Michael Cleland


Michael Cleland

December 14, 2010
by Michael Cleland

Recyclable charity: Kiva

If you like the idea of “recycleable charity”, then consider kiva.org

You can help fund microcredit loans, by contributing $25 towards a loan (usually totalling about $500 – $1000) to enable people in developing and third world countries invest in their own businesses.

Each month, a portion of your contribution is paid back, and then you can reloan that to someone else, or withdraw the money altogether.

All of your money – that’s 100 per cent – goes to the “entrepreneur” (you can donate money to Kiva to assist with running costs). People you loan to do pay interest to a local microcredit agency in their country.

For example, you might help loan money to someone to buy a new machine for their furniture making business, or stock for their store.

You can browse Kiva to see photos and stories of the people who you are actually loaning your $25 to. As you browse, you can filter by country, gender or industry.

I first read about this in Bill Clinton’s book “Giving” and I believe Oprah mentioned it in her “ultimate gifts”.

I’ve been a “capital raiser” on kiva.org for 2 years now and have helped loan money to 60 individuals and groups. I’ve got people involved at my work for Kris Kringle and we’ve pooled together for over 20 loans.

It is a great feeling!

There were some comments about The Age’s article about a good number of Kiva’s loans now being back filled.

RichG, you’re correct that Kiva NOW does backfill the loan they’ve already made with your money, but that has only been in the last year.

Kiva has gained sufficient momentum that they can now send funds through without having to wait for the donations to come through. The benefit of this is that people asking for the loan can get the money faster (maybe saving a month or more of delay) and so can get to use it on their project.

You as the loaner though, still reply upon that individual paying back the loan to YOU, so in this way, you still have a direct connection to that entrepreneur, even if they got money before you donated it. It’s all a bit “back to the future”, but the intention is good and it works.

October 15, 2010
by Michael Cleland

NBN FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt)

There’s been a lot of press about the NBN, and so much of it is littered with FUD – fear, uncertainty, doubt. The fear that it will cost a lot, the uncertainty that it is the right technology, the doubt that it will be taken up in great numbers.

Andrew Darby’s article in The Age today gives a typical example of this. Small townships in Tasmania were the first ones connected to the NBN, on the basis of nation building and not leaving rural communities behind.

The locals in the article don’t understand the technology or its potential benefits. This is exactly the kind of scenario that anti-NBN proponents seize upon. They’ll say that people don’t want it, that wireless is the future.

It frustrates me when people say that radio will be faster, when this will clearly never be the case, especially as radio spectrum is a scarce resource.

Sometimes, you just have to tell the ill-informed or ignorant “trust us”. At $43 billion, this is an infrastructure project that will replace copper and last for many, many decades, so will be well worth it.

January 24, 2010
by Michael Cleland

Face to Face With Tragedy

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 that killed over 250,000 people, the New York Times published a series of confronting photographs. The newspaper published a piece justifying their reasons.

There was a lot of argument that said that if a disaster of this scale had happened in the United States, then such photographs would not have been published. Some people argued they were “exploitive and sensationalistic”.

I strongly believe the NYT has done the right thing to publish the photographs of Haiti. Simply put, words are not enough. I have been deeply moved by the images, in particular the body of the 10-month-old girl and her grieving father.

If it helps people understand, it keeps it in their conscience, it prevents them from forgetting as soon as other stories begin to take over the headlines. We are at risk of not appreciating the devastation of the earthquake if we were presented with sanitised images.

We are all one humanity. Many of us are, through chance, born into countries overflowing with obscene plenty. At the absolute least, Haiti may influence people not to just think of their own situation, but to think of giving something to others.

I have read articles of rebuilding Haiti and hope that we don’t forget our early promises to its people. A country on the doorstep of the States deserves the help of the First World.

December 11, 2008
by Michael Cleland

Give something different this Christmas

Imagine being able to lend small amounts of money directly to someone in the developing world. Imagine helping some of the world’s poor to start or grow a business. Think how this would help their families and their community.

Well, it’s possible! I was reading Bill Clinton’s book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World – and he talked about Kiva, which is a San Francisco-based organisation that lets people like you and I lend money to people in the developing world for their businesses – like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks.

The concept is microfinance – small loans of up to a few hundred dollars are given to entrepreneurs who are too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans, and are paid back after about a year. Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for being instrumental in microfinance in his country.

When you visit the Kiva website at www.kiva.org, you can search amongst pre-screened entrepreneurs in a variety of categories including agriculture, transport, food or clothing, and read what project these entrepreneurs want the money for, where they are located, how much they need and when they’ll pay it back.

You can contribute as little as AU$30, and other people registered can also contribute to the same entrepreneur, until the requested loan amount is reached. So you could be among 20 or 30 people  globally, who are all helping a cooperative of women in Sierra Leone who run a food stall, to be able to purchase dishes and foodstuffs to increase their income.

Or maybe you’ll help a Cambodian family buy more wood to use in their furniture-making business.

When the entrepreneur pays back their loan you get your money back. You don’t make any money; you’re just lending your money. Once the loan is paid back, you can either withdraw it from Kiva or put your money back into another enterprise.

You’re helping to build a sustainable business that will provide income to feed, clothe, house and educate their family long after the loan is paid back.

In two years, Kiva has lent over $35 million to 50,000 enterprises in the developing world with 98.25 percent of loans repaid.

I was so excited about this I had to write about it for my staff newsletter at the City of Casey. It’s kind of charity, but it is helping people help themselves.

At this time of year, when buying gifts is top of mind, why not think about giving a Kiva gift voucher as a gift? For the person who has everything, it is a perfect gift!

This year, Executive Services is forgoing the traditional Kris Kringle gifts and contributing to Kiva instead – check their profile on Kiva at www.kiva.org/lender/cityofcasey

City of Casey’s Executive Services’ first 5 entrepreneurs

  1. Ehiorobo Aimerobiriye from Nigeria – a store keeper who will wants to buy more stock for her store
  2. Agnes Oppong from Ghana – sells onions and peppers at a market and will buy more stock for her stall
  3. Heang Nay Im from Cambodia – buying a generator to power lighting when her husband’s theater puts on performances
  4. Ni Ketut Kamar Adiani from Bali, Indonesia – she breeds pigs to sell and wants to buy more piglets and feed
  5. Sokha Kong Group from Cambodia – a group of 9 women who have pooled together for one loan from rice growing to bicycle repair

October 23, 2008
by Michael Cleland

Why did I call folks in Florida and ask them to vote for Obama?

Okay, I’m in Australia, but I can’t stand George W Bush.

I couldn’t just sit by and have another 4 years of Republicans.

My passion with this is that the USA, and by design, allies of the USA, have had their reputations badly damaged by that fool Dubbya with his crash through Texan Born Again attitude.

Of course, most of that damage has been caused by what the US has done in the Middle East.

By the way, I’m not against religion, but I strongly believe in separation of Church and the State (especially in Western Democracies) – so I think the last 8 years have to be undone.

Scary too, was the prospect of John McCain and Sarah Palin in the Whitehouse. I think that Matt Damon’s discussion about Palin on YouTube describes my fear of her quite well.

So, I volunteered on Barack Obama’s website, got a list of people to call in Florida (a key swing state in the presidential election) and make about 100 calls on Skype.

Most of the time I got answering machines or the occasional ‘not interested’, but a handful of times I got people said they and everyone they knew were voting for Obama. Both they and I got a buzz when I said, ”By the way, I’m calling from Australia.

I can’t vote in your election, but I’m doing a tiny bit to say that many world citizens can’t stand what’s happened”.

That’s the satisfaction and power of being a World Citizen!

And off my soapbox I get!

February 8, 2007
by Michael Cleland

Movies to live your life by

“Save Ferris”

There are some truly classic lines in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Myself and my friend Steve watched this over 20 times when I was a kid. We watched a “PG friendly” version that was on Channel 10. We knew when every commercial break was.

Lines like “Cameron’s ass is so tight, that if you stuck a piece of coal up it, it’d come out a diamond” were cut from this TV version.

Then, one day, I saw it at the Moonlight Cinemas – “complete and uncut” and it was so refreshing. All these scenes that I’d forgotten about.

I remember thinking how so subconsciously I’ve tried to model my life, my character, around Ferris Bueller. Heck, my handle on the internet – and pre-internet – was Ferris Bueller.

I’m now a big fan of Matthew Broderick and adored The Producers. I desperately wanted to see him and Nathan Lane perform it in New York. I got to New York, and saw it on the day that they announced that Matthew and Nathan were to return to their roles in 6 weeks time …

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” such a classic and poignant line.

And for a French film? Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie PoulainAmelie. I first saw this after quite a few drinks – I actually find that having a few drinks, as an “adult” can heighten the sensation of a movie, as it dulls the senses to the reality of the real world.

Amelie is a dreamer. “Times are hard for dreamers.” But who wouldn’t want to live in a Parisian fantasy wonderland with a dreamy friend like Amelie? Her life is so gorgeous, it almost makes me cry. And if you truly love this film, there is nothing quite like sitting in the Café des Deux Moulins, 15 rue Lepic, Montmartre and having a red wine and wishing and hoping that Amelie and her life were real …

Ah, the romanticism of movies …

As Ferris would say. “It’s over. The blog is over. Go home! Go! [chicka-chicka ….]”

December 18, 2004
by Michael Cleland

Review: Ocean’s Twelve

Disjointed and disappointing 3/10

“Ocean’s Eleven” was an entertaining, high energy film. The sequel, therefore, had everything going for it – good reputation of the previous film, all star cast, beautiful locations throughout Europe and the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Instead, we got a collection of disjointed scenes, absolutely no pace (a prerequisite for a film of this genre) and a plot that didn’t really get off the ground.

Traditionally, you would say that most films introduce the characters, set the premise, and off they go. Ocean’s 11 did that quite well. But this film never started cooking. I felt as though the whole cinema was shifting about in their seats.

Scenes lingered for far too long, actors weren’t putting energy into their performances and I’m sure that somehow the “Deleted Scenes” portion of the DVD was included entirely in the film. Loud, pacey music couldn’t even keep the tempo high.

It is disturbing when you’re in a film and you start to think about how you’re going to rate it on IMDb.com – for me, it hovered between 1 and 3 out of 10.

The wheels really fell off when Tess, played by Julia Roberts, was coerced to fly to Rome to play – wait for it – Julia Roberts.

The concept of the hologram egg just screamed at me, “We don’t have a plot!” It is acceptable to make allowances in films of this genre, but introducing absolute science fiction SFX bordered on the desperately ridiculous.

The only highlights were the European locations – Rome, Amsterdam, Paris and coastal scenes. Fans of Catherine Zeta-Jones may get some value – she looks pretty, rather than sexy. She too was wasted in this film.

And I couldn’t really say who Ocean’s 12 were – one would assume Catherine Zeta-Jones, but even this wasn’t all that strongly emphasised.

See it on DVD if there’s nothing else available at your video library. Better yet, why not track down the original “Ocean’s Eleven” with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

May 16, 2003
by Michael Cleland

Review: The Matrix Reloaded

Were we spoilt with “The Matrix”? A “must see” all the same … 7 / 10

This is more of a comment on the experience of seeing the first two Matrix films, with some critical commentary.

My comment is, has Neo had an impact on the geek? I saw “Matrix Reloaded” (MR) at midnight on the night it first opened, just after watching “The Matrix” in the same cinema immediately beforehand.

I’ve seen “The Matrix” (TM) four times now, and each time I derive something new out of it. In fact, it took until the third viewing to understand most of the fundamental concepts of the film. It is definitely a film that one can become immersed in – one that has a pace that doesn’t slow down – the tempo just keeps rising. Leaving the cinema after seeing Neo step out of the phone booth, put his glasses on and slip off – you catch yourself thinking that we really are all in the Matrix – it is all around us. To accept that wanting to live in real world instead of the Matrix is something Morpheus and Co aspire to, is a spin out in itself.

So, coming out of the “reasonably filled” cinema from seeing TM, I encountered a sea of guys. These guys would traditionally be the sweaty geeks – the type that have no regard for their personal appearance. The “Trekkies”, who, when gathered in a cinema, put out a collective BO that is unpleasant, yet somehow reassuring to experience (it lets you know that there still are geeks in this world).

But, for the MR, the sea of guys – literally hundreds of them, all had that Neo cool. Well dressed, many on mobile phones, not too stinky. I’d estimate that 2 – 5 per cent of the viewing audience was female.

This was my reason for going to the first public screening of MR – to not only see the film, but to be part of the experience of seeing it with a kind of brethren. I was reassured that I assimilated with these cool geeks more than your “I don’t get out and mix with normal people too much” kind of geek.

So, what did I think about the film? I came out of it a little disappointed. Now, all of you who have seen TM more than 30 times and are probably, as I type, watching MR for the fifth time since its release 36 hours ago, will probably blindly declare that I am a heathen.

MR just didn’t have the impact of the first film. Some of the most exciting parts of TM were grasping the concepts, watching the stunning visual effects, seeing the story develop and increase tempo, relating to Neo and his troubles with the world. Witnessing the slow motion, normal speed and ramping of fighting scenes, shooting scenes, the warping of the image. All of that stuff. Importantly of all, watching Sydney, Australia as the vital backdrop to this amazing movie. Like New Yorkers having pride that their home town is the key to films like “Spiderman”, Aussies feel the same way about this film – even if I am from Melbourne! (FYI, there is a great Melbourne / Sydney rivalry between people who live in their respective city, but as Australians showcasing our country to the world on films like this, we proudly put those issues aside).

Now, going into MR, we expect all of those visual effects. You almost become complacent, which is a terrible thing. I had to remind myself, “Hey, Neo is being attacked by 5 Agent Smiths!” And a few minutes later, “Knucklehead, Neo is being attacked by 100 plus Agent Smiths! That is a very impressive effect!” All of the Agent Smiths attacking Neo seemed so real, it didn’t seem to be an effect – that is something truly impressive.

As a sign note, I would bet Hugo Weaving, who is an unassuming Australian actor, must get a huge kick out of playing this sort of role and seeing himself projected on the screen in that manner.

Similarly, watching the much talked about freeway action was truly amazing. The way all of the characters ducked and weaved through traffic, even travelling again it, without any hesitation, was a sign of the strength and conviction that Neo, Morpheus and Co have in each other and cause. The quote from Morpheus, “What if tomorrow the war could be over … isn’t that worth dying for?” is shown off throughout the film.

But, most of Neo’s powers are now assumed. He can stop bullets, he is a great martial arts fighter – we’ve had that established in the previous film now, and that’s part of what’s missing in MR. Still, there were times when Neo showed new skills – “Neo’s doing his Superman thing again” – his flying skills were put to great use, both visually and for the story, towards the climax of the film.

Aside from the opening scenes of the film, the first half hour of MR, the tempo was slow, almost falling into melodrama. I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow if the cinema collective had of yelled out “Finally, some action!!” as the tempo started to wind up. The opening screen, Trinity’s mission, was truly impressive and made me think, “if the start is like this, we’re in for a hell of a ride!” As you know, a common film technique is to flash forward at the start of the film, to something that is significant at the end. I made a note of this when watching Trinity in action.

Then the pace slowed down. We saw Zion, we established that Neo has cult status among his people. We saw the political processes at work in Zion. A necessary evil to establish this background story? Perhaps. But get me back to the action that the Matrix is all about, please!

So, ultimately, I think fans of TM will not be disappointed by MR. We were just spoilt too much with the brilliance of TM on a number of levels – story, visuals, concepts – a lot of things that MR would find difficulty to top. Having said that, MR is obvious a “must see” for all fans of TM. It all concludes in just 6 short months!

September 3, 2001
by Michael Cleland

I was the Weakest Link

So you want to be the Weakest Link? Well, allow me to tell you how in a couple of easy steps.

At home, we’d watched the Weakest Link (WL) probably half a dozen times when it first started earlier this year.

Well, I put my name down for an audition. Within about a month I was at an audition with about 70 other people. There were shy people, “normal” people and plenty of larger-than-life people.

We had to fill out a questionnaire about why we wanted to appear on the show. Next was a general knowledge test. If you got less than 60 per cent correct, they said, “Goodbye” and you were led down the walk of shame and that’s your chance blown. Fortunately, I just scraped through!

Next, we had to stand up in front of the others and say why we wanted to go on the WL. “What is this, Popstars?” someone yelled out. So, with that, went my turn came to stand up, that prompted me to do a little spontaneous slow shoe shuffle Scandal’us number:

I’m not all that sexy,
And I can’t sing and dance for ****.
They kicked me out of “Popstars”,
So “The Weakest Link” is it!

Within 3 weeks, I got a call to come in. I had six days before the taping to learn all sorts of trivia. Everywhere I went in my car over those next few days, I played a CD I’d recorded loaded with facts and figures. Trivial Pursuit cards were de rigorat bed time.

Then it was off to Chadstone, the Fashion Capital, to get some “TV friendly” threds and a couple of other trinkets.

The day arrived. I was feeling really nervous, but even more excited. Lots of preparation had gone into this – the moment of truth was upon me.

Here I met my fellow contestants for the first time. It was a further 3 hours before we walked onto the WL set. We had our wardrobe chosen (the 3 shirts I’d bought especially were rejected and I was given a lovely mustard coloured shirt from Seven’s wardrobe department), went to makeup (just for “deglossing”) and then for some practise sessions.

First lesson was how to introduce ourselves. My lines were, “I’m Michael, 30, a web developer from Richmond.” I couldn’t help myself on my first practice – “Evil…. Dr Evil.” Ha ha!

Finally, we were given some tips. “You can say whatever you like and try not to pass. At least make some sort of attempt to answer the question.”

And with that, we were on set. Cornelia was hiding off in the corner when we arrived. Pretty soon, we were under way. Cornelia gave her intro – “Welcome to the Weakest Link … these contestants have only just met … let’s meet the team.” Taping stopped for a new camera set up and then we each did our introduction.

Taping stopped again. In fact, it stopped quite a bit and for five or ten minutes each time. If you ever watch the WL, you’ll notice that the camera pans or cranes around constantly. As a result, one episode takes about 4 and a half hours to record! Editing of the show takes 10 to 12 hours.

So, back to the show. I was very excited and a bit nervous. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was squirming on camera quite a bit . I was aware of it at the time but didn’t think the camera would pick it up.

Suddenly, we were into the first round of questions. No practise session – straight in. The set is silent except for Cornelia’s questions and your own thoughts. My thoughts were my worst enemy:

How much time is left? Should I bank or let the money build up? Did he get that right? Would I have known that? I hope I don’t stuff my question up. Oh God, I’m next!

My first question wasn’t too bad. “What colour are roses given on Valentine’s Day?” Without squirming, I said “Red.” “Correct!” Fantastic! Got through the first hurdle.

Pretty soon, the same evil thoughts entered my head and overtook everything else. Before I knew it, Cornelia was asking the next question. “Blah blah blah, seeing is …” Oh dear, that question was to me. Um. “Seeing is.” Is that something to do with sight? I really don’t know. “Pass.”

Before I knew it, I’d blurted out the evil “pass” word. This all happened in a flash. Well, hopefully someone else will get something wrong, maybe someone else will pass. I hope…

Third question coming – should I bank? There was only $200 to bank so I didn’t think it was worth it. “Which two English comedians signed off with ‘It’s goodnight from me and it’s goodnight from him?” Thank you Mr Ron Walker for keeping this in the front of my mind. “The Two Ronnies.”

“Correct!” That should redeem my stuff I, shouldn’t it?

In a few more moments, time was up. Taping stopped. We were then told to have a think for a moment and write down on a slip of paper who we wanted to vote off. Steve said the second hand revolved 3,600 times in an hour – that was dumb – he got my vote.

All the votes were handed it and a few minutes later, taping started again. We’d really already voted, but now we had to write on the big flip card the name of who we wanted to leave. We had to do this for a few minutes (and pretend we were still writing) so that the cameras could get all sorts of angles of us pretending to write, looking across to other contestants etc.. Then it was “Time now to vote off the Weakest Link.”

“Michael”, “Michael”, “Michael”, “Michael”, “Someone else”, “Someone else”, “Steve” (my vote), “Someone else”, “Someone else.”

After the second call of Michael, I had this sinking feeling. “Please, not the first round!!!” Four votes. I was nailed, history, gone.

The taping stopped again. I had about five minutes to think about being kicked off first – not a good feeling. At least it gave me a chance to think about my exit routine. While the cameras repositioned, Cornelia was off the set with a writer deciding on what little limerick she was going to use on bidding me farewell. Then back to it and Cornelia was asking the others why they’d picked me to go.

Graham said, “He let the team down.” Each time Graham was asked why he voted someone off, he gave a “I’m gonna drive the knife in” kind of response.

I’d seen the promos for a couple of episodes. The losing contestants that squirmed the most and rolled their eyes got a lot of coverage in the ads. So I squirmed and grimaced and rolled my eyes and looked ashamed as best as my non-acting skills would allow.

And then it was Walk of Shame time. “Seeing is believing and you better believe it! YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK – GOODBYE!”

I dropped my card and started the walk. But I wasn’t going silently – there was a promo to feature in!

To the surprise of everyone on set, I span around and thrust my finger in Cornelia’s direction and roared “Hasta la vista, baby!” then continued to stride off.

Then I was told to do it again as they had a techo problem. It was back to the set for a couple of minutes. “Guys, I could have been fun!” I said to the others. Nothing they could do now – their loss I guess.

My second take was the one that went to air. I don’t think it was quite as good and I did a really “Blair from Big Brother” kind of smirk.

Then it was up to the interview room for my post match review. I’d done my little Arnie impersonation, now for some more fun.

I’d bought a pair of half height glasses, just like Cornelia’s. I was intending to use them when asked why I was voting someone off. I’d practised at home holding the flip card with one hand, pulling the glasses out of my pocket with the other and putting them on. I was going to come back at Cornelia with some of her lines in her style of voice – but not to be.

So, more than happy to play the gallah role, I pulled them out in the interview. “I brought along a Cornelia prop. They cost me five bucks too.” Then in a pompus voice I said, “Opportunity knocks and he’s not opening the door.”

A bit more chit chat and then we decided that I close my interview with, “I am the Weakest Link. Goodbye!”

And so I was, and am. Goodbye!