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That Time John McAfee Developed One of the First Social Networks

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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.

Let it be said that we must live in particularly interesting times when John McAfee, one of the most controversial people the world of technology has ever produced, can get arrested in a foreign country for tax evasion … and people barely even notice.

But that’s what happened earlier this month—and as a result, McAfee is sitting in a Spanish jail, waiting to be extradited.

A lot has been written about him over the years, but I’d like to focus on one part of his life that has perhaps been overshadowed by his unusual existence over the past decade: The fact that, in the late 1990s, he was a social media innovator.

That innovation? A chat app called PowWow that, despite a certain McAfee imprint, was well ahead of its time. Here’s why you probably don’t remember it.

The year John McAfee resigned from McAfee Associates, the company he founded in the 1980s that became a major distributor of antivirus software. The company, a multibillion-dollar giant today, nearly sold to Symantec years before it hit its later peaks, but McAfee was talked out of selling his namesake firm by a low-level analyst at a venture capital firm that realized the fundamentals of the company were quite good. While he later left, he did so with a lot more money than he would have had previously.

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Image: Steven Weeks/Unsplash

How John McAfee turned a Winnebago sabbatical into his second startup

Everyone has likely heard the story of how Jeff Bezos quit his job in the financial industry and came up with the business plan for Amazon while on a cross-country trip to what would become his new home in Seattle. (Bezos, of course, didn’t drive as he hashed out this plan; his then-wife, MacKenzie, was behind the wheel.)

Less heralded, but perhaps more interesting, is the trip that John McAfee took throughout the Western U.S. after he quit his leadership role with his namesake antivirus company.

Like Bezos, McAfee’s excursion led to the launch of a new company. Unlike Bezos, this was McAfee’s second round in the Winnebago, which is where the antiviral legend got his start when he was first trying to pinpoint computer viruses sometime in the late 1980s.

As recounted in a 1997 article in the legendary tech business magazine Red Herring, McAfee’s second encounter with a Winnebago came after he had a minor heart attack, which led him to sell his company and go on an extended trip to the Rockies, where he encountered various Native American tribes. Those tribes directly inspired his follow-up company—and its inevitable location in the relatively tiny Woodland Park, Colorado, near Pikes Peak.

When McAfee gave away his antivirus software in the 1980s, he did so because of a New Age philosophical approach that suggested that software shouldn’t be sold. Likewise, he found inspiration in the Native American tribes he visited during this mid-’90s journey. Per Red Herring:

There’s an entrepreneur living in the shadow of Pikes Peak, Colorado, who thinks software is a living tree and can’t be sold. So in his last venture he gave it away. He sees the Internet as the physical manifestation of what Indian shamans call “the golden thread,” and his latest project, Tribal Voice, is an attempt to capitalize on this mystical vision.

And where did that mystical vision lead him? It led him to multimedia chat software that was years ahead of the instant messaging trend that would eventually take hold thanks to AOL, ICQ, and later Skype.

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An example of the PowWow chat software, which was also an early example of instant messaging.

The software Tribal Voice created, PowWow, may have been one of the first social networks, thanks to its focus on “tribes” as an organizational strategy. It was a great spot to converse—if you could look past the website.

“PowWow lacks the robust business-oriented features of packages such as WebPhone, but if you’re looking to specialize in a chat-room atmosphere and don’t mind enduring the ham-radio quality of the conversations, PowWow might be just the ticket.”

— A passage from a 1996 review of PowWow in _PC Magazine_**,** which noted that the application’s big strength was the size and reach of its community. Not so hot? The voice chat, which didn’t work so well on the modems of the era, at least at the time of testing.

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Tribal Voice, as it appeared in 1996 and 1997. Image: Internet Archive

Tribal Voice’s initial marketing strategy appropriated Native culture—with a huge side of cringe

The software was good, but Tribal Voice had branding that very much reflected its unusual founder. It had a website (at tribal.com, of course), that was in many ways pure cringe … that seemed to almost make a mockery of the Native American culture that inspired the company.

On one early version of the Tribal Voice site, the about page included a photo of McAfee and company, under the banner “The Outlaw Geeks,” brandishing various types of guns. (Given what we know about McAfee now, it checks out.) And another page featured a “Tribal Voice Yuppie Catalog” which makes one wonder what exactly McAfee learned from his time visiting Native tribes.

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A staff shot from the Tribal Voice website, circa 1997. So yeah, that happened. Image: Internet Archive

The company’s active borrowing of Native American imagery and wording drew the ire of an early online Native American activist, Paula Giese, who called the material on the site “sacreligious.”

“Our Sacred Pipe, sweat lodge, cedar, tobacco, all of our most important symbols, ceremonies, objects, places are not just exploited but desecrated, trashed, by this Tribal Voice corporation, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing its commercial site, but has advertised itself all over the web as ‘Native Culture,’” Giese wrote.

Giese, who died in 1997, had a notably tense online interaction with McAfee, which is saved on the Internet Archive for all to see. (McAfee’s defense? “This is probably not an appropriate site for teenagers. We are focused on adult issues,” he wrote.)

It also did no favors from a PR standpoint. Gary Flood, a reporter for Computer Business Review who was doing a profile on McAfee, recalled being weirded out by the site’s many inside jokes and garish color scheme. His thoughts:

Initial impressions: geek city, lots and lots of feathers and cosmic colors, man, a major section of the site being devoted to the self-admittedly crazy ramblings of an escapee from the Pikes Peak Mental Facility who is obviously some loon one of the programmers thinks is cool, and what seems way too much stuff about ‘adult’ web sites and marijuana.

Nonetheless, despite the somewhat disturbing web branding scheme (which Flood had been told was likely going away at the time of his early 1998 interview), the software’s community-building mentality, something of a combination of IRC and Skype, found a lot of early success. Despite the cringey way the site showed its inspiration, the tribes concept did lead McAfee and company in the direction of social media years before most people cared.

An early Tribal.com page dating to 1997 pinpoints more than 700,000 separate users on its “white pages,” which were pages that people could sign up for to find people to chat with. (Unlike, say, Twitter, you actually had to look people up as if you were using a phone book.) PowWow, says McAfee, attracted numerous walks of life.

“We let people set up whatever tribe they want. We have, for example, a gay Hispanic tribe,” McAfee told Red Herring. “Our biggest tribe, believe it or not, is an Icelandic tribe. We also have an enthusiastic user community in Rio de Janeiro.”

Forgotten today, PowWow was a nice little success at the time—especially after it ditched the weird website. On the way to making things more professional, they even brought in a new CEO, Joseph Esposito (who, true story, once pushed back on a story of ours that discussed his prior employer, Encyclopaedia Britannica). And McAfee, still just a few years off from leaving a hugely successful company that he created, had no trouble attracting investors, unusual site or not.

But the PowWow software attracted a major enemy that would eventually land a body blow: AOL.

The amount McAfee made from selling half of Tribal Voice in 1997. McAfee would later cash out entirely, selling the company to a dot-com incubator, CMGI, in 1999, for $17 million. (Not a bad payday.) In a 2010 piece on McAfee in Fast Company, Tribal Voice employee Jim Zoromski implied that McAfee was actually scared off by the company’s success—just as he was with McAfee Associates years earlier. “When John was at Tribal Voice, the growth rate was incredible,” Zoromski said. “But when it got to be too popular, it started to feel too much like work, and John wasn’t interested.”

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How AOL took a bite out of Tribal Voice

With Tribal Voice, John McAfee and his rag-tag crew of programmers in small-town Colorado were early to one of the most important early trends in technology during that period—instant messaging.

But the fact that PowWow is basically forgotten while its most high-profile competitor, AOL Instant Messenger, is fondly remembered today, may not exactly be an accident.

By 1998 or so, McAfee’s follow-up company was seeing real success in one of the hottest areas of the early internet—in part because McAfee knew a lot about both building communities and selling technology to the public.

(McAfee, infamously, helped to hype up the craze around the Michelangelo virus in 1992 … which helped to boost the profile of his antivirus app.)

He could also sell technology to companies: Shockingly, given the photo I just shared with you above, Tribal Voice scored a partnership with friggin’ AT&T, with PowWow helping to power the instant messaging capabilities of the telecom giant’s WorldNet service.

Part of what attracted WorldNet to PowWow comes down to its ability to work on multiple networks, including AOL and MSN Messenger. This gave PowWow—and AT&T—a competitive advantage, as it could work across networks with ease.

This wasn’t something, however, that AOL liked. In fact, AOL didn’t like anyone encroaching on its instant-messaging turf and took steps to protect it at all costs: It outright purchased ICQ, attempted to block competitors from using similar terminology to AOL Instant Messenger (a fight it fortunately failed at), and took steps to block Microsoft’s MSN Messenger from its users.

Smaller IM services during the period were trying to make a case for interoperability, so that users of one network could reach friends on any of them. For a time, AOL offered guides that described how this was done to allow for the development of Unix-based clients for AIM. The problem was that its competitors read those posts as well, and PowWow found itself pulled into a messy battle as it attempted to raise up its own application by adding AIM support, and admitting it was doing so without any approval from AOL.

Tribal Voice created a mortal enemy with this move, and it likely hastened the demise of the PowWow tool, which found itself at the center of a high-profile battle with AOL that worked to make the case for interoperability between instant messaging clients. It was a game of chicken for a while; PowWow would add functionality to enable AIM support, AOL would shut it down. 

At one point—which should be noted, came after McAfee had left the company—Tribal Voice and other clients found itself making this case in front of the FCC.

According to a New York Times article from the era, new CEO Ross Bagully evoked Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Case, on behalf of the IM industry and users everywhere, tear down this wall!”

But ultimately, the cause of encouraging open IM support came at the cost of the original weird Native American-inspired thing that McAfee built. The new owner lost interest in PowWow entirely, and shut the app down at the beginning of 2001 … while claiming continued interest in IM technology as a whole.

“After careful review of CMGion’s business objectives and strategic direction by its new management team CMGion feels that the PowWow technology is not an integral part of CMGion’s mission,” an FAQ from the shutdown stated.

One has to wonder, if McAfee stayed with the company he started instead of leaning on the easy payout, where it might have gone. After all, he waited with McAfee Associates … and look where that company is now.

It’s so bizarre to think about this product in retrospect.

PowWow was a genuinely innovative product, one that predicted the success of about half a dozen apps that followed it. But even folks that did use it only have faded memories of it. I’m sure I used this program in 1996, but I completely forgot about its existence until I started writing this and went, “Ohhhhh.”

It might come down to the fact that it was simply too early.

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Jason Pontin, then the editor of the MIT Technology Review, argued in 2005 that one of the reasons that PowWow didn’t see the level of success that McAfee’s antivirus suite did, despite also being sold for free, was that the market wasn’t ready for his inventions. He was a first-mover in a second-mover market—something that was not true of his first startup, which innovated most effectively thanks to its business model.

“Tribal Voice was the innovator in two emerging markets, now much in the news, whose dynamics are still only partially known. The first is multiprotocol IM. The second is social networking,” Pontin wrote. “Today, thriving companies like Cerulean Studios and LinkedIn can be found in both markets. But John McAfee was there first, even if he didn’t know how to make money from Tribal Voice.”

Today, McAfee is a colorful figure, one of tech’s most interesting and controversial. But despite his success in antivirus software, there’s a strong case to be made that he also should be celebrated as a social media pioneer.

Well, if you can look past the photo.

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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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