Blinkies have been popular in fandom since the mid-1970s, when the ability to construct one was seen as "cred" for joining General Technics, for instance. Tullio Proni, Steve Johnson, Carl Kleiner, and others built blinkies and showed them off at Midwestern conventions. Jim Fuerstenberg popularized them outside techie circles, wearing one at Midwestcon and earning himself the nickname "Blinkie."
Blinkies became possible with the invention of the 555 timer, though other circuit designs were used, including unijunction transistor circuits, or a charge pump circuit patented by Kleiner and implemented as the 3909 integrated circuit.
555 circuits, particularly those built by Tullio, included light sensors, small speakers, or potentially multiple 555s. One such device was the Annoyatron, the name coined by Steve Johnson. These circuits were very adaptable, being incorporated in many devices, including rayguns, light sabers, and “friendly persuaders” (used by the Dorsai Irregulars).
Later blinkies, especially those designed by Ridley, were based on microcontrollers, which were programmed with numerous, potentially interactive, features. Basic Stamp, Arduino, and other environments were used to develop the code for these microcontrollers. Microcontroller-based blinkies have the advantage of requiring many fewer discrete components, allowing them to be packaged in smaller and smaller packages.
The running of STEM learn-to-solder workshops has expanded. Dale Sulak, Dwayne Forsyth and Ward Christensen created the Build-a-Blinkie organization. Build-a-Blinkie is a 501(c)3 dedicated to the teaching of STEM. They run learn-to-solder events in the Great Lakes area. Build-a-Blinkie has the world's largest mobile soldering stations and participates at numerous Maker Faires, libraries, universities, Maker Spaces, and Chicago-area sf conventions. In 2019, Build-a-Blinkie oversaw the building of over 5000 kits. Website.
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