Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dirtiest hotels in America

Trip Advisor has just issued the list of 2010's top 10 Dirtiest Hotels according to their readers.

Hotels complain that they've been unfairly graded and that they aren't really that bad. Want to  see for yourself ? Would you have the nerve to make a reservation at any of these, given what you read here?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Crossing the Heart of Africa - a book review

Taking an incredibly long and dangerous journey is for most people, something to daydream about. Hiking through wild jungles, trying to communicate with unfriendly natives and avoiding crippling diseases is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. To plan it three or four months before your wedding is insanity. But that’s when it started.

Julian Smith, travel writer and book author, figured it was the only time he’d be able to retrace the steps of the great adventurer Ewart Grogan, who, a century before, over a two-year period, hiked the entire continent of Africa, south to north…about 4,500 miles.

In the book “Crossing the Heart of Africa,” Julian Smith weaves two tales into one captivating book…a “twofer” if you will. Two tales of adventure for the price of one. But, you wouldn’t expect them to be two love stories, which indeed they both were.

Grogan needed to prove his love for a woman in higher social standing than himself, so he set out to impress her step-father and ultimately win her hand in marriage. Our modern day hero, Julian Smith, needed to prove to himself more than anyone else, that he was ready to make that lifelong commitment to the woman of his dreams and proposed this journey as a test of his resolve.

As the reader follows along, both Grogan’s journey and Smith’s journey are entwined and unwrapped, country by country as they both get closer to their northern goal of reaching Cairo. Grogan’s journey on foot and by boat was a series of mishap after mishap as his porters, guides and gun handlers would disappear and mutiny at all the wrong times. Julian Smith on the other hand, traveled extremely light and agile, via bike, bus, motorcycle and ferry. His heavy load was uncertainty…uncertain that a life-long commitment was in both their best interests.

“Crossing the Heart of Africa” is an easy read with a couple captivating characters, sure to hold your interest. It is the perfect antidote to cabin fever here in the dreary winter months in Cleveland.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Save an easy $50

$50 for a $100 Travelocity Hotel Gift Card to be used on your next hotel stay booked through

who & where

by the way:

  • Book by June 30, 2011 for travel by December 31, 2011
  • Minimum two night stay required
  • Requires spending a minimum of $300 for total stay before taxes
  • Must make reservation and redeem gift card within 6 months
  • Limit one code per reservation; may purchase multiples
  • Valid for hotel reservations only at
  • Please see website for full terms and conditions

need to know:

  • Easily find and book a hotel in the destination city of your choice
  • Choose from more than 55,000 hotels worldwide including all major chains
  • Treat your sweetheart to a long weekend away for Valentine's Day

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Quebec–you’ll wished you stayed longer

Québec is a hard place to define. It's a combination of so many facets.  It's a combination of French and English cultural influences, thriving in a decidedly North American setting. It's a combination of Upper and Lower Town, separated by great stone walls. Québec is also a city as well as a province, with so much to do and so many places to visit.

One of the many decisions you'll need to make on your first trip to Québec, is where to stay. Travel guides offer pages and pages of quality selections to choose from, but we’ll concentrate on two distinct sections of Quebec City and three hotel selections, depending on your budget.


Hotel Le Priori is a small boutique hotel at the eastern edge of the historic Vieux-Quebec (Old Québec) section of town. Situated on the oldest street in North America, this hotel was once the home of architect Jean Baillairge. Dating from the 1700s, each room proudly displays some of the original masonry wall surface. With just 21 rooms available, five are suites and the balance are standard rooms. The standard rooms are cozy, but very comfortable.

Tastefully complimenting the historic structure and its antique fireplaces, rooms are equipped with a queen-size bed and down filled duvets, 26 inch LCD televisions with DVD & CD, and modern, sleek bathrooms with stainless steel pedestal lavatories. A special massage shower is featured in each room. Wi-Fi is available throughout. Parking is available two blocks away in a city lot adjacent to the cruise ship docks. Prices start at $129 per night.

On the first floor of the hotel you'll find Restaurant Toast! Long, upholstered bench seating, rich wood block tabletops, indirect lighting, and a well-stocked breakfast buffet start your day off right. Around the corner, SSS, another restaurant operated by the same owner, offers a not-to-be-missed lunch and dinner menu, served in a relaxed and warm atmosphere.

Proceeding outside, you’ll find yourself in the most European-like area of North America. Old World charm exudes from every building and street in sight. “Bonjour!” is heard everywhere as shopkeepers and citizens alike greet each other in the cool morning air. Fascinating art galleries, cozy eateries, full-building murals and unique gift shops share the streetscape with renovated apartments. Hour upon hour can be spent wandering, sightseeing and shopping without ever leaving this inviting enclave.

As you wander Lower Town (Basse-Ville) from the Museum de Civilization to the base of the Funicular, you are subconsciously aware of the imposing bluff to your immediate right. High above lies the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) area of Vieux-Quebec and its 3 miles of thick, fortification walls. The walls have been well preserved and four of the seven original massive city gates are being restored.


Within the walls you’ll discover military, religious and cultural history, all contributing to Quebec being named a UNESCO Heritage Site. The gold-leafed interior of Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral built in 1633 and the copper-roofed Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac are two of the most visited and photographed sites in Upper Town.

Immediately outside the walls, on a gently sloping rise, Parliament Building watches over the city. The outside of the building displays statue after statue of Canadian notables and inside, a little-known restaurant is available to all at lunch-time with sumptuous fare.

Across the lawn from Parliament Hill and adjacent to the Plains of Abraham, sets Hotel Chateau Laurier Quebec. This award-winning hotel (with a corridor full of awards to prove it) blends old and new as the perfect place to stay for tourist or business-person alike.

A myriad of 16 meeting rooms and a ballroom can accommodate weddings or meetings of any type. 12,000 sq. ft. of interior space and a 4,000 sq. ft. courtyard can be configured for the perfect event. Apropos for a French facility, their catering is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The caterer, George V, was chosen as Quebec’s official caterer and culinary representative at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Each of the hotel rooms offers all the comforts you would expect in a multi-starred facility. Large, light filled windows and comfortable furnishings make this a perfect refuge after a day of wandering the city center. Wi-Fi is available throughout and parking is available in a basement garage. Prices start at $129, but they are currently offering winter specials from $109 for a two night minimum stay.

On ground level, you’ll find a pool, breakfast buffet and convenience store. On multiple floors, you will even discover self-service wine dispensers for that last minute celebration. At night, you are just steps from Grande Allee where you will have difficulty deciding on dozens of the trendiest bars and restaurants in Quebec City.


While the two afore-mentioned hotels are quite reasonably priced for a premium destination like Quebec, there are still those who have to stretch every dollar or loonie (the Canadian one dollar coin.) For those, a hostel can be a wonderful alternative, and Quebec has the best in all of Canada.
Hostel International of Quebec sits right in the midst of historic Upper Town, close to all the major attractions. The hostel is actually made up of two buildings; the historic older building and a more modern facility, connected by a three-story high, all glass walkway.
The hostel is located less than one kilometer away from the bus station and the rail station. The airport is approximately 16 kilometers away. There is no parking at the hostel, but public parking is available nearby at $15/day.
The newer building was added to handle increased demand and now houses private rooms for one or two travelers, or families.  The rooms I saw were beautifully decorated with a double bed down and a single bunk bed above. Some of the rooms have fireplaces in addition to desks and comfy upholstered chairs. (See the slideshow to appreciate how nice these rooms actually are.) Some private rooms have the bath en-suite and others share a bath.
In all, the hostel can handle 279 people in combinations of 4, 6, 8, or 12 beds per room or the private rooms, some of which can hold up to a family of 5. Summers usually find the hostel completely filled, and weekends in the shoulder season will often sell out. It's a good idea to plan months in advance if you want to come on a certain date.
Downstairs, there is a large common area where musicians perform and movies are shown. Ping pong and pool tables are located here. There is also a large eating area and kitchen in the basement, along with a snack bar. The kitchen is quite large and offers 12 stove burners for cooking and a large 4-door refrigerator for storing food. In the evening, a full service bar operates until 11 p.m., serving wine, beer and cocktails. (Alcohol service is common in Canadian hostels.) Foosball can also be found in the pub area.
There are volunteer led activities every day, but some of the most popular are the evening pub crawls and weekly bike tours to some nearby waterfalls.  They also take groups to the revolving Astral Restaurant,   for the best views in town.
With rates starting at only $24 per person Canadian (linen included), and free Wi-Fi, it's no wonder this was voted Best Hostel in Canada for 2009.


Quebec will be the city where you will say “Darn, we should have planned to stay longer.” It can’t be helped -- there’s just too much to see and do. Try each of these accommodations on your next trip as you’ll be sure to come back more than once.


Hotel Le Priori
15, rue du Sault-au-Matelot
418.692.3992 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              418.692.3992      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or 800.351.3992
Hotel Chateau Laurier Quebec
1220, place George-V Ouest
418.522.8108 or 866.319.144
Hostel International du Quebec
19, rue Ste-Ursule
418.694.0755 or 866.694.0950

Visiting Quebec in the winter…want the ultimate hotel accommodation? Read this article about the Ice Hotel and then pack your woolen unders.
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2011 Boston Globe Travel Show coming Feb. 11-13

You’ve got under 30 days to dig out from all this snow and get ready to go to the Boston Globe Travel Show. You know you want to get away, and this could just be your ticket. With free trips, travel tips and sumptuous food – why would you stay home?

Last year, this was the largest consumer travel show in the country, and over 20,000 people are expected in 2011. This year’s show promises to be just as enticing. The three-day event will feature Arthur and Pauline Frommer along with Rudy Maxa, host of “Rudy Maxa’s World” radio show. Local chefs and food writers will tempt you with culinary dishes from around the world.

On the cultural stage, get ready for:
  • Jamaican Limbo Demonstration and Contest – There will be a public limbo demonstration and contest, with the winner taking home a three-night all-inclusive package for two to a Jamaican resort.
  • Salsa Time! Presented by the Puerto Rico Tourism Board – Watch with awe as salsa dancers heat up the stage with amazing moves and then join them on stage for a quick lesson
  • Bermuda's Colorful Gombey Dancers – The Bermuda Gombeys hypnotic rhythms and energetic dance performances have been a part of Bermuda’s history and culture since the 18th century. Participants from the crowd are welcome to come on stage and receive a Bermuda t-shirt, but only if your feet can keep up with the beat!

Additional drawings will be held for safaris, river cruises in Europe, Amtrak tickets, seven night Celebrity cruise, and round trip tickets on Air Malta. Come on, this is your ticket out of the snow.

Mark your calendars – February 11-13 at the Seaport World Trade Center. The show will be open to the public from 5:30-8 p.m. on Friday, February 11; from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 12; and from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 13.  Tickets for the show are $10 and are available at the show or in advance at  Children 18 and under are admitted free of charge.

Heading to Boston from Cleveland?  US Airways is currently offering round-trip coach airfare for only $211.00. That’s about $50-60 cheaper than most other carriers. 

All photos courtesy of the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

23 Products to watch at 2011 CES

ZAGGmate iPad case and keyboard combinationLAS VEGAS, NV The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors Sunday night, but left consumers with much to look forward to this year. Last year at this time, we hadn’t even seen the iPad yet, and now the whole industry is gearing up to pump out competitive tablets. With Google TV and 3D LCD screens, hi-def video and audio, improved gaming and GPS-enabled devices, this industry is not standing still.

Hundreds of thousands of square feet of convention center space were needed to house the over 2,700 vendors showing their newest and greatest products. It’s estimated that around 140,000 people came to strike deals and purchase the products you’ll be buying in 2011. With all those products and all those attendees, how do you pick the cream of the crop for this year?

Luckily, the Consumer Electronics Association already analyzed the newest of the new and picked a selection of what they considered the best of the best in technology, awarding them the “Innovation Awards for 2011.” One each of the award winners were displayed in showcases in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Join with me as I viewed the winners in the attached video. (Pardon the scratches and the dust on the photos in the video. The plastic-windowed showcases were quite bruised and scratched, and it was almost impossible to get a clean photo. )

Other articles by Doug Bardwell related to the 2011 CES that you might enjoy:
Video from Sony - now in 3D
Hot new PC's announced at 2011 CES
Top products you'll be buying this year

Friday, January 7, 2011

Video from Sony–now in 3D

If anybody knows video – it’s Sony. Now. as if their future depended on it, Sony is pushing 3D in an amazing range of products.

At the pre-opening media event for the 2011CES show, Sony showed off all things 3D. On an amazing 300-foot wide video screen, one Sony exec after another came out to show the advances they had made with 3D in their respective divisions.

The Green Hornet 3D movie was highlighted with the famous machine-gun equipped car and two of the movie’s stars wheeled out  onto the stage. Clips from the movie were shown on the giant screen as the thousands in attendance all donned their 3D glasses.

Sony plans on releasing many more 3D feature films this year including MIB3, Tin Tin, and four others. New 3D capable Blu-ray DVD players also were also shown.

An expanded preview of their new 3D Play Station game Uncharted 3 was also shown. (See the above video clip filmed during the event.)

On the consumer side of video production, Sony feels that we are ready to start producing our own 3D content. To that end, they are providing reasonably priced Handycams with 3D lenses as well as a new class of simple camcorders called the Bloggie. 

The new large screen TV’s unveiled will have internet  connectivity as well as 3D. And to provide enough content in 3D, Sony is starting a special 3D channel called 3NET with 24-hour programming planned. These sets will all be available sometime later this year. Another feature of these sets will be the entire line-up of Time Warner programming, available over IP so that set-top boxes will not be needed.

After the hour-long media preview was done, it was clear that Sony thinks the consumer is ready for 3D. Question is – are you?

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hot new PC’s announced at 2011 CES

110105IMG_0639Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft delivered the Pre-CES keynote this evening and introduced Mike Angiulo, the corporate VP of planning and hardware. Mike then demoed five hot new notebooks/tablet PC’s that are pushing the new Windows 7 capabilities.

The first computer shown was an HP equipped with the new Sandy Bridge CPU/GPU which he claimed would provide a 20 times improvement in the speed of the graphical calculations. Even with such a performance boost to the graphics, it actually gets better battery life as well.

The second HP notebook shown used the AMD new Fusion chip and offered 9-hours of battery life. This unit, under $500, also included Northbridge and an Accelerated Processing Unit (APU).

The real crowd pleaser was unit number three from Acer. This laptop offered dual screens, (please watch the video to appreciate this). The second screen replaced the keyboard and could then double as a keyboard or a second monitor.

Samsung’s offering also wowed the attendees with their “sliding series” offering tablet functionality, but with a slide-out keyboard attached.

Lastly, Mike demoed the new model from Asus which offered a full powered tablet with radio equipped keyboard and a case.
According to Mike, they should all be available now on Amazon.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011 Consumer Electronics Show

LAS VEGAS, NV   Tuesday, January 4, marked the kick off for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as various vendors showed off their wares to the press. A reception was held in the Venetian ballroom for all the Innovation Award winners whose products are considered the best of this year’s tech.

Rumors are that there will be no  less than 100 new tablets and netbooks being introduced at this year’s show. In one press briefing, MSI alone announced 12 new netbooks running the new Intel Sandy Bridge technology.

RCA is displaying a line of mobile video receivers capable of receiving digital TV channels from 2 to 69 on a battery powered handset. They also have models getting ready to mount to seat backs in automobiles.
3D TV’s are going to continue to gain steam this year as the industry experts expect to see twice as many sold in 2011 as were sold last year. One beautiful rear projection unit was on display that had a 9-foot diagonal screen.

HD video abounds with wrist mounted cameras and miniature HD cameras built right into goggles so you can film your ski or deep sea diving adventures. And prices are reasonable – the aforementioned goggles are under $400.

Ready for more? How about combination laptops/tablets, speed camera detectors powered by constantly updated databases, remote controlled helicopter wars….it’s all on the video. Watch it to see some of the show favorites. You might also want to subscribe to this feed to see more reviews coming soon as these products begin to ship.
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One key unlocks it all – Longboat Key

The holidays are over and many snowbirds will be looking to get out of the frigid climes. Everyone expects the people of Cleveland and Buffalo to start heading south, but this winter, we can probably also include a good number of folks from D.C., Virginia and even North Carolina as well. So where do you head?

Florida is the obvious destination for most of those who want to stay stateside, but just where in this huge, wonderful state will you land. A not-so-well known area near Sarasota could be your special destination.


Just like a magical key is used to unlock a treasure chest, so Longboat Key is your ticket to a magical vacation. Just 12 miles from downtown Sarasota, this pristine barrier island sits on the west coast of Florida. North of Cape Coral and south of Tampa, it’s a relaxed location – close to whatever attractions you fancy, but out of the traffic and the hustle of typical vacation destinations.

100921_3CS0879For starters, if you are looking to relax and unwind for a week or even a weekend, you’d be well advised to check out the charming Sandpiper Inn. On a secluded stretch of beach, each ground-level apartment offers a glimpse of the ocean from your own private patio outside your front door. Each room is extremely spacious and offers wi-fi, cable TV and DVD player, as well as all the vacation kitchen necessities. It’s a great base of operations as you explore the surrounding area. Sandpiper InnA large cabana, a small pool and a waterfall all provide great places to relax outdoors. Contact Richard and Mary Lou, the innkeepers to see if they have availability for your selected dates.

What to do while you’re there:

Shopping Walk across the street to some neighborhood shops or drive 13 minutes south to St. Armand Circle where you’ll find over 100 boutique shops just made for wandering. With the feel of an elegant European marketplace, you could spend hours here.

Boat ride on Sarasota BayBoat ride on Sarasota Bay

Cruising With all the water around you, you can’t possibly spend all your time on land. Contact Jimmy Seaton with Liquid Limousine Charters and spend an unforgettable cruise on the Sarasota Bay. Whether you prefer watching birds, nature or seaside real estate; a sunset cruise can’t be beat. Jimmy can also arrange land and air limos as well. He’s the perfect host for that special evening on the water.

Fishing with Capt. Makr GoreFishing You’ve got the whole Gulf of Mexico at your doorstep; why not grab a rod and cast out to see what you’ll be able to bring ashore? Oh, you didn’t bring your surfcasting rod. No problem, Captain Mark Gore can handle everything you need. Coming from three generations of hunters and fishermen, Mark’s family offers complete service hunting and fishing sessions. He provides everything from your fishing license to your rod and reel. Learn to catch your own bait with a cast net, and then spend the morning hauling in one fish after another.

Stripped burrfish at the Mote Research Center and AquariumMaybe you prefer your fish behind glass. If so, the Mote Aquarium is a quick drive and an afternoon of fun. From the Shark Zone to the Dolphin Lagoon, you’ll meet them all. You’ll get up close and personal with giant sea turtles, harmless stingrays and manatees. In the laboratory, you’ll see marine research being done first hand. When you’ve finished walking the building, go outside, down the sidewalk and enter building number two. The fun goes on and on.

Dining For yet others, chances are you’d rather just see your fish on a plate, artfully prepared and placed in front of you – for dinner. Longboat Key will be a dream come true for you. The number of “not-to-be-missed” dining establishments is so long, you’ll need a few days just to make the rounds.

Longboat Key

I’d start at the aforementioned St. Armand's Circle and stop in for lunch or dinner at Columbia Restaurant. Columbia is Sarasota’s oldest restaurant, celebrating its 50th anniversary back in 2009. Their sister restaurant in Ybor City is the oldest restaurant in the state and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. From October through May, you’ll get to feast on their famous Stone Crabs, fresh from the Gulf. Try them Carioca style for the authentic Latin spices. Also be sure to try their 1905 salad, named “One of America’s Top 10 Best Salads.”

PattiGeorge's RestaurantJust south of the Sandpiper, you’ll find PattiGeorge’s on the opposite side of Gulf of Mexico Drive. This rustic restaurant is perched right over the Sarasota Bay with a wrap-around view of the water. The menu is extensive, with more influences than you'd expect to find in a local establishment. Select from their Italian, Asian and exciting Caribbean and Latin American dishes. Award-winning chef and proprietor, Tommy Klauber brings years of experience from France, Amsterdam and then Aspen, before opening PG’s in Longboat Key. If the weather outside is too hot, or there’s a touch of inclement, this indoor dining spot is where I’d want to spend my evening.

Heading north of the Sandpiper, you’ll need to set your GPS to find Mar Vista Restaurant. Tucked away along the water’s edge, this unpretentious eatery is where the locals go for great food. The building has been there since 1912 and sports a weathered façade. Don’t let the exterior fool you. Sitting under the twisted trees, Mar Vista Restaurantyou’ll delight in this quiet, charming setting for good conversation and wonderful food. With their 14 slip boat dock, a good number of boaters are liable to head for marker 39 and drop in for dinner. Ask if Chef George Quattromani has any daily specials; but if not, you can’t go wrong with the Parmesan Crusted Flounder. Just the right amount of breading, not overdone, and cooked to tender perfection. Also, take advantage of their extensive wine selection.

Further up, along the Gulf coast on Anna Maria Island, you’ll also want to experience BeachHouse RestaurantThe BeachHouse. Located directly on the beach, the property stretches 650 feet along the sand with a huge covered deck that reaches each end of the building. Chef Will Manson doesn’t make it easy on you when it comes to menu selections. There are so many wonderful entrees that it will take a while to narrow down your choices. If you can’t decide, try the Seafood Medley for a blend of crab cakes, shrimp, fish and scallops. Or, why not try what I’ve always wanted to do, make an evening out of just drinks and appetizers? Their conch fritters, calamari, coconut shrimp and wings won’t disappoint.

Bamboo garden at Marie Selby Botanical GardensA walk in the park With all that great food, you better budget some time for a walk. Two attractions will make that walk seem downright enjoyable. Closest to Longboat Key is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. For the past 35 years, this garden has literally been growing to perfection. Much of their collection can be found in the greenhouse, including my all-time favorite collection of bonsai trees in their Sho Fu Bonsai exhibit. Sho Fu Bonsai Exhibit at Marie Selby Botanical GardensBut outside, be prepared to wander amongst an incredible collection of banyan trees (with their roots-gone-wild), the towering bamboo garden, the hibiscus garden and the first A.D.A. accessible canopy walkway in the US. Plan two to three hours at least to appreciate all that Selby Gardens has to offer.

Another canopy walkway is available about an hour away in Myakka River State Park. This walkway truly takes you across the 100921_3CS1067Hcanopy at tree top level. The seventy-foot tall tower gives you a commanding view of the park and its surrounds. Head further into the park on the seven mile scenic drive and jump on one of two large airboats for a cruise in search of alligators, anhinga and sandhill cranes. One of Florida’s oldest state parks, Myakka is great for hiking, biking or kayaking. Rentals are available at one of two gift shops in the park.

Nestled between the deep, warm waters of the Gulf and the shallow, kayak-friendly waters of Sarasota Bay, you’re guaranteed to find a patch of sugary-white beach you’ll want to return to year after year. Whether you choose to walk, sail, cast, wander, climb or dine; you’ll be glad you tried something new around Longboat Key.


Before you go, check these links to help plan your trip:

Some other Florida stories you might find interesting:

Florida Beach Walk is picture of success

Circus is spelled S-A-R-A-S-O-T-A

The ZERO-G weightless flights

Jungle Island - Miami,FL

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kodachrome just left the building

Eastman Kodak Kodachrome 64 Films

Image via Wikipedia


As I reported back on June 25, 2009, Kodak was dropping Kodachrome from their line of slide films. From 1935 until 2009 it was considered the best slide film of all times.

Nothing else compared to its rich color palette, lack of grain and archival capabilities. 

Well this week, the only remaining processor of Kodachrome ran their last roll through the processor. So if you have any rolls left in the freezer, too bad! The end of the world really is here.

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