Ask SIPB - April 11, 2003

Welcome to the Campus Preview Weekend edition of the Ask SIPB column! This week, we discuss MIT computing issues that may be relevant to prefrosh.

What is SIPB?

SIPB (pronounced ``Sip-bee'') is the Student Information Processing Board, the volunteer student group concerned with computing at MIT. We are available for telephone (253-7788), email ( or in-person (W20-557) consulting at almost any time of day or night. We have one-of-a-kind meetings Monday evenings at 7:30 pm, write documentation of all sorts, run a wide variety of servers (including a WWW server), hack, and generally have a good time. We also act as an advocate for student computer users and student computer access on campus.

As a prefrosh, how can I check my email this weekend?

Though Athena UNIX machines are ubiquitous on campus, they require you to login, and you will be unable to do so. There are other computer options, though, assuming you have a web-based email service like Hotmail. If your host has a computer, you can ask him or her to let you use it. Another option is to use the Windows machines in any MIT Library during their open hours: Or, visit us in the SIPB office in W20-557, ask nicely, and check your email here!

What is MIT's computing infrastructure for student use?

Each dorm room contains at least one network drop per student. Many dorms also have wireless networking.

In addition, MIT provides network to the Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group (FSILG) houses. Each FSILG has the power to wire its house as it sees fit. Most, if not all, have at least one network drop per student; some also have wireless networking.

On campus, Athena clusters abound, allowing students to find computers practically anywhere. In addition, wireless coverage serves most of campus as well.

If I decide to attend MIT, how do I activate my Athena account?

After you choose to attend, you will receive a hefty welcome package. In your welcome package, there will be instructions to activate your MIT Athena account, providing you access to all of MIT's computing services. You will be directed to to set up your account. In the past, the instructions gave you your "five magic words" which you enter into the registration page. Keep in mind, though, that you will NOT be able to change your username (email name) after you set up your account, so choose carefully!

Do I need a computer, and what kind should I get?

The decision on whether to get a computer is up to you. While the majority of students have computers, they are certainly not a necessity. Athena clusters are distributed throughout campus and dorms, providing quick computer access regardless of where you are. In addition, you'll be able to do all classwork on Athena machines, and you also get access to proprietary software, like Matlab, that MIT has site licenses for.

Most students, however, do find personal computers convenient to have. While MIT recommends purchasing laptops, the desktop/laptop issue is a personal one, and an issue of higher price and convenience for laptops, versus lower price and greater power for desktops. The choice of PC/Mac/UNIX is also a personal decision, and all are supported by the various computing organizations at MIT.

What are the quotas for network file space and mail?

MIT's network file system, AFS, currently provides each user with 200 MB of space, accessible from any Athena machine. The mail quota, a comepletely separate quota, is currently 250 MB. Both were increased from 100 MB during this school year, and have been increased on a yearly basis.

Can I run a server at MIT?

Unlike many other colleges, MIT does allow students to run servers, including web servers, and remote login servers including VNC and SSH, allowing you to use your personal computer's power over the Internet. With the option to have up to four static IP addresses and associated hostnames, this makes setting up servers even more convenient. Traffic on peer-to-peer file sharing services is allowed, though rate-limited, to a fraction of outgoing bandwidth. You should limit this to legally transferrable files to avoid prosecution under various laws.

To ask us a question, send email to We'll try to answer you quickly, and we can address your question in our next column. You can also stop by our office in W20-557 or call us at x3-7788 if you need help. Copies of each column and pointers to additional information are posted on our website: