Ford Escape 2016 Long-Term Review

August 3, 2017

Meet Nyunyu, my blue Ford Escape. It's more than just a car. It's my dream car. I've always been a big fan of the Ford Focus, we even got one for Leslie in 2012. I liked the boxy Escape from that era, then the revised version came out in 2013 and it was love at first sight. The same tech as in the Focus with the same interior, but in a slightly bigger package. I really wanted one, but I didn't even have a driver's license at that point, and Leslie definitely didn't want us to deal with two car payments anyway.

So I was just dreaming about it for quite some time, saving up for it, and in the meantime I bugged the heck out of my wife about what color I'd pick, what kind of tools and gadgets I'd carry in its obviously infinite trunk space and stuff like that. I always played with one at the Ford dealership, I even test-drove one later on. Mike the dealer kept nudging me to just sign a contract and get one already. No Mike, I have to save up for it... I had to be really annoying at times, but my wife is clearly an angel because she coped with it, and by 2015 she said alright, once we paid off the Focus, we can buy me the Blue Escape I want so much. Our adventure vehicle. Okay, say no more!

In 2016 January the news broke about the 2017 Escape face lift, and I didn't like it too much. It's surely a fine car, but looks too much like the Edge and the Deep Impact Blue color isn't even an option anymore. Ford already stopped manufacturing the now old car, and by talking to Mike it became obvious that it's gonna be hard to find a blue Escape with the packages I wanted. Found one in Ford's dealer system that was close enough, Mike had to do a swap with another dealership from another state to get it, but he's a nice guy. And I bet he wanted this constant annoyance to be over anyway. On January 30th of 2016, Nyunyu was born. So to speak.

Maybe I went a bit overboard with the specs, but I wanted a car that I can keep forever. So it's Titanium trim level with the beefiest engine available, a turbo charged 2.0L EcoBoost with 240 hp and 270 lb/ft torque. Coupled with the Intelligent 4WD system that we need here with all the hills and cold winters, it's a beast. There is no legal speed in the USA at which I couldn't just step on the gas without being kicked in the back by nearly instantaneous acceleration, sometimes with wheel spin. It's ridiculously stupid fast, almost at the point of questioning, why is there such an engine in a soccer mom car? It's a real sleeper, but it's just my opinion, your mileage may vary. With its keyless entry and push button start, it makes older solutions feel archaic. It's easy to get used to good things.

It came with Ford SYNC 3, which is sadly not developed by Microsoft anymore, but it's a really decent QNX based entertainment and navigation system with a proper touch screen. I love the navigation, it was a must have and we already had some epic trips with it, including driving to Wisconsin. The media player is fine, nothing fancy but it works and that's what matters. Two USB ports in the center console, either can take a flash drive with MP3 and AAC files and the bluetooth connectivity works like a charm for podcasts. I have no complaints apart from the song shuffle algorithm which has some issues and heavily favors Marvin Gaye. You'd think I have a hundred songs from him by the rate he keeps popping up on the Sony audio system, which sounds awesome by the way.

It's really pleasant inside, like being in a leather cocoon. The dashboard is modern enough to look good, but not too modern to age badly as time goes by. There is a small screen between the analog gauges that can show some essential information, including the current speed that I keep on all the time; I don't look at the analog speedometer at all. It even has a small area for navigation integration to show the upcoming turn which is really handy. It's a high definition display that doesn't show any noticeable pixels, but isn't too large or dense to cause issues. I would hate to have a car where the whole gauge cluster is just a large LCD or OLED screen, and suffer from (rows of) dead pixels down the road. The gauges have ice blue lighting during the night, it's just tasteful all around with a design I'd describe as timeless.

The car has some configurable lights in the doors, cup holders and in the foot rest area, the color of the light can be picked from a predefined palette. I roll with teal. There are physical buttons for the essential functions, it's rare that I need something that can be controlled only from the touch screen. The AC works fine, but I have some ear issues that makes me wish I could set up the vents and the temperature just right. Sadly I just can't, it's warm or too cold or drafty. The problem is likely located between the front seat and the steering wheel, Leslie has no issues on her side. The power windows work well too, but I open mine only when necessary and when the car is stationary, otherwise my next trip would be to the doctor's office with a nasty ear infection.

The fuel consumption is okay. It wouldn't be a good long distance commuter car, but with my usage habits it's fine. It can do 25 MPG in mixed city and highway and about 30 MPG in pure highway use. On long trips the fuel gauge is amusing to look at, as if there were a bunch of frat boys in the engine bay yelling chug-chug-chug! At least it's always fun to stop at service plazas to refill the 12-gallon tank and have a little break from the monotony of USA highways. Since I got the car, in just over 15000 miles it consumed 656 gallons of 93 octane premium gas that cost me $1600.

I'm happy with the car altogether and I have no buyer's remorse over a year of having the 2017 version on the roads. It's hard to find things I don't like about it, takes some nitpicking to list any. Beside the AC issues that are rooted in user error, I don't like how there are only a few storage compartments. It's hard to put stuff away in a neat, organized way. The space in the back seat area is fine, but could be bigger. Kids would fit alright, but longer trips may not be so pleasant for adults. However this is probably true for most cars with a normal wheel base.

I thought the trunk space will be bigger, too. It's big enough, sure, and can be made huge by folding the rear seats down. I really wish I could go to IKEA and buy a new dresser or something, it would fit in like a charm. We don't need new furniture now. But in day to day use, the trunk is a space hard to utilize neatly without some proper storage solution. It's true for most cars anyway, and maybe I'll figure something out for it. When I put my 29" mountain bike into the car, it's a bit of a logistical challenge but it just fits. Popping the front wheel off the bike would help a lot, I just keep forgetting to order a set of quick releases.

Ford has been teasing that the SYNC 3 that comes with this car will receive a software update to bring it up to the level of the 2017 version with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. It didn't happen yet, in fact not a single update came so far and Ford is backpedaling now, saying that it would need hardware modifications to enable that... Yeah sure, sure it would. Sounds like BS to me, and I'm not sure what's gonna happen with it later on. Luckily I like the functionality as-is, so it's not a burning issue, but after several years the need may arise to replace it with Apple CarPlay. Also there are no map updates over the air as predicted, Ford is milking customers with that one. I'll probably wait a couple of years then get that paid update. It's okay so far, didn't run into any traffic issues due to outdated maps, yet.

Either way, it's a great car that's a joy to drive and I find it beautiful. If you're looking for a used one, try one, sounds like a good choice to me. But don't ask for mine, it's not for sale. We are inseparable.

Retro Assembler

July 21, 2017

I spent the majority of my childhood and my early adult life coding a lot of demos and a few games on Commodore 64 and Plus/4, in assembly. Later I also worked on demos for the Amiga and Gameboy Color. I miss those days a lot, and in the recent years I had this recurring urge to write a new C64 demo. Or at least do something in assembly because it's just fun. After spending quite some time reading up on the ins and outs of ARM V7 that I could code for in my Raspberry Pi, I realized that it's just silly to go down that route. The Pi hardware is surprisingly poorly documented, people are just guessing or reverse engineering Linux distributions to figure out how the GPU's screen buffer can be accessed, mail slots and messaging, ummm no thanks. I can spend my time a bit more wisely, and my heart is captured by the Commodore 64 forever anyway.

My friends and I used to code in an awesome utility called Turbo Assembler, it's still a fascinating piece of marvel. It loaded to the memory address $9000 and upwards, and the tokenized source code was building downwards from there, so it left us plenty of work space in the 64 kilobytes RAM that the Commodore 64 and Plus/4 were built with.

Back in those days I wished I could write my own assembler, but I couldn't even imagine how I could do that effectively, with at least the same features I used in Turbo Assembler. Then decades passed, I worked on a bunch of serious software, and suddenly it didn't sound impossible anymore, just a bit challenging. I decided that if I'm going to code a new demo (or twenty), it must be done in my own assembler. I got to it, started working on the project on a Sunday morning on June 18th, and by the next Saturday it compiled the first test source code, a music player.

Retro Assembler was born.

Retro Assembler – Commodore 64 source code in Notepad++

After a month of work on it (not full time, just evenings and weekends), it's ready to be published. It's so advanced that it could easily be called a version 2.0 but I'll just go with a solid 1.0 for good measure. I'm afraid I got a bit carried away with it (in the meantime my wife Leslie binge-watched all five seasons of Orange Is The New Black), now it's a macro assembler with a lot of serious features. I made it to support the MOS6502 microprocessor family, so most Commodore computers and some early game consoles (Nintendo NES, Atari 2600 etc) can be targeted with it. But it's not all it will ever do. The application was designed in a way that adding other CPU types is doable with moderate amount of work, so in a future release the Gameboy CPU will be supported too, and shortly after the Zilog Z80 as well. I might even code something for the ZX Spectrum I never had. Motorola 68000 and perhaps ARM may be supported as well, but those can wait.

For all the features check out the rather extensive documentation, but here are the highlights:

I guess that's good enough for an initial release. I don't expect too many people to start using it, but even if nobody ever downloads it, I don't mind. I'm really proud of this assembler and now it's time for me to start working on that demo. Fellow sceners, I'm back!

Download Version 1.0 (70KB)

Platform: Windows command line (Requires .net Framework 4.7)


July 20, 2017

This is a bit of a recap. I wrote this app in April 2015 and now I issued a minor update.

Ambience puts you into the mood for work or relaxation by playing ambient sounds in the background. Whether it's nature or a busy coffee shop that helps you to get into the zone, Ambience got you covered. The app is based on Noizio for macOS and iOS, but it had no Windows version, so I made one.

Ambience – Noizio for Windows

Back then not only I made it High DPI aware, but also created an installer version. I decided to drop the installer due to its issues, the app can be used in portable mode which is better anyway. And with the release of Windows 10, I made a small adjustment in the header to look better with white title bars and compiled the app for .net Framework 4.7 which will be the minimum version for my applications from now on.

Download (32MB)

Platform: Windows (requires .net Framework 4.7)

Big thanks to the makers of Noizio for the sounds and images, they deserve all the credit for those. Go and check them out if you've got a Mac, iPhone or iPad.

Here We Go Once Again

July 20, 2017

A couple of years ago I restarted this website, but it didn't go too far before I neglected it, as it happened before. Now once again I'm doing the same thing, hoping this time it sticks. As usual, these reboots are tied to blog engine rewrites and guess what, I've rewritten this blog engine again. One might think that I don't like to blog, I just like to write blog engines. One might be right. One may also recall the definition of insanity at this point.

Anyway, this blog is a platform for my thoughts, an outlet where I can write about things I developed, used, enjoyed, experienced, or just interesting to me. It may even contain some details of my personal life. How it will go remains to be seen, these pages are here to be filled with something you may find valuable or just entertaining. There are so many things in life that won't fit into a tweet.