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When former Indiana First Lady Maggie Kernan and I arrived in Timbuktu on February 25, 2001, it was in the dark of night and after a harrowing 11 1/2 hour drive across the Saharan desert in a beat-up 4-wheel drive truck. Our goal had been for me to wake up the next day, in Timbuktu, on my 50th birthday.

Amid the frustrating confusion of arranging for our hotel, there was one bright spot that night. A young 15-year-old boy, Ahmadou Maiga, approached Maggie and me and asked if he could be our tour guide while we were in Timbuktu.

Speaking in barely discernible English, Ahmadou offered to come and get us in the morning and show us around Timbuktu -- promising he could do it in just a few short hours. (Our time in Timbuktu was cut to the bare minimum after discovering that, because there were no flights out of Timbuktu the next day -- as promised -- Maggie and I were forced to have to make the same arduous journey back across the desert to the village of Mopti as soon as possible, in order for us to be able to spend one night there and then make the ten and a half hour drive back to Bamako in time to fly out of the country two days later.)

It was late, we were tired and beat from the trip across the desert, and desperately trying to sort out the hotel accommodations -- which included running water but no hot water -- so we agreed that Ahmadou would meet us early the next morning.

Sure enough, the next morning, Ahmadou appeared and was ready to show us around Timbuktu.

We had very little time for our tour because of our impending  journey back across the desert, but Ahmadou did such a wonderful job that he was the highlight of our visit.

It would have been easy to forget a 15-year-old boy whom we'd only met for a brief time in a small village so far away, and to which we most likely would never return in our lifetime -- but Ahmadou was not about to let that happen. Over the course of the next few years both Maggie and I would occasionally receive, at first, small postcards with broken English telling us how happy Ahmadou had been to have met us and to have been our tour guide in his beautiful Timbuktu, and then tiny envelopes containing small, neatly multi-folded, handwritten letters in broken English asking about how our lives were, and telling us that his life was good and that he hoped to see us one day in the future.

And then, a few years ago, I got an e-mail from Ahmadou sent to my personal e-mail address listed on the business card that I'd given him so many years earlier. That began a more regular line of communication by e-mail that allowed us to open a dialogue together, during which we learned more about Ahmadou's life in Timbuktu. Two years ago I sent Ahmadou a Macintosh laptop computer, a digital camera, and an iPod, making it even easier to communicate with Maggie and me by going to a local Internet café to e-mail us; Ahmadou and I have even Skype'd together on occasion. One of the conditions for the new camera was that he had to take pictures of his village and his family and send them to us -- which he did.

Ahmadou's dream has long been to become a tour guide, but he knows that his English language skills need to be the best they can be. And so, to that end, I offered to help send him to college where he could improve his English language skills as well as get a broad-based education. Our first attempt was to bring him to Indiana University last year. But for a variety of reasons, that did not work out as hoped -- not the least of which were his poor English skills.

Last fall, on the advice of my friend George Edwards, a professor at IUPUI in Indianapolis, who frequently travels around the world lecturing on international law and human rights issues, Ahmadou and I settled on his going to the University of Ghana where he would focus on English language studies for several months.

I'm proud and very happy to report that, this week, the university sent me Ahmadou's test results, and he's passed with flying colors, formally documenting his vastly improved English skills!  This means that we can now proceed to our next step of thinking about when and where Ahmadou will pursue his further education.

Now that Ahmadou and I can communicate more clearly with each other, it's even more exciting to contemplate what his future may hold. There are so many possibilities for a young man who just a few short months ago had never been anywhere outside his country, but who today dreams of a greatly improve life -- including the possibility of starting his own business -- based on a good education, hard work and dedication, and a passion for being the best he can be! And in the process, he'll help support his family while simultaneously making a contribution to his country. Our goal setting exercises are about to get even more exciting!

I'm looking forward to my continuing relationship with Ahmadou as he forges ahead in his life. And with luck, maybe one day Maggie Kernan and I will return to Timbuktu to see Ahmadou again, and to meet his beautiful family. I look forward to that!

NOTE: Photo above is Ahmadou and his Mamy (Grandmother), inside their home in the desert, Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa.

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Ahmadou's Family Outside Their Home in the Desert, in Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa

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Ahmadou's Test Results This Week.

 
 
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The countdown to the much anticipated launch of Apple's new iPad is now in hyper mode!

In less than 72 hours you'll be able to go to any Apple retail store in the United States, and most Best Buy outlets, and purchase the new iPad.

It's going to be very exciting to see how, or if, the iPad changes the way we access the web, watch television shows, movies or streaming video, read books magazines, newspapers or, in general, conduct our day-to-day lives by using the hundreds of thousands of apps or other software yet to be seen for the iPad.

Good luck to those of you heading out to buy an iPad this weekend. Congratulations to those of you who ordered online, in advance of this weekend's launch.  Your iPad should be delivered by UPS by this weekend.

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Hoping to greatly reduce my reliance on internal combustion engine vehicles -- and have a little fun while doing it, while at the same time helping to fund the ongoing development and progress of new battery technology and the development of more affordable, mainstream electric vehicles for the mass market, this past December 17th I placed a deposit on a new 2010 Tesla roadster.

The highly acclaimed roadster -- faster than a Porsche and twice as energy efficient as a Prius -- remains the only highway capable electric vehicle for sale in North America or Europe.

My hand-built roadster's journey began last December in the Lotus factory in the United Kingdom, after which it was shipped to Palo Alto California by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines, where it was then hand-assembled in the Tesla facility before being shipped down to the Tesla showroom on Santa Monica Blvd. here in Los Angeles. As of this past Saturday, my new Tesla is sitting on the showroom floor waiting for me to come get it. All that's left to be done is for my electrician to finish installing the electric charging station next to my parking spot here in my condo building. That process should be completed by the end of this week and I'll be able to bring my new car home.

It's not if, but when, we'll switch to an electric vehicle alternative to the internal combustion engines of today.  I'm eager to watch the progress of battery technology as more and more automakers develop and bring to market their own electric vehicles and, I am proud to say that federal stimulus funds are already pouring into my home state of Indiana to help fund battery technology research that will help push this progress forward even faster.

When I bring my Tesla back to Indianapolis in late May, I'll be one of only three Tesla owners in our state. One is the pioneer in Indiana, and a friend, who lives not far from my home, and I'm looking forward to getting together with her to compare notes and take road trips together!

I hope to blog more about my Tesla once I'm able to finally begin experiencing it.

See the Tesla in action in the video below.

NOTE: As each Tesla is custom built, the photo above is not my car, but a similar vehicle.

 
 
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Although Apple CEO Steve Jobs has announced that he will reveal Apple's next " revolutionary new product" next week on April 7th (rumored to be  be iAd, a mobile advertising platform), this week's huge news is that the new Apple iPad will be released this Saturday, April 3rd, in all 221 US Apple retail stores and at most Best Buy locations, beginning at 9 AM.  (WiFi version only, with 3G version coming a few weeks later)

This truly revolutionary device will allow for Apple to enhance many of their iPhone and iPod applications for a much richer user experience on the iPad. Quoting Steve Jobs: "iPad connects users with their apps and content in a far more intimate and fun way than ever before, we can't wait for users to get their hands and fingers on it this weekend."

Everyone buying a new iPad in an Apple retail store will receive a free personal setup service, which includes assistance from Apple staff with setting up e-mail accounts on the device, loading applications, and other tasks. Apple stores will also begin hosting iPad workshops this Saturday, so customers can more quickie begin to get more out of their devices.

This afternoon, Apple posted a series of guided tours for the iPad in its efforts to gear up for the device's US launch, which cover basic features such as Safari, Mail, Photos, and iPod, all of which should be familiar in at least basic concept to those of you who are iPhone or iPod touch users.

Among the iPad's unique offerings is the exciting new iBookstore for eBook content, which is described in their guided tours.

The Apple website is prominently featuring its new guided tour section, here, offering users a wonderful perspective on what they can expect from Apple's long anticipated tablet device even before they get their hands on one.

Have fun!

 
 
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It's safe to say that tonight, during the 2010 Earth Hour, hundreds of millions of people, organizations, corporations and governments around the world once again came together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something very simple—turning off their lights for one hour. (When millions of people in the USA tried to access the website, it crashed and went down.)

In the U.S. where we are already feeling the impacts of climate change, Earth Hour sends a clear message that Americans care about this issue and want to turn the lights out on dirty air, dangerous dependency on foreign oil and costly climate change impacts -- and that they want to make a switch to cleaner air, a strong economic future and a more secure nation.

If you participated tonight, by flipping off your lights you helped emphasize the need for our nation to switch to a cleaner, more secure -- more prosperous America.

Thank you!

 
 
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Thank you for your interest in joining the Earth Hour movement.We appreciate your patience while we bring the full Earth Hour site back online. Millions of people from across America are trying to access this web site, and we are working hard to meet the incredible demand.

Please check back in with us soon.


 
 
Note: video is from Earth Hour site. Original, unedited version, along with more details about tonight's worldwide event, can be found here.
 
 
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Not a particularly good stock picker, I generally rely on my investment advisors for advice and rarely make recommendations. However, based on the theory that you can make good stock picks if you really understand a company, I've made a handful of good pics during the last 30 years (Including Microsoft and Apple -- two companies that I knew a lot about), and a few years ago bought shares of the then relatively new and unknown Baidu (pronounced "by-doo"), a new search engine company in China.

Having just returned from three weeks in Southeast Asia, I'm reminded that the United States -- and it's home-grown companies -- have much to gain, and much to lose, as the world continues to adjust to the ongoing developments and shake-outs economically and geopolitically, that are playing out on the world stage, especially in China.

This week's announcement that Google has pulled out of China, and moved its search engine operations to Hong Kong, bodes very well for Baidu's growth (my current 350% increase in stock value has a good chance of improving); and for that, I'm grateful. However, I hate to see Google pull out of China for many reasons, not the least of which is the potential damage it can do to Google's future growth.

Google's relationship with China has also impacted the relationship between the Chinese government and the United States government, adding fuel to the fire that's already smoldering between the two countries.

There is no doubt that our world is forever intertwined.

NOTE: Watch the very brief CNBC interview with the young founder of Baidu, below.

 
 
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I'm anxious to get back to Indianapolis for any number of reasons, but the installation of a stunning sculpture at the new Marriott Place, in downtown Indianapolis, is close to the top of my list.

Just a short 10 minute walk from my downtown home, the Marriott Place -- a complex that includes the new high-rise JW Marriott and two smaller hotels -- sits between White River State Park and downtown Indianapolis, across the street from Bush Stadium, and is a beautiful new addition to our city.

The sculpture is featured in the multimillion-dollar plaza which was designed by Claire Bennett Associates (Claire Bennet did the design for the two green spaces outside my home), and was designed by Jeff Laramore of 2nd Globe Studios.

It took six months of cutting, shaping, and welding -- by Linell Signature of Mooresville, Indiana -- to fabricate this stunning sculpture out of 15,000 pounds of steel and 15,000 pounds of aluminum, all of which is covered in 22 gallons of colored paint, 7 gallons of primer, and 12 gallons of clear coat.

Kudos to the brilliant design skills of Jeff Laramore and his wonderful Young and Laramore firm, as well as to friend Paul Knapp, who's been the CEO of Young and Laramore for more years than I can remember.

Thanks, also, to White Lodging Services and REI Real Estate Services for an outstanding job bringing this new hotel complex to our downtown during one of the worst financial environments this nation has ever seen.  Special thanks to Dean White and his son Bruce White, for a job well done -- especially for the $5.4 million donation to promote Indianapolis' tourism and convention business, recently made from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation Inc.

More information can be found in today's Indianapolis Star, here, on the IBJ website, here, and in this wonderful video by WISH TV, here.

Note: photo of the unveiled sculpture at the Marriott Place (above)courtesy Gary Moore/The Star, below, courtesy Young and Laramore 



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I'm currently reading 'The Art of Happiness' by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. The authors explore the concepts that the purpose of life is happiness, that happiness is determined more by the state of one's mind then by one's external conditions, or events -- at least once one's basic survival needs are met -- and that happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.

Basically, they contend that happiness is in our own hands.

True enough, these concepts are a fundamental part of the Buddhist religion. However, I believe they are also an innate part of man's nature that go back to the beginning of humankind -- long before The Buddha, Confucius, Abraham, Jesus Christ or Mohammed.

When I was in my early 20s I frequently read books and listened to tapes of the most prominent self-help gurus of the time. I would go to sleep at night reading or listening to the words of Earl Nightingale, Wayne Dreyer, and others who promoted these very concepts. Now, all these years later, reading 'The Art of Happiness' reminds me of how good it feels to be reminded of these concepts all over again.

I urge anyone who wants a little pick-me-up to recharge or retool their state of mental well-being, to consider reading 'The Art of Happiness'.

Note: Video is of an interview with the Dalai Lama by Barbara Walters, which aired on ABC.