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Owl’s End: One Student’s Take on Losing His Athena


jan. 15, 2004

At the time of this writing, my Athena account is already deactivated. This chronicle begins on November 4, 2003, the date I received notice of my account’s impending demise due to my recent graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The notice read:

Account Deactivation Notice (4 November 2003)

This is to notify you that your Athena account is scheduled for deactivation on or shortly after January 14, 2004.

If you are currently enrolled in classes, are currently MIT Faculty or Staff, or are working with an MIT Faculty or Staff member on a project that requires the use of Athena, please contact Athena User Accounts...

I was aghast. I had been expecting this eventuality for some time now, although I suppose the shock never completely set in.

With that, I dutifully set up the proper arrangements and backed up all of the contents of my Athena locker three days ago so that I might have some token with which to remember my goddess Athena. Not one to be so easily defeated, I logged into on January 14 at 3 p.m. EST to see what would happen if I were to stand my ground during the account deactivation.

All was fine and by 11 p.m., I was still able to invoke the usual Athena functions. However, I was extremely weary because of the late nights I had put up with for the past couple days and decided to take a nap (it was only 8 p.m. in my time zone, PST). After my respite, I arose at around 2 a.m. EST and decided to check on my Athena.

athena% znol

Can’t open /afs/ /user/c/l/clydelaw/.anyone for input

The error message gave me a jolt. Was this the end? Had my goddess abandoned me?

I executed an ‘ls’ on my home directory. The display of my directory listing proffered me a modicum of relief. Even my .anyone file opened with success when I accessed its contents. Instinctively I attempted to renew my Kerberos tickets:

athena% renew

Password for


fsid: outland mapped

fsid: save mapped

fsid: gnu mapped

fsid: infoagents mapped

fsid: sipb mapped

Hallelujah! She continued to accept my password and renew my tickets. However I soon discovered that this triumph merely concealed what was to come.

I proceeded to hunt around into various other AFS lockers to which I had access privileges to ensure that all was still well, but then, changing back to my home directory yielded the following:

athena% cd

chdir: Can’t change to home directory.

Oh crap... Upon further insistence:

athena% cd ~

/afs/ No such device.

Perhaps it was the case that my locker had become detached?

athena% attach clydelaw

clydelaw: Locker deactivated; contact 253-1325 for help

And so it was. Checking my user status with moira produced:

Login name: clydelaw

Full name: Law, Clyde

User id: 27673

Login shell: /bin/athena/tcsh

Class: G

Windows Console Shell: cmd

Account is: Deleted (3)

Account is: Deleted Those words struck me like a whetted knife. My defiance had been rebuked. Attempting to perform another ssh login to Athena proved to be futile. When presented with my username, she did not even bother with the effort to implore my password, responding with a curt retort:

You are not allowed to log in here: Unknown username

...the bitch.

So here I was, wandering the land of Athena like a vagrant without a home [directory] to return to. My MIT spirit of curiosity had not abandoned me yet however. Since I was still within the fortress gates, I decided to discover what else I could do with whatever remnants of my account were left.

zwgc was still running, so I attempted to determine whether I could still zephyr. A friend of mine was still online, so I ventured a test:

athena% zwrite chchou

Type your message now. End with control-D or a dot on a line by itself.


Message queued for chchou... sent

Authentic Personal message at 03:05:07 on Thu Jan 15 2004

From: Christopher H Chou on NERD-XING.MIT.EDU

To: clydelaw@ATHENA.MIT.EDU


But alas, I had to concede that the account was gone. A verification e-mail to myself further substantiated this unfortunate reality with a bounce message:

: does not like recipient.

Remote host said: 550 5.1.1 ... User unknown

Giving up on

Remarkably, further experimentation proved that my usual access privileges to various mailing lists and lockers had not yet been revoked.

I still maintained write privileges to the j-entry locker from the days when I had the duties of the MacGregor J-Entry Webmaster. Thus, I am taking this opportunity now to scrawl down this saga on the very last remaining location to which I still have access. This will probably be my final mark on the halls of Athena.

I continue to remain logged in, like a child clinging desperately to the mother who has abandoned him, but I fear I may not last long. Soon I will require sleep and my idle time limit will probably be reached, exiling me forever from my goddess Athena. At the very least I can proudly say I did not go down without a fight!

Some system administrator out there is probably logged in laughing at me.

Forever yours, Athena,

Clyde Law ’02, MEng ’03

Inspired in part by conversations with Ronojoy Chakrabarti ’02, Christopher Chou ’02, and Michel Lambert ’04.


clydelaw was logged out during the early morning of Friday, January 16. Precise time of logout was determined to be 6:37 a.m. EST. After surviving over 24 hours post-deactivation, he decided to accept his fate and pull the plug on the keep-alive script. The inactivity monitors kicked in, and he was logged out peacefully while sleeping.

-- Archit Shah ’00