Tag Archives: Howard K. Marcus

Blockchain

July 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.


Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

Foxes at Play

July 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Charlie Fox spent years on the road working for rock bands as a tour manager, front-of-house sound engineer, and production manager.

For much of his career, all that time away from home wasn’t a problem. He was single and could go wherever, whenever.

Fox was already used to changing his location.

“I was a military brat, so we moved around a bunch when I was a kid,” he says. His father, a native of O’Neill, Nebraska, was in the Air Force and had long worked toward getting back to his home state.

“When I was a junior in high school [in 2001], he got stationed at Offutt, ” Fox says.

Teenaged Charlie was a drummer in a couple of bands that played the Ranch Bowl and a Papillion venue called The Rock. “Nothing that ever really went anywhere outside of Omaha, or really even drew a whole lot of people to the Ranch Bowl,” he says.

Yet the experience helped spark his interest in recording and sound production.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for a year before transferring to UNL.

Though neither school had a live sound program, his time in Lincoln proved beneficial. It was there that he began working at Midwest Sound & Lighting Inc., where a co-worker who owned the public-address system at Duffy’s Tavern gave him opportunities to run the sound board there.

“It was a great place to start really honing my skills,” Fox says. “That was my first live sound gig.”

The experience led him to a career working for rock bands including Cage the Elephant, Needtobreathe, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade, and The Used.

For more than a decade, from 2005-2017, he was on the road for six to nine months out of the year.

“Even though technically my residence was Omaha, I was rarely in town,” he says.

Time went on, and, on his 28th birthday (Aug. 11, 2013) he met Beth, now his wife of three years. Beth spent several weekends on the road with Fox.

“We had a rule that we didn’t go more than three weeks without seeing each other,” Fox says. “So either I would go home or she would fly out to see me.”

Bothersome though the distance may have been, Beth enjoyed the perks of being part of roadie’s life.

“She had only been in four or five states prior to meeting me,” Fox says. “She’s now doubled, or tripled, that.”

Fox also enjoyed the side benefits of being in rock ’n’ roll. The couple state one or their favorite experiences was spending a week at a resort in Hawaii, courtesy of singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, for whom Fox was then working.

“We still talk about that trip, how much fun and relaxation we had that week,” Fox says.

Another of Beth’s favorite trips was going to New York City when Fox was working for Yellowcard. She had never been to the Big Apple before, and Fox wiggled a day off into his schedule to take her sightseeing.

As time went on, being away for weeks at a time became increasingly bothersome, and by 2015, Fox knew the gig was about up.

“When I got married, we had already started talking about what was going to happen with our future,” he says. “Was I going to stay on the road? Would I eventually get off the road? Would we move out of Omaha? In the line of work that I was in with touring, I wasn’t sure that there was going to be a possibility of staying in the music industry and in Omaha.”

At the time, Fox didn’t see a lot of Omaha-area openings.

“I just kind of assumed I would have to move to Nashville, or L.A., or New York,” he says.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.

In May 2017, opportunity knocked when Omaha Performing Arts had an opening for a booking manager.  

“I had relationships with agents and promoters from all across the country from my touring days, but really hadn’t done a whole lot of booking,” he says.

Yet Fox wasn’t without booking experience. Earlier in his career, he had booked empty calendar spots at The Rock with local bands.

At Omaha Performing Arts, he is booking at a national level.

“I’m reaching out to agents for these national bands and trying to bring them in myself,” Fox says. “We do work with outside promoters as well on occasion, so I am still using those relationships with regional and national promoters to try and bring the highest quality of artists that we can into our venues.”

He says his focus has been to expand what Omaha Performing Arts offers.

“One of the first shows that I booked here when I came on was St. Vincent (Annie Clark), which I think probably shocked a lot of people when Annie was playing here as opposed to a traditional rock club. But that’s what the agent was looking for, and I think that as St. Vincent had grown, that was where her career was going to. She needed a larger venue.”

He says Omaha Performing Arts venues—the Holland Performing Arts Center and Orpheum Theater—occupy a particular market niche for a mid-level space. One of his goals is to maximize the use of Omaha Performing Arts venues by artists who might not otherwise play Omaha as their popularity increases.

“A lot of artists, they play the small clubs, and then they kind of disappear from Omaha for a few years for a lack of venue space,” he says. “Maybe they play in Kansas City or Des Moines or Chicago. My goal is to try and get those artists to keep coming here so people can see them and not have to wait until they’re big enough to be playing in the arenas.”

In addition to career satisfaction, Fox’s work gives him an opportunity to come home each night to his wife and Theodore, the couple’s nearly 2-year-old son. Beth, now a stay-at-home mom, is expecting the couple’s second child.

“Working with Omaha Performing Arts has been an amazing experience,” he says. “Being able to come home every day at the end of the day and see my family, to sleep in my own bed, to have dinner with my wife and son every night…that wasn’t possible in my old career.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information about Charlie and the artists he is booking for OPA.

This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Clockwise from top: Charlie, 
Beth, and Theodore Fox

Virtually Necessary

July 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Virtual reality has worked its way into daily life at some Omaha-area architecture/engineering firms.

Also known as VR, virtual reality is a computer-generated reality viewed through a headset that situates small video screens about an inch from each eye, yielding a three-dimensional effect. 

“You’re completely blocking out the real world and making the virtual world basically what you see,” says Nathan Novak, a systems administrator with Leo A Daly Co.

Novak says his firm mainly uses VR for client presentations. Previously, presentations were accomplished using drawings.

“Everything would be flat—two-dimensional—just lines everywhere,” Novak says. That method made it difficult for clients to visualize projects.

A few years ago, Leo A Daly began using a building information modeling (BIM) program called Revit to produce three-dimensional representations of drawings.

“Instead of just lines, you place walls, and then you can place textures on the walls,” Novak says. “So now you can actually see that there’s a wall here, and the wall is going to be blue. You can see that there’s a door here, and you can see what the door material is made out of.”

BIM programs such as Revit help perform “clash detection”—ferreting out design problems prior to construction. 

“Once construction starts, any sort of change is much more expensive,” Novak says.

Creating a VR environment from a Revit model requires an additional step.

Raj Prasad, chief technology officer for HDR, says his firm uses Revit and similar tools to build 3-D models, then takes that information into products such as Unity (a gaming engine), Unreal Engine, or HTML5.

“Some combination of those is what we use to take the model that’s generated from Revit to create the VR experience,” Prasad says.

In many industries, VR is a prototyping tool, and that’s also true in architecture and engineering.

“The way we say it is, ‘We’d like to have our clients experience the end results before actually building it,” Prasad says. 

He says VR is catching on rapidly. “We are pretty actively leveraging virtual reality on our projects, in different phases.” Among those projects are bridges, transit centers, and hospitals.

Novak says Leo A Daly has used virtual reality for pumphouse designs, water pumps, and piping, among other projects.

“As long as we can build it within Revit, we can bring it over into virtual reality,” he says. “And we’re trying to expand it out even further into some of the other applications outside of Revit.”

VR also can be used in the quality assurance [QA] process.

“Did we model everything properly? Is there something that’s a mistake that we have to come back and fix?” Novak says. “The QA can be toward the end, but really we QA as we go.”

Making it easy for customers to experience VR environments is another factor that firms consider.

“You don’t have to be in an office to have a virtual reality experience. There’s ways you can experience that in anybody’s office, and that’s really the philosophy that we’ve adopted,” Prasad says. “We want to make sure that, if a client desires it and wants it, we can take it to them versus having them always having to come to us.”

One option HDR has used is to provide clients with a Google Cardboard—a simple cardboard frame with lenses that can be used with a mobile phone to experience VR.  

“I’ll call that the lower-end VR experience,” Prasad says.

Raj Prasad

Among higher-end headsets are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of which have been used by Omaha-area firms.

Though use of VR is growing, it has limitations.

“At this point, it doesn’t replace using your computer and Revit and that sort of thing to do our modeling,” Novak says. “I believe that’s something that will be coming in a few years, but it’s not possible yet.

He says that, although available headsets are high definition, their resolution isn’t enough to replace computer monitors.

“When you look through the headset at the display, most people are going to notice that you can actually see the individual pixels. That’s called the ‘screen-door effect,’” he says. The effect makes text  very difficult to read.

“I think we’re still a few years away from being able to switch from coming in, and sitting down at a desk, and looking at monitors all day to coming in, and putting on a headset, and going into VR, and doing your work,” Novak says. 

Does Novak think the use of VR will increase over time?

“Absolutely.”

What does Prasad see as the future of VR?  “The best way to answer that, is, think Star Trek or Star Wars.”

Prasad noted that when Star Trek appeared in the mid-1960s, its technology seemed far-fetched. 

“People were like, ‘This stuff is hundreds of years down the road.’ And here we are,” he says. “This is reality.”

Within the next five to 10 years, he foresees VR being used in all project phases, and as a way to keep workers safer by accomplishing some hazardous tasks virtually, such as bridge inspection.

“If I’m looking out 10 [years] and then beyond, I would say we’re going down the path of holographs and holograms,” Prasad says. “Imagine, if you will, that you take a VR experience and send it directly to a 3-D printer.”

Examples could include a bridge pylon or a wall in a water treatment plant.

“Once the client and the chief engineer approve it, that goes to a 3-D printer. Now you’re taking modular development that—kind of like a Lego, almost—you can pull it all together. And hallelujah, you’ve got a bridge or a water-treatment plant.”

“The future, as you can imagine, it’s awesome,” Prasad says. “It’s fun, it’s wickedly cool.”


Visit hdrinc.com and leoadaly.com for more information.

This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B.

Nathan Novak