We had already packed the shuffleboard manual, the new flip-flops, the sunscreen and the tux for dinner at the captain's table. Then came some most disappointing news this week from Anna Shvedova of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

"Dear Colleagues," she wrote in her Aug. 9 e-mail, "As you know, our plan was to hold the meeting on board a Royal Caribbean cruise liner from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2."

The idea of "The First International Symposium on Nanotoxicology -- Nanotox 2006" was not to party and gamble for four days on a cruise ship steaming off the Florida coast in the dead of winter, she notes.

"We believed that being together most of the time would be beneficial for having exciting scientific discussions and establishing new collaborations," she said. More than 300 toxicologists, biologists and other scientists from the United States and Europe were already making plans, a party-hearty crowd if ever there was one.

Exciting discussions of topics such as "Apoptosis/necrosis and cytotoxicity of nanoparticles" would set the mood for the limbo contest. (Nanoparticles are teensy things about the width of DNA and a very hot topic in scientific circles. Washington is spending about $1 billion a year on promoting nanotechnology in general.) "Unfortunately," she said, "we realized that political sensitivity of funding agencies" -- sponsors include NIOSH and the Environmental Protection Agency -- "to using a cruise liner makes it impossible for many participants to rightfully cover their expenses." Well, that's about right.

Another problem not highlighted in the e-mail, she told us yesterday, was that some speakers and guests could attend only part of the conference, presenting a bit of a logistical problem getting them to shore.

"Consequently, we had to cancel our reservations and to change the venue" to a hotel in Miami Beach, she said in the e-mail.

"Please do not forget to register before October 1."

The Space for the Face on the Wall

Was it something he said? Down the hall from Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's sixth-floor conference room there's an array of black-and-white photos and a sign that says "The Secretaries."

The display is of 18 former heads of HHS. But the most recent is Clinton administration Secretary Donna E. Shalala. So where's Tommy G. Thompson? He was President Bush's first HHS secretary. Served a full term, leaving for the big bucks in the private sector earlier this year. Didn't get indicted or anything. Good-lookin' fella. There's a space for his mug shot, but . . .

Hemorrhoidal Maniacs

Toilet terrorists are at work at the State Department's eight-story building on Fourth Street SW, home to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and international information programs, which are in the new public diplomacy operation, and parts of many other department offices. The miscreants apparently are stuffing paper down the toilets and engaging in other vandal-like behavior.

State Department officials have recently taped signs on stalls and walls in the bathrooms on several floors urging the perpetrator to stop abusing the toilets and to seek help. The toilets themselves plead for mercy. "Stop! I'm just a toilet!" the notices say. "If something's making you mad enough to abuse me, get it off your chest -- don't destroy the bathroom!"

"Can't control the destructive impulse?" the signs ask, offering counseling services and mental health hot-line numbers. "Seeking help is a sign of strength."

Two Eyed for FCC Openings

The buzz is that Deborah Taylor Tate, a director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, and Richard M. Russell, associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, may be tapped to fill two Republican seats on the Federal Communications Commission. The two are expected to give FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin a working majority as the commission reviews a string of mergers, media ownership rules and further deregulation of the telephone industry.

No Diplomatic Ambiguity, No Reading Between Lines

From yesterday's media stakeout of United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton:

Reporter: "A question on Iran?"

Bolton: "No."