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Home, bittersweet home

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Part of The Home Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.


Close your eyes, forget the pandemic, and imagine the perfect home.

From the mailbox to the backyard, it should have everything anyone would want in it. And maybe then some. Maybe it has your dream Nancy Meyers-esque kitchen (Viking range and all), a Hollywood-worthy screening room, a recording studio. Maybe it’s a beachfront property in Malibu or a 40-acre Hamptons farm. Maybe it’s more subdued — just a nice house in a nice neighborhood. An apartment just off the water, or a townhouse with exposed brick, high ceilings, and bay windows. And a porch. And it allows pets.

Now imagine having to spend all of your time there.

Not even the perfect home could rise to the occasion. In any fantasy, at any scale, one building — ultimately, just four foundational walls — will never be enough to host what we know to be a full life.

Eight months ago, we lived lives, creating shapes on maps, individual vectors tracing out invisible lines of the places we went, in a day, a week, a month. We commuted. We traveled, making 1.4 billion international trips in 2018. Our maps, and the shapes we drew on them as we went, covered cities, countries, oceans. At less distance, we went into other people’s homes, their businesses, unimpeded and without a hint of reticence. We luxuriated in libraries, lingered in boutiques and bars, raged in nightclubs, showed up late to parties at houses or in apartments, with rooms packed full of people. We did it without thinking twice, some of us not even stopping to say goodbye. We went wherever our means could take us, wherever we wanted.

The distributed weight of those vectors of our lives has since fallen onto a single point on a map: home.

So maybe you’ve started to notice people making changes. Maybe you’ve started to notice your own. Since March, we’ve seen a run on everything from desks to dumbbells, Pelotons to pools, patio sectionals to sweatpants, and, of course, edibles. We’ve gone from occasional layabouts to running panopticons of our possessions, hunting for ways to convince ourselves that we’re emboldened — rather than encroached upon — by this pandemic, by the very places we used to find peace away from everything else.

Our homes transformed overnight into offices, schools, gyms, mosques, synagogues, bars, confession booths, practice spaces, yoga studios, and first-date spots. Whereas it used to just be a place, more than ever, home has become every place. This has wreaked havoc on our equilibriums, causing divorces and a depression crisis. Maybe some people are still thriving, or just starting to. Good for them. The rest of us are just trying to cope.

“New couch, rugs, home recording studio,” one person told me when I asked what they’d done around the house since the pandemic hit.

“We bought two Pelotons and a ton of other workout equipment. Made a guest bedroom into an office, and another one into a living room/workout room.”

“Made an office and built a patio. Moved all my shit from my studio to my house. Lots of painting and decorating.”

“Living room became a podcast studio smfh.”

“We moved and I became a landscaping lunatic.”

“Now I do bong hits in the kitchen, in addition to the other rooms I typically did bong hits in.”

Truly, whatever works.

An illustration shows a woman close up gripping a book to her head.

Before all this, plenty of us weren’t too attached to the idea of home. That was by design: A lot of us grew up in the suburbs.

In a 1992 Atlantic story titled “The Suburban Century Begins,” two architects named Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk described these inoffensive master-planned communities — where American homeownership once exploded — as what they really are: “Less a community than an agglomeration of houses, shops, and offices connected to one another by cars, not by the fabric of human life. … The structure of the suburb tends to confine people to their houses and cars; it discourages strolling, walking, mingling with neighbors. The suburb is the last word in privatization … and it spells the end of authentic civic life.”

Lucky for you if you liked the one you’re from. I’m from the famously anonymized and weird suburbs of Las Vegas, where I was born and raised. I would’ve taken the suburbs of a normal city, one with some sense of identity. Or a rural football town in Texas. Instead I got Vegas, where Cirque du Soleil constituted culture. Of the six houses I moved into and out of while growing up (in the same city!), three were in planned communities.

And as a kid, it mystified me to no end that homeownership was a key ingredient in the American dream, given how absolutely dystopian and shitty it looked from where I stood — in a house that looked like everyone else’s, houses that turned out to be as reliable a version of “home” as the fields of slot machines that pocked the city. They sold winning and delivered anything but. Suburban American real estate came to no greater zenith before the housing crash of 2008 nor lower a nadir after than in Vegas. When the needle of reality punctured this homeownership fantasy, Vegas saw the highest rates of foreclosure and unemployment in the country. Its suburbs went bankrupt.

Most suburbs are an absolute middle ground of American life. That is the point. There’s nothing remotely romantic about them. They’re a corporation’s idea of what most people would think of as an acceptable aesthetic, imposed with crushingly draconian order. To me they always felt like barracks under another name, a euphemistic version of “home” that at best resembles less an actual home than the Hallmark holiday version of one. The strange irony is that because of all that moving around, I wanted a home, some permanence, a place to put down roots. I fell more in love with the idea of home the further away from it I felt, even if I didn’t entirely know what it would eventually look like.

That dream of permanence would be entirely called into question at the moment in life I thought I’d be ready to settle into one, as a reasonably responsible professional in my mid-30s. The “moment” was not a pandemic. It was record unemployment, low marriage rates (and, with it, deepening inequality), and, yes, a lack of homeownership.

I watched the summer of 2008 alongside the rest of the world, with a mixture of awe and affirmation. Forget buying a house. Together, we learned just what a garbage storage of wealth a home can be — like a cruise liner sinking in the ocean, a home going underwater can and will drag you and your entire lifeboat with it. Young adults were racing from the suburbs by then, and the crash was pure afterburn: The idea of a more metropolitan lifestyle untethered to the deadweights of traditional middle-class economic burdens — mortgage payments, car payments — had poured gas on the fire of upwardly mobile migration into cities.

The terrible middle ground of the suburbs and their monolithic corporate pushers had followed the money inward. American sameness reigned supreme. We’d also, in that time, so given up on individual provenance — our own homes — that thanks to the magic of Silicon Valley, we could alchemize them into getaways for complete strangers.

And sure enough, almost seamlessly Airbnbs started to resemble one another, as though everyone was reading the same magazines and following the same accounts. So many of us under 40 had not only given up on owning homes — thanks to crushing student debt, a rising cost of living that didn’t match our raises, and the aforementioned volatility of a decade ago — but had also become resigned to the odd impermanence of giving up our own homes to vacation in other people’s homes. Which, if they didn’t resemble ours, resembled ones we’d like to live in.

A couple days in the city, pretending to live like cosmopolitans who own a bunch of Knoll?You can have that. A few days in the woods living out your hygge hype-beast fantasy in a tiny home, hard-posted to the ‘gram, with the added benefit of making your ex mad? Easily done. And that’s where so many of us are now: Unattached to a true, hard, individual idea of home, rootless, a permanent renter class in one way or another, with a multitude of other ways to spend our money. Fixated on getting rid of all our things and #VanLife. A digital nomad class.

It’s a weird conflict: We know that homeownership confers wealth, but we also know that trusting it to do so can be ruinous. We can live anywhere. We don’t have to live anywhere. We might have to only be here.

Which is fine, because most of us have other places to be than here. The offices, with their free snacks and catered meals; the gyms, or the respective boutique fitness studio brand of choice; the coffee shop; the galleries; the standard first-date spots; the movie theaters; the bars with dumb schticks like axe throwing; the comedy clubs; the concert venues; the intramural sports fields; the wedding venues; the record stores; the brunch spots; the microbreweries; the museums.

The point is, who needs to care about capital-h Home when it’s such a weak proposition? When we know better and have a stacked economic deck against us? When there’s so much time to be spent anywhere else? When our lives have such a distributed weight?

Or had, as it were.

Because then all of this happened.

An illustration shows a woman sleeping, curled up with a cat in tight quarters.

Herbert Hoover once told America that homeownership was an aspiration that “penetrates the heart of our national well-being.” It makes for “happier married life,” for “better children,” for “courage to meet the battle of life.”

He said those words in 1931, as he oversaw the country during — you guessed it — the Great Depression.

So let’s assume, for a second, that everything goes back to normal.

Will we ever view our homes the same way again? Is there a world in which we don’t put so much pressure on the walls around us every day? Or has this permanently reconfigured the notion of a home? Is it a point of residence, a fixed epicenter of our vectors? Or is it just a temporary way station on a map we’re constantly redrawing? Will it change the way we live in these spaces? Will we ever look at a new apartment or house and think: “What’s the pandemic configuration?”

Can we ever unsee the need to work from home and where we would do it? Will you look at a new apartment or home and not think: Could that basement be the school or where the Peloton goes? Can two of us work from here? What would a full standing-desk rig look like against that window? Is that enough natural light for a 15-hour day spent inside, not counting sleep? Or maybe you’ll forever consider the glaring fact that “this does not have a backyard, dear God,” and somewhere else might. The way we build, design, and take root in these places will forever be affected by this singular moment in time, because how could it not?

Remote work’s been proven out, and the orthodoxy of the office as an utterly necessary space has been upturned. Some people who commuted into urban centers haven’t needed to commute for months, to say nothing of the people who lived in those urban centers only because of the proximity to a headquarters or central node of an industry that made it entirely (supposedly) necessary. We can work from anywhere, because we’ve had to. The devotion to geography so many feel like they’re obligated to? As it turns out, they’re just not. For many, the definitions of the places we’ve needed to be and have wanted to be have been redrawn.

We assumed we needed offices. And gyms. And schools. And bars. We took all these places for granted. And now that we’ve had to relegate our lives, concentrate them into our boxes, we’ve proven — mostly reluctantly — resilient. And adaptable. Even if we haven’t thought of ourselves that way. Assuming you haven’t completely lost your mind, the fact speaks for itself.

Not to put too cheery a spin on it, but maybe as we rearrange our homes, as we reconsider these spaces we’ve filled with our lives, there may be something actually decent to come of this yet. We’ve thought of home so much the same way for generations, of the place it has in our lives and the design or aesthetic conventions by which a space needs to be shaped. This year has forced us to change our homes into places, more than anything, to get by.

So we do the same things we do with our lives anyway: We move stuff around. Hang the art. Paint the walls. Get the Peloton. Get rid of everything. Or just start filling your house with (sanitized) bric-a-brac. Put the monitor on the dining room table. Or take it off. Change the medicine cabinet. Refinish the doorframe. Or just take it from Whitman: “Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” Find the room with the good light.

And maybe we’ll get better at this. Be less reluctant to change whatever’s around us, whatever we think of it. Better at nesting and re-nesting. Decouple ourselves once and for all from the old ideas of where we had to be and what it has to look like when we’re there.

Foster Kamer is an award-winning writer and editor whose reporting on culture, media, trends and technology has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, New York Magazine, and Gossamer. He is currently the content director of Futurism.

Patricia Doria is a Manila based illustrator with a background in industrial design and graphic design. Inspired by airbrush art from the ’80s, her work combines nostalgia with vibrant modern settings.



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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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