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How Mail Is Delivered During Natural Disasters

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Registration, education and action. We’re supporting voting in partnership with iamavoter.com, a nonpartisan movement encouraging voting, and civic engagement.

This article was sent on Tuesday to subscribers of The Mail, Motherboard’s pop-up newsletter about the USPS, election security, and democracy. Subscribe to get the next edition before it is published here, as well as exclusive articles and the paid zine.


Hey everyone, welcome to another edition of The Mail. Before we get started, two quick announcements. 

First, we’re getting the zine ready for the printer, which means this is your last chance to sign up if you want to get it, and I really think you will. Here’s a preview:

Zine preview

I can’t wait to get my copy. Make sure you get yours by clicking the button below.

Second, our colleagues at Waypoint are doing their annual fundraiser called Savepoint to raise funds for National Bailout. You can read more about it here, but basically it’s a gameathon to raise money. The whole shebang will be broadcast on Waypoint’s Twitch channel. I will be joining Motherboard’s Editor-in-Chief Jason Koebler on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern to talk about post office things. Hope you can join us! 


Ed Curzon had two minutes to get out. It was the morning of October 8, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California, and he awoke to the smell of smoke and the sight of glowing orange embers blowing in the wind. The houses across the street were on fire. 

“So think of everything in two minutes that you’d want to take from your home, and that’s pretty much what we took,” Curzon said in an interview for a National Letter Carriers Association documentary about the fires. “We got the dogs, each other, a pillow and a blanket, our cell phones, our IDs, and that’s about as much time as we had to get out.” 

Curzon’s home of 29 years burned down that day, along with virtually all the homes in Coffey Park, a neighborhood in Santa Rosa. It was the hardest hit neighborhood in the hardest hit city of the most destructive wildfire in California history up to that point. 

Curzon was one of 13 letter carriers in Santa Rosa who lost their homes. The fires continued to burn in the city for more than a week, filling the air with smoke and ash. But just a few days after losing his house, Curzon went back to work.

Jerry Andersen, president of the NALC Branch 183 in Santa Rosa, told Motherboard recently that Curzon wasn’t the only one who went back to work despite losing so much. “We asked them why they were coming in and they said ‘I don’t have anything to do.’ And they felt they had their duty to deliver the mail.”

It may seem odd that letter carriers felt the need to deliver mail while fires were still burning. After all, it was 2017. Many Americans—especially ones in Santa Rosa, not far from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley—probably believe everything important happens online or, at worst, over the phone. In a disaster, do people really need their mail? 

According to FEMA, the answer is yes. Delivering mail is considered a “Primary Mission Essential Function,” meaning it must be resumed within 12 hours of any emergency event. 

The reason for this is simple. People impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards, flooding, and pandemics need things, whether it be food, medicine, clothes, blankets, or any number of other physical objects to stay alive and begin the process of rebuilding their lives. The post office brings these things to people. And, through tools like mail forwarding, it keeps track of where people are in a way no other federal agency can.

Not only do Americans in distress need their mail, but they need their mail carriers, who have unparalleled local knowledge about their neighborhoods and the people who live there.

That’s one of the reasons Curzon went back to work while the remains of his home were still smoldering. In the documentary, he explained “I don’t know why I went to work, but I have a lot of elderly people on my route and some special needs people and there was such a lack of communication. There was smoke everywhere, there was a lot of confusion on the streets. Half of me wanted to run away from this problem and the other half wanted to make sure some of those people are going to be OK.”

Some carriers in Santa Rosa returned to their routes only to find virtually all of the homes along it were no longer there. One carrier had 293 homes along her route before the fire. Afterwards, there were only 18 still standing. As Curzon demonstrated, they know which families are especially vulnerable and need to be sought out for emergency care.

Not only do postal workers go back to work sooner than anyone else in the face of disaster, but they keep working through conditions most others wouldn’t tolerate. There has perhaps never been a more illustrative year than the one we are currently living through. Through the pandemic, hurricanes, and now historic wildfires burning across the west, the USPS has, for the most part, continued to deliver the mail.

Of course, you won’t see any LLV delivery trucks plowing through flames (unless, of course, the flames are coming from the truck itself). The USPS does, in fact, stop delivering mail when conditions become unsafe. For example, when local authorities issue evacuation orders for wildfires or hurricanes, postal workers leave, too. 

In fact, where the USPS has stopped delivering mail is about as good of a snapshot as you’ll get of where in America is currently in a desperate crisis. The USPS National Map is a kind of Down Detector for the post office. It shows which of the USPS’s 32,000-plus facilities are experiencing limited or no service due to issues ranging from power outages, maintenance issues, and natural disasters along with NOAA map overlays. As of Monday early afternoon, the map looked like this:

USPS service status map

USPS service status map. Screenshot: USPS National Map

As you can see, there are a lot of closed post offices where Tropical Storm Sally is making landfall in the Gulf Coast and along the wildfires in the west. In most of those areas, delivery is suspended as well. You can find a full list of residential service disruptions at the USPS’s website here.

It is impossible to write about the post office delivering (or not) in harsh conditions without mentioning its unofficial motto “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This sentence—written by Herodotus about the couriers ferrying news during the Persian Wars of 500 B.C—is inscribed on the majestic James A. Farley post office complex in Manhattan (which was also, somewhat ironically given the inscription, the epicenter of the 1970 postal workers strike). But the USPS’s official mission statement reads as if Herodotus got a lobotomy:

The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. 

For the countless times I’ve had postal workers recite Herodotus’s words back to me or seen the sentence cited in some scholarly or literary work about the post office, I have never heard anyone mention its “mission statement.” Hardly surprising, really, I just typed the sentence and can barely even remember it. 

But I don’t think it’s just because Herodotus’s words are easier to remember and more poetic. In one sentence, it provides what every corporate mission statement fails to achieve. It inspires people, or at the very least reminds them of a profound sense of purpose. 

And many postal workers latch onto that inspiration. Working through wildfires in particular, where health officials tell people to stay indoors as much as they possibly can, is a physically taxing experience. For example, Portland, Oregon is experiencing some of the worst air quality the country has ever seen at the moment, but postal workers are still making their deliveries. 

I spoke to one letter carrier there who described the city as “apocalyptic” right now. When he’s gotten off of work the last few days, he has a layer of grit all over his skin, needs to stick a q-tip up his nostrils to get the black smut out, and has a blistering headache. The N95 masks only do so much. He said the smoky air is much worse than other extreme weather like heat waves or ice storms, because you can take a break from those. But not the wildfires. “I don’t think I’d ever get used to this,” he said. “Every single second I’m out in this stuff, all I can think is I can’t wait for this to be over.”

When disaster strikes, we look for robustness. We look for the big structures that won’t blow away in the storm, the concrete fire-resistant gymnasiums, the places we expect to survive, and we count on them to see us through the worst of it. We look for the people who respond well in crisis, who know what to do when times are tough, who react quickly, decisively, and knowledgeably. So, too, do we look for robust institutions to help us get back on our feet. Not the ones that deliver to us only if it is profitable or easy, but the ones that are here for us every day, that endure. And, despite everything that has happened to the post office over the years and decades, there is still no American institution more robust than the post office.

In the documentary about Santa Rosa, Andersen used a phrase I have been thinking about a lot when reading the news coverage about the current wildfires. He said that once the first responders like the EMTs, firefighters, and police move on to the next tragedy, the post office workers are “the second responders. We’re there and showing people hey, we’re back, and we’re going to make this right.” 

This has been a year for second responders, the ones who quietly make life possible. The post office is far from a perfect institution, but in times of trouble, we seek normalcy. And there is nothing more normal, nothing more routine, than getting the mail. 

When I spoke to Andersen about all this, he said after the Santa Rosa fires, he noticed something strange. He doesn’t know how to explain it, but even in neighborhoods entirely wiped out by the fires, where every single house burned down, one thing seemed to still be standing in front of every lot. For some reason, the mailboxes were still there.

The Week In Mail

Mail-in voting news:

  • My colleagues at VICE put together a guide on how to vote by mail in all 50 states. 
  • Many states have harsh penalties for anyone who double votes, as Trump has encouraged his supporters to do. In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is alleging hundreds if not thousands of Georgians did exactly that in the June primary, although he hasn’t presented any evidence of it yet. Either way, it’s worth noting here how easily someone could accidentally vote twice if election officials screw up. Let’s say you send in your vote-by-mail ballot, but then go to the polls just to make sure your vote was counted, only to find it wasn’t, so you vote in person, because election officials mistakenly didn’t relay to the poll workers your vote had been tallied. Is that a crime? Raffensperger says yes: ““At the end of the day, the voter was responsible and the voters know what they were doing. A double voter knows exactly what they were doing, diluting the votes of each and every voter that follows the law.”
  • Colorado sued the USPS over a vote-by-mail information postcard being sent to every residential address in the country. On Saturday, a judge issued a restraining order against the USPS from sending the postcards out in that state. The state’s argument is that the postcard contains misinformation because it tells voters to request a ballot at least 15 days before the election, but a handful of states like Colorado automatically mail a ballot to every voter. The judge ruled the postcard is likely to confuse voters and therefore should not be sent.
    I must admit, of all the things that could potentially cause “irreparable harm” to the voting process in Colorado or any state, this postcard seems low on the risk list to me. The bullet point above the one Colorado took issue with says “Rules and dates vary by state, so contact your election board to confirm.” It then directs people to the url usps.com/votinginfo, which is little more than a portal to your state election website. Even if someone completely misinterprets the postcard into thinking they have to request a ballot when they don’t, all they will do is go online and see that they don’t have to request a ballot. Considering all the insane rhetoric about vote-by-mail coming from the White House all the way down, does anyone really believe this is what will confuse people? If nothing else, this goes to show just how poorly the USPS works with states on vote-by-mail issues. The lawsuit is here and the postcard is on the third page.

USPS news:

  • A Senate report found mail-order pharmacies reported an increase in average delivery times between 18-32 percent in the summer. Good thing no one relies on prompt delivery of…medicine?
  • “This man is doing a tremendous job,” USPS Republican board member John Barger said of DeJoy last week. Similarly, the USPS says service is continuing to improve without acknowledging why it tanked to begin with.
  • The USPS is refusing to release DeJoy’s calendars for completely bullshit reasons because the calendars of public officials are public documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The courts will eventually force them to do this, but probably not until well after the election.
  • My Motherboard colleague Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reported on a potentially catastrophic security vulnerability that the USPS Inspector General found had been hiding in their computer systems for years. USPS says they fixed it. I asked Lorenzo what he thought about this story and he said “Government systems tend to be shittily maintained but this could have been really bad.”
  • Little known fact: “Mr. Trump entered the White House when not a single [USPS] board member was in place — Republicans had blocked all of President Barack Obama’s nominees — and as its long-term fiscal viability was increasingly in doubt.” 

We have received more than 50 postcards! Thank you so much to everyone who has sent them in. In addition to featuring some here, we’re including many more in the zine. So keep ‘em coming!

And, as a reminder, we’ll be doing a snail mailbag at some point in the future, so if you have questions feel free to start mailing them in.

Our address is:

VICE Media c/o Aaron Gordon
49 S 2nd St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

A woodland path in Maine
Postcard
Postcard
Postcard
Postcard
Postcard

I couldn’t capture the holographic element of the T.rex stamp, but I can assure you it was indeed sick. Also, I hate to disappoint J. but I do not have any cool stamps. I bought a bunch of the frog forever stamps for my personal correspondence, but I’m looking to get some better ones. 

See you next week,

Aaron

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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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