Centauri Dreams sometimes laments the status of our research tools. Bibliographic coverage of the major journals online is spotty; some offer full text but only for recent issues, others are confined to abstracts, and access even at university libraries depends upon the services to which the library has subscribed. Pre-1995 items are rare online. People sometimes call the Internet a ‘digital library,’ but building the tools to make it a true library will clearly take a generation.

Nonetheless, exciting developments in spreading the news about research are happening in the digital arena, such as the heartening trend toward recording and disseminating scientific lectures in MP3 format. And even more promising is a new tool for creating audio and image slideshows to distribute conference presentations in PowerPoint and PDF format. QCShow, a freely downloadable player from AICS Research in Las Cruces, NM, synchronizes slides with audio to produce a low-bandwidth way to ‘attend’ key conferences.

What a pleasure to learn that NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts meetings are becoming available in this format, with the 2005 session in Colorado now available, and the 2004 meeting also archived. Those of us who couldn’t make either meeting now have the chance to hear Gerald Jackson discussing one of today’s most innovative deep space concepts, a spacecraft driven by antiprotons pushing a sail coated with uranium-238. Or Steven Dubowsky laying out the basics of his microbot concept for planetary exploration.

AICS has recorded numerous conferences, including presentations ranging from archaeoastronomy to planetary mission planning, exoplanetary studies, SETI and biomarkers. When you use its free player, what you see on the screen is the slide show prepared by the presenter, coordinated with his or her voice delivering the presentation. Needless to say, having the author’s comments available with each slide packs far more punch than a simple slideshow on its own, and makes QCShow a first-rate tool both for professional scientists unable to attend a particular meeting and members of the general public intent on learning more. The only downside: the Mac/Linux version, although in preparation, is not yet available.

For those interested in producing their own programs, details about the QCShow Author program are available at the site; although the software is designed to deliver freely distributed information, it also contains a document licensing mechanism for authors hoping to sell online audio/graphic materials. Centauri Dreams‘ hope is that tools like these will spur regular recording and archiving of conference presentations that heretofore have been available only in printed form and usually only from research libraries. A low-bandwidth solution like QCShow is a solid contribution toward making that ‘digital library’ a reality.