The Loop: Pip pip cheerio


Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts from Twitter and Facebook.

This week, the pips - the hourly sound marker broadcast on BBC stations - turned 90. Sam Judah looked back at a familiar sound. A number of readers contacted us regarding the delivery of the pips on digital and analogue.

"I would like to know which pips are right. We have a digital radio and an analogue radio," asked Nigel Hunt from South Wingfield. "The latter is about five seconds ahead of the former. What time is it?"

George Hubbard, from Ely in Cambridgeship, was equally puzzled: "Understand it's the final pip which signals the precise time but I hear the final pip twice, first on my analogue radio and then on my digital radio. Which one is correct?"

The Loop trundled off down the corridors of Broadcasting House to the boffins in the radio control room. Before we reveal the answer, here's a bit of history.

In the old days, accuracy was sacrosanct so the pips were sent ever so slightly ahead of time from the BBC in London to Scotland - which was a delay of "tens of milliseconds". When they reached Scotland, the time was accurate and the pips were broadcast.

Nowadays, the pips you hear on analogue radio - FM, MW, LW - are accurate (although they no longer go via Scotland). Digital broadcast - DAB on radio, or DTT, such as Freeview and Dsat - have "greater latency". To you and me, that's how much time it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another. DAB has the greatest pip lag out of this log. But pips broadcast via the radio online are the least accurate, according to the boffins.

Graham Barrow, from Luton, who already knew the answer, asked "Should DAB take over and FM be taken off the air, will the pips be rescheduled to allow for the time difference?"

The Loop was told that a while ago the BBC did go down the path of trying to make DAB accurate regarding the pips. "But you cannot connect it to ultimate accuracy, so there was little point in continuing," came the explanation from the control room. "With people having such high accuracy clocks, the need for having a critically accurate time source, such as the pips, isn't needed anymore."

Meanwhile, in our News From Elsewhere blog, we brought to attention a story about how Italian police had seized about a million "cashmere" garments containing rat fur.

Shock and revulsion was the overriding consensus on social media, although that didn't stop people from probing further.

"Disgusting... what's next a rat weave, or better yet rat toupee?" asked GlamourGal on Twitter.

"Ratsmere?" suggested Rune Hertz.

Others like Ian Miles saw no problem: "If it is clean then apart from selling it as cashmere, what is the issue....?"

"I like my rat socks," said a clearly concurring Ibrahim Muhammed on Facebook.

Candace Sleeman on Facebook began her how-to Guide by citing Blackadder: "As Baldrick would say: 'Well, you take the freshly shaved rat...'"

And if others weren't impressed by her pop culture knowledge, she rounded off with a reference to the 1932 film Taxi! - "A James Cagney inspired line of jumpers perhaps?" - referring to the film star's famous rat line. (On the other hand, did she realise that Cagney never actually said "You dirty rat!" in the film?)

Sticking with the animal world, The Magazine's Jon Kelly did some gonzo journalism as he "became the story" and tasted one of the latest arrivals to reach UK shores - camel milk coffee.

Unfortunately the scope for social media pun-play was stunted by the camel milk company themselves, naming their drinks "Camelatte" and "Camelccino", which are of course "camelicious".

Not to be deterred, Sprigov Parsley welcomed the new "dromedairy product", while Adrian Bamforth clearly needed to get something off his chest before he could continue with his day: "One hump or two? There, I've said it."

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