How to power an iPod with an onion (not really)

Can you make a speaker system from a paper plate and a penny? Meet a YouTuber who puts up fake "hacks" so realistic you want to try them yourself.

Published November 21, 2007 7:20PM (EST)

A couple days ago while surfing YouTube, I came across a brilliant fellow who calls himself HouseholdHacker, and if he would return my e-mails I'd tell him he's awesome, despite the fact that he's a big fat liar.

In a half-dozen videos, HH offers up cheap, easy ways to improve how you work with tech. You've seen such spots before -- YouTube is littered with DIY tips for all sorts of things, from how to fold a bottle cap to how to windmill.

But HouseholdHacker's tricks are of a different order of cool: They seem to defy many laws of science, for one thing, not to mention bedrock rules of economics and business, and they hint at an underlying set of secrets about the world to which, until now, you've not been privy.

For instance if you've paid hundreds of dollars to buy a set of speakers for your home stereo system, you've been had. Per HH, you can make fantastic-sounding speakers with just a paper plate, some aluminum foil, and a penny.

HouseholdHacker's most popular video -- viewed nearly 3 million times during the past week -- is the one posted above, "How to Charge an iPod using electrolytes and an onion."

According to HH, what you do is pierce a white onion with a screwdriver, then soak the tuber in two cups of Gatorade for 30 minutes. After that, force your iPod's USB plug into the onion, and presto! -- the music player will begin to charge, and will continue to do so for 15 to 20 minutes.

Yes, as many commentators who've tried it note, the trick does not work. (Even if the onion could be a source of juice -- like the high-school science project the lemon battery -- plugging in the USB cable would not create a full circuit.)

But note that fact: Folks tried it, and a bunch of bloggers -- even the usually authoritative Unofficial Apple Weblog -- pointed out the miraculous discovery.

What's so convincing is HH's style. He's got a friendly, helpful voice, but he's not casual -- he speaks in the formal, confident manner of a TV how-to guy, aping perfectly the sort of videos you see on LifeHacker.

My favorite HH video is the one about speakers, "How to Create a High-Def speaker for under a buck." To do this, you wrap some aluminum foil around a paper plate, then place a shiny penny on the front of the foil. Then, using tape, you attach the wire from a headphone jack to the penny, and plug in the other end of that wire into your stereo system.

"And you should have results like this," HH says -- and you hear the music boom from this paper-plate speaker, and see the whole thing rattling around like it's really playing music:

There are many technical reasons why this is bogus, among them the same problem as in the iPod-onion video -- HH does not create a full electrical circuit.

But the best thing about HH's videos is the tidal wave of comments they prompt, threads spanning thousands of messages between folks who expound on why the trick will never work and those who point to pseudo-scientific reasons why it will, interspersed with jokers claiming to have achieved extraordinary results. ("I'm going to throw out my old surround system, and use these instead! They work so much better, and they look so cool.")

There are also some heartbreaking video responses of people completely puzzled over why they can't get the same results as HH.

On Monday I sent a message to HH through YouTube asking him if we could talk on the phone. He gave me his e-mail address and asked me what kinds of questions I had. When I responded suggesting that I'd sussed out he's a fake, he clammed up.

I hope that when he sees this he calls me. The fellow's a creative genius (just take a look at the clever tricks I've compiled below), and I'd like to congratulate him for getting people so up-in-arms.

You can visit HouseholdHacker at his Web site, (Slogan: "D.I.Y. The easy way.")

In response to the uproar over his speaker video, HH posted another clip advising people on where they were going wrong -- their pennies weren't shiny enough!

My other HH favorites include "How to build a cell phone interceptor":

And "How to power a TV using a AAA battery."

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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