Tech Advice for My College Freshman Son

My son Brian is leaving next week to start his college education at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As fathers are wont to do, I want to give him some advice while he will still listen to me.  And since I’m a closet techie geek, here are a few things that I would have wanted to be told if I were going off to college in the Fall of 2010.

First of all, I cannot tell you or any college freshman to join Facebook because chances are that 99% of all incoming college freshmen are already connecting on Facebook and I know that you are used to spending copious amounts of time in this channel.  Instead, I am going to share some other important tidbits of tech wisdom.

Phone Home

With either Skype or Google Voice, there is no reason not to call home anymore.  You are already using Skype to communicate with your friends while playing computer games online, but it would be great for you to use it to call us or video conference us from college too.  Skype to Skype calls are free (and hint…I already have an account), and there is a new beta feature that permits video conferencing among more than 2 participants too.  Skype to landline calls cost about 1 or 2 cents per minute which is a great bargain.

Google Voice is an another voice over IP (VOIP) option and there are 3 important reasons to use it.  First, you can use it to call any number in the US for free.  You type in the number you want to call plus the phone number for the phone you are using, and then Google will call both phones to make the connection.  Second, Google Voice is a phone management system where you can get a universal phone number that can be used to connect to anyone phone you want it to call.  Or you can have it ring your cell, your dorm room or any other phone – or any combination of phones.  Finally, Google Voice will record voicemail messages and convert them to text that you can read them online or have them sent via text message to your cellphone.

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Back Up Your Stuff

Nobody does a really good job with backing up their files.  But with either Box.net or Dropbox, you can make backing up painless and easy.  Both Box.net and Dropbox provide free accounts with either 1 or 2 gigabytes of data, and set up a folder on your computer where you can save your important documents and papers.  The cool thing is that both of these services let you connect to your folder from any computer on the Internet and they also continuously backup whatever your work.  On a related note, if you need to send large files to other students you should also check out YouSendit.   The free version lets you send files of up to 100 mb for free.

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Print Your Stuff to PDF


So you probably don’t want to or need to spring for an expensive copy of Adobe Acrobat to print documents to PDF files.  However, you are sometimes going to want to turn in a PDF of a document instead of sending it along in it’s native format.  You’re in luck because there is a free PDF printing solution called PrimoPDF.   You can either download their free program or use the free online service to submit and print individual documents.

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Spiff Up Your Papers

This is the one program that is probably worth purchasing and it only costs about $50.  Snagit lets you copy (or snag) portions of websites or complete web pages which you can then edit and copy into other programs.  If you need to annotate a paper with a picture or diagram from somewhere on the web, then Snagit is for you.  Just don’t forget to cite your source.  If you are a Mac user, then you already have this capability built in to your operating system.  But for PC users, Snagit is one program that you will find indispensable.  I also wrote a blog post about my ‘love’ for Snagit that may convince you of it’s importance.

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Claim Your Gmail Account

Not only does Gmail give you 7+ gigabytes of storage, but your Gmail account is your entry into many other great services from Google such as YouTube, Picasa, Google Voice and others.  Now would be a good time to have an ‘grownup’ external address with your firstnamelastname@gmail.com account before someone else snaps up your unique name.  It’s always good to have an email alternative to your .edu email account and you can’t beat the storage space on Google either.

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Add A Signature Line to Your Email

Now that you are in the real world, you need to make it easy for people to contact you.  One way to do this is to add a signature line to the bottom of your email that includes your full name and phone numbers.  You may also want to include a link to your Facebook page or other social media property.  Each email program has it’s own way to add the signature, but it is usually listed under Options or check the online Help.

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Share Pictures

It would be great if you could send us a picture every now and then, or even share a photo album or two.  One good way to document your college experience would be to set up an account with Google Picasa and regularly upload pictures from your camera or Flip video.  Picasa gives you 1 gigabyte of storage for free which should be more than enough for all of your collegiate sharing needs.

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Make It Easy For Me To Send You Money

This final piece of advice is a no-brainer.  If you want to make it easy for your Dad to send you money, then you need to sign up for a Paypal account.  The account could also be useful when you need to send money to or receive money from a roommate or to pay off a pizza debt.  Many retail websites also take Paypal in addition to credit card payments which makes it an attractive payment option too.

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So, Brian…good luck in college.  Do your best, meet lots of people, try new things, stretch your limits, be yourself, study hard, make us proud and have fun.  We know that you’ll be successful in everything you do and that you’ll have a great time, but we’ll miss you too.  At least you can’t say that you didn’t get any good advice…

Brian's High School Graduation Day With The Whole Humbarger Family - June 2010