Airbnb hosts offer free housing to evacuees displaced by California wildfires

With California’s recent cluster of devastating wildfires destroying homes and claiming lives, Airbnb is offering some shelter to displaced residents in its home state. This week, the company added free housing listings to serve evacuees affected by the Hill and Woolsey Fires outside Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in northern California.

The free Airbnb housing is currently available through November 29, 2018 for both displaced residents and relief workers helping out with recovery. The Camp Fire area shows as many as 700 participating homes in the area and the Hill and Woolsey fire areas show more than 1400.

Airbnb disaster housing

Airbnb disaster housing

The California fires aren’t the first disaster relief housing that Airbnb has coordinated. The company has a disaster relief hub where it surfaces current disasters in which people might be in need of housing. Right now, Airbnb is also coordinating free housing through hosts near Marseille after a building collapsed in the French city earlier this month. Two months ago, Airbnb encouraged hosts to sign up to offer their homes as residents evacuated before Hurricane Florence.

To sign up as an emergency housing host in one of those areas, you can follow the instructions behind the button to “sign up your home” after clicking through to your area from Airbnb’s main emergency housing portal.

Sun’s closest solo star may have company

Diagram showing the location of nearby stars.

From the phenomenal success of the Kepler mission and a proliferation of ground-based telescopes, we now know that planets are common in our galaxy. But the methods we’ve used to detect most of them are biased toward finding large planets that orbit close to their host stars. The farther a planet is, the less its gravity pulls at the star and the less light it blocks out when it passes between that star and Earth. Meanwhile, the focus has shifted to nearby stars, as astronomers have started building a catalog of targets for the next generation of telescopes.

These issues provide an intriguing backdrop for today’s announcement that one of the closest stars to Earth has a super-Earth companion. Barnard’s star is a red dwarf that is only six light years from our Solar System; only the three stars of the Centauri system are closer. But the new planet orbits far enough from Barnard’s star that it had been missed by earlier attempts. The detailed follow-up that spotted it also hints at the possibility of a separate, more distant planet, and both could help inform our models of planet formation.

A new look

Barnard’s star has been observed extensively over the years, partly because it’s so close, partly because it’s a prototypic example of a red dwarf star. These observations have included exoplanet searches, but nothing about the system stood out. But unless you observe a star regularly, there’s a chance you won’t happen to be looking at critical points in the planet’s orbit.

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US travel ban blocking students from presenting their research

A poster grayed-out in protest at the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

At an academic conference, the question “where are you from?” can have many meanings. “For anybody who’s in science, that’s a complicated question,” says paleontologist P. David Polly. “Where are we now, where did we get our degree, where did we grow up, where did we get the other degree?” For many people in science, the list of answers will span multiple countries.

Because of this international culture, science is feeling the effects of increasing restrictions on international travel. At last week’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in San Diego, a research poster drew a lot of attention: the bulk of the poster was grayed out, covered instead by a message from the author explaining that, as a citizen of Iran, she had been unable to enter the US to take part in the conference. “Science should be about breaking barriers,” she wrote, “not creating new ones.”

Tightening barriers

Leili Mortazavi, an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia, ran into the same barrier. When her work was accepted for presentation at SfN, she started the visa application process, but when she arrived at her appointment, she was told she was “ineligible to apply” because of her Iranian citizenship. “I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a visa application or a background check,” she told Ars. But the current situation is one of “excluding everyone based on their place of birth and not caring if the reason for their traveling is legitimate or not.”

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Uber continues to lose money as it scales scooters, bikes and other newer businesses

Uber, which is expected to go public sometime next year, just released its Q3 2018 financial results. Uber’s net losses increased 32 percent quarter over quarter to $939 million on a pro forma basis, though Uber expected these losses as it continues to invest in future growth areas.

On an earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization basis (EBIDTA), Uber’s losses were $527 million, up about 21 percent quarter over quarter. And as Uber prepares to go public, the company has started presenting the income statements with stock-based compensation.

Ten years from now, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi envisions its core ride-hailing business accounting for less than 50 percent of Uber’s overall business, Khosrowshahi told me at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018. That means Uber expects businesses like Eats, scooters, bikes and freight to contribute to be more of Uber’s business, which requires Uber to invest heavily in those businesses.

Revenue for Q3 was up five percent quarter over quarter at $2.95 billion and up 38 percent year over year. Meanwhile, gross bookings were up six percent quarter over quarter and 34 percent year over year at $12.7 billion.

Uber, for the first time, has also broken out Eats specific gross bookings, which the company says accounted for $2.1 billion of overall gross bookings and is growing over 150 percent year over year. Last month, Uber announced its intention to expand Eats to cover 70 percent of the U.S. population by the end of this year.

Other key stats for Uber’s Q3 2018:

  • Adjusted EBITDA margin: 4.1 percent of gross bookings (In Q3 2017, that was 6.4 percent)
  • Gross cash: $6.55 billion, not including the $500 million from Toyota or the $2 billion from debt offering

This is Uber’s first quarterly earnings report under CFO Nelson Chai. Uber, which had been without a CFO for more than three years, brought on Chai just three months ago.

“We had another strong quarter for a business of our size and global scope,” Uber Chief Financial Officer Nelson Chai said in a statement. “As we look ahead to an IPO and beyond, we are investing in future growth across our platform, including in food, freight, electric bikes and scooters, and high-potential markets in India and the Middle East where we continue to solidify our leadership position.”

Gift Guide: 10 suitcase-friendly gifts for frequent flyers

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year — more than any year in the past. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, so thanks, TechCrunch, for that. Honestly, I should probably be packing for Asia instead of writing this, but I’m looking out for you instead.

Rather than writing the standard Travel Guide or Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve opted to combine them into one. Because if there’s one key to making the most out of your time on the road, it’s efficiency. Technology can play an important role in helping streamline the packing process and generally making the most out of your trip.

Of course, as with everything, too much tech can also be a bad thing. I know I’ve found myself packing too many gadgets or jamming a messy rat king of cables in my carry-on, making a mess of things in the process.

What follows is a collection of gadgets, accessories and other products designed to remove some of the biggest pain points from travel and help you make the most of your trip, whether overnight or longer.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

Okay, maybe including a Kindle on here is a bit of a cheat, but very few devices have improved my travel life like an e-reader — and the Oasis is currently the nicest one you can get. It wasn’t all that long ago I used to jam several paperbacks into my carry-on. I do miss the tactility of real books from time to time, but when it comes to traveling, nothing beats the ability to jam thousands of books into a seat-back pocket.

Price: $249-$279
Available from: Amazon


Anker 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger

A lot of modern hotels are getting better about USB ports. I recently found myself staying at one in LA where every single link had a place for me to charge my iPhone. But it’s still a crapshoot — especially when traveling to a strange city — and hey, if you can avoid plugging your personal devices into a strange port, all the better.

I started traveling with my own combo mini power strip/USB hub years ago, but Anker’s 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger is a much more compact solution, bringing four USB ports directly to the wall. Best of all, like all of Anker’s products, it’s dirt cheap.

Price: $26
Available from: Amazon



BUBM Cable Bag

I’ve tried a LOT of cable organizers in my many years of gadget blogging. It’s the only thing that keeps my travel bag from turning into the Indiana Jones snake pit. At the end of the day, all of them ultimately suffer the same compromise: you can either have a lot of compartments for your various tech doodads or you can free up more space in your bag.

Ultimately, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when it comes to carry ons, anything you can do to free up space is a net positive. Lately, I’ve been digging this one from BUBM. It looks snazzy and the fold-over design helps free up precious bag real estate.

Price: $12
Available from: Amazon


Calm Subscription

This is one is admittedly an odd choice. Sure there are plenty of travel-specific apps out there, but when it comes to helping tamp down the stress associated with travel, the Calm app is a good place to start. This is coming for a very anxious flyer, mind you. It’s not a fear of flying — that part’s fine. It’s everything else. From the getting to the airport to the endless lines to the $3 airport water to the occasional middle seat.

I’m also, not coincidentally, an anxious meditator. I’ve tried a LOT of different apps to pursue mindfulness on my smartphone, and Calm is far and away the one I like the best. The guided meditation sessions are terrific and ditto for the the more freeform ones. It’s also a great way to get your bearings after waking up in a hotel room in some unknown city.

A year’s subscription runs $60, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Price: $60
Available from: Calm


Harman Kardon Traveler Speaker

This one admittedly feels like more of a luxury than many of the others, but don’t underestimate how much a small Bluetooth speaker can improve hotel time. The vast majority of laptops have pretty terrible built-in speakers and even middling Bluetooth speakers are a major improvement.

Harman Kardon’s Traveler fits the bill and won’t add much size or weight to a carry on. It also has a built-in mic for teleconference — a definite bonus for work trips — and doubles as a power bank for charging up devices. The 2,500mAh battery isn’t much, but on the road, every little bit of juice counts.

Price: $150
Available from: Harman Kardon


HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach

I travel with a LOT of gadgets. It’s kind of my job. As such, you’re no doubt catching onto the fact that lack of charging ports is a consistent theme in all of this. HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach is a clever take on TwelveSouth’s iconic PlugBug that brings USB ports directly to the MacBook’s charging brick. Here, however, you’ve got the decided bonus of a third active USB-C port for data transfer. At $50 for the larger version, it’s also priced to match TwelveSouth’s offering.
Price: $50
Available from: HYPER



Luna Display

As I noted in my write up last month, the Luna Display isn’t for everyone, but those who need it will find it to be a downright lifesaver. Once this thumbnail-sized $80 device plugs into a MacBook, it connects to a nearby iPad over Wi-Fi, converting the tablet into a second screen.

I’ve been using the hell out of it every time I’ve found myself working from the road or at home. I’ve become entirely dependent on my monitor at work, and now find myself being the guy with both a laptop and tablet out on the table at the coffee shop. Totally worth it for the ability to monitor my RSS feeds while working on a story.

Price: $80
Available from: Luna


RAVPower Wireless Portable Charger

Powerbanks are a dime a dozen these days, but RavPower is making some of the cleverest ones out there. It’s tough to narrow them all down, but this one lands on my list for its inclusion of a Qi charging pad that lets users wirelessly charge compatible handsets on top of the brick.

Keep in mind, some airlines and airports are limiting the size of batteries that can be stowed in a bag, so if the person you’re buying for is a frequent visitor to, say, China, double check the limits — though this 10400mAh battery should be fine in most cases.

Price: $50
Available from: Amazon


Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

I always thought I’d outgrow backpacks, but aside from a brief flirtation with the messenger bag in the aughts, I’m rarely seen without one. Of course, no two are the same, and if there’s a frequent traveler in your life, a solid backpack makes all the difference in the world.

Timbuk2 makes some truly terrific bags, and the Never Check certainly fits the bill. It has a spacious interior for clothes, shoes and anything else needed for an overnight trip, while maintaining a small enough footprint to be stashed in an overhead bin or under the seat in of you.

Price: $200
Available from: Timbuk2


Twelve South AirFly

This is one of those travel concerns that doesn’t really dawn on you until you’re face to face with it. Love your Bluetooth earbuds? Great. But good luck listening to the movie on your flight. Twelve South, in all of its infinite wisdom, has designed a small wireless transmitter that plugs into headphone jacks, so you can use your go to headphones with the seat-back entertainment system. Turns out it also comes in handy for the TVs at the hotel gym.

The biggest downside here is pricing — $30 doesn’t seem like much, but you can grab a pair of wired headphones for pretty cheap these days.

Price: $30
Available from: Amazon

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Original Command & Conquer devs will remaster series’ first games in one package

No gameplay yet—just familiar logos (which we slapped onto a sweet, fiery explosion).

After soft-announcing a new Command & Conquer project last month, EA has taken the wraps off a plan that will (hopefully) satisfy that ’90s real-time strategy series’ biggest fans. Production has officially begun on a full remaster of the first two Command & Conquer RTS games—the 1995 original and the 1996 sequel Red Alert—with all the games’ expansion packs included as part of the complete package.

What’s more, development is being spearheaded by Petroglyph Games, a studio formed from the ashes of original C&C development studio Westwood.

“This is getting the band back together,” Petroglyph Audio Director Frank Klepacki said in an announcement video on Wednesday. “This is how it should be. We were all there from the inception of it.”

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iBanFirst raises $17 million to help companies move money around the world

French startup iBanFirst is raising another $17 million (€15 million) from Serena Capital and Breega Capital, with existing investor Xavier Niel putting more money as well.

iBanFirst solves a very specific problem. If you operate a company that works with suppliers all over the world, chances are you waste a ton of money exchanging and sending money. iBanFirst wants to make currency conversion as easy as transferring money from your savings account to your current account.

You first send money from your corporate bank account to your iBanFirst account. You can then convert and hold money in 28 currencies. iBanFirst shows you the interbank exchange rate and how many fees you’ll pay. But you’ll likely pay way less than using your traditional bank account.

With 100 employees and 2,000 clients, iBanFirst now focuses on clients who transfer at least €100,000 per year. “We’ve already done a €50 million transfer,” iBanFirst founder and CEO Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier told me.

After that, you can send money to a client, a supplier, a partner, etc. It’ll look like a local transfer and you’ll save money on fees.

Many companies already do that. But iBanFirst goes one step further by giving you banking information for each currency. If you’re an iBanFirst customer, you can share a Turkish IBAN, an American account number or Chinese banking details. It’s easier to get paid from all your clients.

With your French IBAN, the startup is doing something special. “We realized that some IBANs had a letter here and there,” Dusoulier said. “We called SWIFT, and they told us that we could put whatever we wanted for 10 characters.”

iBanFirst took advantage of that to create a sort of domain names for IBANs. If you want, you can put your company name in your banking information.

The company wants to add more currencies and more features. Thanks to the upcoming European regulation, you could imagine connecting to your regular corporate account from the iBanFirst interface to initiate a transfer. That would be much more straightforward than transferring money to iBanFirst before using it.

Here’s the teaser trailer for Niantic’s Pokémon GO-style Harry Potter game

The good news: Niantic/WB Games/Portkey has released a trailer for Wizards Unite, the Harry Potter game built in the same spirit as Pokémon GO.

The bad news: It… doesn’t show much.

If you were hoping for gameplay footage or really anything detailing how the game will work, you’re out of luck. Alas! It’s just a teaser trailer, and tease it does.

The game’s newly expanded website, meanwhile, adds just:

Please resist the urge to panic. Traces of magic are appearing across the Muggle world without warning and in a rather chaotic manner. We worry it is only a matter of time before even the most incurious Muggles catch wind of it. We call on all witches and wizards to help contain the Calamity or risk the worst of times since You Know Who. Brush up on your spells, get your wand ready, and enlist immediately.

The one big new detail? The game’s launch timing. While Niantic was reportedly aiming for the end of 2018, this trailer puts it in no uncertain terms: it’ll land in 2019.