Do you remember my blog post about building a giant canal system in the U.S. as a way to create jobs in our robot-driven future?

It was officially the worst idea I've ever had, according to most of you.

Technically, it was just the worst idea I've ever shared. You wouldn't believe the crap that swirls around inside my skull and never gets out. But that's another story.

One of the biggest objections to my canal plan was that there are too many mountains in the way. But it turns out there's a natural network of connected rivers that go from the Pacific to the Atlantic already. That's a start.

Clearly we'd need a lot of dredging. But plotting the path for the first major leg of the canal might be done.

Okay, I know you still don't like the canal idea. But this is a reminder that it's never safe to assume something is impossible or impractical. I'm having flashbacks to the time I was putting together my sample comics to try and become a syndicated cartoonist. Most of my friends imagined that plan to be impossible for the obvious reason that I wasn't good at drawing. I got more looks of sympathy than support.

It's always a good idea to let reality be your only obstacle. Your imagination shouldn't be the limit on your success.


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com


Author of the best graduation gift ever.



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Apr 25, 2014
Just thought of something. There exists right now a great analogy for a canal network: the railroad. It's a great analogy because, like boats in a canal, trains can only go where the tracks run. Being on a train is "fun" because it is unusual; there are trains that run specifically as tourist attractions (I took one from Fairbanks to Denali NP, and it was a blast).

But, how do trains stack up as a method of transportation? (For humans, that is; industrial transportation is another matter.) Just for fun -- I have a strange definition of fun -- I compared a trip from LA to NY using four different methods: private car, train, bus, and plane. I looked three weeks out to avoid any cost run-up from last-second purchases. Here's what I found:

TRAIN. The cheapest one-way Amtrak ticket is $223; if you want a sleeper bunk, it is $1204. The train takes 43 hours to arrive.
PLANE. A non-stop flight for the day I picked was $305. It takes 5.5 hours.
BUS. The cheapest ticket I found was $219. It takes ~64 hours to arrive.
CAR. Actual travel time is about 40 hours, but of course, that would probably have to spread out across three days at least. The distance is ~2800 miles; at 20 MPG and $4/gallon, that works out to $560 for gas. You'll need hotels along the way, so let's say $900 total.

So compared to the bus or car, the train will be faster and probably cost the same or less (unless you want that sleeper bunk). But that doesn't tell the whole story. If you are just trying to get to where you are going, the plane is obviously the best choice; the cost is minimally higher, and you get there seven times as fast. In the car you can stop when you want, take side-trips, etc., so if you are looking to "experience" the travel between the cities, the car would be superior. The bus seems like the loser here, but even it has an advantage -- it can go places the train does not (and that's a lot of places).

Now, looking at all of this, it seems like the canal system would have ALL of the disadvantages, and NONE of the advantages. It's going to be much slower; at a generous 40 MPH, it will take 70 hours of travel time, which would translate into 5-6 days. You have to do the driving, but you can't go anywhere the canal doesn't run. And it is going to cost a LOT more; a 300HP engine at full throttle will burn ~25 GPH, which at $4/gallon translates into $7000 for gas.

Sorry, Scott. The numbers just don't add up. It might be technically feasible, but there's absolutely no reason to do it.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 25, 2014
Some people want to control the Earth's climate and cool it down.

(And they want me to pay for it.)

I find that idea much more impractical, ridiculous and costly than Scott's canals.

Why is the idea of making some canals insane, but cooling the Earth and stopping the seas from rising, the only reasonable way to Save the Planet?

Apr 25, 2014
[ People will ride around in a boat all day and be happy, but few people will ride around in a car all day just for fun. -- Scott ]

That is true, but misleading. Boats are used for different purposes than cars. People will ride around all day on a boat because boating is an ACTIVITY, i.e. you get on a boat with the express purpose of riding around all day. Whereas a car is mainly viewed as a means to get you where you want to be. Boats are fun because they can go in whatever direction they want. But if you were in a canal...

As a method of transportation, a cars is vastly superior. It's much, much faster, for one thing; even the speediest of mass-produced motorboats tops out around 40 MPH. Can you imagine crossing the country at 40 MPH? And a houseboat won't go even that fast. I once helped a friend move between cities; the trailer he had rented had a warning that it shouldn't be pulled faster than 45 MPH. So that's how fast he drove, for 200 miles, on highways with a 70 MPH speed limit. What should have taken about three hours took four and a half, and I was ready to strangle him by the time we got there.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 25, 2014
Scott, since (for reasons that I don't claim to understand) you won't accept the objections to your notion that have been posted in this and previous threads by your readers -- many of whom are, admittedly, arguing from a purely theoretical perspective -- why don't you talk to some folks with the kind of practical know-how that would be needed to implement it?

Accordingly, I'd like to suggest that you approach a couple of civil engineering companies to discuss the feasibility of your proposal from a geological, technological, political and financial point of view. Also, find out what various tourist organizations across the US have to say about the prospective demand for, and attractiveness of, what would be on offer once such a canal system was completed.

These ent_ities may or may not validate your idea. But whatever conclusions they come to, you'll know that they possess the expertise to back up their perspectives.

Apr 25, 2014

The Rockies and some other Western mountain ranges may be a problem.

I _think_ the Eastern side may already be mapped out - canals were the Interstates before the railroads started to spread, and a good chunk of the Eastern side of the country (say the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast) were in use that way.

Gotta put a "doable" flag on this, although the expense may make it impossible in any short period of time.

All of the necessary technology exists. The boats and the digging (and tunnel digging) hardware, and the locks. It may boil down to the cost of actually doing it and then maintaining it.

The turnpike operators, and the folks who put gas stations and McD's at every interchange, may have a problem with this, but the number of people who'd likely want a faster ride, or prefer quick runs (like Pittsburgh to Cleveland in two or three hours) ought to keep the Interstates and Turnpikes reasonably happy.

The real killer might be the costs.... Freight, if you're not in a hurry, should move well over a system like this, and may not be too expensive v.s. other methods, but when you're moving people over something like New York to Los Angeles, the costs of providing a room and food service could be a killer. Getting people to sit for ten hours in a jet isn't easy. Three or four days in First Class style seating on a train or boat may be impossible.
-10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
This canal idea remains implausible, impractical, and idiotic. Nobody wants it, for a litany of reasons. I'll add one more: land is one of our most valuable resources. Using it up on canal tourism borders on a psychotic delusion.

Even your money-that-isn't-money rent-a-friend island is better thought out.
Apr 24, 2014
Sorry. I meant "at least" in that last paragraph.
Apr 24, 2014
Scott, you seem to be awfully sensitive these days. I have never seen you comment on so many people's posts as you have here. THIS is the one that you are defending directly? One has to wonder why.

You know that there's a world of difference between one man being a successful cartoonist and a nation building a series of canals. Especially this nation. The two accomplishments are so different in scope that comparing them is pointless. I could easily walk to the store, but I couldn't drive to the moon.

And there's always the big bugaboo - cost. It would cost trillions of dollars that we don't have. What is your plan to pay for it? Or should we just borrow the money from China?

Then, there's the environmental issues, as I mentioned before. One Sierra Club lawsuit and the whole thing goes up in flames. Or drowns in its own effluvia. Pick your metaphor.

I think what most of the people here are trying to gently suggest is that ideas have to be at lease somewhat practical before they can be seriously proposed. The people who say a nationwide series of tourist canals is not realistic are not saying that to be mean, nor to just be nattering nabobs of negativity. It's because it is a completely impractical idea.
Apr 24, 2014
The biggest problem isn't practicality, it's Who The !$%* Wants To Spend 5 Days Floating Through The Wasteland Between LA and Phoenix. Seriously, answer me that. If ANYONE wanted to do that then you'd see them floating down the California Aqueduct right now.

Outside of the Cities, 90% of the country is ugly and boring. No one wants to see it. That's why people try to get through it as quickly as possible.

People don't even like taking the train and this would be 10 times slower. Come on, make even a vaguely-plausible argument that anyone would chose to do this. I dare you.
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014

Listen young lady. Your doll can't talk and your friend Winifred doesn't exist. I don't care that you are just playing.

Fun? Stop having fun. You must always accept the limitations of reality. Pay attention.

Imagination has no place here, so stop thinking up dumb things.

It can't work. Stop it. Stop thinking about what might be, and only think about what is. Stop day-dreaming. Get back to work. You can't do it. It will never work, so stop pretending and stop thinking about it. Only think about things that will work. People will laugh at you. You will never have any friends. You don't listen.

Don't be stupid.

Vote Thumbs Down Here: ( )

+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
I think it's an idea with huge potential, but then I don't live in the USA so I probably can't see all of the issues...

What if the barges were modeled on the huge, be-chromed, finned land barges of the late 1950s? Yes, Chevrolet Impala I'm looking at you...
Apr 24, 2014
"I succeeded at something I thought would be very difficult, therefore -anything- is possible"

Hmmm - interesting conclusion. :-)


[Analogies aren't for everyone. -- Scott]
Apr 24, 2014
Oh Scott, you and your baiting. The existence of that river system as support for your canal idea is like saying that because prehistoric monkeys got from Africa to South America on mats of dead plants, we should be able to build a bridge of reeds and dead logs from Liberia to Brazil.
Apr 24, 2014
So, you envision a cash-strapped nation would create a vast network of millions of miles of artificial rivers so that every single member of that nation could live in a houseboat. This is step one, with step two being something about robots being cool, and step three requires dozing in a hammock for protracted period of time while money continually pours into money buckets from "the tourist economy."

People point out that this whole thought experiment has an insane premise and that it doesn't even superficially connect causes with effects. And in your mind this is no different than that time someone said cartoonists had to be great artists? Wow.

[It's not really an analogy if the two things compared are "no different." Analogies aren't for everyone, apparently. -- Scott]

[P.S. Ending your point with "Wow" doesn't transform your lack of understanding of how analogies work to an insightful commentary. -- Scott]
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
I highly recommend "River Horse" by William Least Heat Moon. Fabulous and fascinating book, and quite relevant to your theory.

http://www.amazon.com/River-Horse-Logbook-Boat-Across-America/dp/0140298606/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398360450&sr=1-1&keywords=river horse

I wouldn't say that your idea is impossible; anything's <i>possible</i>. I'm just saying it's not even close to probable.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
"...natural network of connected rivers..."

Um, no amount of dredging is going to allow a houseboat to putter up the Snake or Colorado Rivers. I've been white-water rafting there.
And then there's the Teton streams. Just because enough water flows over the rocks down a mountain for a salmon to jump up it, doesn't mean a boat can go over a mountain.

I like your can-do spirit, but this is really grasping.
Apr 24, 2014
Scott said: "People will ride around in a boat all day and be happy, but few people will ride around in a car all day just for fun."

That is so true -- and worthy of analysis. Is there a vehicle that's exactly halfway between a boat and a car on the happiness spectrum? Would that be a hovercraft (too loud?) -- or a motorcycle? People ride motorcycles for fun.

And what about amphibious cars? They might be more fun on the road than a regular car just because of the POSSIBILITY you could take it into the water. And what exactly about water is fun? Is it the floating around?

Zeppelins float around, but then there are probably more folks scared of heights than are scared of drowning. Diving is probably less popular than boating because of the drowning thing. Cave diving is even more phobic. One could theorize that boating is popular only because it sits in a local minimum of human phobias.

But phobias can be treated with pharaceuticals, so couldn't we save billions in canal building by instead constructing zeppelins with built-in Zanax dispensers. Hey, we're America. Let's have BOTH zeppelins and an interstate system of canals. The zeppelin pilots will have fun waving at the boaters.

There might be a new technology that would make building canals cheaper. NASA is seriously talking about a mission to capture and move a small asteroid. If the right-sized asteroid was pushed just the right way, it could cut a canal on Earth. Hey, they're discussing nuclear explosives to make a Nicaraguan canal, why not use something with just as much force, but no radiation? Unfortunately, the only way to move that much mass around in space would probably have to be nuclear, so there's that.

Sorry, my skull has a leak this morning.

Apr 24, 2014
The idea of a series of canals across the country which will provide work, entertainment, and increased tourism for our country leaves out one key piece of the picture: we probably have the resources to make a change like this now, but nobody who reads this blog truly needs or wants the change, as evidenced in the overwhelming lack of positive response from your readership.

Industry is prime to move on something it sees as making it a lot of money right now and going forward. The government would never be able to implement a plan like this which the public is currently against. So your two main venues for making this happen will also not be interested, because the public is not interested.

And, if the day comes when we do need some way to keep the country viable- that is, should our global influence begin to wane and our economic stability falter- at that point this plan might begin to appear to be a good idea. Then, though, it may no longer be an option.

The idea isn't bad as a solution for a failing economy, but it's what I call a magic wand solution. Like most Libertarian solutions for world problems, it's leaving this part out: that idea might work in a perfect world, but how do we get from where we are now to that perfect world? AKA: what magic wand will you change the world with so that plan can happen?

And as an aside? Boats are boring. Zzz. No thanks. A vacation where I am on a boat the whole time? Suckville. Sounds like Las Vegas: also suckville. Maybe once in a lifetime, when I am a geezer, but ... probably not.
Apr 24, 2014
[Because trains and houseboats are basically the same experience? I drew a comic today about a guy who reflexively disagrees with all ideas. It brings me back to my corporate days. I had a colleague at the phone company who refused all suggestions as impractical. I eventually fixed that situation by presenting each suggestion as someone else's idea that I knew to be impossible in practice. Then he'd spend the rest of the day proving I was wrong by implementing my idea. -- Scott]

How many times in your corporate days did you refuse to give up on an idea that essentially asked the company to spend large amounts of money and completely rework several important company functions in exchange for benefits that could be performed less expensively and disruptively in other ways?
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 24, 2014
Long before this happens we'll have self-driving vehicles- mobile homes that drive themselves to a new location while you sleep (or not, sometimes seeing the countryside is the point). After the canal is ready they can drive themselves onto a barge to float around for a while, then off into the countryside again. Best would be point to point commitment travel- Set it to drive across the country for niece Nancy's wedding and be there in 48 hours with your hotel room; or spend 10-12 hours dealing with airport access and flying across the country to rent a hotel, which would you prefer?
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