Shakedown: Fake Products

One of my favourite YouTube channels is bigclivedotcom, who tears down and reverse-engineers electronic and other gadgets, often discovering horrors, occasionally deadly, in shoddy products mostly from China.  Yesterday, he posted a delightful analysis of a fine piece of Chinese junk, a “shake flashlight”, which is supposed to generate its own power by shaking the object in your hand.

Shake flashlights are a “green” gimmick which have been around for some time: here is an example of one for sale at Amazon.  They appeal to eco-freaks (no batteries!), the gimmick-obsessed kind of survivalist, and people who can’t solve simple problems in electromagnetism.  In the usual design, the body of the flashlight contains a tube inside which a powerful permanent magnet is free to slide back and forth.  A coil with many turns of wire is wound around the centre of the tube, and there’s usually two magnets fixed to the ends of tube which repel the moving magnet as it approaches them, reversing its motion without impact.  When you shake the flashlight, the moving magnet passes back and forth through the coil, inducing a pulse of current each time the magnetic field passes through its windings.  This current is then rectified (since its polarity alternates depending on the direction of the magnet’s motion) and stored in either a super-capacitor or rechargeable battery which, when the light is turned on, drives a light-emitting diode (usually a relatively dim low-power device that doesn’t draw much current).

The idea is that you can keep one of these flashlights, say, in you car’s glove compartment for roadside emergencies and never have to worry about dead batteries when you need it: just a few shakes and fiat lux.  In practice, like most “green” products, it doesn’t work very well.  It takes a whole lotta shakin’ to generate much charge, so unless you do something like put it in a paint mixer, you only get a few minutes of dim light before it goes out.

But count on the Chinese to take it to the next level.  I won’t spoil the fun you’ll have viewing the following video.

Do you have any examples or memories of fake products?  I recall the “Affordable Care Act”.


Author: John Walker

Founder of, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of

4 thoughts on “Shakedown: Fake Products”

  1. The funny thing is it probably went like this:

    1) there was an original actually functioning name brand product.

    2) then there was a knockoff that was backdoored by the Chinese factory that made the original.

    3) then there was a functional, but crappy, knockoff by a third party.

    4) then there was a decontented, but still functional, knockoff of the knockoff by another third party.

    5) then the first totally fraudulent knockoff by another third party.

    6) then a knockoff of the fraudulent knockoff by another third party and this is what we see in the video.

  2. Boy am I glad to learn about Big Clive.

    As fate would have it, right while taking in this fake shaker vid, I received a link from #1 baby about fake news-links (or, at least, artfully artificially placed news links) that Spinner company will, for a consideration, insert in the frequently-watched web pages of the target person the customer stipulates.  #1 is in the ad-data business, but not that part!

    I caught enough of a whiff of the thing just by reading the giant text and looking at the several examples at the bottom of the page.  Not sure I even want to watch the video ad.

  3. Here is another fine fake product.  These are connectors which you plug into your car’s “On-Board Diagnostic” OBD port which claim to increase fuel economy or performance.  In fact, all they do is put on a little light show with LEDs which blink to make it look like it’s communicating with the car’s engine control computer.

    The packaging tells the purchaser to use the device for some time so it can “learn your driving habits”.  As Big Clive notes, that’s really so the person they’ve swindled doesn’t notice that there’s no immediate change when the thing is plugged in and will have, in all likelihood, forgotten about it by the end of recommended time.

  4. Here is a tear-down of a genuine shaker flashlight, compared to a tiny USB-rechargeable LED torch.  The real thing, although it really “works”, is, as far as being a practical flashlight, almost as much a scam as the fake one.


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