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Ask SIPB

What is SIPB?

The Student Information Processing Board (SIPB, pronounced sip-bee) is MIT’s volunteer student group dedicated to computing. SIPB has, in one form or another, been working on improving computing at MIT since 1969. Today, SIPB contributes to MIT computing by sponsoring interesting projects and providing additional services and expertise to the MIT community. We have an office just outside the Athena cluster in the 5th floor of the Student Center, and you are welcome to come to the office to ask us for help or to hang around and use our computers.

As a prefrosh, how can I check my email this weekend?

Though Athena UNIX machines are ubiquitous on campus, they require logins, so you will be unable to use them. There are other computer options, though, assuming you have a web-based e-mail service like gmail. If your host has a computer, you can ask him or her to let you use it. Or, visit us in the SIPB office in W20-557, ask nicely, and check your email here!

What is MIT’s computing infrastructure for student use?

Each dorm room contains at least one network drop per student. All dorms also have wireless networking.

In addition, MIT provides network to the Fraternity, Sorority, and Independent Living Group (FSILG) houses. Each FSILG has the power to wire its house as it sees fit. Most, if not all, have at least one network drop per student; some also have wireless networking.

On campus, Athena clusters abound, and students can find computers practically anywhere. Campus buildings all have some level of wireless connectivity.

What is Athena?

Athena is the networked UNIX computing environment developed by MIT. Athena presents a mostly uniform interface to users, independent of whether they are using Linux Athena or Solaris Athena machines.

Athena uses the Kerberos authentication system (designed at MIT), a secure system that saves users the trouble of having to retype their password to access the various Athena services such as email and mailing list administration.

A vast number of programs are available on Athena machines through AFS, the distributed filesystem MIT uses. The advantage of software in AFS is that it allows users and courses to easily make software available to all machines on campus. One of SIPB’s roles at MIT is to provide hundreds of useful pieces of software in AFS.

MIT gives students a remarkable amount of freedom in the computing environment. Students can create (and modify) @mit.edu mailing lists and AFS filesystem groups through automated command line or web interfaces (many other schools at best let students control mailing lists of the form @lists.something.edu). Thus, one can easily and quickly create professional-sounding infrastructure for group projects or unofficial student groups. Students are also free to choose an arbitrary available username when they arrive.

If I decide to attend MIT, how do I activate my Athena account?

After you choose to attend, you will receive a hefty welcome package. There will be a coupon with instructions to activate your Athena account, providing you access to all of MIT’s computing services. Keep in mind that you will NOT be able to change your username (email address and login name) after you set up your account, so choose wisely (remember that you will be emailing potential employers from this email account)!

What are the quotas for network file space and mail?

MIT’s network file system, AFS, currently provides each user with at least 1 GB of space, accessible from any Athena machine (including the Athena dialups via ssh). The mail quota, a completely separate quota, is currently 500 MB.

Can I run a server at MIT?

Unlike most other colleges, MIT has an open network (not behind a firewall), allowing students to run servers in their rooms. Each student is allowed to have up to four static IP addresses and up to three host names per IP address. Traffic on peer-to-peer file sharing services is allowed, though rate-limited to a fraction of available bandwidth. You should, of course, limit your use of filesharing protocols to legally transferrable files (see the Tech column “Run Over By the RIAA,” or infer the details from the title).

To ask us a question, send email to sipb@mit.edu. We’ll try to answer quickly, and we might 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 Web site: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/