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Ask SIPB August 29, 2006

By The Student Information Processing Board

Want to read your MIT mail on a personal computer? Or figure out exactly where all those @mit.edu addresses go? In this column, the second of four introductory columns, we cover mail and mailing lists.

Mailing lists at MIT

There are two commonly used types of mailing lists at MIT: Moira lists and Mailman lists.

Moira lists (also called Athena lists) are more than simple mailing lists. They can be used to restrict access to Web pages and AFS directories, and control who can manage other Moira lists. From Athena, an easy way to access Moira lists is using the mailmaint command:

athena% mailmaint

For a non-menu driven interface, you can also use the blanche command (to add yourself to the “cluedump-announce” list, for example):

athena% blanche cluedump-announce -a $USER

To remove yourself :

athena% blanche cluedump-announce -d $USER

Or to get a list of members:

athena% blanche cluedump-announce

From any non-Athena computer, you can perform these actions by getting MIT Certificates and going to http://web.mit.edu/moira/. Alternatively, you can connect to Athena via SSH and run mailmaint or blanche from there. (See http://web.mit.edu/olh/Remote/ssh.html for instructions.)

For more information on manipulating Moira lists, see http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/2002columns/2002-11-22-mailinglists/

Mailman lists offer an alternative to Moira lists. They support moderation and filtering, but cannot be used to control access to Web pages, AFS directories, or manage Moira lists. To add yourself to or remove yourself from a Mailman list, you can visit http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/listname (replacing “listname” with the name of the Mailman list).

If you’re unsure whether a list is a Mailman list, you can check the list information (using the list “reuse” as an example):

athena% blanche -i reuse

contains the line

reuse is a Mailman list on server PCH.MIT.EDU

From this, you can tell that to subscribe to reuse, you should go to http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/reuse.

I signed up for a bunch of mailing lists at Activities Midway. Help!

If you’re starting to get too much email, it’s easy to take yourself off of most mailing lists: for most Moira and Mailman lists, you can use the methods mentioned above. Note that it can take up to 4 hours to stop receiving mail from Moira lists. If, for some reason, these methods fail you should try to contact the list owners. If the listname is example, then try to send mail to owner-example@mit.edu or example-request@mit.edu. You shouldn’t send mail to a mailing list requesting to remove you from the list, as most of the people on a list won’t be able to do so. As a last resort, you might want to ask accounts@mit.edu if you’re having trouble removing yourself from a list.

How do I read my mail on Athena?

Athena has many programs you can use to read mail. The simplest to use is Evolution. You can start it by clicking the “Mail” icon in the GNOME panel, or typing:

athena% evolution &

The other recommended and officially supported program is Pine. Unlike Evolution, Pine is a text-based program, so you can even run it over an SSH connection. You can start Pine by typing

athena% pine

You will probably find that Pine runs much faster than most other clients.

How do I read email from non-Athena machines?

MIT supports two mail protocols: IMAP over SSL, and Kerberized POP. With most mail programs, such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Apple Mail, and Pine, you can use IMAP over SSL. Eudora, which is being retired by IS&T, supported both protocols.

To use Pine, which requires no setup, login to Athena (see above) and type:

athena% pine

To setup email in any program that is not already configured to do so, you will need the following settings:

Outgoing mail server: outgoing.mit.edu, SSL (port 465 or 587) or TLS (port 587) if your software supports it

Incoming mail server: poXX.MIT.EDU (where XX is a number)

You can find your incoming mail server by entering:

athena% hesinfo $USER pobox

Does MIT offer spam screening?

Yes, MIT uses a combination of two systems to detect spam. Since IAP 2003, MIT has been using SpamAssassin, an open-source mail filter that uses rules to determine how likely a piece of mail is to be spam. These rules look for common patterns in spam and add points to give a message a score; the higher the score, the spammier the message.

In August 2006, MIT deployed several Barracuda Networks Model 800 spam appliances to give a “second opinion” about mail coming in from outside MIT. These machines are based on SpamAssassin as well, but receive an updated set of rules hourly, and have additional features. For more information about these two systems, see http://www.spamassassin.org and http://www.barracudanetworks.com/ns/products/spam_overview.php.

If the higher of the scores given by these two systems is above a user-configurable threshhold, MIT will put these messages into a folder in your INBOX named Spamscreen. If your account was created years ago and you never created a Spamscreen folder (note the capital “S”), you can do so now to begin having your spam filtered for you.

The scoring is not perfect, so you should do a cursory check of your suspected spam before deleting it; by default, spam more than 3 weeks old is automatically purged. For more information, see the IS&T Spam Screening Web page at http://web.mit.edu/is/help/nospam/.

To ask us a question, send email to sipb@mit.edu. We’ll try to answer you 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 website: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/