Android smartphone owners are being warned that their new devices may put them at serious risk from cyber attacks and malicious threats. That’s the latest news from the consumer experts at Which? who say devices are being sold on long-term contracts that will no longer get vital updates to keep them safe. Most Android manufacturers offer two or three years of Android upgrades but networks are selling phones that may not get these vital patches by the time a customer’s deal comes to an end.
The problem is so bad that Which? says around 48 per cent of phones available could lose security support before the end of the contract period.
O2 is one of the networks that caused the most concern as it offers deals that last for 36 months.
However, it’s not just O2 with other mobile phone retailers also selling a whole host of devices that could lose security support before contracts ended. In addition to O2, the proportion of contract phones on sale where there were similar problems were Carphone Warehouse (52%), Mobiles.co.uk (50%), Vodafone (50%), Three (40%), Mobile Phones Direct (38%) and EE (33%).
To make matters worse, Which? researchers say that they came across a number of popular handsets that are due to run out of support less than a year into the contract.
These included the Motorola G8 Power (sold by mobiles.co.uk and Vodafone), Oppo Find X2 Lite (sold by EE, Mobile Phones Direct, mobiles.co.uk, O2 and Vodafone) and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 (sold by Vodafone).
Although the lack of long-term updates on Android is nothing new, Which? says that it’s the lack of transparency from networks that’s most concerning.
Four in 10 (40%) smartphone owners think that if they buy a phone on contract it will receive security updates throughout the contract period.
In response to the report, EE and Three said they disputed some of the mobile phone models included in the analysis, stating that these phones would be supported until the end of contracts.
Vodafone added that “support generally extends beyond the timeframe you reference.” However, Which? believes these phones could be out of support before the end of contracts, according to its research.
It’s clearly worrying as, once security updates are no longer pushed out, phones become easy targets for hackers who can use malicious software to take over devices and even install apps that subscribe owners to premium services without their permission.
Speaking about the report Kate Bevan, Which? Computing Editor, said: “Mobile phones without the latest security support could leave consumers vulnerable to hackers, so it is important that manufacturers supply these defences for longer and that retailers are clearer with people about the risks posed by phones that will not receive vital updates for the duration of contracts.
“The government’s Product Security Bill needs to ensure that manufacturers state the date a device will be supported until – and that this information is clearly displayed on retailers’ websites. Devices need to be supported for five years minimum across all manufacturers so that consumers are better protected.”
A complication of infection known as sepsis is the number one killer in US hospitals. So it’s not surprising that more than 100 health systems use an early warning system offered by Epic Systems, the dominant provider of US electronic health records. The system throws up alerts based on a proprietary formula tirelessly watching for signs of the condition in a patient’s test results.
But a new study using data from nearly 30,000 patients in University of Michigan hospitals suggests Epic’s system performs poorly. The authors say it missed two-thirds of sepsis cases, rarely found cases medical staff did not notice, and frequently issued false alarms.
Karandeep Singh, an assistant professor at University of Michigan who led the study, says the findings illustrate a broader problem with the proprietary algorithms increasingly used in health care. “They’re very widely used, and yet there’s very little published on these models,” Singh says. “To me that’s shocking.”
The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. An Epic spokesperson disputed the study’s conclusions, saying the company’s system has “helped clinicians save thousands of lives.”
Epic’s is not the first widely used health algorithm to trigger concerns that technology supposed to improve health care is not delivering, or even actively harmful. In 2019, a system used on millions of patients to prioritize access to special care for people with complex needs was found to lowball the needs of Black patients compared to white patients. That prompted some Democratic senators to ask federal regulators to investigate bias in health algorithms. A study published in April found that statistical models used to predict suicide risk in mental health patients performed well for white and Asian patients but poorly for Black patients.
The way sepsis stalks hospital wards has made it a special target of algorithmic aids for medical staff. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to health providers on sepsis encourage use of electronic medical records for surveillance and predictions. Epic has several competitors offering commercial warning systems, and some US research hospitals have built their own tools.
Automated sepsis warnings have huge potential, Singh says, because key symptoms of the condition, such as low blood pressure, can have other causes, making it difficult for staff to spot early. Starting sepsis treatment such as antibiotics just an hour sooner can make a big difference to patient survival. Hospital administrators often take special interest in sepsis response, in part because it contributes to US government hospital ratings.
Singh runs a lab at Michigan researching applications of machine learning to patient care. He got curious about Epic’s sepsis warning system after being asked to chair a committee at the university’s health system created to oversee uses of machine learning.
As Singh learned more about the tools in use at Michigan and other health systems, he became concerned that they mostly came from vendors that disclosed little about how they worked or performed. His own system had a license to use Epic’s sepsis prediction model, which the company told customers was highly accurate. But there had been no independent validation of its performance.
Singh and Michigan colleagues tested Epic’s prediction model on records for nearly 30,000 patients covering almost 40,000 hospitalizations in 2018 and 2019. The researchers noted how often Epic’s algorithm flagged people who developed sepsis as defined by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And they compared the alerts that the system would have triggered with sepsis treatments logged by staff, who did not see Epic sepsis alerts for patients included in the study.
The researchers say their results suggest Epic’s system wouldn’t make a hospital much better at catching sepsis and could burden staff with unnecessary alerts. The company’s algorithm did not identify two-thirds of the roughly 2,500 sepsis cases in the Michigan data. It would have alerted for 183 patients who developed sepsis but had not been given timely treatment by staff.
Throughout the covid-19 vaccination effort, public health officials and politicians have insisted that providing shots equitably across racial and ethnic groups is a top priority.
But it’s been left up to states to decide how to do that and to collect racial and ethnic data on vaccinated individuals so states can track how well they’re doing reaching all groups. The gaps and inconsistencies in the data have made it difficult to understand who’s actually getting shots.
Just as an uneven approach to containing the coronavirus led to a greater toll for Black and Latino communities, the inconsistent data guiding vaccination efforts may be leaving the same groups out on vaccines, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco.
“At the very least, we need the same uniform standards that every state is using, and every location that administers vaccine is using, so that we can have some comparisons and design better strategies to reach the populations we’re trying to reach,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
Now that federal, state and local governments are easing mask requirements and ending other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, efforts to boost vaccination rates in underserved communities are even more urgent.
At St. James United Methodist Church, a cornerstone for many in the Black community in Kansas City, Missouri, in-person services recently resumed after being online for more than a year. St. James has also been hosting vaccination events designed to reach people in the neighborhood.
“People are really grieving not only the loss of their loved ones, but the loss of a whole year, a loss of being lonely, a loss being at home, not being able to come to church. Not being able to go out into the community,” said Yvette Richards, St. James’ director of community connection.
Missouri’s population is 11% African American, but covid cases among African Americans accounted for 25% of the total cases for the state, according to an analysis by KFF.
Richards said St. James has lost many congregants to the coronavirus, and the empty pews where they once sat on Sundays serve as stark reminders of all this community has been through during the pandemic.
Missouri’s public covid data appears to show robust data on vaccination rates broken down by race and ethnicity. But several groups are seen lagging far behind on vaccinations, including African Americans, who appear to have a vaccination rate of just 17.6%, nearly half of the 33% rate for the state as a whole.
To Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City health department, one number is a giveaway that this data isn’t right. It shows a completed vaccination rate of 64% for “multiracial” Missourians. Such an exceptionally high rate for one group beggars belief, according to Archer.
“So, there’s some huge problem with the way the state is collecting race and ethnicity under covid vaccination,” Archer said.
Missouri state officials have acknowledged since February that this data is wrong, but they haven’t managed to fix it or explain exactly what’s causing it. Archer suggested the inflated multiracial rate is probably due to different racial data being reported when individuals receive first and second shots.
Other problems have been detected, including missing racial and ethnic data for many people who have been vaccinated, and the use of multiple categories such as “other” and “unknown.”
The state also noted it used national racial percentages in the state’s vaccination data rather than actual percentages based on the state’s population. For example, earlier in the vaccination effort, the state used national racial data, which shows nearly 6% of the population is Asian, even though Missouri’s population is 2.2% Asian.
Health officials are working to target vaccination campaigns in communities where rates are low, but Archer said the state’s data provides little help.
“I mean, we have to look at it, but it’s got too many variables to be something we can count on,” Archer said.
Though racial and ethnic categories are clearly defined in national U.S. Census data, the same data is not collected uniformly by states.
For example, South Carolina’s vaccination data lumps together Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders in one category. In Utah, residents can pick more than one race. Wyoming doesn’t report racial or ethnic data for vaccinations at all.
Bibbins-Domingo said the missing or inconsistent data doesn’t necessarily mean tracking equity is a lost cause. Vaccination rates for census tracts where racial and ethnic data is known can be used as a proxy to estimate vaccine allocations.
However, Bibbins-Domingo argued that the pandemic has shined a light on racial data problems that have persisted far too long in U.S. public health.
“What my hope is, is that our lessons from covid really cause all of us to think about the infrastructure we need within our state and nationally to make sure we are prepared next time,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “Data is our friend.”
Local leaders and health officials in Missouri are scrambling to boost vaccination rates, especially among vulnerable communities, after Republican Gov. Mike Parson recently announced steps to urge residents back to working in person.
Parson ordered state workers back to the office in May and said he would end additional federal pandemic-related benefits for unemployed workers in June, despite vaccination rates across the state being well below what Missouri health experts had hoped to achieve.
Jackson County, Missouri, which includes most of Kansas City, authorized $ 5 million in federal CARES funding last month to increase vaccinations in six ZIP codes with large Black populations and low vaccination rates. The project will address problems of both access and hesitancy and focus on reaching out to individuals and neighborhoods.
Although many of the state’s vaccination efforts have involved large mass events, St. James Pastor Jackie McCall said she’s been talking with many in her church and community who need encouragement to have faith in the vaccines.
“So let’s go ahead and let’s trust,” McCall told congregants. “Let’s trust the process. Let’s trust God. Let’s trust the science.”
This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KCUR, NPR and KHN.
There was a period in the early 1990s when the video game industry was in love with caveman characters – after all, an executive somewhere thought that the TurboGrafx-16’s Bonk was a suitable mascot to face off against Mario and Sonic. Among one of the most prolific of these games was Data East’s Joe & Mac, a conversion of the arcade game known as Caveman Ninja. In this game, a duo with brightly coloured hair fight back against a rival tribe of Neanderthals, who’ve kidnapped all of their women, while also facing off against a horde of dinosaurs and other prehistoric nasties like woolly mammoths. Our heroes are equipped with a variety of period-appropriate weapons, including bone clubs, stone wheels, flint (to throw fire) and boomerangs.
Like many Data East titles, the action lacks the polish of other more well regarded companies. But the comical visuals, goofy expressions of the characters and strange sound effects create a silly atmosphere that makes the game fun to play, in spite of its floaty controls and annoyingly designed boss encounters. It’s also gloriously weird, as the final stage takes place inside of a dinosaur’s body, where you face off against some kind of devil that’s apparently controlling it from within. It also offers two player simultaneous play, and since the difficulty is more forgiving than, say, Contra III, it’s certainly more suitable for co-op play.
The SNES conversion of Joe & Mac mostly duplicates the look and feel of its arcade original, though it’s missing some of the effects and animations, and the framerate and action is more sluggish. But unlike the other home ports it’s actually expanded quite a bit with more levels, as well as a Super Mario World-style map that connects them. Some of the levels themselves are also a bit longer too, which include some keys that let you unlock doors on the map screen that lead to bonus goodies.
Conversely, some power-ups are missing, like the hot sauce that lets you breathe fire, and you can no longer charge up attacks. While your life meter is generous, each new life starts you off with a default, short-ranged club weapon, which makes it difficult to attack effectively until you find a power-up. Despite some of these issues, it’s certainly a richer game than the (somewhat brief) arcade experience, so it sets itself apart from the Caveman Ninja arcade game already on the Switch eShop as part of the Johnny Turbo’s Arcade series.
Joe & Mac isn’t a classic – in the grand scheme of prehistoric caveman games, it sits below Bonk but above Prehistorik Man and Chuck Rock. But it’s a mildly amusing diversion, particularly with a friend.
Almost two decades have passed since the last entry in the mainline R-Type series. That makes the arrival of R-Type Final 2 a genuinely exciting prospect — particularly for shooting game devotees. Firing up Granzella’s latest for the first time really does feel like a meaningful moment for the form. An icon has returned, showing that as the indie shmup renaissance continues, there is still a place in the market for one of the grand progenitors of the form.
Yes, the title feels a little bit silly. R-Type Final was meant to be the very last R-Type, and as the years rolled into decades, it felt like that was entirely the case. Now we have a sequel to that closing moment, crowdfunded by fans, and put together by a team that includes a number of the original R-Type staff. In reality, though, for all the solemnity and melancholy that defines the R-type games — and particularly the first Final — it’s a series that has always had a glint in its eye and the space for a playful moment. The title is perfect.
The game itself? Less so.
Ultimately, all the right elements are in place. Most importantly, this feels like a purebred R-Type in spirit and realisation. While bullet hell has come to be the shooting game sub-genre that receives the most attention, the R-Type games have never been concerned with asking players to thread a diminutive hitbox through intersecting spirals of tightly packed, gaudy neon bullets.
The R-Type releases have chosen instead to focus on claustrophobic, sometimes maze-like environments, where a slower pace lends a sense of a brutal grinding away against the enemies, overcoming something like environmental puzzles as the organic menace that are the Bydo do all they can to overwhelm. Your ship feels lonely and isolated, fighting methodically to puncture deeper into a very alien world where you never feel welcome, while the dance you undertake with your Force option — sending it out to smash enemies before reeling it in — rarely feels tiresome. It’s a thrilling set-up, and one that asserts that there is much room for variety in a genre often projected as constrained by its own conventions.
The good news is that Final 2 does deliver all those most R-Type-esque elements. It feels like a proper R-Type, and if you’re a series devotee, that alone may be enough for you. The game plays slowly and strategically, and while there are plenty of straight-up popcorn enemies to blast, your battle to progress will also be one with the scenery and environment. To play R-Type Final 2 is to revisit over and over, refining your route through and gradually beginning to preempt any surprises that are thrown at you.
Final 2 also uses a fairly aggressive checkpointing system. That means that if you lose a ship, you don’t magically appear in the same spot, as with most bullet hell titles. Rather, you return to the last checkpoint, powered down and vulnerable. The checkpointing won’t be for everybody, but it is well implemented. There’s usually a decent chance to reestablish your firepower before you get to anything too overwhelming, and thanks to the strategy-leaning elements of the gameplay, doggedly repeating sections until you’ve unlocked the solution to overcoming them compliments a checkpointed structure. Indeed, while credit feeding rarely provides the best way to play an intense arcade shooter, here it really works well – something that perhaps better serves players with a less fevered devotion to shooters.
At the same time, the difficulty levels are where R-Type Final 2’s cracks start to show. Played at the default ‘Normal’ difficulty, things can feel a little soulless and empty. There’s not quite enough going on in terms of enemy aggression, bullet numbers and mechanical vibrancy. And yet things are still rather challenging. Pop up the difficulty up to the more challenging ‘Bydo’ difficulty, or the yet more savage ‘R-Typer’ setting, and you get a game with a little more going on, but with much more challenge. Down at the easy end — branded ‘Kids’ difficulty in Final 2 — and you’ll actually find a version that is terrific fun in short bursts, as there the capacity for slightly faster, more vigorous play exists, and yet many of the environmental puzzles still throw a lot of challenge at you.
Beyond its slightly awkward relationship with its own difficulty balancing, R-Type Final 2 also features an unusual choice with regard to the display. The camera pitches up and down ever so slightly as you move the ship, meaning a modest shift in the 3D assets that envelop the game’s 2D plane of play. At times that can make precise movement and hitbox visualisation rather trying, especially at some of the tighter boss battles. Oftentimes the pitch has no discernible impact, but when it is present, it can be especially irksome if you are trying to perform at your best.
Also a little underwhelming is the technical presentation. Undocked, things look good enough, and there’s certainly some design flair in given moments. But too frequently the visuals feel flat and dated. It even feels like you are peering at gloriously detailed graphics through a filter that muddies their clarity and finesse. That is less noticeable when playing undocked, but on the big screen the visual imperfection is considerably more potent. Furthermore, on the Switch there are some lengthy loading times between losing a ship and reappearing at a checkpoint, which can interfere with your flow — especially in the game’s more intense moments.
For all that picking away at R-Type Final 2’s weaknesses, however, it remains very much an authentic contribution to a series that has made such a mark on the genre’s evolution. There is ample fun to be had, and the meta game that lets you collect, browse and customise a tremendous array of ships offers a bounty of different ways to play.
R-Type Final 2 feels just a spot of optimisation and a finessing of the difficulty balancing away from greatness; easier penned than done, of course. There is something special lurking within Final 2, but it never nears the sublime high seen in R-Type Delta, the quality of the early series entrants, or even the energy of spin offs like the excellent, if divisive, R-Type Leo.
R-Type Final 2 makes an authentic if flawed contribution to an iconic shooting game series. Many of the problems seem technical, so hopefully an update could do plenty — especially if it lets you lock that camera pitch. All we can hope for, then, is that we are still in the beginning of R-Type’s final phase, and that what Final 2 gets right is allowed to rise to the top.
Back in the Wii and DS era, Nintendo tried something new: telling its players to take breaks. We’re no strangers to the Animal Crossing all-nighter, and it seemed like Nintendo was finally starting to worry about our health, but very few people actually heeded the gentle warning. You’re not our mum, Nintendo. In any case, we don’t listen to her either when she tells us to go outside and play.
Cozy Grove is an extension of that ethos: it really, really wants to make sure you’re not playing video games all day. It cares about you. As the CEO of developer Spry Fox puts it: “Cozy Grove doesn’t make you feel like you need to play for 8 hours in a single sitting to “maximize” your experience, and it doesn’t make you feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see in a few days either.” To put it succinctly, Cozy Grove respects your time.
The Animal Crossing-inspired game is all about tending to an island and its inhabitants, providing the comforts that they need while also building and maintaining your own. Like Animal Crossing, its goals are pretty freeform, but gentle guidance will steer you in the direction of upgrading your tent, growing fruit trees, and raising pets.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)
By performing tasks for the people who live on the island, and engaging with the crafting, fishing, mining, and foraging mechanics, you — the Spirit Scout who was sent here by your mentor — can gradually bring life back to the island. Therein lies the twist that sets Cozy Grove apart from its inspiration: in Cozy Grove, everyone is dead.
You begin each new day in real-time with an island inhabited by ghosts, and all the colour drained out of the landscape. Each of the ghosts will ask you to do something for them — find a lost item, bring them some food, or go on a treasure hunt to find several things that they need — and, upon performing said task, their gratitude will ripple out in a wave of colour around them (and a bone-shaking Joy-Con rumble). It’s beautiful, but it happens every day, which tends to suck the magic out of it and leave you feeling more like you’re stuck in a Groundhog Day loop.
However, each little quest will bring you closer to the ghost, and perhaps give you a fragment of memory, a new tool, or something to learn about the island. They’ll also give you a Spirit Log, which is used to feed the campfire back at your tent. The campfire, who is basically a less-mean Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, serves as your main guide for Cozy Grove, telling you what to do next and also taking care of your storage and tent upgrades.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)
It’s a pleasant enough loop — help people out, do a bit of fishing, forage all the mushrooms and sticks from around the place, feed the fire, repeat — but there’s not really much to do, and it feels like the game knows it, too. After just thirty-to-sixty minutes or so, you’ll have completed all the ghosts’ tasks, so the fire will tell you that there’s nothing more to do for the day, and to come back tomorrow. You might be tempted to stick around, but beyond the ghost quests, there’s basically just fishing and foraging, neither of which really lead anywhere.
Everything you find can be donated to one of the ghosts, who has a “Collection” (think of it like a Museum, but it’s in his pockets, and you can’t physically explore it) or sold to a really tall travelling merchant fox, who’s a non-dead permanent fixture of the island. There’s a basic cooking mechanic, but it involves throwing food into the fire, and doesn’t include fish. When the fire tells you that there’s nothing more to do for the day, he means it — and it’s a real shame.
It’s easy to imagine that this works a lot better on a phone. iOS and Android games are much more frequently played in short bursts, and it’s probably pretty relieving to find a game that goes along with that, rather than punishing you for not playing as often as it wants you to. On a Switch, that’s not really how it works. Paying £10 for a game that literally refuses to let you play for as long as you want is an odd proposition, and though it is possible to time-travel, we’d much rather just play the game without having to dip in and out of the settings menu.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)
What’s more, those scant hours you spent in Cozy Grove’s world are a real mixed bag. It’s a really gorgeous game, which is unsurprising given Spry Fox’s pedigree, and it has buckets of charm. The characters are all unique and weird in the best way, and the dialogue is sweet and easy to like. But the island itself is small and sparse, and at the same time, packed with unnecessary clutter.
Trees, shrubs, bushes, grass, leaf piles, rocks, and unmoveable furniture litter the place, and while they look pretty, they also make it really difficult to forage, move, or collect items on the ground. A ghost might ask you to find six leaves, and trying to find leaves in an island filled with green stuff is an absolute nightmare (although you can buy hints for 100 coins each that tell you exactly where something is).
When the island is drained of colour (which is every single day) it’s even harder to see what’s what, because everything is a pale green outline. Occasionally, you’ll see something interesting in the pale parts — a tree with a bees nest in it seems to imply that you can get honey, or a birds nest might imply that you can collect eggs — but almost every time, it turns out to just be decoration, which is disappointing. It’s lovely art, but when practicality takes a back seat to looks, it’s hard to appreciate.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)
Just like it’s hard to see anything in the sea of foliage, it’s also hard to see what Cozy Grove is really about. There’s an intriguing vein of something dark and mysterious within, and when the ghosts mention death, or there’s something a bit creepy in an item description, it makes you want to dig deeper. But, like an overbearing parent, Cozy Grove snatches away the game just as it gets interesting, telling you not to eat it all at once. It feels artificial and frustrating to be slowly spoon-fed a story that we want to read at our own pace. The consistent re-desaturating of the island only adds to this, making us feel like any progress we made yesterday will be undone again overnight; like Penelope unweaving her tapestry.
To top it all off, Cozy Grove just doesn’t run too well on the Switch. The beginning loading screen (there is mercifully only the one) is looong, and the cornucopia of shrubbery on-screen at any given time is often more than the wee Switch can handle. This leads to pop-ins all over the shop, a frame rate about as smooth as buttered gravel, and a couple of glitches that we think were glitches, but we’re not entirely sure about, because Cozy Grove prefers to be coy about everything.
We really want to love this game. The pitch of “a game that respects your time”, coupled with the beautiful art and the promise of a dark storyline in a genre that’s usually quite twee, had us very intrigued. Cozy Grove just doesn’t quite nail enough of it to make us excited about the prospect of being led on a breadcrumb trail for miles.