About Medu Netcher project

The motivation (2000-2019)

Even before my very first visit to Egypt in the early 2000s, I had created a whole bunch of digital resources including site maps, diagrams etc. Many of them had to include hieroglyphic text, for which I used the JSesh application. However, the hieroglyphic fonts were not consistent, having different sizes and the icons had different line stroke widths.

So to have full control of the icons appearance I decided to draw the icons myself.

In the beginning, it worked reasonably well for me and life was easy. As time passed, I needed to update and refine icons. This meant I needed to refine the icons by recreating all of the vector drawings and diagrams by hand. This process was a very labour-intensive nightmare.

My first attempt at a solution was to create new icons and import them using Adobe Illustrator's "Smart Objects" function. Using this method, once some changes were applied into an icon, all the instances of that icon were updated automatically to the new current version. Magic!

The problem with that methodology was that once you start having hundreds of smart objects in a single file, the application performance starts to suffer. At this stage, I only had around 300 drawn icons. So I realised that by the time I had imported 8000+ documented icons from the JSesh catalogue, it would be virtually impossible to work with a file this large.

The genesis of Medu Netcher (2020)

In January 2020 I started an online course "Egyptian Art - image and interpretation" at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with the Professor Francisco Luis Borrego Gallardo PhD. All of a sudden, something clicked in my mind: the vast majority of the hieroglyphic icons contained, literally, other icons. I could use this function to drastically reduce the number of drawings in my catalogue.

To avoid performance issues, I made the decision to use Adobe Illustrator as the supporting application and only use it for drawing icons and exporting them as the Scalable Vector Graphics format (SVG's). I would use them later in combination with all the power of Javascript and CSS technologies. I am a web developer, so I thought the project could be a nice challenge, having in mind the predictable performance issues.

And then, on March 20th 2020 Covid-19 changed the world. But the lockdowns gave me the chance to start typing the first lines of code for the application you are now in.

The web-based approach proved to be the way to go, since after having around 800 icons by December 2020, the application performance was almost perfect. Even though the very first versions of Medu Netcher were meant to be only operated on my local offline computer. This enables the user to use the generated icons in the drawings through Illustrator and then export them as required.

The actual project (2021-2024)

The obvious next step was finding the potential a catalogue like this could have as a remotely hosted application. The only online resources available were some mobile applications with very, very limited functionalities. And the JSesh application doesn't have a portable App. version. But having an online application meant that the user could access all its functionalities wherever they were (after downloading the App to a mobile phone or tablet. Even inside a tomb in Egypt with no internet connection at all).

So, I started to look for other usages of my catalogue (at that point in time, the Medu Netcher was still only an icon catalogue). The first one was, of course, the ability to write in hieroglyphics, so I had to deal with "Manuel de Codage" at a very advanced level. I really wanted it to be easier to use than other hieroglyphic text editors, such as JSesh. The main problem with those applications is that the default results are often poor and need to be refined by editing or customizing the aggrupation's to get a good-looking final image.

At that point I saw clearly that I needed some help, so I joined forces with one of my work colleagues, Edgard Massot. He took the challenge to develop a plugin (which was named "Ramses") to parse Manuel de Codage texts and return the individual icons so I could then draw them as needed through Javascript and CSS. It may seem a simple thing to do, but I can assure you it was absolutely not!

In order to test how the Ramses and Medu Netcher were communicating, and to fine-tune the icon aggrupation's, I decided to try it with the largest collection of relatively simple texts I could find: the names of kings and queens of Ancient Egypt. After all the work it took, I found it odd not to include them in the application as a secondary function as well. An online and complete list of all the known names of all the known pharaohs and queens of Ancient Egypt. I know there are other sites out there which have similar contents, but it was already done.

Having all this data available, I found it interesting to display statistical information about the icons used in all these names. Finally, the functionality to find those names through its icons was also a direct consequence of having it.

While entering all the royal names data into the application, I found that would be interesting to have a list of words or phrases that were commonly repeated through texts, as well as a list of determinative icons to be used in a semantical way within the writing functionality of Medu Netcher. That is where the Vocabulary section came into being.

The future project (2024-...)

Now, in 2024, there's still a lot to do to the application. There are literally thousands of missing icons, thousands of words pending to be entered into the vocabulary and many, many other new features are waiting their turn to be developed. It's been 4 years since I started the first steps of this application, and yet it seems not much has been done. But this long journey since those first manually drawn icons in Illustrator led me here.

I don't want to display ads; I don't want to earn money for this. My plan with Medu Netcher is that it will be a totally free application for everyone to use. And if you want to help achieving this goal, you're more than welcome.

Thanks a lot for your interest :)

Marc Mateos
February 2024