Ask SIPB - August 27, 2007

Welcome, especially to 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 introductory columns 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. In addition, there are several "quickstations", workstations with timers in various convenient spots such as the Infinite Corridor or many buildings' lobbies. Most of these workstations run Linux-Athena or Solaris-Athena, which provide a common user interface, and set of software in addition to access to the various Athena systems (files, printers, etc.) You can access the software and your files from any workstation.

A small number of workstations instead run Windows or Mac-based variants of Athena, which come with a different selection of software. The New Media Center, in 26-139, is a cluster of iMacs and G5 Power Macs running a variety of multimedia software. The NMC also has a color scanner and computer hookups for MiniDV and S-VHS tapes. There are also two clusters of Windows machines on the "" system — one cluster is in the back room of the W20-575 cluster, and the other is in 37-312. Both the Windows and Mac systems can access your regular Athena home directory.

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 and NMC are protected by push-button combo locks; 37-312 also requires an MIT card to enter. To find out the current cluster combo, on any Athena machine (such as a quickstation), 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.

What are these rooms with whiteboards and couches and computer hookups?

They are collaborative group spaces, first deployed three years ago. They were designed to make working in groups at MIT both easier and more powerful. You can find them in most larger clusters, as well as in the new Reading Room on the fifth floor of the Student Center. You can visit Academic Computing's facilities website at for more information on the various types of computing spaces.

Should I set up my personal computer now?

If you brought a desktop machine to campus, you're better off waiting to set up your computer. Unless you live in McCormick, which has forced room squatting, you will almost certainly be moving to either another room, if not another dorm.

If you didn't bring a laptop, or even if you did, don't forget about the Athena clusters all around campus. Give them a try once before classes start, so you know what the system looks like before the night of your first pset — and then get off the computer and explore the many opportunities that you have during Orientation to learn about dorms, activities, and everything else at MIT.

How do I access the Internet?

If you have a wireless card, just connect to the "MIT" network and attempt to visit any website. You'll see the Network Registration page, where you can log in with your Athena username and password and register for DHCP. After about fifteen minutes, you'll be able to access the network anywhere on campus through that computer.

If you need an Ethernet cable, you can get one for free through your dorm's Residential Computing Consultants (RCCs), or come by the SIPB office in W20-557 or the Athena Consulting office in the lobby of N42. You can also ask your RCC for a static IP address in your dorm's network (which doesn't prevent you from using DHCP in other buildings.) You can contact your RCC by filling out a form at

Since your computer will be directly on the public Internet, it's vital to your machine's security that you keep it up to date with the latest patches. Visit for instructions on keeping your Windows or Macintosh computer up to date. It's also a good idea to run a virus scanner and keep it up to date: if you don't have one, you should take advantage of MIT's license of VirusScan and download it from If your computer came with one that has since expired, make sure to uninstall it, since multiple virus scanners can conflict and render each other useless.

I forgot my password. What do I do?

You'll need to visit the friendly folks at Accounts. Bring your ID to N42 during business hours and ask for a password reset. Alternately, if you have personal certificates on your computer, you can reset your password through the web at

Where can I get more help with computing at MIT?

You can come ask SIPB in person or via email. Our office is W20-557, right next to the Athena cluster. Any time the office is open (typically from afternoon to late evening) you should feel free to ask us questions. You can also call us at (617) 253-7788 or email

OLC, short for On-line Consulting, is MIT's official support group for Athena-related questions. OLC has a set of stock answers for Athena related questions on the web at; this list is also available from Athena by typing olc answers.

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

Alternately, you can visit their office in N42, open for walk-in support 9:15am to 4:45pm M-F. You can also call (617) 253-4435 or e-mail Online support is available 9:30am to 5:30pm. Consultants are also occasionally on duty on weekends or holidays.

If your question relates to Windows or Macintosh systems, you can contact the Computing Help Desk. 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. RCCs are fellow dorm residents who 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.

My friends and I can't get to our e-mail. Did something break? provides information about both scheduled and unscheduled network and service outages. If you can't even access the web, x3-DOWN (253-3696) often provides information about major outages. If you suspect an outage, 3-DOWN can tell you whether it's been reported already, and often when it's expected to be over.

How can I learn more about computing at MIT?

Throughout term, there are a number of ways you can learn more about computing or computing specifically at MIT. IS&T provides some documentation on various components of Athena at; we'll cover some of those topics in the next several issues. On Thursday, September 6, SIPB will run our annual Computer Tours, which visit a number of machine rooms and cool labs around campus. In addition SIPB will be offering weekly Cluedumps, a series of short, informal technical talks on Monday nights, starting September 10. Check for the schedule and locations.

Of course, stay tuned for upcoming Ask SIPB columns, published every day this week and every two weeks during term. Tomorrow's column will cover e-mail.

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: