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How I Get By: Five Days As a Cannabis Distributor During COVID

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The inside line on life on the job.

When cannabis operations were deemed essential businesses by the state of California, Jacob* (whose name has been changed for privacy reasons) breathed a proverbial sigh of relief. As a Los Angeles-based account executive for a cannabis manufacturing and distribution company (which will also not be named) headquartered in Oakland, California, this classification made the 27-year-old feel as secure as he could as the state and country began to shut down all but its most necessary functions.

“That was a blessing, not to worry about whether or not we’re gonna have jobs,” Jacob told VICE. According to Jacob, his company has manufacturing and distribution licenses that allow them to purchase raw cannabis materials from its network of around 50 farms in Humboldt county, California. “We send a van and a guy with cash to buy these raw materials, hundreds of pounds of flower at a time or 50 to 100 liters of cannabis distillate, and we essentially flip them by turning them into consumables,” Jacob said, by making pre-rolled joints, concentrates, and infused products to sell to cannabis dispensaries, who in turn sell product to the everyday weed buyer.

Back in February, he chronicled his pre-COVID workweek, which involved driving between dispensaries for one-on-one meetings, party-hopping with free samples, and dealing almost exclusively in cash (banks are still hesitant to work with cannabis businesses due to the drug’s federal illegality). Now, he spends time on conference calls and makes quick visits to move products with minimal in-person contact. “We had to suspend all our marketing operations,” he said. “It’s hard to build relationships that way.”

Just because the social element has been cut out of his work life doesn’t mean COVID-19 has been bad for cannabis sales. “The level of competition has been going down,” he said. “There’s just definitely not the same bandwidth of competing brands that were there before.”

This is what an average week for Jacob looks like in the cannabis industry. Originally, VICE spoke with Jacob before the pandemic, but we have added additional context from subsequent conversations to illustrate how his work has changed.

There’s a crazy territorial shift that just happened to my benefit: Somebody left the company and I got all their accounts. Now, I’m making double what I was making before, and it’s only gonna go up—but, it’s like the Dot Com bubble. Any company in this business right now is kind of trAeading water, because a shit-ton of Canadian investors that have been pouring billions and millions of dollars into these different startups trying to bet on a winning horse. There’s only so many shelves. There’s only so many licensed stores. So really, it’s like a dog fight for shelf space.

Most of my day now, like today, is just driving around in my Infiniti with all the windows down and the sunroof rolled back and just picking up the phone for people that want to order more shit, and then going out to these stores and just picking up money that they owe me, since it’s an all-cash business. It’s not where I expected my life to go by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s thrilling.

The reason that I actually came out here in the first place is because I was in love with hip-hop, but even after doing internships while managing a clothing store and working at restaurants, I couldn’t get a job at Universal or Sony—a top-tier record label that had the funds to pay me the type of money I was trying to make. So I was scrolling through the internet one day and found a job as a brand ambassador for a weed company, and that was the beginning of a beautiful fucking thing. I was instantaneously thrown into the world of licensed dispensaries, all these different brands and companies and every different market segment. You’ve got flower, edibles, vapes, topicals, tinctures… there’s a million bajillion different companies out there.

I’ve worked at three different companies; now, I’m an account executive with a salary and shit. They really threw me into some serious responsibility, but I picked it up and ran with it right away. It took me like the first five or 10 stores to really kind of see some momentum behind our brand and getting the name out there and having people be like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you before.” And then after like 15 stores, it just took off.

I make 7 percent commission, which is really high for the industry. Most people make like, 2 percent. I draw commission after $65,000 in sales, so anything past $65,000, I just make 7 percent of all sales monthly, so that’s really cool.

What I love about my life is that a year and a half ago, I was scrubbing the shit off the back of toilets, trying to make ends meet. Now, I’m literally a corporate drug dealer overlord. The amount of shit that I’m moving is like… 20 years ago, you would have been locked up for 20 or 30 years.

I got to start my day off picking up some money. When I was there, I talked to the dispensary owner about buying the “light dep” flower [cannabis grown in a greenhouse, but deprived of daylight] we’re white-labeling for a big distributor at a halfway pricepoint. It’s not as expensive as “indoor” cannabis grown in a warehouse, because you don’t have to manipulate the climate, and it’s a little bit better quality than cannabis grown outside, or “outdoor.”

We’re trying to figure out ways to maximize our margins beyond the products that we currently have available in our catalog. Most people are trying to integrate—you want to try to become the most-well rounded catalog possible. That makes you the plug. You just hand somebody a menu and you’re like, Alright, what do you want? And then they can’t tell you they’re not looking for at least one thing and your book of business.

Later today, I’m taking a couple of meetings. I’m prospecting new shops out in the San Fernando Valley and in LA proper, so I’m going to visit a couple different areas. Our goal is to just take over the state of California entirely and then eventually we’re gonna try to go to other states once once this market matures, and we actually find a way to make our operation profitable.

State governments are basically setting up the rules so that your product can’t cross state lines. So, all your manufacturing and cultivation and distribution, it’s all got to happen in the state of legality. The two to three year plan is like, finishing California and then expanding on outwards, and the end game for us is like to get acquired or sell to a bigger corporation.

I’m sure we’re gonna hit some financial roadblocks. Places get robbed. It’s an all cash business and things get lost. That’s one of the toughest things regarding my actual pay. Now, I get a direct deposit, but when I first started with the company, they were giving me a wad of cash and saying, “Here’s your paycheck.”

And as far as general finance in the industry goes, people never pay their bills on time. We cannot bank with the federal government and none of these stores can either, because it’s still a Schedule I federally illegal substance, so none of these big banks really want to keep our money. The government is watching us like a hawk, tracking product going from one side of the manufacturing warehouse over to the distribution side. .

These stores just get away with using us as a credit card and saying like, “Yeah, man, I’ll pay you for the stuff in 30 days, front me this product for 30 days.” And then 40, 50 days go by and you’re blowing these people up and they just won’t pick up the phone, because they don’t have the money.

I wish customers could just order directly from us, because I feel like we could sell like a ton of product directly to our consumer base.

I knew I broke through in this business when I got invited to Paris Hilton’s birthday party to give out free joints and take pictures with A-list celebrities. It was great. We were invited through the flower company that we’re white-labeling for. And I think it’s gonna be the first of many, honestly. I think a lot of high-profile clients are gonna give us a platform to try to do some brand integration into the mainstream.

I think it’s really cool that we have an opportunity to hang out with famous people and get them to give us a name-drop or a shoutout. I think the more appearances we make and once we really start generating a profit to be at clubs and over at smoke lounges once those are legalized… I think it’s gonna be sick. The future is really interesting. When I first got to California, nobody was trying to invite me to Paris Hilton’s birthday party, shit!

Just to get myself into this position, like I had to make a lot of sacrifices. So I’m really proud of myself. Like even my parents who raised the kid on the East Coast hoping that I’d be, like, a successful lawyer aren’t disappointed. They’re actually really impressed that I’ve been able to kind of like build a foundation for business and do outside sales. I mean, it’s a corporate job… it just so happens in the weed industry.

Before this, I was doing regular, in-store marketing events at dispensaries: We set up a table and we give away t-shirts, lighters, and a fat discount on the product sold in the store to get people to try it out and build some loyalty in our consumer base.

It’s wild, building a brand from scratch. It’s only been two and a half months into the year, but now I think I’m at around 61 active accounts. When I first started this job, I was wondering who was going to order from me. Now, I really don’t even have to hit people up anymore. They just hit me up all the time, because it’s just on a cycle, two week periods at a time. People order shit, they need more shit.

DAY FOUR

I don’t have to leave my house till 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon most days, just to go around and pick up money, and stop by shops and do tabling events and product demonstrations. Some days I literally have to start at 9:00a.m. and drive all the way into a different city so I can pick up cash, but a lot of days of the week are just like work from home, wake up, check emails, follow up with prospects, follow up on accounts receivable.

But a lot of it is just phone calls and emails, once you really get out there in the field and have your relationships filled out. Our PR exposure is looking really solid right now. I’m hiring somebody to actually go out and do events for me. It’s a lot for me to balance right now: Every day is booked, every day is extremely busy between the money and the phone calls. I’m always on the road and traveling, meeting people.

Before it got canceled, we were preparing for a big industry event in Palm Springs, the Hall of Flowers, and we’re working with a company that sells the flower that we’ve been white-labeling. They’re the ones that got us invited to the party, because they have some really high-profile investors.

Good old flower is popping off right now. It’s what you think about buying when you want to go to a dispensary most of the time. Me personally, I’m not a big edibles guy. I eat edibles, and I smoke a ton of wax, but flower is the staple, the classic, and that’s really where I see the future.

When we heard that San Francisco was on lockdown, the first thing I did was call my CEO. I was like, “Hey, man, like you guys are in Oakland like what’s going on?” And he told me our manufacturing license doubles as a medicinal manufacturing license, so cannabis dispensaries and manufacturing and distribution companies have been deemed a medical necessity.

It’s really good news for us because as a startup, with the economy crashing, it could put a nail in the coffin. It’s scary, because with retail trends falling off at such a quick rate, we’ve still got bills to pay just like everybody else.

When the outbreak first hit in early February, we were getting crazy amounts of orders. I did close to like 50 G’s in a day. It was nonstop phone calls and emails, people were stocking up like it was Costco! We got cleaned out super fast. Luckily, we have a really good manufacturing and distribution team that was able to like get stuff processed and ready to sell again, but today, sales have been ghosted. It’s like everybody’s stocked right now, and people aren’t seeing the same volume of traffic come through the store, because everybody just stocked up last week. So next week, who knows, man, it could be like the Hunger Games out there.

I’m in LA, so the virus is here. It’s crazy with everybody walking around in their masks and stuff. The moral that I see here is that weed is just as important to people as food or

toilet paper. Because if you take away the weed from the people, you’re, you’re gonna cause panic. It definitely has medicinal properties.  I’ve spoken with cancer patients, people with chronic sleep disorders, eating disorders, you name it. Weed is keeping the world going around right now!

Today I’m at home and basically just putting together a plan of things that I can do once this clears over, besides my usual accounts receivable collections and figuring out who needs to order. As far prospecting and doing my in-store events, we’re in isolation, so it’s hard to take up more market share right now. But, I have a huge book of business and a lot of people calling me still so even if the growth is stagnant, hopefully we can just maintain what we’re doing.

I think with all the contributions that cannabis companies are making in state tax dollars and revenue, it only really made sense for us to stay open, Otherwise, all these like private equity-backed startups that would have just gone under. For the course of June, July and August, every single one of our territories like the South Bay, up near Santa Cruz, Sacramento, SF, LA, San Diego, absolutely took off.

Still, it’s not all perfect. We had to suspend all our marketing operations. We had to reduce some of the people off the manufacturing line. We’re paying temp workers to roll joints for us right now.

It’s kind of weird, trying to go into dispensaries and having a conversation with somebody that’s gonna buy in bulk from you, and they can’t even see your face. There isn’t really any window for me to go in and set up a table and have a one-on-one with people walking into a dispensary and letting them know, “Hey, we’re trying to promote our joints, like we’re running a deal on them, try them out, they’re dope!”

But, I think all the work we did in the last year and a half really, really set us up well to take off and maximize the capacity of what our distribution network was capable of doing this summer. Today, we’re about to hop on a conference call in a couple hours and talk about our goals and where we’re at for Q3 right now, and it’s all good news.

That’s the weed business right now. I see good things. I see a positive future. I see it helping a lot of people. And I see it making me a wealthy man.

Follow Katie Way on Twitter.

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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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