From bits and bytes to beets, a guide to staying busy

Beet Salad
An embedded engineer shares his recommendations for engineers to stay busy while stuck at home and shares his favorite beet recipe.

Here we are, cooped up because of what is likely the worst pandemic crisis in the modern era.

Considering we are all in the same boat, a friend of mine at FierceElectronics asked me what recommendations I have for other engineers (I develop embedded systems) on things they could be doing with this unexpected downtime.

My first thought was that I should write about what a good time it is to finally get around to unboxing that dev kit sitting on the shelf or opening up a dev-tool or emulator. Heck, I was even going to suggest some inexpensive, easy-to-use test equipment that can be purchased on-line.

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I have a number of projects in-process. In fact, here is a photo of what is currently sitting on top of my home office desk right now.

Yep, it’s a Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 PDK. Alongside this thing is a SEGGER J-LINK. I am currently developing some firmware for this thing. I am doing this so I can have a better feel for how the full BLE 5.0 stack operates.

Nordic nRF52840 PDK with Segger J-LINK

Then, I thought “Would anyone else really be interested in this? This seems way too much like real work!” I do believe that engineers should stay on top of (and become conversant with) the latest technologies. But shouldn’t the companies we work for pay us well to do this kind of stuff while we’re on the clock?

So; I thought about other things that I do in my minimal amount of free time in normal times. But these are not normal times, so I cannot recommend my favorite activities like Martial Arts. (I hold a 2nd degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.)

For the very ambitious engineer I might recommend setting up a machine shop. I machine parts from time to time, and I set up my own shop in my garage (see below) a few years ago.

Garage machine shop setup

It's been a lot of fun. In fact, I recently made some precision die parts for my son, With those parts he and his fiancée were able to start a successful Internet business. That was pretty cool!

But I know that for many engineers it may be a bit much to set up a full-blown machine shop at home, particularly if you don’t have a garage or the space elsewhere.

So, I’ve come up with one recommendation, which to engineers may seem like it’s coming out of left field, but it is fun, easy and economical: Start cooking!

I am the head chef in our household. (How that came about is a long story, maybe for another time.) The short version is that I got into cooking as an act of desperation while I was getting my BS degree at the University.

Here is a very simple recipe to get you started. It's always a crowd-pleaser, but it works just as well without a crowd during these times of social distancing. Bon appetit!

Beet Salad

Ingredients (salad)

  • 5              Whole yellow beets
  • 1 bunch   scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch   dandelion greens, or mixed spring greens
  • 1 cup       glazed walnuts, coarsely chopped

Ingredients (dressing)

  • 1 tbsp      lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp      honey
  • 1 tsp        whole grain mustard
  • 4 sprigs    fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup      olive oil


  1. Boil the yellow beets in 8 cups of water that has 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tbsp white vinegar. This process takes about 50 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, mix up the dressing and set aside
  3. Let the beets cool to room temperature peel and slice crosswise to expose the rings
  4. Julienne the peeled and cut beets
  5. Toss the dressing together with the beets and scallions and let sit for 30 minutes.
  6. Serve on a bed of greens and garnish with the glazed walnuts

    Serves about 6 (or plenty of leftovers for 2!)

When you've mastered this, I would love to talk to you about barbecue. But that would be a whole other article or maybe an entire book!


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