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Hybrid school might be the worst of both worlds

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Hybrid learning was supposed to be an improvement.

When school buildings closed in the spring due to the pandemic, students, teachers, and families all struggled with remote classes. But come fall, the virus was still raging across much of America. So many districts — including the nation’s largest, New York City — struck a compromise.

They would bring kids into buildings, but only for part of the day or week. That way, they’d reduce the number of students in schools at any one time, limiting viral spread, while still giving students crucial in-person time with their teachers and peers.

That was the idea, anyway. In practice, however, hybrid models could turn out to be the worst of both worlds, as David Zweig predicted at Wired in July.

To begin with, hybrid schedules don’t really solve one of the pandemic’s biggest problems for parents: the lack of child care. While having kids in school a few days a week or a few hours a day might give parents a bit more flexibility to do their jobs, “the benefits of being able to work a little less part-time and a little less erratically are not going to be anything like what you’d be getting from full-time school,” Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress who studies the impact of child care, told Vox.

And while some parents may be able to stay home with their kids on the days they’re out of school, others will need outside child care. That means kids will spend part of the week in child care centers, camps, pods, or other group arrangements — all of which increase their potential exposure to the virus, which they can then bring into their schools. “I do wonder if we are actually creating more problems through the hybrid model because now we are allowing more time for more exposures to occur,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told Vox.

Hybrid models appear to do one thing they’re supposed to do: They give kids a little bit of the in-person interaction they missed out on in the spring. But some say there are better ways of achieving that goal, from outdoor classrooms to prioritizing in-person school for younger students, who often struggle the most with remote learning.

Education during the pandemic is an incredibly difficult problem — “people are trying really, really hard to solve this,” Madowitz noted. But it may be a case where the compromise solution is far from the best one.

Hybrid models are supposed to limit the spread of Covid-19. Experts worry they might do the opposite.

American schools began weighing the idea of hybrid instruction in the late spring and early summer, when it became clear that Covid-19 would be far from gone at the start of the fall semester. Ultimately, about 12 percent of districts around the country were planning on a hybrid start as of late August, according to a survey by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. That percentage amounts to thousands of schools nationwide — New York City alone has over 1,800, serving more than 1.1 million students.

Hybrid models vary in their execution — some have students coming in only a few days per week, while others split students into morning and afternoon groups. But however they work, the idea is roughly the same: A hybrid schedule reduces the number of kids in each classroom at once to better allow for social distancing. It may also reduce the number of people each student interacts with in-person, since students often stay with cohorts that are smaller than their normal classes. And many districts are setting aside time in their hybrid schedules to deep-clean schools, although some have begun to raise questions about how much surface cleaning really matters when it comes to reducing viral spread, Nuzzo noted.

Beyond questions about the efficacy of cleaning, there are a couple of potential problems with hybrid schedules. For one thing, hybrid education doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of students each teacher has contact with, since they may teach multiple cohorts. That’s concerning because adults are at much greater risk of serious illness or death from the virus than children are. “Really, who we’re concerned about most in terms of reducing risk in a school environment is the teacher,” Nuzzo said.

Then there’s the question of what happens during the days or hours when students are remote. While some parents are caring for children at home during that time, others are enrolling kids in camps or child care centers — some of which are adapting to care for more school-aged kids. Still other families are bringing kids together in informal groups sometimes called “pods” to share child care responsibilities. Finally, older children may be getting together with friends without adult supervision.

Overall, if kids “are in some other care environment where they are now exposed to another group of people, then we may have effectively increased the number of people all having contact with each other over the course of a week,” Nuzzo said.

That, in turn, increases the likelihood that a student could bring Covid into school and infect others. A number of epidemiologists have raised this concern in recent months. For example, William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in an August op-ed in the Washington Post that “hybrid school plans make it easier for the virus to transmit into schools, simply by producing more links between schools and families along which the virus can travel.”

So far, there’s little comprehensive data on Covid-19 and schools in the US, let alone on hybrid models, but some data does show troubling hints. For example, the Covid-19 Schools Response Dashboard, which pulls together case counts and other data from a selection of schools around the country, found that, as of September 22, staff infection rates were actually higher at schools using hybrid learning than at schools with fully in-person instruction. There could be reasons for this beyond the model itself — for example, dashboard co-creator Emily Oster told Vox that schools might be more likely to use a hybrid schedule if Covid-19 transmission rates in the area are already high.

Still, there’s little evidence in the data so far that hybrid schedules make schools safer, and according to experts, there’s a lot of cause for concern.

With kids home for much of the week, parents still face child care struggles

The other, related problem of hybrid models is one of child care. In the spring, the closure of schools and day care centers caused a crisis for working parents around the country. The problem was most severe for women, who still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities.

Women also lost a majority of the millions of jobs shed by the American economy early in the pandemic, and many economists feared that without a solution to the child care problem, even more women would be pushed out of the workforce. Mothers, especially those who are primary breadwinners, faced the prospect of “having to choose between making a living and taking care of their families,” Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Vox this summer.

Some economists — and families — looked to fall as a possible respite, when a resumption of school would allow moms to get back to work. That didn’t happen. Instead, many districts started the fall either in hybrid mode or fully remote.

Hybrid models may have provided some parents with a bit of a break — as Madowitz put it, “for a lot of parents, anything is better than nothing.” But for many others, a few days of child care and supervision isn’t that much better than no child care at all.

That may be especially true for parents in low-wage service jobs who don’t have a lot of control over their schedules. Hybrid models may also pose a particular problem for families that rely on grandparents or other older relatives for child care, Madowitz said, since the virus exposure of a partial week at school could put those relatives at risk. Indeed, more than half of New York City families have chosen all-remote rather than hybrid learning this fall, with some citing older family members as the reason.

With millions of kids still at home for at least part of the week, then, millions of parents — a majority of them moms — haven’t been able to return to their normal working hours. Instead of rebounding with the return of school, women’s employment plummeted this fall, with 865,000 women dropping out of the labor force in September, compared with just 216,000 men.

And while hybrid learning may be helping some parents get a bit more work in, “when you look at what’s been going on with jobs, its really hard to believe you’re gonna get this huge pop” in women’s employment from hybrid schooling alone, Madowitz said.

Not to mention, any child care break that parents get from hybrid schooling may be short-lived if schools have to return to remote instruction due to rising Covid-19 cases in the area. That’s already happened at more than 100 schools in New York City, which closed earlier this month due to growing clusters of the virus in Brooklyn and Queens. And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the entire school system will close if the city reaches 3 percent test positivity over a seven-day period. That means any parents who have been banking on school to facilitate their work schedules will have to scramble for another solution — or quit.

When it comes to women’s employment in particular, “I’m just deeply scared,” Madowitz said.

Hybrid models may benefit students, but there may be more creative solutions that would work better

The biggest benefits of hybrid models are likely educational. “At least in the hybrid education models, the students are getting some real-time, in-person instruction,” as well as interaction with peers, which is important for social and emotional development, Emiliana Vegas, co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, told Vox.

“We know that students really thrive when they learn to collaborate,” she explained. “That’s really much harder to do in a remote setting, particularly for the younger children.”

While there’s little data so far on the effectiveness of hybrid models, there is data showing significant learning losses during all-remote school this spring, concentrated among low-income and Black and Latinx students. Experts hope that having at least some in-person time will mitigate these losses, Vegas said.

And some families have seen the benefits for their kids. Amy, a New Jersey mom who asked that her last name not be used, told Vox that remote school in the spring for her two sons, then 8 and 3, was “like a nightmare.” But with both boys in school on a hybrid model now, “this fall has been a lot better.”

Amy’s younger son, who has an autism spectrum diagnosis, “really needs the in-person guidance” and is getting occupational therapy and speech therapy during his four days at school. With him out of the house, it’s also a bit easier for his older brother to focus on remote school. He’s at home three days a week and in school for two, and though he was recently diagnosed with a visual processing disorder that can make Zoom lessons challenging, overall “things are pretty good if you’re looking at pandemic parameters,” Amy said.

While families like Amy’s are benefiting from hybrid schedules, in some districts the model doesn’t actually guarantee much in-person instruction. For example, Nuzzo said that one plan floated by her child’s district would have students come into classrooms for online lessons. “I’m not sure that that’s worth the hassle of leaving the house,” she said. “I don’t want him to be on a screen anymore if he’s going to be in a school building.”

And some fear that the educational benefits of a hybrid model could be negated by the sheer logistical challenges of bringing students into schools in the midst of a pandemic. New York City, for example, has been forced to put all its energy into health and safety, leaving little time to help teachers with the challenges of hybrid education, Tom Liam Lynch, editor-in-chief of the website InsideSchools, and a parent of a New York City sixth grader, told Vox.

Starting in the summer, parent concerns about actual pedagogy have gone unheard, Lynch said: “Parents are asking for the plan for high-quality instruction, and the city’s saying we have sanitizer.” Now it’s October, and there’s still “no leadership in terms of what constitutes high-quality learning and teaching,” he said.

Given these and other concerns, some are pushing for different solutions to the problems of pandemic education. For example, a lot of districts chose hybrid models because it was the only way to allow for social distancing within their school buildings, Nuzzo said. But districts could use outdoor space or temporary structures to make room for more kids. Alternatively, younger children could be brought back first, freeing up larger high-school buildings to host elementary-school classes.

Overall, there’s been a lack of creativity around physical space when it comes to schools, Nuzzo argues: “Think about places that were able to create hospitals and have tents and things like that, and yet we haven’t applied that level of thinking with respect to schools.”

There’s also the potential for rethinking what school buildings are for. In New York City, a lot of the conversation around reopening schools (and closing them in the first place) has been around the crucial social services schools provide, from child care to meals for food-insecure students. Instead of trying to reopen schools on a hybrid model, the district could have focused on delivering those face-to-face services while keeping instruction remote, Lynch said.

Such a solution “would have freed up building principals to be able to very creatively use millions of square footage of New York City school building space for tons of non-academic services,” Lynch said. “You could have child care at your local school in some form; you could have access to guidance, to meals, to a nurse; you could have even informal clubs and other kinds of activities that students could come in for.”

But so far, such a solution isn’t on the table in New York City. And overall, in a time when policymakers are faced with many competing priorities, schools can often feel like an afterthought.

“I am very frustrated about governments that have made faster decisions to reopen restaurants and bars and movie theaters and public gatherings well in advance of opening schools,” Nuzzo said. “It just feels like very short-term thinking.”


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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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