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Gunroom History

...Which this needs updating!  And possibly editing down.

The Story So Far... (June 2006)

The Gunroom has been in existence, running first on Majordomo then on various versions of L-Soft's ListServ software, since about the middle of 1995. It was originally conceived and hosted by Patrick O'Brian's American publisher, W.W. Norton, as an adjunct to their web page created for O'Brian publicity. In his introduction to the original posting of his " Articles of Mail," Gibbons Burke notes that the list originally distributed between 3 and 8 notes per day. Beginning about 18 October 1995, volume swelled to an average of 34 messages per day.

From there the list has grown, slowly at first, gaining speed after "the fillum," accelerating of late. In 1995, according to the statistics that Michael Trick keeps, there were a total of 748 posts from 175 people. In 2005 there were 45448 posts by approximately 623 different people. The current 2006 numbers show that we're on track for 60,000 posts, and already 1063 unique email addresses have contributed to the discussion. Yet the fundamental character of the list -- a vibrant community marked by friendship, which prizes civility and adheres strictly to two topics of discussion, the writings of Patrick O'Brian and everything else, -- was set in the earliest days of the list and has remained the same.

Some of the earliest messages archived by Michael Trick, dating from late October in 1995, show the community responding to what was its first flaming troll. Though that first "unfortunate incident," as it came to be known, has not been archived, several responses suggest that the incident involved an uncivil use of 'nigger.' Other replies make it clear that some left the list in response. Most of the replies, however, gave life to the character of community which is now so dearly cherished.

Donn C. Neal, posting one of the earliest archived replies, wrote,

On behalf of those of us involved with the Patrick O'Brian list here at Norton, I'd like to say that I am as unhappy with the message we received this morning as the rest of you. Your quick responses, balanced as they were with intelligence and reason, are greatly appreciated and do great credit to this group. There is a special atmosphere in this group--a friendly, spontaneous interchange of ideas . . . .

Randolph Johnson's post quickly followed.

Collectively, everybody said: "Wait a minute. This stuff is wrong, and we will not tolerate it." It's true that the original poster probably could not care less about the impact of their message - they probably will not even read this list again. I do not think that ignoring such actions is the best course of action, though. I am better as a person, being surrounded by those unafraid to stand up for what they think is right, and that is what I mean by "Dignity." All I am saying is that no matter what some jerk might do or say, it is nice knowing that there are still intelligent, considerate, thoughtful people around who are willing to share and have a good time. I don't know why somebody would want to sign off from this list - I am proud to be a part of it!

The earliest reply recorded, by ErrolFlnn, is found quoted in a later reply.

I beg all my colleagues on this list who are considering signing off to reconsider. And I ask respectfully that those who have already done so today to come back to us. If you leave, this hacker will have won the day, for our little community will have been cut off from the pleasure of your company and future insights. I speak only for myself, of course, but feel certain that the rest of the readers will agree with me. We can weather this storm.

One day later, Gibbons Burke's posted his " Articles of Mail." It seems to have been in direct response to the reaction to this unfortunate incident. He pointed out, however, that it appeared to him that many of the signoffs were due to increased volume and not objectionable material. He then went on to point out that uncivil behavior came in multiple guises, some unintentional.

As for the topics of conversation, all the "usual" topics can be found in the earliest archive: music in POB, why the same book has different names in GB and USA, a tour of Great Britain for the POBsessed, gluppit the prawling strangles, Pulo Prabang, the most compelling scenes and reading group questions, among others.

In his conclusion to the 2005 data, Michael Trick summarized these twin characteristics of the list well.

Overall, my take on this is that the gunroom continues to be an active, vibrant, wide ranging list with participation from a very large group. Worries about concentration of postings among the top posters seem unwarrented (about 30% of all postings come from those in the top 10, and that has been the case for years). I find this quite surprising: it doesn't have to be this way. For a list that has been around for more than a decade with a fairly high rate of change (compare the top 10 list from 2005 to 2003),based on the works of an author who is *spoiler alert* dead, the continued growth and vibrancy is wonderful.

Over time, Norton's tech staff gave less and less time to administering the list. List downtime grew longer in duration and more frequent, which disrupted the flow of conversation and sent some subscribers over the sides, never to return to the barky. Eventually, it became apparent to the Norton editor responsible for the list, Patricia Chui, that it was more trouble and effort than Norton wished to expend and it was announced that the list would be discontinued by Norton.

To provide a fix for the addictive qualities of Gunroom conversation and a lifeboat designed to keep those thrown overboard from permanently drifting away, Jeff advertised his own mailing list, Lissun-BAG, to the entire list. That seemed to help for a while, but as list downtime continued to become more frequent and longer, the hue and cry of lissuns grew. Eventually an agreement was reached with Norton where a group of volunteer administrators would collectively receive the subscription list from Norton as the basis for a new list hosted elsewhere. Discussions were held (and lessons learned) amongst this new crew as various options were explored for hosting the new list. It was decided that Doug Essinger-Hileman's ISP (Powersurge) would provide the physical home for the list and accompanying website. Doug took it upon himself to register a new domain name for the enterprise. Larry Finch sent this notification to the list:

"As of today the crew of Gunroom LISTSERV hosted by Norton (PATRICKOBRIAN[at]NORTON2.WWNORTON[dot]COM) has been pressed by HMS Surprise, specifically GUNROOM[at]HMSSURPRISE[dot]ORG."

Larry followed this announcement with this note a few days later:

"As you may recall the original plan was to use our ISP's mailing list software. After looking into it, we found that it wasn't as user friendly or flexible as L-Soft's LISTSERV, the motive power behind the Norton list. Patricia Chui offered to transfer Norton's listserv license to, so we re-rigged to use LISTSERV and ran some sea trials, which were successful except for a very annoying paragraph added to the beginning of each message announcing that we were using evaluation software."

And thus, in the summer of 2000, The Gunroom as we currently know it was born. And in true Gunroom fashion, within six months storm clouds were again gathering on the horizon. Doug sent this note to the Gunroom:

"PowerSurge, the current host of and the Gunroom, has decided that they no longer are capable of hosting the listserv as a standard account, and have informed us that we need to find a new home for the listserv by Friday next, 19 January 2001."

It was time to move again. Breaking all known rules of common sense, Jeffrey Charles spoke up and volunteered a solution that met various criteria — ability to use whatever tools were desired to host the list, authority over DNS for the Gunroom and various auxiliary sites, and — best of all, it was free! On 11 January, 2001 Jeff was admitted to the Gunroom Admin list to help facilitate this second migration.

Between the spring of 2001 and the fall of 2004 the Gunroom — both website and ListServ — was hosted by the not-for-profit group,, proposed by Jeff. The web pages evolved, some additional functionality was introduced, and — big commitment — a full license for ListServ was purchased in anticipation of the release of the fillum with its anticipated flood of new subscribers (which would exceed the limitations of the free license inherited from Norton). Smooth sailing seemed to be the order of the day.

Alas, by the end of 2004 mounting technical difficulties with's network connectivity, along with a general dispersal of the original founders of the project, led to a decision to find a new home yet again. Investigations were conducted by the list administrators prior to broaching the subject with the list community as a whole. Previous experience with the perceived imposition of changes on the list by the adminstrators (the lessons learned back in 2000) led to a cautious approach in which it was felt that it would be wise to present a number of well researched options to the list. In the event, a sense of pressing deadlines imposed by the owner of the bandwidth led to a relatively quick decision with the majority of the list membership agreeing with the administrator's proposals for a new home. The final proposal to the list, presenting the best option available with hosting/bandwidth provided by an anonymous angel was as follows:

"A member of Gunroom has offered a non-commercial server for the Gunroom's use. That is, it won't cost us anything, but it will be operated at commercial standards of service for the benefit of the Gunroom. Technical details are at the end of this note for those interested."

There followed a description of the offer, the environment, and (once again) the lack of ongoing costs which would allow the list to continue without any sort of expense incurred by the membership. One caveat in this offer:

"The individual making this offer prefers to be anonymous, but is known to the admins. It is someone technically qualified to do these things for us and in a position to do so without worrying about the cost as long we don't impose unduly. In other words, we don't have to look for any hidden catches. And if we can get an attorney lissun to help, the lissun offering the system has volunteered to do anything reasonable to pass rights to the system to us collectively at some point."

With this offer, our Harbor Master stepped into the limelight and the current implementation was initiated. Though things have evolved, and in some cases are not yet as robust as was originally proposed, it was the commitment detailed in this proposal which has driven the basic configuration of the current environment.