Obligatory “Most Popular Posts of 2013” Post

Another year in the bank (almost). And that means that it’s time again to look back and see why people continue to wander to this blog that (let’s be honest) has seen better years. So without delay, I give you some of the most posts of 2013, none of which were written in 2013.

  1. Using Scrivener with Bibliographic Software — This is the single most read post on this blog, receiving more hits per day than every other post in this list combined. “Scrivener“, for the uninitiated, is one of the greatest pieces of word processing software in existence. Without it, I would still be stuck in the drafting stages of my dissertation. If writing is a part of your livelihood, you need to take a look at Scrivener. This post was intended for academic authors (like me) who use Scrivener in conjunction with bibliographic software. The title is somewhat deceptive, I suppose, as the only bibliographic software I talk about in the post is Bookends, another “must-have” for (mac-using) academic authors. I hope that the amount of traffic to this post means that people have found it useful!
  2. Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness — In second place we have an entirely non-original post from almost three years ago. So far as I can tell, the reason this post is so popular is that 1) the image I have posted is one of the higher quality ones out there and 2) a few people “pinned” this post, causing it to shoot up the ranks in Google image search. Click on the link above if you have no idea who Ron Swanson is or why you should care about his pyramid of greatness.
  3. The Shadow of the Galilean (Review) — This post receives pretty insignificant traffic for most of the year, but it peaks toward the middle and end of the fall and spring semesters (when papers are due). I think I’ve mentioned this phenomenon before. My guess is that I am not the only one who assigns it for reading in a college-level New Testament class.
  4. Why Writing a Dissertation is Harder than Having a Baby — Like post #2 (above), the content of this entry is also largely not my own work. I posted this in the fall of 2010, just over a year after entering the doctoral program at Marquette. Since that time, I have written a dissertation and watched my wife give birth. I continue to find the post amusing, but I now question the accuracy of its central claim.
  5. How to Write a Paper Proposal — This is the oldest post on this list, written in the summer of 2010. As the title implies, it’s about how to write a paper proposal. I’m not entirely sure that I was qualified in 2010 to write a post like this. Truth be told, I still have some doubts. I leave it up because about once per month I receive a kind e-mail from a stranger telling me that they’ve had a paper accepted at a professional conference and that they used this post as a guide. To me, the central points in it are 1) be bold, 2) be clear, and 3) be concise. Come to think of it, those are pretty good pieces of advice for graduate students in general.
  6. Dissertations, Fonts, and Wasting Time — And finally, a post about one of the greatest time-wasters that continues to taunt ranks of graduate students like myself: choosing a font. This post was written almost exactly two weeks before I began writing my dissertation (I know that because I wrote it on the day before my daughter was born). It originated as a sort of “aha moment”/confessional. You see, I love fonts, and at several points during my graduate career I became convinced that most people cared as much about fonts as I do. Hence, I spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing over which typeface to use for which paper. Does Garamond seem to flashy? Does Gentium Greek go well with Palatino Roman? Ugh. I remain convinced by the wisdom offered at the end of the post: nobody cares. The ironic thing is that people who find this post typically do so with search strings like “what is the best font for a dissertation” or “most impressive dissertation font.” As long as it looks nice (i.e., isn’t too big and has serifs), it just doesn’t matter. You will note that when I spoke of my love for fonts earlier I did so in the present tense (“I love fonts”). You see, I continue to live with my addiction. I still love fonts and I will, on occasion, allow myself to indulge. But then I snap back to the mantra that I used to overcome my tormenter: “Do your work. Don’t be stupid.”

Thanks as always for reading, and best wishes to you and yours in this new year.


Year Two

We welcomed Jane into the world two years ago today. Hard to believe it’s been that long–even harder to believe it hasn’t been longer (let the reader understand).

Over the past year we have learned much about our little tornado. A few highlights:

  1. She isn’t shy. Well, maybe at first, but give her five minutes and a little bit of attention and you will have a new best friend.
  2. She loves cheese. This girl is a midwesterner at heart. She gets that from her mother. Not that I don’t like cheese (I do), but the way that she croons when it is placed before her was not taught. She also loves snow. That comes from her mother as well.
  3. She is hospitable. Our living room is outfitted with a wooden kitchen that was assembled by my awesome father-in-law. Jane plays with it a lot, but she is most interested in it when we have company over. As soon as she warms to whatever new face has entered the room (see point 1, above), she sets out preparing cookies, cupcakes, juice, vegetables, and other assorted snacks for them. She wants our guests to be comfortable, and I respect that.
  4. She is curious and smart. Curiosity without intelligence leads to injury. Intelligence without curiosity is boring. Watching Jane explore her surroundings and figure out new ways to get in trouble is as awe-inspiring as it is entertaining. Who knew blankets or plastic eggs could be so much fun?
  5. She wastes no time. Jane wakes me up every morning. She usually does so by running into our room, with all of her stuffed animals and sometimes a book, screaming at the top of her lungs: “Papa! Da up (get up)!” She wants to eat and she wants to start playing. Who has time to ease into the day slowly?

But I have also become convinced in my two years of fatherhood that our children have a lot to teach us about ourselves. Jane has taught me that I am a lot more patient than I ever thought I was. She has helped me see the beauty in reading the same book several different times, and the simple joy of walking around the block in the morning, coffee in hand, stopping to look at the leaves and letters stamped in the pavement. She has taught me that it is ok to cry for a variety of reasons, that juice sometimes does make you feel better, and that being happy is the superior choice.

Above all, Jane has taught me that fatherhood is hard; it is the gift that keeps on giving and taking. But despite the challenges it brings, Jane always finds a way of reassuring me that I’ve somehow managed to pull it off.

Happy birthday to my little girl. You make me proud every day.


Studying Theology – Varying Perspectives

There have been a lot of illustrations popping up lately related to various careers – “how my friends see me…how my wife sees me…how my family sees me…how I see myself…etc.” You know what I mean, right? Well, the other day I saw one that had something to do with studying theology, but it left me dissatisfied. I’m too lazy to photoshop these images together, but here is my take on studying theology.

What my family thinks I do:









What my wife thinks I do:







What the undergrads think I do:











What I think I do (that’s me in the bottom right):










Dissertations, Fonts, and Wasting Time

From the outset, I should admit that I’m somewhat of a “font junkie.”

I haven’t always been this way. In my undergraduate years, I was mostly satisfied with Times New Roman, unless of course I needed to make my paper a bit longer, in which case I would gravitate toward Courier or Arial (I was convinced that this trick was undetectable to my professors). I never needed a font to make a paper shorter…a testimony to how much I despised the act of writing.

Things have changed. Now, I gravitate toward new fonts like a shark to blood. Initially, my fascination began in seminary with Greek fonts…I wanted to make the Greek text in my papers stand out better, so I began downloading various fonts to help make this happen. Then, with the advent of Unicode fonts some years back, things got more interesting. Now, there was no longer a need to have separate Greek and Roman fonts. The joys! Of course, this led to the frustration of liking the Greek character set but not liking the Roman character set or vice versa.

Over the years I discovered Linux Libertine, Garamond Premier Pro, SBL Greek, Minion, Cambria, among others. I’ll admit that my excitement has waned a bit. Nowadays, I have two fonts that I use on a fairly consistent basis: GentiumAlt and Palatino Linotype. Both are serif fonts and have a nice, clean look to them. Plus, both are Unicode and have smart looking Greek character sets.

Yesterday evening, as I was chipping away at some dissertation-related business (not writing yet, just piddling), it occurred to me that some fonts may be more acceptable to others when it comes to a dissertation…could it be that I would have to return to Times New Roman? The horror!

My alacrity rekindled, I began to compulse. A simple Google search on the topic led me to a discussion forum in which someone had asked a similar question: “What font should I use for my dissertation?” One of the responses is simply too good (and poignant) not to share. Despite my love for fonts, I’m inclined to agree with this:

Spending time choosing fonts is not productive work, and is one of the absolutely classic time-wastes of graduate students that make advisors beat their heads into the wall.

The probability that anyone but you and your committee will ever read your dissertation in its form as a dissertation is very low, and your dissertation will look like shit no matter what fonts you choose because the required formatting is functional, not aesthetic.

The probability that anyone but you will care in the slightest what fonts are in the dissertation is exactly zero.

Graduate Studies and Time-Out

Once when I was around 10-12 years old, I remember yelling at my mom and telling her that something she did wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what exactly she had done, but it probably involved justly punishing me for something I had done. Regardless, I told her it wasn’t fair, and she said, “Go ahead, send me to my room.” I gasped. Why would anyone want to be sent to their room? Being sent to one’s room in my house meant that you were in trouble. It also meant that you were about to spend a good deal of time bored. Why would anyone want that? Why would any sane person wish to be sent to time-out?

Yesterday as I sat in my study pouring over this research proposal of mine that continues to grow more unwieldy by the day, I thought to myself that post-coursework graduate studies is much like an adult version of time-out.

When you’re still in coursework, you are constantly surrounded by peers, and you look forward to getting together to play. You have lunch and coffee with one another, you talk about fun things that are happening, and you share your projects. Occasionally you may have a play group that you don’t particularly enjoy, but even these have their moments.

After coursework is finished, things change. You find yourself spending more and more time alone, shut inside small spaces and having to amuse yourself. Sometimes you emerge long enough from the depths of the library to see many of your friends still playing together, but ultimately this is short-lived.

What distinguishes this adult version of time-out from that which we know as children is that we have in some way chosen to be in time-out. Graduate school is, after all, voluntary. What’s more, the solitary life that follows coursework is regarded as reward for work done. You have done well in coursework, passed your qualifying exams, and now you are trusted to amuse yourself and stay out of trouble. In some respects, you begin to look forward to time-out.

This version of time-out is thus different from that which we knew as children. I suppose at least one thing is similar…all time-outs are temporary by nature, and eventually you get to rejoin the ranks and resume playing with others. Until then, I’m sending myself back to my room.


The Levitical Code of Whitefish Bay

My wife and I are getting ready to do some heavy yard work behind our house. In preparation for this, I wanted to check the ordinances of the “village” in which we live to make sure that we didn’t need any sort of special permit.

When I first moved here four years ago, I received a warning from the police that the grass in my front yard was becoming “unruly” and that I needed to cut it ASAP. An event such as this tends to shine some light on the place you’ve chosen to live (not to mention the neighbor who will report a yard that hasn’t been cut in two weeks), and will make you extra cautious.

Anyway, as I was sorting through the ordinances earlier this morning, I found a few that made me chuckle, and I thought I’d share them with you. I imagine that each of them, along with pretty much every other ordinance in the section on “Offenses Endangering Public Morals and Decency,” could be followed by the phrase, “For such a person will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”


No person shall within the village loiter or loaf about any public building, place or premises or wander about the streets, alleys, parks or other public places either by day or night, whose actions give rise to a suspicion of wrongdoing and who is unable to give a satisfactory account of himself, or who, having the physical ability to work, is without any visible means of support and does not seek employment, or who derives part of his support from begging, prostitution, pandering, fortune telling or as a similar imposter.


No person shall permit any cat, dog, horse, mule, cattle, sheep, goats, swine or poultry in his possession or control to run at large within the Village.


No person shall cruelly beat, frighten, maim, neglect, injure or abuse any animal or bird, or allow any animal or bird to be cruelly beaten, frightened, overburdened, neglected or abused, or use any device or chemical substance by which pain, suffering or death may result, whether the animal belongs to the person or another, except that reasonable force may be used to drive off vicious or trespassing animals. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Village Board may direct the Police Chief to permit or act to eradicate coyotes subject to whatever terms he/she deems appropriate.

A Gift from My Great-Grandfather

My great-grandfather, A. Bliek, was a pastor (Dutch Reformed) in southwestern Minnesota in the early 20th century. I don’t know much about him, to be honest. My dad remembers him vaguely, and my grandmother has never spoken of him at any length.

Recently, however, as my grandmother was clearing out her house in preparation for her move to a senior living facility, she stumbled upon an old box that belonged to Grandpa Bliek. When she opened it, she immediately handed it to my mom and said, “Eric should have this.” I have yet to really examine the contents in any depth, but a cursory examination shows that this box is going to be a LOT of fun! The box contains a collection of sermons and a couple of journals, all penned by my great-grandfather. Most of the materials are in English, but some are in Dutch, and everything in the box seems to predate 1925. What’s more, everything in this box is in stellar condition, having been shut up in a box for at least the last 50-60 years.

Over the next few months or so, I’m hoping to scan and OCR most of the materials in this box, and once I’ve brought some sort of order to the collection, I’m hoping that I can make it available in .pdf form to my family and whoever else is interested.

Until then, here are some samples from the box (click images for larger views):

Beroepingsbrief (letter of appointment) from 1909:

Some pages from a journal (sermon on Psalm 103):

A typed sermon on Hebrews 4:11: