Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It is 4:20

Do you know where your football team is?

The People’s Advocate at the Supreme Court Bar

H. Bartow Farr, III, Esq.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has finally met its challengers in the highest Court in the land and following the three days showdown, there’s nothing left but watchful waiting for the Supreme Court to hand down its final decision. All media outlets from left, right and supposedly middle are covering the events and hundreds of experts are ready to make predictions based on the inflections in one Justice’s voice. I made a point to not read any of that, and if you are an informed citizen who still insists on making his/her own mind, the very impartial SCOTUS blog is the place to go for links to the audio and transcripts of all oral arguments and all briefs submitted to the Court. By this logic you should probably not read what follows below either, but if you do, this is an unorthodox (neither left nor right) look at the proceedings from a citizen's point of view, a perspective that struck me as lacking in the proceedings themselves.

The main contenders were the Republican Governments of 26 States against a Federal Government controlled by a Democratic administration. There were also some private plaintiffs with a strong Libertarian argument, but their contribution to the subject is not clear to me, and is probably just a largely inconsequential sideshow. Generally speaking local governments were wrestling with central government in an outdated Federalist argument, where the people themselves have no standing.

The main event took place on Tuesday, March 27, where the constitutionality of the individual mandate, requiring every American to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, was argued, with the Federal Government arguing that its power to regulate interstate commerce includes the right to mandate that everybody buys health insurance, and if not, then the penalty should be viewed as a tax. The State Governments argued as expected that this gives the Feds unlimited power and a penalty is not a tax. The lively debate came complete with broccoli, burial insurance and babies being denied care at the hospital, hypotheticals. But here is what I found interesting: at the heart of the Federal Government argument was the contention that the uninsured are basically offloading their health care costs on the insured and society in general, therefore we must mandate that they buy insurance and pay their fair share. The States on the other hand, argued that forcing healthy people who don’t want to buy insurance to subsidize the sick is really not fair. Most Americans, as everybody agreed, are already purchasing health insurance, so who are these freeloading uninsured?

Well, it seems that 68% of the uninsured are under 140% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and 95% of them are below 400% FPL. A full 45% of poor adults and 17% of poor children (under 100% FPL) are uninsured. Are these our freeloaders? Are these our interstate frequent travelers who impose huge uncompensated expenses on States where they don’t live? Are these poor people without insurance seeking out States that enacted guaranteed-issue and community rating insurance laws and move there en-masse? Is anybody else doing that? Do we even know what problem we are trying to solve?

Another pearl from the March 27 arguments was the realization that the States concede that the Federal Government has the power to require that people pay for health care with insurance. They only differ on the timing of buying the necessary insurance instrument, with the State Governments insisting that a free citizenry should have the right to purchase insurance en route to the ER, if they so choose, and the Feds arguing that they must buy insurance the day they are born. Does that mean that one cannot pay for health care with cash, or chickens? Will they check to see if you have insurance and if so, cash payments will be disallowed? What do you do if you’re one of the penalized? Do you get to pay cash, or do you get some services in return for all those penalties you paid into the system?

As interesting as the constitutionality arguments were, I found the session on severability to be most enlightening. On Wednesday, March 28, the Court grappled with the next steps, if the individual mandate is by any chance found to be an unprecedented and unlimited expansion of Congress powers and thus ruled unconstitutional. The 26 Republican governed States argued that the Court should throw out the entire Obamacare legislation with the mandate, because everything else in the PPACA is either hinging on the offending mandate or is unimportant. This is not surprising, since the war on the individual mandate, which is the brainchild of an ultraconservative foundation, is just a battle in a much larger war to remove the current Democratic President from office. The Federal Government began its arguments by mentioning the millions of citizens that are not standing before the Court and how the Court should nevertheless give them consideration. That was beautiful, but it didn’t last long, because eventually it became clear that the Federal Government is asking the Court to strike down both guaranteed-issue and community rating clauses along with the individual mandate, if found unconstitutional.

The Federal Government, true to form, was arguing on behalf of its insurance companies patrons. Unless the Feds can guarantee a certain number of customers, there is no way that insurers will agree to sell their wares in a non-discriminatory manner, because discrimination is how insurers make money, and no government should infringe upon basic rights of corporations. It fell to an attorney independently appointed by the Supreme Court to argue for the people, and (very eloquently) make the simple point that the purpose of the PPACA was not to provide customers to insurers, but to make health care affordable to all Americans, including poor and sick ones. The individual mandate is just one tool in an arsenal of tools to accomplish that end. It may be a very useful tool, but it’s not the only tool, and therefore if it is found unacceptable, it should be severed from the legislation and removed without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So the People finally got their 15 minutes in Court, represented by Court appointed counsel, as paupers usually are. Whatever the Court decides in this case, I will forever be grateful to the Supreme Court of the United States, the nine unelected Justices, who saw fit to solicit someone to speak for the People, something that neither States nor Federal Governments seemed to be too terribly inclined to do. And I am grateful that the Court chose H. Bartow Farr, III, Esq. to represent us in this matter, since his oral arguments were second to none, and may God grant the Court the wisdom to do what Mr. Farr advocated that they do, and the People shall prevail.

College Baseball is a Hitters League

And Georgia needs some hitters.  Actually, we need some hitting instruction.

After watching the carnage that was the mid-week Clemson game on Tuesday, it sure seems like Georgia is still approaching hitting like it is 2010. Not to bore you with details, but recently major changes occurred in regulations covering bats in college baseball. It looks like Georgia's players are still trying to hit home runs on every at bat. With the new bats, that means we have a lot of fly-outs and line drives caught by outfielders.

That alone isn't the only source of issues. We have started the weird trend of committing errors in bunches and at key times of the game (see 2010). Going into last weekend's series at Vandy, we had only committed 19 errors. Now we stand at 25, with two in the Vandy series leading to heartbreaking losses to a team that likely won't make the SEC tourney.  That stuff can't happen with the SEC as loaded as it is.

The good news is that our weekend pitching has potential. It needs better hitting to prevent the inevitable defensive blow up from turning a win into a loss. Also, we can't lose any more series to the dregs of the conference. That is a recipe for playing from the 9 or 10 seed in Hoover. Or worse yet, not making it.


My Platform: Abolish Spring Break

I've kept quiet about the spring practices because after so much time losing hair sleep over what happens in April, I just don't have the energy to worry about which 5th string QB is 'really lighting it up.'

Sound familiar: "OMG! That walk-on from Cogdell was 9 of 10 with 157 yards and 3 TD's! QB competition is the bombz! Fire Bobo!."
I was gonna play some ball, but I got high.
However, the recent news of likely suspensions got me thinking I might run for office just to abolish spring break. I know Georgia has one of the toughest testing and suspension policies in the SEC and nation.  We have to do something. I get where Coach Richt is going with the tough policy. Don't do drugs, hippies.

Clearly, it ain't working.

I know abolishing spring break won't stop it. The comments on any blog, fan post site or newspaper article make it clear that all of us were basically smoked up horn dogs with kleptomaniac tendencies when we were in college. No, I call on Coach Richt to do something more drastic: Drug test the whole team every two weeks.

If you want to keep them from smoking up (I have to assume it was pot; if it were something stronger I believe we'd be talking rehab and such), test all of them all the time. If the idea of a possible random drug test catching them or lung damage (myth propagated by all the coughing) isn't doing it, then test all of them all the time.

As for the Fulmer Cup hit, unless Orson decides to pull Commissioner's privilege, there is no real danger there. I don't think he will because it didn't involve standard Athens fare such as roving gangs of mopedist passing out on the shitters of bad Italian joints and whatnot. Or not knowing your middle name.


-The Haze Thickens, Weiszer - ABH

Monday, March 26, 2012

Videoconferencing Apps will Grow Rapidly in Latin America

There's little doubt about the continued adoption of videoconferencing and telepresence applications over the past few years. Clearly, growth has been fueled by the increasing popularity of video communications among multinational companies around the world -- particularly with mobile video chat applications that utilize new handheld devices.

According to IDC's latest market assessment, the videoconferencing and telepresence market will continue to be one of the fastest growing networking markets for the foreseeable future.

"Growth has been spurred on by more well-defined video use cases among organizations across a range of vertical market segments, including healthcare, higher education, financial services, legal, law enforcement, manufacturing, and retail," said Rich Costello, senior analyst, Enterprise Communications Infrastructure, at IDC.

Other industry analysts are equally enthusiastic about the market outlook, as more enterprise users find new ways to connect and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders via traditional video meeting rooms and other more flexible video endpoints.

Enterprise Video Communications Market Results

Infonetics Research released excerpts from its fourth quarter (4Q11) "Enterprise Telepresence and Video Conferencing Equipment" report, which analyzes markets and vendors by region.

"Sales of telepresence and videoconferencing equipment surged in the past two years, with growth accelerating in 2011 as video took off on enterprise IP PBX systems" said Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise networks and video at Infonetics Research.

The video conferencing market is being fueled by a confluence of factors, including the proliferation of video-capable equipment, demographic and communication trends that favor video, and industry use cases -- such as tele-learning and tele-medicine.

Most importantly, the video collaboration market is being driven by increasing demand across a growing number of industry verticals that use the technology today.

The Infonetics market study highlights include:
  • The global enterprise video conferencing and telepresence market jumped 15 percent to $882 million between the third and fourth quarters of 2011, setting a record high for quarterly revenue.
  • For the full year 2011, sales of videoconferencing and telepresence equipment are up 34 percent to $2.99 billion.
  • Infonetics expects a cumulative $22 billion to be spent by enterprises on videoconferencing and telepresence hardware and software from 2012 to 2016.
  • PBX-based systems had the strongest performance for the year, growing 80 percent, as they offer a cost-effective way to enjoy multi-modal communication using existing infrastructure.
  • Market leader Cisco shows no signs of slowing down: its 4Q11 telepresence and videoconferencing revenue jumped 25 percent sequentially and market share is up 3 points to 52.5 percent.
  • Dedicated multi-purpose room video systems made up over half the enterprise videoconferencing equipment market in 2011 and will continue to be the biggest revenue-generator among enterprise video solutions.
  • Sales of videoconferencing infrastructure and endpoints are strong in all major world regions, but the standout region is the Caribbean and Latin America (CALA), which saw sales nearly double in 2011.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Don’t Want To Be Digitized

I live in a bubble where everybody seems to be obsessed with Health Information Technology (HIT). The average man or woman you meet on any American street has no idea and no concern about the insurmountable difficulties associated with Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other HIT initiatives. I know because I asked random folks I encounter at the gas station, the dry cleaners, the supermarket, Starbucks, the grocery store and other mundane locations. It’s not a scientific survey, but it is disconcerting for me to realize that my days are consumed by something nobody cares about. I’d like to think that, although obscure, my endeavor could somehow better the condition of human kind, at least the portion of human kind that I can touch. To that end I come up with visions of a future where HIT enables millions of people to receive state of the art, truly personalized health care in thousands of small intimate locations filled with expertise and compassion, where everybody knows your name, and the computer knows your genome. Other folks in my bubble, probably for the same reason, are conjuring futuristic images of implantable sensors and long distance care delivered by artificial intelligence, with the occasional, and mostly preventable, acute episode addressed by robotic devices, supported by super computers in an operating room of the future.

Steve Jobs was an implementer. Gene Roddenberry was a visionary. There isn’t much technology out there today that was not envisioned by Mr. Roddenberry in his sci-fi odyssey through the infinite universe, and the most forward thinking idea tossed around now is Gene Roddenberry’s half century old notion of a tricorder, a hand held device that can evaluate health and diagnose disease in noninvasive ways. The Star Trek ethos presumes the existence of EHRs and HIT, just like it presumes the availability of all information ever recorded (Big Data?) in the all-powerful computer that speaks with Mrs. Roddenberry’s voice. We have a long way to go before the technology vision is fulfilled, but we have an even longer trek ahead of us before Earth becomes the hunger free, poverty free, greed free, egalitarian planetary bliss, where Mr. Roddenberry envisioned his technology to be operating for the common good.

The other day I was watching a recording of Dr. Eric Topol speaking to a group of Google engineers. The charismatic and super credentialed Dr. Topol has a new book out, and a vision of digitizing human beings in order to prevent and cure disease. Humanity has been engaged in a quest to prevent and cure disease since the dawn of civilization, and probably long before that. While the means to that end have steadily advanced from a patriarch blessing, to magic bracelets, secret potions and finally to chemicals and HIT, the goal remains the same: we don’t want to suffer and we don’t want to die, unless we choose to do so for a higher cause. While the word of God was usually identified as that higher cause, individual Liberty is the modern day call to arms, considered to be worth both suffering and death, but this too may change, because what is now mockingly referred to as “rugged individualism” is quickly giving way to consumers neatly aggregated in analytic hives of predictive similarity.

In the course of his Google presentation, Dr. Topol displayed a variety of cool technologies coming closer and closer to Gene Roddenberry’s tricorder, some that are already available to use and others still lurking in research labs. My fellow residents of the HIT bubble have probably heard of most of these iPhone enabled little miracles allowing one to turn his mobile phone into an ambulatory Intensive Care Unit to constantly monitor vital signs, activity, sleep patterns, items ingested and items excreted. Still in the making are widgets that can monitor your brain waves, your thoughts and other implantables capable of predicting disease before it actually manifests. A broad new horizon is opening up for Ari, an old friend of mine, who is a diagnosed hypochondriac, and until now was costing the socialized health care system in his country tens of thousands of dollars every year for EKGs alone, sometimes in the ER, and most of the time in an endless string of cardiology appointments.

In order for these things to be useful to more folks than just my old friend, they must be somehow tethered to a central command center, where the data is continuously analyzed and either the malfunctioning unit is warned of impending disaster, or better yet, actions are triggered to address the malfunction and restore the unit to normal operating parameters, based on individualized genomic data, other environmental and historical factors, and similar data points from millions of other humans. Obviously, engaging in such complex research and analytics requires that all monitoring data of all people is aggregated and considered by as many intellects as possible, which would be all of us in a sweeping wave of democratization of science placing the infallible wisdom of the collective above the fallible wisdom of any one individual. This is above and beyond Roddenberry’s wildest dreams. Or is it?

I’m afraid (truly afraid) that the glory must once again go to Gene Roddenberry and his crew. Although it took them a bit longer than the tricorder, they composed a detailed picture of a future where humanoids are outfitted with monitoring devices from birth and where crowdsourcing is the prevailing mechanism for collective governance and operations. They named those fictional people The Borg.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sausage Being Made - Duquesne Fires Basketball Coach

Below is an email from the University president to the Board of (fill in the blank with name that symbolizes figurehead committee) of the University. I copied it in its entirity due to the very frank nature of the language. While there are many differences in a Catholic school in Pittsburgh and other schools, some of the reasons for the firing appear very...familiar.  

I have accepted the recommendation of AD Greg Amodio to terminate Ron Everhart's position as head coach of our basketball program. Ron was informed moments ago. A press release will go out shortly and there will be a press conference this afternoon.
We are very grateful to Ron for bringing our program out of a long moribund period, a skill he demonstrated at two previous universities and the very reason we hired him. However, as was the case in his two previous posts, he has stalled at a modest plateau with our program. It is clear that we will not be capable of moving to the next level of excellence with Ron at the helm. By next level, I mean annual contention for the top of the A10 conference, regular appearances in the NIT and periodic appearances in the NCAA tournaments. We reached the conclusion that this kind of performance was impossible under his leadership due to uneven recruiting, large turnovers among his student athletes and coaching staff, an overall average win-loss record and a losing record in the A10, poor performance in close games, the predictable collapse of our teams late in the season, and a general disorganization and lack of communication that is clear to those close to the program. The recent loss of TJ McConnell and other players from the team is part of an unfortunate pattern and an indication of the current decline in our program.
The University has invested a great deal in our men's program. Since Ron has been with us, the Palumbo Center has been nearly totally renovated at a cost of over $5m. We have increased the program's operating budget by over 75%. On critical occasions, I have aided Ron directly by meeting personally with leading student prospects and their families to talk about Duquesne and our support of the basketball program. It is reasonable to expect a higher level of excellence for this kind of University commitment.
We are confident that we can find a new coach who will build on what Ron has accomplished. We have a great tradition, a virtually new home facility, the proximity and close relationship with the Consol Center, an effective AD, a core fan base that is hungry for a better product, and a strong University commitment to the program. While not a regular contender for leadership in our conference, Duquesne is no longer the doormat. The A10 conference itself is on the verge of a major improvement with the addition of new high quality university programs. All of this amounts to an exciting professional opportunity for a new coach.
The immediate future will be a bit bumpy; difficult personnel decisions always are. Ron has his supporters and he is well-liked as a person. But long term success in our men's basketball program is best served by acting decisively now and making clear that we are committed to greater excellence here—as we are throughout Duquesne University.
Thank you for your support. 
It should be noted that Duquesne was a basketball powerhouse in the '50 and '60s, so this isn't a delusional fan base expecting Final Four or bust with no history to back it up. This is a University that wants to be competitive in its conference and not much more.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Demand for More Open, Flexible Workplace Environment

According to a new market study by Cisco, a majority (60%) of IT decision makers from North European countries believe the ability to work remotely leads to increased productivity -- and it is no longer necessary to be confined to an office to be productive.

Although these IT decision makers believe technology (such as business tablets) allows them to be more mobile and flexible, more than half (56%) of those surveyed -- led by those in Norway and The Netherlands -- work one or more extra hours per day as a result of the ability to work remotely.

In Northern Europe, there is a growing need for remote access to the company network, social media access in the workplace and for the freedom to use personal devices for business purposes -- also known as "Bring Your Own Device" or BYOD.

This trend can have a significant impact on the IT policies of organizations and among end users who are employed by companies with IT policies -- as the study also found that nearly half (47%) indicate their IT policy could use improvement or updating.

That's the primary conclusions from an online survey held by Cisco in five countries: Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and The Netherlands. The results of this North European survey complement and confirm the findings of last year's Cisco Connected World Technology Report -- an international research into the demands, behaviour and work lifestyles of the next generation of workers.

In addition, the survey found that when faced with the choice between "a higher salary and no remote access" versus a "lower salary position that offers remote access," end users are split, with one out of every two respondents (53%) opting for a lower salary, because they find work flexibility more important.

With little differentiation across the countries, more than 6 out of 10 (65%) end users expect to have remote access to the network in the future.

Demand for Mobile Enterprise Connectivity

Looking at the use of mobile devices, end users from Northern European countries tend to use more than one device during the typical workday: more than 8 in 10 (82%) end users indicate they use at least one device at work that is not company-issued.

More than half (51%) of the surveyed IT decision makers even indicate that up to 50% of their company's mobile workers use a smartphone as their primary communication device.

Overall, most businesses in the surveyed countries have at least taken some steps to prepare for a "mobile and distributed" workforce. Still, 1 in 5 IT decision makers (21%) indicate that their company is as yet completely unprepared. The highest percentage of unprepared businesses is reported in Norway (26%).

In The Netherlands, 14% of decision makers indicate that their company is totally unprepared. In each country, roughly one-third (36%) indicate they are actively working towards enabling a mobile, distributed workforce, especially in the Netherlands (45%).

Surprisingly, although Norway reports the largest percentage of completely unprepared companies, it also has the highest proportion of companies that already have state-of-the-art IT support for a "mobile and distributed" workforce (34%), together with Denmark (31%). In that respect, Netherlands (14%) and Belgium (12%) trail the pack.

Access to Social Media Networking Resources

Few end users (less than 1 in 5, 19%) report that access to social media type websites and applications is restricted at the workplace. Likewise, about 6 in 10 IT decision makers (59%) -- particularly those in Denmark -- feel that access to social media sites and applications are important for the work-life balance, or staying competitive with other businesses that use them.

"Our Workforce Survey in Northern Europe confirms that employees really want an open and flexible workplace environment. The survey indicates that IT decision makers want to accommodate this requirement and in a secure way enable a mobile, distributed workforce. Most end users in the surveyed countries indicate that they work an extra hour or more per day because of their ability to work remotely. This shows BYOD brings the productivity we are looking for," said Niels Furu, Vice President, Cisco Northern Europe.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Furman Bisher Dead at 93

Furman Bisher died last night at 93 years old. He was the sports editor that drove Lewis Grizzard into column writing. He was the man that brought the Braves to life for a kid from South Georgia. He was the subject of the punchline in one of the craziest stories on Atlanta newspaper history*.

And I didn't like him at all.

I only say that out of honesty. If you have been a long time reader of the blog, you know where Dawgnoxious and Paul Westerdawg stood on Bisher. I think it is fair to say they didn't like him much either. There are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is Bisher's role in defamatory Bryant/Butts story in the Saturday Evening Post.

This isn't a litany of the real and perceived wrongs perpetrated by Bisher on us or our beloved Bulldogs. Actually, it is an acknowledgment. Furman Bisher is the reason I still write nearly every day. As a kid, Bisher brought the Braves, and the agony of being a Braves fan, to life. Yes, even as a kid, Bisher's Dawg hating bothered me, but his writing inspired me to write.

I never became a professional writer for many reasons, not the least of which is my inability to write. There is little doubt Bisher's inspiring me to write has saved thousands of dollars in counseling costs. For that, I am thankful.

Rest in peace, you old bastard.  Hope the Braves put together a miracle run for you, then the Dawgs beat Tech by 70 and win the national championship just because I know it would bother you.


*Grizzard related a story surrounding the kidnapping of then Atlanta Constitution Editor Reg Murphy in "If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I'm Going to Nail My Feet to the Ground" about Jim Minter, who hired Grizzard to work with Bisher, being asked what it felt like taking $800K of AJC money off in a suit case.

His response, "Like Furman Bisher going to Spring training."

Where is Health Care’s Big Data?

The world of health care is abuzz with heated discussions about health information exchange, data liberation and the beneficial consequences of these actions to all stakeholders who use, deliver, regulate or profit from the one fifth of the U.S. economy devoted to medical care. While the efforts to liquefy health information from its solid paper state to a fluid stream of zeros and ones are hardly new, the release of the Meaningful Use Stage 2 proposed rules, has triggered a renewed Pavlovian response to the prospect of having people’s health information flowing freely over the Internet creating massive amounts of Big Data. Before the frenzy gets way ahead of itself, perhaps we should take a closer look at how health information is created, where it resides, how it is shared and what Meaningful Use Stage 2 is targeting for change. In short, let’s follow the Data…

Health Care Data Creation
Health information about an individual begins accumulating from the moment of birth, which is duly recorded when a tiny new consumer emerges into the world. Over one’s life, encounters with the medical system are carefully recorded and now, most of those encounters will be computerized. The following are the main sources of health data:
  • Medical Care Providers – Hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, nurses, therapists and eventually long term care facilities are recording medical encounter information both for treatment and for financial purposes. The data created by health care providers is very rich in clinical information and also contains a significant amount of socio-economic details. Currently, medical information is scattered amongst all providers of health care encountered during a lifetime, and is mostly maintained on paper. Portions of it may or may not be exchanged in an ad-hoc fashion when people seek care at various medical facilities.
  • Public and Private Payers – For the overwhelming majority of Americans who utilize insurance instruments to finance medical care, a lower fidelity version of health information is being maintained by the payer, mostly in electronic format, tallying ailments, therapies and everything else that has a dollar value associated with it.
  • Ancillary Providers – From pharmacies to laboratories and imaging facilities, ancillary service providers are also maintaining lists of medical services and products provided to people and when pertinent, clinical results and invoicing information. This information is also largely maintained in electronic format.
  • Personal Health – Although largely confined to a tiny minority of healthy, educated and tech savvy people, the results of personal monitoring of health indicators are beginning to accumulate in various private information systems. Currently most of this data is created by individuals outside the traditional medical system and is maintained and controlled by new and rather small technology vendors in electronic format.
Health Care Data Whereabouts
Obviously entities that create health data are also maintaining complete copies of said data for their records. However, large amounts of data are being exchanged currently between facilities of care, payers, diagnostic companies and government agencies, mostly in electronic format. As data moves around, and it does move, new repositories of data also emerge.
  • Health Data Creators – Medical care providers, ancillary services providers and payers of all stripes store, maintain and supposedly own practically all health data created by their various business units and all copies of data created by others and transmitted to them during the course of business. There are significant overlaps between various data creators. For example, while payers do create financial data, all clinical information they possess is created and also stored by others.
  • Public Health Agencies – Registries (e.g. immunizations, cancer, etc.) and other regulatory reporting repositories are also storing pieces of information transmitted to them by health data creators as required by State laws and vary greatly in availability and capabilities, but most information is electronically maintained.
  • Clearinghouses – The facilitators of information exchange, mostly medical claims and payment data, medications, and to a lesser extent laboratory data, are also accumulating copies of whatever information is flowing through their systems in electronic format.
  • Health Information Organizations – A special case of the clearinghouse model, these entities are mostly concerned with facilitating communications among regional health care providers, and in some cases are also undertaking data analysis services on behalf of their clients. As such, these organizations in many instances accumulate some portions of medical records data for some segments of the population in their geographical catchment areas.
  • Technology Vendors – Those who supply electronic means to health data creators, and particularly the vendors who offer their technology in a remote service model, retain full access to their customers data, and for smaller customers, such as physicians in private practice, technology vendors are contractually reserving rights to make use of health data in a manner consistent with HIPAA regulations.
  • Consumers – Aside from the emerging personal health monitoring devices and applications, a small minority of savvy consumers is also maintaining personal health records separately from their medical services providers, usually in remotely stored and web accessible repositories.
Meaningful Health Information Exchange
While Meaningful Use Stage 1 did not introduce any tangible breakthroughs in health information exchange beyond what was already occurring, the proposed Stage 2 measures are attempting to spur exchange of health data in several ways.
  • Increase of exiting exchange – All thresholds for information exchange already in place, such as prescription data and laboratory results data, have been increased.
  • Public Health Reporting – Actual reporting of data to government agencies is now required.
  • Provider-to-provider – Some ad-hoc, point-to-point, standardized exchange of clinical summaries between various health care providers will be required.
  • Provider-to/from-patient – In addition to requiring that physicians and hospitals provide health information to patients in electronic format, Meaningful Use Stage 2 places requirements on patients to contact their doctors by email and to access their electronic medical records online. The proposed rules stop short of mandating that patients actually copy their medical records themselves, or ship a copy to a third party recipient, but we have Stage 3 and onwards to look forward to. Either way, technology must be enabled to allow patients, or authorized entities (family, friends, other software, etc.) to extract copies of health information from the HIPAA covered entities where the data was created.
So where is the Big Data of health care? It is very likely that Meaningful Use Stage 2, along with accelerated Electronic Health Records adoption, will increase the size and number of current health data repositories, as well as the ad-hoc exchange of information between them. Changes in reimbursement models will also spur the slicing and dicing of health data, particularly for the purpose of risk management, but there is nothing in the proposed Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules to suggest wholesale merging of health data repositories, and on their own, none of them could be considered Big Data. What if we endeavor to index the contents of all repositories, per the PCAST model, and allow government, or other legitimate “stakeholders”, access to query every indexed and networked health data repository in the land? Is this the much touted and feverishly anticipated Big Data of health care? Meh… Something is still missing.

Big Data is not just lots and lots of data. Big Data is indeed big, but it is also very difficult to accommodate in traditional relational database systems. Big Data is very dynamic and changes fast, furiously and continuously, and Big Data is usually a combination of multiple unrelated sources; it is messy, inaccurate and needs lots of cleaning, processing and culling before it can be used. Well, we all know health care data is a royal mess, but other than that it has no other characteristics of Big Data. Some forward thinking clinical researchers, concerned with the ability of “decision makers” to make decisions for us, are suggesting that we make the data bigger by adding patient reported “psychosocial issues and health behavior”, which are usually outside the realm of medical care. They boldly envision doctors administering questionnaires to their patients to enrich the data sets obtainable by tying together “millions of encounters in real-world settings”. Not sure how you do that over disparate repositories without fully identifying each patient, but those are just details, and surely patients will see the value in allowing decision makers to assess our quality of life for comparative-effectiveness purposes. Anyway, adding some very patient-centered fields, quantifying your happiness or sadness, to the medical record is not going to elevate health care data to the status of Big Data. In order for health care data to become truly Big Data, it will have to be combined with other data sources, such as social media data, Internet search data, financial data, census data, shopping data, cell phone data, and the list goes on. And herein lies the Big excitement.

Of course, once we throw health care data into the boiling cauldron of Big Data, many wondrous things can emerge along with some nightmarish ones too. The only (legal) tool for extracting health care data from the HIPAA covered ecosystem today is the patient, because the patient is the only one who can legally “transmit” data from a covered entity to one that is not hampered by such details, like the various standalone Personal Health Records provided by private companies and all sorts of other health and wellness tools built by eager entrepreneurs. Once those shiny new “Transmit” buttons are added to patient portals, per Meaningful Use Stage 2 rules, there will no doubt be dozens of tools competing for “informed permission” from patients to crawl health care providers’ portals and auto extract everything possible and aggregate it “on behalf” of the patient. Will patients cooperate and donate personal health records to the Big Data enterprise? Perhaps a few, but not enough to make the bells ring. There will need to be a few more rounds of rulemaking before patient data can be truly liberated from those antiquated HIPAA protections, and properly used to build a few fortunes and to improve the quality and accuracy of the coupons we receive in the mail.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How Government Agencies will Adopt Cloud Services

While most commentary about managed cloud services tend to focus on the advances in commercial enterprise applications, government agencies are also making noteworthy progress. In particular, the advent of regional community cloud hubs is a phenomenon that's worthy of further exploration.

According to their latest market study and related report, IDC Government Insights believes regional cloud hubs will significantly change the way state and local governments procure online computing services.

These regional cloud hubs, defined as one government agency offering computing and storage services to other government agencies, have proven successful in the State of Michigan and State of Utah. In addition, the IDC's research provides a framework for building similar regional cloud solutions.

According to Shawn McCarthy, research analyst, IDC Government Insights, "We believe that cloud hubs will see rapid growth, since the first multi-agency efforts have already shown a positive return on investment and solid service levels for cloud solutions subscribers."

Cloud computing is rapidly changing the way government organizations consume computing resources. This comes at a time when virtualized servers and efforts towards application standardization have merged many government solutions.

IDC says that as solutions merge, less data center space is needed. In fact, by the end of 2012 close to 40 percent of federal data centers will be shuttered. Many state governments are following a similar path, often combing multiple data centers into one or two large statewide operations. Remaining data centers often serve as a shared computing and storage resource for multiple departments.

Why State Government is Leading the Way

While any level of government can, in theory, offer services to any other government office, state-level governments are often most qualified to serve as regional hosts -- offering government-to-government services to other state agencies or to local municipal government entities.

Local governments are already looking for trusted cloud providers -- and for ways to significantly reduce their growing IT costs. Through these cooperative arrangements, the government sites are able to leverage private cloud services including software as a service, infrastructure as a service, online storage, and security as a service, among others.

Being able to purchase services through high volume state contracts can give local governments a substantial pricing edge. In addition, moving to a shared service environment also helps local governments conform to broader data standards and gain access to streamlined reporting tools that can be hosted right on the shared system.

"In general, the larger government operations that already manage complex IT systems will evolve as the most likely regional hosts," said McCarthy. "Smaller government agencies may choose to get out of most IT hosting and management operations, as long as they can find reliable, affordable and privately hosted solutions through the cloud."

Business Model for Regional Cloud Hubs

According to IDC, these managed cloud solutions often require zero to moderate capital expenditures and are developed in-house or are commercially developed private clouds -- dedicated to government use and designed to meet specific government standards.

As a result, this evolution has the potential to trigger the following game-changing consequences:
  • For the host facility, it can turn a government agency cost center into a revenue center. By selling cloud solutions to other government organizations, host agencies can offset their own IT costs.
  • Local governments can buy cheaper cloud solutions than they might find on their own and they may be able to reduce capital expenditures and overhead costs.
  • Cloud services will replace internal client/server systems as the main model for government application delivery. The race is on to build shared regional data centers and the largest portfolios of government solutions.

The IDC Government Insights report features two U.S. states, Michigan and Utah, both well on their way to building cloud hubs that can be used by multiple government agencies at various levels of government. In addition, the report highlights several regional multi-state cloud computing efforts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

NCAA Hoops Tourney Pool

I've gotten the question a few times, but no, we're not doing a pool this year.  I'm already in a few, some with money tangible bragging rights on the line and don't have the time to keep up with another one.

If you are looking for likeminded UGA fans, join @UGAKerri's pool.
Plenty of Dawg fans and plenty of smack talk.  Plus, I think BernieDawg won it all last year with only 27 correct picks, so as long as you don't go up against someone working with Varez Ward's bookie, you have as good a chance as anyone.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Breaking: Branden Smith Arrested

Not sure how much to trust something called the ',' but I guess as much as I should the AJC (which is simply citing the Rickey Stokes News), right?

It went down in Henry County, Alabama, which is one county above Dothan. If you've been from Athens to Panama City Beach, you go down Hwy 431 out of Columbus to get there.

The maddening part of this story is that, if true, he was with a dude that got caught in the same county last week for smokin' the reefer.  Dude.


Because I don't feel dirty enough, I checked Smith's Twitter time line.  Doesn't look good (MF_CashOnli is someone named D.Woods):

See also:
-Branden Smith Arrested in Alabama - Marc Weiszer (ABH)

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I love persimmons with their luscious flavor and their rich exotic texture, but parsimony has nothing to do with persimmons. For the 99% of Americans who are less familiar with the term parsimonious than they are with the rare persimmon fruit, here are the suggested synonyms to parsimonious, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary: “cheap, chintzy, close, closefisted, mean, mingy, miserly, niggard, niggardly, stingy, penny-pinching, penurious, pinching, pinchpenny, spare, sparing, stinting, tight, tightfisted, uncharitable, ungenerous”.

In the sixth edition of its Ethics Manual, the American College of Physicians (ACP) is stating the following: “Physicians have a responsibility to practice effective and efficient health care and to use health care resources responsibly. Parsimonious care that utilizes the most efficient means to effectively diagnose a condition and treat a patient respects the need to use resources wisely and to help ensure that resources are equitably available” [emphasis added]. If you don’t use the term parsimonious in casual conversation, feel free to substitute any of the Merriam Webster synonyms, so you can enjoy the full flavor of this recommendation. We should note that the President of the ACP, Dr. Virginia Hood, while acknowledging that “it has some connotations where people think frugality or being parsimonious is the same as being mean or inadequate”, she does not “think that is the real meaning of that word". According to Dr. Hood “Parsimonious is a good word in the sense that it means that you use only what's necessary". Unfortunately she stopped short of defining “necessary”.

But the term parsimonious can be understood in a different way too. From the Latin “lex parsimoniae”, parsimonious, when scientifically understood could be a reference to Occam’s razor principle “requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities”. So perhaps the ACP is advising doctors to refrain from seeking zebras each time they hear galloping hooves, which may be fine medical advice up to the point where it requires respectful consideration for “resources”, which is just a polite term for money. When money is inserted into the scientific equation, we are drawn back to the penny-pinching definition, and since nobody wants to go on record advocating cheap care, we are back to parsimonious and the comfortable ambiguity cover it provides.

As noted in a recent New York Times article, despite this ambiguity, and perhaps precisely because of it, parsimonious care is quickly becoming a very popular term in the industry. In a NEJM article on costs of health care, Peter J. Neumann dares to ask the question and proceeds to answer it too: “Is “parsimonious” the right word? Perhaps there are better ones, but “frugal,” “prudent,” “thrifty,” “cost-conscious,” and others would also raise objections. … Calling it parsimonious is a reasonable start.” Yes, we can’t really call it what it is because it would raise objections. Similarly, we can’t call something a “tax” because it would raise objections, so we call it “penalty” instead, and this too is a reasonable start.

So what does parsimonious care look like? There are no exact descriptions, presumably because they too would raise “objections”, but there are philosophical principles involved. Dr. Zeke Emanuel, for example, is thrilled with the ACP daring to be “a professional society unafraid of advocating the principle of cost-effectiveness”. Cost-effectiveness, which has been in wide use before parsimonious came into vogue, is best examined at the edges where costs differ widely and effectiveness is held constant, or vice versa. It is prudent to stay away from instances where both costs and effectiveness vary widely in direct proportion to each other, because close scrutiny may raise objections. Perhaps this is where parsimonious care kicks in, invoking the renowned 80-20 business rule. If you get injured in an accident and we can restore you to 80% functionality for 20% of the cost, should we really spend the remainder 80% of the money for a measly 20% in diminishing returns to society? 

We may be able to gain additional insight by understanding what parsimonious care is not. A much debated recent study published in Health Affairs concludes that for office-based physicians, electronic access to imaging and lab results does not reduce the frequency of test orders, and advises that “[i]nsurers and health care providers should also be wary of claims that computerization alone will lead to a more parsimonious practice style”. Disregarding the policy implications and the validity of these conclusions, along with the vigorous rebuttals, and sticking with our largely semantic analysis, we may cnnclude that a reduction in ordering of expensive tests is a characteristic of parsimonious care. Examining the data in this study, which has not been questioned by those taking issue with the conclusions, one should be immediately struck by the fact that doctors in private solo practice are about four times less likely to order expensive imaging tests than physicians employed by hospitals, and significantly less likely to do so than doctors practicing in large group settings.

Since this particular study took the liberty of making some pretty wild assumptions, and since the rebuttals engaged in similarly wild predictions, perhaps it would be beneficial to disregard the multitude of controversial trees and observe the forest in plain view, which reveals that parsimonious care is more likely to be delivered in small private practice. The obligatory implications to policy makers would be to quit the mindless herding of doctors into unparsimonious hospital employment and consolidation, and to conduct some studies of readily available data on the parsimony, or cheapness, of care in various practice settings. The definition of parsimonious care, at least for ambulatory practice, as that which is offered in small private practice settings, and the promotion of the same, is guaranteed to not raise any objections from the public. The alternative would be to continue using terminology nobody understands to make policy nobody understands, while engaging in esoteric conversations for the illuminati who possess the encryption keys to public discourse.

Addendum: For the sake of completeness, here is the brand new response from the authors of the Health Affairs study on imaging, to the ONC rebuttal. (3/12/2012)

Profiles in Hope: UGA Hoops 2012-2013

I want to share a statistic that I found surprising. Over the past 10 SEC games, Mark Fox's team is 5-5. Given the 1-7 start to the year, that's significant improvement. Was the team slow to start putting it together? Certainly, but they did find their legs later in the year.

The Dawgs had several solid RPI wins including:
  • Florida (H) - RPI 26
  • Notre Dame (N) - RPI 38
  • Miss State (A) - RPI 74
  • Miss State (N) - RPI 74
  • Tennessee (H) - RPI 85
  • S. Dakota St (H) - RPI 50 (although I feel dirty listing this one)
The reason the Dawgs won't be playing in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 tourney would be the debacles against South Carolina and Auburn. Some of that was a function of youth inside and some of it was a function of depth. The other reason would be the five games in which they scored less than 50 points.

The roster will be more athletic next year with the addition of Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris. The interior will be stronger with the maturing of Donte Williams and Nemi. Florevous also has the physical capabilities to make a significant year over year jump as Donte did this year. That's the good news.

Will it be enough to make the NCAA Tourney? Not unless Tony Parker wants to hug his mother very, very badly. As Coach Fox told him, "You can't hug your mother through a phone."'s hoping for hugs.

I do see rays of hope / opportunities for improvement next year due to the way the roster improved during the year. The challenge for Fox...the team could improve considerably next year than the record without the record reflecting it. The team faces the following schedule:
    2 additional SEC games (Missouri and Texas A&M)
    2 games against Indiana, UCLA or G'town in Brooklyn
    1 Big East team on the road (SEC/Big East Challenge)
    1 game vs. GT on the road
    1 game vs. Southern Cal at home
That only leaves 7 tomato can games. When I was in school, Coach Durham would schedule 10-12 tomato cans a year.

On the bright side, it's a schedule that could put UGA into the NCAAs with as few as 18 wins. That would require UGA going 9-9 in a tougher SEC while sweeping the buy games and picking up 2 wins against that non-conference slate with USC, GT and UCLA being the best opportunities.

My overall feeling on the program is that Coach Fox is doing an average to above average job targeting the wings and guards for his style of play. Kentavious is as advertised, and Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines could both be underrated gems. The problem is his big man recruiting. He needs to onboard players who don't take 2-3 years to find their way in this league.

But I digress. Here's what I think it would take for the program to make a big leap forward beyond the obvious need to sign Tony Parker.
    1. John Florveous needs to make a gigantic Year 2 move up the depth chart. If he could make an improvement like Donte and Travis Leslie made in Year 2, we could move Donte Williams to PF which would elevate his game.

    2. Someone will have to step up at PG. I personally can't see it being Vinnie. So, this terrifies me for next year. If Charles Mann can be a 25+ minute per game stable solution at PG, I would feel much better about our chances.

    3. Either KCP will need to add 15 lbs of muscle or Brandon Morris will need to emerge at SF. If KCP were at SG, he would face much better matchups offensively and defensively next season. If he stays at SF, he's got to get stronger.
What are your thoughts?


Dawgs End Season in Loss to Vandy at SEC Tourney

For 20 minutes, we believed. We thought it could happen. A one point lead at halftime. With Cannon, John Cannon, leading the team in scoring. The bench scored more point in one half, than they have in over 2/3 of our games. It was our night.

Then, it wasn't. For some inexplicable reason, Fox went away from the lineup that had given Vandy fits and went back to the lineup that yeilded Vandy their big lead in the first half. Giving Vandy a big second half lead, especially when Jenkins gets rolling like Mike Price in Pensacola, is the formula for a blow out.

That is what happened.

I'll have more thoughts on Georgia's season and prospects for next season later.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Playoffs Render Regular Season Moot?

Mark Bradley thinks so.
Not hard to see the parallels, right?

In Neme We Trust

@BassinDawg keeping up the good work:
Pope of Podgrica
Vandy is beatable, but beyond having big games from Neme, Gerald and KCP, we have to keep Jenkins from going all Rainman from 3pt range.

Basketball Schadenfreude

It isn't often you get to write one of these, but the picture in the AJC says it all:
(Image: Compton @AJC)
Between this picture, which pretty accurately sums up the whole debacle that was Georgia Tech's 36 point effort in the ACC tournament, and the Auburn point shaving non-sense, I have to ask: "How did we lose to these jokers?"

I know I've been pretty Jekyll and Hydish this season about Georgia basketball, but we lost to Auburn, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, and South Carolina, all teams that are done mailing it in. I guess the good news is that South Dakota State is in the NCAA tournament, so that win looks pretty good.

Anytime you get to see Georgia Tech's coach with this look on his face at the ACC tournament (and for all practical purposes a home game), and let's face it, we have seen it plenty recently, it isn't a terrible day.

Orson's DUI

Nothing funny here, just not the best situation for someone who has a lot to lose. By 'not the best situation,' I mean he's probably cost himself two draft rounds of money and endless character questions at team interviews.

Thank goodness no one was hurt or anything like that.

Dawgs Advance in SEC Tourney; Face Vandy Tonight in Late Game

Neme for Pope. (h/t @BassinDawg)
Big defensive games from a couple of guys. Ware getting hot (finally). Gerald Robinson and KCP did their thing. For the first time all season, Fox let the team play without calling a time out, you know, just because we have them. Actually, this was a very well coached game by Fox. It doesn't hurt to have hot shooters, but he had answers for Stansbury's zone defense that allowed us to sustain a run late in the second half. He also had the right match-ups low to negate the size advantage the Bizzaro Dawgs had with Sidney and Moultrie.

Most of all, The Pope of Podgorica. First double-double of the year for the Dawgs.

Dawgs face Vandy tonight in the late game. I picked a bad time to stop sniffing glue.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SEC Hoops Power Poll Blogger Round Table

The voters of the SEC Hoops Power Poll do a round table at the end of the season. Below are our selected collective thoughts. 

1) Who is the player of the year? Coach of the year? Why?
Player of the year:  Anthony Davis, Kentucky - Unanimous pick
Anthony Davis is the player of year, perhaps not only for the conference but for the nation. His game-in, game-out performance is simply phenomenal; he's averaging nearly a double-double, and he has a simply unbelievable .66 FG%. As if those stats didn't say enough, he tends to play his best in big games, such as his 28-point, 10-11 (!!!) shooting performance in the recent game against Vanderbilt. Just an astoundingly good player who has the look of a Final Four MVP. - Garnet and Black Attack

Davis has distinguished himself in the SEC by being the single most important player on a team of superior players.  Without Davis, the Wildcats would be a very good NCAA caliber team.  With him, they are almost unbeatable.  Even if Davis doesn't score a point, he is worth about 8-10 points defensively with the way he blocks, challenges, and changes shots.  He is the all-time SEC leading shot blocker in a season, and affects the game in so many ways that his true value is difficult to accurately discern. - A Sea of Blue

Coach of the year:   John Calipari, Kentucky 

I don't know if Calipari's one and done strategy will pay off in the long run with Coach K like multiple national championships or Tom Izzo like Final Four appearances, but the one thing he has done is mold four new and very talented players into an already loaded roster and made them better as the season has gone on. This is his best coaching job in his first three seasons as the Wildcats are considered near locks to make it back to the Final 4. An impressive feat in today's world of roster turnover. - ACC and SEC Blog

Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee 
Martin has taken a team that looked like they were going fold like fresh laundry and gotten them on the precipice of the NCAA tournament. With all of the non-sense that has gone on in Knoxville over the past year, including the home loss to Austin Peay, it would be easy for Martin to label this a rebuilding year and focus on next. Instead, he has kept a very young team focused on doing things the right way and fighting through adversity. Yes, UT still loses games they should win, but they are definitely playing much better than they should be. Martin is a very big part of that. - Georgia Sports Blog

Anthony Grant, Alabama
The argument against him is that Alabama was supposed to be good all along, but I've been impressed by how Grant was able to pull the Tide through a disappointing stretch and get his team in gear for a tourney run. You could also easily go with John Calipari here, who has managed to pull off the difficult feat of exceeding expectations with a team that was expected to challenge for a national title, but I feel Grant has had the tougher job this year, and he's done well with it. - Garnet and Black Attack

2) Who is the breakout player of the year? Why?
Breakout player of the year: Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
The junior ranks 4th in the SEC in scoring at 16 ppg and is also pulling down nearly 11 rebounds per night. Moultrie coming off a transfer year from UTEP where he averaged 10 and 9 ppg in his first two seasons so the fact that he has raised his scoring and rebound average in a tougher league impresses me. - The ACC/SEC Blog

Patric Young, Florida
I think a lot might say Arnett Moultrie, which is my second choice, but Young was totally over matched as a freshman and has the chance to be dominant in the future at UF.  He had a better "breakout" than Moultrie did, since Moultrie is older and had contributed at UTEP. - And The Valley Shook

Justin Hamilton, LSU
Hamilton, an Iowa State transfer, has been one of the conference's more steady big men, and he's made a major difference for an LSU team that struggled last year without him. He's qualifies as a great breakout player in my book. - Garnet and Black Attack

Jeffrey Taylor, Vanderbilt
Why:  Taylor has become an extremely dangerous perimeter player, and combined with his remarkable athleticism and improved ballhandling, may have played his way into the 2012 draft lottery.  Taylor keeps proving to everyone that he still has plenty of room to improve, and considering the outstanding player he has become, that's saying something. - A Sea of Blue
3) What team is the biggest surprise (good or bad)?
Biggest surprise:  Tennessee Volunteers
Why:  Seriously? They were picked to finish 11th in the conference. Now, they are sitting out the Thursday games in New Orleans. With the hearings and the players sitting out and the early season schadenfreude losses and a new coach, it was easy to write them off. They have quietly become a team that has potential to sneak into the NCAA tournament with a strong SEC tourney run. I'd also give Mississippi State a dishonorable mention for their late season swoon, but if you've watched the Bulldogs for the last several years, you'd know to expect it. - Georgia Sports Blog

I think you could say both LSU and Tennessee.  I don't think anyone thought they would be fighting for the 5th spot in the league at any point in the season, least of all the final week.  Combined they are 11-3 in February, which is definitely shocking since they had 22 combined losses going into February. - And The Valley Shook

4) Nationally, the SEC is viewed as top heavy, but weak below about team #3. What are your thoughts on the conference's performance in the national view?
A Sea of Blue:
I think the national view has been accurate this year.  Alabama has disappointed, as has Mississippi State.  Vanderbilt has not been as good as advertised, and Florida, despite showing some great early prowess, seems to have peaked too early, plus suffered a key injury that may have them stumbling into a lower seed in the NCAA tournament.

The SEC had high hopes this year, but outside of Kentucky, you'd have to say it was a bit disappointing, if not a total bust.

With Kentucky being so dominant, the SEC will always be in the news. But after that Florida and Vanderbilt have been very inconsistent and the West is largely mediocre again. I look at it how ACC Football was in the early 2000s when FSU was competing for national titles every year and a Clemson or Georgia Tech may have a good season here or there but largely the league was mediocre.

The reason is simple. The fan support just isn't there for basketball in the SEC. The league does have a chance to get better by being able to spend more money on new coaches (and more importantly fire any coach) than any other conference. But until that money turns into wins the SEC will not be in the B1G/Big East/ACC yearly debate for best conference.

Garnet and Black Attack:
I think the SEC is underrated. It's not the best conference, but it's solid. Yes, the top three teams are head and shoulders above the rest, and Kentucky is head and shoulders above Vandy and Florida. That said, Alabama, Mississippi St., LSU, and Tennessee are all solid teams. I could see 'Bama or MSU surprising and making it into the Sweet 16 or so, and LSU and UT are good threats to win the NIT. That's not bad depth at all.

And The Valley Shook:
I think that is actually a fair view.  In fact, I think the national view is correct with the SEC this year.  It's an OK league that will get a decent amount of teams into the tournament, but didn't have the kind of year in out of conference play to support it as one of the top 3 leagues.

Georgia Sports Blog:
Part of the national view is shaped by the awful early season losses by Tennessee (Oakland, Austin Peay and College of Charleston), LSU (Coastal Carolina), South Carolina (Elon and Providence), and Vandy (Indiana State).  It also didn't help that Kentucky lost a buzzer beater to a very good Indiana team on national TV. 

Overall, that view is right. Outside of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, there is no other team that folks would be terribly nervous about playing on a neutral court. Until Florida gets their crap together, you can't put them in that group. Alabama and Tennessee are dangerous, but green. Arkansas has shown they can do it, but are playing like the Michigan win was their championship game. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are talented, but lack team unity.  As for the rest of the conference, you pretty much can say they are safe senior day schedule fillers.

5) What teams will make the NCAA tourney? Any surprise runs forthcoming?
Everyone has Kentucky (duh), Vandy and Florida as locks. There is a consensus that Alabama will make it as well. We all agree that Mississippi State and Ole Miss have to make runs in the SECt to get a bid. A couple of us think Tennessee will make it with a couple of wins.

And The Valley Shook:
Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Mississippi State.
Surprise: Kentucky will not only lose the SEC tournament, they will lose before the finals.

Garnet and Black Attack:
Kentucky, Vandy, Florida, and Alabama are more or less locks, although 'Bama could miss out if it totally collapses in the last couple of games. Mississippi St. has a good chance if it wins a few games down the stretch. LSU might have a chance if it makes the finals of the SEC Tournament or so. Past that, I don't see anyone making it without winning the SECT. Tennessee has the look of a team that might be able to pull off the surprise and do that. In March, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Vandy makes a run to the Elite Eight. They're playing really well right now and have the kind of balance and depth that oftentimes serves a team well in the Tournament.

Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt are in. I feel pretty good about Alabama too. After that I think Miss State or Ole Miss has a chance if they can win get to the Finals in the SEC Tournament and the small conference tourneys go to form and don't take away their spots. I am still waiting for the Vandy we thought we would see all season long, but I don't see a run considering Stallings recent NCAA history.

A Sea of Blue:
Making the grade:  Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi St., Alabama, and going out on a limb here and predicting a couple of SECT wins, I say Tennessee sneaks in.

Many thanks to the participating bloggers and to Garnet and Black attack for hosting the poll this season.