Framework brings 12th-generation Intel Core chips to its modular laptop

Framework’s modular, do-it-yourself laptop has won the hearts and minds of plenty of laptop fans and right-to-repair-types alike. A year after launch, the company is back to offer the biggest test of its long term viability as a computer company: Chip upgrades. Today, the company is announcing new machines packing 12th generation Intel Core chips, as well as replacement mainboards with the new silicon for existing models.

While the company grows, users will need to lay down a refundable pre-order deposit of $100, with mainboard pricing running from $449 through to $1,049. If you’re looking to snag a Core i5-1240P, you’ll pay $449, while $699 bags you a Core i7-1260P, with high rollers looking for the i7-1280P laying down the full $1,049. Framework is using a batch system to fulfill orders, and so is advising would-be buyers to get their orders in early.

At the same time, the company is releasing a new Top Cover which is designed to add some extra rigidity to the system’s body. Whereas the original lid was aluminum-formed, the new units are CNC-milled from a solid block of aluminum. This, too, is available both in the new sold version of the laptop, and as an upgrade for the existing units already out in the wild, priced at $89.

As part of this annual upgrade, we’re also seeing the first new expansion card from the company in the form of a 2.5Gbit Ethernet adapter. Framework says that the new card uses a Realtek RTL8156 controller and will also support 10/100/1000Mbit Ethernet, and it will begin retailing later in the year. Rounding out the list of news is updated Linux support for both Fedora 36 and Ubuntu 22.04, as well as better power management while the machine is in standby mode.

I tried (and failed) to channel my inner Bezos

We live in an age where the power of narrative is so strong that it has become the defining way to build organizations, products and brands. In recent decades, the tech industry has presented itself as the savior to all of our problems, and now dominates so much of our culture as a consequence. And there is a quasi-religious fervor to this, especially when we look at the lionization of certain individuals, or the fact that paid-for-marketing-types are called “evangelists,” and the in-group mentality that forms afterward.

If the model for this sanctified tech guru was Steve Jobs, then its most recent exponent must be Elon Musk. Musk’s rise coincided with a vacuum left in the wake of Jobs’ demise, and his image - his personal brand - has been tweaked several times in the last two decades. Compare this footage from the turn of the century when he received his first McLaren F1 to a more recent clip from last year. And Musk’s savviest piece of personal branding is to make him an aspirational figure both as an engineer and entrepreneur.

Noted philosopher Andre Agassi once said that “image is everything,” and that was back in the days before social media. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently after watching Apple TV’s WeCrashed. There’s a scene where Anne Hathaway’s character enlists the help of a personal branding expert who asks her, deep down, what sort of person she wants to be. It’s a scene designed to emphasize her inner turmoil at the time, but it got me wondering. Were these consultants invented for the purposes of the story, or do they really do exist?

It turns out that there’s a whole industry of people helping the titans of industry massage their personal brand. But branding, in this context, isn’t the same as styling or something similarly superficial. Its boosters would say it’s a combination of psychotherapy and marketing that, when done properly, is about resolving deep-seated internal conflicts in your psyche. And yes, you might need to pick a pair of shoes that test well with adults aged 29-45, but it’s a lot more about crafting a story around you, about you, which you can present to the wider world.

Branding consultant Lucy Freeman says that many of her clients reach their late ‘30s or early ‘40s and feel suddenly unmoored from their own personalities. “They come to this realization that [having reached a point of leadership in a company] they’ve let themselves disappear,” she said. That’s a problem, especially if they’re now expected to take on a more public-facing role and now need to “fight their way out of the company brand.”

Branding expert Am Golhar says that, often, it’s about how people “want to be perceived” that drives them to seek out help. Ed Zitron, owner of PR agency EZPR, agrees, saying that the point of personal branding is to gain “attention with the media,” so a person can “position themselves as good at, or smart, about something.” He added that “third-party validation is huge: You’d rather listen to a reporter that’s ostensibly done research on something than an ad or piece of marketing collateral.”

Emerge founder Emily Austen recruits a behavioral psychologist as part of her process, with a mission to help identify “what [the client’s] POV should, or could, be to have the space to say something others cannot.” She added that being seen as an “entrepreneur has become a status symbol,” a phenomenon supercharged by the ability to broadcast what you’re doing over social media. “It satisfies the [public] fascination with success, and it looks glamorous and exciting,” she said.

I also asked if it would be possible to drag some random from the street, My Fair Lady style, and turn them into a branding superstar. Golhar says that there’s “got to be something there,” citing the example of Gemma Collins, a British reality TV star who leveraged her larger-than-life personality on The Only Way is Essex to become a household name.

All of the people I spoke to described, in one way or another, a process whereby the figure looking to change has to first interrogate themselves. Golhar says that it’s about them going through an “alignment process [to discover] who they are.” Thought Leadership PR founder Helen Croydon added that the questions you ask people include “why they chose this career path” and what are their “talking points.” Before you can brand, or rebrand yourself, you need to understand what it is that you’re selling.

One common anxiety that clients share is the belief that they’re about to become a strutting diva. After all, executives don’t need a brand, which sounds a little too much like caring about what other people think of you, do they? (I mean, we all do care about what other people think about us, but it seems gauche to do anything so drastic as to do anything about that.) Freeman says that the process is more about re-discovering your “non-negotiables and absolute truths.”

Another thing that came up repeatedly was a desire for these figures to demonstrate that they were an expert in the subject matter at hand. “They do care about their image,” said Croydon, “but [they’re] more concerned with portraying professional expertise in their industry.” The hope is, as always, that the greater your esteem, the more you’ll be able to leverage that into future opportunities.

There are shortcuts, if you can afford it, that will help cut some of the time it would normally take to build your new brand. Croydon, for instance, explained that agencies will hire journalists to ghostwrite material on behalf of their clients. She herself employs a number of writers who can produce such content in the service of furthering someone’s brand. Not, she explains, because the individuals can’t do it themselves, but often they’re sufficiently time-poor that they need the help.

Zitron has made his name as a vocal critic of much of what the PR industry does and isn’t a fan of the idea of personal branding at all. “There isn’t an honest [process],” he said, “personal branding is intentionally choosing what you want to share with the world at large.” That, however, “involves hiding specific things, or intentionally obfuscating parts of your life so you look better or are accepted by more people.” “If you are building a narrative for a singular person that is not ‘this is their history and this is where they’ve got to in their lives,’ then you are intentionally misleading people.” Zitron added that while there is “nothing wrong with trying to present your best self,” which, of course, we’re all doing a lot of the time, there’s a problem if “you are doing so with malicious intent.”

But despite Zitron’s warnings, I did want to explore the world of personal branding, hell, it might even help me in my career. Freeman was kind enough to sign me up for a 90-minute session where we would delve into what exactly my personal brand was, and what it could be. She started by asking me questions about what I like, what my values are and what brings me joy. Then we moved on to questions about what I’d like to do more and less of, looking for problems in my day that I’d like to get past.

Then we spent a long time discussing, for instance, how my friends, family and co-workers perceive me – or how I think they do. These were, I’ll admit, hard questions, and there’s a noticeable pause when I’m asked Who do you tell yourself you are? The follow up was harder: Who are you afraid to tell yourself that you are? It was heavy stuff. Now, in any normal story, this is the point where I reveal I’ve got lots of good tips on finding my own personal brand to share with you. But that didn’t happen, mostly because, based on my responses, Freeman told me “you have never, actually thought about [your authentic self] for a second.”

Ah. Maybe it's true, then, that in order to cultivate a personal brand that there has to be some nugget of raw something that can be shaped into something more effective. I wonder, too, if you don't require a fairly hefty dose of self-belief, enough to propel you toward the idea of considering your brand in the first place. Clearly that is something I'll need to work on.

‘Saints Row’ developers promise that the reboot will still be fun

It was last August that Saints Row developer Volition unveiled its vision for a more grounded reboot of the open-world series. The new title was intended as a swerve away from the series’ trademark preposterousness and juvenalia. Now, with the game set to debut on August 23rd, the team would like to clarify that just because it’s grounded, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be fun. Saints Row hasn’t suddenly become a po-faced exploration of organized crime, and it remains just as cartoonish as you may expect, it’s just a bit more grounded in its cartoonishness.

Last year, Chief Creative Officer Jim Boone and Lead Mission Designer Jeremy Bernstein said that the Saints Row series had burned out its narrative runway. After all, when your character has conquered the Earth, descended into Hell and fought a hair-rock opera duel with the Devil, street-level crime is going to feel like a big comedown. “I’ve been wanting to clarify that!” said Creative Director Brian Traficante, “I believe you can continue that runway [...] but we didn’t want to.”

“In terms of going back to the grounded tone, it took some time,” said Traficante, as the team sought to analyze and define “what is Saints Row?” That series-defining formula seems to focus on meshing fun gameplay, silly jokes, cartoonish violence and a hefty dose of reference gags. “At times, it’s a gag for a gag’s sake, but there’s a consciousness of making sure that it’s exactly what we want to do, and it’s the right time to do it,” he said. There was a focus on ensuring that there’s plenty of light moments to balance out the times in the story when things go dark.

Writer Jennifer Campbell said that the team abides by “the rule of making sure that you’re punching up, not punching down.” Campbell added that “we’re exploring a more diverse group of characters so it gives us a lot more avenues to explore, anyway.” Traficante said that the developers created “internal mechanisms” to help ensure that a broad group of people could weigh in on some of the edgier gags in the game. He added that the team wanted to craft jokes that would enable “everyone [to] be a part of the joke.”

Saints Row’s use of parody reached a fairly extreme level during the fourth game, where it ran a series of relationship-simulation sequences in the vein of Mass Effect. (Except, of course, the camera wasn’t cutting away as quickly when two characters decided to spend some alone time together.) These parodies are “definitely in the recipe,” said Traficante, but that they aren’t “front and center” in the new title, so players will need to hunt out the nods.

A pair of friends dance along inside a Cowboy-themed bar.
Volition

And players will spend a lot of time being encouraged to hunt through the world of Santo Ileso in pursuit of storytelling, gameplay and entertainment. The team has laced the city with randomly spawning discoverables, like a security fan loaded with cash, for you to find as you walk around. Traficante said that it takes testers around a week, playing full time, to work their way through the bulk of the title, which is vast and ever-growing.

As well as the breadth of the city, Volition also wanted to emphasize the depth of features like character customization. Users can expect a level of tweaking that looks to be beyond the level offered in, say, Cyberpunk 2077. You’ll be able to customize your appearance, voice and clothing, as well as the looks of your cars and weapons. And none of these features will be pay-to-use, mercifully, with everything instead unlocking the further into the game you progress.

Interestingly, the new title has a little less narrative freedom than some of its predecessors as a consequence of this richer, deeper world. This, says Jennifer Campbell, is to help imbue the game with a greater sense of purpose and meaning, bolstering the story. “We were really focused on keeping a causal chain, because you’re doing things in response to something,” she said. “You’re shooting at things because you did something earlier in the mission to elicit a response from an enemy faction,” she added, with the aim of putting “reason behind the things that we asked the player to do.” Players will feel that “their actions are affecting the game state.”

Having now seen around 45 minutes of gameplay footage, I can say that the new title focuses on a narrower definition of silly. You can melee an opponent, stick a grenade down their throat and then throw their body over to a group of enemies to blow them up. Or you can ask a friend in co-op play to pick up your car with a helicopter’s trailing electromagnet and drop you off at a mission location. There are piñata guns and footballs that stick to people hurling them up into the air, as well as a new wingsuit mechanic that enables you to bounce off a pedestrian to give yourself more flight time.

Certainly, the arrival of this Saints Row game feels like it’s going to be more of an event than it did previously. The enduring success of GTA Online’s ever-present crime simulation sandbox has sucked so much air out of the genre that having a new alternative should be a big deal: We haven’t had a true “GTA-like” game since 2016’s Watch Dogs 2. The one risk is that Saints Row is looking to perfect a game that users have now moved on from.

Huawei’s new Watch GT 3 Pro is a stylish upgrade to the GT 3

Huawei is today launching the Watch GT 3 Pro, which takes much of the features from the existing Watch GT 3 and sticks them in a much nicer body. The three regular versions, each with 46mm cases, are getting a titanium body and, depending on which model you opt for, a rubber, leather or titanium strap. From there, you’ll get most of the same features as the GT 3, albeit with the ability to run your own ECG when Huawei gets permission to activate the feature.

Image of the standad Watch GT3 Pro
Huawei

Of more interest is the new Ceramic 42mm version, which offers a white case with gold accents and a white strap. It may be aimed at a different demographic, but it also looks at first blush like the coolest, fanciest and most unique of the bunch. Otherwise, you’ll get much of the same health and fitness tracking found on the GT 3, plus a bunch of pre-loaded golf maps and a free diving mode to help folks who like going underwater without assistance.

At the same time, Huawei is also announcing the Watch Fit 2, a sports and activity tracker that offers coaching. The new 1.74-inch AMOLED display is nearly 20 percent larger than was found on the Fit 1, and the feature set has broadened to include quick replies for WhatsApp as well as Huawei’s own apps. With space for 500 songs on board, and Huawei’s latest optical heart-rate sensor on the back, it’s designed to scratch the itch for folks who want a fitness-focused gadget but don’t need a full-blown smartwatch.

‘The Pentaverate’ is a reminder of what Netflix took from us

Wanna know what I miss? Mid-budget studio comedies, the sort that filled the gaps in cinema’s annual calendar. The sort of lightweight, low-energy fare you and your friends could watch on a Saturday morning in the multiplex. Often they’d feature a Saturday Night Live alumnus on an initial foray into the movie industry proper, but just as equally not. Sometimes the films did well, but more often not, would underperform until it developed a second life on late-night cable, video rentals or even DVD sales. You know, stuff like So I Married An Axe Murderer.

There aren’t many cinema-released mid-budget comedy movies these days, and for good reason. Comedy is a more subjective artform than, say, action, and doesn’t travel as well around the world as, say, action. There’s no room these days for an unadulterated comedy movie with a budget in the low-double-digit millions given the economics. Hell, even something as flat and awful as Holmes and Watson cost $42 million, and couldn’t recoup that figure at the box office. I'm sure that film, too, will eventually catch on with some future generation of kids and stoners who delight in it as much as I have a soft spot for some of these early '90s comedies I was too young to see in cinemas. 

Of course, these mid-budget comedies have been priced out of cinemas and straight into our homes, thanks to Netflix. Regardless of the quality, films like The Bubble and Don’t Look Up would, in a previous era, would have slotted into a multiplex roster quite easily. But Netflix’s desire to milk as much sitting-on-the-couch-time-as-possible from every piece of IP it owns is a big problem. Mostly because of its insistence of taking ideas that would have made brisk multiplex movies and dragged them out into time-wasting miniseries. There’s a reason that so many Netflix series have pacing problems as a fun 90-minute story is padded out to four, six, eight or twelve hours.

Which is a neat segue into talking about The Pentaverate, Netflix’s latest comedy featuring a depending-on-who-you-ask long overdue return by Mike Myers. On the surface, it’s a comedy about a secret society which has helped shape the course of human history, except they’re (apparently) nice. Myers plays eight characters, given his endless love of prosthetics and desire to be remembered as his generations’ Peter Sellers. He’s joined by Lydia West, Keegan-Michael Key, Debi Mazar, Ryn Alleyne, Neil Mullarchy, Jenifer Saunders and Ken Jeong. And there’s plenty of A-list talent behind the camera too, with Orbital on soundtrack duties and Tim Kirkby directing.

Our star is Ken Scarborough, a retirement-age Toronto-based local TV journalist who is destined to be retired. On the quest for a big story to save his career, he visits the Canadian Conspiracy Convention (CanConCon) and discovers The Pentaverate. From there, his journey is to infiltrate the organization and, with the help of his cameraperson Reilly, try to expose it. Except, of course, Scarborough is walking in on a conspiracy hatched by one of the Pentaverate’s own for reasons that are fairly obvious as soon as you see who’s running the thing.

Myers is a child of the ‘70s, but his British expat parents imbued in him a love of all things British and ‘60s. Much of The Pentaverate is lifted wholesale from legendary ‘60s series The Prisoner and fans of that show will get a kick out of spotting what’s been stolen. Myers’ love for the show even extends to stealing the best joke from the series, albeit the Canadian manages to blow the punchline here. Hell, even the shadowy cabal’s helicopters are the same brand as what was used to fly people in and out of the Village.

(An aside: Are we living in the age of celebrities producing big-budget fanfiction? After all, this The Prisoner riff comes only a few years after Seth MacFarlane was able to launch his own Star Trek series.)

Unfortunately, despite the wealth of talent here, The Pentaverate falls a little flat because it’s clearly in the wrong format. There’s no proof, far as I can see, that the film was originally a screenplay and then expanded out to a TV-friendly three hours, but it sure feels that way. You can feel the narrative stretching, as characters wait around for their plot thread to start back up. Do we need multiple sequences of people riding a “hyperloop” around pulling g-force faces? No, but you can imagine Reed Hastings behind the camera, tapping his watch and insisting the runtime gets as close to three hours as possible.

This stretching also means that every joke in the show’s arsenal gets repeated a little too many times. You know that friend who really got into Austin Powers and just kept shouting lines from the film into your face? Well, buckle in for plenty of jokes about how Canadians are nice, dicks are funny, no, Canadians are really nice, and dicks are really, really funny. Oh and sex jokes, the sort that your pre-teen nephew likes to make, you’ll get some of those, too. The neater, smarter touches, like the fourth-wall breaking Netflix spokesperson who goes back and edits some sequences to “remove” some of the “profanity” also grow tiresome with repetition.

Unfortunately, while the show can be funny, and it’s a delight to see Myers returning to his roots somewhat, the show drags. I’m sure it would have been a breezy, 89-minute movie that would have enabled viewers to forgive its faults. It would be an interesting experiment to hand this over to a talented editor and see if they couldn’t trim this down to something a lot pacier. Until then, however, it’s for Myers and Prisoner diehards only, at least until a whole new generation of kids are old enough to find it in the infinite scroll in twenty years.

‘The Pentaverate’ is a reminder of what Netflix took from us

Wanna know what I miss? Mid-budget studio comedies, the sort that filled the gaps in cinema’s annual calendar. The sort of lightweight, low-energy fare you and your friends could watch on a Saturday morning in the multiplex. Often they’d feature a Saturday Night Live alumnus on an initial foray into the movie industry proper, but just as equally not. Sometimes the films did well, but more often not, would underperform until it developed a second life on late-night cable, video rentals or even DVD sales. You know, stuff like So I Married An Axe Murderer.

There aren’t many cinema-released mid-budget comedy movies these days, and for good reason. Comedy is a more subjective artform than, say, action, and doesn’t travel as well around the world as, say, action. There’s no room these days for an unadulterated comedy movie with a budget in the low-double-digit millions given the economics. Hell, even something as flat and awful as Holmes and Watson cost $42 million, and couldn’t recoup that figure at the box office. I'm sure that film, too, will eventually catch on with some future generation of kids and stoners who delight in it as much as I have a soft spot for some of these early '90s comedies I was too young to see in cinemas. 

Of course, these mid-budget comedies have been priced out of cinemas and straight into our homes, thanks to Netflix. Regardless of the quality, films like The Bubble and Don’t Look Up would, in a previous era, would have slotted into a multiplex roster quite easily. But Netflix’s desire to milk as much sitting-on-the-couch-time-as-possible from every piece of IP it owns is a big problem. Mostly because of its insistence of taking ideas that would have made brisk multiplex movies and dragged them out into time-wasting miniseries. There’s a reason that so many Netflix series have pacing problems as a fun 90-minute story is padded out to four, six, eight or twelve hours.

Which is a neat segue into talking about The Pentaverate, Netflix’s latest comedy featuring a depending-on-who-you-ask long overdue return by Mike Myers. On the surface, it’s a comedy about a secret society which has helped shape the course of human history, except they’re (apparently) nice. Myers plays eight characters, given his endless love of prosthetics and desire to be remembered as his generations’ Peter Sellers. He’s joined by Lydia West, Keegan-Michael Key, Debi Mazar, Ryn Alleyne, Neil Mullarchy, Jenifer Saunders and Ken Jeong. And there’s plenty of A-list talent behind the camera too, with Orbital on soundtrack duties and Tim Kirkby directing.

Our star is Ken Scarborough, a retirement-age Toronto-based local TV journalist who is destined to be retired. On the quest for a big story to save his career, he visits the Canadian Conspiracy Convention (CanConCon) and discovers The Pentaverate. From there, his journey is to infiltrate the organization and, with the help of his cameraperson Reilly, try to expose it. Except, of course, Scarborough is walking in on a conspiracy hatched by one of the Pentaverate’s own for reasons that are fairly obvious as soon as you see who’s running the thing.

Myers is a child of the ‘70s, but his British expat parents imbued in him a love of all things British and ‘60s. Much of The Pentaverate is lifted wholesale from legendary ‘60s series The Prisoner and fans of that show will get a kick out of spotting what’s been stolen. Myers’ love for the show even extends to stealing the best joke from the series, albeit the Canadian manages to blow the punchline here. Hell, even the shadowy cabal’s helicopters are the same brand as what was used to fly people in and out of the Village.

(An aside: Are we living in the age of celebrities producing big-budget fanfiction? After all, this The Prisoner riff comes only a few years after Seth MacFarlane was able to launch his own Star Trek series.)

Unfortunately, despite the wealth of talent here, The Pentaverate falls a little flat because it’s clearly in the wrong format. There’s no proof, far as I can see, that the film was originally a screenplay and then expanded out to a TV-friendly three hours, but it sure feels that way. You can feel the narrative stretching, as characters wait around for their plot thread to start back up. Do we need multiple sequences of people riding a “hyperloop” around pulling g-force faces? No, but you can imagine Reed Hastings behind the camera, tapping his watch and insisting the runtime gets as close to three hours as possible.

This stretching also means that every joke in the show’s arsenal gets repeated a little too many times. You know that friend who really got into Austin Powers and just kept shouting lines from the film into your face? Well, buckle in for plenty of jokes about how Canadians are nice, dicks are funny, no, Canadians are really nice, and dicks are really, really funny. Oh and sex jokes, the sort that your pre-teen nephew likes to make, you’ll get some of those, too. The neater, smarter touches, like the fourth-wall breaking Netflix spokesperson who goes back and edits some sequences to “remove” some of the “profanity” also grow tiresome with repetition.

Unfortunately, while the show can be funny, and it’s a delight to see Myers returning to his roots somewhat, the show drags. I’m sure it would have been a breezy, 89-minute movie that would have enabled viewers to forgive its faults. It would be an interesting experiment to hand this over to a talented editor and see if they couldn’t trim this down to something a lot pacier. Until then, however, it’s for Myers and Prisoner diehards only, at least until a whole new generation of kids are old enough to find it in the infinite scroll in twenty years.

ASUS brings updated chips and OLED displays to a whole bunch of devices

ASUS is today showing off what it considers to be The Pinnacle of Performance in the form of a whole raft of new laptops. All of them are getting new, more refined industrial design and the more prominent use of ASUS’ Delta-style logo, as well as better thermals. Topping the range is the new Zenbook Pro 16X OLED, a 5.6lb behemoth with a 16-inch, 16:10, 60Hz 4K OLED Dolby Vision and Pantone-validated touchscreen display. Nestled inside the NVIDIA Studio-rated machine is space for a 12th-generation Intel Core CPU, reaching as high as the i9-12900H CPU, which can be paired with an RTX 3060 GPU. ASUS is saying that the most interesting facet about this new machine isn’t the raw brawn on offer, but the fact that it’s now got much more staying power. Its new cooling system, officials claim, will enable the system to burn through a 140W TDP without throttling, while generating just 40db in fan noise.

Image of the new ASUS ZenBook Peo 14 Duo OLED
Daniel Cooper

The model which will, however, catch most people’s eyes is the new, updated, Zenbook Pro 14 Duo OLED, the one with that cutsey but surprisingly useful second screen. The OLED in its product name refers to a 14.5-inch, 2,8K, 120Hz OLED display up top, which is paired with a 12.7-inch ScreenPad Plus. ASUS says that the ScreenPad Plus is now brighter than its predecessor, with a better auto-tilt which improves cooling. Inside, you’ll be able to order a 12th-generation Core i9-12900H and pair it with an RTX 3050 Ti GPU.

It’s this machine that I’ve been able to play with, briefly, before the announcement, and I'm certainly a fan. The model I was using included a 12th-generation Core i7-12700H with 16GB RAM, but performance seemed to be buttery-smooth. Also, and this might sound reductive, but given just how much is crammed into that body, it's surprisingly light and small. The only downside, like last year's model, is that the cramped trackpad takes a long while getting used to, and feels ancient compared to most modern laptops.

As well as the headline acts, ASUS is also adding OLED displays to a number of its other machines, including the 15.6-inch Zenbook Pro 15 Flip OLED, the Zenbook S13 Flip OLED and S13 OLED. You can also now pick up a bigger Zenbook Pro 17, with a 17.3-inch display and the ability to spec for AMD’s Ryzen 9 6900HX CPU paired with an RTX 3050 GPU.

Further down the product line river, the Vivobook series are also getting OLED displays thrown at several devices. That includes Vivibook Pro models in 14.5-, 15.6- and 16-inch sizes, each packing an OLED display and the option to spec a Core i9-12900H or Ryzen 8 6900HX, up to 32GB DDR5 RAM, GeForce RTX 3070 Ti and up to 2TB SSD storage. The Vivobook S series, meanwhile, gets OLED options for its 14.5-, 15- and 16-inch models, which can be specced with Intel Core i7 models paired with Iris Xe or Radeon graphics, depending on your budget and needs.

Image of ASUS Surface-like convertible in a limited edition with art by Philip Colbert.
ASUS

The company is also unloading a Vivobook 13 Slate OLED Artist Edition, versions of its existing 2-in-1 with themed accessories and kickstand covers. The artists in question are Philip Colbert (pictured) and Steven Harrington, the former famous for his pop-art style imagery, the latter working in what’s described as a “contemporary Californian psychedelic-pop aesthetic.”

Many of these laptops will be available at as-yet undetermined dates in the near future, with prices naturally dependent on the many build-to-order options at hand. The Zenbook Pro 16X OLED, when it does arrive, will set you back a minimum of $2,600, while the Zenbook 14 Pro Duo OLED will retail for a minimum of $2,000 when it’s available for order.

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ has promise, and the usual frustrations

There are reasons that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds exists beyond the need to keep the Trek content pumping so nobody thinks too hard about canceling Paramount+. It’s designed to quell some of the discontent in Star Trek's vast and vocal fanbase about the direction the live-action shows have traveled under the stewardship of uber-producer Alex Kurtzman. It’s also a slightly bewildered response to the criticism of its predecessors, Discovery and Picard, made by the same people behind those two shows. In short, it’s designed to appeal to people who, when asked what their favorite live-action Trek show is, unironically say The Orville.

We open on Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the once-and-future captain of the Enterprise after his sojourn leading Discovery in its second season. There, a magic time crystal told him that, in less than a decade, he’ll be non-fatally blown up in a training accident. Armed with a standard-issue Grief Beard™, he refuses the call to return to the stars until the siren song of non-serialized space adventure becomes too great. It isn’t long before he and Spock are reunited to rescue Rebecca Romijn’s Number One from a spy mission on a pre-warp planet gone wrong. Sadly, Paramount’s restrictive embargo on discussing the first few episodes forbids me from discussing much of what I've seen, so things will get vaguer from here on out.

It looks like it was August 2020 when Alex Kurtzman said that the show would be episodic rather than serialized. This was a way to address the criticism of the heavily serialized, go-nowhere, do-nothing grimdark mystery box stories that sucked so much of the joy from Discovery and Picard. Strange New Worlds is, instead, a deliberate throwback in the style of The Original Series, albeit with serialized character stories. So while we visit a new planet each week, characters still retain the scars, and lessons learned, from their experiences.

There are more refreshed Original Series characters than just Pike, Spock and Number One along for the ride. Babs Olusanmokun is playing a more fleshed-out version of Dr. M’Benga, while Jess Bush takes over for Christine Chapel. André Dae Kim is the new Chief Kyle, who has been promoted from intermittent extra to transporter chief. Then there’s Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura, whose semi-canonical backstory is now firmly enshrined as a Dead Parent / Troubled Childhood narrative. Uhura aside, most of these roles were so under-developed in the ‘60s that they’re effectively blank slates for the reboot. Oh, except that everyone is now Hot and Horny, because this isn’t just Star Trek, it’s Star Trek that isn’t afraid to show characters in bed with other people.

Rounding out the cast is Christina Chong as security chief La’an Noonien-Singh, a descendant of Khaaaaan! himself, Trek’s in-series Hitler analog. From what we learn of her so far, she also gets saddled with a Troubled Childhood / Dead Parent narrative, as well as a case of the nasties. I expect her character will soften further over time, but right now she’s officially the least fun character to spend time with. Of more interest is Melissa Navia’s hotshot pilot Erica Ortegas who can launch the odd quip into the mix when called upon, and Hemmer. Hemmer is a telepathic Aenar (a type of Androian first introduced in Enterprise) played by Bruce Horak. Horak plays Hemmer as an old-fashioned lovable grump and mentor figure for some of the other characters and will clearly become a fan-favorite.

And having now seen the first half of the first season (a second is already in production) I can say that Strange New Worlds will be a frustrating watch for fans. Frustrating because there are the bones of a really fun, interesting Star Trek series buried deep inside Strange New Worlds. Sadly, it’s trapped in the usual mix of faux-melodrama, clanging dialogue and dodgy plotting with the usual lapses in logic. Many writers are blind to their own flaws, which is why it’s so amusing that this is what Kurtzman and co. feel is a radical departure from their own work.

Maybe I’m being unfair, but this is the seventh season of live-action Star Trek released under Kurtzman’s purview. The three lead characters all had a full season of Discovery to bed in, too, so it’s not as if everyone’s starting from cold. But despite the gentlest of starts, the show still manages to stumble out of the gate, trying to do too much and not enough at the same time. The first four episodes, especially, feel as if someone’s trying to speed-read you through a whole season’s worth of plot in a bunch of partly-disconnected episodes.

An aside: Ever since the mid ‘80s, Paramount was desperate to reboot Star Trek with a younger cast to cash-in on that Kirk/Spock brand awareness. It eventually happened, but only in 2009 with J.J. Abrams’ not-entirely-successful attempt to reboot the series in cinemas. While a Young Kirk movie made sense in the ‘80s, mining that seam for nostalgia today seems very weird indeed. After all, most people under the age of 50 will likely associate TNG as the One True Star Trek. The fact that not-so-closet Trek fan Rihanna’s favorite character is Geordi La Forge speaks volumes about where millennial love lies. But I’d imagine a La Forge spin-off series was never going to fly with any generation of Paramount executives.

Now let’s talk about that emotional continuity, because while people will take their experiences with them, little effort has been made to pre-seed conflicts before they erupt. Arguably the weakest episode of the bunch tries to cram four (4!) A-plots into its slender runtime. One of which is a coming out narrative for one crewmember – and once they’ve come out, another character reveals a deep-seated antipathy toward that group. It would be nice, if we could have let this particular battle brew, but it’s introduced about 25 minutes in and resolved with a punchfight by minute 40. We’re not shown the person wrestling with the decision to come out and risk their professional and personal relationships beforehand, either. Just… punchfight.

A lot of these episodes don’t properly resolve themselves either, which is the standard problem for any 50-minute TV show. It’s hard to build a new world, flesh out new characters, establish and resolve their problems in the space of two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But at least three episodes feature conclusions that either aren’t clear or take place entirely off screen, explained away with a line of dialogue. I don’t know if it was a production problem, or if a majority of the show’s 22 (yes, twenty-two) credited producers signed off on it, but it feels a hell of a lot like cheating. It's almost as if the writers wanted to provoke surprise in the subsequent scene — how did this get resolved!? — over concocting a satisfying emotional and narrative catharsis on-screen. 

In fact, I’m going to harp on about this one particular episode because it’s not content with just dropping one major character revelation. The episode basically stops 10 minutes early in order to – shock horror – drop another Kinda Dark Secret About A Crewmember You Barely Know. One thing I said when Discovery started was that if you never get to know the characters in their default state, it’s not valuable to see their bizarro-world counterparts straight away. It’s the same here, Strange New Worlds refuses to do the painstaking work of filling in these characters before they start changing as a result of their experiences together.

The cast is all solid, and clearly working hard to elevate the material they’ve been given, because the dialogue here is so rough that I think they all deserve danger money. Now, nü-Trek dialog has always been awkward and/or impenetrable, but it’s beyond dreadful here. Kurtzman and co. forgot the whole “show, don’t tell” nature of screenwriting, and so characters just stand there and tell you everything, constantly. This is made worse because rather than giving space for these talented, well-paid actors to act, they’re instead forced to say what they’re feeling.

Here’s an example of that: In one episode, a character is trying (and failing) to remember a key memory from a traumatic experience in childhood that holds the key to saving the day. But rather than use the performer to convey that, they have the actor in question stand there, blank-faced, and say “I am trauma blocked.” Then there are scenes in which two characters describe what’s happening in front of them with the sort of faux-gravitas that only Adam West could pull off.

Remember when I said there was promise? There really is, and you feel like if the writers could get out of their own way, things could improve massively. There’s one episode you could easily describe as the (actually fun) comedy romp of the season and it’s great. Every Trek fan knows that The One With The Whales is the most financially successful Trek property ever made. And yet whenever a new Trek property is made, it’s always with the promise of more grimness, more darkness, more grit, more realism. Yet here we are, with the fun episode reminding you why you watch Star Trek in the first place, and making the characters fun people to hang out with. If the series could continue in that slightly slower, more relaxed groove, then Strange New Worlds could be brilliant.

I haven’t talked much about the production design or effects, both of which are great – this new Enterprise is gorgeous inside and out. Nor the series music, with Nami Melumad’s score being smart, subtle and lush in all of the right places. That’s a compliment not shared with Jeff Russo’s now standard fare, which neither matches the delicacy of a good prestige drama intro nor the soaring bombast associated with Star Trek. The best and worst thing I can say about the intro theme is that it sounds like it came from one of Interplay’s mid ‘90s CD-ROM games.

Fundamentally, I can only really damn Strange New Worlds with the faintest of praise – it can be fun, every now and again. I would imagine, and hope, that things will improve as time goes on, and the show’s makers won’t indulge their worst impulses. Given that I walked away from Picard after the end of its first dreary-as-hell run, the fact I’m at least prepared to stick around here speaks volumes.

F1 returns to ‘Rocket League’ with 2022 Fan Pass

Psyonix is announcing an updated Rocket League Formula One Fan Pack for 2022, giving players a way to unify their passions of cars bumping into one another to score points and… also that. Much like last year’s offering, you’ll get a freshly-updated F1 car model, new audio and Pirelli-branded Wheels. You’ll also be able to deck your ride out in the livery of Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Ferrari, McLaren, McLaren Miami and AlphaTauri's farm team, Red Bull. 

The car model will be based on Rocket League’sDominus Hitbox, the same one that’s used to underpin many of its crossover models. Between May 4th and May 10th, to coincide with the Miami GP, players can drop down 1,100 credits to get the Fan Pack, and those who buy now will get two additional updates through the rest of the season thrown in for free. That includes decals for Mercedes, Haas, Williams, Aston Martin and Alpine, while the fall update will include different color variants for the Pirelli wheels.

Noom is reportedly laying off up to a quarter of its wellness coaches

Insider is reporting that infamous weight loss app Noom is laying off a significant number of its coaches as it shifts its strategy. The company, which presently enables users to engage in text chat with experts, will reportedly shift to a system of scheduled video calling, reducing the need for so many workers. Internal documents suggest that the people who remain will see higher workloads to cover for the departures. 180 coaches are believed to have already been let go, with a further 315 due to join them in the coming days. Individuals who take voluntary severance can expect eight weeks’ pay, although the site says that Noom will not cover the cost of unused vacation days.

Noom, which garnered $540 million in fresh venture funding in 2021 saw its business surge as a consequence of the pandemic. TechCrunch reported that the platform had earned $400 million in profit across 2020 as users flocked to its promised mix of live coaching and CBT-inspired practices. Its critics, however, believe that Noom’s unique spin on weight loss is nothing more than a standard heavily-restrictive diet, packaged in the language of wellness. In 2021, Noom branched out into mental health coaching under the banner Noom Mood.

As FastCompany outlined last year, Noom’s key metric is calorie restriction, tasking men to limit their intake to around 1,400 calories per day. (There’s a lot of debate about the proper calorie limit for weight loss, but that figure is seen as problematically low and well below what the CDC recommends.) Last year, an Outside investigation found that Noom was not tailoring its recommendations to the age, height and weight of its users, instead issuing a stock limit for the majority of participants. That same investigation found that there is little pre-screening for people who may have lived with disordered eating beforehand. Casey Johnston, who writes She's A Beast, has also called into question Noom's advertising practices, potentially misleading customers as to its effectiveness.