Flash drive gift for a college freshman
June 9, 2010 6:44 AM   Subscribe

What useful things can I put on a USB flash drive for a high school senior on his way to college?

My cousin is heading off to college out of state. I'll be getting him a flash drive, and I'd like to put some files (even if those files are just links to useful websites) on it to personalize it and make it a better gift. My main plan for this is to list any and every way he could contact me with a note that if he should ever need anything he feels he can't ask his parents for, he can come to me. He's a good kid, but you never know, right? Anyway, although he's going to technically be in a city, it's not exactly a hub of culture, and it's about a 2.5 hour drive to the closest major city (Boston). I don't think he'll have a car.

I thought this flash drive idea was a good one, but now I'm stumped as to what to include. Help get my brain in gear again, hive mind. What would you have found useful to have on a flash drive when embarking on a new life in college? Or, if you've done this, what kinds of things did you include? I'm mostly interested in information a college freshman would find helpful, but I don't object to software suggestions if they're outside of the norm. He's a Windows user, so any portable software would have to work in that environment.
posted by divisjm to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
DFW's commencement speech offers a nice, inspirational vision at what college can do for a person. Here's an archived version (before it was taken off the web and published as an expensive book) that you could copy and paste into a word document. For more free DFW, the wikipedia page on his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again includes PDFs of the popular favorites "Shipping Out" and "Ticket to the Fair."
posted by farishta at 6:53 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Basic first aid and how to respond to suspected alcohol poisoning, as well as phone numbers for poison control, local hospitals, and local police. Maybe local bail bondsmen and Planned Parenthood, too, if he's considering having a really good time.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:03 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

- useful websites/online resources that would benefit any freshman (how to cite sources for his discipline, essay tips, instructions on how to properly/thoroughly proofread assignments)

- links to forums that might be of interest to him, or that are specific to his major or interests

- info on interesting things to do locally (check WikiTravel, or the city's tourism site(s))

- info on the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable ways to get to Boston

- instructions on how to set up his MetaFilter account, gifted by you of course
posted by gursky at 7:08 AM on June 9, 2010

Why not rip a couple of albums that really influenced you around his age and stick them on there. Why not throw in a novel or two as well -- Project Gutenberg can help. While he's going to have access to an impressive library, it's one thing to say "hey you should read $TITLE" and another to put it in his hand.
posted by griphus at 7:09 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think there are a lot of different directions that you can take this. I've had thoughts along the lines of websites, fun programs, and useful files. It'll depend a lot on your cousin himself and his interests, but here's what I've come up with.

As connected as Kids Are These Days, sometimes finding information in a new place, particularly officially created sites, can be a pain in the neck. The kids in the dorm who know how to find useful info quickly are the ones who everybody likes. You'd have to do some homework, but track down local public transit schedules. I think there's something to be said for letting him know how to find info on the local marijuana and alcohol and sex. Poke around the university site to find campus maps, any kind of official student discount program (and if he has to register for it somehow, or can he just use his ID?), dining hall menus, and such. These last ones might all be accessible from something like his school's branch of CampusLive. (Back in my day, we had the Daily Jolt.)

Aggregators of restaurants and reviews like Yelp or local options, especially if there's one site that lets you order delivery from a lot of local joints. (LGT one I'm familiar with in my town.) If there's a free alternative weekly in town, see if they have a yearly Best of City archive, so he knows what's the best sushi joint, etc. Again, his new friends will thank him for this if they haven't done their homework. Is there a local events blog or some other way to find out what concerts are nearby, when?

Will he want Video editing software for creating masterpieces for youtube? Will vi/emacs/cygwin come in handy? GIMPShop?

He should maybe familiarize himself with laundry symbols (LGT PDF). Depending on his culinary interests and kitchen access, you could have some recipe files.

Finally, there are some non-flash-drive but computer-related things that he might appreciate, like a pro Flickr account or just your standard iTunes gift card.
posted by knile at 7:16 AM on June 9, 2010

A portable version of Opera/Tor, suitable for plug-and-play in school computer labs, Internet caf├ęs, and elsewhere. Youthful indiscretion and non-anonymous browsing can land a feller in a lot of trouble.
posted by Shepherd at 7:33 AM on June 9, 2010

Portable Apps is a great source for ways to essentially make your flash drive a portable computer. Can be useful if you are doing a lot of work in a computer lab.
posted by te1contar at 7:37 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I immediately thought of yEd, which is my favourite cross-platform application. It makes incredible flow charts, and I use it all the time. You could also make your own flowchart with the ways he can contact you, and with all kinds of different situations that lead to him contacting you. :)
posted by kaudio at 7:53 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Installers for MalWareBytes, CCleaner, SpyWareBlaster, and SpyBot, and FileHippo update checker plus a text file on how best to use them.

-Make sure auto-update is on for windows
-Weekly check with File Hippo for the latest releases of different plugins
-Weekly update of whatever anti-virus he has (I'd suggest Windows Defender if it's "nothing" or "a lapsed copy of McAfee")
-Weekly immunization and quickscan with Spywareblaster and Spybot
-Weekly update of MalWareBytes' definition file
-Weekly cleaning with CCleaner

That whole routine takes about 30 minutes, and will save him hours of work if he ever stumbles across the wrong ad-network or fishy warez site.

You could also include the basic routine for booting into safe mode and running malwarebytes if he ever does catch something. Maybe you have a system you prefer better, but I would say internet security is a must.

Maybe he's already technically savvy, and knows all this, but this would've saved me a lot of trouble in college when I downloaded the wrong thing off of the direct connect hub.
posted by codacorolla at 7:54 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

edit: Windows Security essentials, instead of Defender
posted by codacorolla at 7:55 AM on June 9, 2010

When I did this a few years ago, I got the senior in question a nice large-ish drive (2-4 GB, can't remember anymore) and put lots of portable apps on it.
posted by bettafish at 8:02 AM on June 9, 2010

Try throwing on some PDFs of "life skills" type books. Finance, dating, How To Win Friends, etc. It's pretty nerdy and maybe a little condescending to put books like that on there, but if you show sufficient humor about it, it should be OK.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:31 AM on June 9, 2010

Can't speak to the quality, and there may be better options, but how about a flash drive that can open a beer?
I'd fill up some space with interesting movies or documentaries related to his intended field of study.
posted by acidic at 8:57 AM on June 9, 2010

Installers for MalWareBytes, CCleaner, SpyWareBlaster, and SpyBot, and FileHippo update checker plus a text file on how best to use them.

If he's not technically savvy (and you are) make sure to explain how to not accidentally wipe out his useful cookies w/ CCleaner.
posted by griphus at 9:24 AM on June 9, 2010

Study Guides and Strategies has the best free set of learning and study skills resources I've ever seen. Lots of good suff there.

Also recommend a copy of WikidPad and Vue. Both are excellent for note taking and concept mapping. And free!
posted by cross_impact at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he uses Windows, check out Lifehacker's 2010 App pack.
posted by jander03 at 10:08 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of great answers. I've ended up with some portable apps, reference books, campus resources, public transit info, a bunch of maps, and a few other stray items. I'm sure I'll add some more over the next few days before I hand it over to him. Thanks all!
posted by divisjm at 1:27 PM on June 9, 2010

I think there's something to be said for letting him know how to find info on the local marijuana and alcohol and sex.

FYI, the legal info listed in the marijuana link
above is incorrect for my state; I wouldn't count on it as a reliable source.
posted by Menthol at 5:42 PM on June 9, 2010

Porn and sex toys would come in handy, but I guess you don't know what kind of stuff he likes and you'd feel a little weird guessing. In that case, membership to an online porn site that caters to various tastes (or something for a real sex shop if there's a chain with an outlet near his university?).
posted by pracowity at 4:52 AM on June 10, 2010

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