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United Kingdom Bug Technology

BBC Clock Inaccurate - 100 Days To Fix? 487

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-tricky-clock dept.
mikejuk writes "The BBC home page has just lost its clock because the BBC Trust upheld a complaint that it was inaccurate. The clock would show the current time on the machine it was being viewed on and not an accurate time as determined by the BBC. However, the BBC have responded to the accusations of inaccuracy by simply removing the clock stating that it would take 100 staffing days to fix. It further says: 'Given the technical complexities of implementing an alternative central clock, and the fact that most users already have a clock on their computer screen, the BBC has taken the decision to remove the clock from the Homepage in an upcoming update.' They added, '...the system required to do this "would dramatically slow down the loading of the BBC homepage", something which he said was "an issue of great importance to the site's users". Secondly, if the site moved to a format in which users across the world accessed the same homepage, irrespective of whichever country they were in, it would be "impossible to offer a single zonally-accurate clock."'"
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BBC Clock Inaccurate - 100 Days To Fix?

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  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:12AM (#43922399)

    I'm not sure I can trust a source which says "it has been stated that it would take 100 programmer hours to fix" then quotes a paragraph stating 100 staff days. Regardless it is harder than it looks: the BBC doesn't want to get into the business of running a time server, nor trying to automatically determine which time zone any particular visitor to the site happens to be in (by, what, IP address tracing?).

    • by Pinhedd (1661735) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:21AM (#43922451)

      Come on, everyone knows that public sector workers only work for one hour per day. Programmers are no exception.

      • Is the BBC public sector? That is an interesting idea. It is not taxpayer funded. It is licence fee funded.

        • by spacec0w (894586) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @05:26AM (#43922835)
          I think most would consider the licence fee a sort of tax.
          • by squiggleslash (241428) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @08:49AM (#43924075) Homepage Journal

            No, no they wouldn't. It's a payment for a service. You can refuse to pay, in which case you don't have any right to the service.

            Insofar as there's a problem with it, it's that the laws enforcing it kinda presume that if you don't want the service then you don't want related services that are provided by the same means as the BBC but not the same funding (ie transmitted as standard unencrypted TV signals.) You can have all or nothing.

      • by Vulch (221502)

        No, "programmer hours" versus "staff days". As everyone who has worked in a large organisation, public or private, knows it is vitally important to have numerous committee meetings and consult all stakeholders to make sure all possible solutions have been investigated and a clear approach decided before any programmers get involved.

      • by war4peace (1628283) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @07:52AM (#43923611)

        Reminds me of a joke.

        A guy applies for a public sector job. The interviewer asks him if he drinks any coffee, guy says "no, I'm not allowed to have coffee because of the surgery I've done in the past. You know, when I fought in Iraq, a bomb exploded and mangled my balls, so they have been removed."
        The interviewer remains silent for a minute then says "OK, you're hired, you will come to work at noon every day and leave at 4 PM".
        Applicant protests: "Look, I know work starts at 8 AM and I don't want to be advantaged because I'm invalid".
        Interviewer says "No, it's nothing like that. See, we come to work at 8 AM, and have our coffee until 10 AM and then we scratch our balls until noon. So there's nothing that you CAN do until noon, no point in coming in at 8 AM."

    • by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:21AM (#43922457) Journal
      It's a cop-out, nothing more.

      Display the time in GMT. State that the time is in GMT. Offer a drop down menu showing "-12h" to "+12h", save the option in a cookie. Or don't. No one from the licence fee paying British public would mind if it only showed British time.

      Use someone else's time server. There are plenty to pick from. No need to run your own.

      It took me 2 minutes to type this. Who wants to implement it by Friday?
      • by Sockatume (732728)

        I can't see anyone going to even the small amount of effort needed to set their time zone on the BBC web site clock when there's one in the bottom right hand corner of their screen at all times.

        • by Smivs (1197859)

          ...there's (a clock) in the bottom right hand corner of their screen at all times...

          That's not a clock, that's my workspaces! The clock is in the TOP right corner.

      • by Faluzeer (583626) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:32AM (#43922527)

        It's a cop-out, nothing more.

        Display the time in GMT. State that the time is in GMT. Offer a drop down menu showing "-12h" to "+12h", save the option in a cookie. Or don't. No one from the licence fee paying British public would mind if it only showed British time.

        Use someone else's time server. There are plenty to pick from. No need to run your own.

        It took me 2 minutes to type this. Who wants to implement it by Friday?

        Hmmm

        GMT is only "British time" for half of the year. From the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, we are on British Summer Time, which is GMT + 1. Given how many people get confused over summer / daylight savings time, I am sure that setting the BBC clock to GMT all year round would generate a lot of complaints.

        • by Shinobi (19308)

          GMT is a geographical division. So even if you're on DST, you're still in GMT, NOT GMT+1. The zones do not shift just because of DST.

          • GMT is a geographical division. So even if you're on DST, you're still in GMT, NOT GMT+1. The zones do not shift just because of DST.

            Wrong! A time zone don't change; it is defined by its UTC offset. When you go to DST, you change by changing your time zone. Here on the East of the US, we do it by changing our zone from Eastern Standard Time (EST, UTC -5 hours), to Eastern Daylight Time (EDT, UTC -4 hours). In Britain, they do it by changing their zone from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT, UTC +0 hours) to Brit

          • by Marillion (33728)
            BBC World Service presenters announce time in GMT. As a resident of Eastern North America, the time announced is always five hours ahead of my local time in Winter and four hours ahead in Summer. It's quite clear that the BBC World Service definition of GMT does not observe British Summer Time.
      • by Kiwikwi (2734467)

        Sigh. The fact that you think British time equals GMT speaks volumes to your lack of understanding of the complexities of time.

        (And what is "British time"? Do you mean UK time? What about overseas territories?)

        More importantly, if the clock on the user's own computer isn't "good enough", what is? Just agreeing on the requirements could easily take 100 staff days.

        The US government has http://www.time.gov/ [time.gov] which has most definitely taken 100 staff days to create, plus on-going maintenance.

      • It's a cop-out, nothing more.

        It's a fit of common sense.

        What is the use case of a clock on a website?

      • It's a cop-out, nothing more.

        Sheesh... It's a freaking clock!!

        Yes, it's a cop-out, but why is this even a story on Slashdot? And what is the point of duplicating clock functionality that's already on someone's computer anyway?

        It took me 2 minutes to type this. Who wants to implement it by Friday?

        Again, what is point of doing that on the bbc web site?

    • by jamesh (87723) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:26AM (#43922495)

      I'm not sure I can trust a source which says "it has been stated that it would take 100 programmer hours to fix" then quotes a paragraph stating 100 staff days

      I think that's 100 programmer hours to fix the problems, and 100 staff days to field calls from a nation whose hobby is complaining about things that don't matter.

      • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @07:31AM (#43923461)

        I think that's 100 programmer hours to fix the problems, and 100 staff days to field calls from a nation whose hobby is complaining about things that don't matter.

        Dear Points of View,

        I would like to raise two problems with JamesH's post of the 6th of June. Firstly, he mistakes us for "a nation", despite the constitutional recognition of our 4 different nationalities within the united state.

        Secondly, he alleges that we tend to complain about things that don't matter, which is a scurrilous accusation with no foundation in fact.

        Yours faithfully
        Disgusted
        Tunbridge Wells

    • BBC doesn't want to [...] automatically determine which time zone any particular visitor to the site happens to be in

      How do they handle this for their TV broadcasts?

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        Their TV broadcasts (and the live streams of the channels) occur in a single timezone.

        • Are you sure about that? With good equipment, you can pick up their TV signals surprisingly far.

          And then what about their radio broadcasts, which are worldwide.

          • by Sockatume (732728)

            The TV broadcasts are at least ostensibly only to be received in the UK. Leakage happens but obviously anyone receiving the signal has no expectation of a standard of service, and therefore the BBC's accuracy requirement doesn't apply. The World Service is a global broadcast and is formatted as such, e.g. it doesn't include explicit time references.

          • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Thursday June 06, 2013 @05:50AM (#43922963) Homepage

            The BBC domestic services only use GMT/BST (Greenwich Mean Time in winter, British Summer Time in summer). One time zone. Although they can be received in other countries in other timezones - for example BBC1 and BBC2 domestic TV channels are provided on cable in the Netherlands - no reference is made to those other timezones.

            The BBC's overseas services primarily use GMT but are broadcast regionally (e.g. "Middle East", "West Africa") where they may optionally mention secondary timezones on-air. For example, the BBC World Service's South Asia radio broadcasts may say "It's eleven hours GMT, fifteen-thirty hours in Delhi."

            The BBC has no European radio service any more. European relays of the BBC World Service, including the relay on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio inside the UK, use the African stream. This primarily uses GMT but occasionally additionally references a secondary timezone in a major African city such as Johannesburg or Lagos. There is a specific African breakfast news programme on the BBC World Service's African stream, presented jointly from London and Johannesburg, tailored around the morning hours across several African timezones.

            Live presenters on the BBC World Service may also announce the time as simply "minutes past the hour" without referencing which hour they're referring to, for example "It's twenty minutes past the hour". These are particularly prevalent for African streams. These "minutes past" timechecks are avoided in regions with timezones that are offset by 30 minutes, such as India.

            BBC overseas TV timezones fit into two categories; regional and worldwide. Worldwide services such as the BBC World news channel or BBC Entertainment do not usually reference the time as spoken word, but instead represent the time using on-screen graphics. The graphics will show GMT plus a selection of 3-5 timezones appropriate to the region the stream is broadcast to. For example, the European stream of BBC World will use GMT, Central European time and Moscow time. These are typically shown as full-screen text announcements for future programming (e.g. "Hard Talk, Mon-Fri at 08:30 GMT, 10:30 CEST, 12:30 Moscow" for the European stream). Where programming is shared between regions, they may either use opt-outs for regional time displays or use a more general subset of timezones (e.g. GMT, EST, India; very rarely, GMT is omitted in favour of CET).

            Regional overseas TV services such as BBC America or BBC Arabic will use whatever timezones that region uses and will cope with it just like local domestic services. They will not generally use GMT.

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      They don't have to run a time server, they just need to keep their time server updated; once an hour from is probably enough. There are also a variety of cheap hardware add-ons (even for Windows) that pull accurate time from radio beacons or GPS.

      As for the time zone to display, they ask the browser for its configured time zone and use that. Presumably, that's what the user considers his time zone.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      the BBC doesn't want to get into the business of running a time server

      Then they're pretty damn lazy. It's very easy, especially with the kind of money the BBC has, to do just that.

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        And they could run a burger joint easily too, but they're a publicly-funded organisation, they're not permitted to throw money at activities outside their remit.

        • by Chrisq (894406)

          And they could run a burger joint easily too, but they're a publicly-funded organisation, they're not permitted to throw money at activities outside their remit.

          Probably not the best [express.co.uk] example.

      • Shit waste of money that should go on making radio and TV programmes.

    • trying to automatically determine which time zone any particular visitor to the site happens to be in (by, what, IP address tracing?).

      This might help: getTimezoneOffset documentation [mozilla.org].

      • by pe1chl (90186)

        Right now their problem is that people with their clock incorrectly set will see an incorrect time.
        They probably don't want to change that into a situation where people with their timezone incorrectly set will see an incorrect time.
        (as that will probably largely be the same group of people)

    • by Firehed (942385)

      The timezone thing is a legitimate concern, but there's virtually no reason to not have ntpd running on your servers anyway. Depending on their level of server (non-)automation, it could conceivably take a non-trivial amount of time to set that up if it wasn't already, especially if there's software logic that doesn't like time running in reverse should it have to sync up in that direction.

  • by sidevans (66118) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:15AM (#43922419) Homepage

    For a new Time Lord!

  • 100 days? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:44AM (#43922587)
    Counting all the administrative overhead, the "testing", etc., this may well seem plausible.

    It took one large Luxembourgish bank nine months to change SUPPORTED_OS = MAC into SUPPORTED_OS = Linux32 in a configuration file in a jar named LuxTrust_Gemalto_CryptoTI_Adapter_LIN32_1.4.jar (yes, they did indeed accidentally put the Mac config file into the Linux jar... it's that stupid...)

    Another bank [www.bcee.lu] is celebrating the first year anniversary of this same bug right now as we speak :-) (unfixed yet, of course)

    Reason for the slowness (in both cases): when fixing such a mixup, according to their procedures, the entire test suite (... which incidentally, didn't catch this bug in the first place...) needs to be re-run, and this takes weeks, and so they shy away from the expense.

    So we end up in the paradoxical situation where the presence doesn't reduce the number of bugs seen in production, but actually increases it. Rather than catching bugs early, the test suite instead perpetuates existing bugs...

  • BBC cannot win (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeeNahNye (2454474) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:46AM (#43922599)
    The situation is crazy and I have every sympathy with the Beeb. The clock design itself is very nostalgic for those of us of a certain age who have grown up with the BBC. They naturally created a simple clock that reflects the user's local time. A handful of morons who cannot set their computer's clock properly complained that the BBC's clock was inaccurate. The BBC cannot be expected to implement a global solution which cannot rely on the local host having any accurate time information and takes into account time zones, geographical location etc even if the issue of running an accurate server-synchronised clock is trivial. Also note that everything they do is heavily scrutinised by rabid right-wing politicians and licence-fee payers. My only gripe with the Beeb is that that it's acquiesced to these stupid complaints and withdrawn the clock rather than telling the complainants where to go.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Look at it from a non-technical person's perspective. The BBC has been known for providing accurate time since it's early days when the radio first started playing the famous pips. The Radio 4 news starts with the Big Ben chimes marking 6 PM.

      In recently years the accuracy has decreased thanks to digital transmissions being slightly delayed, but it is still within a second or two and the metadata sent with the audio/video stream provides an accurate clock.

      Imagine a non-technical person looks at the BBC web s

  • Or they could just link to http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/ [greenwichmeantime.com], which does not ONLY display GMT, but times for other time zones/daylight savings schemes as well, along with some other country-specific information. It syncs every 15 seconds or so with their time server, and counts down the seconds using JavaScript (it looks like), which is accurate enough for me to set my watch to every now and then, it required.
  • by locofungus (179280) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @05:04AM (#43922705)

    Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh. I thought this was a website that was supposed to be populated with technical, computer literate people, even programmers.

    The end user requirement: "Show the time"

    They mean "Show the correct time for my current location"

    This is easy: Every (ok, perhaps there's someone still using an old IBM PC computer where you have to set the clock at boot) browser is running on a machine that has a local clock. So we'll use it to display the time.

    Some end users then start complaining that the time on the BBC website is wrong.

    There's two obvious reasons for this: 1. The user has taken the iphone/ipad whatever on holiday and haven't updated the timezone or 2. Their local clock is just plain wrong.

    OK. So we've now established that the end user is incapable of correctly determining and setting the correct time and timezone on their machine. So we, as a programmer, have to do this for them. Cookies, asking the user, etc obviously aren't going to work. If they cannot get their own clock right then they're not going to get the website configuration right either.

    This is hard, hard, hard to solve. IMO it's impossible - what do you do about people coming through proxies in different timezones?

    The BBC have made exactly the right decision - the old solution was the correct one. PEBKAC. TPTB have decided that the correct solution wasn't good enough. So don't waste any more time or money trying to hack together something just to satisfy end user requirements that are fundamentally broken. End users can use the clock on their machine anyway and they won't complain to the BBC if it's wrong (presumably they complain to Microsoft instead)

    Tim.

    • I have two simple solutions:

      1. Ask for clarification on use case for a clock taking up space on a tv homepage
      2. Put task on hold while waiting for feedback
      3. Let task rot there.

      or if #1 didn't work out or you're intrested in an actual solution

      1. Show client RTC on website
      2. link to ntp client below the clock. Text: make this clock more accurate

  • Now, I know that some people have more time than brains on them, but whoever reported this sure must have taken the cake. High level exec or marketing/PR? Where does the waste of precious oxygen sit that considers this something the BBC programmers' time should be clogged with?

    Some people just have no reason to exist and waste precious office space, so they have to notice something as important as this and cause a huge stink about it as if anyone but them cared. "I am a nuisance, hence I exist" seems to be

  • I assume that quite a few websites that would like to show the *exact* time regardless of what the browser thinks it is. There is already NTP for this purpose, and the need is for something analogous for HTTP.

    It seems quite feasible to create a JS lib that makes a request over HTTP to a server running some time module and receives the exact value in response. The JS could provide APIs to show that time and calculate various timezones. About the trickiest thing would be dealing with the roundtrip delay of

  • GMT died in 1972 [wikipedia.org], so can we put this to bed already please?

  • 100 days (Score:4, Funny)

    by ssam (2723487) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @05:27AM (#43922847)

    100 person days have been spent reading and commenting on the ./ article. (101 now)

  • Time is easy. Until you have to bother with it in your code. Then it becomes a nightmare.

  • I have never understood why so many people are so keen on putting a clock onto a website. Everyone has a clock [allinthehead.com].

  • the BBC Trust upheld a complaint that it was inaccurate

    OK, so it's inaccurate - that just puts it in the same class as every clock in the world, excluding the global standards (and even they don't agree when you get down to small enough time divisions).

    This is a systemic problem with the Beeb. They take every complaint or criticism "personally". If a programme draws a few complaints then an apology gets issued. If an interviewee uses a "bad" word on live TV an apologist instants says sorry. The corporation seems to have this view of itself as being infallible

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