@sticilface I finally started it about 10 minutes ago! I got the board and installed the Arduino support (still painful) and ran into my usb cable was not sturdy enough to handle the power of the module at startup. But my investigation shows that at least a bitbang method should be doable very quickly (and it will be usable on Esp32 as the wifi works on a separate core).
haha, 10mins. must be some 5th sense or something!
I've not worked on my project for a while. I kinda got to the limits of what the ESP8266 can do, and really struggled with handling the wifi at the same time as LEDs. just too much. The new SDK has basically killed it, eaten 4K more RAM