The stories in the Sunday papers about Millie Holmes’ problems with pure methamphetamine reminded me of Cyan Sunday, a feature screenplay I wrote very quickly a couple of years ago. The story is about an intelligent young woman, Charlotte White, who is also a very good P cook who has created a lucrative little business in Auckland supplying the gangs with high grade merchandise for their street drug trade.
Charlotte likes to deal to her favour customers from the rear pew of St. Patrick’s and when leaving church one Sunday she is knocked unconscious and kidnapped by Thomas Schumacher and his colleague Keith. The two are middle aged bankers whose children’s lives have been ruined by the P Charlotte sells. Frustrated at the pace of the police investigation into Charlotte’s activities, Schumacher decides to take matters into his own hands leading to the following scene…
INT. SCHUMACKER’S GARAGE — MORNING
The garage door closes behind Thomas’ car. He and Keith climb out and slide Charlotte across the backseat. She is limp within their arms but begins to revive and fight.
Get the chain and lock!
He holds Charlotte while Keith grabs a chain off a workbench that runs the length of one side of the garage. Thomas slaps Charlotte across the face twice and she stops struggling. He drags her to a steel chair that sits with its back hard against a boat trailer which holds a large red speed boat. Taking her arms he holds them together behind the chair while Keith wraps the chain tightly around them and loops the chain through the safety latch of the trailer.
Charlotte looks up at Thomas groggily. He leans against the workbench tired form the exertion. He points at her.
There she is. Doesn’t look like a drug baron
does she? With a broken nose, chained up. It’s
not like the movies. No henchmen, no weapons?
He flicks a look at Keith who pants away wearing a Balaclava.
You did check her for weapons?
I checked, just a mobile phone and
A shot of the phone and keys sitting on the workbench.
The three of them regard each other. Charlotte spits onto the garage floor. The spit is red, laced with blood.
Be my guest. And scream away if you want.
We’re pretty private here.
(clears her throat)
What is this, you want me to cook for you?
Thomas bursts out with forced laughter. Keith joins him from behind his mask. The laughter carries on, echoing in the garage. Charlotte studies the two men and looks around the garage. A series of shots with the men’s laughter over the top: Tubs of paint on a shelf, a ride-on lawn mower parked in the corner, fishing rods hung from the rafters of the garage.
I think you’ve done enough of that for one
career, madam. Think of this as the Spanish
Inquisition but it doesn’t matter if you truly
do believe in God, which you obviously do
because you deal drugs in church!
Schumacher breaks out laughing again. Charlotte scans the room, looking for an out. A shot of her hands exploring the chain and the safety latch of the boat trailer.
No, this is a confessional in which you are
going to tell us every detail of your operation,
who supplies you with the cold pills, where
you make it and how your dealer network
You’re wasting your time, I’m just a dealer, I
get given the stuff and sell it on the streets, I
don’t know whose above or below me.
Bullshit! We’ve been watching you for weeks.
You’re not some curb-crawling drug pusher.
You’re a major player in Auckland, below the
radar. Till now.
Thomas walks up to Charlotte and looks down at her.
Now the game is over. It’s confession time
and you better not leave out any details.
Or what? Or what?
Thomas goes back to the workbench and opens a drawer full of tools. He begins taking them out and placing them on the table during the next piece of his dialogue.
Well it’s your industry Miss White, you
know what the thugs running it are capable of.
What was that I read in the paper the other
He slams down a hammer on the workbench.
About that guy working for the Head Hunters?
He was stealing from the gang apparently,
skimming off his own cut of the merchandise
and selling it. Under the table, so to speak. They
cut his head off. A farmer found it in his sewage
pond. They never found the rest of him! Identified
him by his crowns!
He takes a long MACHETE out of the drawer and holds it up for Charlotte to see.
I can’t claim to be an expert in the use of this thing,
but I’ll give it a go.
He throws the machete on the workbench and nods to Keith. They walk towards Charlotte who retracts against the boat trailer. Schumacher produces a tape recorder, presses the record button and balances it on the speed boat.
Who supplies you with the pills?
Silence from Charlotte. Thomas produces a smaller knife from his pocket and points it at Charlotte.
I’m serious, you mess around and I’ll cut
flesh, I swear I will. Where are the pills
Silence from Charlotte who sits defiantly. Thomas looks at her annoyed, trying to look staunch. Then he nods to Keith and they walk into the corridor leading to the garage, out of view of Charlotte.
The bitch is going to be difficult.
He paces around the plush corridor – designer lights, expensive tiles and artwork on the walls.
I was serious when I said I was prepared to
hurt her, to make her talk.
Hurt her? How much?
It depends how difficult she is. I can’t say
she’s got off to a great start. I’m going to ask
her about the source again and if she doesn’t
talk I’m going to cut her?
Cut her? You could kill her?
I’m not going to kill her, just a flesh wound. I’m
not going to stab her!
Keith is sweating profusely. He wipes his face with a handkerchief.
You could hit an artery or something. What then?
We turn up at the hospital with some girl bleeding to
death? How do we explain that?
I’ll cut her on the ear, cut a piece out of her ear. See
how she handles that.
Are you serious?
INT. SCHUMACHER’S GARAGE — MORNING
Charlotte is sitting on the steel chair, the blood drying on her face. She strains to hear the conversation in the hallway and can make out the gist of it. She runs her fingers over a NUT on the trailer’s safety latch, worrying it.
INT. SCHUMACHER’S HALLWAY — MORNING
I’m dead serious. What the hell are we doing here? I’m completely serious. I’m not going to cut her ear off I’m going to stick the end of this knife into her eye ball!
He goes to go back into the garage, worked up. Keith grabs him and pulls him back.
Wait, wait. Calm down. Okay? Cut her
on the face, away from her neck. If she
They look gravely at each other. Thomas nods resolutely and looks at the knife. Keith puts his Balaclava back on. They walk out of screen and we hold on a thermometer on the wall of the garage. The temperature is 32 degrees.More
by Peter Griffin | Herald on Sunday
A pasty looking child was the centre of attention in Japan last week. He made faces, rolled around on the floor and barked out words. None of that would be too special were if not for the fact that CB2, as he’s called, is a robot.
When CB2 stands up, he needs the support of an adult and his legs shake just as those of a child who is learning to walk would.
CB2’s creators hope the robot can be used to improve understanding of how children develop human relation skills – learn language, recognize objects, interact with other people.
The Japanese have been fascinated by robots for decades, but biomimesis, the imitation of biological functions, is seen by many scientists worldwide as the key to building robots that can operate in unstructured environments. That science is in its early days, but
think of the Terminator or the hordes of sleek androids in I Robot as the ultimate biomimetric robots.
Robots already man the assembly lines of car and electronics factories the world over. It’s a different story when it comes to consumer uses for robots. We’ve been told for years that robots will be infiltrating the household, but the only one to successfully do so has been the Roomba vacuum cleaner, which motors around your floors sucking up dust, mapping out your home in its memory so it knows where it has already cleaned.
Sony last year ditched its much loved Aibo robotic dog and the Qrio humanoid robot because the robots, while impressive, simply didn’t have commercial appeal.
But while the home may remain robot free for a good few years yet while models that can cope in non-structured environments are developed, there is plenty of robotic progress being made in other fields.
The US military, for example, is taking to robots as it seeks to lessen the risk of its soldiers being killed or injured.
The Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) from US robotics company Vecna, is designed to rescue an injured soldier, scooping the body into its arms so that other soldiers aren’t put at risk retrieving their wounded comrades.
The six-foot tall BEAR can cross unstable ground and stay upright thanks to the use of gyroscopes and motors controlled by computer. It can carry over 200kg in its arms and kneel down to gently scoop up a wounded soldier. It even has a teddy bear face to put wounded soldiers at ease. It’s expected to be ready for testing within five years.
Built on a much smaller scale, but potentially as useful in the war zone, are LANdroids, tiny robots that can be dispersed to form a wireless radio network to maintain communications.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing LANdroids to overcome the problem of patchy radio communications in the field. The idea is that the robots are light enough to be carried by soldiers so they can be dropped at regular intervals to collectively form a wireless network for voice and data communications. Mounted on wheels, The LANdroids will also be self-adjusting, so that they can change position to ensure the best signal strength of the network. DARPA wants to get the average cost of a LANdroid down to around US$100 which will be a tall order given the sophisticated work they will be expected to perform.
The robots are coming in all shapes and sizes, but are unlikely to appear any more humanlike for some time to come.
On the web:
NEW WALKMAN PHONES
Ahead of the iPhone’s arrival Sony Ericsson has announced two new music phones with similar memory storage to Apple’s music phone. The Sony Ericsson W960 has 8GB (gigabytes) of internal storage, Wi-fi networking, a first for a Sony Ericsson phone and high-speed data access. There’s a 3.2 megapixel camera and the W960 has smartphone capability syncing Windows email and documents. The slimmer W910 also has the digital camera but not the hefty onboard flash memory allowance. It’s unique feature is “Shake Control” which lets the user shake the handset to turn the playlist to random. You can see the Nintendo Wii’s influence there. The new phones will debut before Christmas.More
Below is a Q&A interview with Orcon founder Seeby Woodhouse who this week sold his business to state-owned broadcasting network operator Kordia. Read what Seeby has to say about nuclear power, local loop unbundling and taking Orcon to $100 million in revenue…
SW: Yeah, it’s the end of an era but the beginning of the next phase.
PG: Any sadness losing ownership?
SW: A little bit. Anyone gets attached to things, whether its spouses, companies or dogs. I’m the sort of person that believes in branding. That’s why I chose Kordia, they have absolutely no intention of re-branding the business and they want to keep it running largely as a separate entity. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back in a few years and say, wow, now it’s New Zealand’s second largest or even largest telecoms company.
PG: You said at the press conference you had something like 50 offers for Orcon over the last couple of years.
SW: It was more like 50 offers since people started getting more interested, which is more like over six or seven years. Once every couple of months, someone would come along.
PG: Did Vodafone have a sniff around Orcon?
SW: It was more that Ihug was for sale. There was a bidding war for Ihug. They got it and probably wanted to bed it down. I was aware they were potentially interested in additional acquisitions but I felt if we were going to be acquired by them, they probably wouldn’t want multiple brands. The company would have been rolled into Ihug and that wasn’t something I wanted.
PG: Why was it so important to you that Orcon maintained its identity and structure?
SW: It’s basically my baby. It would be a different story if someone was to buy it and suddenly Orcon no longer existed. I’ll still have involvement in the business for a couple of years as consulting director. I’m able to take my money off the table now, relax a little bit, but still have the upside of the business, the challenge and the things that I enjoy.
PG: Is that a fulltime position?
SW: No, it’s a consulting directorship. The time is variable.
PG: What will you do next?
SW: I don’t want to make any hasty moves. If I did that, I could potentially get drawn into something I don’t understand as well. There’s a temptation when you’re cashed up to invest in silly things and fritter it away. The thing about Orcon, since I was 15 I’ve been passionate about business and it was the business opportunity I was initially excited about. Telecommunications came second. I had a burning passion in the early days of Orcon for a good five years, working 16 hours a day solid. If I do anything in the future, I want something that’s going to get me that excited.
PG: I looked back at the TV3 interview you did in 2004 which was very interesting. You weren’t a networking guy, but you were trained as an electrical engineer?
SW: That doesn’t teach you much about computers. I didn’t really use any of my degree. I was also pretty computer illiterate when I started the company so I had to learn fast. These days I’m tech savvy, I didn’t even have a computer when I started the company.
PG: You’ve made some moves at Orcon in the area of content, the deal with Digirama, plans for IPTV, as this Web 2.0 thing takes off, do you want to get into the content side of the internet?
SW: Yeah, in some ways content is easier than access, because you don’t have to have a load of boxes that physically exist. The advantage Sam [Morgan] had with Trademe, was that if something grows really fast, you just stick in more servers. With Orcon, if you want to grow something fast you need infrastructure. Telecom’s got a worse problem with that than we do. I’m probably going to sit tight for six months to a year, take some long holidays, do some travel and not worry about things. If I have any interest at all, it’s in things like sustainability and biofuels. Global warming is a big concern of mine. Maybe there’s an opportunity to make some money but do some good at the same time. Maybe introduce something like solar energy to New Zealand that’s actually going to help. It’s something I’m investigating. Alternatively, if I enjoy being retired a lit too much, I may not do anything.
PG: You’re 30 now right?
SW: YES, 30.
PG: It’s interesting how goal orientated you’ve been throughout your life from when you got your first bank book as a kid through to wanting to take Orcon to $100 million in revenue by the age of 30. Did you get there?
SW: No, the turnover is a bit lower than that, but I think it will only be a year or two off target. I’ll still be involved with the company by the time it hits $100 million. But the real issue has been our margins being squeezed having to resell Telecom’s broadband and LLU happening a lot slower than was thought. There have been some unexpected difficulties. Our revenue is still growing pretty fast.
PG: Looking back to 2003 – 2004, it seemed that Orcon was more willing to embrace the Telecom wholesale regime than some of the other ISPs who were a lot more vocal in their criticism of Telecom. Do you think that gave you an advantage, that you were more willing to play ball with Telecom than your competitors?
SW: I don’t think it gave us a huge advantage, but we weren’t so distracted by regulatory arguments. My attitude is you should make the best of the situation you have. At that time it didn’t look like we’d end up with local loop unbundling. Theresa didn’t expect it was going to happen, let alone myself. I don’t think we got any concessions from them, but the working relationship was the most amicable and productive of any of the ISPs. That assisted us a bit, even on small things like fault resolution. The Telecom guys were happy to work with our guys. We weren’t going to report faults that weren’t true, we weren’t going to bitch and moan.
PG: You talk about margins being squeezed. Have the economics of reselling Telecom’s wholesale products deteriorated?
SW: They’ve always been bad. The issue is that there are less and less dial-up customers sustaining the ISPs. It’s a global problem. Telecom has issues with making money out of broadband as well. I’m sure dial-up is more profitable for telcos than broadband. Someone like Telecom with toll calling and fixed line rentals, those things are declining. Broadband revenue is going up to replace those, but Telecom has one set of revenues going down and another set going up. ISPs have internet revenue that is profitable being replaced by internet revenue that isn’t profitable. With LLU telcos like Orcon will get access to the physical phone lines as well as additional services like IPTV. That will be fine in the future. The issue at the moment for ISPs is if a consumer spends $40 a month on a phone line, $20 on tolls and $40 on broadband, traditional ISPs don’t get to attack much of that and even if they do, most of the money goes to Telecom in the form of a wholesale arrangement. Under LLU you might buy the line for $15 and whack on as many services as you can. Then it sort
s to become more profitable.
PG: You’re getting out at a time which for New Zealand is the most uncertain. Some of your competitors like CallPlus and Woosh are banking on WiMax to expand their networks, then there’s the big investment needed in unbundling. Is that why you chose to exit now with all that uncertainty ahead?
SW: The uncertainty was one reason that I chose to exit, but I’d been doing the same thing for ten years, I need to slow my life down a bit and have a bit of a change. Also I’ve started to become more interested in things like global warming. With the uncertainty there’s also huge opportunity, around unbundling. I’m sure Kordia will do extremely well out of their purchase. I may not have done so well by not selling because without sufficient funding you can fall flat on your face. I was concerned that if the capital started drying up, because Orcon was always self funding, my wealth forms the company. If the company was going to do anything it would have to make a profit so we could reinvest it. That’s been the strategy all along.
PG: So everything was funded out of revenue at Orcon throughout?
SW: Everything at Orcon from day one was funded out of cash flow. It was started with $100
PG: During the first dotcom boom, did you feel a sense of urgency that you had to get capital to take advantage of it?
SW: At that stage I didn’t understand how a venture capital relationship might work and the issue is they may only ask for 20 per cent of the company but not be prepared to pay what you want. They always want a good chunk of the business and then there are usually effective control clauses, so even if they only own 30 per cent, effectively they can remove you as a director. I’ve always been opinionated about what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to have the risk of bowing down to someone else and be depressed about it. Whenever a proposal was presented to me, I was reluctant. I said to myself, I’ll just try and grow the business as fast as I can, if it grows a bit slower, I don’t care.
PG: Orcon always had a reputation for very good service. How did you instill that culture?
SW: It comes from all those cheesy sayings, the customer being king, that type of thing. But it was important for Orcon to differentiate and the piece of copper you’re selling is largely the same thing, like petrol stations all sell the same gasoline but they all charge different prices. They differentiate through branding. I always thought we had to differentiate in as many different areas as we could and a lot of the time, ISPs were doing a pretty poor job on service. We made it one of the things we were going to differentiate on. One technique I employed early on was that we hired non-technical people like myself for the call centre rather than geeks. You can’t teach a geek customer service. There are only a hundred questions that will ever be asked at a help desk and you can teach someone the answers to those. We got happy, bouncy customer services people and taught them what they needed to know.
PG: Did you have any mentors?
SW: people come and go. There are people who will say, I helped Seeby out. But not really, I’ve always had a strong vision about where things should go. Most of the mentors’ advice I’ve had over the years, I’ve ended up disregarding.
PG: Was there anyone in the telecoms industry you admired as a young businessman?
SW: The Wood brothers were an early inspiration, because they were in game a year ahead of me. It was always a case of me having to catch up to Tim and Nick. They did really well exiting a few years ago and got more money than Ihug sold for (to Vodafone).
PG: And the successful exit at the peak is the real sign you’ve made it, isn’t it?
SW: It was certainly planned, choosing Kordia was planned as well. It was important to be Kiwi owned, there’s no risk of Kordia being taken over by an Australian outfit. I’m proud of the Kiwi heritage. Obviously, getting what I thought was a fair price was important. Ultimately I didn’t necessarily expect, even a year ago, to sell. But I started thinking, what does this business need? All internet companies are becoming phone companies and all phone companies are becoming internet companies. Then they’re all becoming converged media network companies. Looking at the regulatory environment after the Government’s announcement after LLU, we did the Siemens deal so we had vendor finance, but what we were lacking was media expertise and a network. We were going to have to build the network and invest in media technologies. Kordia as a network and broadcast type company, had the two pieces of the puzzle that we lacked.
I thought either I’m going to have to get a venture capitalist onboard or load the company up with heaps of debt. Take on a whole lot more risk where potentially it could fall flat on its face or sell it to someone who can extract the value. There was the risk that I could try and do all the stuff Kordia is trying to do, by myself.
PG: CallPlus has secured US$450 million for its WiMax plans. Maybe there’d have been an appetite for investment if you’d wanted to go that route.
SW: I was surprised by the CallPlus thing. I think it’s a real figure, but it’s probably a line of credit, so it will have to be drawn down over time and they’ll have to build the network. And its debt funding. If you borrow $450 million, you’re paying 40 – 50 million a year in interest. Just because they have $450 million, doesn’t mean they’re won’t be saddled with debt and crippled by it, in much the same way Woosh is. They’ve spent $100 million plus building a network and don’t yet have the customers to sustain it. If CallPlus goes and spends the US$450 million and only gets 100,000 customers, it will be a bit of a disaster.
PG: What’s your view on wireless technologies. Are you optimistic that some of these alternative models may work?
SW: There are a lot of variables. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the Government’s spectrum auctions. CallPlus has the same concerns. Wireless technology rests on having the right spectrum available at the right price. If it goes for a horrendous price and Vodafone and Telecom pay to block out competitors, it could be a moot point. One technology doesn’t tend to replace another. When email came along it didn’t replace the fax machine, when the fax came along it didn’t replace postal mail. Now we’ve got postal mail and couriers and FedEx, faxes, email and instant messaging.
The biggest success will be the company that can offer a seamless solution, wireless and wired technology, TV and phone calling together. I’m not just talking about multiple things on one bill, but being able to use your internet service wherever you are and pay in a consistent manner. We’re a long way away from that.
PG: Where you nervous when Vodafone bought Ihug, seeing as Vodafone @ Home is aiming for one converged device that acts as fixed line and mobile with seamless switch over?
SW: I saw it as an advantage but I wasn’t threatened by it. Orcon’s got an MVNO agreement with Vodafone anyway. We’ll be doing the same type of services, just in a different way. It just depends what pieces of the puzzle you have control over and which pieces you don’t.
PG: Did you benchmark the sale of Orcon against the $41 million sale of Ihug in terms of what you were looking for?
SW: It’s difficult to compare the two. Certa
inly, in terms of customer numbers, we’re 80 per cent the size of Ihug. It would have been nice to get more but I’m not unhappy with the sale price. We have different ebitda figures and more customers have multiple services with Ihug. They’ve a more established voice base. I got a fair deal and Kordia paid a good price.
PG: How do you feel about the fact that your staff is effectively now public servants?
SW: They’re not really. The Government has very little input into how Kordia is run apart from maybe appointing the board of directors. It’s certainly not the case that the Government wanted to do this to create a competitor to Telecom. They’ve some great products they want to sell like DVB-H (mobile TV). They haven’t had a lot of interest from the ISPs in terms of taking some of these services up.
PG: What’s been the reaction to the sale from staff.
SW: It’s been good, there’s been no tears. People have said it’s the end of an area, but once they realized there’s no change in job descriptions, they’re not suddenly Kordia employees, they’ll still be managed by the same people, there’s no redundancies, they’re okay with it. I’ll still be popping into the office, I’ll still be around for at least two years in an advisory capacity.
PG: And Scott Bartlett, your lieutenant, will be the CEO?
SW: Yeah, essentially I’d already stepped back a bit anyway. With a company the size of Orcon it’s important to spend a lot of time thinking about what’s next. You can’t get too caught up in the day to day issues or you can wake up and find you’ve been going in the wrong direction for two years.
PG: So the future, alternative energy technologies, are there good opportunities to invest here?
SW: I’m passionate about business, that’s number one, New Zealand is number two. The thing I’m concerned about is basically if we’re already past peak oil [production] and some of the wells start to dry up and the price goes to US$120 a barrel, then New Zealand is at serious risk of collapse because we haven’t got the densely populated cities. If you had a global price shock like the 1970s, the countries that do well will be the ones that have all their population gathered in one place. With New Zealand, everything in this country is run on gasoline, you have to have a car, and public transport is not good enough. We have to stop this urban sprawl. People need to get into more densely populated areas where there’s a subway infrastructure. We’re obviously not going to be able to build that infrastructure in the next five to ten years. If there is a serious oil shock, New Zealand will be at its mercy, particularly for things like exports.
The only country that will do well is Brazil, because 60 – 70 per cent of their cars run on ethanol produced by sugar cane, which is six times more effective at producing ethanol than corn.
New Zealand should be able to produce ethanol technologies and the Maui gas fields.
We should be working on complete energy independence.
PG: You’re moving out of a field that’s complicated enough and into one even more so. Are you going to go on a fact-finding mission to some of these places using alternative fuel sources.
SW: I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ll try and work my contacts, ask government officials. If a light bulb switches on in my head and I decide the best thing to do is buy a heap of land in the South Island and start growing sugar cane, that’s what I’ll do.
Solar generation or green homes.
If I can start a company that provides green technology to homes, it’s a way to start.
PG: How’s Orcon Racing going?
SW: It hasn’t been in operation this season.
PG: What happened?
SW: We didn’t sponsor the car this reason for two reasons – Orcon is focusing on call to action marketing rather than branding. Potentially motor racing is going to become a bit un-PC. Because I have environmental concerns I started thinking gasoline is in short supply, there’s all this concern about global warming, we don’t necessarily want to be involved in a sport that in two years time everyone is up in arms about.
PG: You did a sabbatical a while back right?
SW: Yeah I’ve seen a good portion of the planet. I’ll do some more.
PG: That’s the plan, take some time and explore?
SW: Yeah, I just came back from China so I’m a bit tired. But there are a lot of things I want to see. If I’m interested in environmental things, it may give me a better perspective while I’m traveling. One of the huge un-harnessed technologies is wave power. The ocean is always moving. If we can have submerged power generators creating power by the motion of the sea, that would be ideal.
I get the feeling we need to keep our nuclear material for use in the future. I don’t think it’s a smart idea to go burning it all up. We may need it for exploring the stars or powering space ships. It would be really sad if we saved the planet but in 500 years time we’ve got these ambitious plans to colonise the stars but were 20 pounds short of uranium or something.More