Ask SIPB - August 31, 2004

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 4 of introductory columns during orientation to help you get started with computing here at MIT.

I don't have a computer/printer/scanner. Where can I go?

MIT has a number of clusters sprinkled around campus, containing Athena workstations and a few printers. You can access the software and your files from any Athena workstation. These workstations run Unix, specifically Linux and Solaris, and provide a common user interface, regardless of where you log in. The New Media Center is in 26-139, and provides the tools necessary to produce multimedia projects, such as digital video, photo scanning and manipulation, web authoring, and more. The NMC is a "do-it-yourself" cluster of G4 Power Macs loaded with the latest multimedia software.

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 or New Media Center?

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.

Similarly, you can get into the New Media Center by typing

athena% tellme nmccombo
at any Athena machine.

Why are there couches and giant screens and whiteboards in corners of some of the clusters?

These are the newly deployed collaborative group spaces. They were designed to make working in groups at MIT both easier and more powerful. To learn more or provide feedback, check out this website:

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 Sunday, 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. You can find more details at If you are running Windows, you also must follow the directions at to avoid having your computer compromised and necessitating a format and reinstall of the operating system.

But I want my computer now. What do I do?

You'll need a network cable and settings. To set up DHCP, set your computer to get your IP address automatically (which is often the default), and then go to any website. For more details on this, you should go to one of the "Getting Connected" sessions: today 10-11 AM in 54-100, or Thursday, September 2, 10-11am in 26-100. Note that this is change from the originally announced room of 4-370. After the "Getting Connected" sessions, the MIT Network Security team will also discuss preventing your computer from being compromised.

After you move to your permanent room, you can also choose to ask an RCC for a static IP address, which will be tied to the dorm that you are in. Having one will not prevent you from using DHCP elsewhere on campus.

For a network cable, you can either ask an RCC or visit the OLC office in N42. You can contact your local RCC by filling out a form at

I forgot my password. What do I do?

You'll need to visit the friendly folks at Accounts. Go to N42 and ask for a password reset. You'll need to bring your ID.

Help! Something broke! Who can help?

Depending on what broke and how, there are a variety of groups that can assist you.

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 N42, and are usually open Monday-Friday 9am-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
You can also call 617-253-4435 or e-mail

MIT IS&T staffs the Computing Help Desk, which provides free support for Macintosh and Windows. 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 help, call 617-253-1101, e-mail, or drop by N42.

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.

How can I learn more about computing and computing at MIT?

During orientation and throughout term, there are a number of ways you can learn more about computing or computing specifically at MIT. IS&T offers minicourses and quickstarts, short (usually one hour) classes that cover a variety of topics, often on several levels. At the beginning of term, SIPB will be running our annual Computer Tours, which visits a number of machine rooms and cool labs around campus. Also, during IAP (January), a number of classes are offered by several organizations (including IS&T and SIPB).

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: