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Alexander Williams
Works at DJ, Graphic Artist, Voice Over Geek, Games Reviewer, Foodblogger, Disability Services (Dragon*Con), Noodly Appendage Wielder
Attended Gwinnett Technical Institute
Lives in Lawrenceville, GA
1,710 followers|11,601,119 views


Alexander Williams

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The Shaper Origin is an interesting hybrid design of tools, but I'm not sure that it will catch on enough to make it worthwhile because of what appear to be some fairly strong limitations.

Firstly, in order to recognize the surface you need to put down a specially patterned tape on it. There's no real definition in the video of how densely that tape needs to be put in order for the Origin to recognize where the surface is in a contiguous manner, but in terms of process that's a big deal – not because putting it on is hard, quite the opposite, but because however much you need to put on you will then need to take off, and that could be a significant amount of time depending on how sticky that tape is and what kind of service you're working on.

Secondly, while I absolutely appreciate the idea that there is essentially a 5-inch tablet built into the top of this router that will do the surface cut visualization, it does sort of beg the question of how do you decide where the cuts should be in the first place? I imagine it's fairly straightforward to tell the desktop software what size stock you're working with, whether it be a 3 x 5 sheet of half-inch plywood or something a little more exotic, but that might be something that is worth talking about. Downloading designs are where things might be the most complicated, especially if the cut out designs are made into a specific stock size. Using the tool itself to do your cut out layout is actually quite clever and makes use of the idea that the tool knows where the surface is and how it is moving in relation to the surface. I would actually like to see that particular aspect being used to get a feel for it.

The big deal with this part is that at least in this video Shaper doesn't make any effort to suggest that the cut outs can or will be re-arranged on the stock – and anyone who's ever worked with CNC cut-out-style machines knows that one of the hardest but most fruitful parts of doing a cut out design is making it maximally efficient. Getting all the pieces you need with the minimal amount of cuts and the minimal amount of wasted material. You might think that such things would be no big deal in an era of cheap and easy computational power, but maximal density layouts require some serious math to automatically calculate. Industrial processes still struggle with that. It would be nice for Shaper Origin to suggest it might give you some assistance with that. In fact, at no point do we see it suggested that shapes can have a shared perimeter, which is one of those things that you really need to have for maximal layout density; each piece is shown as separated from another by a bit of stock.

Thirdly, and this goes back to the previous point in a way – this is a router. It may do its own self-drilling to penetrate the material in the first place, but it's a router. It's a router whose intent is to cut through a surface where you know tape has been applied along the way. Anyone that's ever used a router knows what happens when you cut through a surface with tape on it. The tape remains sticky, it sticks to the cutting surface, sometimes it rips off and little bits and sticks, it can work its way up into the mechanism and gum up the whole works. This is, in the parlance of my people, considered "bad." Maybe they've got some special glue formulation, maybe it's intended that the tape never is in an area of the stock that needs to be cut, but that would seem to add even more limitation on what you can work with.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, this thing is going for $1500 – in preorder. Expected retail is going to be a little more than $2000. I don't know about you, but $2000 for a hand tool, no matter how cool that tool is, is extra ludicrous. For $2000 you can have a really, really nice FDM printer. For that much, you can have a really, really nice 3-axis CNC machine that not only does routing but a multitude of other things, and all without the danger of catching your clothes or fingers in the machinery.

I just don't know who the market is for this. People who have trouble following lines traced on the surface of plywood (or balsa wood, or whatever) aren't actually people who are going to drop $2000 on a tool that mostly does smoothing of their tracery. In fact, I'm wondering if you couldn't build a far more robust system that replaces the 3-D interpolation part of this architecture with a simple downward camera that looks for a contrasting line on the surface of the work and shifts the cutting tool to follow it just as this one does, but with a much tighter, more direct feedback loop.

I'm a great believer in advancing technology just for the heck of it, but this thing doesn't really pass the sniff test for me.
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New Pokémon content: Pokeball Ceramic Coffee Mug!

This is actually the project that was giving me such problems the other day, and it's probably worth talking about why those problems came about.

If you've been doing any degree of 3-D modeling or you have interest in it, you know that a lot of the time you look at something and then try and reproduce something like that as your model. In my case I do a lot of modeling which involves mimicking digital assets. In this case, a Pokeball. But there's a strange thing about digital assets that have been presented in multiple media, multiple forms, and which there are multiple ways to approach; you know less about what they look like to make one then you know about what they look like when you look at one.

I originally started out with a very naïve design for the Pokeball which became part of this cup. A simple revolute to create the ball along with a little notched cut out, another straightforward revolute to cut out the little space around the button, and everything's easy and straightforward, right? Well – no. Not really. Getting the little cut out band as part of a revolved sketch was very easy. Creating an orthagonal sketch to to a completely different cut which was intended to match up with the surface of the notch turned out to be a lot more complicated, in part because for some reason the sketch kept wanting to have a flat surface as its recess, and when you look at pictures of Pokeballs you realize that the area around the button is both curved and narrower than the larger band.

And that's if you remember up front that there is a button on the front of the thing in the first place. Which I did not.

That led me to completing what I thought was the basic design and staring at it, wondering what was wrong. Something felt wrong. Something was observably wrong. It took a good 10 minutes to figure out that I had completely left out the button. Then when I went with a naïve approach to actually modeling it as a single or pair of revolutes around an axial line running to the front of the sphere? The cut out wouldn't conform to the surface that I wanted; it was difficult to get the curves to match, even though I seemed to be approaching it in a perfectly reasonable way.

Now, I could have continued banging away on the same problem for hours and made no headway. But I found that the easiest way for me to make my way through a problem, an issue that is fighting me, coming up with a methodology for solving a problem I didn't even know I had, is to set it down, walk away, and come back later – whereupon I will probably sit down, pull up the tools, and the problem will immediately present itself if it hasn't already gelled in the back of my head during the time I was actively not thinking about it.

In this case, the solution was surprisingly obvious, just as much as it was intuitively perverse. As a person, I don't normally think of objects which occupy the same physical space as a reasonable thing to consider. After all, that's how you get massive antimatter explosions. But within the context of a parametric modeler, it's perfectly reasonable to have two volumes which occupy the same space, especially if you intend to carve away at one of them and leave the other unmarked. So that's what I did here, started by making two revolutes, one which represented the inner core of the Pokeball and the other which represented the outer shell. That made thing surprisingly easier to deal with. When I cut the trench, I could be very specific about going beyond the bounds of the revolute without worrying about whether I was going to be leaving a tiny surface layer because of the approximation of circle drawing in the application. I also knew that it was impossible for me to cut too deep – because there was a second object within which would be unaffected by the carving.

The same effects made cutting out the hole in the surface sphere just as easy. I knew that the bottom of the cut would be perfectly spherical because of the inner sphere and I knew that I could extend up beyond the surface of the outer sphere just a little bit and never have to worry about leaving accidental surfaces. There was one tiny stumbling moment when I was confused that the button cut was only appearing in the top half of the Pokeball, not the bottom half – and that lasted for about 45 seconds until I realized that the revolute cut had separated the top and bottom of the Pokeball outer shell into two literal shells which were bodies that needed to be included in the affected revolve which cut out the space for the button.

The rest of that was straightforward. Put the things together, use a Boolean unification to make them one object, and the Pokeball was done.

Making a coffee mug body is trivial. You make a rectangle of the right dimensions, you revolve it around the Z axis, and you have a coffee cup cylinder. If you stick a Pokeball on the front of it, extruded through the surface you can then run a Boolean union on the two and have a mug with a Pokeball growing out of the side.

And that's where things get interesting.

If the ball is solid, that's a lot of mass on the front of the mug. A very large amount of mass.

You may have noticed that we have not actually made the mug capable of holding a liquid yet, and that's why. Apply a Shell function to the top of the mug which is now one body with this ball on the front. In this case, I set the thickness of the shell to 6 mm, which is what Shapeways suggests as the appropriate thickness for an unsupported wall as large as it will print. You'll notice that the inside of the Pokeball surface gets hollowed out as well, which makes sense – it is one part with the mug body. Now you have a considerably lighter decoration on the front of the mug – and you know from having seen a mug or two in your life that there will be a handle on the other side which will help counterbalance the center of gravity of the mug when it's being used.

Before you start working on the handle, make sure to drop a little chamfer around the bottom of the mug as well as a bit of a radius fill it around the top. The chamfer will make it a little bit easier to not be banging the sharp corners of the mug on the desk or table every time you set it down. The fillet will make it much more pleasant to drink from the mug, rounding it for your lips. Don't forget that you should probably at least chamfer if not fillet the interior radius of the inside, bottom of the mug where drinks will sit. There's nothing worse than a dirty coffee mug where coffee grounds have stuck in that sharp edge of an un-filleted, un-chamfered mug bottom. Save someone, perhaps yourself, the trouble by making it much harder for stuff to stick in the corners. Remove corners.

Now you've got a handle to design.

My personal feeling about handles is that they are a complete pain in the ass to design. They are simultaneously curved and require smooth surfaces – but not too smooth or the user can't keep a good grip on it. In this case, I also wanted to be very precise about how much mass went into the handle in order to offset the mass remaining of the hollow ball at the front of the mug. In fact, having a little more mass toward the handle would help centralize things when the level of fluid in the mug was up over the level of the interior of the Pokeball.

Let me be frank: neither Onshape nor Fusion 360 makes working with centers of gravity any fun. I feel vaguely gratified that they provide the means of determining the center of gravity for any given body; that makes it possible. But neither one will actually put a point which represents the center of gravity of your volume which you can then use in making constructive geometry.

Here's how I did it.

First, get the CoG information. It will be expressed as an XYZ offset.

Make a sketch on the XY (bottom) plane. Put a single point on it. Set the dimensions of that point from the 0, 0 origin, because that is the core of the offsets that you've been given.

Create a plane, offset from the origin plane by whatever the CoG Z offset is.

Create a sketch on this new plane with the point from your first plane Use/Projected in. That is your center of gravity.

Now, go tinker with the design of your handle. Create a line which will act as the central sweep for it. Create a sketch of the profile you want to sweep along it. Decide you don't really like the center part of it, split the body at an offset above and below the center of gravity, cut out the middle, move some of the faces which result, at another sketch where you outline a change in the profile, do a loft from the surfaces that you cut to this new shape, apply fillets as the mood strikes you, and then look at your results. Maybe you like it. Maybe you don't.

Merge the handle with the body of the mug and regenerate the center of gravity info. Modify the offsets of the point and plain that you created for center of gravity calculations appropriately. Look at where the point ends up. Is it where you want it? Does the handle need to be thicker, heavier? Does it need to be lighter?

Iterate as necessary.

In this design I'm still not completely happy with the way that the balance ended up, though it's one of those situations where if you have to fall on one side or the other, it's probably better to have the weight a little toward the handle which is where the hand and all the leverage is going to be.

If this is been interesting to you or you want to have one of these mugs for your very own, I am selling them on my Shapeways store:

While they do not come in a full-color Pokeball version, you can get one in red or blue, if you are Teams Valor or Mystic. (My own team, Instinct, will just have to get by with white or black. Shapeways does not yet provide a yellow glaze for their ceramics.) If you have a heavy duty Pokémon player in your family or immediate circle, this is the sort of thing that you would like to get. If that person annoys you, this is the sort of thing that you would like to get to throw it.

I just want to cover all the bases.

Should you have enjoyed this discussion of 3-D modeling and coffee mug design, give us a Like, a +1, share this with your local community or friends, or ask any questions that you might have. I am available for commissions if you have something that you would really like to have in your hot little hands.

Thank you for your time and attention!
Unknown Justin's profile photoAlexander Williams's profile photo
+Unknown Justin : That sounds like it needs to be a Pokemon racing game. :)
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I finally managed to finish the designs, renders, and article to accompany the release of my photogrammetric target unit cube, designed specifically to help people who are involved in photogrammetry, building 3-D models from pictures, be able to get clearer, more accurate measurements.

Along the way, I go into a little bit of history on what photogrammetry is and what it's used for, and I'm not shy about telling you where you can get the target unit cubes that I've designed.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in photogrammetry, 3-D modeling, or just making cool stuff – share this with them. I promise they're likely to learn something.
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the unit cube
karaokecatlady's profile photoAlexander Williams's profile photo
+karaokecatlady : On a good day. On a bad day, it's merely annoying. But if you photograph it at multiple angles and calculate the shift between each one, you can estimate the volume of flesh involved.
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Today I learned that you can dramatically decrease the cost of a 3-D printed object by being radical and making the whole thing hollow – if the printing service that you're using doesn't give you the option of specifying a less than 100% infill.

I shaved the price of having this thing printed on Shapeways by $8 by simply going into Fusion 360 and telling it to hollow out the piece and remove the bottom face, leaving a solid 1 mm of material for the rest of the cube. I would have preferred to simply specify an infill percentage, but that only works for FDM printers which build objects by laying down layers of material. The Shapeways plastic printers are sintering printers which lay down a layer of powder, laser heat that powder to the melting point, roll another layer of powder across the top, and repeat. As a result by default all plastic objects (and metal) are always solid unless designed otherwise. A hollow object without holes would simply be filled with the plastic powder, anyway.

For things like jewelry or parts that you absolutely want to be solid pieces of plastic or metal, that's not a problem. For things that you might not want to be solid, either for weight issues or cost of material issues, Shapeways might not be your best bet. For that, you might want to go with 3-D Hubs ( and a printer in your local area whom you can talk about the project with and mention things like infill percentages.
People who engage in photogrammetry have a problem. In order to determine the relative dimensions of a thing, the size of a thing, you need to have a known set of distances in a number of the shots to provide relational information about what measurements go where. This is usually done by putting flat paper targets down around the subject, but flat targets have to be measured in relation to each other. Flat objects can only provide dimensional in...
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So cool 
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What happens when you put a bunch of unmitigated egotists inside the Total Perspective Vortex?

My friend +James Desborough put out a video on the 8th in which he likens #NoMansSky to Douglas Adams' Total Perspective Vortex, the magical piece of equipment that has the technical side effect of making the viewer perfectly completely aware of how meaningless and minor they are in the full scope and sweep of the universe. Predictably, this causes them to go catatonically insane. The human mind, it is said, is simply not capable of fully comprehending how little they mean and thus, when exposed, must go seeking greater meaning, greater place, in order to compensate.

I would like to submit that James has it absolutely correct when it comes to NMS. Despite the fact that one of the core elements of the plot (and there is a plot) is that you are an extremely singular and important individual – the actual effect of the plot is that while you are capable of experiencing much of the vastness of the universe firsthand, there is no way that you can do so to any degree of completeness, the universe is essentially unknowable in toto despite all of your advantages, and while you may have relatively great effect on your local portion of the universe, in the long run – not only does it not matter but you probably won't even hang around in the place where you made a difference for any particular length of time.

You have made a tiny scratch in the dirt and moved on.

And that is ultimately all you can hope to do.

I would like to put forth that this is very likely part of the problem with the way the game is been reviewed and probably with how Sony has promoted the game over the last couple years.

After all, there are few people in this world who have a larger ego than reviewers. It is one of the absolute required traits that you have far too much belief in your own opinions and, simultaneously, too much belief that other people care. That's a reviewer in a nutshell. Games which play to the ego gratification of reviewers as a personality type do well in reviews. Games which subvert that cycle of gratification tend to do extremely poorly in reviews, even if they are otherwise very well done games.

NMS does not play nice with the ego. There are moments early on when you can believe that it does. There are moments early on when that plot-created element of specialness is highlighted. But as you move along, as you play on, relatively rapidly you have no choice but to think about the philosophical implications of where you are, what you're doing, and why you're doing specifically what you are doing at that moment. There are moments, sometimes entire hours, in which the gameplay of NMS can be described as "mundane." You search planets for resources to build a thing or fuel your ship or be able to sell to the local market for more resources to continue the gameplay loop. That's what you do. And then, from time to time, you have transcendent moments. You run into a giant Tyrannosaurus rex that wants to eat your face and put it down with one grenade rammed down its throat, leaving it in a crater. You float gently over a crest and are struck by the beauty of a very particular vista. You drop out of interstellar warp right in the middle of a space battle and neither side is marked as the good guys, leaving you to decide how to react even as bolts from both sides are exploding around you.

Maybe you intervene, maybe you don't, maybe you get killed, maybe you don't – but your experience, personal and intimate, is the only thing that changes. The universe is unchanged. The worlds, as you know them, are essentially unchanged by your passing.

Game reviewers are particularly unsuited to judge this kind of experience.

This is a kind of experience which require someone who is willing to drop into a very tight, very measured play cycle so that the moments which diverge from expectation can rise out of actual established expectation. There has to be a foundation of prosaic action in order for singular moments of experience to rise above them.

A lot of people, not just game reviewers but a lot of people who play games, will not find that an experience that they're willing to engage in. It takes too long, it is to a regular in terms of the rewards that provides, there is literally too much to learn, it profits most from the drive to literally explore, to go off the path you're given, to want to go get in trouble, to want to go find out what's over the next ridge… It is one of the most powerful exemplars of "a game not for everyone being sold improperly as a game for everyone" that I've seen in quite a while.

As a result, setting aside the question of the technical issues, as a game design, No Man's Sky is going to get poor reviews and was always going to get poor reviews – because it literally puts the worst possible people, game reviewers, into a Total Perspective Vortex and then puts them to the question: "so how do you feel?"

Couple that with the well-matured Internet culture reality of anything which some people think might be good or fun being the immediate target of denigration and hate (because the exact same community that promotes itself as inclusive and open-minded is simultaneously everything but and a manifestation of neo-Puritanism), and you have exactly what we see going on in the churning media environment around No Man's Sky.

And that's a shame because the game is extremely good at being what it is. Now, at some other time I will have a wonderfully long, rambling discussion of procedurally generated content and the difference between nouns and verbs in game design, which I fully expect each and every one of you to read without even the hint of glazed eyes, but for now, I leave you with this.

The Total Perspective Vortex leaves the viewer incoherent, unable to interact with the world, and essentially utterly closed in – because everyone exposed to the TPV started as essentially utterly closed in and the device forced them open. Their reaction is to overreact. It's all they have left.
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Alexander Williams

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If you were thinking about having something 3-D printed or considering requesting a design commission for me, you definitely can find excellent prices and excellent service from local 3-D printers through 3D Hubs.

This is been my second experience with having something printed through a local and, frankly, it's been fantastic.
3D Hubs is world’s largest online marketplace for 3D printing services. Find the right 3D print solution for prototyping and small production runs.
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I think I've finally found the opportunity to complain about two things at once: Search Engine Optimization snake oil and Facebook's advertising.

Check out this panel that was in my Facebook feed today. Go ahead, take a nice, long look. It is essentially Facebook advertising which is pushing an application which does nothing but robo-post Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn content for you that you did not create. It is a tool which is exactly and precisely targeted to polluting the feed of every social network that you may be a part of. It is, very exactly, literally part of "what is wrong with social media" anytime anyone is discussing what is wrong with social media. It extracts any concept of "social" from "media". It is the antithesis of social media.

And Facebook is promoting it on their platform.

See, this sort of thing wouldn't exist if the SEO industry hadn't have crawled up its own ass and died there over a decade ago. Yes, I mean to slight you if you have ever worked in SEO, ever worked in a content mill, ever even thought of dropping money for buying followers, viewers, or audience. You should feel bad and up people around you should punch you anytime you show up until I feel you've shown sufficient contrition. Note that I am not a forgiving God.

Thanks to people believing that magic is possible and that someone can draw an audience and keep an audience by clever manipulation of the system and not by actually giving an audience what it wants, SEO folks in fact to the very substrate of social media and, to judge by 90% of the things that I see on LinkedIn, subsist on selling things to each other in a vicious cycle of economic analingus. Things like this tool are entirely the propagation of that process.

If Facebook really wants to know why ad blocking will always be the choice of their educated and skilled users, and why it's a never-ending tail chase to stay ahead of them – this is why. This is exactly why. This typifies everything about why ad blocking on social media is something that we pursue, desire, and implement.

If you want people to follow your social media output, output original content that people want to see, read, or experience. Full stop. That's it. That's the whole concept. That's the whole idea. All the magical bullshit incantations that SEO mountebanks keep trying to push on companies and individuals who don't know better? Theft.

Advertising for that kind of garbage?

Well, I suppose I can take some pleasure in the fact that one of the idiots in the SEO content churn spent money to promote this advertising that I am now taking apart. That counts for something.
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At least one good thing had to come out of Enterprise !
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I have been working on a project for most of the day, on and off – and after a few strange stops and starts, I have the design part done.

That in mind, then I had to realize that I was nowhere near ready, willing, and able to do the write-up that should accompany the content/design work that I've already done. It really demands a fair amount of discussion, description, illustration alongside extended text which describes what's being seen and why…

In short, it's just not content suitable for publishing via the near-microscopic content format of either Google+ or Facebook. It's going to have to be either a blog post or a Storify piece because there are simply too many things that need to actually be associated with the content.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm one of the few people who feels compelled to say things more complicated, show people things that are more complicated, then you can do in just a Facebook post – or worse, a single line on Twitter. That's troubling for reasons I can't even articulate.

Ah well, I can't make you read this wall of text without at least a little bit of a tease.
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DJ, Graphic Artist, Voice Over Geek, software engineer, writer of/for role-playing games, indie games fan, Dadaist, Objectivist, anarcho-fasci-Libertarian
  • DJ, Graphic Artist, Voice Over Geek, Games Reviewer, Foodblogger, Disability Services (Dragon*Con), Noodly Appendage Wielder
    Your God, present
  • Freelance/Operation BSU
    DJ, Graphic Artist, Voice Over Geek, Producer, 2007 - 2011
  • Hewlett-Packard
    Software Engineering Support for Tru64 Unix running on Alpha hardware, 2004 - 2007
  • Compaq
    Software Engineering Support for Tru64 Unix running on Alpha hardware, 1998 - 2004
  • Digital Equipment Corporation
    Software Engineering Support for Tru64 Unix running on Alpha hardware, 1993 - 1998
  • Wal-Mart
    Retail Sales (Electronics), 1991 - 1993
  • Freelance
    Computer Operations Tutor, 1989 - 1990
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Lawrenceville, GA
Conyers, GA
I'm the Abyss. Pleased to gaze into you.
Writer and critic of role-playing games, voice over artist, audio engineer, truly lousy electronic musician, materialist philosopher, indulger in decadence, host of Operation BSU and head-panelist on The Media Outsiders, raconteur and all-around ironic fellow.
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  • Gwinnett Technical Institute
    Associate's in Computer Programming
  • Atlanta Broadcast Institute
    Broadcast Engineering
  • Central Gwinnett High School
    Avoiding Responsibility, Latin
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April 19, 1972
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SquidLord, Vrai Aurotharius, Tentaclees, Saladin Vrai, Paul Williams
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The Atlanta Botanical Gardens provide an oasis of calm in the center of busy city life. Literal miles of walking paths, some elevated above ground level to give an even more impressive overview of forested greenery, allow for the fascination of every attendee. The edibles garden, in particular, is of note as the Gardens do a regular cooking show with fruits and vegetables taken directly from the garden grounds. Access is a little spendy, but if you think the botanical gardens are likely to be on your regular path of enjoyment, picking up a membership for your family is money well spent.
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Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
Part museum, part rentable public venue, the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse is a lot more surprising on the inside than you might expect. The collection of war memorabilia spans from the Civil War all the way through Korea and Vietnam, all neatly tagged and well displayed in glass cases. The old courtrooms upstairs provide an excellent place for wedding photography or receptions, and the grounds themselves directly in the middle of scenic Lawrenceville host occasional musical events in the ever present gazebo.
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Public - 3 weeks ago
reviewed 3 weeks ago
The Lawrenceville lawn is probably the largest outdoor meeting space with a significant access to nearby restaurants and supplies in the county. The playground is nicely designed, the layout in general is well done, and its nice to see that they've finished it.
Public - 5 months ago
reviewed 5 months ago
It's Chick-fil-A. You know when you come through the door that you will receive good food, pleasant service, free Wi-Fi, and leave feeling full and without your wallet fully picked. Unless it's Sunday, in which case all bets are off because the store's closed.
Public - 5 months ago
reviewed 5 months ago
88 reviews
Fast good quality eats with an upscale price does not make for happy dining.
Public - 3 months ago
reviewed 3 months ago
A Walmart like all Walmarts, cleaner than most, but certainly no surprise. And that lack of surprise may simply be one of Walmart's greatest strengths: consistently meeting expectation.
Public - 5 months ago
reviewed 5 months ago
The food and service are both excellent, and the price point can't be beat.
Public - 6 months ago
reviewed 6 months ago