Well it’s been a few days since I gave in and decided to check out the world of NFTs. It feels like a few months. Figured I’d just post some thoughts and observations.
What I thought
I think my biggest confusion when I started this whole thing was, why the hell are people buying NFTs.
Initially I thought there was some kind of confusion going on where buyers thought they were actually buying rights to the artwork in some way whereas in fact, buying an NFT by itself gives you no rights to the original work. But as I talked to people I discovered that while people generally understood this, nobody really cared. It’s not like people were buying NFTs in order to use them in their corporate marketing campaigns or something. They just wanted to “collect” the art.
This just caused more confusion for me. Surely there is no inherent value in buying them, I thought. They’re either buying them as investments or buying them to support artists they like.
While I assumed that people paying thousands of dollars (or even millions of dollars) for big name NFTs are doing it as investments of some sort, I did not believe that the average hic et nunc user wasn’t doing that.
So it had to be about supporting artists, which I thought was nice, but frustrating because I’ve had a donation link up for ages and I get $5 or $10 a couple of times a year. So why were people so happy to support artists via NFTs, but not directly?
I was wrong
Just about everything I thought was wrong.
People do find (massive) inherent value in buying NFTs.
People do use NFTs as short/mid-term investments.
The whole supporting-the-artist thing exists, but it’s a pretty minor aspect.
Yeah, people are crazy about collecting NFTs. Especially from some known artist. Honestly it’s been a bit of an ego trip because people seem to know who I am in this community (getting a shout out from my old friend Mario Klingemann does not hurt either). Feeling a bit of a taste of the (very low level) rock star vibes I had in the 00’s and early ’10s on the Flash conference speaking tour. It’s nice.
Anyway, yeah, everything I’ve put up on hic et nunc has sold out in minutes. I’ve just been experimenting with prices and amounts and it doesn’t matter, it just goes like that. But it goes beyond that. People are DMing me on twitter begging me to let them know the next time I mint something. Or asking if they can buy something from me directly. When people manage to buy something before it sells out, they’re over the moon about it, like they just won the lottery. Get that – they gave me money and they feel like they won something huge. People are HUGELY passionate about collecting stuff.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around it because it seems really, really bizarre to me. It makes absolutely no sense in my brain. But I’m trying to roll with it. It’s just all very surreal.
This is a way bigger part of the system than I thought. For my first NFT I minted 10 editions at 1 tez each. No idea what to expect. Within a couple of hours of them selling out, one was re-sold at 150 tez! There’s one of those still for sale at 3000 tez!!!
Yeah, so IF that sells (I can’t imagine it will), the seller will have made a 3000% profit. Currently 1 tez is around $4 usd. You do the math.
Of course, once something gets into the realm of capitalism, all kinds of ugly stuff starts cropping up. I discovered there are bots people will set up to buy NFTs in bulk from popular artist at low cost and immediately resell them at a huge markup. This generates a bunch of anger in the community, from individual collectors who are mainly just into collecting work from artists they like. The bots make it hard for them to get the pieces they are trying to collect.
tldr; it’s a complex and complicated space.
Supporting the Artists
Like I said, this is there for sure, but it’s not a huge part of it, from what I can see. I think the music industry is a good example. Yeah, there are lesser known indie groups who have the support of loyal fans hoping they’ll eventually make it big. But you wouldn’t say that most people buy music because they want to support the artist. They buy it because they want the music.
I have no idea where this is all headed. On one hand I feel like this can’t last. It’s like a gold rush. Pokemon cards, Beanie Baby stuff. The bubble is gonna burst some day. On the other hand, this probably will pave the way for the future of how art is bought and sold… maybe. I have no clue. I guess I’m just going to surf this wave for a while. And not quit my day job just yet.
OK, y’all wore me down. After multiple messages per week from friends and strangers urging me to put my work on hic et nunc, and many long, drawn out debates with people I respect, I finally gave in and created an NFT.
At some level I feel like a sellout. On the other hand, I was feeling way too stubborn and dogmatic about my resistance to try it. It was a serious internal struggle for the past few months.
Long story short, people seem to want to give money to digital artists via NFTs. Lots of money. But not any other way. I still have misgivings, but I’m going to assume that people know what they are doing and if they want to support me in this way, I’ll accept it.
I’m starting a newsletter. I’ve been hearing more and more buzz about newsletters these days. I always assumed these were just cheap marketing gimmicks. “Sign up for my newsletter so I can spam you with info about this thing I’m trying to sell.” But apparently it’s become the replacement for RSS for a lot of people. Who knew? Probably everyone but me.
Anyway, I’m going to start one. For the most part it’s going to be quick summaries and links to stuff that I post right here, with maybe one or two other links or items of interest. I thought about doing more complete articles in the newsletter, but I’d rather keep my content centralized here, so summaries and links it is.
For now, it’s totally free. If it takes off and people seem interested, I might experiment with doing some kind of additional paid content. Undecided at this point. One step at a time. Anyway, sign up here:
I’m a firm believer that creative coding is a very different activity than the kind of coding that most people do for their day jobs. In feature / application / systems programming, there’s usually a fair amount of planning, scoping and architecting that comes before you start coding. Ideally, when you start coding, you have a pretty good idea of what you are going to make and how you’re going to make it.
But creative coding, for me at least, starts with “what would happen if I did this…?” and generally follows that line of logic all the way until I have something published.
So I’m always going to this value or that, deleting “true” and typing “false” or vice versa. Or, I’m using a sine function and want to see what happens if I use cosine. Or tangent. Or I want to swap greater than with less than and see what that does. Or change plus to minus or minus to plus.
After way too many times doing this type of thing, I figured there must be some plugins that would make this easier. And so there are! I use vim, and found several. I tried a few and had almost settled on vim-toggle and then checked out switch.vim, which I found to be the most powerful of the lot.
I recognize that most people probably use VS Code or Sublime Text or other editors. A quick search informed me that there are similar plugins for those editors as well (all links below). I haven’t tried the non-vim ones, so I can’t vouch for their quality, only their existence. There may be better ones, so do your research.
The way these work is you put your cursor on the word or symbol you want to change and hit some keyboard shortcut. For switch.vim, that’s gs. Each time you hit that shortcut the word will toggle back and forth between, say, “true” and “false”. Or “on” and “off” or “1” and “0”.
Most of the plugins come with several obvious definitions pre-defined. But make sure you find one that will also allow you to set up custom toggle sets. Some of the plugins only support binary switching between two options, but some, like switch.vim, will let you specify a list of as many items as you want. It will cycle through all of those options when you hit the shortcut key over any one of them. Here’s just a few of the custom toggle sets I set up:
And there are more niche ones I use in my day to day creative coding using cairographics bindings for Golang (blgo). Sometimes I’ll be making a piece where the background is white and the foreground is black. I use a function, ClearWhite to clear the surface to white, and set the drawing color to black using SetSourceRGB(0, 0, 0). but occasionally I want to invert these to use a black background with white shapes. So I set up some toggles like so:
I’ve come to be somewhat known as a “math guy” in creative coding. It’s one of my impostor syndrome items because I’m really not any kind of expert in the field. I took Algebra and some Precalculus in high school banged my head on a formal Calculus course, but never made it through. Most of what I know has been self-taught and pretty seat-of-the-pants.
Almost exactly two years ago I bought my last phone, a Pixel 3XL. The phone I had before that was a Samsung Galaxy S8. It was two years old and was in good condition, but I didn’t like it that much. All the extra Samsung garbage was not to my taste. I like stock Android or as close as I can get.
After two full years, I was totally happy with the Pixel. I had no plans on upgrading or changing until I had to. And then… I had to. The first sign was the the volume buttons weren’t working. I have one of those rubber bumper cases. When I took it off, the volume worked fine. But not with the case on. The case seemed fine, and then I took a closer look at the phone beside the volume keys.
Here you can see the back cover has separated from the phone. The whole back plate was swelling out. That’s why the volume wasn’t working. The buttons on the case were no longer aligned with the buttons on the phone.
I had noticed that it was seeming to get pretty hot when I wirelessly charged it but hadn’t thought too much about it. Obviously the battery was on its last legs and getting ready for some kind of catastrophe. I kept an eye on the phone the rest of the day and started looking for a new device.
I was really pretty bummed out about this because I didn’t actually WANT a new phone. And I had to get one quick and didn’t have a chance to do a bunch of research. I was curious about the Oneplus line. Their flagships go for $600 – 900 or even higher. I didn’t want to spend that much when I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. Maybe I wanted a Pixel 6 when it came out. What to do? What to do???
I finally wandered across the Oneplus Nord n10 G5. It was under $300 but decently specced for that price. I watched a few Youtube reviews and while nobody was raving about how great it was, the consensus was that it was a pretty good phone for its price. I crossed my fingers and ordered it with next day delivery.
In the meantime I wondered if I could possibly replace the Pixel’s battery. Quick search revealed a few Youtube videos that made the process seem not too formidable, and a number of under $20 replacement kits. Worth a shot, right?
The repair kit came the same time as the new phone. I set up the Oneplus, got my sim card in it and all my apps. It looked and felt pretty nice. No regrets. Then onto the battery repair.
The toughest part was getting the back off. You need a heat gun (which I have, luckily) and a lot of time and patience. You apply heat to the back of the phone judiciously so as to not damage it. This softens up the glue, then you pry the crap out of back of the phone. The kit had tools and a suction cup. It took a good half hour of heating and prying, heating and prying – and I had a head start since the battery had already started the job – but eventually I got the back off.
Then you have to pry the battery out. It’s also glued in. That was a bit easier, but not… easy.
Finally, the recharging coil is just like a piece of thick paper with the coil inside, glued to the battery. You have to carefully pry that off. If you’ve ever tried to peel a glued-on paper label off of something, you can imagine how that went. I got all of the coil and about half of the paper backing, but I was pretty sure I had wrecked it.
Then you put it all back together. The kit also came with glue strips to put the battery back in with. Stuck the coil back on the new battery, plugged everything in. Cleaned up all the old glue. Crossed my fingers and turned it on. It worked fine. Put it on the charger. It charged right up. Didn’t even get hot. And it held its charge really well.
The last thing I needed was some glue to put the back on again. I ordered that and finished up the next day. But since then it was working fine, holding a charge and charging just fine. Now I had some options:
Keep using the Oneplus and keep the Pixel as a backup.
Go back to the Pixel and return the Oneplus.
Go back to the Pixel and keep the Oneplus as a backup.
I had a good 2-3 days in on the Oneplus, which gave me a good idea of how much I liked it. In general, I did like it. I concur with all the reviews – it’s a great value for it’s price. But there is no doubt that the Pixel is way better. Some details:
Performance. Pixel wins hands down. Opening apps takes probably 1.5-2x longer on the Oneplus. Random scrolling around is obviously way smoother on the Pixel. But this was really only noticeable on a side-by-side comparison. I could have lived with the Oneplus’s performance easily.
The Oneplus screen pales in comparison to the Pixel… LITERALLY! (sorry) Not surprising. The Oneplus is an LCD whereas the Pixel has OLED. Again though, wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.
Bluetooth performance was not good. I use Galaxy Buds Plus and love them. They have been virtually 100% flawless on the Pixel. On the Oneplus, I had various issues:
Garbled sound. I’ve had that on cheaper BT earbuds, but never on the Galaxy Buds. I was getting it regularly every time I used them on the Oneplus.
Unresponsive controls. The tap to start / stop failed multiple times. Never recall it failing while on the Pixel.
Connection. I think it failed to auto-connect once in the couple of days I used it. I don’t recall it ever having a problem on the Pixel.
Touch responsiveness. Very noticeable on one of the puzzle games I was playing. Tapping on on-screen items would fail close to 50%, requiring multiple taps. Never experienced it on the Pixel and when I retried the same game on the Pixel again, it was night and day.
To be fair, those are the only negative performance points I could come up with on the Oneplus. I would add that Oneplus have started creating their own UI stuff. A customized settings app, a custom launcher, a bunch of preinstalled Oneplus apps. I was under the impression that Oneplus was close to stock, so this was a bit disappointing. Not as bad as Samsung, but not a plus.
But overall, not bad. The Bluetooth and touch screen stuff were the only points that really pushed me over the edge to going back to the Pixel.
I am really happy to be back to the Pixel though and have a renewed appreciation for what a good phone it is. As I said, I didn’t want to switch phones to begin with and I’m happy that I don’t have to.
I’ve decided to keep the Oneplus though as a backup. I don’t know how long my Pixel surgery is going to hold up. So far it’s flawless, but who knows what the next few weeks or months hold. If the Pixel does crap out on me, I’ll have something to switch over to instantly. Maybe I can last long enough to see how the Pixel 6 does and maybe even long enough to see it come down a bit in price from its initial release.
Back in the day, I was a big fan of Google Reader. There were lots of blogs and feeds I followed and Google Reader kind of set the standard of what an RSS reader was supposed to work, and what it was supposed to look like
I’m one of those people who will never fully trust Google again – but only because they shut down Reader.
When they did that, I looked at what was available and wound up on Feedly. The other main option was The Old Reader. And for whatever reason, I liked Feedly better.
And I’ve used Feedly pretty much every since. I’ve gotten used to it, but there was a lot I never really liked about it.
One thing that really bugged me about Feedly was it’s in-your-face upgrade call to actions. There’s a bright orange upgrade button front and center. There’s stuff all over the place about using “Leo” which is apparently the AI assistant that helps you … manage your feeds? Discover new content? At any rate, you have to upgrade in order to use it, and every time I’ve looked at it, it held no interest for me.
Also, in spite of years of using it, I can’t say I really ever understood the UI. There’s a “Today” section and an “All” section, as well as layouts and sorting and sharing and read later and boards. And sometimes things open up in this kind of tab container, but there’s only one tab ever… I really only ever wanted to just show my unread and sometimes my read feeds and just ignored all the other stuff. And a lot of the advanced features which are stuck out begging you to click them wind up telling you you need to upgrade anyway. I often did think about upgrading and paying something for the app, but there was nothing in the paid features that I really needed or wanted.
Tiny Tiny RSS
So a couple of months ago, I started looking at alternatives. I wound up self-hosting tt-rss. It’s fully open source and free. There’s a mobile app (like Feedly) and there are no calls to upgrade, which I liked.
The UI however, was not a whole lot better than Feedly in a lot of ways. There are various layouts and sorting and sharing options. But there’s also the concept of “Fresh” articles and “Adaptive” filtering, which I never really figured out. It reminds me of Twitter’s timeline algorithm where they try to figure out what you want to read. That annoys the hell out of me and The fresh and adaptive stuff was starting to do the same.
I was reworking my server last week and rather than setting up tt-rss again, I decided to have another look at what’s out there.
I tried going back to Feedly for about 10 minutes, but quickly remembered all the ways it annoyed me. I checked out a few others. The Old Reader is still out there. I still didn’t like it. Then I ran across Inoreader, which I had never used before.
I imported my OPML and started using it and was totally hooked. I really love this app. The UI is exactly as simple as it should be, but there is enough under the hood to make it look and work just like you want it to.
The free tier really had all I wanted, but I loved it so much that I upgraded to the supporter plan for a dollar-something a month. This gives you more available feeds (I wasn’t even close to the limit on the free tier), custom CSS capabilities, and the ability to add a newsletter subscription. For $5-something a month, there are a bunch of other filtering, searching, collaboration, etc. features that I don’t really need. The mobile app is also really good and just as usable.
I know it’s just an RSS reader, but I just feel like they nailed the UX so well, that it really is a joy to use each time I open it up. Nothing there confuses me. It’s exactly what I want it to be and works exactly like I expect it to. Any up-sell is subtle and I haven’t run across any sneaky elements that are just features you don’t have, hoping you’ll click on them so they can try to get you to upgrade.
This is just a post about some changes I made to my personal computers. Probably not interesting for most people, but I like to document this stuff so I can go back and say, “when did I switch to ____? And how did that go?” And who knows? A few people might find it vaguely interesting after all.
Back to Mac.
I’m not switching back to Mac by any means, but I did buy a new Mac for personal use.
My summary of Apple computers up to now:
They have OK hardware. Mac fans will say how amazing the hardware is, but when you drill down, they’re usually talking about the machined aluminum body. I’ve seen and experienced more hardware issues on Macs than I have on PCs. Motherboards, keyboards, screens. I will agree that Macs look good and feel good. Historically, they’ve had the best trackpads. The screens are bright and crisp and have nice color, but also develop dead spots and weird color patches that I’ve never seen on any other laptops.
MacOS is OK. It’s frustratingly un-customizable and locked down. I’ve never felt that I really fully owned a Mac that I bought. It felt more like I was being given the special privilege of being able to use this device as long as I used it only in the way that Apple decided I should use it. It’s probably more useful if you own a Mac and an iPhone and an iPad and an Apple Watch and an Apple TV and all the other Apple/i-devices. And buy your music and apps and games and movies and tv and books and subscriptions from Apple. And use Apple services/apps for your email and backups and online file storage and sharing and chat and web browsing and documents. But I do exactly none of that stuff.
I hate Apple as a company. I get infuriated watching their keynotes. They are all so smug and in love with themselves about how amazing this or that new feature is and how it’s going to change your life and transform the world. They constantly claim to invent things that have existed for years. Or rename existing technology to make it sound like something new they created. They are actively developer hostile. They PR themselves like they are saving the world, but don’t ask about their sweatshops. All this is my opinion. You are free to disagree with me, but I’m not going to argue about it. If you don’t see it like I see it, that’s cool.
So if you’ve even read this far, you’re probably baffled at why I actually bought a Mac. I’ll be honest, it pained me to give the company any of my money. But I was doing a lot of work with Minicomps and bljs and I was finding a lot of issues with Safari that I needed to fix, as well as stuff that worked or looked differently in Chrome and Firefox on the Mac. I was using a Mac VM, which was not great, and my work Mac, which I don’t like to use for personal stuff.
I had some money come in for a project I did and decided after long deliberation to pick up a new Macbook Air with the M1 chip. I got the cheapest version. $1049 on Amazon. I’ll be honest, it helped a little bit giving Amazon the money rather than Apple directly.
And I’ll be damned if the stupid thing didn’t start winning me over. As I said, Macs are good looking machines. This thing looks nice. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s quiet, it does not get hot. It is goddamned fast. Faster than it has a right to be. The trackpad is still really nice. Other manufacturers have caught up with Apple over the years on the trackpads, but it’s still probably the best. The screen is bright and colorful and crisp and no splotchiness yet, but we’ll see how it looks in a year or two. I have to say though, the screen is the worst fingerprint magnet I’ve every seen. I don’t recall ever actually touching it, but it constantly looks like I ate a couple of tacos and wiped my hands off on the screen. The keyboard is meh. I don’t really like it, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever used. To be fair, my main computer is a Thinkpad, and I love Thinkpad keyboards.
The sound. This gets its own paragraph. I am shocked how good this thing sounds. As much as Apple’s overuse of the word “magical” has become a meme, the sound on this device really is magical. It’s deep and rich and loud and sounds like it’s coming from a foot or two behind the machine. I have no idea how they accomplished that kind of quality in this thin little laptop. I’ve never had a laptop that sounded a tenth as good as this sounds, including other Macs.
MacOS is… still MacOS. I still don’t like it but I’ve used it for many years at work and I’ve learned to live with it. As I said, I’m not into the Apple ecosystem or have any other Apple devices, so all I really need MacOS for is to launch the apps I use. For me, this mostly means a terminal (Alacritty) and a browser (Firefox and Chrome mostly).
I still hate the dock. I’ve tried a few alternatives – cdock (not supported on M1) and ubar. Both are pretty good, but in the long run they wind up being a bit frustrating to use – inconsistencies and things not working just right. I suspect that this comes down to Apple not sanctioning these kinds of UI customizing apps and not supporting the things that they do, if not outright making it harder for them to do those things. So I’ve gone back to the dock and I’m trying to make peace with it.
Summary: I hate to admit how much I like this machine. In spite of it’s 13-inch screen, it’s great for watching videos, listening to music, browsing the web etc. It’s OK for coding, but great for coding on the train or in the car while waiting for my wife to finish shopping or whatever. Although I used it a LOT in the first few weeks, I’m over the honeymoon period and mainly back to my Thinkpad as my main machine. But fairly often I’ll have both machines open in front of me.
The other big change in my technical life was switching Linux desktops environments from XFCE to KDE.
If you’re not into Linux desktops, most of this will go over your head. But unlike MacOS which is severely locked down from a UI viewpoint, Linux almost has too much choice. Beyond all the differences between various distros under the hood, your graphical user environment, display manager, window manager, theming, default applications and a bunch of other stuff are all packaged into what is known as a desktop environment, or DE.
Probably the two most popular DEs are Gnome, which is the default DE on Ubuntu and several other distros, and KDE. Others include XFCE, Mate, Budgie (Solus), Pantheon (Elementary OS), and Cinnamon (Linux Mint). Not a comprehensive list at all, but that goes to my point about too much choice.
All these environments have a different look and feel, different levels of customization, and different opinions on how things should work. For a few years now I’ve been very happy with XFCE. It’s one of the older DEs and has a reputation for being ugly and boring and unchanging. The last point I agree with. The “exciting new features in the latest XFCE” is a bit of a meme – you’d be hard put to tell the last several versions apart. But it’s actually very customizable and can look really nice if themed correctly. The Manjaro distro has a very beautiful and functional implementation of XFCE.
But I’ve been feeling the need to switch things up after so long on one environment.
I don’t like Gnome at all these days. I used to, but it’s been going down a really strange path in terms of limiting customization. It relies almost entirely on 3rd party extensions for adding and customizing it, but does not curate or take any responsibility for those extensions.
I’d tried KDE a few times years ago and always found it over the top in terms of drop shadow, glows, sound effects and gratuitous animations. It felt like a UI that was made in Flash. But I gave it a test a year or so ago and found it a lot better. Toned down all the goofy stuff. Now it looks really slick and professional. KDE also has the reputation of being uber-configurable. Almost every single UI element on the screen can be configured. You can go down a serious rat hole, but if you want configurability, KDE is where it’s at. I came away from that test run knowing that if I ever wanted to move off of XFCE, I would most likely move to KDE.
And so I decided to go with Manjaro KDE this time. I’m really, really liking it so far. More than I thought I would. I’ve gone down a few rat holes configuring things to death, but managed to get out alive. In addition to its built-in options, KDE has a rich ecosystem of 3rd party plugins, similar to Gnome’s extensions, but it seems like they take an active role in curating them, so from what I’ve seen, the quality is much higher than what you see in Gnome.
All that flashy over the top stuff is still available, but it’s not the default anymore. I’ll admit that I turned on the cube rotation effect for switching between virtual desktops – something I recall fondly from early OS X days. Other than that, I’m keeping it pretty understated, and to be honest I find myself recreating my earlier XFCE look and feel.
So I think I’m pretty sold on KDE for now. I’ve committed to using it for several months. But already, I don’t see any compelling reason why I’d go back to XFCE. There’s nothing in XFCE that you can’t do as well or better in KDE. The biggest selling point of XFCE is its minimalism.
So that’s that. If you actually read all of that, hoping for more, I apologize.
So the new Raspberry Pi Pico board came out a few weeks back and there’s all kinds of news about it. For the uninformed, it’s a shift from other RPi boards. Most Pis are single board computers. They run an operating system – usually some Linux-based variant. The Pico is a microprocessor. Basically an Arduino alternative. But a pretty damn powerful one. Two cores, fast, good memory, 26 gpio pins, analogue to digital converter, real time clock, temperature sensor, etc. All for $4. So I grabbed a couple. By the way, if you’re ordering on line, make sure that you buy the header pins. They are not always included by default.
There are a ton of tutorials on line already, most of which are nearly exact clones of each other: solder pins on, plug in it while holding down the bootsel button, drag the micropython uf2 file onto the mounted drive, it will reboot, install Thonny, write a script to make an LED blink. So I’m not going to go through all that. Or you could say I just went through all that in one sentence.
One thing I highly recommend is the “Get Started with MicroPython on Raspberry Pi Pico” book put out by the Pi people themselves. It’s a bit cartoony and starts off really basic. In fact, going all the way through chapter 4 will get you through what most of the tutorials on line cover. But with a lot more depth. There’s several pages on how to solder the pins on. But further chapters get into some pretty good stuff, including various sensors and controls and I2C and SPI control of an LCD panel. Good starter stuff.
Stuff I’ve learned
Ran into lots of snags going through the process of learning this board and figuring out what I even want to do with it. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s really in its infancy. I’m sure that things will get better as time goes on, but there are a lot of rough edges right now. And beyond the book, there’s very little searchable info out there. Unfortunately, there are other boards/technologies out there named “pico” so that clouds your results. Throw in “Rapsberry Pi” into the search and you’re mostly going to get other RPi stuff. But even when you craft a good search, mostly what you’re going to find is the multiple cloned tutorials mentioned above. There is also a scattering of C/C++ tutorials and resources for the Pico. They look dauntingly complex so I have not dived into those yet.
Another problem is that the version of MicroPython that was made for the Pico is a fork of the official version. And it’s very definitely a subset. The official MicroPython documentation is fantastic, but huge swaths of it are just inapplicable to the version that works with the Pico.
For example, MicroPython has a machine module. In the official version, machine contains the following classes:
class Pin – control I/O pins
class Signal – control and sense external I/O devices
class ADC – analog to digital conversion
class UART – duplex serial communication bus
class SPI – a Serial Peripheral Interface bus protocol (master side)
class I2C – a two-wire serial protocol
class RTC – real time clock
class Timer – control hardware timers
class WDT – watchdog timer
class SD – secure digital memory card (cc3200 port only)
class SDCard – secure digital memory card
The ones struck through are not available on the Pico right now. Since the Pico does not have an SD card, the biggest miss there is the RTC class – the Pico has a real time clock, but no way to access it directly. That doesn’t seem too bad, but it extends from there. The Pin class is missing almost half of the methods on the Pico version of MicroPython. Other classes are missing methods as well, and there are several standard Python modules that are part of MicroPython that are missing from the Pico’s version.
All that said though, there is enough there to get you started on most common projects, and as I said, I’m sure this will grow and become more expansive in the coming months.
Tips and Tricks
A few random tricks and tips for using Micropython on the Pico:
When you install the MicroPython editor, Thonny, it will ask you if you want to run in regular mode or in Raspberry Pi mode. Naturally, I chose Pi mode. And naturally I was wrong. Although it seems to work fine, you wind up missing a lot from the UI.
Here’s the Pi mode:
And here it is in regular mode:
I was running in Pi mode for a while and thought it was pretty damn lame. Then I discovered you could go into the options and change it to regular mode. (Also that Pi mode is really called “simple” mode, and there is also an “expert” mode.)
Regular mode gives you full menus, which opens up a massive wealth of features I did not realize even existed. For example, I could find no way to copy files onto the Pico other than opening them up in Thonny and then saving them to the device. But the View menu lets you open a files panel (and a lot more) where you can access files both on your device and your local file system, and “upload” and “download” between the two. Brilliant.
Another gotcha from the book. The book states that by default, gpio input pins are set to be pulldown by default. Pulldown inputs are attached to ground with a resistor and connecting them to positive voltage triggers them. Pullup inputs are connected to a positive voltage with a resistor and connecting them to ground triggers them. If you didn’t pull them one way or the other, stray charges could trigger the inputs. Anyway, the book says that input pins are pulldown and you can create a pin by typing:
pin = machine.Pin(15, machine.Pin.IN)
I did this while testing physical buttons to make an LED turn on. And I was getting all kinds of crazy behavior. If I touched a wire or even just tilted the whole breadboard in a certain direction, the LED was coming on as if I’d pressed the button. I honestly thought that I’d accidentally tapped into some internal accelerometer at one point – I was totally able to control the LED by tilting the board back and forth. After looking up the official MicroPython docs for creating a pin, I found there was a third parameter for controlling pullup/pulldown. So I changed it to:
When I did that – explicitly setting the pin to be pulldown – it was rock solid and worked 100% as expected.
Another question I finally answered for myself is how to have a program run as soon as the Pico boots up. Simple enough – you just name the Python script main.py.
An Alternative Python
There is an alternative to MicroPython though, and that is CircuitPython. As I understand it, CircuitPython is another fork of MicroPython and it is supported on a multitude of microprocessor boards, including the Pico. Because it’s been around a lot longer the the Pico, it is way more expansive in what it supports and has a ton (like 280+) libraries that work with it. CircuitPython is supported by Adafruit, and they’ve also created some really useful libraries, many specifically designed to work with the hardware they sell. So all in all, this is a really great option.
You install CircuitPython the same way you flash the Pico with MicroPython – download a uf2 file, start the Pico while holding down the bootsel button and dragging the uf2 to the mounted drive. It will reboot and be a CircuitPython device now.
One thing to say about CircuitPython is that it is quite different than MicroPython. Although it may be a fork, they forked the hell out of it.
For example, a simple program to blink an LED in MicroPython:
led = machine.Pin(25, machine.Pin.OUT, machine.Pin.PULL_DOWN)
And the same program in CircuitPython:
led = digitalio.DigitalInOut(board.D13)
led.direction = digitalio.Direction.OUTPUT
led.value = True
led.value = False
Not a huge deal, but I think it might be a good idea to choose one and roll with it. You’re not going to be able to run your MicroPython projects on your Pico after you flash it to CircuitPython (and vice versa – though you can simply reflash between the two systems relatively easily).
Personally, I’m torn at the moment. CircuitPython has way more stuff in it and so many existing libraries. But it’s so far different from the standard language, and I’m hoping that the Pi folks will continue to make their implementation more expansive and people will come up with new libraries for it as well.
On the other hand, CircuitPython already has some libraries allowing the Pico to act as an HID device. In other words, you can use it to send keyboard and mouse events to the host computer it’s connected to via USB, good for making custom keyboards or other controllers. And with 26 gpio pins, this winds up being way more useful for complex projects like this than the Arduino Pro Micro clones that I’ve been using. I haven’t found anything in MicroPython to do the same thing, though there is some C++ code out there that seems to support this. I may just end up using both MicroPython and CircuitPython for a while.
More about CircuitPython – the recommended editor is not Thonny, but the Mu Editor. For the most part it seems pretty basic, more like the simple mode of Thonny. No menus or extra panels or anything like the regular mode of Thonny – at least not that I could find. But as an editor, it does have some nice autocompletion and other features that I didn’t see in Thonny.
Something that confused me about Mu: I created a new file and saved it to the Pico and hit the run button, but the other default code.py hello-world type file ran instead. Nothing I could do would make my new file run. It turns out that’s by design. As mentioned, MicroPython devices will auto-run main.py on boot. And CircuitPython will auto-run either code.py or main.py on boot. But Thonny will run whatever active script you have open when you hit run, whereas Mu will always run code.py (or presumably main.py) when you hit run. This can be good or bad. It mimics what will happen when the device boots, but makes it harder to test some other script. The solution recommended is to have code.py or main.py be a simple launcher script that in turn executes some other script. Anyway, good to know.
Another big plus about CircuitPython is that when the device is connected to your computer it also mounts as an external drive. So if you want to add additional libraries to it, you can just drag and drop them to that drive. A bit easier than Thonny’s upload feature.
So that’s some of what I’ve managed to learn so far. As there is very little data out there at the moment, I hope some of this helps people just getting into this new, fun little board.
In the first version of this posts I used the word “robust” several times, indicating that the version of MicroPython for the Pico was not as robust as it hopefully would be in the future and that CircuitPython was more robust. That was the wrong choice of word. Robust in the context of code means that it is able to handle and recover from various unexpected conditions. To say that something is not robust implies that it is unstable. That’s not what I meant to imply.
I changed the word to “expansive”. My intention was to say that the current version of MicroPython on the Pico does not support as many features as it hopefully will and to say that CircuitPython supports more features. Examples are, as I described earlier, the missing RTC class for the real time clock that is in standard MicroPython but not on the Pico. Also, stuff like HID support in the usb_hid library of CircuitPython, but nowhere to be seen in MicroPython (that I can find), as well as all kinds of libraries for working with specific sensors and peripherals that are available for CircuitPython. MicroPython has some of that, but nowhere near what I see in CircuitPython.