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Attie Heunis blog

Our journey

Solved: IdentityServer’s RequireNonce is ‘true’ error.

My team has implemented the excellent IdentityServer3 for our Single Sign-On provider but we kept running into a very irritating and intermittent issue for some of our users:

IDX10311: RequireNonce is 'true' (default) but validationContext.Nonce is null.

The error occurred when our users were navigating to the https version of the site but they were being redirected by IdentityServer back to the http version of the site. They did this because some of them had the browser caching the https url and so they selected that instead of typing/selecting the http url.

The fix was simply to have them initially browse to the same url and protocol (http/https) that IdentityServer redirects to after log in.

Surface Book vs Dell XPS 15

I needed a laptop and so after doing some online research decided on Microsoft’s Surface Book. Touted as a laptop first and a tablet second, it seemed perfectly aligned for my requirements. The model I picked had good specs (although a little light on the hard drive) and good reviews and I didn’t pick up on any of the Surface Pro 4’s well documented power issues. So it was with much expectation that I went ahead and bought one at a Microsoft Store.

It’s no secret that I am and have been somewhat of a Microsoft fan boy for a number of years, but it took me 3 weeks to realize that the Surface Book as a final product is not yet mature enough to replace a laptop of equal specs. It certainly has many very impressive features and some of the engineering is really impressive (power cord, detaching of the screen, the pen etc.). But it is not stable at all. It crashed often. When using Adobe Lightroom I was never able to work for more than an hour without a crash. I also had inconsistent battery issues, the screen would become unresponsive (similar to the Surface Pro’s issues maybe?) and the power button wouldn’t function requiring hard resets. I realize completely that some of these may be software related (the OS is predictably Windows 10), but I bought the whole system and as that it doesn’t imbue confidence.

There were also other reasons that the concept didn’t work for me and I realize this is personal preference. One of these being the pen. It is super cool when one first plays round with it, but it soon becomes a gimmick and for me didn’t add the value that I had hoped. The keyboard layout also didn’t impress me. I use PageUp and PageDown a lot but these keys have inconveniently now moved to function keys at the top. Other people may feel differently about these preferences I acknowledge.

I’m not one to easily return goods in this way, but I really regretted the purchase and so felt obliged tot return it. I did need a laptop though and, after more online research, swapped the Surface Book for the new Dell XPS 15. And I have to say that after a week’s use this was a very good swap. For slightly less ($2,099.00 for the Surface Book vs $1,999.00 for the XPS) I get significantly better specs (a 512GB SSD hard drive, 16GB RAM), an absolutely exquisite screen (the Surface Book’s was also very good) and it’s a very stable product. With all the same software, I have had zero issues. It obviously doesn’t have the tablet component, but for me this had less value on the Surface Book than I anticipated after the initial coolness factor wore off. So far, I’m very impressed with the Dell XPS 15.

It’s a pity because I can completely see where Microsoft are going and I definitely support it, but it turns out that to build a quality system takes a few iterations. I have no doubt that my guys (Microsoft) will get there in the end, but for now it’s not it.

Just a quick word about Microsoft Store. I used the King of Prussia store. I had a GREAT experience with them. The surface and their return policy is exceptional. I would without a doubt use them again and recommend them to anyone. They should continue to push forward on this concept.

A South African perspective on terror in light of the Paris attacks

I was deeply shocked and saddened by the events that occurred in Paris on Friday. Such calculated and extreme violence against an overwhelmingly tolerant and free society like France is very disturbing. It doesn’t ever compare to the horror for the victims, but seeing it on TV and social media brings it home in an unprecedented way. I hope France reacts decisively. On occasion and reluctantly the liberties of a free nation has to be defended.

The thing that has me searching for answers is the following: what about the other regions with similar extreme violence, but without the TV cameras? Exactly one day before the Paris attacks 40 people were killed by suicide bombers in Lebanon, Beirut – also by ISIS. I didn’t even know about this until- and because of the Paris attack.

In South Africa, my home country, there have been about 4,000 farm murders since the end of Apartheid. These attacks target almost exclusively white farmers. The reasons are complicated and not always clear. My personal view is that it is a combination of greed and political/racial motivation. People are murdered, raped and/or tortured after all that can be stolen has already been taken. As I’m sure it is in Paris, these events have a devastating effect on not just the victims, but so many people. I lost a great friend, a remarkable man and loving husband with 2 children and a third on the way, in a brutal unprovoked murder along similar lines 5 years ago on a day that I will never forget as long as I live.

And yet there are no prime time tears for these victims.

So while I empathize completely with the Parisians, I can’t help but be sad that there isn’t a bigger outcry over the terrors that continue to play out in South Africa. I understand why; most people have no concept of farm life in South Africa whilst Paris is… Paris. It’s not fair, but it is so.

Hibernia Park in the Fall

Having visited Hibernia Park in the middle of Winter and the first week in Spring, this was easily the most beautiful I’ve experienced it.

6 months in… USA journey

So here we are. We have been proud USA residents for 6 months now!

Needless to say, but with a wife and two kids, but not the dog :-(, it has been quite a change from our somewhat idyllic lifestyle in Boesmansriviermond on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Although there are fundamental political, crime & race issues in South Africa, the main reason we migrated was to explore career & personal opportunities. The US-based company I worked for in South Africa, had earlier indicated that they wanted me to join their team in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I was very happy to oblige, because a) I had always wanted to explore everyday life (like we had in the UK) in the USA and b) it was a great opportunity to further my career hopefully as part of the fantastic company that brought me over. Really the US is where most of the Software Development action is and therefore this is the best place for me as a Software Architect to be.

In terms of adapting to our new life, there have been ups and downs, but all things considered we’re doing well. I had been to the company before on business so I had experienced the horrendous Winter weather as well as the glorious Spring weather and thus had a clearer picture of the overall weather, but my wife and kids were very unimpressed when we landed at JFK International on 8 January – literally the coldest day of the Winter! I could see it in my wife’s eyes… she was thinking: “where have you brought us??!!” We had all the luggage we brought to the US with us on that flight and so we had to rent the biggest SUV the rental agency had. This was at 7pm during a Winter storm after a 48 hour journey. Everyone was tired and we had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. To top it all off, we took a wrong turn in New York and got bustled slap bang into Manhattan with it’s associated traffic. That was a tough journey that I wouldn’t want to tackle again!

We did eventually make it out of New York without a scratch on our Monster Truck or anything else. We arrived at my cousin’s house at around about 11pm and just like that we had effectively moved to a new continent!

Journey to the US begins
Journey to the US begins

Our first night we were very tired, but they were lovely and to the kids their house was magnificent and I could slowly see some excitement building in the kids. Lené though was in her get things done mode. There was no time or inclination for the excitement I felt and began to see in the kids. Although I respect her for it, it is 100% the opposite of my outlook. That brief excitement along with the anxiousness is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

The next week or so we had to get all our ducks in a row, Move into our new, as yet unseen, house; register the kids into the school along with all the other associated tasks; buy a car; set up bank accounts as so on. One doesn’t realize how much work is involved. But this is where Lene’s attitude was priceless; she was a rock star! And once Elke was enrolled in school and Cara’s school was organized Lene began to feel more at ease.

Now 6 months later the kids are on Summer vacation and absolutely loving it. We joined a very pleasant Swimming Club for the summer and the whole family spends a lot of time there. Both Elke and Cara have made friends aplenty. I would say that Elke’s friendships here are pretty much on par with what she had in South Africa. This is largely due to her joining a soccer team and lucking out with an amazing team with amazing kids and parents. Being a shy child, I would say that Cara has done better than we expected, but she hasn’t quite found the Murray Baxter type connection that she had at Boesmansriviermond. Hopefully that will come. But she isn’t unhappy at all. In fact she adores Elke’s friends and they are very good to her as well. In truth the kids are thriving; I couldn’t have hoped for better. For a parent that is a major component of one’s own happiness.

Lene has also settled in, but in a sense this move was always going to be the most challenging for her. She had three or four dear friends in South Africa (you know who you are!) and they were very ingrained in pretty much all aspects of her life. Now it’s all new and she doesn’t have a job or school to focus on. As I expected though and thankfully, I do think she has made some great friends here already and I think she’ll be just fine. Although the “inner circle” will never be replaced. 🙂 I’m also very happy that she is playing lots of tennis again. We weren’t sure if that was going to be achievable in the USA and where we live.

As far as I’m concerned I love it here. That doesn’t mean I love Boesmansriviermond any less or London for that matter. It doesn’t have to be a competition. I say this because with the political situation in SA there are sensitivities around people moving away from South Africa and I certainly don’t want to offend those. I am fortunate to have a great job and that’s half the reason why I love it here, but there are also other aspects that make this a very good fit for us. If one is able to earn over a certain threshold here, the quality of life is high. Even more so for kids. The education in the good schools is of a high standard and the sports facilities are great as well. Where we live, in Downingtown, it’s still quite rural and yet its very close to Exton (15 minutes), King of Prussia mall (35 minutes), Philadelphia (an hour) and even New York City (about 3 hours).

A big aspect of the quality of life here in the North East is the weather. OK so the Winter is not easy for us newbies from the Deep Deep South, but Spring, Summer (so far) and Autumn or Fall is really brilliant. Warm (sometimes very hot), sunny and long lazy hours makes the Winter bearable. And the same as in Europe, the locals embrace Winter. We’re aiming to really try hard to appreciate Winter next time round.

Heunis family at Marsh Creek with colorful canoes.
Summer fun on the water at Marsh Creek.

There is so much that is really very good about this country and Pennsylvania that a single blog entry is obviously insufficient to cover much. However it isn’t all moonshine & roses. There are also some things that I really dislike. Foremost is medical expenses. Any medical service is a rip-off. Not medicine itself though – that’s fine, but any service is outrageous. And it’s very conniving. I wanted to have my shoulder checked only by a physiotherapist, but a direct visit to the physio isn’t covered by insurance so I had to make a booking with a doctor to get a referral. I did that and had to pay $133 (!!!) for a very unimpressive doctor to put her hands on my shoulder for less than a minute. Then she wouldn’t refer me!! She gave me pain killers which doesn’t solve anything and then she said maybe next time she’ll refer me. Needless to say I was absolutely livid! I realized then that you have to be VERY careful (as if you have a choice) when getting sick or needing medical assistance in this country.

The other gripe I have is with the credit qualification process. I have always had a very good credit record. I remember in the UK I had absolutely no problem to get credit, but here in the US you have to build up to a decent credit score to qualify for any sort of credit. There is no other mainstream way to get credit and that has been a big hurdle for us on a few occasions. Fortunately Volkswagen is the one car manufacturer that does have an alternative mechanism based on the same indicators that one sees in the UK and South Africa. This is how we managed to get a car in the beginning. Since then and somewhat due to that, I now do have a somewhat respectable rating and we are able to function.

Notwithstanding these hopefully minor pain points I am very positive about our move to the US and specifically this area and this employer. I think was a risk that has already paid off, but I’m hoping it doesn’t end here. My employer is going through a very good patch currently and I feel like I can play a very important part in getting us to be giant killers in our industry.

These are exciting times!

Spring is in the air

It certainly was not a cold winter by any means, but it is always exciting when Spring shows it’s colours. This week there was a shift in the air. Not convincingly or completely, but hints of the freshness and warmth. Also the plants in my garden have started flowering. Spring has arrived! There is just something so refreshing about this, right? If our lives go according to plan, we won’t experience a wonderful South African Spring for at least a couple of years so this has special meaning for me.

We went for a typical Sunday morning stroll at the beach when we ran into some great friends. There wasn’t an intention to go swimming, but it was so gorgeous outside that the kids voluntarily started swimming.

Cara word 5

Vandag het ons Cara se 5de verjaardag partytjie gevier. Ek moet sê dit voel partykeer vir my surrealisties as ek dink sy is al 5. Waar het die tyd heen gevlieg?

In ieder geval dit was ‘n lekker partytjie gewees. Al Cara se maatjies was daar en sy – in haar sneeuwitjie rokkie – het dit gate uitgeniet. Sy is mal oor vriende en kuier.

US Work Visa approved (seemingly)

I don’t want to get our hopes up before receiving official confirmation, but according to the official US government website, my Visa application has been approved! I’m very happy about this. For our family & friends this is not easy though. It is a big move, but one I’m convinced is for the better.

Longwood Gardens

On the advice of my cousin and others I took a trip to Longwood Gardens today. Quite honestly I was blown away. I have visited several botanical gardens, but truly this is was my favourite. It is one of the most impressive tourist destinations I have ever visited. Spectacular colours, deep greens, water works. It really is a worth a visit.

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