1366 Tech Raises $20M for Cheaper Solar Wafers

Silicon wafer production has been in existence for decades, yet there is stil room for improving the process. That’s the thinking behind a new venture undertaken by 1366 Technologies, which has raised $20 million to take its new technology out of the lab and into the factory.

Solarfun’s Year Is Looking Joyless

Just when a rebound in solar shares is offering investors some relief, Solarfun (s solf) comes out with dismal fourth-quarter results that make clear there’s still plenty of bad news to go around.
In addition to a large quarterly loss, a pile of solar modules it can’t sell and the need for substantial borrowing in a tight credit market, the Chinese company is also losing Chief Financial Officer Amy Liu, who is leaving at the end of the month “to pursue other interests.” Terry McCarthy, a former chair of Solarfun’s audit committee, has been named interim CFO.
“When a CFO leaves, it’s not perceived particularly positively,” said CEO Harold Hoskens in a conference call. “We fully understand that. I think in this case, you shouldn’t read more into it than is necessary.”
In the last three months of 2008, Solarfun swung to a net loss of 418.8 million Renminbi ($61.4 million), including $47.8 million from writedowns related to a drop in inventory values as well as products that the company says it can’t sell in the current market. Solarfun reported a net profit of 66.4 million Renminbi in the comparable quarter in 2007.
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Solarfun, GT Solar Shares Slide on Pricing Expectations

The mood in the solar stock sector today might best be described as dark green. Shares in Qidong, China-based Solarfun posted financial earnings that were ahead of analyst expectations, but the shares dived as much as 11 percent percent on concern that prices for its photovoltaic cells and modules will decline as much as 10 percent next year.

That followed another earnings report Tuesday from Nasdaq newbie GT Solar, which saw revenue more than triple to $57 million in its most recent quarter. The report, its first following its high-profile but ultimately disappointing IPO last month, also showed GT swinging to a profit of $5.1 million, or 3 cents a share, vs. a year-ago loss of $5 million, or 4 cents a share.

Yet shares of Merrimack, N.H.-based GT, which makes equipment that solar-panel companies use in their facilities, fell more than 10 percent to change hands for as low as $12.61 on Wednesday morning — a 23.6 percent drop from its $16.50 offering price.
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Lenovo IdeaPad U8 Olympic MID debuts in China

We expected it for quite a while and word comes today that Lenovo has released its Olympic-themed MID, the IdeaPad U8, at the Olympics in China.  We saw the U8 at the CES back in January and as expected it’s packing an Atom processor (like everything else) and has connectivity options out the wazoo.  No word on pricing but we got the word straight from Lenovo that there has never been any plans to sell the U8 outside of China so don’t get your wallets out just yet.


GT Solar, GCL Silicon Brave Troubled IPO Waters

It takes some serious nerve to brave the IPO market these days. It takes even more if you’re a solar energy company.

But whether it’s pure craziness or contrarian cunning, two candidates are continuing to do just that. Merrimack, N.H.-based GT Solar is pushing ahead with plans to sell $530 million in shares on Nasdaq this month. And today, China’s GCL Silicon filed for an even more ambitious offering: $863 million worth of shares to be traded on the NYSE.

Solar energy has a promising future before it, and yet 2008 has not been kind to solar stocks. The WilderHill Clean Energy Index is down more than 30 percent this year. The performance of solar companies that have gone public is mixed.
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Two-Finger Scrolling for Pre-2005 PowerBooks and iBooks

I was reformatting a Powerbook the other day and after a fresh Leopard install I went to use the two finger scroll function to scroll down a page…but it wasn’t there. I have been using intel based laptops for so long that I just take the two finger scroll feature function and the two finger secondary right click function for granted, and sorely miss them when they’re not available. Luckily, with the help of some third party software the two finger scroll feature and the two finger secondary right click function are easily added to older G4 laptops.

iScroll2 is a modified trackpad driver that adds two-finger scrolling capabilities to supported pre-2005 PowerBooks and iBooks on OS X 10.3 and up. Supported models include most aluminum PowerBooks introduced from 2003 to 2004 as well as most G4 iBooks.”

Download iScroll 2 here,and install. After the install and a quick restart iScroll 2 will be an option in your system preferences.

I found that the default settings were way too sensitive, and I couldn’t easily scroll with them. I used the settings like the ones pictured below and they worked well, but I would suggest taking a few minutes to tweak them.

Solarfun Profits Dazzle Investors

After a rocky start, Solarfun may finally be winning the respect of investors. Its stock is up 8 percent in Wednesday trading after delivering earnings that showed revenue in the first quarter of 2008 had grown six-fold from the same period a year ago. Net profit of 32 cents a share (versus a one-cent loss a year earlier) was twice as large as analysts were forecasting.

And that gain looks pretty good, considering that the stock has been on a tear in the past week in anticipation of a strong earnings report today. As of yesterday, SOLF had risen 69 percent over seven trading sessions.

Wall Street hasn’t always been so bullish on Solarfun. The Shanghai-based company listed its shares on Nasdaq in December 2006, and for most of its first year on the public markets, it traded near or below its $12.50 offering price. After shooting up to $37 a share in January, the stock had fallen below $10 a share in March.

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MindBites Launches Instructional Video Marketplace

MindBites, a marketplace for instructional video, formally launches tonight with about $1 million in funding led by True Ventures. The company is looking to charge about $1.69 to $1.99 per lesson, handing $1 of that to the instructor. Instructors maintain full ownership of their videos.

So, umm, isn’t everything on the Internet trending towards free? At the very least MindBites will have to compete against the legions of free alternatives. I have to say I am pretty skeptical about this one.

“When people are looking for instructional content, they don’t want to be getting an infomercial, or lead-generation, or taking time to find free content,” was MindBites CEO Jason Reneau’s justification in a call last week.

Austin, Texas-based MindBites was founded early last year and opened its site to the public last October.

Other paid video startups include Zipidee (our coverage) and the Open Television Network (our coverage). iTunes is the market leader.

Please note: True Ventures is also the lead investor in NewTeeVee’s parent company, GigaOM.

magicJack: coolest home VoIP gadget PC Mag has ever seen

MajicjackWe gave the $40 magicJack a brief shout-out last March, but I haven’t seen any reviews of the device up to now. PC Mag gave the little USB gadget a run-through and it appears to have passed with flying colors, earning a 4.5 out of 5 rating. The majicJack USB dongle plugs into a PC and offers an RJ-11, or standard phone jack. Service can be had for just $20 a year, which is quite reasonable. As a SkypeOut user, I’m curious how that price compares to my per-minute Skype plan, but I’m sure that varies on quantity and location of calls. My take: $20 is probably a steal.Configuration seems pretty simple and the service does support Emergency 911 calls, based on the location info you’ve provided. I suspect that if you’re using this on the road, the e911 service won’t be accurate but at least you can “take” your home phone with you. majicJack is PC-only for now, although Mac users should have support soon. Of course the most important aspect is voice-quality… according to the review, it’s “amazing… almost too good to be true.”

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Sun-Stock Speculation

For a while, it seemed like this year’s promising sector was solar power. Then it started to look like it wasn’t.

Now the solar stocks are being whipsawed around on the kind of mundane news that is the bread and butter of every other industry: contracts, partnerships, delayed deals. A case in point: SunPower (SPWR) secured $190 million from Morgan Stanley for solar electric power installations.

Now, $190 million is nothing to sneeze at, but neither does it justify a 15 percent surge in SunPower’s stock in a single day. SunPower’s market cap increased by $1.3 billion on news of a $190 million facility. That’s a jump in market value nearly seven times as big as the money Morgan Stanley is putting up. And I’m sitting here scratching my head over how that makes sense. Especially if you look at the nature of the deal as explained in the press release:

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