Dr Dobbs Syndrome

DrDobbsJournal is the butt of many jokes among my co-workers and technically inclined friends. The magazine seems to be especially attractive to people who like CowboyCoding. But there are many ironic aspects to DrDobbsJournal and its subscriber base (as observed by myself) that leave me with the following questions/observations:

It was called a journal as a joke, not out of pretense. The full name was "Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia ("Running Light without Overbyte"). I don't know why this was funny, but it was. Maybe you had to be there.

((It was funny because, at that time, Byte Magazine (the big boys) was a thick, advertising-riddled publication, and DDJ was this thin, light, ads-in-the-margins-only, *really* technical magazine wherein you could find discussions of all kinds of air-is-thin-up-here stuff. It de-mystified many things for me early on. MichaelSwaine was then the Editor in Chief. The mag is no longer what it was. Back then, it survived on subscriber revenues rather than ad bucks. Today, the intense passion for examining the fiddly "wiring" of technology has been marginalized by political correctness and advertiser friendliness. Oh, my, I seem to be ranting. -- GarryHamilton))

RANT ON my son. It was as you said, and it was good. I acquired many good things from the good journal. Now I pass it by, alas, I mourn its passing and shudder at the shambling undead thing which wears the name. -- KirkBailey

I propose the existence of DrDobbsSyndrome. It is characterized by the fear of not knowing enough buzzwords to keep up with the other posers during meetings, the willingness to spend time writing your own data structures (instead of using the SgiStl or JavaGenericLibrary), and the love of CDROMs of easily downloadable software being delivered to your door each month.

DrDobbsJournal was a periodical that has shaped what people have come to expect from a programmers magazine. But it is interesting to see how things can change for the better. Having been around for so long, it appears to be difficult for DrDobbsJournal to keep up. For example, it was one of the first (the first?) to publish complete source code. That is all well and good, but who wants to retype several pages from a magazine? Nowadays, magazines tend to publish code snippets and provide a URL from which the complete source can be downloaded. Subtle, but very different. --ShadAumann?

DDJ lets you download source from ftp://ftp.ddj.com or http://www.ddj.com/ They have been doing this since June 2000, at least. That's the date on the oldest one within DeskReach?.


DDJ was the magazine that had 'Undocumented Corner?' That was good stuff, good stuff. I used to make money writing VxDs? for Windows and at the time magazines like DDJ published stuff you needed to know to get it to work. Sure it was hacking but there was no other way. -- AndrewQueisser

I was one of the original subscribers to Dr Dobbs and have fond memories of it. My subscription lapsed about 20 years ago, though. I look at a copy every so often, and I must say it has changed a lot since the early days. Color! Languages other than assembly language! The original purpose of Dr. Dobbs was to generate some open source Basic interpreters by publishing pieces of them in the magazine. But it turned out to be a lot easier to make a Basic interpreter than they thought, and they had several published before the first year was out. The interpreters kept getting smaller and smaller. I remember one that was less than 1K bytes, and was implemented by two levels of virtual machine. Then DDJ moved on to C compilers and the like. I liked the magazine because it printed all the source code to programs, and I like to read programs. Eventually I lost interest in reading those kinds of programs. However, I still like to read programs! -- RalphJohnson

The quality of articles in DDJ is cyclic, with a long cycle time. I suspect that has a lot to do with editor/staff turnover. A friend was an editor there many years back, and the mix of articles shifted for a while towards his particular interests. -- DaveSmith

I subscribed for some years and learned a lot from it. Eventually I outgrew it, and let my subscription lapse, with the comment, "It's best described as DrDobbsHackersJournal?." Later, I looked at several issues of "the NEW Dr.Dobb's Journal. It's still DrDobbsHackersJournal?. -- JeffGrigg


I have no idea why Dr. Dobbs calls itself a journal (read above), but it never struck me as a scholarly effect. Journal means daily, which Dr. Dobbs isn't. I couldn't understand the comments way above about relative age, but Robert seems to have deduced that Shad thinks the old timers are stuck in the bits and bytes, while the youn-uns have made the big paradigm shift. Like Robert, I'm skeptical about this correlation. I must say I always thought the free software on Dr. D was more for review than download. To each his own. -- WaldenMathews

DDJ was more important before than now when the field was smaller. DDJ was still useful a few years ago to give people a few nuggets of insight into what various sects of the industry are doing. Many people learnt of Java from DDJ.

On the other hand, I recently let my subscription lapse (again; it's been an on-again-off-again relationship) in favour of AdBusters. DDJ is really lame. The articles are very bad. The columns are worse. Either I've grown up to be an ol' fart like y'all or the magazine has dropped in quality. Then again, I'm fairly sure Al Stevens' columns are total fluff these days. The cpptips mailing list does me fine.

But I think DDJ has a cultural conveyance to it beyond things like the C User's Journal, Game Developers Magazine, etc. Hence the original title. -- SunirShah, youngen 20 something


Actually, I find just the opposite. It is more the twenty-somethings that really get off on low-level stuff and CeePlusPlus than the older programmers. -- RobertDiFalco


I agree with much of the statements of everyone here. Dr. Dobbs is a very uneven magazine in terms of quality and content. But I still continue my subscription because I find a lot of value in it -- even the bad articles. I can say that Dr. Dobbs has increased my scope, although it probably hasn't really increased my depth. That has value. It opens up your mind to problem domains you might not normally be exposed to. (I found a recent article that had to do with cartography -- something I have no interest in or spend any professional time with. That article made me think about a problem I was having with a layout manager I'm working on. I found a connection that proved to be useful.) Additionally, I will often exchange mail with authors of articles that interest me to learn more or to discuss statements in their articles. That also has value. -- JohnPassaniti

I just started a subscription in the last year, having turned up my nose to it several years ago. I also see it as DrDobbsHackersJournal?, and as much as I don't enjoy to, I feel a need to keep an eye on what the hackers are up to, for I feel that they and the cockroaches may (have) inherit(ed) the world. -- WaldenMathews


I have been a fan of DDJ for a few years but in the past year I have found it less and less useful. It seems that many of the articles are little more than glorified ads; they tend to start out, "The software we've developed at my company does this. Here's how to use it." I enjoy the columns written by AlStevens? and MichaelSwaine and consider the decision to print only one a month a big detriment to the magazine. I still find AlgorithmAlley? enjoyable, not necessarily as an impetus to reinvent the wheel but as a way to understand the operation of the wheel. A recent (current date: 22/4/2003) one described an algorithm for online stores "other customers who bought this book also bought" sections which was quite interesting and not a wheel that I was familiar with. I think it's unfair to call subscribers to DDJ hacks but on the other hand the amount of useful information in the magazine seems to decrease every month. -- BrianRobinson
Alrighty then, all you crotchety old KnowItAlls?, WhatComputerMagazinesDoYouLike?
I liked DDJ from Day 1 of its release - and yes I am that old. I learned a lot from its articles and even put a few nibbles in myself. Would like to see if anyone is still out there reding this thread? But since this is now the age of WWW (Does not refer to World War Three) I do most of my reading and research without paper or monthly publications.
My dad had a subscription to Dr. Dobbs way back in the day. (I suspect that he may have even started with the first issue.) It's funny to remember it as this little homemade newsletter-type publication, and see the slick corporate magazine that it has evolved into today. -- KateSherrill?


I'd like to try to answer the question about the age of the average <magazine of your choice> subscriber. This generally seems to change over time - together with the change of the subscribers/readers. So this is related to the question why the quality of the magazine changes. This is probably a pattern all these magazines share: They have to resolve the forces of the interests of the current subscribers/readers with the interests of the future subscribers/readers. The future subscribers are obviously needed because a) the publisher usually wants to increase its volume and b) some reader invariable drop out.

I see this strive for balance very strongly at work in the German Computer Magazine c't (http://heise.de/ct). It is Europes most subscribed computer magazine and feared for its objective reviews and high standards. It is known for its technical articles that assume that the reader is able to follow in-depth technical details. So it is kind of what DDJ could have become. What you would have wished for. The c't somehow managed to do it even though many people lament that the c't used to be much better. But I think this is more due to the fact that the readers got older - and with it even more educated - and forgot to scale their expectation to it.

The c't magazine has some troubles satisfying their aging readers (ever getting more demanding and sometimes dropping out due to this) and the aquisition of new readers which have to be satisfied without frightening them off with too complicated articles. I think they managed it by providing a broad range of articles from entry articles ("configure your own best PC") over a diverse set of well researched general computer topics (green IT, data privacy law, interviews) to the mentioned in-depth articles (project for an FPGA board). This is possible because the c't is more a catalog than a magazine with at some time up to 600 pages (now averaging 400) and simply has the volume to satisfy everyone including the publisher - if you have to skip lots of articles to get to the interesting ones you have to turn a lot of ads I guess.

So what is the summary? A magazine changes with their subscribers. Some magazines don't target a specific group and thus a) have much fluctuation and b) have to attract new readers all the time. Such a magazine may change often and will usually avoid to complicated matters. Some magazines target very specific interests and then are bound for good or bad to the development of the people behind these interests.

EditText of this page (last edited February 13, 2009) or FindPage with title or text search