POLL: Should Detroit Have A Red-Light District?

Here’s an interesting proposition. How about setting up a red-light district in Detroit? Attie Pollard, who is collecting signatures to run for Detroit City Council in the 2013 elections, has proposed this very idea. He thinks designating a zone for strip clubs could help attract tourism and give a jolt to the city’s economy.

“For instance, starting off with a strip club district,” he told WWJ radio. “Once the time goes on, we can see if brothels or other means of sexual entertainment are needed.”

State law would need to be changed in order to allow brothels in the city.

Pollard proposes that the city’s strip clubs be moved from neighborhood areas to a central location “somewhere in the downtown area,” according to the news station. He added that background checks would be needed to keep sex traffickers out of the equation.

If that sounds like an errant plotline from HBO’s “The Wire,” it’s not the first time this wild idea has been tossed around in Detroit.

As recently as 2010, City Council President Charles Pugh said he backed a similar plan, which been proposed by the previous council, but he admitted he didn’t have the votes to make it happen.

At the time, however, council did take some action on strip clubs. That year, they passed rules forbidding VIP rooms and touching between strippers, requiring licenses for many workers, and placing limits on stage height.

If promoting strip clubs sounds too far-fetched, there’s always the possibility of attracting investment by converting Detroit’s Belle Isle island park into an independent commonwealth. The idea was proposed recently by a wealthy Detroit-area developer who said the cash-strapped city could sell the isle for a billion dollars, but it’s been slow to catch on with local powerbrokers.

Iran funeral Revolutionary Guard

A funeral is held in Tehran for Gen Hassan Shateri, a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard recently killed while travelling from Syria to Lebanon.

Key U.S. general backs keeping Afghan forces at peak strength

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. general nominated to oversee a vast region that includes Afghanistan on Thursday backed keeping Afghan forces at a peak strength of 352,000, contrary to current plans to shrink them after NATO declares the war over next year.

Blackjet, The Uber For Private Jet Travel, Appoints Shervin Pishevar As Its Chairman

Shervin Pishevar

As we reported this morning, Blackjet, the startup that aims to be the “Uber for private jets” by letting people book relatively lower priced private jet travel through web and mobile apps, today extended its service to two new cities: San Francisco and Las Vegas.

But TechCrunch has learned that today also brought big news for Blackjet on a more behind-the-scenes level. Shervin Pishevar, the longtime venture capitalist who recently stepped aside from his role as partner at Menlo Ventures to start up his own stealthy new venture called Sherpa, has been named Blackjet’s board chairman.

Shervin Pishevar

Pishevar has been involved with Blackjet from the beginning, working closely on the concept with co-founder Garrett Camp, who was previously the founding CEO of StumbleUpon as well as the co-founder of Uber. And of course, Pishevar’s also known for supporting and funding Uber from its early days, so in many ways this is a natural continuation for him as well as for Camp.

It bears mention that Pishevar played a big part in assembling Blackjet’s star-studded group of tech and entertainment industry investors, which includes Camp, Marc Benioff, First Round Capital, SV Angel, Ashton Kutcher, Naval Ravikant, Tim Ferriss, Matt Mullenweg, and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, among many others.

Today Blackjet threw a big launch event in San Francisco’s Union Square to celebrate its new expansion and offer some free memberships and giveaways. TechCrunch TV was on hand to check it all out, and if you thought private jet travel was just a niche thing, seeing the long line of attendees at today’s event might make you think again — although, to be fair, some of those people might have just been queueing up to get a closer look at the Blackjet Sky Angels.

We pulled aside both Blackjet CEO and aviation industry vet Dean Rotchin and Pishevar for interviews while there. Watch the video embedded below to hear Rotchin discuss the perks of private jet travel, the technology that makes this system work, and who is in Blackjet’s target demographic. Later in the video you can also hear Pishevar talk about how his personal work with Blackjet is similar to what the new Sherpa venture will be focusing on, how Blackjet is bringing much-needed efficiency to the world of private jet travel, how many people can really afford to be a Blackjet customer, and what’s next for the company now that he’s steering its board.

Feature image of Shervin Pishar via Silicon Prairie News’ Big Omaha Backstage Pass.

Who needs HP and Dell? Facebook now designs all its own servers

Nearly two years ago, Facebook unveiled what it called the Open Compute Project. The idea was to share designs for data center hardware like servers, storage, and racks so that companies could build their own equipment instead of relying on the narrow options provided by hardware vendors.

While anyone could benefit, Facebook led the way in deploying the custom-made hardware in its own data centers. The project has now advanced to the point where all new servers deployed by Facebook have been designed by Facebook itself or designed by others to Facebook’s demanding specifications. Custom gear today takes up more than half of the equipment in Facebook data centers. Next up, Facebook will open a 290,000-square-foot data center in Sweden stocked entirely with servers of its own design, a first for the company.

“It’s the first one where we’re going to have 100 percent Open Compute servers inside,” Frank Frankovsky, VP of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook, told Ars in a phone interview this week.

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Blue-screen effects pioneer dies

Oscar-winning visual effects pioneer Petro Vlahos – who pioneered blue and green-screen techniques used by thousands of movies – dies aged 96.

Up to 100 Tim Hortons head office staff have lost jobs as part of restructuring: sources

TORONTO — As many as 100 head office employees are reported to have lost their jobs during ongoing restructuring at Tim Hortons Inc. as the company strives to realign its business structure.

The recent layoffs, which come at the end of a particularly competitive year for the coffee and baked goods giant, include company veteran Stephen Johnston, senior vice-president of development, and David Morelli, director of public affairs, though the company would not confirm the exact number.

Industry sources pegged the number at roughly 100, but that is “overstated,” said Alexandra Cygal, manager of public affairs at Tim Hortons.

“More importantly, to enable future growth, the number of people who have taken on new roles and responsibilities, and the number of people we are actively recruiting through this process to add to our capabilities, significantly exceeds the number of people leaving the organization,” she said in an email.

In the second quarter of 2012 Tim Hortons announced it was conducting an “alignment review” of the organization in the second half of 2012 that would likely incur restructuring charges. Last quarter, the company spent $8.6-million, or 4¢ per share, on corporate reorganization expenses. It is due to report fourth-quarter results on Feb. 21.

Tim Hortons has felt the heat in the past year from rivals such as McDonald’s Canada, which introduced a new blend of drip coffee in 2009 and has repeatedly given its brew away to customers for free in week-long promotions. The coffee war began years after Tim’s began offering an increasing number of breakfast and lunch sandwiches and food items, McDonald’s long-held domain.

”Everyone is trying to crowd into the coffee category, so the competition has intensified from many positions,” Paul House, CEO of Tim Hortons, said during the third-quarter conference call with analysts. “Given that the economic conditions are not great, everyone is trying to find some share from somebody else.”

In the third quarter, customer traffic was down and same-stores sales rose a meagre 1.9% in Canada compared with 4.7% growth in the same period of 2011. In the U.S, same-store sales climbed 2.3%, compared with 6.3% a year earlier.

“They have a problem that they need to address,” said Doug Fisher, president of food service consulting firm FHG International, adding same-store sales have been on a gradual decline in Canada for several years.

“They have a massive competitor in McDonald’s, which woke up and smelled the coffee, so to speak. Tim’s needs something to help them defend their coffee market and they need some other profitable items, because the rest of the items that they are selling do not generate as much as the franchisees need out of them.”

But an overhaul is not always bad news for a quick-serve food company, Mr. Fisher added.

“McDonald’s was much further down the road in a difficult situation in 2001 and 2002 and they turned it around in a really shining way. Tim’s certainly has the resources to do the same.”

David Hartley, analyst for Credit Suisse, said in a note to clients this week at he believes Tim Hortons shares could be overvalued by as much as 22%, saying the Canadian business is more mature and the company continues to experience flat growth in markets outside of Canada.

Growing the food component could require more corporate investment, such as a bigger food prep area or bigger parking lots, he added.

“The capital required for such investments from Tims and/or its franchisees could be immense.”