Ask SIPB - August 22, 2003

Welcome freshmen and new grad students! Ask SIPB is a column published regularly by the Student Information Processing Board, the volunteer student group concerned with computing at MIT, to help students like you learn more about the computing resources MIT provides and how to make effective use of them. This column is part 1 of 6 of introductory columns during orientation to help you get started with computing here at MIT.

What is Athena?

Athena is MIT's campus-wide distributed computing system. It consists of workstations in clusters throughout MIT, and provides software and file space accessible from any Athena workstation. These workstations run Unix, specifically Linux and Solaris, and provide a common user interface, regardless of where you log in.

You can find a list of Athena clusters on the back of the Athena Pocket Reference you received when you checked in, or by typing athena% cview.

How do I get into the Athena clusters?

The Athena clusters are protected by push-button combo locks. To find out the current cluster combo, on any Athena machine, type:
athena% tellme combo
The combo changes annually on October 1. Shortly before that time, you can use tellme combo again to determine the new combo.

Also, when you checked in, you should have also received a booklet called the "Athena Pocket Reference." On the back, you should find both the current cluster door combo, and the combo effective October 1. If you did not receive this guide when you checked in, or you have lost yours, you can pick up a copy from OLC in W20-021B, or in N42.

Should I set up my personal computer now?

If you are an undergrad, in general, it is best if you do not set up your computer right away. Unless you live in McCormick, which has forced room squatting, you will almost certainly be moving to either another dorm, or at least another room.

If you need to use a computer, there are always the Athena clusters easily accessible all over campus. Even though SIPB is a student group dedicated to improving computing at MIT, we encourage you to go out, and take part in the vast opportunities you have during Orientation and Residence Exploration. Find the dorm that is right for you, and learn about and join the activities that interest you. Talk to other freshmen and upperclassmen, and ask any questions you may have about anything.

Once you move to your room for the fall term on Thursday, feel free go ahead and set up your computer. But in the meantime, take advantage of Orientation, and have a great time! When you finally set up your computer, you should apply any updates immediately, especially if you are running Windows. You can find more details on doing so in Sunday's Ask SIPB column.

What file and mail quotas do I have?

The current default Athena file quota is 500 MB, and the current mail quota is 250 MB. These are completely separate quotas, and are increased approximately annually, though there is no set schedule for doing so.

With your file quota, you can store files to access from any Athena workstation. You can also send files to this space and retrieve them as well from non-Athena computers. This has the advantage that it is more accessible than files on your personal machine, and that it is backed up nightly. In addition, you can use this space for a personal web page, or to share files easily with other people.

Where can I get computing 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

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

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 addresses, 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.

What is 3-DOWN?

3-DOWN, which can be found at, provides information about both scheduled and unscheduled network and service outages. The same information can also be found via a recorded message at x3-DOWN (x3-3696). Before reporting an outage, it is useful to check 3-DOWN to see if it is already known.

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: