Confusing tale of two Tims

November 07, 2006|by ALAN SOKOL

Back in late September I discovered how inconvenient the Internet can be and how famous people always have a complete opposite somewhere out there in the world. Because of the evils of technology, I thought I was going to interview Professor Tim Rowland, a famous math professor from University of Cambridge. But I wound up interviewing Tim Rowland, this newspaper's humor columnist who can't add two single-digit numbers without the use of a calculator.

He explained that if I did a Web search for "Tim Rowland," I would get results for the British Tim. I wasn't quite sure what to say after that, but I figured that, if there were two Tims, then there had to be many more Tims out there.

I made sure it was the Hagerstown Tim I was interviewing by asking him if he was the person I thought he was.

Alan Sokol: So, you're an embittered near-senior citizen who writes diatribes on things he doesn't like. Would that be correct?


Tim Rowland: That would be correct. I don't have a degree in mathematics, but I do have a degree in being a grumpy old man. I'd like to ask if you aspire to be a grumpy old man.

A.S.: Well, I'm not sure if I aspire to be a grumpy old man, but to become an old man, yes.

T.R.: That's an accomplishment enough for some people.

(At this point I knew it was the Hagerstown Tim I was dealing with, so I told him not to hold back in his answers.)

A.S.: Did you start ranting at an early age or was it only after you became an embittered near-senior citizen?

T.R.: I was born on probation in 1960 and started my first rant about 20 minutes after that, and, according to my mom, I've been complaining ever since.

A.S.: Professor Rowland, can you explain fractal geom - Oh, I'm sorry, that was a question for the professor Tim Rowland. Let me rephrase that: What's 2 plus 2?

T.R.: Uh ... do I get a calculator? OK, I have one here ... which one is the 2?

A.S.: That button right next to the 1.

T.R.: Oh, so I press that one. ...

A.S.: Then you press the button that looks like a little cross.

T.R.: Well there are a couple ... oh, I see. Got it. OK, and then I hit 2 again?

A.S.: Yes.

T.R.: Well, it just says 2, so I guess 2 plus 2 equals 2. Is that right, or are you just ... ?

A.S.: No, that's right.

T.R.: OK, thank you.

A.S.: Well, I've heard in one of your recent rants that you seem to have something against dead people. What have dead people ever done to you?

T.R.: Well, the most recent thing that dead people have done to me was ... I had a green light, and I want everyone to know that I had a green light, and this procession of cars went through the red light. They had these little flags on the hood, and the last car in line had a dead person in it. ... They should be the ones in the least hurry. As a matter of fact, they should be the ones pulling over to the side of the road and letting all the live people go past first.

A.S.: Well, here is a math problem that you may be able to explain better than Professor Rowland. What does chaos theory and parking downtown have in common? It's been suggested that any available parking spots downtown disappear into black holes and end up in an alternate universe. Do you concur?

T.R.: I concur with a twist. I think the parallel universe is the fact that the parking spaces still exist, but the people don't park in them. They just pull up alongside of them and then put their flashers on, and then walk inside the house on Locust Street and knock on the door for some cheese doodles. So the parking space still exists in some form of black hole, and you just can't get to it.

A.S.: Now, seriously, Mr. Rowland, how did you get involved in writing?

T.R.: I became involved in writing because I couldn't do math. And, basically, every profession that makes money requires math in some form or another, and so if you can't do math you're left to writing. ... I don't do this because I want to do it. I do this because I have to do it.

A.S.: What advice might you have for teenagers who like to write?

T.R.: Learn math ... But naturally there will be some (readers) who, no matter how hard they try to learn math, they will be like me and they'll find out that they can't do it. And curiously, the best way to learn how to write is to read, and that's how I really started in writing - I read everything I could get my hands on. Basically I've never written an original line myself. Everything is pulled from something I must have read at some point in the past. Therefore, I don't have a style of my own. I just plagiarize from about 10 million other styles that are out there floating around. So the more you read, the better writer you become.

Alan Sokol, 15, is a junior at St. Maria Goretti High School. His podcast can be downloaded from This story is a partial transcript from a recent interview with Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland. If you'd like to hear the entire interview, go to and click "Alan's Yak Attacks Tim Rowland" under Alan's Yak.

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