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The lessons trauma taught me: A car expert’s tale



Some people wait until their 20s or even 30s to learn the life lessons needed to do something more than just live from day to day. But I learned my lessons early.

I am an automotive educator, writer and speaker; a fat woman focused on empowering women and queer people in their cars and out of them. My work, and the fine line I toe between fashion influencer and auto educator, has allowed me the opportunity to flourish as an eccentric personality. I have built a brand that allows me to be me, on my terms, loud and proud.

When I founded Mechanic Shop Femme, I had no idea that would lead to features in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune or the opportunity to share my story and passions with the world in such a public way. I did not know that my story would empower others, but it feels right to be doing this.

Growing up in a volatile home and later entering the, at times, helpless world of the foster care system was the best educator out there. It taught me the lessons needed to be resilient, creative and empowering, and has allowed me to become the confident, understanding educator that I am today, teaching people about their cars.


There is something about the sweet and intoxicating smell of freshly baked Challah, fried onions, and baked barbeque chicken that always transports me directly back to my Chassidic childhood days preparing for Shabbat. My mother taught me two fundamental lessons: Everything always happens for a reason – divine intervention; and, quite literally, there is always enough room at the table.

On Shabbat, we crowded around that big wooden dining room table, the sanctified candles flickering in the centre, in a brightly lit room barely big enough to fit us. A family of 15, most years our family had added a child to our brood.

We chattered in English as we got older, with our father often snapping and reminding us to speak Russian, our first language. As children do, we grew bigger over the years and the room grew smaller.

Before the meal, we sang in Hebrew and then recited the blessings on wine and bread before we dug in. Chicken wings were rationed for us kids to ensure there was enough to feed all of us as well as our guests, but there were always enough starchy salads and Challah to make sure we all left the table feeling full. On the surface, life was full of sunlight and rainbows, warm and beautiful. But often the tension that boiled under the surface would become impossible to ignore.

Growing up in an ever-expanding family with lots of guests, it could be difficult to be heard, much less feel heard. It was not the volume of my voice that was the problem per se, but that I often said things that my family would rather I did not. I could not quite learn to mould my message for my parental audience. Instead, I found other ways to be noticed; I would be what my parents considered a rebellious, disobedient child. I would say I was just desperate to be heard.

I loved a variety of books and magazines, not just the Jewish ones, and listening to talk radio and of course, boys. All things strictly forbidden. When I would get caught, the consequences were almost brutal. There is something about the sheering horror and pain of a leather belt and the imprints of a metal buckle that one does not quickly forget – in fact, never forgets.

Eventually, it was not just my family that wasn’t listening. As I started desperately calling out for help, my behaviour and familial religious status became what held me back. He was a rabbi, after all, and knows best how to educate his children, right?

I learned persistence and hope, grasping on to the lesson my mother taught me: Everything happens for a reason. Eventually, things would work out. Eventually, perhaps when I learned to listen and tailor my message better, I would be heard. As a child desperate for an out from an abusive home, I should not have had to do that, but it served me well in the future.

While it was a difficult time in my life, I am forever thankful for the lessons my mother ingrained in me. I do not take them as literally as she likely meant them, but they have helped mould me into the person I am today. My mother taught me that if you centre community, G-d would provide and there would always be enough for everyone. And that is how I live my day-to-day life, embracing people that have been unwelcome at others’ tables.

I work not just for myself, but also for others, by educating women and LGBTQ people about their cars. Together, we face life’s challenges – not just in terms of automotive technical problems, but also in terms of the sort of accessibility issues that are mysteries to folks who have never been unwelcome at their parents’ table.

The writer at a Pride parade the summer before her senior year of high school. She was in foster care at the time [Photo courtesy Chaya Milchtein]

A brave new world

It wasn’t until I was 16 years old that the system heard my screams and finally did something about it. In October 2011, a few months after my 17th birthday, the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare officially decided to remove me from my parents’ home. Entering foster care set me on my journey towards the career that I was destined for in the automotive repair industry.

To demystify cars for underserved communities, I have to respect and embrace the differences both of the underserved communities to the larger world and the differences of individuals within the community. Entering foster care was the first step in learning this skill: I had to learn not just who I was as a person, but also what the world was like outside the Chassidic bubble that I had been raised in.

Imagine for a moment what your world would look like without everyone you knew, without all the comforts of home, with tradition stripped away and your every move analysed and documented. Entering foster care was a culture shock. I had been dumped into a pool of freezing cold water and had to learn how to swim, and quickly.

In a small, Lutheran group home with passionate staff, I was taken to my first art museum. I watched my first action movie on the big screen as I sat enthralled, enjoying this strange new world I could completely envelop myself in. I decided I would keep kosher and cook for myself, trying to find the beauty in my faith my own way, now that I was in control of my own choices.

My first Thanksgiving away from my family was at the group home in November 2011, and we tried to make it cosy. The grandmother of one of the girls cooked and, of course, I made my own kosher turkey to share. My turkey was a hit, perfectly cooked, as I learned from my years of cooking back home, in my mother’s kitchen.

Thanksgiving did not feel much different than Passover or Rosh Hashanah at home, allowing me to build parallels between experiences of food, culture and family all coming together. Then, of course, came Black Friday. Witnessing this made the reality of how my life was changing come crashing back in.

It seemed to me this new world was really very cold – where you would jump from the warm glow of the holiday table into the midst of people fighting over discounted merchandise that they could not afford on any other day.

From the group home to a foster home, and then the next foster home, and the one after that, I constantly felt the need to be heard – but what I really needed was to learn how to listen.

I knew I needed to learn to listen when I realised I could not learn everything from my precious romance novels. That is still something I struggle with today. Listening taught me not only how to understand others but to hear beyond what they were actually saying to hear the feelings behind the words. Listening helped me learn my place in society and how the rest of the world works outside of my community of origin.

I began questioning everything, I needed to dig to better understand the complicated world I was in. After growing up in a community that strongly believed you do not have to understand the why of everything and following G-d’s word was more important, even if it made no sense, the why of things became integral to my growth.

I challenged and studied everything. It came easily at that point, being in and out of Children’s Court, as all children in foster care are – court was the place all the decisions were made, from being allowed to have my wisdom teeth out to getting a haircut – I had lots of time to read all the court documents and many, many books.

As I aged out of the foster care system, I felt the fire of wanting to truly empower people as the foster care system had tried to empower me. Because I had learned to listen, developed my skill at asking questions and embraced the differences of communities I experienced, I was ready.

Finding my feet

Turning 18 in January 2013 and then, after graduating in June, preparing to leave foster care happened in the blink of an eye. It felt strange, knowing I could finally decide what was right for me, for myself. With the weight of a thousand bricks on my shoulders, I knew finding a job was critical to my independence. I spent the months leading up to my 18th birthday and, then, graduation searching desperately.

I had worked hard for my independence, and I did not want to ever live without it. However, a job seemed to be far out of my grasp. No matter how many applications I put in, nothing seemed to come of them. I was stuck in a form of quicksand I would not wish on anyone. The clock was ticking and I had no life preserver to stop the surf from pulling me under.

With English as my second language and a general lack of an American education, I struggled to grasp spelling and grammar, no matter how hard I tried. My Chassidic parents had chosen to educate me mostly in faith and Chassidic teaching, instead of science, creative writing, maths or history. Despite this, I had a knack for gripping a reader’s soul when I shared my story. So, like many young people do today, I turned to the internet with a GoFundMe to share my personal sob story.

The writer turned to GoFundMe for support to get started [Photo courtesy Malia Howell]

I do not remember why I was at the student union at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee – perhaps it was to pick up Wi-Fi access for my laptop. It was just before my 18th birthday, I was still in high school and I was scared and desperate for a source of support since I could not seem to find a job. I sat there and cried. Eventually, the idea to start a GoFundMe came to me. My tears turned into words strung together like a fine pearl necklace, begging the world to support me in the next steps of my journey. It was humbling to ask for help.

Within days, however, I had donations from all over the world. I was in complete shock and awe of the power of my story and finding that asking for help actually worked. Just like that, the trajectory of my life changed. Faith Kohler, a postal inspector and mother in the Milwaukee area, saw my GoFundMe and reached out to me. She had verified that my story was legitimate and wanted to help in a way that would not be as fleeting as a crisp $100 bill. Faith offered her assistance in helping me find a job.

With her help, a new era in my life began. Soon I received my driver’s licence and started working as a service adviser at Sears Auto Center in Glendale, Wisconsin. I bought a car – nothing fancy, just a 2004 dark blue tank known as a Buick Century. A local woman in the community patiently answered all my questions on how not to get screwed over at the dealership. My car became my lifeline. I picked up two part-time jobs in addition to Sears and lived on Starbucks trying to cover all the bills and pay off my car as fast as I could. I did not just drink iced coffee – my regular order, usually twice a day, was a Trenta iced coffee with four shots of espresso.

The 16- to 18-hour days with no real time off did not last long. On a bone-chillingly cold day in late December 2013, while I was driving my best friend home from a community dance I had organised, someone rammed right into my car. It was left a crumpled heap of crushed metal, written off without much thought by my insurance company.

With my lifeline gone, it was time to make a change. Within weeks, I requested that Sears transfer me to New York City. I could not bear the thought of buying another car, let alone getting behind the wheel, following the trauma (both emotional and financial). I knew New York would offer me the ability to learn a lot, and quickly, as well as to become an expert in my field. This was when it became apparent rapidly that cars and the people driving them were my passion, and my ability to advocate for myself and ask my boss for the transfer I needed got me there.

The industry taught me to hold my head up high and look at the sexist male coworkers in front of me with the boldness and ego that I never knew could exist. Cars and my knowledge of them empowered me to speak with confidence. It was time to begin to chart my own way and support my community with my expertise.

The writer working on a car [Photo courtesy Chana Milchtein]

Learning to listen

Listening is essential to being a good educator and writer. I had to really understand what people wanted to read, what they did not understand and what was essential learning when I started my blog, Mechanic Shop Femme. Taking my automotive training and experience and translating it into a small business built for the benefit of others was an adventure. Still the workaholic I had been at 18, I dived right into the thick of things with a blog, spelling and grammar skills be damned! I knew that what I had to teach folks and the stories I had to tell were more important than a few small mistakes.

In June of 2017, I went live with my first blog post, telling people who I was, what I knew and what I wanted to accomplish. I was happy when my audience wanted more. Within six months, I had taught my first virtual automotive class. It came naturally to me, like a fish to water. I swam through the questions, feeding off the energy of the class participants. I felt truly alive and like I had something to give to the world. I was surprised and happy with how eager my students were. I was listening to them and they were listening to me. We were empowering each other.

Growing Mechanic Shop Femme meant showing more of myself to people. It was not just about cars. I was a plus-size model, an eccentric personality in love with brightly coloured clothing. I identify as a queer femme which means I find power in the intersection of my gender expression and my sexuality – femininity as removed from the desire to serve anyone else’s desires aside from my own and using it in the way I interact with the world.

I demanded my whole self be visible through my work. It meant becoming vulnerable and sharing parts of myself and my journey – a journey that includes falling in love with my body and growing from the bitterness of abuse and life in foster care.

I knew what poverty was and how having a car was imperative to clawing my way out of that deep dark hole. When I listened to other people’s experiences, I found similarities in our stories, a common thread that connected us as humans. Whether it was that they were a plus-size person or that they had experienced scarcity and fear, my depth of experience allowed me to listen and help to empower them in their lives.

Today, I actively allow the lessons I learned in my parents’ home, in foster care and as a young adult to lead me. I make sure I listen to the young girl I was before I make decisions or pass judgement. My mother taught me there is always room at the table and now, in that spirit, I make my business sliding scale – offering a range of prices instead of a fixed rate – which allows me to serve as many people as possible. I use the funds from the top of the sliding scale to subsidise classes and services for low-income queer people of colour and people with disabilities.

And I listen.

I listen to the people who need my services, adjusting my strategy and focus to fit their needs. I listen to myself or, if I am being honest, I try to. I learn about what makes me thrive as a person because I am done merely surviving. It is time to blossom and take care of myself so, like a perennial flower, I come back every year stronger than the last.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year



(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.

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.

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



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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