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Welcome freshmen and new graduate 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.

Question: What is Athena?

Answer: 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. Each of these workstations runs the Linux or Solaris operating system (both of which are Unix operating systems) 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

Question: How do I get into the Athena clusters?

Answer: 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” to determine the new combo.

Also, when you checked in, you should have 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.

Question: How much space is available for my files and mail?

Answer: The current default Athena file quota (the maximum amount of space your files may occupy) 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 webpage, or to share files easily with other people.

Question: Where can I get computing help?

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

You can come ask SIPB in person or via e-mail. 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 e-mail

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 10 am-5 pm.

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 through 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 connecting your computer to your dormitory network, you can ask a Residential Computing Consultant for help. RCCs are students who get paid to assist other students, usually residents of the same dormitory. They can do everything from assigning IP addresses, to providing network cables, to helping you configure networking on your computer. To contact your RCC, ask around your dormitory or visit to submit a request.

Question: What is 3-DOWN?

Answer: 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 e-mail to We'll try to answer you quickly, and we might address your question in our next column. Copies of each column and pointers to additional information will be posted on our website: