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MIT student blogger Anthony R. '09

Mid-May Update by Anthony R. '09

Q&A: Athena tips and hints

It’s a pretty slow week. Classes ended yesterday, I’ll be studying for a final this weekend, and thankfully the sun came out again after a week of rain. :-

But… I bet by now, all you ’10 folks have your Athena accounts. Any obscure questions about how to use certain things? Here are some useful links and tips:

a) Make sure you get your web certificates — you can do so by going to these links, in this order: (accept/install when prompted)

b) Get yourself a real mail client — webmail might be convenient, but there are better solutions out there. You can get instructions on how to set one up at, or you can visit (with your certificates installed) to download a licensed copy of Eudora.

Also available at that software site is a fully-licensed copy of Windows XP Professional — I believe you can download this twice during your time at MIT. If you’d prefer a fully-licensed copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, you can get it (again, with certificates installed) at

c) Interested in learning about Zephyr, MIT’s Athena “instant messaging” tool? Check out and You can change the name that is displayed when you send Zephyr messages by logging into Athena and using the ‘chfn’ command. (This will also change your name throughout Athena, but *not* in the MIT directory or registrar database.)

d) MIT is piloting a Jabber IM installation, and you can find out more about it at

e) Want to upload things to your MIT Athena or Web space? You can do this via SFTP to, or for the less technically inclined, you can download SecureFX from the MIT software page. It’s a handy drag-and-drop Windows tool.

f) Want to put a period after your middle initial in the MIT directory and registrar database, because your middle name is actually not one letter? Or, want to put your full middle name instead? You can go to (with certificates), click “for Students,” then “Biographic Record.” You can also enter your Emergency Contact (parents) details in there as well — MIT will hound you for them before the fall semester starts.

g) MIT subsidizes MBTA (subway/bus/commuter rail) passes for students. They pay half of the actual cost, and bill the remainder to your student account. This isn’t something you want to look into right now, but it’s useful to keep in mind, because it’s good to get off campus every so often. People say that “having a pass makes you inclined to use it.” To get a pass, you must sign up at at least a month and a day before the month for which you want a pass.

h) As a student residing in a dorm, you are entitled to four static IPs / hostnames on MITnet. This means you can have (anything available) .MIT.EDU on four static IPs, and there are no blocked ports, firewalls, or bandwidth limits. When you arrive in the fall and are assigned your permanent room, ask around for the RCC, an upperclassman who deals with such requests. You can read about MIT dorm network policies at (Hint: nobody I know actually bothers with AUI.)

i) If you want to get involved with technology services at MIT, a good place to start is SIPB, MIT’s Student Information Processing Board. SIPB offers and supports various services which complement your Athena access — check out their site for more.

j) Want an email alias, or two, or ten? You can get (anything available), without the 3-8 character limit your actual Athena name has. The process you follow is to sign up for a Moira/traditional mailing list, adding yourself as the sole member. Check for this, and don’t sign up for a Mailman list — that’s overkill for a simple alias. To add yourself to the list, SSH to athena (if unsure, download SecureCRT from the MIT software page, or visit, then utilize the “blanche” command. Example syntax to add yourself (user “pqrs”) to list “list”: blanche list -a pqrs

k) If you want to use a MIT hostname (and get onto MITnet) before you even get to campus, you can use the MIT VPN. This is necessary, for example, to view MIT building floorplans, as you need to be on MIT’s network with your certificates. (

If anyone has any questions (I can explain things further or in far less technical terms!), just post a comment. :-)

6 responses to “Mid-May Update”

  1. gm says:

    thanks anthony for the post… informative =)

  2. arya says:

    how exactly can I get redhat linux?? when I click on the provided link I get a list of something I don’t know about!!

  3. Anthony says:

    Arya, if you go to,ES,WS/

    you can burn the ISO images.

  4. geofft says:

    I can get to floorplans with just certs without a VPN, by the way.

    Do you know if there are supposed to be two root certificates for MIT? The sites run by IST and such work fine with the certificate I have, but some of them like commuting seem to use another certificate or something like that…. I’m not going to add that one to trusted until I figure out what it’s doing.

  5. Anthony says:

    I can’t check non-MIT access to the floorplan files, being on campus and all, but let’s just say that the VPN can be useful if you’re on a network which blocks things or is otherwise unreliable — for example, if you’re behind a router and can’t receive incoming files, because you need your own public IP. The VPN is good for that.