad.  I do not have one of those dads you see featured on some ESPN kid/dad tear-jerker story where the dad played ball with the kid 4 hours a day, the kid grows up to play pro ball, and owes all his success to those hours.  Mentoring doesn't have to be about that.

Like most kids, I learned a good deal from (and did a lot of stuff with) my dad.  But two extremely valuable things stand out above all others: work ethic and love for playing piano.  When you're a kid, you think everyone's life is just like yours; of course nothing could be further from the truth.  The two images of my dad imprinted most deeply on my brain cells are 1) his sitting at the dining room table writing on his legal pad and 2) his sitting at the piano (usually playing Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, or Mendelssohn.)

I thought every dad worked after dinner some nights and went to see clients on the weekends.  But as I grew up, I realized that my Dad's work ethic was as good as it gets -- perhaps too good -- and, mostly by osmosis, I had inherited this ethic without its specifically being *taught* to me.

Re: piano - I could write a book on this topic.  Suffice to say: my dad was good.  He only played classical, so we really didn't connect on the actual music much.  From an early age, I was into pop and rock -- stuff like Fleetwood Mac, ELO, and the Eagles.  Then onto Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Zeppelin.  My dad thought most of that was "noise." I can only imagine where our relationship (and my playing) might have gone had he be into rock or jazz even the slightest bit.  Still, in his prime, he played very well.  Didn't appreciate that then; do now.  Now I get to fill my house with song (mostly Phish these days) for my kids, just like he did for his.

Mom. Simply put, my mom supported me in whatever I wanted to do.  Through all my crazy twists and turns, having that support along the way was the most valuable thing in the world.  Unconditional love and eternal support. She even joined me at a Dead show at the Spectrum in 1994.  Thanks, Ma!

Dave. Comparatively speaking, My brother and I weren't all that close growing up, but when I really needed him, he was always there.  If there was something important -- girls, school, beer, stuff like that -- his advise was tops.  As adults, we've grown quite close despite the 3000 miles separating us.  Dave was bummed that he wasn't a genetic match for my transplant, but looks like it turned out for the best.  Now that I've had his immune system in me for almost three years, I can't imagine a better match than, Martin!

College influences.  UMass wasn't my first choice for school, but I can't imagine any place having turned out better.  I owe the following people (in approximate order of appearance) more than I can likely give back for their mentorship during my undergraduate years:

Scott K.  Scott was the best freshman roommate and is a lifelong friend.  He turned me on to the Grateful Dead, took me to my first show, opened my eyes to the unknown, and always did the right thing when it counted.

Arlene Norkin. My Calc 3 prof, who I randomly bumped into at a winery in Sonoma a few months ago -- how weird is that?  At class registration, somehow I talked my way out of Calc 1 and Calc 2 even though I hadn't taken the AP Calc exam in high school.  They awarded me the eight credits for those two courses, and there I was in Calc 3.  Hardest class ever (well, at that point.)  Arlene spent countless office hours sessions with me.  She didn't spoon feed me, but rather, she helped me learn fundamentals, removed blockers, and pushed me in the right the direction.  I wound up studying for her class about as much as my other 4 classes combined that semester, got an AB on the final and a B for the class.  Positive reinforcement for the work ethic!

Albey Reiner - the life changing professor.  I had gotten a tip that Albey's "Biology of Cancer and AIDS" class was, bar none, the best Gen Ed class at UMass.  It was also, as a freshman "impossible to get."  Well, I signed up for it, and somehow, I got it -- one of a handful of freshman who did.  Why was the class so great?  It was just... Albey.  Sometimes, he'd spend the first half of the class with the lights off... "talking" to us.  Not necessarily about the course material but about anything that spoke to him that day. I put talking in quotes, because sometimes it felt more like channeling.  The guy was just... enlightened.  After visiting him for office hours one day, I literally felt like I was floating across campus.  To this day, I have never experienced anything like that encounter with Albey.

- - -

Friday Jan 24th -- Playa del Carmen

I had every intention to keep this blog post going through the Mexico trip, but there was way too much going on.  With "excursions" by day, Furthur shows by night, and my still not feeling 100%, any free time in between found me napping/sleeping.

I'm finally feeling close to normal today, and I have a few moments sitting at this awesome steakhouse bar in Playa Del Carmen during halftime of the Monchengladbach/Munich futbol game -- doesn't look good for Gladbach -- while Heather shops, so I'll continue briefly.

We took a cab into Playa today.  It's a very cute little beach town.  The main drag (5th Ave) is 100% tourists, like Fisherman's Wharf in SF, but about 10x cooler.  Lots of fun shops, restaurants, and bars, all a block away from a nice beach with warm ocean water.  I got too much sun on this trip as it was (e.g. sunscreen was forbidden at Xel Ha) so no beach for me.

OK, I just got another 1800 margarita and the second half is about to start.  I fear Munich has this one, but you never know.  [Final update: Munich 2 Gladbach 0]

Here are a few pics of one of the excursions we took in Mexico:

Snorkling in the Cenotes

jg zipline!
H zipline
Look closely at our feet
And a pic of Furthur:

Four nights of this!  Wheeee!

- - -

Saturday Jan 25 - on the plane from CAN to SFO.

Continuing with UMass mentors...

Jack Carson.  Jack turned me on to Tangerine Dream, pulled me into the Animation Lab, pushed my keyboard playing to the next level, and got me into recording and sequencing music.  Jack and I ultimately worked on numerous projects in the lab and were in yeP! together for years.

Adam Lavine / Dennis Chen.  These guys founded the animation class and were the first entrepreneurs I had ever known.  The software we used in the lab was so bad, they decided to write their own.  The formed a company, and built a great product (infini-D.)

Dave ("dave.dave") Cotter.  Tetreeece, Buffalo Wings, Ice Cream, Star Trek, and ...... :)

Bev and Stephen Woolf - my surrogate parents.  Bev was the professor who sponsored the aforementioned animation lab.  Once I took on a bigger role with the lab, somehow, she, and her husband Stephen (a brilliant architect and awesome piano player) sort-of became my parents away from home.  I don't really remember how it happened, but I'm glad it did.

Westy/Tasha.  Erik and Tasha (Westland) were like my big brother and sister at UMass.  When I was freshman, they were juniors (I think.)  They took me under their collective wing, helped me navigate the CmpSci dept and took me to "big kid" parties.  I had both surrogate parents *and* siblings.  :)

Mike Sirowitz.  Timeline-wise, this is a bit out of order, since I first met Mike when I was 14 -- he was the tour leader on my Baron Teen Tour.  Best summer of my life as a kid.  While Mike and I kept in touch over the years, it wasn't until several years later that we really re-connected.  Via separate paths, we both got into to the Dead, and in Fall 1990, when I saw my first run of shows at MSG, Mike's apartment on the Upper West side was my home base.  Though he preferred to do shows Wharf Rat style, he was very accepting of my non-Wharf Rat ways.  :)  10 years my senior, Mike has played the mentor role for me ever since those shows.  He even kicked down some cash when we asked friends and family to help yeP! make its first album.  Thanks, Mike!

Eric J. Simon (not the philly one.)  If there was one person who epitomized the way I thought life could (and should!) be at age 20, it was "ejs."  I met ejs on the usenet group.  He was a hardcore deadhead taper and was not shy about partying. :)  Right around when I was started really getting into the Dead, ejs hooked me up with countless shows (his killer 0th gen DAT Auds), invited me to net.head taper parties, and offered up his place for any/all Boston shows.  The thing about Eric that was so amazing to me was that while he was seeing (and taping!) all these Dead shows, he was also getting his PhD at Harvard.  Talk about a role model.  "Work hard, play hard?"  No one did it like ejs. Obligatory shout out: ejs' new book is about to rock the College textbook world.  Go ejs!

Greg Deocampo and John Paluska.  I first met Greg at MacWorld San Francisco in January 1991.  I demo'd Infini-D for him and the next thing you know, we're talking about Phish -- he happened to be friends with Trey and Paluska (Phish's manager.) If it wasn't for the animation lab (and Jack, Adam, Dennis, and Bev) I would have never even been there to meet Greg.  That summer, I worked for Greg at his startup (CoSA) in Providence and helped produce a computer animated video to the Phish song, Esther.  The video recently resurfaced on YouTube.

Greg introduced me to JP which led to my gig consulting for him (and Phish) on and off for the next two years.  Again, talk about role model.  JP saw Phish, thought they were awesome, and essentially took over their management, running the entire operation from the late 80s through mid 2000s.

Steve Cook - my first big-boy-job manager.  When I graduated UMass, I got a job (with a little help from some other smart people like Lory Molesky) in the CmpSci Department being a Mac Sysadmin.  Steve was my manager.  To say I was a little green and borderline unprofessional -- I think I showed up barefoot for work a few times -- would have been an understatement.  But Steve saw my native genius (a Multipliers reference) and helped shape/guide me.  Of course I totally kicked ass for him -- remember the work ethic! -- so it was mutually beneficial.  As yeP! got more serious, Steve worked with me to cut down my hours so yeP! could tour, and I could still keep my job (and be productive for the department.)

Joe Kiniry.  When Joe was a grad student, he worked part time for the department under Steve.  The guy got more done in 10 hours than most of the full-timers got done in a week.  Another smart guy to learn from.

Jian Ghomeshi.  yeP! and Moxy Fruvous played several gigs together in the mid-1990s (like this one at the Middle East in Cambridge.)  Jian and I became fast friends, and, among other things, our passion for music, hockey led to a deep, ever-lasting friendship.

Heather.  Words can't describe.  I love you, monkey!!!!

- - - - - - - - - -

All the UMass/post-UMass/yeP! stuff and all the related mentorship led up to my eventual move to San Francisco in 1999.  You might think that I had used up my supply of mentors, but, in fact (in fact!) the mentorship was just getting started.

At BEA/WebLogic, I met the smartest people I have ever known.  I liken that core WebLogic crew to the Edmonton Oilers in the early-to-mid 80s.  Somehow all these amazing players (Gretz, Mess, Curri, Coffey, Anderson, etc.) ended up on the same team when they were all in their early 20s.  Similarly, PaulA and BobP (the WLS founders) were able to assemble an amazing group of engineers.  And me?  Shit, I just got lucky: Joe Kiniry happened to connect me with one of the WLS engineers through a geeky email dlist he was on.  Next thing you know, I got hired on as a Tech Support engineer.

The following BEA/WLS folks (in no particular order) all acted as some form of mentor or teacher to me from 1999 through 2005 as I grew into a Senior Support manager role.  You guys are all awesome:

Dean, MarkG, SamP, br, brown, pcal, ScottD, PaulC, GeorgeK, PaulR, BobP, LaurieP, PaulA, MikeM, EricH, AB, Sriram, cfry, rwoollen, and nickd.

I truly believe I gave something back to each and every one of these people, but for two in particular, it remains extremely lopsided.  Without GeorgeK and Chris Fry, I don't think I could have gotten the chance to build CCE at Salesforce.  Of course, when I did get the chance, the work ethic I'd be honing for the past two decade kicked in and set me up for success.

Finally, it was time to run the show without a net and free from the assistance of any mentors.  I was ready.  For the first year at Salesforce, I navigated pretty much on my own with a little help from Benji, who has since become an incredible friend and mentor, but at the time didn't know all that much about Support <-> R&D Interface.

A year and a few weeks into the Salesforce gig, all this Leukemia craziness happened.  Here's a link back to the beginning of the blog in case you joined us late.

Between then and now, several new mentors have emerged: Benji, Kirsten, Parker, and even Marc himself, not through direct mentorship but through all he's done with Salesforce's philanthropic model, without which, we could not have achieved our $250k goal for Light the Night last year.

I'd also like to acknowledge my first career coach, Maynard Brussman and my current coach, Bill Bennett.  Thanks for the continued help, guys!

Time for sleep. Big day tomorrow: flying to LA for a Chum gig @ Saint Rock.  Can't wait to see Laura Hess!

Last, but certainly not least, a blog entry wouldn't be complete without a few recent pics of the kids.  So here are few for you:

Floyd eating us out of house and home (at the deli)
Orion too!

Happy Floyd at Tripp's Super Bowl party
Floyd and me at Flyers/Sharks - Feb 2014

Floyd the "Hot Rod"

Orion on his 4th birthday

Floyd (#28) lookin' like LeSean McCoy
Orion's sick crush (and a tumble) - play it!

It's ass is fully kicked.



  1. BoM: This is spectacular. It's an amazing successful journey, brings tears to my eyes. Let's write a book together. Love you.

  2. I love you and am so proud of my ass-kicking monkey!!

  3. Great post, and perhaps time to change the name to jgdkia (change will to did!)

  4. Great post JG, full of gratitude and insight. Thanks for the shout out! So happy your doing well!

  5. Amen, my brother. Kick it hard in LA, even if your awesome lighting crew can't be there... I am proud to call you my friend, and to have been able to share parts of at least a few of these crazy journeys with you. Keep on kickin' and I'll talk to you soon.

  6. Great post! Dad and I are so proud! :)

  7. Glad to see you're doing okay, John! I stumbled upon your blog awhile ago. :)

    - DJ Future / Katie

  8. So amazing, John!!! Hope to see you soon!


  9. Fantastic post & blog JG. Great to see you doing well.
    All the best! (Except in the playoffs).

    Yael Perez (SFDC Colleague & Habs fan)


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