Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Technology Tips for Your College Student

Technology Tips for Your College Student

Jul 25, 2012
By Dave Edstrom
I have one son who finished his master’s degree last fall, another son who is an upcoming senior in college, and my youngest son is leaving for college this fall. There are a few technology tips that have cost me a little money, but saved my sons’ time. Perhaps these tips might be worth considering for your college-age daughters, sons, or any college-age student who you might know. Some of these tips apply to anyone who uses a computer as well.
Francis Ford Coppola, the famous director, did almost all the right things to protect his valuable work on his computer. He had a backup system that was state of the art. The backup system had multiple disk drives with the ability to recover even if an entire disk drive was lost. Then, in September 2007, while he was away, his Buenos Aires home was robbed and the thieves took his computer and his backup drives. He lost all of the scripts and pre-production work to a film he was working on, as well as 15 years of data. To no avail, Coppola offered a reward for the computer and backup drives.
My oldest son, John, was coming home before Christmas 2010 from Virginia Tech and had his notebook computer with him. He was doing some part-time work for a company that was working on a government bid. John had written lots of software and had put together a presentation on how everything worked. He decided to finish up the work and send it in once he got home.
When he arrived home, his notebook computer would not power up. The motherboard had died during the trip home. I saw the panic in his eyes when he told me his notebook was dead and he left his backup drive back at school. When I reminded him of the cloud backup he had on his notebook, his eyes lit up with joy and relief. He was able to finish his work on the PC at home, then e-mail the source code and the presentation to the company he was working for. The $69 I paid for the year-long cloud backup service for him paid for itself many, many times over. Without that cloud backup, he would have been forced to drive back to school, get the backup drive, and put it on a new computer before he could finish the work.
Coppola was not given the best advice on protecting his data. Coppola would have benefited from a conversation with someone like me who is both paranoid and anal when it comes to protecting data. Here are the points that I drive home with my sons regarding data:
  1. Computers are cheap; data is expensive.
  2. Computers will die – always at the worst time.
  3. Install software that AUTOMATICALLY BACKS UP your computer in two DIFFERENT locations.
    • On a backup drive in your room.
    • In the cloud.
The key point on No. 3 is that the backups must be automatic and must be done in the background. If your son or daughter has a system where they need to remember when to start the backup, that will always come back to bite them. What happens is that everyone has good intentions starting out, but then they are working late at night, get in a rush, forget to do a backup, and that’s when disaster strikes. Then the hard work begins. Rewriting a paper that took 10 hours the night before it’s due is a life lesson that most would rather avoid than learn first-hand. That example could actually be a best-case scenario. Imagine that you are in a field where it is not just one paper, but a few months' worth of work. Then what?
For obvious reasons I won’t make specific recommendations on automatic local and cloud backup services except for one point to consider. It’s best to stay away from Billy Bob’s Better Backup and go with a big name. The last thing you need is for your son or daughter to do all the right things only to have the software be buggy and not work or even worse, for the cloud backup service to go out of business, taking all of the data with them when it’s needed the most. It goes without saying that all of your data should be encrypted in the cloud. This is usually an easy-to-turn-on option from your cloud backup supplier. Sometimes it is the default option.
The other habit I tell my boys to do is to mail a copy of what they are working on to their school or personal e-mail account as well. Most e-mail is stored on servers someplace else and not locally on your notebook. Mailing a copy of an important term paper is also a cheap way to do version control.
Here are a few other pieces of advice worth thinking about. I have owned 14 notebook computers. Thirteen of those have lost their display. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I don’t think so. If you buy an extended warranty, get the screen covered. If you are buying a computer for your college student, you must go through the scenario of what happens when it breaks. Is there an on-site depot to take care of the computer immediately? Does it have to be taken to the store and mailed out to a repair center? What do they do if it takes two weeks to get their computer repaired?
Since John was majoring in computer science, I purchased an on-site warranty. One could easily argue that was overkill. However, my son definitely appreciated it when his system had problems, and three times in 4 years the tech showed up at John’s room to fix it immediately. Was that worth it to John? Absolutely.
Do you want the PC or Mac you are buying your college-age student today to still be peppy a few years from now? Put as much memory in the computer as you can afford and that makes sense. I personally like the idea of those cables that can lock a PC or Mac to a piece of furniture. I bought those for my sons as well. When I travel, I use them on the road all the time.
The last topic is software. Keeping your software up to date is the smartest thing your college student can do to protect against the bad guys out there on the net. Again, I won’t make recommendations, but I would look at what the OS providers offer. At a minimum for a PC, you should consider Microsoft Security Essentials. Whether it is a PC, Mac or Linux system, it is important to understand the security options. Personally, I think it is better to err on the side of security that is too strong. There are lots of articles on computer security that summarize the big steps to consider. Many colleges and universities have security software that is already installed when students get on the school network. Schools do not want worms, malware, viruses, Trojans, bots, spyware, scareware and the countless ways the bad guys try to cause havoc or steal data/systems. Keeping the school’s security software might appear to be a pain to students, but it is usually a very good idea and sometimes legally required.
As parents, we all want our kids to have a great experience at college. Making sure they are not stressed because they may lose a lot of valuable work only takes a few smart steps. Yes, I am paranoid and anal when it comes to computers, but it has worked out well for the Edstrom boys, and maybe it can work for your daughters or sons too.

The Truth About The Stimulus

I really enjoy the Zite app on my iPhone.  Below is an article today by Justin Wolfers that I really liked called:

 The Secret Consensus Among Economists

Below is a snippet:

"Let’s start with Obama’s stimulus. The standard Republican talking point is that it failed, meaning it didn’t reduce unemployment. Yet in a survey of leading economists conducted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, 92 percent agreed that the stimulus succeeded in reducing the jobless rate. On the harder question of whether the benefit exceeded the cost, more than half thought it did, one in three was uncertain, and fewer than one in six disagreed.
Or consider the widely despised bank bailouts. Populist politicians on both sides have taken to pounding the table against them (in many cases, only after voting for them). But while the public may not like them, there’s a striking consensus that they helped: The same survey found no economists willing to dispute the idea that the bailouts lowered unemployment…"