I’m Ordering a New Prusa 3D Printer!

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Today has been quite a roller coaster for me!

I was getting ready to 3D-print some stock for my Tindie store yesterday, when I noticed a slight aroma coming from my old MakerFarm Prusa i3 printer. It wasn’t a strong smell, but it seemed odd. I haven’t printed any ABS in almost a month, so I figured I just wasn’t quite remembering the odor of molten ABS.

About one-third of the way through my print, I noticed that the heated bed’s temperature was dropping. I realized that what I had been smelling was either the jacket on the heated bed’s wire or the screw terminal melting.

The print finished, and none of my ABS parts lifted from the bed, so I’m in good shape for a short while. I’ve been hankerin’ for a new 3D printer for a long time, and a hardware failure on my 6-year-old machine seems like a good excuse!

I quickly decided I wanted a Prusa MINI

I argued with my friend Brian about this. The Prusa MINI has a smaller build volume, and a much less robust layout than my old printer. Why on Earth would I downgrade in so many ways?

I only fire up the 3D printer once or twice a month these days. The Prusa MINI should handle my workload just fine, and the MINI has all the features that my ancient printer lacks: auto mesh bed leveling, a filament sensor, recovery from power losses, and ultra-quiet stepper motor drivers. That last part is what I’m most excited about.

I figure that the Prusa MINI ought to be enough 3D printer for 99% of people. Brian kindly pointed out that I might be part of the 1% here. That may have been true before I bought my Shapeoko CNC. Before that, I might have reached for nylon filament when I needed something really durable. Today, I would just cut something out of carbon fiber!

Nylon seems to be within spec for the MINI too. It isn’t in the list of officially supported materials, but the specs claim the extruder can handle 280 degrees Celsius. My prints with Taulman 910 were stronger printer at 285 degrees, but it prints just fine at 275 degrees!

The Prusa MINI ships with all the quality-of-life features I’ve been jealous of, but it doesn’t cost much more than popular budget printers like [the Ender 3][e3].

I was about to order a Prusa MINI. Then I saw that they aren’t going to be shipping new orders until September. That’s at least four months away!

Should I just repair my workhorse of a printer?

In some ways, my ancient MakerFarm printer is absolutely awesome. The stepper motors are oversized and powerful. The old Wade’s extruder with 3mm filament is almost impossible to jam, and I can print that thick TPU filament at 75mm/s! The TPU prints come out ugly with this drippy old Magma hot end, but they print fast and rarely fail!

You should have heard the noise my old printer made when a spool of 3mm ABS got tangled up. The powerful extruder kept pulling and pulling, and it was enough to flex the wooden frame quite a bit. Eventually, the 3mm ABS was pulled too hard, and it snapped! It is the loudest bang I have ever heard in my office. It was quite terrifying and unexpected. I don’t think a Prusa MK3S or MINI could do this.

The MakerFarm i3 was only sold as a kit. I bought this one already assembled from a guy 30 miles north of here. It was very poorly assembled. The Y-axis assembly fell apart on me in the first week, and the wiring is an absolute rat’s nest.

When I saw that I’d have to wait four months for a replacement, I did some troubleshooting. I unscrewed the bed’s wires from the screw terminals, and unbolted the bed from the Y axis. Everything tested fine with a multimeter, but the jacket on these cheap wires was getting brittle.

I soldered on some nice silicone-jacketed wire from my collection of miniquad gear, and I plugged the bed back in. I’m going to tell you that I tested the bed, and it heated right up, but it is unsafe.

One of the melted screw terminal’s threads felt like they gave way right as I got it tightened, and I can see some charring around it. This is a common enough failure on RAMPS boards.

The Infamous Rat's Nest!

Even with these issuess, I wanted to see if the bed was working. I do have a fire extinguisher here in my office, so I wasn’t afraid to give it a short test.

The quick fix to get me safely running until September would be to remove the screw terminal and solder directly to the RAMPS board. If you’ve seen the rat’s nest of cables I’d have to dismantle and reconnect to do this, you wouldn’t want to do it either.

I just realized we haven’t talked about price!

The Prusa MINI looks a bit flimsy, and the build area is a 7” cube. That’s 1” less in each dimension compared to my MakerFarm printer.

The Prusa MK3S’s build area is 9.84” x 8.3” x 8.3”, so it is a little bigger than my dying printer.

The Prusa MINI is $349. The Prusa MK3S DIY kit is $749, and the fully assembled MK3S is $999.

I’m ordering a Prusa MK3S

The lead time on the fully assembled Prusa MK3S is currently 5 to 6 weeks. I’m not happy about it, but I can see surviving 1.5 months without a 3D printer, but waiting 4 months or longer for a Prusa MINI sounds scary!

I enjoyed the idea that I could almost buy three MINIs for the price of a single MK3S. There’s a possibility we may need a small farm of printers for our OoberLights project. If that’s the case, I’d much rather have a trio of Prusa MINIs than a single MK3S, but you can’t always get what you want.

I’m having trouble getting Prusa’s website to let me enter my credit card information. Maybe I’ll have that sorted out before I publish this blog. Maybe I’ll give it a day or so. Maybe I’ll wind up just using Paypal. Who knows. The important thing is that I’ll have a Prusa MK3S at my house in less than two months!

The Prusa MK3S is definitely worth $1,107

That’s the total after shipping, and I’m certain it will be worth every penny.

The MK3S is a much more rigid design. The Prusa MINI has that arm supported on only one side, and that’s generally problematic. You aren’t going to push the MINI much harder than whatever the stock printing speeds are set to. I bet I can crank things up on the MK3S and reach speed and acceleration settings not too far behind my MakerFarm machine.

I wasn’t going to miss the build volume I would have lost by upgrading to the Prusa MINI—my breadboard vise would still fit! Even so, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra room on the MK3S.

Today, I have often had to cancel prints and start over, because my bed and nozzle expand as they warm up. Things seem alright when I check the height, but by the time I hit print, things are a little off. The Prusa’s automatic bed leveling will save me a bunch of time and frustration.

Conclusion

I’m excited, even though I was hoping to put off my upgrade until the next iteration of the Prusa printer, but it looks like that just isn’t in the cards. I’ve been assuming that the Prusa MK4 would include the 32-bit controller from the Prusa MINI, and probably a slew of other neat improvements. I guess I won’t be seeing those improvements improvements for quite a few years, but that’s fine.

What do you think? Should I have waited until September to try the Prusa MINI? Will I be happy that I spent three times as much on the bigger machine? Will I just not care? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Should You Buy a OneWheel or an Electric Unicycle?

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This is a question I had to ask myself earlier this year. Two years ago, I bought a Hover-1 XLS folding scooter, and it has actually been an awesome device. I can throw on my backpack and ride to the park. Maybe I’m riding to the park to fly some FPV miniquads, or maybe I’m going to take my laptop. Either way, the Hover-1 never let me down here.

The problem with the scooter is portability. It weighs a little over 50 pounds, which doesn’t sound too bad, but when you fold it up, it is terribly awkward to lift, and quite tricky to get loaded into the car. That means I never take it with me.

I wanted something I could easily throw into the car. My friend Alex has a OneWheel, and Brian has an electric skateboard. Both of these are quite nifty, and each has advantages over the other.

Brian’s Exway X1 costs less than half as much as a OneWheel XR, weighs half as much, and has a higher top speed.

The OneWheel XR rides much smoother, and I was really excited about how well it rides on grass, but the $1,800 price didn’t seem like a good value to me.

This is just one guy’s opinion!

This post is sprinkled with facts, opinions, and things that seem to be true. I’m just one guy that has stood on a OneWheel once and been riding EUCs for about 500 miles.

I’m just one guy, and I’m learning. Even the most experienced EUC riders are still learning. This class of vehicle is still in its infancy. Even so, there are plenty of people with orders of magnitude more riding experience than me!

I think you should trust what I’m saying because I’ve been putting a lot of thought and research into this stuff over the past six months. I also think you should do more research!

What about electric unicycles? (EUC)

I didn’t have any friends with electric unicycles, but I did once meet two nice gentlemen at the park that were riding EUCs sometime last summer. I’m pretty sure they were riding InMotion V10 unicycles, but I can’t be sure.

When we were done chatting, I watched them take off at quite a fast pace. They showed me that their unicycles had absolutely no trouble riding fast through the grass too.

I looked up the InMotion V10. It has two or three times the range of a OneWheel XR, a higher top speed, a much more powerful motor, and it costs $500 less. I was having trouble understanding why anyone would buy a OneWheel at this point.

If you can ride a skateboard, you can ride a OneWheel!

Maybe. Probably. The skills are pretty similar.

I’ve never ridden a skateboard, and I was able to stand on a OneWheel without falling down. I didn’t get far, but I was confident that I could get the hang of it.

EUCs have a steep learning curve!

This is the biggest downside to electric unicycles. No one is going to climb on one and ride down the street on their first attempt.

It took me two or three days just to figure out how to get on the thing and ride in a straight line. Once things click in your mind, though, the rest comes easily.

I tried to teach my wife how to ride, but she hasn’t figured it out yet.

Which single-wheeled personal electric vehicle is safer?

I’ve been riding for just over 500 miles now, and I just had my first real fall. While learning, all I ever had to do was step off and jog away. One time, on slippery ground, my little InMotion V5F slid out from under me, and I was able to hop off and just take a few steps.

This time, though, I really fell. I wasn’t moving fast at the time, I just goofed up. I scuffed up my wrist guards, got some minor brush burns on my elbow and knee, and I somehow bruised my second toe on my right foot.

This is only based on my own thoughts and experiences, and I’m not at all experienced with the OneWheel, so take this for what it is worth. When your feet are side by side on an EUC, it is easy to step off and start jogging when something goes wrong. I can’t imagine how I’d straighten my body out to do the same on a OneWheel.

What about speed warnings?

I am told there are no audible alerts on the OneWheel. It does tilt back a bit when you near its top speed, but I keep reading that this is not an easy thing to feel due to your stance on the OneWheel. Unicycles also tilt back as their final warning. I’ve not gone fast enough to reach tiltback on my Tesla, but the tiltback sensation on my InMotion V5F is very obvious.

As far as I know, all EUCs have at least one audible warning that kicks in before tiltback occurs. My little InMotion V5F starts beeping at just over 15 mph, and tiltback occurs just before 17 mph. I keep reading that tiltback on an EUC generally happens 2 or 3 mph before the wheel won’t be able to keep up with you, and I believe this, because I have hit 19 mph on my V5F.

I’ve read that the margin between feeling tiltback and landing flat on your face is significantly wider on most EUCs than it is on the OneWheels.

Most EUCs have a built-in trolley handle, just like your luggage. If you stop at a convenient store or need to cross the street, you can just extend the handle and push your unicycle along. The motor does all the work, you just have to guide it.

OneWheels are pretty awkward to carry.

If you go too fast on either machine, you will fall forward!

On these single-wheeled machines, you are in constantly falling forward, and the wheel is trying to catch up to stay under your feet. If the wheel runs out of available power, and you’re still trying to lean forward even harder, you’re going to tip over!

NOTE: This was my first real fall in 500 miles of riding.

If you reach this speed on a OneWheel, you’re going to go into a nose dive, and the front pedal is going to scrape the ground. If that front pedal gets caught on something, the machine is going to attempt to catapult you off.

If you’re near the top speed of my little InMotion V5F when this happens, you might be able to jog to safety. If you’re all the way up at the potential 37 mph top speed of my Gotway Tesla, you’re probably going down, and you better be wearing lots of protective gear!

Advantages of the OneWheel

On paper, just about any EUC you can buy matches or beats the OneWheel XR, but I’ve noticed after riding with OneWheels that they do have some significant advantages over my EUCs!

The sideways stance makes it so much easier to look behind yourself. You can see if a bike or car is going to try to pass you, or easily see out onto the road if you want to transition from the sidewalk onto the road. It is also easier to have a conversation with a friend that is following you!

The extreme width of the OneWheel’s gokart tire gives it another big advantage. It is easy to balance on a OneWheel while at a complete stop. You aren’t going to be doing this on an EUC!

I already mentioned that learning to ride a OneWheel is much easier. The higher sticker price of the OneWheel XR might be worth that savings in time to you!

Advantages of an EUC

Bang for the buck is the most obvious advantage EUCs have over OneWheels. I’m certain my thinking is a bit biased here, because I managed to get [a refurbished InMotion V5F][v5f] for only $399. They’re not in InMotion’s store at that price very often, and that’s less than half the price of a OneWheel Pint.

NOTE: Refurbished V5F wheels are rarely in stock in InMotion’s store, and it seems that the price listed in the store has gone up to $499 since I bought mine!

Even at full price, though, the V5F still costs less than a OneWheel Pint, but its range and speed are more comparable to the $1,800 OneWheel XR. I should mention at this point that I don’t recommend the InMotion V5F at full price. There are better EUCs available at that price point, but it is an absolute steal if you can snag one for $399!

Once you’re around the price of the $950 OneWheel Pint, EUCs start to have significant advantages over even the OneWheel XR: more range, more powerful motors, higher cruising and top speeds, and even Bluetooth speakers.

  OneWheel XR InMotion V5F Gotway Tesla
Weight 27 lbs 25 lbs 42 lbs
Motor 750 watt 550 watt 1900 watt
Speed 19 mph (top) 15 mph 30 mph (cruising)
33+ mph (top, maybe)
Range 12-18 miles 14-15 miles 40-50 miles
Price $1,799 $399 refurb $1,450

NOTE: Range and top speed of the InMotion V5F are based on my own experiences. I’m well above the recommended rider weight at about 205 pounds.

Even if you’re not riding fast, having a more powerful motor and higher top speed give you a bigger safety margin. When you’re riding fast, and you hit a hard bump, your self-balancing machine will need to call upon extra power to keep you upright. Riding closer to the edge means you’re more likely to fall!

Disadantages of the OneWheel

You don’t get a lot of range or speed for the price. At $1,800, you’re getting close to the price of the Gotway MSX Pro. That’s a machine with up to 100 miles of range, a 2,500-watt motor with insane torque, and a top speed of 37 mph. The MSX Pro significantly outclasses the OneWheel XR!

The weak motor in the OneWheel concerns me. My friend Alex has “fangs” installed on his OneWheel XR. These are meant to help save you if you overtilt your OneWheel by letting the front pedal roll along the ground. Alex enjoys stomping hard on the OneWheel to get it going and forcing the front pedal and fangs down onto the ground so the front end scrapes as he rides.

This might be fun, and it might be cool, but the fact that you can overpower the OneWheel XR’s motor like this terrifies me! There’s no way I could stomp on my 1,900-watt Tesla hard enough to make the front end tilt down anywhere near that far. I know which machine I’m going to trust to keep me upright.

OneWheels also appear difficult to carry. My friend Alex has a homemade paracord handle on his OneWheel, while all my unicycles have carry handles built right in.

Disadvantages of an electric unicycle

For starters, EUCs are perceived as looking uncool. Standing sideways on a skateboard or snowboard is cool, while facing forward while skiing or riding a unicycle isn’t.

I have a blind spot directly behind my head. My friend Tanner is younger, skinnier, and more flexible than I am. He seems to have an easier time turning his head farther than I can without making significant changes to his direction of travel on his unicycle. OneWheel and skateboard riders have no trouble at all looking directly behind.

The EUCs that significantly beat the OneWheel XR on range and performance are quite a bit heavier than a OneWheel. Sure, my little $399 InMotion V5F weighs about as much as a OneWheel, but it does lag behind a bit on performance. My Tesla weighs 42 pounds, and I sure don’t want to carry it far at all!

My own experience

I’ve bought two unicycles so far. One is nearly comparable to the OneWheel XR by most measures, and the other outperforms the OneWheel quite handily. In total, I’ve still spent less on these two wheels than the cost of the OneWheel XR.

If I had to spend $1,800, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into any of these single-wheel machines. I have no idea how to ride a skateboard. What on Earth would make me think I’d be able to learn to ride a OneWheel? How disappointed would I be if I spent that much money and realized that I couldn’t ride it?

The lack of portability is what pushed me down this road, but portability is the only thing the OneWheel XR beats my old Hover-1 XLS on. That scooter has comparable range, is only 1 mph short of the OneWheel XR’s top speed, but the OneWheel costs over three times as much. $1,800 felt like a lot to pay for such a lateral move.

When I saw the refurbished InMotion V5F in InMotion’s store for $399 shipped, I just couldn’t pass it up. I’m on the heavy side for such an underpowered wheel, but at that price, it sure seemed like a great way to see if these unicycles were for me.

I beat the crap out of that V5F during the first few weeks. Aside from the scrapes, it is holding up quite well. I’ve ridden it more than 14 miles on a single charge with a reasonable amount of capacity left in the tank. I hit its 15 mph warning beeps all the time, and I’ve reached more than 18 mph. I managed to put 357 miles on the little guy before his replacement arrived.

If I were riding alone, I wouldn’t have upgraded. My wife upgraded to an Aventon Pace 350 e-bike, so she can ride dozens of miles before running out of battery. My friend Tanner rides with us on his Gotway MSX Pro, so he has 70 or 80 miles of range. My 14-to-15 mile range was starting to hold us back, and they both regularly hit 20 mph, so I was often in the back playing catch-up.

I upgraded to a Gotway Tesla, and I’ve put about 100 miles on it so far. I haven’t run its battery down anywhere near empty yet, but it is looking like I will be seeing somewhere around 40 miles to a charge. It is supposed to be capable of cruising at 30 mph, but I have yet to break 25 mph. I’m just not that brave! I do regularly ride at 20 mph, though.

The Tesla is normally priced at $1,575, but it was on sale when I bought it for $1,350. I’m not sure if the Tesla would have been my choice if it wasn’t on sale, but I’m extremely happy with it so far!

NOTE: It is unfortunate that refurbished InMotion V5F unicycles are rarely in stock!

I wouldn’t buy a OneWheel

In my opinion, the offerings from OneWheel are overpriced, too slow, and lack range.

As you approach $2,000, you start finding electric unicycles with 80 miles of range, 2,500 watt motors, 40 mph top speeds, and even some brand new models with a proper suspension. Any of the unicycles in this price range from Gotway or King Song outclass OneWheel’s best offerings by miles.

There are even awesome little unicycles like the 84-volt version of the Gotway MTen3 that meet or beat all the specs of the OneWheel XR, while somehow managing to only cost $50 more than the OneWheel Pint.

Choice in electric unicycles is a blessing and a curse

OneWheel gives you two choices. That’s it. The XR or the Pint. Not much to think about.

I’m just looking at eWheels, and they have nearly 20 unicycles from three different manufacturers with prices ranging from $400 to $2,850. Outside of eWheels, you’ll find a handful of offering from Segway and Ninebot as well.

I think it is awesome that there are so many choices. There’s almost certainly an option that perfectly meets your needs, but I can totally see lots of people suffering from analysis paralysis!

You have to trust the machine

When you’re hurtling down the road at 20 mph with a single wheel, you have to rely on the machine’s brain, electric motor, and batteries to keep you from falling flat on your face. You need to ride a machine you can trust.

Don’t just trust the machine I tell you to trust. Put some serious thought into it and question everything you are told!

I am quite confident that my Gotway Tesla’s 1,900-watt motor will always have enough power to keep me upright, especially since I don’t plan on cruising at speeds anywhere near its 30 mph limit.

My little [InMotion V5F][v5f] never failed to keep me upright even though it only has a little 550-watt motor. Is that always going to be the case? Will I ever hit a rough enough bump at 14 mph where 550 watts just isn’t enough to keep the machine under my feet?

Its top speed is only 15 mph. Would I trust the OneWheel XR’s 700-watt motor to always keep me upright at 19 or 20 mph? I’m not so sure.

For what it is worth, I would also trust a OneWheel

Sure, most EUCs have several layers of warnings before you get into the danger zone, and that danger zone will be harder to reach than on a OneWheel.

Even so, I wouldn’t be afraid to own and ride a OneWheel. I wouldn’t have as much faith in it at 20 mph as I have in my Tesla, but I would still ride the OneWheel!

Let’s face it. You’re already contemplating buying one sort of machine or another where the only things separating your face from the pavement are a helmet and a computer. Your risk-to-reward math is already tilted towards the riskier side!

If you buy an EUC, you better be ready to practice and have patience!

If you buy a OneWheel, I imagine you’ll be up and riding in minutes, and you’ll quickly be on your way to proficiency.

If you buy an EUC, you’re going to work hard just to figure out how to get on the thing, and you’re going to work even harder to successfully ride 15 feet. You’ll be jumping off a lot. You’ll be failing a lot.

Riding an EUC just isn’t intuitive. So much of what your reflexes do to keep you balanced will knock you off balance. Many of the adjustments you need to make on a unicycle are the opposite of your instincts. Just keep trying, and something will click.

Once things click, you won’t be able to explain what you’re doing differently. You’ll just be able to ride.

Don’t practice too much in a single session. If you’re not making any progress, sleep on it, and try the next day. It took me 3 or 4 days before things clicked, but I didn’t put in a whole lot of time on any of those days!

I am most definitely on Team EUC

I tend to be a very practical guy. I have trouble spending more to get less. From that point of view, there is no way I could have brought myself to purchase a OneWheel.

I may have questioned my sanity once or twice during those first few days when I was trying to ride my InMotion V5F, but once I got over the hump, there was no looking back.

I would trade my speed, power, or range just to look cooler riding a OneWheel!

To be fair, I wouldn’t look cool no matter what I am riding!

Conclusion

Keep in mind that I am just one guy with opinions. Yours are probably different, and we’d like to hear about them. If your goal is to have fun and look cool, there’s no way I’m going to talk you out of riding a OneWheel. In fact, I don’t want to talk you out of it! OneWheels are fine! They just aren’t for me.

What do you think? Are you on Team OneWheel? Do you prefer the extra power, range, and top speed of being on Team EUC? Do you think I’m silly for buying a Gotway Tesla in 2020? Are you riding an EUC or OneWheel, or are you looking to become a rider? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Our OoberLights Prototype Boards are Lighting Up!

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I’m super excited. Super duper excited! We’ve been working on the OoberLights project for quite some time. The first time I blogged about it was in May of last year, but I know we’d already spent several months hashing out the idea before then. The screenshots of the board that I used in that blog post were using the tiny WS2812 LEDs. They didn’t even exist when we started designing the board, so we were definitely already a good way into the project by May.

I don’t recall what was slowing us down. We had a few quiet months in there, but by the end of 2019, we were just about ready to pull the trigger and order the first batch of boards. Then Chinese New Year slowed us down, then COVID-19 hit. We started uploading files to PCBWay to get our quote on February 26. We went back and forth a few times answering their questions, and we finally got to pay for our order on March 5.

The boards arrived on Friday, April 23. On Sunday night, we got on a video call and started testing the first board.

What’s involved in testing the OoberLights boards

Our designer was worried that something would go wrong in his power supply circuits. Our board is designed to take a 5-volt input via USB, then it needs to supply 3.3 volts to the ESP8266 and 3.9 volts to the WS28212 LEDs. We’re also set up to take lithium-ion voltage input on an optional battery connector.

If his math was wrong, or he accidentally chose the wrong part, one of those voltages could have been out of spec, and it would be a HUGE bummer if we plugged in power and all the LEDs immediately burned out. Even if the power supplies were bad, it would be nice if we could just bypass them with external hardware. That way we could still test the ESP8266 and WS2812 LEDs and get some code written!

Our awesome hardware designer cut about a dozen of the power traces in the design and left solder pads for me to bridge, and the board is littered with test points for taking measurements. That way we could connect things up one section at a time.

He did a good job. All the power components were in spec, and nothing burned out!

This is where things got a little rocky

We were able to power the board via battery or USB, but the USB interface wasn’t working. Every time I plugged it into my computer, the Linux kernel was constantly attempting to reset the port and complaining about bad cables.

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[6952390.844066] usb 3-2-port1: attempt power cycle
[6952392.091827] usb 3-2-port1: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
[6952393.036179] usb 3-2-port1: Cannot enable. Maybe the USB cable is bad?
[6952393.036442] usb 3-2-port1: unable to enumerate USB device

The USB chip is small. The components that connect to it are tiny. We decided this was a good point to take a break. Our awesome designer was tasked with deliberating over the schematics, and I was tasked with digging out my FTDI board and manually flashing the ESP8266 using the programming pins we have exposed on the board.

It took a day or two before I could find where my FTDI board was hiding, find a spare mini USB cable, and get some code running on this thing. When I finally did, the news was good. Everything was working!

The truth is that I couldn’t have been more pleased with where we were at that point. The microcontroller worked. WiFi worked. The LEDs were way brighter than they need to be. The only thing that wasn’t working was the USB interface.

Even if I wound up being completely incapable of manually fixing the USB problem with my soldering iron, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. I could have ordered up some FTDI boards, soldered them to our programming header, and happily sent any of these 10 boards to developers and testers.

We got the USB port working!

I’m glad I sat on this for a day or two. The initial suggestions involved hairy tasks. Things like disconnecting one leg on that tiny chip and connecting it directly to one of the other chips that happens to be the tiniest thing on the board, or adding minuscule capacitors in difficult places.

I’m not smart enough to understand how many new ideas actually came up, or which plans were just slight modifications of previous plans. At one point, though, our amazing designer said something I could understand. He told me to try bypassing the resistor labeled R9.

Connect a wire from one end of a tiny component to another! He was speaking my language! I can do this!

I plugged the test board into my computer and kept an eye on dmesg output. It was repeating the same error messages over and over again. Then I touched both sides of the resistor with the ends of a Dupont breadboard wire. Dupont connectors have rather thin but quite rigid conductors at the ends, so this was the best instrument I had on hand for the job.

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[7100125.189710] usb 1-9: new full-speed USB device number 61 using xhci_hcd
[7100125.489721] usb 1-9: New USB device found, idVendor=1a86, idProduct=7523, bcdDevice= 2.63
[7100125.489723] usb 1-9: New USB device strings: Mfr=0, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
[7100125.489724] usb 1-9: Product: USB2.0-Serial
[7100125.497488] ch341 1-9:1.0: ch341-uart converter detected
[7100125.508561] usb 1-9: ch341-uart converter now attached to ttyUSB0

As soon as I looked up, I saw the message that a USB serial device was connected!

After three or four attempts, I even somehow managed to hold the Dupont cable in place while flashing the ESP8266. Everything was working!

Soldering a tiny bodge wire was fiddly, and it took me at least 4 different attempts. I would get the wire in place, it would look fine, but it wouldn’t work. I’d push down on the second solder point with my thumbnail, and it would immediately connect. Three or four more attempts, and I got it working.

One of the prototypes isn’t currently in the building, so I can’t bypass the resistor on that one. I have bypassed the resistor and flashed my test firmware on the remaining eight prototype units that I have on hand. I couldn’t get the USB serial interface to work on only one of those boards, but I was able to manually flash the firmware and see the blinkenlights, so the board isn’t a total loss.

I’ve done a bad job keeping track of things. I know for certain that on one of these boards, I accidentally touched a tiny component near the resistor with the soldering iron. Was that the board that isn’t working correctly? I have no idea!

What’s next for the OoberLights project?!

On the hardware side, we have a few fixes ready to go, and we’ve already come up with a handful of important upgrades. I don’t want to tell you too much about the upgrades. If they don’t work out, I would feel bad about crushing your dreams!

We’ve only just barely begun writing software. Everything we have running on there so far is just one sort of test pattern or another.

The OoberLights board is going to be Butter, What?!’s first product. What is it going to take to get this open-source product to market?

First of all, we need to be able to sell at least several hundred OoberLights boards. We need to have a reasonably large batch produced to get the per-unit pricing down to an acceptable level.

We have some pretty good estimates on what an order of 100, 200, or 300 boards will cost. We still have to design brackets and face plates for ATX case mounting. Designing is easy, and we can do the 3D printing and CNC work to fulfill early orders, but we will have to get quotes on having this stuff done in larger quantities.

This brings us to the software.

Minimum viable product?

I hate using these three words, but they keep knocking around in my head.

When the idea for the OoberLights board was much less uber than it is today, all it had was a single ring of LEDs. The LEDs weren’t even RGB! The software was going to be so simple. Progress bars, clock-like widgets, and maybe up to four LEDs spinning round and round at different speeds.

Writing the code to do that over a serial port would be a cakewalk. It would require almost zero planning and an evening or two at the keyboard.

Now we have WiFi, colors, brightness levels, and a whole lot more pixels. The more I think about it, the more complicated it gets. I want all of the potential complexity to be handled by the software on the OoberLights. Everything should be simple for the end user.

NOTE: This is where a video of the spinner and progress bars should go. I haven’t written any code for that yet!

I could write three long blog posts about the things I want the OoberLights to be able to do, and why those things are more complicated than they seem.

For now, I think we need to focus on building that minimum viable product. We need spinners, progress bars, and clocks. That’s it. If we have that, we have something cool for someone to put in their case or on their desk.

All the cooler stuff can be added over time.

The sooner I can put these up for sale, the sooner I can order a big batch of boards. When I order a big batch, I can get OoberLights boards into more developers’ hands. I don’t believe for a minute that if I build these, developers will come, but we are going to quickly run out of hardware with only 9 working prototypes!

Some test code is available on GitLab

The test code is rudimentary and slapdash. Once we got to the point where we were able to flash code to the ESP8266, I was in a rush to see if the LEDs would actually light up! I grabbed the Arduino IDE, loaded one of the Neopixel library’s test sketches, made some tweaks, and pushed it over to the OoberLights board.

That was a success, and I’ve been building on top of that ever since. Once I got three test patterns loaded, I was trying to test the power usage at various brightness levels. Needing to flash a new build just to change the test pattern or brightness was a pain, so I wound up borrowing my home automation’s very basic web server code.

The web server can be problematic. Some of our test patterns take several seconds before ever returning to the main loop, which tends to make web calls time out. It does the job for now, but it is annoying!

I’m hopeful that we can use the Arduino IDE for all our development. That makes the OoberLights easily hackable by the widest possible audience, and I’m excited about that. I’m certain we could squeeze more out of the hardware if we use the ESP8266 SDK instead, but the CPU on the ESP8266 is overkill for our needs, so I’m not worried about giving up some performance, storage, or memory if it makes development easier for the masses!

Conclusion

I’m going to say we have nine fully functional prototypes. We’ll be getting those into the hands of developers and testers soon. We have some ideas for upgrades on the second prototype. I’ve asked our designer to hold off on making those changes until after we hear back from our testers.

What do you think of the OoberLights? Are we making something cool? Are we on the right track? Do you need something like this in your FreeNAS server? Let us know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with us about it!

Have I Outgrown My InMotion V5F Electric Unicycle?

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The simple answer to this question is no. I have not outgrown my little $399 refurbished InMotion V5F. For my personal needs, I can still get a lot more out of this little guy. It has no trouble taking me to the park with my laptop backpack so I can work there. It can take me to fun little flying spots for my FPV miniquads nearby too.

The InMotion V5F is definitely holding me back. I hit the 15 mph speed warning quite often. For the most part, I am OK with this. That’s the speed limit on the bike paths at my local park, and I feel like going much faster than this will be the different between being able to jog to a stop when I fall off the wheel vs. landing flat on my face and breaking my jaw.

NOTE: I am aware this isn’t footage of an EUC. I haven’t yet had a chance to get some drone chase footage of one! I’ll update it when I get the opportunity!

I didn’t buy my unicycle to go fast. I didn’t buy it to do tricks. I bought it to take me on the last few miles of my journeys.

My riding friends are outgrowing my unicycle!

My wife has been going riding with me most days of the week since the coronavirus hit. She was riding my old Hover-1 XLS scooter, and I was able to keep up with her, and my V5F has a little more range than the scooter.

She’s upgraded to an Aventon Pace 350 electric bike. The Pace 350 can reach 20 mph with the throttle, and can reach even higher speeds if she pedals. The Hover-1 XLS maxes out at 17 or 18 mph. She’s been using the pedal assist most of the time instead of the throttle, and she’s managed to go 12 miles on the Pace 350 and only use about 10% of a charge.

That’s the bigger problem now. She has significantly more range than me!

Our friend Tanner bought the absolutely insane Gotway MSX Pro electric unicycle, and he’s been riding with us a few times a week. His monster of a machine can reach 37 mph, and at the lower speeds we ride at, he probably has nearly 100 miles of range.

Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro skateboard can easily reach speeds over 20 mph too. At least he doesn’t beat me on range, though, right?!

Tanner and my wife can ride pretty much anywhere without getting range anxiety. Last time we rode together, we had to chose a route home where I wouldn’t run out of juice. That was disappointing!

I’m writing this blog post to help me decide if I should upgrade!

I’ve pretty much convinced myself that I’m going to order a bigger EUC. I will most likely do it when I’m finished writing this post. I figure writing things down to explain my reasoning to you might manage to change my mind. I doubt it, but I’m going to give it a try anyway!

I didn’t anticipate riding just for the fun of it

At least not as often as I have been. I expected the unicycle to be just like my scooter. I would take it out mostly when I wanted to go somewhere. I blame COVID-19 for all the fun I’m having just going out for rides.

Until recently, I only rode by myself. Now my wife rides along with me most days, and Brian and Tanner have been joining us a few times a week. We aren’t going out to accomplish anything. We’re going out just for the sake of going out.

I expect this to slow down when it is 105 degrees in the shade every day in July, and it might also slow down if COVID-19 ever goes away. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to assume that riding electric unicycles is one of my new hobbies!

What I like about my InMotion V5F

We already know what I need to improve. The V5F doesn’t have enough power or battery capacity, but there are things I really like about the little guy!

I bought the InMotion V5F because InMotion had a refurbished unit in stock for $399. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to ride a unicycle, and even if I could, I didn’t know how much I would use the thing. At that price, it was a no-brainer to give it a shot.

I really like the weight of the InMotion V5F. It comes in at about 25 pounds. That’s half the weight of my Hover-1 scooter. Tanner’s beefy Gotway MSX Pro is more than twice as heavy. The unicycles I’m looking at are probably 80% heavier than my V5F.

This is a pretty big deal to me. The first time I rode Tanner’s MSX, I leaned into what would have put me into a turn with about a 6’ diameter on my V5F, but it was barely enough to force that big machine to change lanes! The InMotion V5F feels like a Miata compared to these other wheels.

I’m realizing that the things I like about the InMotion V5F all revolve around its light weight. It is easy to carry, and it is so much more maneuverable than a heavy wheel.

My experience with heavy unicycles

I’ve probably only put a ¼ mile on Tanner’s MSX Pro. As someone who learned on a light wheel, riding the MSX Pro was such a weird experience!

NOTE: I can’t decide if I’m supposed to call the thing the MSuper Pro or [MSX Pro]. Both seem to be acceptable, so I’m going to stick with the simpler form.

When I tried to get on, I had a lot of trouble puzzling out just how hard to shift my weight to set the thing level. I put my second foot up, and the wheel was leaning a bit to one side, so I shifted my weight hard to the other side, and MSX didn’t budge. If I leaned that hard on my little InMotion V5F, the thing would have tumped right over!

Turning these heavy wheels is a lot more work, but they are definitely more stable. I’ve taken Tanner’s MSX onto the grass a few times. His wide 18” wheel handles the lumpy terrain so much nicer than my narrower 14” wheel. I also noticed that on his wheel, I can start climbing a grassy hill, come to nearly a complete stop, then lean forward and power up the rest of the hill. My little 550-watt wheel can’t do that!

On the same day I tried Tanner’s MSX for the first time, we ran into our new friend John near the end of our ride. He offered to let me ride his King Song 18XL. I was already tired from riding 10 miles, we were on a narrow sidewalk, and I was nervous about dropping a stranger’s EUC. He said it would be OK if I dropped it, but I still didn’t want to.

I had the same problem mounting John’s 18XL as I did Tanner’s MSX Pro. I figured it was going to feel much like the MSX to me, and I didn’t want to drop it, so I decided not to take it for a ride. I’m only just learning right now that the 18XL weighs nearly 50 pounds, so it is a pretty hefty machine too!

I’m envious of how well Tanner can handle going up steps. No, he can’t climb real steps. I’ve watched him transition from the grass to the sidewalk when the sidewalk is 2” or 3” higher than the grass without any problems. I sometimes get hung up on my smaller bumps, assuming I’m moving too slow.

Which electric unicycles are you looking at, Pat?!

The day I rode Tanner’s MSX Pro, I came home and browsed the selection at ewheels.com. I saw that the King Song 16S was on sale for $1,150. It is currently listed at $1,250. I’m not sure if this is a problem with my memory, or if the price went up.

This seemed like a fantastic fit. I’m getting 14 to 15 miles per charge on my InMotion V5F, and the 16S has about 2.5 times the battery capacity. Even if I ride faster, it should still have at least double the range. The King Song 16S claims to have a cruising speed of 22 mph, which should be more than enough to keep up with Chris’s Pace 350. The King Song 16S’s 1,200 watt motor easily outclasses my V5F’s 550 watt motor, too!

  InMotion V5F King Song 16S Gotway Tesla V2
Weight 25 lbs 38.5 lbs
Cruise Speed 15 mph 22 mph 30 mph
Power 550w 1200w 1200w
Range 14 miles 35-40 miles 40-50 miles
Full Price $699 $1,475 $1,575
Sale Price $399 refurb $1,250 $1,350

When I checked the prices last night, I was surprised that the 16S was listed for $100 more than I remembered, but now the Gotway Tesla V2 is on sale for $1,350!

The Tesla is a pretty big upgrade over the King Song 16S. In fact, it would probably be more fair to compare the Tesla to Tanner’s MSX Pro!

The Tesla has a 30 mph cruising speed, more than 3 times as much battery capacity as my V5F, and its 1,900 watt motor is nearly four times more powerful. It is quite an upgrade over the KingSong 16S for only $100 more.

The InMotion V5F is a steal at $399

If you’re looking to buy your first electric unicycle, and InMotion has a refurbished V5F in stock for $399, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend buying it. You get a ton of value for your money. The trouble is that there are almost NEVER refurbished V5F wheels available in the InMotion store.

At its full price of $699, I don’t think I could recommend the V5F. You can get a King Song 14D with a more powerful motor from ewheels.com for only $50 more.

Another interesting option if you’re on a budget is the Gotway MTen3. It is only a 10” wheel, so it won’t be as stable as the InMotion V5F, but it has an 800-watt motor like the KingSong 14D, and top speed of 23 mph. The MTen3 is quite a value at $599.

I’ve been envious of the MTen3 for a while, but I wouldn’t want my only wheel to be a 10” wheel. Now that I’m about to order a Gotway Tesla, I’m really wishing my extra wheel was an MTen3!

You’re going to bang up your first electric unicycle

I’m so glad I bought the refurbished InMotion V5F for $399 as my first unicycle. This poor thing has so many scuffs, scrapes, and cracks in it just from me learning to ride the thing! Not only that, but I tried to teach my wife to ride it, and Tanner learned to ride my V5F before he even ordered his Gotway MSX Pro.

Everything I read said that the underpowered 550-watt motor on the V5F would make it a difficult wheel to learn on. I’ll never get to learn again, so I have no way to know just how true this is.

I think it is a good idea to learn on a wheel that you don’t care about dropping. That might be a $399 refurbished InMotion V5F, or a used unicycle. That’s what I did, so now I expect it will take quite a while before I make my new Gotway Tesla look ugly!

Why not go all the way up to an MSX Pro?

I believed there was a good chance that my wife would wind up stealing my InMotion V5F from me. If that happened, I would have shopped for a faster, more powerful EUC for myself, but weight would still have been a concern. The Gotway Tesla that I’m contemplating ordering would have been at the very high end of my weight limit.

Chris didn’t learn to ride a EUC. She ended up ordering an electric bike. That means I still have the V5F available whenever I need it. Weight doesn’t matter if I can always just throw the V5F in the car for short rides, right? Why not buy a 55-pound unicycle?

I did think about it. I decided that the MSX Pro is overkill for my needs. I don’t need that much power or range. I’m also hopeful that a 38-pound 16-inch wheel steers less like a truck than the 55-pound, 18-inch MSX Pro.

The Tesla seems like the MSX Pro’s little brother

I’ve decided that the King Song 16S is the Camaro Z28 to the entry-level Camaro of my V5F. The Tesla, MSX, and MSX Pro are like a Corvette, Corvette Z06, and a Corvette ZR-1.

With the Tesla, I’m getting 80% to 85% of the performance of the MSX Pro at 65% of the cost. The only math I did to back up this claim is on the price. The other two numbers are a rough guess, but I bet you’d agree that I’m not far off.

If you’ve ever owned a sports car, you know that you don’t get to open them up all that often. Even when you do have the opportunity to be aggressive with the throttle, you don’t usually get to open them up all the way. If we’re both commuting to work, and I’m driving a ZR-1 and you’re driving a base Corvette, there’s nothing different about our commutes.

Even if we get to drive them wide open for a stretch, we’re probably not going to notice the difference. If you take both cars to the track, it is going to be a different story. I know exactly how often I used to get to take my car to the track when I was into that sort of thing.

My Corvette analogy breaks down a bit when you consider that the MSX Pro was just released while the King Song 16S and the Gotway Tesla are models from more than two years ago.

Conclusion

I had already talked myself into ordering the Gotway Tesla from ewheels.com two or three headings ago. It has already been ordered. I have a tracking number, and it is supposed to arrive in three days.

I’m a bit disappointed that I’m upgrading my starter unicycle less than six months after I bought it. I blame Tanner. If he didn’t buy a 37-mph EUC, I wouldn’t be constantly struggling to keep up!

What do you think? Are you already riding an EUC, OneWheel, electric skateboard, or an e-bike? Do you think I made a good choice when I settled on the Tesla? Should I have opted for something even bigger, or will I think even the Tesla is too big? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Was a Guest On The Creativity Podcast Again!

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We’ve been under some level of quarantine for quite a while already. Last week, I saw Jeremy Cook tweet about staying at home, and what a huge change this HASN’T been for him. I figured I’d poke at him with the suggestion that they need to do an isolation episode of The Creativity Podcast.

Jeremy seemed to think it was a good idea, and he asked if I’d like to be on again. A couple of days later, we were recording another fine episode of Jeremy Cook and Max Maker’s podcast!

I haven’t listened yet, but my wife listened last night. I asked her how I did. All she said was, “You lied to them!”

I was hurt! I don’t remember telling any lies whatsoever!

She said, “When we were riding at the park, I didn’t hear the lady say ‘There goes that guy again!’ You heard her say that!”

She’s correct. This is what I remember as well. I must have goofed up the story a bit. I hope I didn’t ruin it!

Do you think I can remember what we talked about? Here’s what I can recall:

I had a good time. We were a bit rowdy and probably more than a little offensive during pregame. I asked if I should tone myself down, but Max and Jeremy didn’t suggest that I should, though I did do my best not to offend anyone in the audience.

I had a good time talking. I hope you have a good time listening! Go check out my episode of The Creativity Podcast and all the other episodes too!

Let me know how I did in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Wish Windows 10 Worked Better on Tablets

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A little over three years ago, I bought a Chuwi Hi12 2-in-1 tablet. It was an amazing piece of hardware for the price, even if it was woefully underpowered. It uses the same beautiful display as whatever version of the Surface Pro was current back in 2016, so it looks quite good.

It has a lot of shortcomings. The keyboard is usually OK, but sometimes it has trouble staying connected to the tablet. Did I mention that the Chuwi Hi12 is slow? I knew that before I bought it.

I’m not here to talk about the problems specific to this $300 tablet I bought in 2016.

I used the Chuwi as my portable blogging, web surfing, and social media machine for 6 to 12 months. I occasionally wake it back up for a week or so when my big laptop is just too big and heavy to haul around.

I’m doing that again this week, because I learned that I can fit my Chuwi and Nintendo Switch in my smallest laptop bag; it is a shoulder bag. Loaded up with gear, it weighs 4.5 pounds: that’s lighter than my big laptop! I have no trouble at all carrying that back when I cruise through the park on my electric unicycle.

Every time I bring out the Chuwi, I am reminded of all sorts of things that bum me out about Windows 10. The last few times this happened, I might have written a few tweets and forgotten about it. This week, I’m practicing my social distancing. I don’t have anything better to do. I may as well write about what I’ve been thinking!

I’m not testing anything that I’m complaining about!

It is possible some of these problems were fixed since the last time I tested them. That could have been three years ago. That could have been six months ago.

My Chuwi Tablets

If any of these problems are fixed, you can yell at me in the comments. Microsoft sells their own tablets loaded with Windows 10. The things I’m complaining about should never have been an issue. It is embarrassing enough that they were problems three years ago.

There is a huge lack of touch-friendly software

There are currently 1,784 games in my Steam library. More than a few of those games seem like they would be awesome games to play on a touch screen while sitting on the couch. A reasonable subset of those games already have Android and IOS ports, so surely I will be able to play some of them.

X-COM, FTL: Faster Than Light, and Prison Architect all have Android or IOS ports. I figured they’d work great on my Windows 10 tablet. Nope. You can’t play these games without two buttons on your mouse.

Sure, there were a lot of games I couldn’t even attempt to play due to the specs of my little Chuwi Hi12. Of the ones I could try, the lack of an easy way to right click was going to be a huge problem. I was excited about trying Torchlight, but that wasn’t going to work, either.

Attempting to play Torchlight 2 with the pen

Attempting to play Torchlight 2 with a pen. It was terrible.

The problem isn’t just games. There’s no good Twitter app. The official Twitter app is built for a phone. There’s no good Reddit app. I don’t remember which streaming services were lacking apps, but some were. Of the ones that had native Windows 10 apps, I remember Hulu completely lacking the user profile feature.

I am certain that I would complain less about using a web browser to access these things on a faster Windows 10 tablet, but it would only be a partial fix. The Reddit website is garbage compared to Red Reader on Android.

I don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t fixed this problem

Remember when Microsoft signed a $400 million contact to make the Surface Pro the official tablet of the NFL. If I’m remembering correctly, TV personalities kept accidentally referring to the Surface Pro as an iPad.

Why haven’t they invested a small fraction of that cash into paying developers to make touch-friendly versions of their software? How much would they have to pay Subset Games to add touch support to the Windows version of FTL: Faster Than Light? They already figured out how to make the game work without a right mouse button on the iPad.

I’m sure you can come up with a list of games you’d like to play while sitting on the couch: Cities Skylines, SimCity, Civilization 5, Civilization 6, or RimWorld.

I’m sure they could throw money at Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and Disney, too. They could make their tablet ecosystem so much better, and it wouldn’t cost anywhere near $400 million.

Why is the on-screen keyboard so terrible?

When I bought my Chuwi Hi12 in 2016, the touch keyboard didn’t even support gesture typing. This was already ages after Swype hit the market, and Android had already supported this in their standard keyboard for quite a few years at this point.

One day, I turned on my tablet, let it spend a few hours updating itself, and my keyboard now support swipe typing. Awesome!

Except it didn’t always work. It would be disabled in some text entry fields, sometimes for no obvious reason. You want to type a search term into the URL bar? Too bad! Nobody should want to swipe to type a URL, so no swiping for you.

A laptop that is also a tablet should be better than a tablet that is also a laptop

Shouldn’t it? That’s what I’ve been hoping.

I’d like to carry fewer devices. Phones and tablets are great for consuming content, but they’re terrible for creating content. Why can’t I have one device that does both?

I need a good text editor and a decent keyboard. Emacs works just fine on the little Chuwi tablet. It gets sluggish at times, though. I know Emacs has some serious inefficiencies on Windows, and those are only exacerbated by the Chuwi’s slow Atom processor and lack of RAM.

Emacs covers a lot of my input needs. I can write blogs and code with Emacs, but being able to edit video on the road would be nice. I would never have the patience to attempt this on my Chuwi tablet, but a proper Surface Pro would do the job just fine.

It is too bad the tablet side is so lacking

The Chuwi is a passable if large e-book reader. I forget which epub reader I tried, but I remember setting the color palette to something similar to the Solarized Dark theme. That worked well enough, so I’m sure I’d be happy using a Surface Pro to read fiction.

I’ve tried sitting in my recliner and using the Chuwi as a tablet to consume content. I’ve forced myself to read and interact with Twitter. I’ve forced myself to browser Reddit; I may have even found a reasonable Reddit app! I’ve forced myself to read the comments on Hacker News.

The Chuwi Tablet

Twitter was a bear, because the Chuwi is just too slow to render Twitter’s web interface quickly enough. Even without the speed issue, using the Twitter website with a touch interface isn’t nearly as good as using something like Twidere on my phone. That point is moot now, because so many good Twitter apps on Android are being deprecated.

I wound up learning after forcing myself to use the Windows 10 tablet for a month or so that it was just easier to consume content on my phone. I didn’t need to figure out where I left off. I didn’t need get myself out of sync or lose an article when I was using my phone in the car and my tablet in the house.

Some of this wasn’t too bad in the old days when I had an Android tablet. My Twitter app tried to keep my spot in sync between devices.

The phone just isn’t as inconvenient today as it was in those days. When I had a 4” phone and an 8.3” tablet, the tablet seemed luxurious. Now that I have a 5.7” phone, the difference isn’t as important.

What do I carry today?

The real answer is that I don’t carry much at all. I don’t often leave the house with anything more than my phone. Sure, I take my FPV quadcopter gear with me a few times a week, but that has nothing to do with Windows 10!

This has been on my mind again because I’ve been learning to ride my InMotion V5F electric unicycle. It has about 12 miles of range, so it has no trouble getting me to the shaded pavilion full of picnic tables near the lake. That’s only a 2-mile ride from my house!

I can ride with a 20-pound backpack without trouble, but carrying less is nicer. I’ve carried my big, heavy Linux gaming laptop with its 16 GB of RAM, i7-7700HQ CPU, and Nvidia 1050 Ti GPU. It is fine. My heavily loaded laptop backpack only comes in at 12 pounds.

This seemed like a good excuse to pull the Chuwi tablet out of mothballs. I loaded up my little purse with the Chuwi, its keyboard, my Nintendo Switch, and all sorts of cables and adapters. It still weighs less than 4.5 pounds. That’s less than my gaming laptop weighs on its own.

Would it be nicer to carry a Surface Pro?

Yes, but I can’t justify the price. Your opinion might be different, but based on my needs, even the most expensive Surface Pro is generally a downgrade over my giant laptop from 2017. Do I want to spend $2,000 for a smaller yet more portable screen? The value goes down significantly more for me, because I’d have to run Windows 10 instead of Linux.

It seems like I can get a refurbished, reasonably equipped Surface Pro somewhere in the $500 to $650 range. Something with twice as much RAM and quite a lot more CPU horsepower than my little Chuwi tablet.

If I was having more luck and more fun with my Chuwi tablet, I would probably jump on a $650 refurbished Surface Pro. As things stand today, I don’t believe I would get much use out of it.

Conclusion

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered the idea of upgrading my slow, old, cheap Chuwi 2-in-1 to a Surface Pro. Maybe not a Surface Pro; Dell and HP have comparable 2-in-1 devices, too! This is just the first time I’m bothering to write about it.

If I could play some FTL: Faster Than Light, Prison Architect, or RimWorld on a Surface Pro, that would be nice. Unfortunately, I can’t. At least not without a keyboard and mouse. That makes a huge percentage of the potential value of me evaporate away immediately.

The fact that I prefer a Linux laptop doesn’t help, either. I really want everything I have on my desktop on a laptop, then I want that same laptop to feel like an Android tablet or iPad when the keyboard is unplugged. We aren’t there yet. We aren’t even at a point where I would enjoy the compromise.

What do you think? Do you use your Windows 10 2-in-1 in tablet mode a lot? Do you also prefer your phone for surfing things like Twitter, Reddit, and Hacker News? Let me know in the comments, or stop by [the Butter, What?! Discord server][bwd] to chat with me about it!

Upgrade Your Nintendo Switch Joy-Con with a D-pad

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I recently bought a Nintendo Switch, and it is awesome. So far, I’ve finished Super Mario Odyssey, gotten to 2BC in Dead Cells, and made it about half-way through Super Mario Bros. U.

Super Mario Odyssey was a joy to play, for the most part. It is probably my least favorite 3D Mario game so far, but the controls feel great.

That pair of 2D platformers are challenging without a D-pad. I knew this would be a problem when I bought the Switch. In fact, this is the main reason I considered saving myself $100 with a Switch Lite. The Switch Lite has a D-pad. The full-size Switch has four buttons instead.

The four buttons do make for a serviceable D-pad, but the situation isn’t ideal. I was making mistakes all the time in Dead Cells. I could feel myself missing the button I intended to hit during intense situations.

If you want a D-pad for your Switch, what options do you have?

The Switch Pro controller

The Nintendo Switch Pro controller looks like a fantastic controller. I’m not quite sure why its retail price is $70. That’s $10 or $15 more than a Dualshock 4!

If my goal was to sit in front of the TV most of the time, then the Switch Pro controller would be the perfect option. It is comfortable, well made, and has an excellent D-pad.

The Switch has been awesome. I can throw it in my laptop bag or my shoulder bag, hop on my electric unicycle, and ride to the park. I want to be able to use my D-pad on a bench at the park. I don’t want to have to carry a Switch Pro controller around and find a place to set the Switch up on its kickstand!

HORI D-pad controller

At first, the HORI D-pad controller seemed like the best option. Everyone says nice things about its D-pad, and its $25 price tag is quite reasonable.

The HORI controller only works when attached to the Switch. It has no wireless functionality at all.

This would probably work out all right for me. I haven’t really played any multiplayer games that use just one Joy-Con yet.

I didn’t like the idea of carrying an extra Joy-Con just in case I felt the need to play a multiplayer game at the park or while waiting for a plane at the airport.

This seems like a great option, but it just isn’t the option for me!

eXtremeRate Soft Touch Joy-Con Housing

In my opinion, this is the way to go. I’m extremely happy with how this setup feels. The $20 price tag may make this appear to be the cheapest option, but you’ll also have to invest about an hour of your time and a hearty amount of confidence to get this thing up and running!

This is just a set of replacement housings for your existing Joy-Cons. This is awesome, because it means you’re still using Nintendo’s high-quality hardware inside the controller. Everything still feels stock.

The bummer is that you have to take your controllers apart, and these controllers go together like a puzzle. If you’re not confident in your abilities, then you may wind up ruining a $70 Joy-Con. This is unlikely to happen. You may have trouble reassembling everything, but even if you can’t, I bet you can find a friend that can help bail you out!

I had my replacement housing in my hands for about a week before installing it, and I’ve still only replaced the housing on the Joy-Con with the D-pad.

I’ve been using the D-pad for about a week so far

It is such a nice upgrade. It is also a much better D-pad than the tiny D-pad on the Switch Lite.

I was encouraged to do the upgrade because I was having a lot of trouble finishing 1BC in Dead Cells. I could feel so many of the mistakes I was making, and I knew a D-pad would help me out.

I acquired my second boss cell a few hours after installing the D-pad mod. It made such a big difference for me!

The eXtremeRate housing feels quite nice

I’m still playing with only one housing installed. The aftermarket shell is made of some sort of plastic that feels soft to the touch. It isn’t a huge difference, but I do find it to be nicer than the stock Joy-Con on the other side of my Switch.

I’ve used a lot of cheap controllers with crappy D-pads. This isn’t one of them. This D-pad is top-notch.

This doesn’t surprise me. The mechanical parts of this D-pad are all stock Nintendo parts. The pushbuttons on the PCB are still stock, and the rubbery bits are still stock. eXtremeRate’s D-pad just sits on top of the high-quality hardware.

I was a bit worried at first. Most D-pads have a little rocker protuberance underneath. This keeps you from pushing left and right or up and down at the same time. This D-pad doesn’t have anything like that. You can easily force all four directions at the same time.

I understand the reasons why they would do this. They couldn’t add a protuberance to the mold if they wanted to use Nintendo’s rubbery piece. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are 2-player games where you might need to hit opposing buttons at the same time. I guess you’d still be able to do that with the eXtremeRate D-pad.

This hasn’t caused any trouble for me. Nintendo’s springy rubber under the D-pad is stiff enough that you won’t even notice that there is no rocker. Unless you’re putting a lot of effort in, it feels like a normal D-pad.

Which design should you choose?

I chose the classic NES design. The NES was really my third game console. It wasn’t my last, but it was the last game console of my childhood. It made sense to me to go with the original NES look.

The classic SNES design looks much better. Even though I never really got into the SNES, I should have chosen it anyway. The NES design isn’t quite authentic enough. It is pretty much just a black controller with red buttons.

Conclusion

If you’re like me, and you play a lot of old-school games, then you absolutely need a D-pad. If you want or need a portable, wireless D-pad that you can use while on the go with your Nintendo Switch, the eXtremeRate D-pad housing is most definitely the way to go. It is worth the effort to get it installed!

What do you think? Do you play a lot of D-pad-heavy games? Are you using the eXtremeRate D-pad shell, or are you using something else? Did I make the right choice? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Five Weeks with My InMotion V5F Electric Unicycle

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It will probably be closer to six weeks by the time I manage to actually hit publish on this blog post. Math says my electric unicycle (EUC) arrived at my house 36 days before I started writing this paragraph. The 10-day forecast lists rain for at least the next seven days, so I won’t be riding for the next week. Even if I’m late getting all the photos and videos together for this post, I definitely won’t be exaggerating my riding time!

NOTE: While writing this, I clicked past 100 miles on my EUC’s odometer!

I almost feel like I know what I’m doing!

I can ride more than two miles without stopping. I can ride on grass. I can ride on rough pavement, and I can handle bumps and potholes. I can transition from riding on pavement to riding on grass. I can ride slowly and negotiate tight turns. I can get on and off the unicycle without looking like an idiot most of the time too!

I also find myself triggering the max speed alarm on my InMotion V5F quite frequently. This wheel is only rated for 15 mph, and I hit that speed on just about every trip I take now. I’m not unhappy with this limitation, though. I don’t really want to be going any faster than this on my local bike paths!

I’ve managed to travel 6 miles on a single outing. I’ve managed to travel 9.5 miles in a single day.

I’m able to ride with a 12-pound backpack while drinking a latte out of a foam cup. When I started learning to ride, I would get wobbly just trying to adjust my glasses!

Who can ride an electric unicycle?

I’m nearly 43 years old. I weigh about 200 pounds. I’ve never ridden a skateboard. I spent a ton of time riding my bike when I was a kid, but I’ve barely ever even touched a bike since I was 14.

I’m not athletic. I don’t think I have an above average sense of balance. If I can learn to ride a unicycle, you probably can too!

You’re not just going to get on and be riding in an hour. It isn’t intuitive. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice!

Hey, Pat! What is your use case for the InMotion V5F unicycle?

My hobby is flying FPV freestyle miniquads. I want to be able to load up my backpack and head to a fun spot to fly!

I already have a Hover-1 XLS folding electric scooter. It is a lot of fun, and it does this job well. I’m two houses away from the bike trails that connect many of the parks in my city. I can hop on the bike, ride for ten minutes, fly for a while, then ride home.

The Hover-1 XLS does a great job getting me to nearby flying spots. I have put nearly 400 miles on it already. My problem is that the e-bike is heavy and bulky. It is difficult to get it in the car.

I’m hoping to replicate my success I’ve had with my bike, but I want to be able to start my FPV freestyle miniquad adventures from a location other than my house. I’d like to drive the car 20 minutes away, then ride the EUC three more miles, then fly from there!

You’ve had this thing for a month already! Is it going to meet your needs?!

Yes. I’m still almost entirely convinced that the inexpensive little InMotion V5F is the perfect fit for me.

The InMotion V5F weighs only 25 pounds. That’s half as much as the Hover-1 XLS. The InMotion wheel has a handle on top. It takes me five seconds to toss it in the car. I don’t have to fold it up. I don’t have to figure out how to heft it up and into the trunk. I don’t have to unfold it when I take it out of the car. It is ready to ride immediately.

I haven’t taken it on one of these away missions yet, but I rode two miles into the park with my laptop backpack for the first time a few days ago. I didn’t even notice the backpack. I’m not sure I’d want to take my fully loaded 25-pound backpack with me, but my 12-pound FPV backpack will be no problem at all!

I was also hoping I could use the unicycle to help me retrieve crashed miniquads more efficiently. I’m able to ride in the grass pretty well already, so this is almost certainly going to be possible!

What downsides are you noticing, Pat?!

When I ride the unicycle or the e-bike to the park, people are always stopping me to ask me about it. This is awesome, but it didn’t take long before I figured out the most disappointing problem with the unicycle.

Every time someone asks me about the e-bike, I offer to let them take it for a spin. I’d say about 1 out of every 3 people take me up on the offer, and every single one of those people have had success. They all seemed to have a good time too.

I wouldn’t even consider offering to let someone ride the unicycle. It took me 20 minutes or more just to learn to stay on long enough to ride 15 feet. I’ve let friends try, and some of them got scared immediately when they couldn’t balance even while holding on to their car.

The learning curve is the major downside.

Getting over the hump in the learning curve is rewarding

There are several points during my training where I had a great feeling of accomplishment. Just being able to ride 10 feet without holding on to a wall felt amazing, and that took at least 20 minutes of practice!

I can’t explain how to ride better. Something just happens in your brain. You go from barely being able to stay upright on the damned thing to just being able to ride until you decide it is time to stop. Once you hit that point, things seem to progress so much faster.

What’s the payoff here? Almost any adult can ride an electric bike. It is supposedly an awful lot easier to learn to ride a OneWheel XR. Why put in the effort to learn to ride such a difficult mode of transportation?

It comes down to some combination of cost, performance, and form factor.

My e-bike is big, heavy, and cumbersome. My refurbished unicycle cost less, weighs half as much, and performs similarly to my e-bike.

The OneWheel XR beats or matches my little InMotion V5F in almost every measure except price. Where the OneWheel beats my unicycle, it doesn’t usually beat it by a lot. The OneWheel is 4 mph faster, and the published specs say it has 5 miles more range than I’m expecting to see on my InMotion V5F.

Where my unicycle really beats the OneWheel XR is on price. My refurbished V5F cost me $399 shipped. Full price is still only $649. Either price is so much cheaper than the $1,849 price tag on the OneWheel XR. Not only that, but my little $399 unicycle beats the OneWheel Pint’s specs in almost every way at half the price.

The OneWheel XR is the upper limit for a OneWheel too. There are plenty of unicycles, like the Gotway Nikola, that can reach speeds of nearly 40 mph, and these machines have a range of something like 70 miles on a charge. They’re big, heavy, and ridiculous.

I think the best part about unicycles is the number of available options. I’m riding one of the smallest, cheapest unicycle options. There’s a lot of choice, so there’s more likely to be a wheel that meets your needs at a price you can afford.

What about an electric skateboard?

My friend Brian has an Exway X1 Riot Pro longboard. It looks like a lot of fun, and the price, performance, and range of his skateboard are all quite good. Better still, his e-skateboard has as much range as my InMotion V5F, but it weighs about half as much!

Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro Skateboard

My biggest problem with skateboards is the tiny wheels. You feel every tiny bump in the road, and there’s no chance you’re going to ride well on grass.

They closed a short stretch of the bike path for construction at my local park, and you have to sneak through 20 feet of grass to bypass the closure. On my electric unicycle, I’m able to just ride through the grass as though it were pavement.

A refurbished InMotion V5F is a no-brainer!

I keep saying this. I’ve written it several times, and I’ve said it to quite a few people in person.

I ran into a EUC enthusiast while I was riding at the park last week. I forget which wheel he’s upgraded to, but he told me he started with the InMotion V8, and he was wondering why I chose the V5F.

I told him I was waffling on whether or not I should buy a EUC at all, then I saw a refurbished InMotion V5F in the InMotion store for $399. It was cheap enough that I couldn’t pass it up. I can tell by the face he made that he was quite surprised at how low the price was.

You’re going to fall off your new EUC. It is going to hit the pavement, and it is going to hit the pavement a lot. You have no idea what you’re doing. My InMotion V5F has so many scars!

If you can snag a $399 InMotion V5F, I would highly recommend doing it. I haven’t seen one in stock since I bought mine, though.

I don’t think I would pay the full price of $649 for a brand new InMotion V5F. The InMotion V8 is a pretty significant upgrade for a few hundred extra bucks. There is also the King Song 14D in this price range.

Lots of people recommend starting with a used electric unicycle

This seems like fantastic advice. My wheel has been dropped on the pavement so many times. I’ve dropped it. My friends have dropped it. My wife has dropped it. I’ve definitely dropped it the most, though!

Your first wheel is going to acquire quite a few battle scars. Why make your $2,000 purchase look ugly? Start with something cheap, right?!

I checked around. I couldn’t find any unicycles for sale. I’m not currently seeing any electric unicycles listed on Craigslist anywhere in the Dallas/Fort-Worth metro area.

Do you regret purchasing one of the cheapest, slowest electric unicycles?

I’m starting to hit the speed limit warning beeps several times on every trip I take. I believe the warning goes off at 15 mph, and the WheelLog app tells me my top speed has been 16.4 mph.

If your goal is to go fast, the InMotion V5F is probably not the right wheel for you. I don’t want to go fast. I want to be able to ride a few miles with my backpack, and I want to get to my destination faster than walking, and I don’t want to be tired and sweaty when I get there.

For my use, the 15 mph speed limit of the InMotion V5F is almost perfect. If something goes wrong while I’m riding at 20 mph, I am almost definitely going to fall. The slower I ride, the more likely I am to stay on my feet in the event that I need to rapidly dismount. I think I can run for a few paces at 15 mph, but I’d be in trouble at 20 mph!

I should mention the Gotway MTen3

The Gotway MTen3 looks like it would be a great fit for my use case. At $599, it costs less than a new InMotion V5F. It has a higher top speed, more range, and it weighs a few pounds less too.

The only downside is that 10” tire. The bigger the tire, the smoother the ride.

I lucked out when I snagged the InMotion V5F for $399. That made the decision easy for me!

If I had to buy new, I would have had to choose between the InMotion V8, the Gotway MTen3, and the King Song 14D. I would have been very tempted by the MTen3!

Have you gotten hurt?

I have fallen off my EUC a lot. I have yet to land on anything other than my feet.

During the first few days, I wasn’t always good at falling. Sometimes I would dismount, and the wheel would swing around and drive directly into my right shin. That shin was pretty bruised up, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a serious injury.

Conclusion

If you can walk, run, and ride a bike, I have every confidence that you can learn to ride an electric unicycle with a few hours of practice. I am confident that you can go from barely being able to stand on the thing to riding down sidewalks and through parks in two or three weeks.

Learning to ride a EUC has been fun, and now that I’m able to ride pretty well, just riding is a lot of fun too! This thing is a handy mode of transportation, and I’m excited about having it available to me.

What do you think? Did I choose almost exactly the right EUC for my needs, or am I going to be wanting to go 40 mph on a Gotway MSX Pro in a few months? Are you already one of the rare unicycle riders, or are you looking to buy your first EUC? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Finally Bought a Nintendo Switch

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I had a Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid. Depending on how you measure, this would have been my third video game console. I’ve been a fan of just about every game in the Super Mario Bros. series ever since, and I do my best to play through every important game in the series.

The last Nintendo console we owned was the original Wii. Super Mario Galaxy parts 1 and 2 were both fantastic. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was awesome, as was the extremely well executed fan-made hack titles Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Nintendo Switch in the dock

I’ve been contemplating finding a used Wii U for a few years just to play New Super Mario Bros. U, but this wasn’t high up on my list of priorities. I’m skipping ahead in the story a bit, but I should mention that an updated version of this game exists on the Switch, so I no longer have a reason to need a Wii U!

Our niece and nephew are going to be visiting us next month, and I’ve been saying we should have a recent gaming console on the TV to help keep them entertained. There are a handful of PlayStation 4 exclusives that I’d like to play, so I figured it was a toss-up between the PS4 and the Switch.

While chatting about this choice I needed to make with a friend of mine, he said, “Dude! You should just borrow my PlayStation 4!” That PS4 is running in my living room right now. In theory, this solved my problem, but I bought a Nintendo Switch two days later.

Should I buy the Switch or Switch Lite?

If you’re the same sort of gamer as me, you’ll be drawn directly to the Switch Lite, and it will have almost nothing to do with the much lower price. I play precise platformers like Super Mario Bros. or Super Meat Boy. I play old-school shmups like Gradius and Zanac; these are the sort of games I play on my custom arcade cabinet. I’m currently up to 4 boss cells in Dead Cells on the PC, and Dead Cells is available on the Switch.

These aren’t the only types of games I play, but these are some of my favorites, and they all have one very important thing in common: they all require a good d-pad.

Nintendo Switch on my desk

Last month, I played some Dead Cells on a friend’s Switch with the joy con. It felt clunky. Sure, you can use the four buttons on the left controller as a d-pad, but I didn’t enjoy it.

The Switch Lite has an actual d-pad, and it feels pretty good. You’re telling me that I can save $100 AND have better controls at the same time? Sure, the screen is a bit smaller, but that also makes the entire Switch Lite with controllers roughly the same size as the full Switch without its joy cons attached. It seemed like a no-brainer to me. Sign me up for a Switch Lite, right?!

I didn’t buy a Switch Lite!

Chris’s favorite game ever is the original The Legend of Zelda, and she is excited about being able to play Breath of the Wild on the big screen. She’s also interested in being able to spectate.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the lack of a d-pad. I’ve played four or five games of Dead Cells so far. I ended the first life early, because Breath of the Wild had finished downloading. On my second play, I made it past the concierge and died in the Stilt Village. One the fourth or fifth play, I got my first boss cell and completed 0BC.

I have to be honest. The fake d-pad isn’t as bad as I expected, but it does take some getting used to. It is definitely better than playing Dead Cells with the analog stick!

We haven’t even had the Switch for 24 hours

I’ve played through one level of Super Mario Bros. U. I believe I just started my fourth kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey. I’ve beaten the Hand of the King in Dead Cells and acquired my first boss cell. Chris has made some progress in Breath of the Wild, but I don’t know how to describe how much! We’ve also played some Tetris 99, which happens to be quite cool!

When I was writing that heading, I assumed we’ve had the Switch for two days. I had to check my email. All the confirmation emails from Nintendo for my game purchases happened yesterday. Only 22 hours ago!

If you buy a switch, you will be sending a lot of money straight to Nintendo!

As has been the case for a long time, the best games on Nintendo’s consoles are made by Nintendo. The switch costs $300. So far, we’ve spent $200 on Zelda and Mario games. I imagine we’re going to have to buy Mario Kart, and it will be difficult to avoid Super Mario Maker.

It looks like you can get a PlayStation 4 for roughly the same $300. I can tell you with great certainty that I would not even be able to spend $200 to $300 on games today for the PS4, let alone on first-party titles.

Nintendo Switch joycons on my couch

Most of the games I would eventually buy for the PlayStation 4 will go on sale. Sales on Mario and Zelda games are few and far between.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint, and I am comparing apples to oranges. These just happen to be the two consoles I was debating the merits of for the last week or two!

What am I going to do about the lack of a d-pad?

The most obvious answer is the Switch Pro Controller. Let’s not ask why it costs nearly twice as much as a Sony DualShock 4 controller. Let’s talk about whether it is a good fit for my needs!

Why would I play Dead Cells with the Pro Controller? I can just continue to play Dead Cells with my DualShock 4 on my computer. If I’m playing Dead Cells on the Switch, I want it to be portable!

I’m not ruling out the idea of buying a Pro Controller. I just don’t think it does a good job of solving my problem.

There are some options for joy cons with d-pads. HORI makes an officially licensed left joy con with a nice-looking d-pad, but it doesn’t support wireless operation. This would probably get the job done, but it seems like it could be limiting when on the go.

There are some replacement shells available for the stock joy con that swap out the four individual buttons for a d-pad. I think this eXtremeRate Classics shell looks neat, because it is available in designs that mimic either the original Nintendo or Super Nintendo controllers!

I think modifying the stock joy con is the way to go. I don’t want to lose the wireless functionality. I can play on the porch. I can play on the TV from the couch. We wouldn’t have to give up the two-player joy con option when on the road, either.

I need to do more research, and I’m not exactly in a hurry to start taking apart my Switch. I’m having enough fun playing games that don’t even need the d-pad for now. I’m sure I’ll get antsy at some point, and I’ll be wanting to play a bunch of Dead Cells!

I didn’t buy my Nintendo Switch from Amazon!

Not too long ago, Nintendo refreshed the Switch hardware. They both play games exactly the same, but the new edition of the hardware has an updated CPU and GPU. The updated hardware isn’t faster, but it is much more efficient.

Nintendo says the original hardware has a battery life of 2.5 to 6.5 hours while the new hardware can manage 4.5 to 9 hours. I had heard this stated as being a 2-hour increase in battery life, and it didn’t sound like a big deal, because I thought the improvement was from something like 6 to 8 hours.

Going from 2.5 to 4.5 hours is HUGE. You need the new hardware. Most of the listings on Amazon either have the old part number listed in the description, or they don’t actually say one way or the other.

I don’t normally like to waste my time shopping in brick and mortar stores, but two extra hours of battery life seemed worth a trip to Target!

If you want the much better battery life, look for model numbers starting with HAD. The model numbers that start with HAC are the old ones! I’m sure that in a few months, this won’t matter. For now, though, many vendors still seem to have old stock!

Conclusion

The Nintendo Switch is fantastic, but I am certain you’re already aware of this. As I’m writing this, I can hear my wife hollering at Mario in the other room. She’s playing New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, and it sounds like she’s having a good time.

I’m already tempted to buy more of my favorite games. 10tons Ltd. makes some of my favorite top-down shooters, like Neon Chrome and JYDGE. I’ve been wanting to play Time Recoil and Undead Horde, and I will definitely be picking these up for the Switch. I already have quite a few games in my library that I need to make some progress on, so I’m doing my best to wait!

What do you think? Should I have bought a Switch a long time ago? Am I missing any important games? Am I going to stop worrying about the missing d-pad in a few weeks? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Two Weeks with My InMotion V5F Electric Unicycle

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I don’t know if I’ve been riding my electric unicycle for two full weeks yet, but I must be getting close. I know the refurbished Solowheel Glide 2 that I ordered was supposed to arrive on a Thursday, and as I am writing this, it is currently Thursday. This seems close enough to me!

NOTE: It took nearly 5 days to get the photos, videos, and links added to this blog post. I wrote most of this on Thursday, but it didn’t get polished up and published until Tuesday!

I didn’t think I’d be posting an update so soon, but I feel like something is really starting to click for me. In a week or two, I’ll probably be riding without giving it much thought at all. I’d like to write down how things are going while I’m right in the middle of things, and while everything is fresh in my mind.

What do you mean when you say things are clicking? How do you know?!

Riding a self-balancing electric unicycle (EUC) is a lot like riding a bike. You can’t explain how to do it, and while you’re doing it, you shouldn’t be thinking about what you’re doing. Your subconscious should be balancing for you, just like when you walk or run.

When you go from wobbling around a bunch to riding smoothly, something has clicked in your brain. You can’t really explain why you’re riding smoothly now, or what you’re doing differently.

The first time you stop wobbling and start riding your EUC smoothly, it will be an exhausting experience! You will be tense. You will be working much, much harder to balance than you need to. You will work up a sweat, and you’ll be tired after riding a few hundred feet.

After a little more practice, something else will click in your brain, and you’ll be able to ride a mile without quickly becoming exhausted.

The arches of my feet get sore!

Two days ago, the farthest I could ride was about half a mile. Leaning forward and putting my weight on my toes makes my feet sore. Do I need to build muscle in these parts of my feet? Am I doing something wrong? Am I just not getting enough circulation to my feet?

I think it is a combination of all three.

When I tried pushing past half a mile, I was getting into trouble. I found it more difficult to turn, and I had a lot more trouble safely dismounting. I stopped trying to push past the discomfort.

Something changed yesterday

I went on three practice rides yesterday. The first two each added up to a total of 1.6 miles. I dismounted approximately every half mile. I don’t really need to rest when I stop. I just need a bit of walking to loosen my feet up.

Then I decided to take one more practice ride before dark. I very nearly made it 1.1 miles without dismounting and without any significant foot discomfort! I was turning and following the narrower and bumpier parts of the path with much more confidence than usual.

I did have to dismount somewhere around the one-mile mark. There was a gentleman walking towards me on the narrower part of the path. I’m not confident enough in my abilities to stay on my half of the sidewalk, so I decided it would be best to walk past him instead.

I was catching up to him on my return trip, so I took one more break before finding a slightly different route to go home.

This was my longest journey so far!

Smooth and level pavement is so much easier to ride on!

The first place I rode my InMotion V5F was the parking lot of our local abandoned golf course. It seemed fine at the time, but I didn’t realize how much more challenging it is to ride there. It is ancient, bumpy asphalt, and the whole parking lot is on an incline.

I live in Plano, TX, and the bike trails through our parks are phenomenal. They’re wide and super smooth. After riding on the bike trails, going back to the golf course the next weekend was quite a surprise! Getting started going up the incline of the golf course parking lot is challenging. Riding down the incline is a bit scary at first. Riding across the incline isn’t all that easy, either!

This shouldn’t surprise me. I have to ride on the street past three houses to get to the bike trail from here. I don’t notice the difference on the way to the trail, but the contrast is huge when I’m riding home!

Our streets here aren’t like the terrible asphalt and blacktop of the streets where I grew up in Scranton, PA. They’re fairly smooth concrete, but they’re not as smooth as the bike trail.

Switching back to the street does feel like more work, and there is a bit of a hill coming up the street to my house. I tend to lose speed when I make the turn onto my street, and I used to have trouble building it back up. This is probably due to my wheel being rather underpowered.

When you’re learning to ride, try to find the smoothest parking lot that you can!

You’ll need to learn to ride on rough, uneven surfaces with bumps and potholes, but you don’t need to learn right away.

Don’t forget to check your tire pressure!

When my InMotion Solowheel 2 arrived, the first thing I did was pump up the tire. I inflated it just past the recommended 40 PSI. I figured it would be like my bike tires, and it would lose air fairly quickly, so it wouldn’t hurt to get ahead of that by a few PSI.

I checked the pressure again yesterday, and it was down in the mid-20 PSI range. I was surprised that I lost more than 15 pounds of pressure in less than two weeks! Maybe this is normal. Maybe I have a slow leak. Who knows. I will keep an eye on it.

Why the pressure is low isn’t important. What is important it that I learned just how much easier it is to ride the wheel with adequate pressure!

The unicycle was much easier to mount on my somewhat roughly paved street. I was able to get up to speed more with noticeably less effort. I was able to turn around on my street with less effort.

I’m not an expert. I’ve seen it recommended that new riders should lower their pressure down to 20 PSI. I understand why this might help. You will have more rubber in contact with the pavement. It should be easier to balance. It probably takes a bit more effort to turn, so you won’t be accidentally changing direction.

If lowering your tire pressure is a good idea when you’re just starting out, I would have to imagine that you should only do this for a very short amount of time. Once you can get on and ride in a straight line, I think you should go straight up to full pressure.

Once you’re able to ride, you don’t need the wheel fighting your purposeful inputs.

Was an electric unicycle a good choice?

I feel like I’ve written this section of the blog three times already, and I have. Most of this isn’t my opinion. I’m just regurgitating published specs of OneWheels, Exway electric skateboards, InMotion EUCs, and my old Hover-1 XLS e-bike.

All these options have advantages and disadvantages. Absolutely anyone can ride my e-bike, but is difficult to put in the car. The OneWheel XR is much easier to ride than an EUC, but its specs say it isn’t quite as capable as my $399 InMotion V5F at more than four times the price. Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro electric longboard has similar range, but weighs a lot less than my unicycle, while still costing less than half as much as a OneWheel XR.

You’re probably not going to look as cool riding my unicycle or folding scooter as you will riding a OneWheel or skateboard. I’m sure that’s an important factor for some of you!

None of that data directly answer the question. Was an EUC a good choice? For me, it is the perfect choice. The range, speed, and weight of the InMotion V5F are all perfect for my use case. I may need to put quite a few hours in to make use of my wheel, but I am not bothered by that at all. I’m having a blast learning!

The unicycle I chose was the least costly option. It will handle grass, dirt, and gravel almost as well as a OneWheel. It will cruise even more smoothly on pavement than the Exway X1 longboard.

If you really do need a ton of range, the unicycles have you covered there, too. For a few hundred dollars less than the price of a OneWheel XR, you can get an InMotion V10F with 40 to 60 miles of range! If you want to be able to go 35 MPH, there are $2,000 unicycles from Gotway that can manage that, too.

Was the InMotion V5F a good choice?

I haven’t stopped researching unicycles. Now that I’ve been riding a bit, I feel like I have a better understanding of what I should be searching for on Google, and what I should be reading and watching.

If you can get a used EUC for a good price, I think that is a fantastic idea. Everyone says that a more powerful wheel is easier to learn to ride, and my gut says that they’re right. I’ve read in several places that you should be able to find an older 800-watt unicycle for $200 to $300. I haven’t figured out where to find these deals!

Tanner rides my InMotion V5F electric unicycle

The bigger, more expensive wheels look like a ton of fun, and I can totally see the appeal of something like a Gotway Nikola or the InMotion V10F. I’m also pretty certain that these aren’t the wheels for me.

If your goal is to go out riding for riding’s sake, these heavy, powerful wheels would be awesome. If you’re looking for a ride to take you on the last mile of your journey or commute, then you probably don’t want to lug around a 40- or 50-pound unicycle!

I’m extremely pleased that there was a refurbished InMotion V5F in stock for $399 shipped. We are beating the absolute snot out of this poor thing. The aluminum pedals have hundreds of scuffs and gouges in them. The padding is getting torn up. The plastic shell is a mess of scrapes and scratches.

You almost definitely don’t want to learn to ride on a $2,000 unicycle.

Is the InMotion V5F fast enough? Does it have enough range?

I’ve learned something very important in my many failures at riding my EUC. When something goes wrong at jogging or running speed, it is quite easy to hop off, jog for a bit, and stop without falling over. I have no trouble aborting a ride while going 10 MPH. I’m 200 pounds, about 6’ tall, and I am in terrible shape!

I imagine I can dismount at about 15 MPH if I had to, but the faster you’re going, the more likely you are to have to actually fall. I can reach those less safe speeds on my V5F, even though I’m 40 pounds over the recommended weight. For me, the V5F is definitely fast enough.

I’m less confident about the range. If we assume the battery percentage readout in WheelLog is accurate, my last few days of riding would give me about 10 miles on a single charge. I’m averaging just under 10 MPH while riding with top speeds of around 15 MPH.

I also just learned that this was with an underinflated tire. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a properly inflated tire gave me an extra 2 miles.

Is that enough range? For me, it should be. Twelve miles is about as far as my e-bike can go, and that always seemed quite reasonable. I haven’t managed to ride more than 2 miles on a single trip yet, and that is with at least three stops. It should be quite a while before I can make it 6 miles out and then need to make it 6 miles back!

I think it is safe to say that I don’t have enough data to understand the real-world range limitations of my InMotion V5F at this time, but what I’ve learned so far seems to suggest I will be doing just fine!

What’s next?

I’m trying to ride every day, and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable and capable each day, too. For most of my short time so far riding the unicycle, I have had to stop when transitioning from the road to the bike trail. The transition from the road is a 4’ or 5’ wide rough brick ramp with a wooden post in the center. I didn’t feel confident lining up that turn, squeezing into the gap, and transitioning to the weird bumpy bricks. I’ve negotiated this transition without much trouble that last three or four times I rode, and I get better at it every time.

I suppose that leads me into what’s next. Practice, practice, and even more practice! I’m good at riding fast, at least for some definition of fast. I’ve been trying to make an effort to slow down. I set an alarm in WheelLog to let me know when I’m going over 12 MPH, but that’s still plenty fast enough that the wheel acts as a gyroscope to keep you up.

At even lower speeds, you have to work much harder to stay upright. I’m trying to ride more at those slow speeds. I’m not sure exactly how slow they are, but I have a good idea of what it feels like!

Conclusion

I am extremely pleased with my purchase. The refurbished InMotion V5F at $399 was cheap enough that even if it was a mistake, at least it wasn’t an expensive one, and I absolutely believe that it wasn’t a mistake. I feel that the InMotion V5F will be a fantastic last-mile vehicle for me, and it has been a ton of fun already!

I’m already having no trouble managing to ride about a mile. The V5F’s light weight is making it easy to throw in the back of our little SUV. My friend Tanner has been able to push the little V5F hard enough going up an incline to get the top-speed alarm to go off, but I have yet to hear it in my riding, so I think the maximum speed should be plenty for my immediate needs!

What do you think? Are you riding an EUC or a OneWheel? Do you think I made a good choice? Do you think I’m going to be wishing for more speed in a few months? If I’m eventually hankering for more speed, do you think I’ll still be as appreciative of the light weight of the V5F as I am today? How long do you think it will be before I can run the battery down in one riding session?

Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!