Ask SIPB - October 4, 2002

Have questions about Athena? Stuck with a program error? Ask SIPB! In this column you will find answers to common computing questions ranging from double-sided printing to shell scripting. You will also find announcements regarding new developments in MIT computing. We will do our best to answer any question that is sent to us, and print the best answers in our column and on our web site, If you have a computing problem, new or old, let us know and we will be happy to help.

Why do a Column?

We found that many changes in computing at MIT are poorly publicized if at all, and students are slow to become aware them. For example, you may still not know that you can check your MIT email when you are on vacation using just a web browser by going to Second, we found that there were many questions that came up often, so people in general might benefit from hearing the answers, and when better than while reading the Tech in lecture. We also heard that people who wrote for the Tech get to go to their annual dinner at Top of the Hub.

What other places around MIT can we get help?

There are several places on campus where you can get computer help.

You can come ask SIPB in person or via email. Our office is w20-557 (right next to the Athena cluster). Anytime members are in the office, the office is open to answer questions. You can also phone SIPB at x3-7788 or email

OLC is Athena Online Consulting, MIT's official support group for Athena related questions. They have an office in the basement of the Student Center (W20-021B), and are usually open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm.

OLC has a set of stock answers for Athena related questions on the web at

To ask olc a question, first make sure the question isn't already answered in the Stock Answers, then type at an Athena prompt:

athena% olc ask

If you are receiving zephyrs, you will be notified of the status of your question via zephyr. You can send messages to the consultants by using

athena% olc send

For more information, look at

MIT Information Systems staffs the Computing Help Desk, which provides free support for Macintosh and Windows, and provides limited Unix/VMS support by paid subscription. The Help Desk phone lines are open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 6 pm; walk-ins are welcome in the office in N42 from 9:15 am to 5 pm. For Mac questions, call 617-253-1101; for Windows questions call 617-253-1102.

The Computing Help Desk also maintains a set of stock answers for common Macintosh and Windows questions encountered by MIT community members, at

Zephyr classes are also useful sources of assistance. You can zephyr class help with your questions, both computer related or general interest. Be sure to include a one word instance name that describes your general area of concern:

athena% zwrite -c help -i topicname

For example, if I were having trouble getting a personal certicate I might try:

athena% zwrite -c help -i certificates
Why would Netscape claim it is "unable to generate private key"?
If you are having trouble getting your computer onto your dorm network, you can ask an RCC for help. RCC's (or Residential Computing Consultants) are students who get paid to assist other students, usually residents of the same dorm. They can do everything from assigning IP address to providing network cables to helping you configure networking on your computer. To get in contact with your RCC, ask around your dorm or visit to submit a request.

How can I use the wireless network at MIT?

Most MIT Buildings now have wireless Internet access. Signing up for this service is easy. Detailed instructions are available at

If you're an MIT student, and have a static IP address, follow the instructions for faculty and staff members. If you don't have a static IP address, do the following: First, install your wireless Ethernet card: see MIT supported wireless cards information at Then go to W20 or N42 and turn your laptop on, and open up a web browser to any website - you should be redirected to the registration website. If you have trouble, see the instructions at Read the MITnet rules of use, click on the Register button, enter your Athena username and password, and click register. After the confirmation message is displayed, reboot your machine, and within 15 minutes you should be able to use wireless ethernet in most parts of campus.

If you're a faculty or staff member, then you first need to get a static IP address for your laptop. Go to Then, configure your laptop's wired Ethernet card for network using the static IP address you receive and reboot. Open a web browser and go to to register for wired DHCP. After restarting your computer with DHCP enabled, register at Enter your hostname, and then the MAC address (aka Hardware address, ethernet address, Airport ID) of your wireless ethernet card. This is a set of 6 pairs of characters, often separated by colons or whitespace (e.g., "71:23:f7:0c:7f:b1" or "ee a0 13 d1 f8 0a"). The MAC address will be printed somewhere on your wireless card. If you have a Macintosh with built in wireless, you should go to the Airport Control Panel, and look for the "Airport ID". When entering the MAC address in, make sure that you only enter the alphanumeric characters. For example, the above two sample MAC addresses should be entered as 7123f70c7fb1 and eea013d1f80a. After you've entered these in, in about 15 minutes, you'll be able to use wireless ethernet in most parts of campus.

If you have any other questions, feel free to email us at We'll try to get back to you, and we might put your question in our next column.