Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Photo: quora.com

I’ve never wanted live-in help, not that I’ve had that option. I couldn’t relax or have an argument in peace. Unless I needed round the clock nursing, I wouldn’t want a non family member around all the time to observe my habits.

For this reason I cannot imagine inviting into my house a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Alexa, Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max or Sonos One. The speakers allow voice commands to control tech elements in a home, office or hotel room. Fans consider them as helpers; I see them as potential giant eavesdroppers by total strangers.

Photo: literallydarling.com

Amazon Echo boasts 15,000 skills. It can buy stuff on Amazon while it supports smart home devices. I’m perfectly happy to log on to Amazon if I need something or open Facebook on my smartphone, but I’m clearly alone. According to techcrunch.com, 39 million Americans own one.

Strangers already know far too much about us. In “What the Airline Knows About the Guy in Seat 12A,” Scott McCartney wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Airlines know a lot about you, from date of birth and home address to travel patterns, vacation preferences, beverage purchases and whether your last flight was good or bad.”

Photo: buffered.co

In the same newspaper, Laura Stevens wrote: “Echo home speakers mistakenly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in the owners’ contact list, an incident that raises questions about the security of such voice-operated devices.” The title and subtitle of her article say a lot: “Amazon Alexa-Powered Device Recorded and Shared User’s Conversation Without Permission–Amazon said the incident involved a series of misunderstandings, with words being confused for commands.”

Kim Komando, the computer/digital lifestyle expert, shared a news brief on WCBS radio last week announcing that as a result of a deal between Amazon and Marriot-owned hotels, there will soon be an Alexa smart speaker in every room. You can ask it to have housekeeping bring you more towels, make dinner reservations and have easy access to all hotel amenities. It’s a sales win for Amazon but not so hot for your privacy. She didn’t sound so tickled about the “advancement” either.

Stevens concluded: “‘The privacy side has not been fully fleshed out with digital assistants,’ said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, a venture-capital firm specializing in tech research. Digital assistants still need more training to interpret commands and language more perfectly, he said, something that consumers should consider with the devices in their homes. ‘Eventually we’re going to get it figured out’ but it’s not there yet, he said.”

Do you really want a cake on your airline seat should you be traveling on your birthday or would you find that creepy? Do you mind giving up privacy so you can say, “Turn on my TV” or “Get me more towels,” instead of clicking on the remote or picking up the phone in your hotel room? Would you be tempted when the technicians have a better handle on ensuring that there would be no glitches in transmitting your commands or would the privacy issue still prevent you from jumping in to join the smart speaker craze?

Photo: mai-assoc.com

Service of Leasing a Car in a World of Hackers

Monday, May 7th, 2018

2018 Malibu

A friend was refused a credit card offered by a cashier along with a special promotion at a store she frequents. She has a top credit rating. The cashier didn’t explain why her application was declined and she’d forgotten that she’d frozen access to her credit reports.

I, too, was tripped up by a frozen credit report. This post is to remind folks who protected themselves from the Equifax debacle or who froze their reports for any other reason to remember they’ve taken the step and to tuck the PIN numbers from credit services in a handy place.

Photo: nextbigfuture.com

In my last post I wrote about my experience identifying myself to my auto insurance company when we were leasing a new car. I didn’t remember which PIN number they were asking for—I have so many for that company–and ran into a second wall when my answer to “What’s the name of your child?” was “I don’t have one.”

Turned out we weren’t out of the woods once we’d cleared the insurance hurdle.

Starting from the beginning, we were at Ruge’s Chevrolet in Millbrook, N.Y. the last Saturday in April. We’d become, uncharacteristically, the kind of indecisive customers salespeople must detest. We finally leaned in favor of one model, but didn’t care for the color of the car on the lot. Fire engine red isn’t us. So we chose a different model.

I’m not used to being this finicky. Our salesman of many years, Barry Lang, was cheerful and patient as we zigged and zagged and although he didn’t show it, he must have been happy to see us leave [while wondering: “What happened to them?”]. It wasn’t the last of us. We had an appointment to pick up the new car Monday morning—the day the lease on our other car expired.

Barry Lang, Ruge’s Chevrolet

Not long after we left, Barry called to ask me to lift the freeze I’d put on my credit file at TransUnion. He gave me all the information I needed to reach them and I immediately tried online as the office was closed until 8:00 a.m. Monday. But my social security number was not in the system. [I knew that wasn’t accurate!]

When I updated Barry, saying I’d return to the city to retrieve my TransUnion file Sunday and grab the earliest train north Monday morning, he told me to relax, to stay put and to enjoy the weekend in the country.

Monday 8 a.m. I answered all the questions of the TransUnion agent until he asked for my PIN number. When you freeze your account, you get this number in a letter mailed to your official residence. I was sunk. The number was in the city. I was 90 miles away.

In the end, I was lucky: I reached David Reich, an associate whose office is next to mine and who was at work early. He found the paperwork and PIN and I was back in business.

The rest of the procedure at Ruge’s was seamless. Barry showed me what was new about the car. In fact, he shot me an email a few days afterwards urging me to contact him if I needed a refresher about the new technology or features. The new car has no key, for example. I start and stop the car by pressing a button.

The glitches were my fault. Remembering how smoothly everything had gone in previous transactions either buying or leasing a car from this company I came unprepared. The hiccups were caused because I’m not yet used to how I’m forced to protect myself from hackers. I didn’t come armed with the appropriate PIN numbers.

I’m grateful to TransUnion for protecting me from potential scofflaws as, no doubt, is my friend, even though she couldn’t glean the goodies offered by the retail store’s promotion.

Have you been blocked from making a purchase because of a credit report freeze or didn’t you freeze yours? Have you found it more complicated than previously to make large purchases involving credit these days?

Photo: 123rf.com

 

 

Service of Zoom Zoom: Benefits and Casualties

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Photo: zoomzoommag.com

Speed provides many benefits along with some casualties.

Photo: visionware.org

I’m grateful for advancements in medicine starting with glaucoma tests. I was very young when I had the first one when my father was diagnosed with glaucoma. It took forever, was uncomfortable and horrifying. Today’s test [photo right] is over in a flash. Thank goodness for dentists’ high speed drills. In another field, I’m grateful to see  links to articles shortly after they’ve been posted, as a result of pitches I’ve made on behalf of my clients. Thank you Google Alerts.

In “Service of Cooking Under Pressure” I wrote about the Instant Pot that works for many but blows up and intimidates others.

I heard about another casualty of our zoom-zoom expectations on the Len Berman and Michael Riedel morning show when they interviewed legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus earlier this week. Golf is losing players and followers among the young because it takes so long to play or watch on TV: 4 hours vs. 3 hours-and-change for most other sports. Nicklaus admitted that the golf pundits must figure out ways to speed things up.

Speaking of speed, do people still speed read today? It used to be a big thing that never caught on with me.

What do you appreciate that takes less time today than before? Are there some things that should be slow or shouldn’t–or simply can’t–be revved up?

Photo: golfdigest.com

Service of Cooking Under Pressure: The Instant Pot

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Photo: instantpot.com

The burns on my mother’s hands from an exploding pressure cooker—and going with her to the doctor who was caring for the injury–are among my earliest memories. While I love time-saving cooking appliances and gadgets, I’ve never once been tempted to go near anything that operates like that.

I was drawn to Ellen Byron’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why Is America’s Anxiety Rising? The Instant Pot,” to read what, if anything was new about this new iteration. Seems the Instant Pot does everything: steams, slow-cooks, sautés, pressure cooks and makes yogurt, rice, cakes and preserves. According to Byron, last year Amazon “delivered Instant Pots to 27,000 U.S. Zip Codes.”

Photo: successfulhomemakers.com

Byron’s title alludes to something else it does: It makes its owners nervous—for good reason– even though she said the pot comes with 10 safety mechanisms.

“Double Insight Inc., the company that makes Instant Pot, says common mishaps include overfilling the machine or releasing the pressure too quickly when cooking foods that expand,” wrote Byron. The company recommends that owners read the manual.

Her first story confirmed my apprehension: This pot is not for me. She wrote about an IT specialist who tried to clean the pot he burned while cooking spaghetti. He followed instructions to add water, put the pot on “pressure cooker high” but when he “did a quick release,” hot red sauce splashed all around from ceiling to cabinets, on him and the floor.

Photo: kittydeschanel.com

Another Instant Pot owner in Byron’s article was afraid to open the box because the gadget has so many buttons and returned the item. She eventually bought another one and went through trauma before making stew with it for the first time. She was petrified to release the pressure valve and even though nothing happened when she did, and the stew was “pretty good,” she felt “overwhelmed” and hadn’t used it again. And after all that, is “pretty good” worth all the sweat?

A retired chef who for years used a traditional pressure cooker ended up with Thai coconut shrimp bisque that “resembled cheese curds.”

There are “200 groups devoted to the device.” The largest one includes 1.2 million people in the company’s Facebook group. After yogurt boiled into the machine, another user asked her fellow groupies what to do and was advised to clean with Q-tips. Her pot works “though it smells like burned milk.”

Photo: presurecookrecipes.com

Another owner was intimidated by the manual and took a few days to recover. “There were triumphs: hard-boiled eggs, chicken, pork carnitas and chocolate cheesecake—as well as two pots of burned rice, an overcooked pork butt, a sour Key Lime cheesecake and a Christmas Day crème brûlée that looked more like a side of cottage cheese.” One said a prayer after assembling the ingredients for beef barley soup. When she “turned the quick-release valve, soup shot across her kitchen, hitting the cupboards, curtains and window.” She returned her pot.

Do you have an Instant Pot? Are you tempted to get one? Do you think the gizmo may be too good to be true? What’s wrong with pots and pans?

Photo: simplyhappyfoodie.com

Service of Typos That Can Hurt

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Photo: techslides.com

Not all typos are equal, some being more high profile than others.

In spite of best efforts I’ve made typos here since I launched the blog in 2008: Readers Lucrezia, ASK and CG can tell you as they’ve rescued me [no surprise as they were a reporter and two magazine editors, respectively]. I am super careful with the work I do for clients. I re-read my material countless times if there is time. Some clients have eagle-eyes but I’m especially careful with the copy I use for those I detect don’t pay much attention to what they approve. I’m also good at catching errors in others’ copy.

White Out for the White House

Photo: adage.com

Guests to this year’s State of the Union address received a ticket to the “State of the Uniom.” Printed by the Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper, this isn’t the first high profile typo on behalf of an administration for whom details don’t much matter.

Jason Silverstein at the New York Daily News reminded us of the Trump inauguration poster “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great…..”

Photo: thehrdigest.com

In addition to countless errors by the First Tweeter, Silverstein listed a White House public schedule which spelled the British Prime Minister’s name three times “Teresa May,” instead of Theresa May. Silverstein took delight in noting that the Teresa version is the name of a porn star. The White House Snapchat account referred to “Secretary of Educatuon Betsy DeVos” and a press release about Israel and Palestine referred to “lasting peach.”

Staff is loosey goosey about spelling names: Schaub instead of Walter Shaub; John instead of Jon Huntsman; Human instead of Humane Society; Once instead of Air Force One.

Clean Up Your Act

Photo: ragan.com

At Home Depot last Saturday I pulled over a very nice associate to confirm what I saw on a sign printed on copy paper taped to a giant pile of 8-Pack double rolls of Bounty: “was $14.97,” in small type and in giant type “now 16.97.”

We joked about it —“oh good!” I said; “I get to pay $2 more!!”—and after speaking with his supervisor on the phone to report the goof he walked me to the cashier to get me the $14.97 price because the barcode was set at the higher amount. I was there late afternoon and wonder how many hours or days the sign was there before someone noticed!

Skin in the Game

Photo: pophangover.com

According to statisticbrain.com, 14 percent of Americans—45 million—have at least one tattoo, the largest percentage falling in the 26 to 40 age range. A small one costs $45 on average and a large one, $150/hour. Annually, we spend $1,650,500,000.

The important statistics for this post are the percentage of people with tattoos who have covered up one with another–5 percent—and the 11 percent who are either getting or have already had one removed. The website doesn’t conjecture the reasons but my guess is either a girlfriend/boyfriend name change or an irritating typo.

In a skip though Google, there’s plenty of coverage of the latter. These are just a few of 38 posted in one site:

  • “Only God will juge me”
  • “You only life once”
  • “Believe Achive”
  • “My mom is my angle”

Have you made—or seen—glaring typos? Do you think that technology—auto-correct or overly complicated templates, for example—is to blame? Do you see more mistakes today than in the last 10+ years?

Photo: blog.hubspot.com

Service of a Rotten Apple: Disregard that Customers Line Up For

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Photo: LinkedIn

My service hackles first stood up when a Long Island friend’s iPhone no longer took a charge one Friday. The first appointment she could get at the local Apple service store was the following Wednesday. How can anyone wait that long for the repair of such an essential device as a phone? She was leaving for Europe that Sunday. Did Apple expect her to buy a new phone? She bought no phone and depended on her husband’s.

Entrance at Apple in Grand Central on a glacial, nasty winter day

Keep reading as I am beginning to see an unsavory marketing pattern here. And while a profitable company like Apple, with millions of happy investors, is expected to push consumers to the limit, and it gleefully does, I don’t understand why millions of customers accept paying top dollar while being given so many run-arounds and wasting so very much time to get service. Do most have assistants to do the waiting for them?

So when my iPhone 6 abruptly began running out of a full charge after I’d sent only a few emails and texts—a first—my heart sank. I blamed myself. I dreaded having to change phones.

A few days later I learned that many iPhone owners reported similar phone behavior. Like them, I’d made the mistake of upgrading to a new version of IOS with one click, which seemed to accelerate the demise of what was left of the battery.

By explanation, after the fact and once a grumble began, Apple shared some technical mumbo-jumbo about how batteries work and why what they’d done was supposed to slow the batteries to help their longevity. The real purpose, thought the customers of the older phones badly affected by the so-called upgrade, was to scare us into buying new devices or batteries.

Line to make an appointment wound around a table.

Public outrage leading to bad PR and some class action lawsuits later, Apple apologized and long story short, offered to replace older batteries with a new one at a discount–$29 plus tax instead of $79.

Those who sued in NYC, according to theverge.com, felt bamboozled into buying new phones and were angry.

I wasn’t cheered by the so-called “largesse” of the $50 discount. When there’s a recall on my car, I pay $0 for the fix. I make an appointment, sit in a comfortable waiting room, take off my coat, sip a cup of coffee and I’m soon done. I’m in relative control of my time.

Turns out the battery replacement procedure was worse than the feeling of manipulation and an expense I was forced into. It involved four trips to Grand Central where the iPhone repair operation nearest my office is located.

  • On Day 1, I had to make an appointment. I had two choices: on another day OR I could expect an email within the next two hours and I’d have 10-15 minutes to get back to the store. The latter option made sense only if I worked at Grand Central. I don’t. And who has the time to hang around a place for two hours?
  • My appointment fell on the day of the snowstorm. I arrived early figuring I’d slip into a cancellation—everyone told me not to go out in the storm. I’m greeted with, “we’re closing in 15 minutes.” Seems they let “everyone know,” but they didn’t contact me. “Wait at that table.”  I do. I wait and wait. Nobody came to give my phone a diagnostic test that was a required part of the process. I was rescued by an Apple newbie who felt sorry for me—he was helping someone else at the table. Nobody else ever came. I had another choice to make: A) Leave my phone overnight or B) Drop it off the next morning. I chose option B.
  • I thought I’d be in and out but no, I waited 20 minutes for someone to take my phone. “Come back after 12:15,” he said. I did. The wait for my phone this visit was the time to look through the Business & Finance Section of The Wall Street Journal.

I have to give it to the Apple employees I encountered. All but two were gracious and tried to do their jobs. My grievances are not with them.

New Yorkers are used to lines and crowds because there are so many of us but we’re also impatient. Does Apple spray the place with a soporific? Nobody seemed upset. Could I be the only one who feels this way? Hundreds of people were testing the phones in one area; others buying parts in another. Don’t these people have other places to go? How does this company get away with it? Do folks get the same runaround with Samsung, LG and Sony?

 

Prospective customers at Apple in Grand Central on a frigid winter day.

Service of Recommendations That Make it Easy on Recruiters

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Photo: roberthalf.com

Recently headhunters have sent me electronic forms to fill out on behalf of a job-seeking colleague. One reminded me of what CVS sends after I’ve visited a branch or used the online ordering system. To answer questions I graded the candidate from 1 to 10. I was appalled. The recruiter got numbers from the program all neat and collated in seconds but learned little about my colleague. Sometimes my answer didn’t fit any number without explanation. I grade the effectiveness of this system 2 out of 10.

A second one took me longer to do but I felt gave me a chance to describe the candidate. It also took the reader longer to absorb but the information was more valuable. I imagine that some of the copy, if well written, is used by the headhunter to describe a candidate to prospective employers, saving him/her time in the end.

Photo: workitdaily.com

My colleague said she met one of these recruiters and filled out forms for the company. She spoke to the other on the phone, no forms required.

I posit that some recruiters will learn the most from a phone call interview as inefficient and time consuming as that is for them. The New York Women in Communications scholarship vetting process includes phone and in-person interviews for finalists. The phone interviews require time to prepare for, conduct and write up but the results tell plenty about a candidate.

Francesca Fontana wrote about recommendation letters requested of MBA candidates’ friends this summer by NYU’s Stern School of Business. They are “trying to get a better sense of what its applicants are really like.” Where most such letters “focus on analytic acumen or leadership skills,” they expect a pal or co-workers letters will “comment on the applicant’s social skills or emotional intelligence.”

Photo: bcgsearch.com

She reported in “Dear Friend, Tell Us More” that “about 40% of MBA applicants said at least one manager asked them to draft their own recommendation letter.” This statistic came from an Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants 2014 survey. I believe it. Another job-seeking colleague is often asked to write letters about herself by former managers and bosses.

Fontana reported that 24 business schools “collaborated with the Graduate Management Admission Council to create a common recommendation form.” This is easier on recommenders and as they are asked to keep their answers short, means that readers don’t have to pour through pages of copy.

One of the questions was smart: “Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant.”

Can you learn much from a recommender you’ve not spoken with? Have you been asked to write your own recommendation by a boss or colleague? How secure would you be in evaluating whether you wanted to meet or interview a candidate by phone based largely on responses to a 1 to 10 system? Are there valid shortcuts in the recruiting process?

Service of It Can Happen to You if Goldman Sachs, Citi, Barclay’s & Bank Of England Execs Were Duped

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Photo: okclipart.com

The takeaway for me was we’re all potentially doomed after seeing Liz Hoffman’s Wall Street Journal article, “Goldman’s Blankfein, Citi’s Corbat Duped by Email Prankster– The trickster appears intent on embarrassing top bankers but incidents suggest some basic cybersecurity gaps may exist.”

Hoffman and colleague Telis Demos wrote: “Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein and Citigroup’s Michael Corbat, as well as Citigroup consumer-banking chief Stephen Bird, responded over the weekend to emails sent by the anonymous prankster masquerading as top executives at the two banks.” Last month Barclays and Bank of England’s top execs fell for a similar hoax.

The executives didn’t spill sensitive information but the

Photo: diy.com

prankster posted screenshots of the emails on Twitter. The goal, according to Hoffman, was to embarrass, not to seek information or to plant viruses.

“The emails mimic a well-known scam known as “phishing.” In this,” wrote Hoffman, “scammers try to get victims to click on malicious links or try to capture sensitive information, such as passwords, via seemingly innocuous emails. These emails can take the form of invoices from customers, shared Google documents, or phony password reset requests.” [I wonder if the reporters meant invoices from vendors…]

“Last year, the FBI said that it had observed a 270% increase in business-email scams over a 15-month period. In these, criminals had impersonated executives to request a fraudulent money transfer or other fraudulent transaction. Between October 2013 and February 2016, law-enforcement officials received reports from 17,642 victims of this kind of scheme that amounted to more than $2.3 billion in losses.”

A private banker I worked with recently told me to feel free to send him my questions by email but said he can’t respond by email. He’ll call me or I can come in and speak with him, whatever’s easier. I wonder if this precaution is new.

Not all email intruders are as benign as the one described in Hoffman’s article. Might this interloper be working for a cyber security firm looking for juicy contracts? How careful are you before responding to a client, boss, colleague or friend? Do you refuse to respond to online surveys that come your way?

Photo: flickriver.com

Service of What’s the Point?

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Photo: jlacitychurch.org

Is there something about mail that makes the people who run such services–whether traditional or online–impractical?

USPS

I was rushed when I grabbed envelopes from my handbag to mail them in a box in front of the Amenia, NY post office, population 4,436. Inadvertently I may have also tossed in the box two checks meant for someone in my office.

Amenia, NY post office. Photo: mapio.net

When I realized this a few days later, I called to ask if they’d found the checks when they emptied the box.  The postal clerk said she wouldn’t know; the mail is picked up and goes to Albany where, if they found such checks, they’d shred them.

We live in an even smaller adjacent town, population 1,434. Were I mailing something to a business or friend there, does it make sense for the letter to travel to Albany first?

Naughty Spammer, Sloppy Spam Filter

Photo: med.stanford.edu

I received a warning that automatic filter systems were reporting as SPAM my twice weekly email notices highlighting posted topics on this blog. If I didn’t stop, my access to mail would be suspended.

There was a solution: I could avoid this by using a dedicated bulk mail delivery service designed to ensure regulatory compliance.I get tons of SPAM and have for years from entities many times larger than my business with far longer lists of recipients. No doubt they use services like Constant Contact, yet the mail keeps on coming even though it, too, is identified by the SPAM police as SPAM. So much for ensuring regulatory compliance, paying for someone else to perform a simple task and nevertheless being grabbed by the fingers of SPAM.

Further, those greedy fingers yank from my email box legitimate emails from clients, friends and relatives, people to whom I write weekly or daily and sometimes, even in the middle of back-and-forth correspondence.

I don’t want to be forced to pay for something I can do myself. Can you think of other instances like this?

Why does the USPS in tiny communities no longer have boxes designated for mail within the same zip code? Why must a small business be forced to buy a service it can very well do itself?

Service of When Technology Lets You Down—Or Is It The People Running It?

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Playing Bus Catch

I was depending on a bus to get me inches from our apartment one Saturday morning. The stops for the so-called First Avenue and 42nd Street Limited aka express bus and the local are almost a block apart and neither are on 42nd. An electronic sign reporting the whereabouts of upcoming busses [photo above] stands between them.

I ran away from the local stop to read the sign. Great: The local bus I’d hoped for was two stops away. When I turned around to walk back, the local was just pulling out of the stop. I whirled around and just then the sign changed from “2” to “0” stops. I’d missed the bus. So what was the point of the electronic sign?

Guessing at Travel Schedules

A day later I was upstate heading into the Metro North Dover Plains station’s parking area half an hour early. Two busses were leaving and I waved at one of the drivers who didn’t stop. Without advance notice [the day before there was nothing online about busses replacing trains on Sunday], the RR line substituted a bus for the first lap of the trip to NYC.

So what, you say? This switch makes a big difference to riders: when the 12:37 train changes to a bus, departure is at 12:03. The next bus? Two hours later at 2:03 according to an MTA employee who saw me and my car and the busses and sat like a lump in a white sedan with MTA logo.

I jumped out of my car where I’d stopped it to wave down the bus driver and rushed over to him asking if he could stop the bus. He shrugged. He didn’t even say “I’m sorry.”

[One of the other passengers noted that the online info on Sunday, when the MTA got around to posting the change, reported a 2:06 bus departure. If you’re on the wrong side of the 2:03, three minutes matter.]

Missing Adult & Information

In the course of that weekend, I was driving through Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties, the Bronx and Manhattan as well as around Long Island. I saw the same electronic sign on all the highways asking drivers to look for a “missing adult in a black Honda.” On Saturday the license plate number given was longer than any I’d ever seen: Clearly a mistake. By Sunday this was fixed. What didn’t change was the “adult” reference. Were they looking for a man or woman?

Can you share examples of where technology—or the person operating it–has let you or someone else down?

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