Welcome to MIT, prefrosh! We're the Student Information Processing Board ("SIPB", pronounced sip-bee), MIT's student computing interest group. Our office is on the fifth floor of the Student Center, just outside the Athena cluster. You're welcome to stop by and ask us for help, or just use our computers, or even talk with us.
What is Athena?
You might have seen a lot of computers around campus, from the lab of over 100 computers in the Student Center to the four "quickstations" next to the cafe in the Stata Center. Most of these systems use the Athena system, an MIT distribution of Unix (both Solaris and Linux) that lets you log in anywhere, access the same files, and run a large variety of software off the network. Project Athena developed most of the core technology of the Athena computers, including the X Window System, the Kerberos authentication protocol, and Zephyr (the first IM software), all of which are in active use and development today.
One of the benefits of MIT's computing setup is that you can easily get @mit.edu mailing lists, shared file space, hostnames (e.g., yourname.mit.edu), and so forth. Dorm residents can get up to four public, static IP addresses, and run their own servers for websites and almost anything else. MIT provides a large amount of freedom and support for you to set up servers for personal projects, or Web sites and infrastructure for student groups or anything else. (Most other colleges are far more restrictive with firewalls, hostnames, and IP addresses, and don't give away mailing lists quite as easily.)
What network facilities does MIT provide?
MIT provides at least one network drop per student in the dorms, as well as complete wireless coverage throughout all dorms and academic buildings on campus (and quite a bit outdoors). Fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups are also connected to MIT's network routers, and generally offer the same level of connectivity.
As mentioned earlier, Athena computers abound on campus, providing a convenient way to tool with classmates for hours or just check your e-mail before getting lunch.
MIT also currently provides over 1 GB of networked disk space per user, with more upon request, as well as additional space for recognized student groups. The mail quota is an additional 1 GB, and your e-mail is accessible via standard IMAP clients and over the web.
What is SIPB?
SIPB 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, in the early days of mainframes and Multics. Today we provide support, in terms of both resources and expertise, to anyone who wants to start a computing-related project to help the MIT community, as well as computing help to people who e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the more recent projects SIPB has run or supported include:
¶ scripts.mit.edu, a full web-hosting and CGI-hosting service that's designed to integrate with Athena accounts and file servers.
¶ LAMP, a system to select music on a website and play it across the campus cable TV network (legally!).
¶ Linerva, a Debian Linux machine providing an Athena-like environment, which is available by remote access (SSH) to anyone with an Athena account. A related project is Debian-Athena, for use on personal computers.
¶ Sportcast, the first open-source HDTV production system, which is used to broadcast MIT sports games.
¶ qrpff, the infamous five-line program that cracks the CSS encryption on DVDs.
¶ Plenty of software in AFS for many purposes.
If I decide to attend MIT, how do I activate my Athena account?
Once you submit your acceptance to MIT, you'll receive in mid-May a hefty package called the Next Big Mailing. 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 (i.e., your e-mail address and login name) after you register, so choose wisely!
To ask us a question about anything related to computing at MIT, send email to email@example.com. We'll try to answer quickly, and if you'd like, 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 Web site: http://www.mit.edu/~asksipb/