SIPB grumpy fuzzball

MIT Student Information Processing Board


The MIT Student Information Processing Board (SIPB) has been a stronghold of top hacker talent since 1969, and we count among our members generations of operating system contributors, storied computing experts, and successful software entrepreneurs.

The Board's mission is to further computing at MIT, both by offering services to the MIT community and by acting as an ideal location for people to hack on cool projects. We teach programming classes, run servers, publish the "Ask SIPB" column in the Tech, and write and maintain software for MIT's Athena computing environment. Our office (W20-575) is packed with Linux, Macintosh, Windows, and Solaris workstations, two photographic film scanners, a DVD burner, HDTV gear, an oscilloscope, a fully-stocked soda and candy fridge, a library of technical books on almost any topic, and some astonishingly accomplished hackers.

Our members are responsible for a wide array of projects. LAMP is a legal music delivery system that allows anyone on campus listen to songs from 2,000 CDs on demand. SIPB members wrote many of the shortest (and quite legally controversial) DVD descrambler programs, now printed and sold on controversial ties, controversial shirts, and controversial napkins. The "Sportcast" project is developing the world's only open-source HDTV live editing and effects software, which will be used to broadcast MIT sports games in HDTV. SIPB is also involved in technical advocacy around MIT. SIPB members were also responsible for implementing a phone transfer gateway that persuaded IS&T to cancel an unpopular policy of charging $17/month for receiving incoming calls on dormitory phones. A more extensive sampling of other recent projects and activities is given below.

Interested in joining our ranks? If you want to learn more about computers from some of the people who know them best, need help getting financial sponsorship or other resources for a computing project, would like to teach a class during IAP, or just want to rock out and write a little code in our large and comfortable office, SIPB membership may be for you. (No technical skills are required. If you don't have any, you'll learn fast, and we always have plenty of non-technical work to do.)

Full membership in SIPB is open to all MIT undergraduate and graduate students; associate membership is open to anyone who shares our goals. Most people complete some kind of technical community service project as part of joining. Stop by at any time, or come by one of our weekly meetings on Monday evenings at 7:30pm in W20-575 to learn more.

SIPB Computer Tours

SIPB offers annual Computer Tours every Fall, an opportunity to see cool server rooms and computing projects around campus. The tours conclude with snacks and what is often several hours of tales about MIT's computing infrastructure from our very own master storyteller.

No IS&T-provided service allows Athena users to make web-accessible CGI scripts. The SIPB web script service,, allows you to put scripts on the web using nothing more than an Athena account.


Linux Athena is not the optimal operating system for personal machines, especially laptops, which most students arrive on campus with. Students who choose to install some distribution of Linux, often Debian, on their laptops thus sacrifice the easy availability of Athena services. The SIPB-Debian project aims to provide client software for Athena services as Debian packages, so that Debian users can easily install the Athena services on their machines.

At present, the official IS&T dialups, , run Solaris-Athena, which many users who have linux experience find annoying. Further, they do not allow sessions to continue more than a few hours, preventing users from running zephyr logging programs on them. We have a prototype SIPB-Debian dialup running on We hope to have it ready for production usage by the end of the summer; until then, feel free to log in, but be aware that


SIPB maintains the sipb AFS cell, along with the sipb and outland Athena lockers, which make available on any Athena workstation hundreds of software packages that IS&T does not support.

Fun Computer Stuff

We also have some fun abuses of technology, such as sipbmp3, our print server that spools music to the office speakers. We're also working on building a large Athena Defcon display to show the state of Athena services outside our office at the entrance of the W20 cluster (the largest cluster on campus).

Useful Documentation

SIPB maintains some documentation about Athena and programs that you may find useful over the summer, and may explain some of the terminology we've used in the rest of this page. A useful source on how to use Athena is the Athena Pocket Reference Guide, which gives a brief summary of how to use the most useful Athena services. An Inessential Guide to Athena offers a more verbose view of how to use Athena. The sipb zephyr class is an excellent place to ask technical questions or ask for help with a technical problem. Listening on class SIPB can also be quite instructive. You can learn about Zephyr, an instance messaging system built at MIT that has a unique atmosphere of "chatrooms" (zephyr classes), from our Inessential Guide to Zephyr. If you want to get a deeper view into Athena, you may want to consider reading How Athena Works.

Your Project Here

SIPB has a long history of providing MIT students with resources and help with their computing projects. In fact, it's original purpose was to review applications for computing (information processing) time and install timesharing terminals in dormitories, hence our name. Drop by our office and talk to a member about how we can help you with your project idea.

[Pictures of SIPB people doing cool things.]