Igor Tolkov
Software Engineer, Facebook
Co-founder and Lead Developer, taiLib
University of Washington, Class of 2013
B.Sc. Mathematics, Physics; B.Sc. Computer Science; B.A. Linguistics

Welcome!

I am a STEM quadruple major and a recent University of Washington graduate. Since 2014 I have been employed as a Software Engineer at Facebook. In my spare time, I explore on bicycle, travel with a backpack, and bring my DSLR wherever I go.

I keep a blog, mirrored here, of my adventures. Here is the latest, in brief:

This was the day when I got to ride an air boat and hold an alligator for the first time! But, in order…

Woke up 7:15, waited for Kevin to shower, then got up, and we went to eat quick breakfast. 8:50 left the boat, then took a while to figure out everyone’s transportation. Eventually, decided that we would take taxi to FLL rental car center…

At the rental car center, we waited in line a really long time, then decided to make an on-line booking, just in case. When we finally got our turn at the counter, we told the clerk that we just made a reservation. The clerk then yelled at everyone else that if they haven’t made a reservation, they should get out of the line, because they would not be getting a car that day.

Our car was brand new.

We drove to a popular lunch spot.

After lunch, we headed to Gator Park.

That was really fun, as we got to ride in an air boat through part of the Everglades as well as see and hold alligators.

It was a long straight road (Tamiami, which sounds like a foreign word, but is actually just a contraction of Tampa-Miami). To the right was a sophisticated canal system with occasional water gates and, surprisingly, fisherpeople.

At Gator Park, they put us on an airboat.

The motor is very loud and powerful, propelling the boat forward through shallow water and grass. It can go straight, and it also can go sideways. But first, we slowly traversed their canal and got to spot their resident gator.

Because there was only one, they also pointed out random other things along the way, like a bromeliad that somehow found its way up a tree.

The canal was short, and soon we were on a thrill ride through the Everglades.

On the way back along the same canal, we found a baby alligator.

They have to survive being eaten by many things, including their parents, before they can grow up and be like the first one we saw.

After the ride, there was a wildlife show which involved a scorpion, a toad, and, hungry alligators.

Then we got to hold this one :)

Kevin, meet alligator. Alligator, eat Kevin.

My turn.

What next? We had a lot of trouble with that question, but eventually settled on driving to downtown Miami. It took a really long time to find parking, and there was not much to see, except for some tall buildings, and also there was an ice cream truck.

Ice cream!

Then we returned to the airport. And flew home.

Kevin and I stayed up late that night experiencing the ship’s atmosphere. After my door was fixed (for the time being), we went downstairs for tea. For some reason, they didn’t even charge me this time. I had tea and pastries, and we discussed strategy for how to beat the game Blackjack.

We weren’t able to meet for breakfast the next morning because I slept too late. We did meet for lunch, however. We went to the restaurant for lunch this time, which means the format is similar to dinner. Unlike dinner, a full-course lunch is too much. It included award-winning chicken wings (as I found out, “award-winning” does not necessarily mean “tastes good”).

After lunch we played games with the kids for a bit, then separated. I went upstairs and ran a 5k on the ship’s jogging track, counting laps successfully this time on my chronometer watch. Then I went to my room, showered, and took a nap, and apparently this made me late for dinner. I’m a bit confused as to where all the time went.

What made dinner special was that there was a “baked Alaska parade”, which is a way for the ship to recognize the cooks. We got a baked Alaska for dessert (I know it by the name “Neapolitan ice cream cake”).

All that was left to do after that is pack. There were no cards that evening because we all wanted to sleep early, as we had an early disembarkation the next morning.

23:45 Locked out of the room a third time; took them >30 minutes to fix the door.

It actually took even longer because I still couldn’t get in after they “fixed” it. I’ve been told that the problem was a low battery, and a carpenter needed to change it. (The carpenter was supposed to come in the morning, remember?) Reprogramming the lock was of no use this time, and only one person on the staff was able to open it from the outside. Good thing that it happened late, and we had nothing to do than be in for the night.


Maybe I should describe the ship a bit. There were floors 4-20. Floor 4 was just for getting on and off the ship; the medical center was also there. Floors 5-7 had the restaurants and most of the indoor activities, connected by a large circular atrium.

In Christmas spirit, there was a gingerbread house display at one end of the atrium:

The middle section of the ship (floors 8-16) consisted of staterooms and suites. Floor 17 was the sun deck - in the middle of the ship, it was an outdoor area with pools and a glass walk on each side where you could look down and see the water below.

On the aft of floor 17 was the cafeteria. Above it was another outdoor deck, and above that (floor 19) was the jogging track I visited on two occasions. One could go even higher, to floor 20, but one wouldn’t find anything there except for a tiny golf area.

Now you have seen our home for that week, and it is time to talk about what we did after we disembarked, but that will have to wait until next time.

Over cards we greeted Christmas. We played for 3.5 hours and went up from level 2 to Kevin’s team at 6 (and leading), my team at level 5. We then stayed up more because there was no need to get up early the next morning.

At 03:00 Kevin and I met up, and I went to the sun deck. There was, of course, no sun, and it was very quiet. I turned on my satellite repeater and began to receive messages. There weren’t any - not over the last few days. I just called my family and wished them a happy Christmas. Then I made a Facebook update.

It would be another hour and ten minutes before we could start to get ready to sleep. We both got locked out of our room. It took a few trips and calls to reception and about 45 minutes until someone could reprogram our lock so the card would work again. At 4:10, we were in and ready for a good night of sleep.

13:15 We all got up 30 min ago… going to each lunch.

Lunch that day for us was pizza in the atrium. It’s free with a mandatory beverage purchase (I got a bottle of sparkling water).

… Nothing really happened today. Played some games with the kids, then went to change into suits for the dinner.

This was the second “formal night.”

There were two of us, photographers, taking photos. I was hoping for one of all of us, but the kids ran off, so eventually everyone dispersed. There was also a show - apparently everyone went and was waiting for me, while I had no idea.

Sat 01:30 Another evening of cards: we’re tied at 7 with Kevin’s team leading…

Oh, and I got locked out of my room again. This time, it only took 15-20 min for them to fix the lock and let me in. A carpenter will, supposedly, look at my door tomorrow.

This was the last on-shore stop on our voyage.

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Thu 19:50 Yesterday we napped until very late and so decided to not do anything else that evening, but to just go to sleep. Our St. Maarten call time was 07:00, and … [a decision was made] for everyone to wake up at 7:00 and meet downstairs, outside the ship, at 8:00….

This morning Kevin made me eat very quickly, and we ended up downstairs at 8:05. We thought everyone already left because there was no one from the party in sight, and so we walked to find the rental center location, but at the rental they told us they have not yet seen a large Asian group, so we went back to the ship and found them - it was 08:35.

Back at the rental, it took a while to get all three families together, and there was an argument over which vehicles to rent and whether we would split up or not. At the end, we rented a large van that seated all 13 of us (3 back, 4 middle, 3 middle, 3 front).

It took a while to figure out paperwork, but eventually one of the parents came back with the keys (we were all seated in the van already) and a map with locations. The decision was to circle the entire island clockwise and stop by three beaches, then the two French towns, then another beach, a butterfly garden, and the Dutch town.

Does this sound like too much for one day?

The first beach was apparently the one where you can watch planes land right above your head. There was a person there announcing when the planes were approaching and taking off (“private jet on final approach”). One of the parents wanted us to wait for a large passenger jet, and we were all stuck on the beach…

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But it was a good beach. Seeing as we were all stuck there, I took some photos, including one of the entire group - my only one from this trip.

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We watched a bunch of planes land, too. They were small propeller planes and private jets, but no large passenger jet.

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And I got to have some fun. I asked the announcer with the radio when a 747 would be coming. He said there wasn’t a 747 today, but an MD80 was scheduled to land in 30 minutes. I quickly changed and went for a swim. Good beach.

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Thirty minutes later the announcer told us that the MD80 hasn’t departed yet and would be at least 1 hour late. So, we left the beach. By then, however, it was already 11:10. We spent over an hour at the beach.

We skipped the rest of the West island and went straight for Marigot.

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There we split up: the parents went one way, while Kevin and I took the kids to the fort. (They were hot, thirsty, and didn’t care much for the fort.)

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Convincing everyone to get together for another group photo took some clever thinking on Kevin’s side.

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The fort itself had good views of Marigot, and the ruins were fun to climb and photograph.

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All of us met 50 minutes later at a juice stand in the city center.

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The next stop was Grand Case where some of us stopped for lunch. The parents disapproved of eating outside of the ship (it costs money to eat out, while ship food is free), and some of the kids were tired and not hungry, but the ones who did order food did not regret it. I, myself, got a grilled fish with a bunch of sides. It was delicious! Sadly, like breakfast, lunch was rushed.

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Our last stop was Orient Bay. The beach there is not very good because of natural debris, and the waves were bigger. The kids jumped in the waves while Kevin and I walked around a bit. As soon as we returned to the car, a tropical shower came - so it’s good that we did not spend any more time at that beach.

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We wanted to go to Phillipsburg as well, but there was a lot of traffic, and parking was difficult. It was also getting late. So, we went straight back to the pier, where we returned the car, and I did some last-minute shopping. By which I mean I bought postcards and a Christmas gift for Kevin…

The ship is sailing back to Florida now. We all had dinner.

Now, Kevin is napping, and we’ll probably play cards in the evening.

19:45 Long day on the Virgin Islands!

Kevin and I ate a quick (but full) breakfast and exited the ship, rejoining the family, and there was another, smaller boat waiting to take us to St. John. (The cruise ship was docket at St. Thomas.) It was a fun ride to St. John with lots of scenery and narration.

On St. John, some of us with the snorkel tour boarded a bus and went on our way to Trunk Bay. But, there were also other groups on the boat: an eco-tour, for example, as well as people visiting the island on their own.

The bus / taxi to Trunk Bay made a few stops at scenic points, and we took photos. At the first stop, the carriage had trouble with the ignition, but it was parked on a downhill, so it rolled a bit and finally started. Our second stop was on an uphill, which would have made a similar maneuver difficult. Luckily, this time there were no problems.

The beach seen here is Trunk Bay. I have no closer photos. The beach and water were good; snorkeling was a bit unexciting - the reefs here are different from the ones in Hawai’i - the coral grows out of sand rather than rock, and there are fewer fish, but the fish are bigger. That’s not a bad thing by itself, but we also had equipment issues: my GoPro-mount mask broke, so I had to borrow a local mask, and Kevin kept getting water in his.

We had about 90 minutes on the beach, less a 15-minute warning window to clean-up. After that, we boarded our bus (“Cool running”, “like the Jamaican bobsled team”) and returned to the harbor.

On the way back, the boat guide warned us about lionfish. He said they will wipe out the local fish and reefs, but are very good on the grill!

There was also more sightseeing, and we saw a plane pass right above us and land ahead.

After the tour, Kevin and I briefly returned to the boat to drop off things, while others went to see Blackbeard’s castle. [This island seems to have quite a bit of pirate history. I needed time for a very quick shower and to change the phone for my real camera.] We went up a gondola to see the island from above.

Then we wandered around the island and returned to the ship pretty late (around 19:20 - most people were already on-board, and they were looking for us). Now we’re really tired.

We did, however, have time to find a local restaurant and try some chicken skewers and flan.

Once on the ship, we rested a bit, then had the rest of our dinner.

This day is at sea, so not too exciting. However, dinner that day was the best of them all. But, to start from the beginning…

15:30 Woke up 10:00, surprisingly late (but not if you realize it’s 06:00 in Seattle), went to eat breakfast, met up with other parents. Their kids, Kevin’s entire family was still asleep.

After breakfast, slept some more until Kevin called. Then it was already lunchtime, so Kevin ate lunch while I had some dessert.

After lunch, we went down to the atrium, where we had gelato. A string quartet was playing, and Kevin’s parents were pacing strolling around.

There are a few food things that cost money on the ship. One is any drinks except water, cheap tea, cheap coffee, and a small cup of orange juice in the morning. This includes higher-quality bagged tea, loose-leaf tea, higher-quality coffee, juices, etc. The other is ice cream. But Kevin bought a prepaid punch card that let us buy tea, coffee, and ice cream at a discount.

Kevin is currently resisting others asking him to go swim. The kids are bored because there is nothing to do, and the parents don’t want them to sit in the room and watch TV. So, they are playing board games now, but I am too tired of those games. I tried jogging, but it is difficult: windy, a little hot, and you have to go down two floors for water.

19:30 Turns out Kevin and the kids waited for me in the atrium, then played werewolf. I didn’t see them down there. I went and looked, then tried out cafeteria and saw the adults (five of them), so we played 40F.

The longer story: we convinced the parents to let us go upstairs to play sports, which means table football, but there was only one football table, and it was very low-quality. I decided to run, but stopped after about a mile because I wasn’t using my chronometer and lost track of laps. At the same time, the crowd decided to go to the atrium for games. I went to my room, then down to the atrium, but couldn’t find anyone. I then decided that searching was futile and went up to look in the cafeteria, where I joined a card game. The crowd later played in a table football tournament, but lost.

Dinner was very good. I ordered two entrees, so I’m really full. Kevin and I are going to take a nap, then go play cards.

22:00 We don’t think we’ll play cards after nap. Too tired.

After the Nassau excursion, of which I talked in detail in the previous post, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet for lunch. I then ascended to the top deck to explore and watch the ship leave.

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There were a lot of people on the “sun deck”. I was upstairs on the deck with the indoor gymnasium and an outdoor running track of length 1/7 mile. (Thus, a 5k requires just under 22 laps.)

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Soon, the ship blew its horn. As if that wasn’t enough, the ship then blew its horn more, playing a tune. Twice. And then we sailed.

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Mon 14:30 … Lunch after - it was at the same cafeteria. Not very good.

That evening was “formal night”.

16:30 I’m wearing my suite (sic). We were supposed to meet for formal night photos with one of the family members (a professional photographer). I’m waiting now because the others are not ready yet.

Tue 01:38 Formal night photography before dinner became a few photos at sunset.

Dinner was a 50th anniversary special, and was quite good, but Kevin and I got to sit at the “kids table” (we share two tables), and the kids distracted us with Contact (the game), so we didn’t really get to enjoy the food.

Then there were some more photos…

… after which the kids protested, as they wanted to change out of suits.

Then games: first with the kids, then cards with the parents. Cards with the parents were more fun. We played in the cafeteria, so there was also food / drink service, which was good as we were hungry.

Note: already hungry again.

When I woke on Monday, we were parked… I mean, docked, at the cruise terminal in Bahamas.

Mon 14:30 Woke 6:30, met Kevin, and we went to eat breakfast. It’s buffet-style, reminded me of continental breakfast in hotels during the Shanghai tour.

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Some context would be helpful here. In 2012, I went on a trip with friends to China, which was exciting for the most part, except for one week when we joined a government-subsidized tour of the Shanghai region. Our days were split between riding in a tour bus, actually visiting sightseeing spots, and shopping. There wasn’t much free time, nor was there much to do around the poorly-situated hotels. The continental breakfast at the hotels was good, though.

The cruise terminal was separated from the city by a security barrier. The only people allowed inside were cruise passengers / crew and registered vendors. One of them stuck to us and convinced us to hire him as a driver for the entire day for $15 / person. All 13 of us fit into his old limousine, and he took us around the island.

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We first rode through the city center, slowing down once for a picture of Christopher Columbus. His arrival in the Bahamas in 1492 did not do well for the islands. Nevertheless, his statue stands today in front of the Government House.

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Our next stop was at at a beach from where the cruise ships were visible.

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We then drove past the “fish fry”, a collection of seafood restaurants right outside the city’s port.

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We then roamed around Fort Charlotte, an unfortunate British outpost. I paid no attention to its history, preoccupied with taking photos.

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There was a good view from the fort, too.

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Our driver then took us through the “ghetto”. By that name he called the residential area of the town with simple-looking houses.

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At the side of the “ghetto” was Queen’s Staircase.

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The story, as told by our driver, goes like this: the passage in the rock was built over 16 years by 600 slaves to provide construction material and an escape route for Fort Fincastle (another fort at the top of the hill). After slavery was abolished, the dozens of emancipated slaves who remained carved out a staircase with 66 steps in honor of Queen Victoria’s 66-year-long reign.

If the story sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Slavery in the British Empire was abolished in 1834, and Queen Victoria ascended in 1837. The passage was actually built in 1793-4, and the dedication came later - although if the builders of the staircase had anticipated Queen Victoria’s 63-year-old reign, they must have made an arithmetic error which resulted in the three extra steps.

Anyway…

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The town’s medical center is located at the end of the passage.

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Our driver then took us to Atlantis, a high-end resort on Paradise Island. We were looking forward to this because we wanted to go to the beach. Once there, we had some time left to play in the water, but soon had to return to our cab.

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I’ll close this post with a picture of Pikachu staring out a window and write about the rest of the day tomorrow.

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Feel free to e-mail at --- or contact me securely with any questions. Enjoy!

About Me

MathematicsRead more
I am most specialized in mathematics, particularly in algebraic number theory. Read about my early math days, my trip to Budapest, my graduate coursework, and see some of my course papers for math classes.

PhysicsRead more
Read about how I completed my physics degree upside down, browse through my quantum mechanics notes, and look at some of my seminar slides.

Computer ScienceRead more
Explore the fruits of my early computer science experiments, my computer science coursework and research, and my web start-up. Watch videos of projects I designed in the hardware lab.

Linguistics and ChineseRead more
Learn why I like linguistics so much, browse pictures of my trip to China, and read my course papers for linguistics and Chinese classes. Practice your traditional character recognition on a writing sample.

ActivitiesRead more
See what I do in my spare time. I used to lead a student organization, and that's no easy task. Read about that and my other leadership activities.

Websites and Profiles

Old Site http://igor.tolkov.com/archive
No longer maintained, but still interesting.
China Blog Stories and memories from July 2012
And any future China travel plans.
Tumblr Song of a thistle
My present blog, mostly with photos. Mirrored on this site.
Google+ "Not all those who wander are lost"
I occasionally post photos here.
LinkedIn My LinkedIn Profile
taiLib My taiLib Profile
A service I co-founded and run. We aim to connect students who have textbooks with students who need them.

Former class schedules

I graduated in the summer of 2013, but my six years of course schedules are still up, and I have no plans to take them down.