Matt Webb is an interesting chap. Which is to be expected from the author of the charmingly bonkers Mind Hacks. Reading his rambling slides about sci-fi he likes (well worth a look – early on there’s a slide about the aviary at London Zoo, which should probably clue you in that this isn’t a cyberpunk-or-nothing SF talk), I find he did this several years ago. I genuinely can’t believe I’ve not seen it. It’s a script that generates an RSS feed for you, which lets you know when your personal light cone has passed stars within 50 light-years. Hence, My own personal universe is about two months away from Iota Persei.

Back when I first worked at the Royal Institution, one of the things I built for Malcolm Longair‘s Christmas Lectures was a scale model of the 50 nearest stars. They hung from gossamer-fine fishing line in a 3x3x3 metre cube, filling the space in front of the demonstration bench. When I’d finished measuring and cutting and tying and painting, we let the frame hang while we walked around. A visiting astronomer, passing through to wish Longair the best of luck, stuck his nose in the hallowed theatre, saw the model, and became instantly enraptured. He wove his way through the dangling mess, testing his knowledge trying to guess what each star was.

In the centre, an unassuming little yellow-painted polystyrene ball. Home.