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That Time $50 Used Apple Laptops Caused a Stampede

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A version of this post originally appeared on Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about kids trying to embrace the weird world of remote learning.

The problem is that the technology, while it’s ready to handle such use cases, isn’t as accessible on a universal scale as it needs to be.

To put it another way: Many school districts, due to budget considerations, still do not give away laptops or tablets to every student in the way that most employers give their employees a laptop (or possibly even a phone). We may believe the children are our future, but good luck getting someone to put in a down payment on a decent computer during a pandemic.

The truth is, though, that this has always been a challenge. The pandemic simply puts it into sharp relief.

Back in 2005, another strange situation put this into sharp relief—although that situation was a bit more manmade. 

Let’s go back to the time a school district decided to sell its old iBooks for $50, and the havoc that decision wrought.

The number of iBooks that Apple supplied to Henrico County, Virginia in 2001, in two separate shipments—one for high schoolers and one for middle schoolers. The plan, which was timed to the 2001 announcement of the white polycarbonate iBook G3 “Snow,” reflected how the county school district, outside of Richmond, was ahead of its time on technology, having purchased the proverbial “laptop for every student” at a time when computers in the classroom for most meant having a well-stocked computer lab. “This is the mammoth–the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever,” Steve Jobs said in a news release at the time. (That said, it does appear that many of the laptops Henrico County received were of the older first-gen iBook style, akin to the original iMac.)

How Henrico County became an iBook innovator before it became a weird footnote

There are two stories about the Henrico County, Virginia school district worth discussing in the context of computing history: The fact that the school may have been one in the first in the country to give a laptop to nearly every student, and what happened to those laptops after the district decided to upgrade.

The first is a story about a forward-thinking district leveraging its largesse for the purposes of equipping its student body for the future. The second, unfortunately, kind of has a Lord of the Flies-type vibe.

Let’s spend a little time talking about the first part, because it really was an innovative program. In 2001, Henrico County entered into a lease-to-own program with Apple, at a cost of $18.5 million, to supply an entire district with laptops. Dr. Mark Edwards, the superintendent of the Henrico County School District, spoke positively of the program when it was first launched.

“The iBook is going to change education in terms of how we teach and learn,” Edwards said in a promotional video for the second-generation iBook. “It’s a tool for collaboration; it’s a tool for invention, for exploration. With that, we developed a vibrant learning community where everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher.”

The Apple deal had ripple effects—other nearby schools, such as Lindsay Middle School further down Interstate 64 in Hampton, Virginia, also started experimenting with laptops around this time, and other districts across the country started using laptops at slightly smaller scales. Apple’s long-standing push toward education, which helped keep the company afloat even during lean years, seemed like it was getting a few successful hits thanks to the iBook.

(Heck, Apple even developed its own specialized cart for holding the laptops when they were not in use, for schools that didn’t want students to take them home.)

But being an educational setting, there were (of course!) hiccups in Henrico County. While the program drew positive initial headlines, it gained its first hint of notoriety after 50 to 60 students were caught downloading porn on their machines—which (of course!) led to news coverage. One concerned parent let his opinion on the laptops be known.

“We have given them adult equipment—tools,” he said in comments to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We have given them to kids who are using them as toys. We’re passing it down the line to kids who aren’t quite ready to use it and they’re going ape.”

And students were attempting to hack into the school district’s systems to change grades.

But Henrico County was willing to correct mistakes as needed. The wired network, which the teachers largely used, was separated from the wireless one that the students did. And in a 2002 article about the laptop program, Henrico schools technology director Mike Smith noted that the district had pretty good content filtering—an upgraded version that was 95 to 98 percent effective. He was a realist about the other 2 to 5 percent.

“The porn industry wants to get to children,” he told the Associated Press in 2002. “As long as that’s the case, you’re never going to be able to block 100 percent of it.”

All in all, pretty much what you would expect for the launch of a laptop program for classrooms in 2001.

The amount that Dell reportedly undercut Apple in a successful bid in 2005 to win the laptop contract for high-school students that Apple had earned for the iBook sale in 2001. (The middle-school contract largely stayed in place.) While the county said it valued its relationship with Apple, that deal was expensive to keep—and by the time the district started working with Dell, it had spent $43.6 million with Apple over four years.

The day that Henrico County’s wide-scale iBook experiment turned ugly

When it comes to computers in highly organized contexts like education or business, there’s a constant need to upgrade. Generally, the cycle is around three years, maybe longer if your budget is tight.

With Henrico County, the cycle was about four years. I know this because of the strange situation that happened at the Richmond International Raceway on August 16, 2005. On that day, the county held a surplus sale in which the district sold these laptops, which originally went for around $1,400 new, for the bargain-basement price of $50.

The news stories, which got significantly more international press than the original agreement between Henrico County and Apple did, implied that desperation was driving the people trying to get these computers. People got trampled. Some needed medical care. Someone lost their sandal during the melee. One person wet themselves while waiting in line.

But these were $50 wireless-enabled computers at a time when, if you went to the Apple Store, $49 could buy you a mouse. For many families without access to technology, the value proposition spoke for itself.

Still, these laptops were fairly out of date at the time, but not to the point of uselessness. While you could get online with them, they would likely be quite pokey with the latest version of Mac OS X at the time, 10.4 Tiger. And they were soon to be made completely obsolete by the transition away from PowerPC announced two months prior.

And again, these were laptops used by high schoolers in all states of disarray. This may have been the most expensive thing a young teen ever owned, and odds are high that they’re going to break it. If a kid got a hold of a lighter and used it to melt down some of the plastic, or decided to draw on the back with a permanent marker, all that stuff was still there.

But they were computers, and they worked. And for some people, that’s all that mattered.

Now, surplus programs are generally not promoted very much, are low-key affairs, and are ways to get a computer on the cheap.

But that’s not what happened in Richmond. It was announced publicly, including on the school district’s website, and promoted to the media. A passage from the announcement:

A unique opportunity is available from Henrico County Public Schools. Used Apple iBook laptop computers will be on sale for $50 each, with a one-per-person limit. The one-day sale will be held Tuesday, Aug. 9 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

One thousand laptops will be sold at the school warehouse—361 Dabbs House Road beside the Eastern Government Center—on a first-come, first-serve basis. Only cash or checks will be accepted.

The white, Power PC 750s with 12-inch screens have 320 megabytes of memory, Mac OS 10.2.8, and AppleWorks 6.2.9.

The public announcement that the district was getting rid of a thousand iBooks created a frenzy, one that spread far beyond the school district’s borders and hit the international news. For one thing, Apple blogs drew attention to the event, and Apple fans are crazy, so many of them legitimately discussed traveling long distances to get a $50 laptop.

While the school district managed the devices while they were still in the classroom, the Henrico County government handled their sale and disposal, and did so in a fairly haphazard way.

Case in point on this issue: A quote from a guy who was beating people with a lawn chair in an effort to protect his spot in line.

“I took my chair here and threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam,’” the guy said. “They were getting in front of me, and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just.”

(That quote was enough to draw the attention of famed Microsoft blogger Raymond Chen, who deadpanned of the man’s claim, “That’s one of the guiding principles this country was founded on.”)

If anything, the overwhelmed reaction to the iBooks reflected something basic: While Henrico County did its students a lot of good by purchasing these laptops, and put in a lot of work to acquire them and run its program, the program did not go far enough. The school district spent tens of millions of dollars on these machines, and when they were spent, the district tried to extend their life in the most haphazard way possible.

The district didn’t even bother to limit the sale to county residents until it started getting attention on Apple blogs. And by then, the buzz around the selloff all but guaranteed a bad result.

Looking at it now, the tragedy of the situation is much more clear: There were lots of people in its community that could use these machines, and even selling them for cheap left people out. A quote from Paul Proto, the director of general services for Henrico County, seemed telling to a degree, a general misunderstanding of the situation.

“It’s rather strange that we would have such a tremendous response for the purchase of a laptop computer—and laptop computers that probably have less-than-desirable attributes,” Proto said to the Associated Press. “But I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement of the event—it almost has an entertainment value.”

Yes, that is probably the most common, least charitable interpretation of what happened that day. But on the other hand, what if that value was handed off to people who needed it the right way, say, through a nonprofit like Goodwill?

This was the age before the smartphone, when real internet access required a computer. I imagine some of these people just wanted a way to get online, or at the very least, an extra machine to tinker with or hand off to their kids.

One has to wonder if we are too quick to throw off good technology just because it’s outdated.

The approximate value that the iBook G3 devices sold by Henrico County kept over four years, based on their $1,299 list price in 2001 and $50 selling price in 2005. (One presumes that Apple gave the school district a discount.) That means that someone who started high school in Henrico County in 2001 saw the laptop that got them through four years of school lose 96 percent of its value through normal use. Can you imagine an equivalent device depreciating at the same rate today?

We’re 15 years past the Henrico County stampede, with a bigger need for older devices than ever. And we’re struggling to manage them correctly

Part of the reason I found myself reflecting on this story was a discussion I had with a Twitter pal of mine, John Bumstead, a recycler and reseller who specializes in old Apple equipment through his company RDKL, Inc.

Bumstead often sees old machines like vintage iBooks and MacBooks pass through his purview, many of which are good enough to reuse. But for many recyclers, there is often a cost/benefit equation at play. The way he put it to me involved electric drills getting taken to iBooks. At some point, the value equation may mean even working machines find their way to the scrap heap—because its raw materials are worth more than the machine itself.

“Recyclers have the unenviable task of deciding the fate of millions of devices—scrap it, or if it’s valuable enough as what it is (a usable computer), sell it to those who would repair/refurbish,” he explained in an interview. “A laptop has about a $10 scrap value, meaning if its parts are broken down (plastic, board, screen, battery, metal), the material can be sold for about $10.”

Perhaps the saddest examples, at least on the Apple side, are the “cloud-locked” machines, which are otherwise perfectly functional but made useless by anti-theft functions contained in iCloud. Many customers get rid of their devices without turning off this functionality, and the result is that phones, iPads, even modern laptops are of no resale value beyond the worth of their metal.

During normal times, stuff like this is already bad enough. But we’re facing a historic need for computers—particularly those just powerful enough to get a 7-year-old through a virtual learning session while working remote. And computing disparities can remove learning gains. While many schools have options like Chromebooks and iPads available, many others do not.


Bumstead notes that, as a non-certified refurbisher, he’s often not put up against the more stringent standards for certification. While it limits his access to machines from more traditional supply chains, in a way, this has put him in an unusual situation where he ends up taking the machines deemed not good enough for other recyclers—often polycarbonate MacBooks that can still access the modern Internet and still work just fine with a little TLC, but are more than a decade past their sell-by date. (The video above explains his POV on this situation.)

“I’ve sold hundreds in the last few months to people using them for school. And the irony is that they came from schools, were retired to recyclers, became half-destroyed in the process … then I pieced them back together and sold them back into circulation for students of the schools to use,” he said. “It begs the question: Why didn’t the schools just continue using them? Or better yet, why didn’t they give them to students directly?”

As for the reaction Henrico County saw for its iBooks in 2005? Bumstead gets it, based on what he sees in the modern day. For many buying these machines, the need for technology often outpaces their knowledge of what makes a good gadget for their given situation. While the technically inclined might find value in the dumpster, expectations need to be set when it comes to things like laptops with working webcams and functional Wi-Fi.

“People simply don’t know what they are buying; they are simply mesmerized by the Apple symbol,” he said. “And unfortunately at a time like this, that probably leads to them getting ripped off.”

I don’t talk about this much, but there was a brief period of my adult life where I didn’t have a working home computer. It was maybe about four or five months.

And the reason that it happened comes down to a known GPU fault in the iBook G4 I had at the time. The problem hit during the worst possible time: In early 2006, amid a transition period of my life, after I had left a bad roommate situation. I was broke, and I had recently moved halfway across the country, so I got rid of a bunch of stuff before I left town, including my old desktops. Student loan bills were starting to really hit for the first time. And while I had a good job in newspapers, it was simply going to take some time to raise the money I needed to replace the dang thing.

If I had technical knowledge at the time, I perhaps could have fixed it. But the laptop was second-hand and didn’t have AppleCare, and I was hundreds of miles from the nearest Apple Store. So, instead, I kind of had to live without it. I stayed longer hours at work to handle computing-related things, and went home, and just watched Stephen Colbert and the series finale of Arrested Development. (Which, famously, ran against the Winter Olympics.)

And because I was a sucker, when I finally saved up enough money, I bought the exact same machine—this time, however, with AppleCare.

I’m sure I joked about the iBook riots online in 2005. Heck, everyone did. Had this happened when Twitter was around, it potentially could have been a far bigger pop-culture moment than the footnote it became.

But I kind of look back at this time, knowing what I know about disparities and access, and I wonder if Henrico County—despite being visionaries around the role of technology in classrooms—realized after the fact how raw a deal it was giving to those in its community who were living without home access to modern technology.

It could have been a great moment. Instead, it was a disaster.

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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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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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