Who doesn’t love a good conference swag bag? Yes, I know it’s frequently full of useless tat destined to go straight into the hotel bin. But what jolts the adrenalin as you paw through the bulging canvas sack in your jet-lagged haze is the promise of maybe one really, truly cool item: the gadget or gizmo that you’d be happy to swap precious luggage space formerly reserved for cheesy American snacks like Cheetos.
And so it was at Science Online 2011 last week that I eagerly unwrapped a Magic 8-ball-style fortune teller from Sigma. Finally, something that would give a straight answer to whether I’d be able to stay up until past 10 PM to get drunk with the oceanographers!
As I shook the cube and peered into its viewing window, I was dismayed to see that whatever fluid Sigma had chosen to immerse the magic plastic answer dice was so foamy that it was impossible to make out the words.
Now this is a sad state of affairs. If Sigma, which bills itself as a premiere purveyor of fine chemicals, can’t come up with an appropriate fluid for this purpose, then honestly, who could? (If I could read the reply, the cube might tell me “Reply hazy: try again”.)
Or maybe the entire thing was deliberate on Sigma’s part, an attempt to deliver the ultimate metaphor for scientific inquiry. We might think we’re unraveling the secrets of the universe, but in actual fact, we’re just staring fruitlessly into a window of obscure murk.