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All posts in Productivity

Meetings Suck

Come on, admit most meetings suck. They aren’t particularly productive; most people amble to and from work meetings in a semi-stupor and we tend to spend way too much time in them.

When was the last meeting you got to amped up?
When was the last meeting you left feeling inspired or driven?
When was the last meeting you ran that was on subject and you nailed it?

ABC - Officing

Why Do Meetings Suck and Why Do We Suck At Meetings?

Most of us know how to schedule a meeting from Google Calendar or Outlook but usually that’s where we start to cock things up:

Stop using vague titles.
Where is the agenda?
Do all those people really need to come to this meeting? All the wrong people in all the wrong places.
Do you fear attachments? Don’t worry, link to the relevant documents in your company cloud.
Timing is everything. Not just when in the day but how long. Most meetings can get to done in 30 minutes. Some need an hour. Very few need more than this and those need a break in the middle.

The fact is we suck at meetings because running a productive meeting is a skill. A skill that requires continuous improvement. We dump people in the workplace and expect them to know how to run a meeting and deliver results.

Most people don’t really understand the point of a meeting or how to run one.

What’s the Point of It All?

Understanding this one thing about meetings.

Screengrab from the 1991 Castle Rock Entertainment movie, City Slickers via YouTube.

meetings suck - one thing

MEETINGS ARE TO TACKLE A PROBLEM WITH WHOEVER IS NEEDED TO GET TO THE SOLUTION.

Solution means decisions. Decisions mean action items. A meeting with no decisions is a waste of time. What did you solve?

The Warptest POV

You attacked the problem and engaged people in the meeting. You made sure everyone got to speak and was heard. Now write down every decision and treat it as an action item.

After the meeting, you share a summary where these action items are assigned to specific people with deadlines. Without this, meetings suck and will continue to suck.

All your calendar and appointment apps are great at setting meetings, but then the reminder just disappears without asking you to follow up. Certainly, none of them integrate an action driven follow-up.

Cortana - Windows 8

In an age of Siri, Cortana, Google Now why aren’t these Digital Assistants integrated with your meetings to record meetings? Why aren’t they asking you to follow up? Why isn’t text-to-speech built in, so you can run the meeting without the distraction of taking notes?

Microsoft has already enabled Cortana integration with Office 365. This is the start. At Build 2017 they announced the preview of Cortana Skills to solve this kind of problem. Alternatively, you can add their new Dictate service to your Office 365 to allow Word to convert what’s said in the meeting to text.

WHAT WE ALL REALLY WANT ARE READY-BAKED APPS THAT TAKE THE MEETING FROM INCEPTION, THRU SCHEDULING ALL THE WAY TO ACTION ITEMS.

Game on Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook.

Trello Just Launched Their App For Slack

Yes, Trello uncrowned king of the Agile task management apps are jumping into Slack, the must-have, killer collaborative app.

Trello App For Slack - Obi Wan

This integration means that users can just stop jumping between apps and be productive on the fly within their work chats.

Let’s face it, having to switch between apps; either desktop windows or different browser tabs gets old fast. Being able to make task allocation, management and tracking part of the conversation means a more dynamic and natural process.

Anyone wanting to view the changes in the Agile post-it chart style still can, allowing for an overview for managers, Scrum Masters and the like.

You Got Your Chocolate In My Peanut Butter

If ever there was an obvious and called for integration, it’s Trello and Slack. Both are full-blown cross-platform tools, both are independent, strong companies who have carved a substantial market share in their fields.

The work productivity market is booming and competition is strong. No one wants to use a tool that doesn’t seamlessly communicate with their other tools. The world of isolated work applications is dying even for the Open Source / Bootstrap Startup ecosystem.

The Trello app integration allows users to use the /trello command to create, allocate and more from within the Slack conversation with your group or team.

The Warptest POV

Whilst many people clearly were asking for this, there were also external push factors. Microsoft have made huge inroads into collaborative work productivity in Office 365 with the launch of new apps like Planner (Redmond’s Trello-killer) and Gigjam built atop Office Groups and Graph.

Microsoft are driving hard for an all-encompassing cloud ecosystem that companies of all scales can pay one subscription and get all the tools they need. Tools that know how to talk to each other which work with automated workflows and the new Bot Framework. Like Trello and Slack, Microsoft are offering cross-platform / cross-device apps.

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Trello and Slack had no choice but to sprint forward with this or be left behind. Their biggest competitive advantage is twofold: –

  1. Each company’s clear subscription model. This is something that Microsoft repeatedly hear regarding Office 365.
  2. There are people who will choose the unicorn cred of Slack and anyone who integrates with them over Microsoft.

For Microsoft to crush their competition they need to continue to evangelize the reimagined, reinvented company that is delivering on Satya Nadella’s vision.

Meanwhile if you are a Trello user not using Slack or vice versa, I’d be seriously checking out the benefits of using both in concert. Repeat the phrase force multiplier.

If you are undecided about what your work productivity tools need to be then I’d be comparing Trello and Slack to Office 365 as described above.

What other apps would you like to see working with Slack?

I applied early on for a Beta invite of Microsoft Office365. Microsoft’s business offering for Office in the Cloud.

mos_33054_office365_white

About a month ago I finally received my invite and logged in. I was fascinated to see how Microsoft was going to compete with Google Apps and other Productivity Web Apps. It took me approximately 10 minutes to realize what a world-class winner Office365 was.

Those of you with a Windows Live account (the free version) have access to all the Live services including mail via Hotmail, storage in Skydrive and collaborative documentation/ productivity using Office Live. Office365 takes it up several notches for businesses of any scale.

What’s in the box?

Well, there’s no box but if there was it would be: –

Office365b_Home

Outlook / Exchange – with full functionality: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Tasks …

Lync (download required from Office365 dashboard) – Pro MS Communicator.

Sharepoint – Site, Site Template, Tools and Central shared Document Storage.

Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note

Outlook Mobile Support (at present supported by US carriers only)

The Office365 Beta allows you to define 25 users/ licenses and to configure what permission level and applications they have access to use. Default login is https so security is predefined for the free domain domain.onmicrosoft.com or you can opt to use your existing domain. Should you opt for the first option this comes with 25Gb of storage.

All administration is done through the Admin Web Page and it couldn’t be easier or more intuitive to use than this.

In addition the Beta is free for 6 months, enough time for your business to decide you can’t live without Professional Office in the Cloud.

Office365 is going to be a game-changer on several levels but I’m watching to see how this is going to affect IT staffing. Installing new versions, service packs, patches or simply adding additional applications for a user is going to be scripted allowing a much leaner IT support staff.

Absent Friends

Noticeably absent from the Beta is Microsoft Access. Does this mean no Access anymore or is this going to remain a pure Client application? If not then are users going to have to upscale to Microsoft SQL Azure?

Access_Denied_365b

Competitive or Not?

A final word, right now I don’t have pricing for this but money issues aside if I had to choose between Office365 and Google Apps for my organization; having used prior versions of Office and Google Apps I would definitely be sticking with Office for many reasons.

People don’t just love the idea of a Farmers Market, they love it.

image

Why is that? What’s so great about a bunch of stands versus the clean, indoor, one stop shopping experience of a Supermarket?

I last visited a Farmers Market in Hertzliya (just North of Tel Aviv) several months ago. The farmers were upbeat, friendly and interested in engaging us, their customers in discussion, telling us about their produce. Their passion and expert knowledge was incredible and the produce was well-priced and delicious.

We left the market having bought much more than we anticipated and were happy for every shekel we spent. Not just because we felt we were directly supporting our farmers.

Recently I have been meeting with various highly skilled professionals in my home town of Modiin. Some at Tweetups, other times we get together for coffee at our favorite bakeries and coffee shops to bounce ideas off each other and simply to catch up with our respective successes and occasional frustrations.

It occurred to me that many of the benefits of the Farmers Market model are applicable to choosing local, skilled talent over other alternatives e.g. Offshore.

Google, Bing, Yahoo and niche local Search resources/ sites like Yelp have focused on this and other Web Applications in the Locational niche like Foursquare or even Facebook Places allow the user to access relevant local data.

Having met skilled, local professionals in the fields of Web Design, SEO, Marcom, Technical Writing and other fields I can honestly say that I would, if needed use their services over many of the non-local competition in a second. This is not some chauvinistic, provincial partisan attitude. Like the Farmers Market choosing these people works well for many reasons form what I can see: –

  • Local knowledge and often a deeper cultural and geographical awareness.
  • Transport costs and implicitly a better chance at more frequent face to face meetings / collaboration.
  • Investing in my own “ecosystem” to ensure sustainable growth of these resources.
  • Maintaining and using indigenous resources.

This may fly in the face of the concept of the internet, real-time web and VOIP / Video as the great equalizers to physical distance and geographical challenge but I believe the idea is sound, how about you?

 

There you are happily drinking your coffee, starting your day off with strong, productive intent and something goes wrong with your PC.

An application freezes, hangs or crashes. Things are unresponsive and you feel frustrated, annoyed and held back from getting down to work.

The list of possible culprits can be endless and rather than shooting in the dark at a diagnosis there are a few things you can do to track down and resolve the issue: –

  • Contact me or my brother’s company and we’ll sort out your problems [remember, nothing’s free in life :-)]

    image

  • If a website or web application is misbehaving consider using a cache cleaning tool like CCleaner, nCleaner or Windows Live One Care Clean-Up or simply try using an alternative browser.

    image

  • If this doesn’t help, then it may be a bad plugin / add-on in your browser; run your browser in safe mode to see if the problem recurs. If not then you are going to have to test to see which add-on is the problem by activating them one at a time and returning to the problem site: –

    1. Internet Explorer (IE8) – right click the IE icon on the desktop and select from the menu Start without add-ons.
    2. Firefox (3.x) – from the Start Menu – run and type in the command line "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” -safe-mode" and enter
    3. Chrome – simply open an incognito window and plugins etc will be temporarily disabled
    4. Opera – open Opera – from the menu go to Settings – select Quick Preferences and from the menu deselect the Enable Plug-Ins  checkbox.

Let’s say you did all this and things are still not working, what next?

Windows has a set of Administrative Tools in the Control Panel of the OS and amongst them is a tool known as the Event Viewer. The Event Viewer records by category the occurrence of various Events during the boot and operation of the PC.

OPERATION:

  1. From the command line (Start – Run) type the command "eventvwr" and enter.
  2. Or, from the Start Menu – Settings – Control Panel
    1. Select the Administrative Tools icon image
    2. Now select the Event Viewer image

The Event Viewer contains a categorized tree that breaks down the different issues being logged. For our purposes the two most important are Applications and System. From the left pane select one and scroll down looking for Warnings  and Errors.

imageBy selecting the properties of an error you can drill-down and find the error code and then search on Bing or Google for the specific exception or error message.

This can provide a good direction for finding the problem.

As an added bonus you can go to the Action menu and save the log file. This can be helpful if your Tech support doesn’t have Remote Access to your PC – save the file as a *.CSV and they can open it in Excel and filter the data to display the errors.

All this assumes the following: –

  • Your OS is kept up-to-date.
  • Your 3rd Party programs and plugins are kept up-to-date.
  • Your antivirus and or anti-malware are up-to-date and you have recently scanned your computer to ensure no malware is present.
  • Your computer is not being used to try out and then uninstall a variety of trialware. If you have to do this then try using a Virtual machine the best being either Microsoft Virtual PC or VMware. I guess I’ll get into the whole virtualization discussion in another blog piece but if you want to know more feel free to contact me.

Hopefully, at some point in this list you will have struck success and are able to continue to work without to much outlay of time and effort. Good luck!

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,nCleaner,,One Care Live,,Event Viewer,

Let’s have some fun and make a basic assumption or two: –

    1. Today most computers are connected via Broadband (fast) internet.
    2. Many of these computers are connected from the moment you boot and login to your OS.

The paradigm of the stand-alone client desktop might still have a place in the home but with more home users having multiple computers connected via wireless routers the concept seems to be fading into obscurity.

Live

Windows Live (formerly Live.com) provides a series of services that either supplement or replace large parts of the Client OS Desktop infrastructure: –

Live service What does it do? What could it replace in Windows OS?
Live.com Login Gives user access over services / data Windows Login
Live Sync Sync: Live to one or many Computers ActiveSync and or SyncToy
Skydrive online storage: cloud hard disk My Documents
Live.com Home page Aggregation of Live services Windows Desktop
People Contacts for services and network Address Book
Mail Hotmail web or client app Outlook Express
Calendar Handling schedule / events  
Messenger Instant Messenger
Photo Gallery Create / Add / Collaborate Photos My Pictures
Movie Maker Windows Vista/ 7 Movie Suite Windows Movie Maker
Live Writer Blog publishing tool 3rd party applications
Toolbar Enables browser shortcut access to Live services
Live Favorites Favorite URLs stored under your Live account Favorites
Family Safety Permission based web experience filtering / monitoring 3rd party applications
One Care Combined safety / cleanup / tune-up tools 3rd party Antivirus / Anti-spyware or Windows Defender, Disk Cleanup, Defragmenter
Spaces Personal / shareable landing page
Office Live Workspaces (Apparently) Sharepoint like collaborative workspace for Office documents Sharing folders in Windows Explorer within a Workgroup or Domain
Live Mobile Live services via Mobile web browser with SMS enabled alerts in many countries

As you can see from the table above the list is extensive of services that are offered for free. The 3rd column in the chart "What could it replace.." is based on my belief that if Microsoft insist on branding Live services as Windows Live then the following should be true or at least optional to the Windows user: –

    1. Windows Live Services should be fully integrated into Windows Client OS – the user should have the option of selecting this integration on first installation of Windows and the services that are Live should fully replace those locally. (for example)
      1. Login to the PC should be the Live login which brings the local and Live services online.
      2. My Documents should map to the user’s Skydrive which should replicate the folder structure of local My Documents.
      3. Internet Explorer should display Live Favorites as default maintaining a synchronized local backup copy.
      4. etc.
    2. Windows should then provide a bandwidth monitoring system that moderates the proportion of bandwidth being used by Live services e.g. frequency of sync.

The key for Live to fully leverage its benefit as a core part of any Windows OS is allowing seamless collaboration and  sharing.

The user will benefit from the following: –

    1. Easy scalable shared resources.
    2. Take anywhere data, documents, settings, permissions etc.
    3. Less CPU and Memory resource usage for various services within the OS instead of which this load is placed on the Live web application server. This being Windows one can assume this is built on IIS technology.
    4. Integration between mobile devices and desktop computers.
    5. The ability for any user to create Domain / Workgroups on the fly and assign access / permissions easily.
    6. and others …

This has been an idea that has been permeating in my head for several years starting with Favorites. It was always a source of something between bemusement and frustration why your Web browser stores Favorites, Contacts or Events by default locally. To use your browser you need to be online!

What will it take for Microsoft to take this leap? The event in question may have occurred when HP purchased Palm and their proprietary Web OS. However, will the EU and other regulatory bodies see this as another opportunity to slap Microsoft with antitrust / antimonopoly lawsuits if this technology comes pre-installed as part of Windows?

webos HP

I guess if Steve Ballmer agrees with me then time will tell. Do feel free to let me know what you think; do you want your next Windows OS to be Live?

Recently I have been learning a lot about the mysteries of SEO.

puzzled illuminated

There I was minding my own business performing functional, regression and other testing on web sites and web applications; planning and implementing Scrum burn-downs and explaining what Agile was and why even as a philosophy being flexible helped.. suddenly I got a call from an acquaintance in the UK asking if I could figure out why a website they were developing wasn’t appearing in rankings for any of the big three search engines.

I have done some work on this before but since I followed tech news like the advent of Google Buzz (and related profiles) and the affects of Real Time and Web 2.0 on rankings, I felt I should at least update my core knowledge.

There is a wealth of information out there on the internet on different blogs and from the actual search engines themselves. I got to thinking as I planned my approach that I was basically going to perform testing on the website albeit a specific niche of backend design of the website. It was rather easy to create an extensive testplan with cases for each search engine.

In this particular case the site had been designed and implemented in Drupal. I have been a fan since my brother introduced me to it; his company First Contact uses this extensively and has created some amazing websites for their customers.

drupal_org

Drupal provides the user with an easy to use interface, modular design and comprehensive help via the forums etc on the website.

After planning and executing my tests I was able to report the problems, search for and offer fixes and spend some time over Remote Desktop and VOIP making the changes to the website.

One recommendation that was hard for my acquaintance to swallow was how much dynamic versus static content on your website can affect ranking. Implementing a structured approach to Social Media: blogging, Twitter via the website or connected to it can have a strong positive impact on how the big three Search Engines relate to your website’s page ranking.

We discussed this and taking a leaf from my experience in Agile-Scrum I recommended an iterative approach to planning and implementing this. Providing them with a plan or burn-down chart based on how much time they could commit to and what they realistically could do in each implementation cycle.

They are at the end of the iterations now, having tried various platforms and selected those they realistically can work with. Their ranking reflects the changes as does their website.

I have a happy “customer” and de facto an extra string to my professional bow.

If you have any questions about my approach to this do contact me. Perhaps I can help you too.

Technorati Tags: Agile / Scrum,,,,

Anyone who has worked in hi-tech can tell you war-stories of how in the olden days those QA folk would come out from the dungeon to have defect meetings with Dev. That was in good cases where meetings actually occurred or Defect Tracking was done using an actual Bug Tracking Tool.

Many of us have worked under the gun in a Waterfall lifecycle management environment where for a variety of reasons major defects cause a ping-pong effect where builds are failed by QA at an early testing stage and returned to Dev.

This syndrome has many effects including frustration in QA and Dev, failure to meet deadlines, failure to test deeper as QA repeatedly gets stuck failing a build early on in testing and others.

This week on LinkedIn I (virtually) met a great Project Management Consultant, Itay Foyerstein. He raised this question in one of LinkedIn’s groups and I decided to add my thoughts to the discussion as an experienced QA Manager.

You can see Itay’s question here: –

How does your organization reduce the number of "PingPongs" between SW dev / QA ?

There are a number of great responses from people who have obviously lived thru this kind of  event, all of which I recommend reading however, ego aside I have included my response below:

linkedin-pingpong

Those of you who have worked with me or simply discussed this sort of thing with me are aware that I am an advocate and practitioner of  Agile / Scrum (in fact I’m a Scrum Master) so it should be no surprise if I am a believer in people over process.

I was in a job interview a few months back where the interviewer asked me what was a skill a QA Manager should develop and I jokingly said that QA Managers are the closest thing to Hostage Negotiators. We have to negotiate schedules, provide risk assessments and often report on bugs whose severity may clash with release schedules, priorities and perceptions of Dev or Product as to the actual impact of the bug.

These discussions are often adversarial or simply stressed due to tight scheduling. So the most important thing is to ensure strong collaboration, communication and realistic expectations.

Of course that was just my in a nutshell answer. If you have a product or team(s) that require this sort of Test/ Quality management then let me know. I am quite happy for the work. (Comments or e-mail)

The Missus and I have been discussing the need for some rearranging in the house.

I have been shifting boxes and discovering undiscovered pockets of dust and pollen in our storage shed. However, my allergies aside we decided that some of our rearrangement would require a visit to Ikea.

Ikea is like a trip abroad for me but not just because Ikea in Netanya, Israel looks the same as Ikea in the North of England (Warrington if I remember right). For me the whole Ikea visit is a pleasure.

If you haven’t guessed let me tell you a secret I love flatpack. Not just the concept or the idea of it but the whole process of choosing, buying, getting it home and then assembly. The coffee and muffins at Ikea are just an added bonus.

I have been known to drop everything an pop over to assemble something for a friend once in awhile. However, I do understand the frustrations some feel with flatpack. The instructions can be poor and Ikea has a graphic concept for their instructions that doesn’t always make it easy for the end user to see what connects to what.

Yesterday, I saw a case of this online which led to me tweeting my top 10 Ikea tips. I decided to blog them too (in reverse order, copied from my tweet feed): –

My #Ikea tips: 10. On completion do bask in the feeling of a job well done and the admiration of your family and most important enjoy

My #Ikea tips: 9. Ikea is like #Microsoft once u get your head around the 5-10 types of screws and bolts and flatpack philosophy u r golden

My #Ikea tips: 8. Ask at the store for advice or tips for assembling the product u r buying. Ikea has great customer support

My #Ikea tips: 7. Don’t start if u don’t have all the tools they recommend u need 2 get the job done

My #Ikea tips: 6. Another pair of eyes helps. Don’t be afraid to ask for help the instructions ARE confusing #asinlife

My #Ikea tips: 5. Keep the catalog open so u always have your end result in sight

My #Ikea tips: 4. as in life if u really have to force something it might be wrong

My #Ikea tips: 3 (should have been 1) When u r at Ikea take a close look at the display model and see how it’s put together

My #Ikea tips: 2. Open instructions and see which parts belong to which stage

My #Ikea tips: 1. Layout all the parts from the flatpack and check everything is there

#1 Is probably one of my favorites. I used to do this with those airplane models and then take a few moments just to see if I could understand how everything fit together.

One extra I remembered right now is bolts and screws don’t over-tighten them but also don’t close them until you absolutely are ready to move onto the next stage.

I think that this whole methodology is probably an extension of my professional philosophy in testing, QA and Project Management.

Anyway, happy flatpacking. Enjoy.

Windows XP and prior versions have a neat piece of functionality that most of us are unaware of called Active Desktop.

The idea is simple instead of your desktop in Windows being static background and thus unused screen real estate other than a place to default back to why not make it dynamic?

The user may select a web page and allow part of the desktop to display this webpage.

So, for example if you are a stock market junkie having this info embedded on your desktop is pretty neat. This was in some ways the precursor to widgets in Vista and Windows 7.

How do you enable this function you ask?

  • Go to the Windows Desktop
  • Right mouse click and select Properties
  • Select the second tab Desktop from the dialog box
  • Click on the Customize Desktop Button
  • Now select the  Web tab and either enable the default Start Page  or add another URL
    • There are various properties here which are worth looking at to ensure the page is regularly synchronized and that the hard disk is managed vis a vis caching.
  • The Active Desktop Window size may be changed using the mouse as you would resize any other window.

Other uses: Google Docs, Windows Sky-Drive, News Feeds and so many more.

So XP users now you too can have some retro “widget like” desktop fun.

Technorati Tags: Active Desktop,,,
My thanks to my interviewer today for a QA job for helping me get some ducks in a row about this…

Both my Missus and I have worked for several years now in QA. We have tested different products and worked for different companies but occassionally in the same buildings.

I stumbled into QA from GIS after testing some validation software my employer created for 3rd Party Geo-data suppliers. I discovered that I enjoyed the methodological, structured work and the challenge of ensuring that the customer/ end-user gets a stable, quality product that answers their original need. I think it all stems from being the little kid who stole his Dad’s toolbox and tried to figure out why appliances didn’t work properly by disassembling them.

However, QA is not without its own challenges; from the constant challenge of that one developer who cannot reproduce your bugs in a Dev environment, schedules that end up shortening due to prior commitments, delayed builds arriving late at night to test and so on.

Note please, I said challenges. Why? Because these are not negatives. These are things that as you progress you learn the best way to deal with for the particular company you are working at.

Each company has its own particular culture. This may be defined by the product, or new cutting edge technology, the need to be first to market or the amount of cash available. The work culture is also defined by the people. The employees have a huge part in how the work envinronment is and the nature of work between QA and R&D can be a challenge in its own right.

I have been lucky enough to be faced with these challenges and benefitted from some great bosses, leaders in their fields who have influenced me in many ways.

Some of the most fruitful days I have spent as a QA Manager have been hands-on testing, working with a Developer and gradually together finding the best way for us to work.

I have blogged several times previously about collaboration (tools and methods) and how only shared information is power (in fact empowering).

A QA Manager has to wear many hats sometimes you feel like a hostage negotiator but with all the satisfaction to be found in the management side nothing will replace the hands-on testing and work opposite Developers. Not just because its fun to work with smart people.

When confronted by a difficult or challenging problem we are encouraged to Think outside the box.

This concept is based on finding non-conventional, creative or more radical solutions that would not normally be used.

In software testing “the box” is the application/ component/ feature being tested and the categories of testing are Black – hands on (WYSIWYG) testing and White – automated and code level testing of the internals.

However with most problems the solution may require a blended or holistic approach. So, I have defined for myself to ignore the box, start with the solution you would like to arrive at and work backwards without limiting yourself from the initial phase of your thinking about the mechanics of the solution.

(In some ways this may be viewed as being requirements driven.)

The truth is that if you start with your ideal or desired endpoint it doesn’t matter whether you think in or out of the box, just that you reach your intended “destination”.