‘Keyboard Cat’ Has Tickled His Last Ivory

(Newser) – An online memento to Bento is how many fans found out some sad news late last week about one of the internet’s most famous cats. People reports that a six-minute tribute to the renowned “Keyboard Cat” was posted Friday, announcing the musically inclined feline’s death on March 8 at the age of 8. Although the YouTube star, owned by Charles Schmidt, wasn’t the original Keyboard Cat—that honor goes to Schmidt’s previous orange tabby, Fatso, who died in 1987, per Mashable—Bento took over the ivories in 2010, posting videos on the Keyboard Cat YouTube channel and even landing a Wonderful Pistachios commercial.

So how did Fatso, who died long before the internet had infiltrated nearly every household, become an online sensation in the first place? Schmidt had in his archives a 1984 VHS tape of Fatso “playing” the keyboards, and that footage wound up on YouTube in 2007. The clip eventually went viral. Comments underneath the YouTube tribute to Bento offer condolences to Schmidt and lament the loss of an epic online star. “[I’m] more sad about this than Hawking,” one particularly broken-up fan writes. Others are holding tight to the memories: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it [happened].” (These YouTube stars awoke to a horrifying ordeal.)



Editorial: City leaders wise to go all-in on pre-K

by David Waters, The Commercial Appeal

Five years after Memphis voters rejected a half-cent sales-tax increase to fund a citywide pre-kindergarten program, pre-K is making a valiant and vital comeback.

City and county officials are working to find ways to fully fund countywide needs-based pre-K. No public policy initiative is more important for the future of our poverty-mired community and its children.

Fully funding pre-K “is not just an education strategy, but it’s also a poverty strategy,” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told reporter Jennifer Pignolet.

That long-term strategy will be tested Tuesday when the City Council considers Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposal to put the city back in the education business.

Strickland and several council members — Kemp Conrad, Patrice Robinson and Berlin Boyd — have come up with a plan to invest $6 million a year in pre-K.

The first $1.2 million would come directly out of the city’s operating budget. The balance would accrue from phasing in expiring tax incentives for businesses between now and 2022.

The county’s growing corps of early childhood education advocates hope that will make up for the loss of 1,000 local pre-K classroom seats when a federal grant expires in May 2019.

It’s also a crucial next step in providing enough public and private funds to pay for 8,500 seats by 2022 — enough to provide needs-based pre-K for all four-year-olds in the county. Shelby County currently has 7,420 pre-K seats.

Meanwhile, county Mayor Mark Luttrell, county commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer and others are looking for ways to maintain and even add to the county’s $3 million in annual support for pre-K.

Providing high-quality pre-K to every four-year-old in Shelby County won’t solve all of our problems. Not doing so will make solving those problems infinitely more difficult.

 Decades of research show that children who attend high-quality pre-K are better prepared for kindergarten. That’s when poor kids are more likely to start school behind, stay behind, and fall further and further behind.

Students who attend quality pre-K are less likely to repeat grades, require costly special education programs, drop out of school, commit crime and consume social services.

Pre-K students are more likely to be reading on grade-level by third grade, graduate from high school, go to college and get good jobs, as well as stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthier.

The greatest gains are made by pre-K students living in poverty, which describes a majority of children in this community.

“Although many children in the U.S. face difficult circumstances, poor children face the most formidable obstacles to success. Not surprisingly, the preschool studies that report the biggest gains, especially in the long run, are studies involving extremely poor children.”

That was one of the conclusion of “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects“, a landmark 2017 study by the nation’s leading early childhood researchers. Authors included Mark W. Lipsey of Vanderbilt University.

The social, emotional, physical and cognitive well-being of all children should be this community’s first priority.

A child born in poverty today in Shelby County will turn four in 2022. With access to a high-quality pre-K program, that child — and this community — will be more likely to survive, achieve and thrive.


People Who Enjoy Cleaning The House Are Happier, More Relaxed, Survey Finds

By Daniel Steingold

OAKLAND, Calif. — Need to inject some positivity into your home? A little spring cleaning might just do the trick, a new study finds.

Clorox, the household name in the cleaning industry, recently released findings from a multifaceted study it conducted in which the findings suggest that keeping a neat living space promotes empathy.

The study’s first component consisted of an online survey of 2,000 American adults which found that those who enjoyed the act of cleaning were 25% happier that those who did not.

Furthermore, those who frequently spruced up the house didn’t seem to experience diminishing returns: for each extra hour of cleaning a week, the average respondent’s happiness increased by 53%.

Regular cleaning was also associated with other positive health outcomes, including improved relaxation (indicated by 80% of respondents), heightened focus (77%), better sleep (72%), and increased productivity (72%), the researchers found.

Respondents who also happened to be parents were asked additional questions about how they believed their kids benefited from cleaning their room.

Nearly 60% of parents said their kids studied better when their room was clean, and about half (49%) indicated that their child’s behavior saw marked improvement.

On a related note, teaching cleaning habits from a young age conferred great benefits: children who were assigned cleaning as a chore were 64% more likely to exhibit empathy, and 60% more willing to help others in their community as an adult.

“There’s nothing more important to me as a dad than making sure my kids grow up to be kind and resilient adults and I think that’s something that connects all parents,” comments actor Sterling K. Brown, a celebrity spokesman for Clorox, in a press release.

The study’s second component had 20 participants take part in an experiment that was intended to help validate the survey’s prior results.

Participants, who were filmed and equipped with biometric sensors, were asked to enter two rooms that were nearly identical. The catch? One room was filthy and the other spotless.

Using the tools at their disposal, the researchers found that participants saw a 45% and 44% increase in “liking” and “attraction” (correlated with improved happiness); a 20% improvement in critical thinking ability (correlated with increased productivity); and 127% decrease in disgust (correlated with stress) upon entering the clean room.

For all of you slobs out there, there’s now actual proof that keeping your house a mess has real consequences.

Clorox’s survey was conducted online in late September of last year. The study’s experimental component was conducted in early November, and a statistical modeling technique was used to analyze its results.


80 percent full or 20 percent empty? Downtown Memphis office market trending up


Downtown Memphis offices are 20 to 23 percent vacant, depending on who’s measuring and what’s being measured.

So why are office space brokers so bullish about Downtown as an up-and-coming office center?

It’s because of momentum from a series of wins, big and small, that have brought hundreds of new workers Downtown in the past year.

More: Downtown leaders craft vision for building up intersection of live-work-play

While occupancy numbers are relatively stagnant compared to East Memphis, representatives of CBRE Memphis and Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors believe Downtown is gaining traction, especially among younger workers.

On March 26, home services provider ServiceMaster finishes moving 1,200 workers from East Memphis to the former Peabody Place mall, a relocation motivated by a desire to retain and recruit tech-savvy talent.

 Investment firms Wunderlich Securities and Southern Sun Asset Management moved smaller workforces Downtown; First Tennessee Bank has nearly filled its building by bringing in another 200 workers from a Downtown operations center; and Hnedak Bobo Group architects also stayed within Downtown by relocating to One Commerce Square.

Actively leasing office buildings in the core of Downtown have enough vacant space to house the equivalent of at least another 2,500 workers.

But key vacancies are dispersed. Buildings have vacant whole floors or multiple floors that once housed single tenants. The upshot is nowhere Downtown is there move-in ready space for another game-changer like a ServiceMaster.

That could be remedied by construction of new office space, as contemplated by developers of One Beale and 100 North Main.

New space wouldn’t move the needle on the vacancy rate, but it could attract major new tenants that wouldn’t consider Downtown otherwise, brokers say.

The Downtown Memphis Commission is focused on improving Downtown’s public spaces, cleaning up blight and litter, bringing in new activity and otherwise enhancing the experience when office workers step outside. The commission has sparked office development with incentives, such as grants and property tax abatement, on a case-by-case basis.

President Jennifer Oswalt said encouraging signs include “a resurgence of corporate flags being planted in Downtown: ServiceMaster, Southern Sun Asset Management, Wunderlich and Orion; as well as a shift to owning rather than renting in the CBID (central business improvement district):  DCA, LEO, Allworld Project Management and Oden. We see those flags and ground-breakings as strong indicators that Downtown office is moving in the right direction.”

The Downtown of decades ago was a regional employment center with thriving, iconic but now-empty skyscrapers such as the Sterick Building and 100 North Main. As recently as 25 years ago, it was Downtown’s biggest office market, a distinction now held by the East submarkets.

Downtown and the Medical District areas still claim about 66,000 daily workers, including health care.

With Sterick, 100 North Main and others removed from active status, Downtown’s office market has shrunk to about 12 percent of the citywide total, said Ron Kastner, senior vice president of CBRE Memphis.

“I think it’s going to take new structures,” Kastner said. “Not that we’ve wrung the towel on the existing set of properties, but when you’re down to your last 20 percent, spaces can be picked over.”

Kastner and said Bentley Pembroke, vice president with Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors, are upbeat about Downtown’s current prospects.

 Even in its diminished state, the area can easily accommodate multiple small to medium-sized companies at prime addresses including One Commerce Square and Toyota Center.

Problem is the average new tenant wants 2,500 to 4,000 square feet, while empty floors are much larger, making it more expensive to get spaces tenant-ready. So owners of buildings like Toyota Center, nearly 49 percent vacant, and One Commerce Square, about 27 percent vacant, bide their time and wait for a bigger tenant that can gobble up entire floors.

“When compared to East Memphis the Downtown submarket may appear stagnant, but actually it’s stronger than it’s been in over 10 years,” said Pembroke, whose company represents One Commerce Square and One Memphis Place (200 Jefferson), among others.

“Year over year vacancy numbers are not an accurate reflection of the recent activity that has occurred in the submarket,” Pembroke said. Not included in the numbers are buildings that are being repurposed, such as Peabody Place, the Hickman or Medical Arts Building, 240 Madison, and the Wonder Bread bakery, future home of Orion Federal Credit Union.

Pembroke’s firm pegged Downtown’s nearly 2.8 million square feet of office space at 23 percent vacant in the October-December quarter of 2017, down from 24.4 percent a year earlier. The firm reported East Memphis had a 14.4 percent overall vacancy, up slightly from 13.3 a year earlier.

“A large part of that (Downtown) vacancy is represented by full floor vacancies which can vary from 14,000 – 21,000 square feet,” Pembroke said. “With tenants averaging in size from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet in the submarket, it makes it difficult subdivide these full floor vacancies to accommodate smaller space needs.”

CBRE Memphis listed a Downtown vacancy rate of 21.7 percent in the fourth quarter 2017, up slightly from 20.3 percent a year earlier, compared to an East Memphis rate of 11 percent, down from 11.9 percent.

The brokers said the national trend of younger people coming back to urban cores bodes well for the Downtown market.

“I see people picking buildings that have a cool DNA or history or legacy to it,” said Kastner. “Crosstown Concourse is a good example of that. Downtown has a rich supply of those opportunities, whether they’re architecturally interesting spaces or have a unique history to them.”

The Cotton Exchange Building at 65 Union and First Tennessee’s tower at 165 Madison stand out as Downtown office buildings that are virtually full.

The historic Cotton Exchange is a hotbed of creative workers, anchored by advertising and public relations agency Archer Malmo, with a history going back more than 30 years.

 Agency chief executive officer Russ Williams said, “A few attributes that make the building a great atmosphere include the small floor plate and large windows that bring a lot of natural light into the work spaces. Additionally, the excellent river views and vibrant tenant base make for a stimulating work environment.”

Kastner said one of CBRE’s newest leases at Toyota Center is Launch Pad, a firm that provides co-working space that gives members access to an office environment with WiFi, copy machines, conference rooms and amenities such as coffee and beer.

It leased half a floor in the renovated, historic former William R. Moore dry goods building that overlooks AutoZone Park. Renovation is under way, and the space should be open in June or July.

It will be the fourth Launch Pad since the company opened in New Orleans in 2009, followed by Newark and Nashville.

Chris Schultz, co-founder and chief executive officer, said Launch Pad was drawn to Toyota Center by a relationship with building owner Hertz Group in New Orleans.

 “We feel very much that young people are interested in moving back to downtowns, working downtown, and so I think the Toyota Center in Memphis very much plays into that. Downtown Memphis is becoming a center of commerce, and where people are working,” Schultz said.


City of Memphis plans to commit $6 million to help fund pre-kindergarten


The city of Memphis will commit $6 million of recurring funds to the expansion of pre-kindergarten in Shelby County, pending approval from City Council.

The city will divert $1.2 million, the equivalent of 1 cent per $100 of assessed value, from its current property tax revenue. The rest of the money will be phased in from expiring tax incentives for businesses for a total of $6 million by 2022. No taxes will increase to support the plan.

Mayor Jim Strickland announced the planned commitment Saturday. His plan will go before the city council on Tuesday and will require three readings for final approval.

A total of $16 million is needed to fully fund needs-based pre-K in Shelby County. The city’s plan would chip away at a significant chunk of that need.

“It’s a creative solution that doesn’t touch what we’re doing now with our operating budget,” Strickland said.

The commitment is significant for the city, which is not required to fund education. Funding for Shelby County Schools comes from state and federal governments and Shelby County.

“Making sure that our kids who need it the most have access to quality pre-K is one of the most important actions we can take today for the long-term betterment of the city we all love,” Strickland said.

Shelby County Schools offers about 7,000 pre-kindergarten seats. To have enough seats for every child in need would require about 8,500 seats. But a major federal grant is expiring after next year. The city’s funding would make up the difference and add some seats, but will still leave a gap.

Strickland said he’s confident Shelby County will have universal needs-based pre-kindergarten in the next few years.

 Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said he will push the county commission to continue funding pre-K at current levels of about $3 million.

A group called Seeding Success, which designed an early education plan for Shelby County, will oversee the dollars collected from the two city initiatives.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district has doubled the number of available pre-K seats since Memphis City Schools merged with the county district in 2013.

“I think that this is a great first step in what has been a significant strategy that we’ve been trying to implement over the last five years,” Hopson said of the city’s plan.

Hopson said the need for pre-kindergarten is great considering nearly half of SCS students live in poverty. They too often show up to kindergarten not knowing their letters, colors or sounds. Pre-kindergarten gives them a foundation for kindergarten, he said. Whether a child is ready for kindergarten is a significant indicator of whether they will read on level in the third grade.

SCS has a goal to have 90 percent of third-grade students reading on grade level by 2025.

Pre-kindergarten is also often used to screen children for learning disabilities that if caught early can greatly impact a child’s academic experience.

“This is not just an education strategy, but it’s also a poverty strategy,” Hopson said.

Over the last several years, Hopson said, the district has learned lessons from pre-kindergarten. If those children aren’t continuously supported with strong teachers and an aligned curriculum in kindergarten through second grade, the gains made in pre-kindergarten are often lost.

The district is committed to building supports into those grades, he said, to maximize the value of pre-kindergarten. That includes making sure the best teachers aren’t just working above the third grade, when students start taking state tests.

Where the new pre-kindergarten classes are offered will depend on the need that year, Hopson said, although southeast Shelby County is regularly in need of more seats.

Such a significant expansion may require finding room in existing facilities as well as building new ones. Some seats across the county are open, however, something the district is reviewing for a reallocation for future years.

“There are a few places where we have seats and parents just consistently can’t get kids there,” he said.


Police, fire unions propose way to fund pre-K

By WMCActionNews5.com Staff

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) –  Days after Memphis leaders announced a $6 million increase to pre-K funding, local fire and police unions announced a plan to add to that dollar amount.

Memphis fire and police unions want voters to approve a half percent sales tax hike.

The money raised from that tax increase would go to restoring benefits for firefighters and officers. Any money leftover from the tax increase would go into the pre-K fund.

Mayor Jim Strickland unveiled his pre-K proposal Saturday. He said he would pay for it without having Memphians pay any more money.

Pre-K was a large part of the conversation at a recent joint meeting of the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission.

“One of the things we’ve been hoping is that Memphis would join some of the other municipalities in also funding education,” Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer said.

Shafer said pre-K is critical, but assured everyone that the county is dedicated to also improving Shelby County Schools.

“I think the mayor’s announcement was outstanding. Pre-K has been an issue within the city of Memphis,” Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams said.

Union members are working to gather enough signatures to put a referendum increasing the sales tax to 9.75 percent on the ballot in November.

If passed, the tax increase is expected to yield at least $50 million. Union members said they just need 36 million to restore their lost benefits, so the rest of the money could go to pre-K.

City of Memphis said it needs $16 million to pay for universal pre-K.

Last month, Memphis Police Association and Memphis Fire Fighters Association announced they were working together to help fund public safety.


‘Time for Zuckerberg to Stop Hiding Behind His Facebook Page’

The Cambridge Analytica incident picks up steam

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2018 9:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – It’s variously being called one of the biggest data leaks in Facebook history and “unequivocally not a data breach.” And it has lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic clamoring for answers. This weekend thrust Cambridge Analytica into the spotlight: In 2014, some 270,000 Facebook users took the quiz developed by researcher Aleksandr Kogan for Cambridge Analytica, purportedly for academic purposes. It provided a gateway into their friends’ data, improperly giving Cambridge Analytica, which has been tied to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, data on some 50 million Facebook users. Among the thorniest accusations: that it allegedly kept the information after saying it deleted it, and that Facebook has known about the incident for at least two years. The latest developments and reaction:

Semantics: The New York Times quotes two Facebook execs’ weekend Twitter posts that took issue with the characterization of things. “This was unequivocally not a data breach,” tweeted Andrew Bosworth. “People chose to share their data with third party apps and if those third party apps did not follow the data agreements with us/users it is a violation. no systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked.” Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos has deleted his tweets, but the Times has this one: “The recent Cambridge Analytica stories … are important and powerful, but it is incorrect to call this a ‘breach’ under any reasonable definition of the term.” Reuters’ take on the responses: “tin-eared first lines of defense.”

  • UK wants answers: The British Parliament’s media committee head wants Mark Zuckerberg or another higher-up to appear before his committee. “It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page,” says Damian Collins.
  • US, too: On the other side of the pond, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for Zuckerberg “to testify before Senate Judiciary,” and Massachusetts’ attorney general vowed to investigate on her state’s behalf, reports the AP.
  • FTC could get involved: The consent decree was created by the FTC in 2011 to dictate how Facebook treats user data: It includes notification obligations on Facebook’s part and requires that users provide an OK before their data is shared in any capacity beyond what their privacy settings allow. Former FTC official David Vladeck tells the Washington Post the Cambridge Analytica incident “raises serious questions about compliance” with the decree and that he would “expect” the FTC to investigate. The decree stipulates each violation could incur a fine of up to $40,000, with the Post doing the math and putting the potential penalty—albeit an incredibly unlikely one—in the trillions. Facebook “reject[s] any suggestion of violation of the consent decree.”
  • Other shoe could drop? A report from the Financial Times suggests the plot could thicken for Cambridge Analytica. It reports the UK’s Channel 4 News plans to this week air an undercover investigation in which CEO Alexander Nix and others in the company talk with reporters posing as potential clients about its practices.
  • A word of warning: At CNBC, Matt Rosoff is critical of how Facebook has responded to this scandal and earlier ones, and he sounds this note of caution: “The actions of Facebook execs now recall how execs at Nokia and BlackBerry reacted after the iPhone emerged. Their revenues kept growing for a couple years—and they dismissed the threats. By the time users started leaving in droves, it was too late.”
  • Time to get tough: “No one can pretend Facebook is just harmless fun anymore,” declares Ellie Mae O’Hagan at the Guardian. “An unaccountable private corporation is holding detailed data on over a quarter of the world’s population. Zuckerberg and his company have been avoiding responsibility for some time. Governments everywhere need to get serious in how they deal with Facebook.”
  • Stock implications: Reuters reports shares are down about 4% in pre-market trading and notes that represents roughly $23.8 billion of Facebook’s $538 billion market value as of Friday’s close.


Facebook Plunges, Other Tech Stocks Decline

Broad decline on Wall Street Monday

By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 19, 2018 3:16 PM CDT
(Newser) – Technology stocks led a broad decline on Wall Street, led by a plunge in Facebook following reports that a company employed by the Trump campaign improperly obtained data on tens of millions of users, the AP reports. Facebook sank 7% in heavy trading Monday, its biggest daily drop in four years. Other technology stocks, which have far outpaced the rest of the market, also fell. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, lost 3%. Safe-play stocks like utilities and phone companies fared better. The S&P 500 index fell 39 points, or 1.4%, to 2,712. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 335 points, or 1.3%, to 24,610. The Nasdaq composite fell 137 points, or 1.8%, to 7,344.

Austin-Bound Package Explodes at FedEx Facility

1 person reportedly suffered a concussion

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2018 5:50 AM CDT
(Newser) – Hours after pleas for information about Austin’s serial bomber, a package bound for the city exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio, injuring one. The explosion was reported just after midnight Tuesday at the FedEx Ground distribution center in Schertz, 65 miles southwest of Austin. A medium-sized box with an Austin address, containing nails and metal shrapnel, exploded on a conveyor track, reports KSAT, noting a worker suffered a concussion and was treated at the scene. The FBI is investigating and says it’s “more than possible” the blast is linked to recent bombings in Austin, which have killed two and injured four, WREG reports. Some $115,000 is offered for information on the alleged bomber, reports the Washington Post.