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Electronic Design

What’s All This Raging Canal Stuff, Anyhow?

There’s an old folk song that goes, “Well, she’s gone, gone, gone, and she’s gone, gone, gone. I lost my true love on the Raging Canal.” Back in the 1840s, a bunch of local Connecticut businessmen decided, after seeing how well the 1825 Erie Canal was going, that a canal could enable commerce between Hartford and the upper Connecticut River.

Steamboats could get around the rapids at Enfield, using this canal, which would also provide water for businesses along the 5-mile route. The businessmen ran this canal for many years. Of course, 150 years later, the canal was in some disrepair. I looked into this and decided I would like to canoe down it.

SIGN? WHAT SIGN? • My sister said that there seemed to be a sign saying “Boating Prohibited.” But I have never seen this sign. I know that many bicyclists are unable to read. If a sign says “Bikes Keep Out,” the riders cannot read it. On they proceed.

Well, if I went to that canal at midnight, I could not read or see such a sign, either. Too dark? Maybe we could ease into the canal at 11 p.m. and get to the far end and out before anybody noticed. We did some research and reconnoitering. After all, in the 1970s, the canoeing guidebooks plainly said, “Take the Canal and avoid the dam and rapids at Enfield.”

In the central part of Connecticut, where I grew up, we had lots of mills, and originally they ran by water power. So there were little canals fetching the water from a high pond to the waterwheels at the mills. Knitting mills, spinning mills, weaving, and even envelope-making mills.

As we learned in the third grade, the “fall line” was where the streams had a large dropoff and were able to generate a LOT of water power. Even when steam or electricity replaced water power, many mills needed a large flow of water for certain kinds of washing and processing. The water downstream from the mill often smelled quite soapy or oily.

So mills were a major feature of most towns. If there wasn’t a mill, there wasn’t a town—the economics of the 1800s. The Windsor Locks Canal did not have a LOT of flow, or a LOT of dropoff, but it was a fairly reliable water supply.

INFILTRATION AND EXFILTRATION • There’s no easy road access to the canal, so we would have to kayak down the river to get to the old canal guard locks (inlet locks). By the light of the full moon? Maybe when the moon has nearly set... to avoid alerting the militia. Muffled oars, and all that.

We did enough scouting to pinpoint the trees that had fallen across the canal and indicate where we might have to wade over silt bars. This handsome old canal had nearly vertical stone or concrete banks, so we would need rope ladders to get up and down the walls. We brought rope ladders and grappling hooks. Life vests were de rigueur.

But where were we going to take the canoe back out of the canal? If we got to the foot of the canal, a steep slide would get us back to the Connecticut— and we could take out on the opposite east bank. Not such a bad deal, in weak moonlight. September is a time of low flow, so the currents would not be nasty or dangerous. I would hate to be pushy. We were not pushy.

I did not “lose my true love” on the “Raging Canal.” A canal like this is substantially flat-water. Not boring in terms of 160 years of history, nor in terms of challenges. Just flat.

FINANCIAL FLOOBYDUST • Switching gears, Alan Greenspan has admitted that he screwed up and had a bad model for the economy. He claims he misunderstood what was going to happen. What did Spice suggest for him to do? I coulda told you that Greenspan was not doing a good job on his PID controller.

He waited too long to start decreasing the interest rates, and then he decreased them too slowly. I noticed that at the time! Then, by leaving the interest rate at 1% for too long, he got the ARMs to start out too low. And then when the rates went up, the subprime mortgage holders got whip-sawed.

This is exactly how you make a limit-cycle oscillator! In other words, Mr. Greenspan did not have enough D (derivative) term in his controller, and he failed to anticipate new problems. And he had too much gain in the I (integral) path. I can do this any day, on my bench, but I don’t destroy a nation’s economy.

No, I don’t want to take over Greenspan’s job. I don’t want that job. But I could still do it less badly.

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