BBC Clock Inaccurate - 100 Programmer Days To Fix?
Written by Ian Elliot   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013

The BBC home page has just lost its clock because the BBC Trust upheld a complaint that it was inaccurate. All it did was to show the current time on the machine it was being viewed on and not an accurate time as determined by the BBC. Surely an institution as prestigious as the BBC can provide us with a reliable clock.? We tell them how.

Most other sites are reporting this news as something that the BBC should fix, because it is supposed to be a source of all truth and having a clock that might be as wrong as the clock on the machine used to view the site is clearly a failure. 

However, the BBC have responded to the accusations of inaccuracy by simply removing the clock as it has been stated that it would take 100 programmer days to fix:

"The BBC had asked its product management team to investigate the issue and it had reported back to the committee that it would take about 100 staffing days to make the changes involved in switching to an independent clock."

Notice the use of the term "independent clock". Who thought that it needed an independent clock - isn't this taking neutrality to extremes? 

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."

Ah now it begins to make more sense - the proposed solution seems to be that the BBC would have to set up a central time keeping service something like the SNTP network that sets the time on most machines. Given the SNTP network exists and in use by lots of machines there really doesn't seem to be any need for the BBC to reinvent the atomic clock. 




However the BBC goes on to say:

"(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".

 "impossible to offer a single zonally-accurate clock".

Well that's quite a negative set of statements. Presumably the central system proposed by the BBC would need the page to poll the central time server every second so it could stay synchronized.

I don't know about you but this seems crazy to me. 

You don't need a central server to get the time right. All that you need is to send the current time in the page load, compare it to the local clock and compute an adjustment. Then you simply show the local machine's time plus the adjustment - like you did before. Surely the accuracy of the local clock is good enough for the duration that the page is open?

And as to:

 "impossible to offer a single zonally-accurate clock".

have they never heard of UTC and getTimezoneOffset(). 

As to the impossibility of creating a  "single zonally-accurate clock" it seems fairly easy rather than impossible.

In fact it should be possible with a single line of JavaScript and perhaps a single line of say PHP back on the server. The clock wouldn't be millisecond accurate but in most cases it would be correct to the second.


So no clock for the BBC home page because it is "impossible"?

It is slightly sad to see the progenitor of so many amazing pieces of engineering in the recent past, including lots of well known TV clocks, claim that something so simple is impossible. It also makes you sad to be associated with the skill of programming if it can sink so low.  

More Information

Trust upholds BBC Online clock complaint

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Last Updated ( Friday, 07 June 2013 )