Jolicloud Confirms “Jolibook” Netbook Coming This Month, Price Still Unknown

Is Jolicloud preparing to sell a netbook of its own? That’s what we wondered about last month, when the cloud OS maker’s founder and CEO Tariq Krim tweeted some interesting pictures of a customized netbook.

Well, yes, they are. I actually caught up with Krim in Dublin two weeks ago – he showed me the device in action but didn’t want me to take pictures or shoot videos. He also kept mum on pricing, possible launch date and specs of the portable computer.

Now, in an email sent out to users (see below), Jolicloud sheds – a bit – more light on things.

Here’s what’s cooking:

– they’re effectively calling the computer a Jolibook (nothing on that site yet)
– release is planned for this month
– it’s a netbook that runs Jolicloud 1.1, which is the upcoming version of the OS
– it will come preloaded with Chromium, the open source version of Google Chrome
– the whole thing is HTML5-based, which I swear is quite impressive
– the Jolibook will boast a dual-core Atom N550 processor (1.5 GHz)
– it’ll come with a 250GB hard drive, a VGA port and multiple USB sockets
– it will be able to play 720p video

What we still don’t know:

– the exact launch date
– actual measurements (my guess is a 10.1 inch screen) and memory capacity
– the retail price (they say it will be “affordable”, which is what everyone always says)
– how and where the netbook will be distributed
– if people will be willing to spend money on a Jolibook before comparing with the first Google Chrome OS computers, which should hit the market in the near future

Founded in 2008, Jolicloud has raised $4.2 million from London-based Atomico Ventures and Mangrove Capital Partners in July 2009.

We’re keeping tabs on their progress and will update as soon as the netbook goes on sale.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Business Reviews Site Angie’s List Raises Another $2.5 Million

Angie’s List, which offers consumer-focused information and reviews of businesses online, this morning announced that it has closed on $2.5 million in additional financing from its most recent round, which came from multiple institutional investors and totaled $22.5 million.

The additional capital infusion comes from San Francisco-based Saints Capital.

The company says it will use the additional investment to expand its Health and Wellness consumer reviews product, as well as its “The Big Deal” local group coupon program. The company expects to offer local group coupons in more than 50 markets by the end of 2010.

Angie’s List has been around since 1995 and says it now serves more then 1 million paid members, primarily via its website, but still offering a call-in service and a monthly magazine.

With the $2.5 million extension of its most recent round, the company has raised $25 million in venture capital this year alone.

GE To Buy 25,000 Electric Vehicles Including 12,000 Of The Chevy Volt

Today, General Electric (GE) offered details about its committment to encourage the widespread adoption of all-electric vehicles. The company plans to walk the walk with a purchase of 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015, including an order for 12,000 Chevy Volt vehicles in 2011 from General Motors (GM), a GE business partner.

Within the next three years, GE expects to generate up to $500 million in revenue from the emerging electric vehicles market. GE owns one of the world’s largest vehicle fleets and global fleet management businesses. It also sells consumer and industrial products like the WattStation, an electric vehicle charging station, and circuit protection equipment and transformers.

Chief executive Jeff Immelt made GE’s intentions public through a series of deals and speeches this fall.

As part of its EV push, GE is also setting up “electric vehicle customer experience and learning centers,” to give customers, employees and researchers access to EV technology. One center will be in Van Buren Township, Michigan outside of Detroit, within GE’s Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center. The other will be part of GE Capital’s Fleet Services business headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with others to be announced in 2011.

The centers will monitor and evaluate vehicle performance and charging behaviors, driver experiences, service requirements, and operational efficiencies, while also affording the opportunity to experience a variety of manufacturers and models, and gain insights on electric vehicle deployment.

Fuze Meeting Bets On Android Tablets For Web Conferencing Software

As the iPad becomes popular in the enterprise, business-focused apps have emerged to help perform functions like web conferencing. Fuze Meeting recently launched its online meeting software on the iPad with a new app.

Similar to GoToMeeting or WebEx, Fuze provides a conferencing service that allows users to share screens and run meetings online. As opposed to its competitors, Fuze promises a sleeker more lightweight interface. Today, the company is announcing a new app available today and specialized for Android tablets.

The Fuze Android tablet app includes VoIP so users can attend a meeting via their tablet even if they don’t have a phone nearby. You can also share your computer desktop, share documents and files via the app and watch and listen to high-quality video and audio.

Fuze says the app will be optimized for the Samsung Galaxy and the app works best on 1024 x 600 tablets for now. Fuze Box also has a specialized app for Android phones.

By way of history, Fuze was formerly known as CallWave. The company was founded in 1998 and went public in 2004, trading on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol CALL. After reaching a peak soon thereafter of over $15 per share, the stock dropped steadily, dipping as low as 50 cents early this year. Deciding to cut its losses, the company delisted itself from NASDAQ after buying back shares from public shareholders at a 44% premium over the current market value and paying out a total of $10 million.

Last summer, the company rebranded itself as Fuze Box and launched Fuze Meeting. Fuze also launched Tweetshare, a platform for branded Twitter channels, and brought on streaming media inventor Dr. Alan Lippman its Executive Vice President of Media Technology.

It’s still unclear is Android tablets will gain the same traction as the iPad; but it should be interesting to compare the popularity of Fuze’s app on both types of devices.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Between A RockMelt And A Hard Place: The Quest For The Social Browser

As with most things on the web, the insanity surrounding the initial launch of RockMelt died down quickly. The first reactions had some people screaming “eureka!”, while others yelled “Flock 2.0!” The truth, as I see it after a few days of usage, is that the latest social web browser is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

I know, it’s boring to say, but RockMelt neither sucks nor is it awesome. It is much better than Flock already for one very important reason: it’s about a billion times faster than Flock was. In the world of web browsing, that’s all that really matters. Flock apparently thought — well, I don’t know what Flock thought. It was just dog slow. And that was in an age when browsers themselves were much slower than they are now.

There’s no doubt that a big part of RockMelt’s speed can be attributed to the Chromium web browser on which it is built. This is, of course, the same browser on which Chrome is built. And, incidentally, it is also what Flock has switched to in recent months (though it’s still lacking in several other areas). RockMelt uses a slightly older version of Chromium, but it’s still plenty fast.

But the usage of Chromium is also RockMelt’s greatest weakness. RockMelt still feels very much like Chrome — it just feels like a version of Chrome with extensions installed by default. That is to say, the social element of the browser, the key to it, feels tacked-on. And that’s okay, but why couldn’t this just be an extension for Chrome? Why does it have to be a completely separate browser?

I know that the social integration is deeper than it would be with an extension. When you start up RockMelt, it takes about a second longer while it signs into your Facebook account. Then it takes another few seconds (sometimes longer) to load up your social Edges with your connection to Facebook and Twitter. But I’m not seeing anything that really wows me in terms of this deeper integration.

And some of the elements look kind of odd and out of place. Some of the social overlays, for example, look like they belong on Safari and not Chrome (on the Mac at least, obviously).

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of Google using Chrome as their social layer and/or Facebook building their own browser. I had no idea RockMelt was about the launch, but what I wrote seems even more applicable now that it has. I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to take one of the big players to nail the social browser.

Again, I go back to this feeling of these social elements in RockMelt (and Flock) being tacked-on. What we need is a browser built from the ground up with social elements in mind. That reeks of Facebook. As we’ve heard over and over again in recent weeks from the company, social is not just something you can layer on. If that applies to the web, it also applies to the web browser.

Facebook undoubtedly believes Google can’t build Chrome into a social browser because of their layering mentality. But with 100 million or so users getting automatic upgrades, people would use it if Google did it. It might not be good, but people would still use it. Facebook shouldn’t underestimate that. If Facebook built their own browser, they would have to entice people to download it, just like Google had to do over the course of many months. That’s significantly harder to do then adding some social features.

One of the main reasons why Chrome grew quickly was that it was simply the best browser in many peoples’ minds. A big reason for that was that it was the fastest browser. And it also lacked all the typical UI baggage that browsers tend to come with. Humorously, it lacked much of the chrome, as it were.

RockMelt tacks on a bunch of the chrome. And a Google social Chrome (capital “C”) undoubtedly would too. I’m thinking a social browser will have to be an entirely new experience that melds ultra-quick browsing with social concepts. It shouldn’t be about just adding share buttons.

But it’s important to remember that RockMelt is still very early in its life. The company has already issued a couple of updates to the browser to make it faster and refine a few of the features. They seem committed to iterating quickly, which is good.

They also have one key advantage over Facebook if they were to build their own browser: Twitter. A Facebook browser undoubtedly would not have the option to share on Twitter. And likewise if Twitter were to build their own browser (don’t laugh, what they’re doing with the new two pane view on the site isn’t that far off from one), it wouldn’t have Facebook as an option. RockMelt, as a neutral third party, can offer both.

Interestingly enough, another entrant that can offer both threw its hat into the ring today, just days after RockMelt: Mozilla. The makers of Firefox just released a Labs project called F1. It’s essentially a social add-on for Firefox that allows you to share what you’re browsing with Facebook and Twitter (and Gmail).

F1 is fairly fast and it looks quite a bit nicer than RockMelt. It’s hidden until you call it, and this helps it feel less tacked-on. It also helps that it’s made by the maker of the browser itself so the design is consistant. RockMelt, again, doesn’t have that. And unless they build their own browser from scratch (something probably unfair to ask, even with Marc Andreessen’s involvement), they’re not going to have that.

Incidentally, Mozilla previously worked with Chris Messina (now at Google) in late 2009 to come up with a new concept for a social browser. This type of from-the-ground-up rethinking of the whole browsing dynamic is exactly what I’m talking about. My gut tells me that this is the only way someone is going to nail the social browser.

RockMelt is on the right track with their thinking that Facebook and Twitter (the two leaders in social sharing) have to be intertwined into the web browsing experience. They just haven’t intertwined them very well just yet. Maybe that will improve. Maybe it won’t.

It’s the closest we’ve come yet to a social browser. But it’s not close enough.

I ended my post a few weeks ago by saying, “I have this feeling that web browsing as we know it is about to change.” I feel like RockMelt is a first step in that direction. I suspect changes to Chrome may be a second step. And a Facebook browser may be the third step. And I think people getting accustomed to new browsing experiences on smartphones and tablets will hasten all of this.

Google Exec Repeats: “Google Me” Is Not A Product (And Says It’s An Awful Name)

In a talk at the Monaco Media Forum earlier today, Google’s Product Management Director, Mobile, Hugo Barra, denied that the search giant is “working on building a traditional social network platform” to compete with those who’re leading the pack in that space, and scrambling to build a variety of social applications instead.

The Telegraph puts it this way: “Google’s mobile chief has flat out denied that the search company is developing a ‘traditional’ social network, called Google Me, to rival Facebook”.

This is all very interesting. Thing is, we’ve heard that song before, from Google CEO Eric Schmidt himself no less, back in September. Heck, Mark Zuckerberg even kinda sorta responded to its rival’s proclaimed strategy soon after Schmidt’s statements, saying ‘social’ doesn’t equal merely putting a social layer on top of existing products.

We also identified Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra as the person who will control overall product strategy and execution around Google’s new efforts to find relevance in a quickly changing Internet landscape that is increasingly dominated by Facebook.

Anyway, Barra reportedly told the audience: “We do think that social is an ingredient for success for any app going forward, search and advertising being probably the best two examples that I would mention. So that’s how we’re thinking about the problem.”

He added that he thinks Google Me, the rumored name of the “product”, is ‘awful’.

(That may be, but it’s still much better than Orkut.)

Hopefully Barra’s statements will, once and for all, obliterate the rumors of Google building a full-fledged Facebook competitor anytime soon. I just hope Google’s strategic plans going forward continue to include throwing fighting words at Zuckerberg and co.

YuMe Takes Video Ad Network Mobile, Launches New Formats For iOS Devices

Video ad network YuMe is taking its ad network and technology mobile today, with the launch of SDKs for iOS devices and two new mobile video ad units to help advertisers, web publishers, and app developers extend their reach to iOS devices. YuMe’s technology places video ad networks dynamically on videos on a number of publishers across a variety of platform.

Publishers and app developers need to integrate the SDK and YuMe will take over video ad operations and centralize ad serving to iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. YuMe’s Mobile Connect as unit is a full screen video ad overlaid with ‘Tap To Action.’ Advertisers can add social network icons, which will take users to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even the App Store. Brand Connect icons link to the advertiser’s website, downloadable coupons, or the contact numbers for their sales or customer service teams.

The second mobile ad format, Mobile Billboard, features a full-screen banner or rich media ad that appears before the desired video content and allows the user to play video or connect with social networking and ecommerce brand destination sites.

Mobile is a huge market and YuMe is probably wise to throw their hat into the billion dollar market. Of course, it is a competitive market, and YuMe will go head to head with Apple, iVdopia, BrightRoll, AdMob and others. YuMe has raised nearly $50 million and is already profitable.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Level 3 Lands Netflix Streaming Business, Will Double Its Storage Capability

On-demand streaming of movies and TV shows is a booming business, and Netflix is positioned well to further capitalize on its pioneering digital streaming efforts. The company this morning confirmed earlier rumors that it’s going back to Level 3, after three years of Akamai, to serve as its primary content delivery network provider for online streams.

The deal is aimed to accommodate Netflix’ expected future growth and to support storage for the company’s entire, ever-expanding library of content (currently more than 20,000 titles).

As a result, Level 3 says it plans to accelerate investments in its CDN capacity. Level 3 says it intends to effectively double its storage capacity and add 2.9 Tbps of globally available CDN capacity, which is in addition to the 1.65 Tbps that was deployed in the third quarter of 2010.

Over the course of November and December, the two companies will move the content library to Level 3 storage in preparation for serving traffic beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

Netflix in a statement says its subscriber base will exceed 19 million in North America by year’s end, and that they expect more growth and international expansion in future years.

Yesterday’s rumors of the Netflix/Level 3 deal had sent Level 3 Communications’ share soaring, and Akamai’s dropping. Expect that trend to continue.

Judge Orders ConnectU To Pay Its Former Lawyers $13 Million In Facebook Case

A New York state judge has upheld law firm Quinn Emanuel’s $13 million payout for representing ConnectU in intellectual property litigation against Facebook, denying the former client’s attempts to stay the award while it challenges the $65 million settlement it struck with Facebook back in 2008.

Ok, that may be a bit of a confusing lede, so let’s tackle this one from A to Z. Trust me, it’s quite worth the read.

Assuming you’ve read up on Facebook‘s origins, or if you’ve seen the movie The Social Network, you know that Mark Zuckerberg and co allegedly stole the idea for the site from fellow Harvard students Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and classmate Divya Narendra.

The latter three men co-founded HarvardConnection, which was later renamed ConnectU, and ultimately took Zuckerberg to court, alleging that he had copied their idea and illegally used source code intended for the site he was hired to create.

The lawsuit against Facebook was filed in 2004, and a settlement agreement for both cases was reached in February, 2008, valued at $65 million. In May 2010, it was reported that ConnectU was accusing Facebook of securities fraud on the value of the stock that was part of the settlement, alleging the stock was worth $11 million instead of $45 million that the social networking giant had proclaimed.

The Winklevoss twins and Darendra then moved to get the settlement undone.

One of ConnectU’s law firms, Quinn Emanuel, didn’t want to wait for their part of the settlement deal, 20% of the settlement fee or $13 million, as part of a contingency agreement. ConnectU subsequently fired Quinn Emanuel and sued the firm for malpractice by failing to obtain recent valuations of Facebook’s common stock before negotiating the settlement.

On August 25, 2010, an arbitration panel ruled that Quinn Emanuel “earned its full contingency fee” and found that the firm had committed no malpractice.

In a decision filed Monday, Judge Richard Lowe of the Supreme Court of the State of New York concluded that Quinn Emanuel has waited long enough for its contingency fee, although he refused to bump the interest on the award from 6 to 9 percent as requested by the firm.

ConnectU had urged Judge Lowe to stay confirmation of the arbitration award until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules on the validity of the Facebook settlement, claiming a successful appeal would obliterate Quinn Emanuel’s claim to its portion.

“The respondents have waited over two years for its fee, and have had to oppose several attempts to delay the payment,” Judge Lowe said. “To continue to stall payment of the award would be to frustrate the very purpose of and reason for the arbitration.”

TL;DR ConnectU retains law firm, sues Facebook and reaches a settlement with them for a reported $65 million. ConnectU later appeals for a higher settlement fee and delays payment to said law firm, Quinn Emanuel. Law firm doesn’t want to wait for its money and gets sued by ConnectU. A judge has now awarded Quinn Emmanuel its $13 million contingency fee.

(Source: Law360 – image from The Social Network movie)

Information provided by CrunchBase

Amazon Banning One Vile Ebook: A Victory For…. What Exactly?

Well, that was exciting wasn’t it? Less than 24 hours after we, and twenty billion other media outlets, reported on the presence of a “guide to pedophilia” on Amazon, it looks like the retail giant may have decided to withdraw it from sale.

If the reports are true then parents can sleep easy in their beds: with the removal of one putrid, misspelled ebook, the Internet is now completely free of pedophiles.

Except, of course, it isn’t.

I was going to leave this story alone. Partly I wanted to avoid the frothing ire of the “YOU’RE JUST DRAWING MORE PUBLICITY TO SOMETHING BAD” crowd (yes, drawing attention to bad things is what we’re supposed to do). Partly, too, I didn’t want to write another post that puts me at odds with my esteemed TechCrunch colleagues. Mainly, though, my reason for wanting to give the story a wide berth is because – for all the sound and fury over this sick, twisted little tome being on sale – I still haven’t heard anyone  adequately explain what all the fuss is about.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not asking what the fuss is about pedophilia – that’s an easy one, I hope – but rather I’m unclear what is achieved by forcing Amazon to ban a single disgusting ebook from sale. Or, indeed, what precise harm we think will result if they refuse.

Are we, as intelligent adults, really suggesting that other less intelligent adults who have until now never so much as considered the idea of molesting a child are going to download a copy of ‘the Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct’ and think to themselves “by golly, this pedophile stuff sounds like fun – I think I’ll give it a try?”. Surely not. If we’re concerned that a book glamourising man-child love is going to bring about the downfall of society then we’d better demand the removal of Lolita too. At least Nabokov could spell.

Maybe, then, those supporting the ban are concerned that the book might act as a dummies’ guide for the enthusiastic non-practicing pedophile: men who are already grotesque sexual deviants but haven’t yet figured out the practicalities of turning thought into action. If that’s the concern, then I fear that particular ship has sailed. I admit I haven’t looked – no-one needs that on their Google search history – but I’m pretty sure there’s enough of that kind of information available on the web that doesn’t require a potential child rapist to plunk down his credit card information and thus leave a paper trail back to his lair.

Or perhaps the concern is simply that the author is profiting from his vile fantasies. But then again, if that is the worry, maybe the YOU’RE DRAWING ATTENTION TO IT crowd has a point.

Before the book hit the headlines today, its author claims it had sold precisely one copy. After we, the media, had done our work, it had shifted enough units to make the top 100 list. That’s annoying, but does this mean the nation is about to be overrun by newbie pederasts? It seems unlikely: judging by the reviews of the book on Amazon, most purchasers ordered it only to determine the precise level of contempt they have for its author. By the end of the week it will have been forgotten about again and author Philip R Greaves II will return to his poverty; the only difference being that a few million people will know his name and the authorities will know to keep a very close eye on him, particularly when it comes to his proximity to schools.

And that’s exactly how things are supposed to work in a free society. Since the advent of the printing press –  hell, since the advent of speech – morons and criminals have used words to espouse their despicable views. Meanwhile, right thinking people have had the choice to either ignore those views or listen long enough to dismiss or demolish them in public forums. We make laws to protect against specific incitement and certain types of hate speech, but otherwise our ability to debate broader ideas – no matter how abhorrent we believe them to be – is what separates us from the apes.

Despite what some (including Amazon) have suggested, the company’s decision to pull Greaves’ “book” from their virtual shelves (if that’s what they’ve done) was neither censorship nor a curb on free speech, but rather a perfectly rational economic decision by a public company in response to a threatened boycott. And perhaps that alone is worth celebrating: however indirectly, Amazon was profiting from this vile little book (much as they do when they sell copies of Mein Kampf) – and now, it seems, they’re not.

But what the ban most certainly is not is an anti-pedophile victory of any meaningful kind, any more than YouTube’s decision (under pressure, in part, from the British government) to remove hate speech by Anwar al Awlaki was a particularly meaningful triumph in the war against terror. In fact, if either ban has achieved anything (and it probably hasn’t) it’s simply to drive another vile little man further underground, to join the thousands of other vile little men (and the occasional vile little woman) who ooze far below the surface of the Internet, in private chat rooms and IRC channels and password protected forums. Philip R Greaves’ fetid little fantasies haven’t been destroyed, but rather will now be added to the countless other sick fictions and how-tos – not to mention the far more troubling, and illegal, images and videos of actual criminal acts – that lie in the darkest corners of the web, away from the glare of public derision.

It’s that other material – the truly vile and illegal stuff, hidden from public view – that represents the true threat to the fabric of decent society. And it’s that material that we need to figure out how to banish from the Internet before we start congratulating ourselves on a job well done. Anything else is just a self-congratulatory meme. Misdirection accomplished.

Facebook Holding Yet Another Event Next Monday In San Francisco. Inbox Related?

After a Summer spent in “Lockdown”, Facebook apparently got quite a bit of work done. They’ve already had a number of events just in the past few weeks. And now they’re having another one.

We’ve just been alerted about an invite-only press event taking place next Monday, November 15 at 9:30 AM in San Francisco. At the bottom of the invite, it notes that “This special event is in advance of Mark Zuckerberg’s conversation on 11/16 at Web 2.0 Summit.”

So what will Facebook be talking about? Who knows. The invite has chat bubbles on it, but as we’ve learned in the past, these often have nothing to do with the event.

After Facebook’s last event, in which they unveiled some big updates to their Places product including Deals, we asked Zuckerberg if the company had any other big things to launch this year. He indicated that more was on the way, but at least one more big thing was coming soon.

Is this the big thing or a smaller thing? Tune in Monday to find out.

Update: Actually, looking at their icon again, you’ll notice it is their Inbox icon (at least on the iPhone) and not their chat icon. Could this be the unveiling of the new Facebook mail product — Project Titan? Let the speculation begin!

Information provided by CrunchBase

Headlamp + Lantern + Tripod = Sheer Brilliance

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Joby’s bendable Gorillapod tripod has earned a place over the past several years as one of our favorite backcountry accessories for snapping photos anywhere. Its new Gorillatorch Switchback has become one of our all-around favorite devices in just a matter of days. It’s a combination headlamp and lantern, so the same device works as both a fixed and mobile light. It’ll be a cold day in hell before we go camping without this sucker again.

As a lantern, this thing rocks. Due in no small part to the opposable gorillapod legs, it attaches to pretty much anything and helps you light up all sorts of situations. It filled our darkness with exceptional light that was both bright and diffuse, thanks to an opaque screen.

Because of multiple modes, it works well as a bright area light, a comfortable reading light, and a low-power night light. But this sucker really shines when you pop open the bottom.

Press a button and tug, and the base pops off, revealing that the internal light source is actually a removable headlamp. It has a cozy adjustable elastic band, with a light up front and a battery pack (the lantern’s base) in the back. The light angles, so you can use it to light the trail ahead, or spot work with your hands.

In both modes, the light works fantastically well, with five total settings. The main bulb lights up to 130, 80 or 20 lumens — depending on whether you want to blast the camp with brilliant light, or save power with a little glow in your tent.

It also has two “floodlight” settings. One is a set of red lights, which provide illumination but won’t wreck your night vision. This was especially nice in the lantern mode. The other is a set of 14-lumen white lights. They provide a nice glow if you want to use the lantern as a nightlight, but in headlamp mode they were so dim as to be all but useless.

While we love the ability to convert the lamp, our major beef with the Switchback is, well, converting it. The headlamp strap is hard to pack in, making the bottom somewhat difficult to secure.

We also thought it needed a hold switch of some sort: Because the lights power on with buttons rather than a switch, it’s easy to turn it on accidentally in your bag. Given that high-power 130-lumen mode only burns for about 1.5 hours, you could easily kill your batteries with some inadvertent bag mashing.

Finally, it’s a mite heavy, and that coupled with so-so battery life seems better suited to car camping or short journeys rather than an extended sojourn to the backcountry.

WIRED Blindingly bright at 130 lumens. Handy 15-lumen mode saves power for long-lasting illumination. Red-light mode preserves your night vision, attracts would-be johns. Attaches basically anywhere, even on your thing!

TIRED Needs a hold switch to prevent light from accidentally turning on. Hard to fit together easily, yet too easily comes apart. Somewhat bulky and heavy for long backpacking trips.

Lincoln’s MKZ Does the Electric Slide

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The last thing anyone thinks of when they see a big honkin’ Lincoln is efficiency. But Lincoln’s taking hybrids uptown with a gas-electric sedan that offers a surprising mix of fuel economy and luxury.

You might look at a car like the 2011 Lincoln MKZ and think, “A hybrid? Really?” But Lincoln’s bean counters say half of luxury car buyers would consider a hybrid, and they expect the segment to grow 400 percent in the next two years. That’s too big a pie for Lincoln not to grab a slice.

Rather than start from scratch building a car to counter the Lexus HS 250h, Lincoln cribbed from the excellent Ford Fusion Hybrid. The MKZ Hybrid uses its little brother’s drivetrain and is equally thrifty. The EPA says it’s good for 41 mpg around town and 36 on the highway. Those are impressive numbers for a full-size sedan that weighs 3,752 pounds, and they comfortably top the Lexus.

Power comes from a 2.5-liter four-banger and a 26-kilowatt electric motor. Together, they make 191 horsepower and 136 pound feet of torque. That isn’t a lot in a car this big, so acceleration isn’t stellar. But then full-sized American sedans aren’t known for hustle. Still, the MKZ Hybrid has no trouble keeping up with traffic.

We raved about the smoothness of the Fusion Hybrid, which exhibits none of the shudder or lag you often experience as a hybrid makes the transition from electric power to gas. It’s equally seamless here, as is the continuously variable transmission. The MKZ Hybrid is smoother than 20-year-old Scotch.

Electricity is stored in a 1.4 kilowatt-hour nickel metal hydride battery behind the rear seat. You can tool around on electricity alone up to 47 mph if you go easy on the pedal. (The Lexus HS 250h tops out at 25 mph.) It requires a deft touch, but you’ll get the hang of it. Once you do you’ll love it. The engine kicks in after a mile or so to top off the charge.

The regenerative brakes — which capture 94 percent of the energy that would be lost as heat during braking — have none of the squishiness you often find in hybrids. Out on the road, the MKZ Hybrid handles like you’d expect a big front-wheel drive sedan to handle. It’s soft, but not mushy, and you won’t be carving any corners. Not that it matters. No one buys a car like this for sportiness. It’s all about comfort, and Lincoln delivers.

Standard features includes 10-way adjustable leather seats that are heated and cooled — something we liked a lot more than expected. They’re comfortable and supportive, and you could make a long road trip in this car. The THX-certified 5.1 surround sound system with 14 speakers put Hound Dog Taylor right there in the car with us, further adding to car’s long-haul, or grueling commute, appeal.

Of course there’s Sync with its stellar connectivity and hands-free infotainment. But we’re not wild about the Traffic, Directions and Information feature. Although it offers turn-by-turn directions, traffic conditions and other info, it only works through a Bluetooth connected phone. No phone, no navi. We’ve made this complaint before, but Ford says a phone-based system is cheaper and more convenient than an embedded navigation system.

Our favorite feature is the SmartGauge dashboard display taken from the Fusion Hybrid. The LCD display turns hypermiling into a game. The speedometer is flanked by displays showing everything from how much gas you’ve used to how much energy you’re generating while braking. A vine on the right “grows” leaves and flowers as your efficiency climbs. It’s a remarkably engaging way of teaching you how driving style effects fuel economy.

For all the slick tech, the MKZ does have a downside. Aside from the snazzy seats and impressive stereo, there isn’t a lot to differentiate the MKZ’s interior from the Fusion’s. The styling isn’t very inspired, and there is a lot of plastic. The real wood veneer helps, but you’d expect a car making a play for the luxury segment to be a more upscale than the MKZ.

Still, it’s hard to fault Lincoln when you look at the price: The MKZ Hybrid starts at $35,180. That’s exactly what you’d pay for a comparably equipped MKZ with a V-6 (although at the time of this writing, Lincoln was offering $1,000 cash back on the V-6 model). That’s remarkable, because every other hybrid on the planet carries a premium of at least a couple grand over its conventional counterpart.

More remarkable, that money buys you a (relatively) affordable, (relatively) luxurious and very fuel efficient car. Lexus should be very, very nervous.

See Also:

Speaking Of… Rhymes and Medicine with ZDoggMD (TCTV)

Picture this:

A hotel party thrown by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. A group of people, crowded around a laptop, laughing at a video of a doctor rapping and singing about ulcers. Suddenly one of the group starts rapping out loud to the video. Now people are laughing so hard that they are crying….

This is how I came to know ZDoggMD, a rare – and virtually undiscovered – talent that I would now like to gift to the TechCrunch community.

ZDogg is a genuine doctor who uses YouTube as a creativity outlet to teach people about things like safe sex, delivering bad news, stayin’ healthy on vacation and hemorrhoids. When Hsieh asked how the world of being a doctor was going for him, ZDogg answered that he loved it but was frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t be himself. He told Tony that he’d love an outlet to share the raps he composes with a wider audience, hopefully to give people a good laugh but also to teach them a medical thing or two. Tony, being the zen like guy that he is, responded, “Why don’t you do it then?”. And so he did. The results are in the links above.

And, as an added bonus, the special song he made for our entrepreneurs and VCs kicks off my interview with ZDoggMD below.

Firefox Extension BlackSheep Detects And Protects You From Firesheep

sheep and cutletphoto © 2005 Peter Shanks | more info(via: Wylio)Eric Butler’s Firefox browser extension Firesheep took the Internet cafe world by storm a couple weeks ago when we and others wrote about the controversial plugin that compromises your social networking connection data. While many people have come up with solutions that involve forcing sites to use HTTPS, Zscaler Security has just released a countermeasure called BlackSheep, which actually detects when Firesheep is hijacking your session.

Firesheep accesses your Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and other logins through cookies — Blacksheep subverts this by tricking Firesheep with a fake login cookie and alerting the user when Firesheep is detected, displaying the IP address of the person using it (see below), and warning the user to log off.

BlackSheep is currently the only available solution that attempts to pit Firesheep against itself. “BlackSheep leverages much of the Firesheep code, but the twist is that rather than being used to hijack sessions, it instead detects when a session is being hijacked and alerts the user,” says BlackSheep developer Julien Sobrier.

And because BlackSheep and Firesheep use much of the same code, you can’t run them both in the same Firefox session. But why would you want to do that?

You can download BlackSheep here.

And learn more about Firesheep in the video below.