Sleepless in Everywhere

Sleep is the crank that turns the engine, and mine has long since snapped at the axle.

I don’t blog much anymore, a thing I realized once it became obvious even to me. I didn’t wax nostalgic about turning 40. I didn’t say goodbye to the home where I’d spent the last six years. I didn’t gush about the Porsche Cayman I recently purchased to fulfill an old childhood dream. No espousing about Keto, either recipes or studies. Nothing.

All events I would have gladly documented in great length—likely on multiple occasions—once upon a time. I’ve certainly rambled on about far less interesting topics. I just don’t have the energy.

I woke up at 3am this morning, mentally alert and yet completely exhausted. It’s not the same as being tired; it’s a mind that steadfastly refuses to rest. Even while nary a thought crosses through that vast rift between empty instances, it bides time watching the eons drift by.

It’s actually a feeling I’m well accustomed to. I’ve told the story before, but I’ve never taken a nap as long as I can remember. Even in preschool when the nap mats came out, I figured they just wanted us to be quiet for their own sanity. I was always polite about it, but never really understood that the other kids were actually sleeping. It was an alien concept to me then, as it is now.

One thing I could always take solace in, was that I tended to sleep deeply when I finally managed to pull it off. Multiple times, alarm clocks would fail to rouse me and instead, the infernal beeping or music would incorporate themselves into a dream, and I’d inevitably be late for school or work. It wasn’t ideal, but we work with what we have.

That changed a little over three years ago. I don’t reasonably know the cause, though I tend to speculate it has something to do with weaning myself off of an SSRI around that time. Whatever the case, my one point of solace ceased to exist. Now I can neither nap nor sleep deeply. I awaken at the slightest provocation, and if I do fall asleep again, do so restlessly. I always wake up sore, and never refreshed. I don’t even nod off in vehicles anymore, passenger or otherwise, no matter how long I’ve gone without sleep.

And in the aftermath, I am filled with a quiet desperation borne of dread unequaled by anything I’ve yet experienced. My senses are dulled, and life offers no succor. In many ways, I feel hardly alive at all. The days blend together as my memory fades with the lack of sleep. I’m too tired to do anything, and too debilitated to care. I plod along out of obligation now, rather than desire, or my old steadfast of spite.

And despite all of that, my mind remains online, ever vigilant. No pill has calmed me. A sleep psychologist says I’m doing everything right, the CBTI has run its course, and my sleep hygiene is impeccable. I’ve tried every supplement with even one clinical study that suggested sleep improvements. I adopted mindfulness meditation near the beginning, which I still practice daily. So far, nothing has really worked.

On a good night, I’ve perhaps clawed back half of what I once took for granted. How can someone remain mentally alert and yet completely spent for over three years? They can’t. So I’m left conserving what little acuity remains, each tiny erg of motivation I can muster, just to accomplish simple tasks. So gone are the ruminations, amusements, and in-depth technical pieces I used to share. They are but one of the many casualties caused by this ceaseless malady.

If my brain were a car, someone dropped a brick on the accelerator and fucked off. It desperately wants to rest, and is dragging down every aspect of my performance and enjoyment, but that contemptible brick keeps fueling it with an unholy endurance. It’s not that my mind is racing—though it clearly does that as well—it’s that it won’t shut down.

I just want to sleep again. I’ll do anything. If I had any energy to do so, I’d weep at the thought of being trapped in this hell.

But what choice do I have?

R720 or Bust

Ever since my previous foray into building a server, I’v been trolling Lab Gopher for an upgrade. My preference would have been for a Dell PowerEdge R720xd 3.5-inch format since it could hold 12 full-size hard disks. But those are relatively rare and deals were scarce.

Instead, I stumbled across a Dell PowerEdge R720 2.5-inch format with an additional drive cage. So while 2.5-inch drives were lower capacity, I could use 16 of them if necessary. Being as I still haven’t come close to filling the 2TB I currently have thanks to ZFS compression, I’m not really pressed for storage. Still, with a server in hand, it came time to plan the upgrade.

Apples to Apples

Once the server arrived, it came time to take stock. Here’s a quick comparison of the new server and the old one.

R710 R720
Processors 2x Intel X5600 2x Intel E5-2660 v2
– Cores 2×6 2×10
– Threads 24 40
– Speed 2.8GHz 2.2GHz
– Turbo 3.2GHz 3.0GHz
– Cache 12MB 25MB
Memory 64GB 128GB
Drive Capacity 8 16
RAID PERC 6/i 512MB H710 1GB
Remote iDRAC 6 Enterprise iDRAC 7 Enterprise

Basically the new server utterly annihilates the old one on pretty much every metric. That’s to be expected when moving from an 11th to 12th generation server, but it’s also slightly quieter. The only place where it loses out is single-core processor speed, which is admittedly somewhat irksome. On the other hand, I haven’t benchmarked it yet, and the single-core performance in newer architectures tends to score slightly higher.

Regardless, with that many cores, I have a bit more breathing room for my VMs. Who can argue with that?

When a Plan Comes Together

Given the hardware available, I want to squeeze as much out of it as possible without breaking the bank. That means I plan on combining these ingredients:

Wait… H310 RAID controller!? Didn’t the server arrive with a much better H710? Yes, but unlike the H310, the H710 doesn’t support drive passthrough; all drives must be assigned to a RAID set. ZFS vastly prefers having direct control over the underlying disk devices, and to facilitate that, I actually had to downgrade the integrated RAID card. On the other hand, since that’s a drop-in module, I now have a spare H710 controller with a 1GB BBU I can pawn off. Score!

The goal here is to start by mounting the two M.2 drives onto the SilverStone adapter. The R720 is too old to boot from M.2 NVMe drives, so the Samsung 970 EVO isn’t bootable. However, the ADATA is a SATA device, and the SilverStone allows it to run off the motherboard SATA header. This gives me a very solid OS boot drive along with a decoupled read / write cache layer that’s roughly 5x faster than the Samsung 860 EVO I’m currently using in the old server.

That means I install Proxmox on the ADATA drive, format 4x 1TB drives as 2x ZFS mirror sets, partition the 970 EVO, and add it as ZIL and L2 Arc devices. Once I’ve got everything configured properly, I can attach it to my network and migrate the existing configuration and data. ZFS has an extremely capable snapshot exporting system that’s orders of magnitude faster than rsync since it has immediate access to block-level deltas via COW (Copy on Write). The initial sync will take a while, but when I’m ready for the final migration, I can stop all my VMs, take a final snapshot, and initiate one last (and speedy) copy.

Now, those who are familiar with Proxmox know I could add the new server as a second Hypervisor in a fully configured cluster. In theory, that means I could use Proxmox itself to migrate everything over to the new server with almost no interruption. However, I’m using ZFS snapshots to maintain my long-term external backup device. If I migrated the VMs and LXD containers that way, I’d lose disk parity and have to overwrite my existing backups. Performing a ZFS snapshot migration lets me keep everything going as-is.

Once all of that has been running for a while and I’ve shaken out any cobwebs, I’ll swipe the drives from the R710 and finish the surgery by adding two more ZFS mirror sets. That gives me a total of 4TB of space which I’ll probably never use, no matter how many VMs and Containers I throw at the system. Even if I do, I have space for eight more drives; it’ll be a while before I need an external disk enclosure.

So Far, So Good

At this point, the server is mostly ready. I’ve swapped the H710 out for the H310, and installed the SilverStone adapter along with the 970 EVO. Thanks to not reading the fine print, I neglected to realize the Dell R720 can’t boot from an NVMe SSD, PCI adapter or not. On the one hand, that means I have to wait a bit longer to get everything going while the additional drive ships, but on the other, I can decouple the OS device from the ZFS R/W cache layers; that’s probably safer in the long-run.

Thankfully the ADATA was cheap, and the SilverStone adapter works for both NVMe and SATA M.2 devices. At worst I would have also needed another M.2 adapter, and the R720 has seven PCIe slots—so much room for activities! Maybe some day in the distant future, I’ll add some 10Gbit network cards just to fill an unused slot or two, who knows.

In any case, this makes me feel as though I tinker with and customize server hardware the same way the previous generation messed with cars. I basically did the equivalent of loading up a Corvette with a new engine and a boatload of nitrous. Now I just need another person to compare notes with for funsies.

Any takers?

Wondering What TODO

I’ve been thinking of adding a Kanban board to my site for a more advanced TODO list. So far I’ve looked at:

  • Kanboard – Interesting and right now the main contender. It’s fast, easy to set up, and can use Postgres. It’s somewhat ugly, and the existing themes are few and far-between. It’s also PHP, which isn’t winning it any points. Also, every single theme breaks the code syntax highlighting in the hover tool-tip of the Board view. The fact nobody noticed this makes me wonder if the project is even still alive.

  • Wekan – Better look and feel, and more features. But it relies on MongoDB and appears to be a node.js project, and relies heavily on Sandstorm. It does have standalone, but that is packaged in Snap, and I’m not sure I want to encourage that. Nor am I convinced the public VM I’m leasing will be powerful enough for such a bloated stack.

  • Taiga – Looks to be the most advanced, and a Django app to boot, so it can use any compatible database backend. Unfortunately there’s been a ticket open since 2014 for swimlanes, and the feature is still missing. That’s basic functionality and they can’t get around to adding it.

  • Restya – Another PHP contender, and far more “pretty” than Kanboard. Unfortunately also no swim lanes. How do these devs have ample time for shiny glitz but not basic functionality?

All the rest I ran into were either paid apps or couldn’t be self-hosted. Perhaps someone out there knows a better alternative, but it looks like I’ll be tossing a Kanboard up for now. I can deal with the minor visual bugs for now, and it’ll be a huge step up from the Google Docs file I’ve been using.

Straying From the Path

People are so blind to their own flaws. Through certainly no bastion of saintliness, I try to at least remember to listen. It’s better to be wrong and learn, than remain steadfast in my ignorance. And there is always so much left to learn. May there be so many mistakes yet to come.

On the cusp of my 41st birthday, it’s inevitable that a certain amount of melancholy or nostalgic regret seizes my attention. At least, that’s the cold and clinical way I’d normally frame it, given my disposition. In reality, being 40 wasn’t so bad. My life is decidedly not perfect, but perfect is the enemy of good.

It’s hard not to consider though, the path that led me here.

1998 was probably one of the hardest years of my life. The first woman I’d ever really loved had essentially tired of my oblivious selfishness and cut me loose. Hindsight being what it is, I can’t really blame her for that. And in that same regard, it’s trivially easy now to see that we were truly awful for each other. Give a starving man a buffet, and he will gorge himself until he dies.

The improperly socialized don’t even know the mistakes they’re making. That’s probably the hardest lesson to learn, that looking back shines the harshest light of truth. I hurt so many in my floundering for meaning, even if unintentionally.

And there’s the rub. If I tried really hard, I could adapt my perspective and see the rose beyond the thorns, the lessons borne from the failures. But that isn’t—and never has been—who I am. I’m the eternal pessimist, the watcher who strives to see the bigger picture. The witness of an experiment I yearn not to taint by participating. It’s why I practice everything to a fault, mull every sentence until the inspiration and opportunity has passed, and live in a carefully cultivated life free as possible from chance.

Rather than fail and try again, I strove to be flawless. I was my own worst critic, because I believed the world would never tolerate imperfection. A mentor could have perhaps warned me of my folly, that experience and consideration of the situation are far better teachers than I believed. But youth is famously wasted on the young, and my impatience was fueled by an unwavering persecution complex. I wove a cocoon where I would finally be safe.

So I can’t help but feel like a failure most of the time. Despite how good my life is, it could always have been better. I could have done things differently. Perhaps been a better friend, or made good on my early dream of being a novelist, or have done it all by 30. Instead of enjoying my success, it’s damnably hard not to see my life as a litany of various catastrophes ending in utter mediocrity.

Since I started meditating two years ago, another obvious truth has emerged. Even were that my ultimate fate, would that be so bad? Why must I strive to be highly regarded? What do I seek to gain through unmitigated success? Why care so strongly, when driven by their own concerns, few are even so cognizant to see or even acknowledge my shortcomings? And why do I see things this way in the first place? No life is perfect, and even if through some miracle someone out there could claim such, why is my first reaction one of envy? Why must I regret so much?

I have no reasonable answer for those questions, except that I don’t. I don’t have to eternally yearn for some mental image of what could have been, but derailing nearly 40 years of momentum feels insurmountable.

Had I a chance to speak with my younger self from 20 years ago, I’d say very little.

Have patience, and be kind. Care not for the past, but for the lessons it teaches. Live not for the future, nor carelessly disregard it. Calm your mind, lest your perception rob life of its succor.

I would probably have seen it as maddeningly cryptic and complained about a lost opportunity at cheating destiny, but it’s also the truth. It’s always been there, had I stopped to consider rather than hyper-analyzing every situation or endlessly projecting hypothetical scenarios. I can’t prepare for every potential eventuality, nor should I attempt to do so. It’s a hard habit to break, and I’ll inevitably do it anyway, but every day it will happen just a bit less.

And that’s OK. Maybe one day I’ll even reach a point where I would impart no advice at all to my younger self, except perhaps a wink and “Strap in, kid.” That would not affect my life one whit and my misadventures would remain, but that could be for the best. Doing otherwise is still wishing life turned out differently, and that’s ultimately the same trap as before.

Ultimately I hope to escape the melancholy that seemingly defines my perspective. If not that, then at least accept it as merely another card in the hand I was dealt, rather than the trump card it became. I’ve never really been happy, and that’s much the reason why.

Mistakes are part of life, and the only direction is forward.

Sometimes

In the lonely hint of darkness,
for there are nor wit nor wail.
It matters not how things began,
for all is doomed to fail.

In despondence, it occurs that few things persist so well as uncertainty. That constant, maddening drip, penultimate and voracious through and through. The criss and cross, flaying and barreling forward, draining into yawning steel or simpering infinity. It’s there.

And so, these times that conspire to wrest recollection from failing and questionable histories, that ascribe nostalgia to a litany of inconsistent but unfailing missteps, revenge is both meticulous and triumphant.

Still.

Bereft and harrowing, I can’t but notice—witness the pendulum ticking twixt extreme and excess, righteous and indignant, awake and contrite. It is failure and reliance; meaningless, droll, and trite, or terrifyingly bright. Is it oblivion, cautious and shrouded, stealing reality from entropy’s embrace? Long defiance wrestles with unmitigated disaster or unflinching resolve, drifting ultimately beyond any realm of clarity. It’s there I’ve dwelled from time immemorial.

And so, vibrating with a sense of inexplicable urgency, driven forward by a cattle-prod comprised purely of unbridled agitation, I sit astride The Apocalypse. An unbroken fever of decades foments within an addled mixture of apprehension and pessimism, deriving nothing but unfettered wariness from once primal vengeance. It’s that culmination, inescapable and conclusive, that badgers all conscious thought.

Hidden here is the esoteric origin of disdain. Forever entwined with Schrodinger and his contemptible feline, contemplation and existential crisis begets not a little madness. And from there, a font of drivel resolute and astonishingly cynical, decries a universe unraveled. And fleeting rest is no escape, nor even death an end.


It’s only now, in a fever born of a withering cascade of chronic insomnia, I can look back upon what I am and how I came to be. Always anxious and unsure, contemplative and melancholic.

One of my strongest memories comes from when I was three or four years old, and is likely common enough. It was a question I was incapable of articulating and launched from a brain with a short attention span; I wanted to know where I came from—why there was nothingness before. Frustrated by my uncooperative mind, I gave up and told my mom I loved her, uttering possibly my first non sequitur. It’s a memory framed by years of medical tests and other procedures that culminated in an open heart surgery I knew I might not survive.

Something broke in me then. A bit of research suggests it’s just a mundane expansion of amygdala due to persistent early life stress, and thus exaggerated conditioned fear response. Regardless, I’ve no more constant companion than doubt. It makes me overly cautious, methodical, and skeptical. I approach everything as if failure is inevitable, understanding that I have no choice but to proceed anyway. If I somehow won the lottery, my next thought would be a litany of practical concerns of how to best manage and secure the windfall, rather than joy.

So I started to read escapist fiction. I probably maintained a book per week, or more, for a solid twenty years before video games finally supplanted the habit. Instead of bettering myself or increasing my skillset, I ran away. Disengaging mentally from my inherent curiosity was how I coped. I loved to learn, but was uncommitted, electing to absorb rather than generate. It made me mediocre, safe, and generally unassuming. Quiet and reserved, that’s my motto. Observe; don’t interact. Turn off that brain, and maybe you’ll feel something other than a sense of obligation. Not so occasionally, I wonder if things could have been different.

That’s a very unforgiving and unrewarding way to live, and it has made me weary beyond belief. Normally I’d call such a statement hyperbole, but it’s all I’ve ever known. All of my emotions have always been muted, withdrawn, or from my perspective, non-existent. That’s just how things were; how they are, really. In fact, around the time I was 13, I woke up with depersonalization, and it lasted for several years afterward. The feeling gradually faded, though its effects were long-lasting.

Yet one day when I was 24 or 25, something very strange happened: I felt good. My usual brooding disposition transformed into optimistic acceptance. I felt like I could accomplish anything, and even if I didn’t, everything would be fine. For one beautiful day, the veil was lifted. To anyone else that may have been a normal day, but to me it was euphoric. It provided a taste of what I was missing, and I’m not sure if I should be thankful that I had the opportunity, or miserable because I’ve never felt that way since.

These days, for each milestone in life, no matter how beneficial, I feel only relief that things didn’t go awry. I can smile to an extent, but do not feel excitement or anticipation. I shrug and nod, not because I’m nihilistic, or because I’ve become enlightened and above Earthly desires, but because that’s my capacity of engagement. For anyone who doesn’t understand depression, it’s not one thing. It’s a progression that relentlessly robs life of succor. It is food without taste; light without warmth; sleep without rest. It’s being alone in a room full of friends and family.

Some can hold on better than others, and at 40, some would say I’ve done pretty well in that regard. But again, for me that’s not due to some indomitable inner strength, but because I endeavor to never return to the nothingness which spawned me. All other concerns are academic. Had I been born even a decade before, I may not have survived past two months due to my heart condition, so I fully intend to wring every last iota of life from this malfunctioning lemon of a husk I’ve been saddled with, psychological consequences be damned.

So I can’t in good conscience, begrudge those who finally loose their grip. In a meandering stream of consciousness that unerringly focuses on the malevolent and hopeless, it’s easy to get caught in the current. Sometimes it’s easier to let go. To those who have lost, or are losing that battle, I offer only understanding. It’s probably the one thing a bitter angry pessimist can do without reserve.

Otherwise, it is with grim determination I wage this campaign. Though the void is uncaring, and circumstances random, and entropy will eventually render my efforts moot somewhere at the end of time, I’ll soldier on because it’s all I know. I suspect I’ll bring this maudlin perspective to my grave, but until then, I can at least be reliable.

I have a reputation to maintain, after all.