never heard about the MIT mailing list, I imagine that it's a good resource. With the PIC stuff I know it's hard right away but it's worth your time to go straight to the manual for information. I know there is load of information there but the sooner you understand what is going on the easier it will be to reference the manual.
I have worked with the 16F and the dsPIC series both successfully. http://themountainfold.com/?p=24 http://themountainfold.com/?p=290