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The new maximalism

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Part of The Home Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.


There is an ugly, mismatched, and rapidly growing art collection on my living room wall. Since March, I have added several works to it, including a stained print of the three little bears from Goodnight Moon that I found on the sidewalk, a cat painting I bought on Etsy for only $20 because the artist admitted he wasn’t very good, and a massive and tacky reproduction of a vintage French wine advertisement, the kind sold on the pigeon-infested tourist promenades outside the Louvre. It was leaning on a pile of black trash bags on the curb, covered in mysterious gray filth. I had to have it.

My wall of terrible art is, to me, part anxious quarantine hobby and part aesthetic journey toward maximalism, where rooms can be filled with color and kookiness and objects that don’t match, and that’s the point. Because lately, it seems, all everyone seems to want is more — and weirder — stuff.

“Girls only want one thing and it’s a living room with hardwood floors a green velvet sofa and a colorful rug,” reads a viral tweet from August. Instagram accounts full of maximalist interiors by designers like Dabito, Justina Blakeney of the Jungalow, and Kelly Mindell of Studio DIY have hundreds of thousands of followers, while popular home publications like Apartment Therapy and Domino regularly spotlight busy, visually textured spaces. “Goblincore” and “grandmillennial” design, aesthetics devoted to the collection and display of eclectic or handmade heirlooms, are going viral on Tumblr and Pinterest.

To look at a maximalist home is to get a sense of what the inside of a person’s brain might look like — the places they’ve visited, their heritage, the random objects they’ve amassed over a lifetime. And living in an apartment crammed full of potted dirt and leaves is now, for whatever reason, a status symbol.

The trend of surrounding ourselves with more things didn’t come out of nowhere; “vintage maximalism,” along with “Kindercore,” “texture galore,” and “statement doorknobs,” was among Architectural Digest’s design predictions for 2020. It is also not a coincidence that it is occurring at the tail end of a decade defined by minimalism, a way of explicitly rejecting the spare white walls and perfectly placed wooden salad bowls of professional taste-havers on Instagram. For years after the recession, this was the dominant means of performing refinement: hanging Edison bulbs, plain camel-colored sweaters, a cappuccino resting stoically on a reclaimed-wood table.

It’s easy to wonder why we actually desire any of this stuff, as if a stiff gray shirtdress and a rock-hard midcentury modernist couch were all that interesting or comfortable. But to do so means to forget why minimalism was cool in the first place — it was a backlash to its opposite.

If you have ever watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey, a specific episode from 2009 may exist somewhere lodged in your memory. In it, the loud-mouthed, table-flipping, undisputed star of the show, Teresa Giudice, enters a warehouse filled with the gaudiest, goldest, most extravagantly tacky furniture imaginable and spends $120,000 in cash. Looking back, perhaps it was a warning sign of what was to come (she and her husband would later be charged with bankruptcy fraud and conspiracy and jailed), but it is also an archetype of mid-aughts new-money taste: Gold was good, skin was in, brand logos were big, and McMansions — often designed to mimic European royal homes or Antebellum estates — were bigger.

Then, beginning in late 2007, millions of people lost their jobs, their homes, their savings, or all three. The aesthetics that emerged from the period reflected the recession; suddenly, it became less cool to look rich. Corporations that had peddled the “more is more” attitude felt untrustworthy to the average consumer, and so, as Eliza Brooke noted for Vox in 2018, the venture-backed startup brands that would define millennial-targeted minimalism were characterized by a look that was “stripped-down but warm, with lots of sans serif letters and white space.”

Interior design was simplified, too: “White walls and innocuous fixtures became popular among home decorators in part because of the Recession — the housing bubble being the very root of the financial crisis — and the lifestyle magazine Kinfolk (est. 2011) elevated that look to aspirational levels with its pictures of clean, muted spaces,” Brooke wrote.

Kyle Chayka, who authored The Longing for Less: Living With Minimalism (and who also has written the definitive Kinfolk profile), coined a term for this in 2016: Airspace. By mid-decade, it seemed that no matter where you went — the office, the neighborhood cafe, the midtown salad chain, the vacation rental — everything looked the same or at least aspired to, from Los Angeles to Berlin to Seoul: There were raw wooden tables (likely alluding to some sort of sustainability initiative), exposed brick, and midcentury modernist sofas. Most importantly, nothing was in excess; every object felt hand-selected and properly placed, creating both a friendly familiarity to new spaces and an uncanny flattening of all context.

A more stuff-free approach to home design appears, on its face, like a turn toward accessibility, opposed to the hierarchical gaudiness of the mid-aughts. But as soon as the Marie Kondo approach — to rid oneself of all possessions that fail to “spark joy” and live a cleaner-looking life — spread around the world, a backlash followed. There was the fact that once Kondo’s success became such that she had her own Netflix show, some people resented the idea that she began selling things to replace the things her clients had thrown away (though others pointed out that this does not, in fact, negate the idea that more of our stuff should make us happy).

By then, minimalism had “become an increasingly aspirational and deluxe way of life,” as Jia Tolentino wrote in the New Yorker. In other words, a mostly empty room is only interesting if it is particularly beautiful and spotlessly clean.

Minimalism is also impossible to divorce from its political implications around what, and whom, it excludes. Midcentury architects like Adolf Loos have defined modernist design as in direct opposition to what he deemed uncivilized cultures, reducing objects to their least decorative. “The kind of modernism that Loos advocated was spare and austere, highlighting the function of each object or structure rather than concealing it behind layers of frippery,” Chayka explained in the New Yorker. “He talked about ornament as a kind of savagery … referring to tribe members’ facial tattoos, and posing the reductive modernism of white Europeans as the ultimate answer to all aesthetic problems.”

Minimalism’s popularity sends a clear and implicitly racist message about what kind of ideas are valuable to a society. Of course, the average person who likes Scandinavian furniture and orderly cream-colored kitchens on Instagram likely does not subscribe to such a bleak vision. But once you see them, minimalism’s exclusionary roots are difficult to overlook.

Yet more obviously, the aesthetic meant to be a populist rejection of garish wealth was starting to become out of reach for average people. Minimalism “is hard to live with,” explains Diana Budds, senior story producer at Curbed and the author of a definitive piece on maximalist interior design. “These homes are impossible, they have no signs of life. There is something psychologically soothing about looking at these photos, there’s a lot of order and calming colors. I just don’t think that most people can live like that.”

Those who can? The ultra-wealthy, like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who spent extravagant sums on transforming their suburban California McMansion into a “futuristic Belgian monastery,” as Kanye himself described it. Among the eerily stoic photographs that Architectural Digest released earlier this year, one stands out: an almost entirely empty kitchen, devoid of cabinets or appliances aside from tiny stacks of ceramic dishes and vases in a gloomy rainbow of beige and gray. “Everything in the outside world is so chaotic. I like to come into a place and immediately feel the calmness,” Kardashian told the magazine.

This seemed to be the intent of many of the trendy cafes and public spaces that were sprouting up in places like Portland, Oregon, in the 2010s. Suddenly surrounded by it, though, art director and designer Annika Hansteen-Izora recalls how the aesthetic failed to resonate with her as a queer Black person. “Being Black in Portland, you’re very cognizant of how people are uncomfortable with the amount of space that you take up, from how loud my laugh is, the way that I dress, my hair,” she says of the city, which is more than 70 percent white. “I’m a very loud and a very vibrant person, and I didn’t see myself in minimalism. Minimalism is this idea that you’re reducing something to its necessary elements, and I wanted to ask the question, well, who is deciding what is necessary? Who’s deciding what is too much?”

So for one year, in 2019, Annika devoted herself to living a more maximalist life, giving herself permission to be louder and more passionate, to take up more space. “It really looked like centering vibrance and lushness and pleasure in my everyday life,” she explains. “My grandmother is one of the OG maximalists: Her home is completely full of plants, colors, artwork, and these things overlapping on top of one another. That’s what makes it beautiful to me — how much life there is.”

That’s also the philosophy of some Black contemporary artists — presidential portraitist Kehinde Wiley, multimedia artist Mickalene Thomas — who eschew minimalism. Nicole Crowder, who handmakes custom upholstery in colorful and heavily patterned fabrics, prefers her work to be both bold and whimsical, with inspiration from 1980s postmodernism. “I like my furniture to feel like it’s dressed, like it’s going to present itself to the world,” she says. Though some of her clients, based mostly in Washington, DC, tend to play it safe with home design, her mission is to encourage them to think bigger, to be more daring and more expressive of their individuality. “If the past six months have shown us anything it’s like, do the thing you know that you want. Why wait to do it?” she says with a laugh.

Vintage maximalism, millennial maximalism, or whatever you want to call it, is as much a reaction to minimalism as it is to the easy availability of hypertrendy, mass-produced goods. Now that you can buy a knockoff Eames chair on Amazon or Wayfair for less than a tenth of the price of an original, having an Instagram-ready Eames chair only makes your space look just like every other neutral-palette, midcentury modern room. Instead, trends like “grandmillennial” style and cottagecore prioritize handmade ornamental objects like needlepoint pillows, lace doilies, and chintz curtains that suggest some kind of personal history.

If you’ve ever ventured to the interiors section of a major history museum, you might immediately identify those stylistic inclinations as Victorian. “The Victorians are so known in the popular imagination for overstuffed spaces, heavy furniture, lots of figurines and paintings on the wall,” explains Jennifer Howard, the author of Clutter: An Untidy History.

Over the course of the 19th century, as industrialization transformed urban spaces and mass production spread more goods to more people, society encouraged the accumulation of (often mostly functionless) objects in the home as a mode of conspicuous consumption. It was the era where the idea of the souvenir was new, and so a home overflowing with memorabilia and ornament was a signifier of a leisurely life. (Houseplants, naturally, were also extremely popular during this time.)

And having few possessions, no matter how orderly you kept them, was a sign of working-class identity — people who had neither the time nor money to travel to new places and bring home objects to remember them by.

The idea that it was a moral good to buy largely disposable objects continued in the American imagination during the dawn of mail-order catalogs in the late 19th century, the rise of big-box stores in the 1960s, and the doubling in size of the American home from the 1970s to the 2010s, Howard explains in her book. It’s no wonder, then, why minimalism felt like a welcome backlash when it proliferated on social media with its promises of orderly spaces and freedom from excess. Television shows like Hoarders, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and now The Home Edit, in which a team of organization experts traipse through the pantries of celebrities and explain the importance of color-coding one’s nut butters, have captivated millions.

And yet, “it has this sort of ‘I am declaring victory over my possessions’ [tone],” Howard says. “But what an exhausting way to feel about your stuff.” Millennial maximalism offers a different way of looking at things, one that recalls an approach more like Annika’s grandmother’s: that they can be a collection of joyful, personal, and perhaps complicated things that tell the story of one’s life.

Rather than viewing maximalism as an aesthetic that fetishizes objects, Diana Budds of Curbed suggests that there’s a sustainability element to it, too. “The greenest thing you can have is something that you can use for a long time. That’s what I would say the anti-consumerist element of maximalism is: You can have all of these things and figure out a way to make it work for you instead of trying to copy this impossibly austere image.”

Hugh Long, an interior designer based in New York who moonlights as a wildly entertaining celebrity home reviewer on TikTok, is an outspoken critic of the simple “California modern look” that famous people still can’t seem to get enough of. (“I am so bored of it, it’s absurd,” he says.) “The idea of maximalism now also is kind of more of a personal approach, like you can take pieces that your client has had for years and work them into a scheme with the things that they have,” he says. “When you look at the minimalist Marie Kondo approach to things, it’s more about getting rid of everything that your client has and stripping it all back.”

Instagram and Pinterest have been particularly fruitful grounds for lively maximalist interiors, which is no surprise given that colorful, curated chaos tends to fare well on visual-first platforms — and the fact that quarantine has given people far fewer opportunities to look at new, interesting things in the real world.

It’s likely that as maximalism becomes a conscious choice among average consumers, it, too, will be swept up in unrealistic and unattainable hierarchies, in which there will be a solidified “right” way and a “wrong” way to achieve the look. But as so many people are enamored of the idea of overhauling their possessions, perhaps there’s some freedom in knowing that what you have might actually be really cool to keep around.

That’s how I see the ever-growing collection of street garbage on my living room wall. As I circle my block on yet another day of quarantine, thousands of New Yorkers are fleeing the city or moving apartments, and every time they do, they leave a little part of their old lives on their stoops. That alone makes whatever framed poster or mass-produced art print I pick up feel special, even if I can never be sure what it meant to its previous owner. We accumulate so much stuff, most of it unsuitable for fitting neatly into perfectly organized containers. But why would we want it to?

Rebecca Jennings covers internet culture at The Goods by Vox. She last wrote for The Highlight about how the coronavirus has made every social interaction awkward.



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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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