About Medu Netcher project

The motivation (2000-2019)

Since early 2000s, before even doing my very first trip to Egypt, I had created a whole bunch of digital resources (such as site maps, diagrams, etc) and many of them had to include hieroglyphic texts. I had JSesh application to do so, but its icons were not fitting my expectations because depending on their size, the icons had different line stroke widths.

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

At the begginings it worked out pretty well. Life was easy. But as time passed by, I started to have the need to update and refine some icons. So it meant I need to refine the icon and then go to all the vectorial draws and diagrams I had using that icon and replace it, by hand. And soon it became kind of a nightmare.

My first approach to the solution was to create the new icons and import into the hieroglyphic texts using the Illustrator's Smart Objects functionality. This way, once some change was applied into an icon, all the instances of that icon were updated automatically. Magic.

The problem with that methodology was that once you start having hundreds of smart objects in a single file, the application performance started to suffer. And by that time I only had around 300 drawn icons, so by the time I eventually had the +8000 documented icons in the JSesh catalogue it would be virtually impossible to work with that file.

The begginings of Medu Netcher (2020)

On January 2020 I started the online course «Egyptian Art - image and interpretation» at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with the professor Dr. Francisco Luis Borrego Gallardo and all of the sudden something clicked in my mind: the vast majority of the hieroglyphic icons contained, literally, other icons. And I could used that particularity to reduce the number of drawings in my catalogue drastically.

To avoid performance issues as those mentioned before, I decided to leave Illustrator only as a supporting application to draw the icons and exporting them into Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format, and later use them 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 perfomance issues.

And then, in March 20th 2020 Covid-19 became a thing and the world changed. That situation, though, gave me the chance to start typing the first lines of code of the application you are in now.

The web approach process 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 played in my local computer, so I could use the generated icons into my drawings through Illustrator and then export wherever I wanted.

The actual project (2021-2024)

The obvious next step was finding the potential a catalogue like this could gave as a remotely hosted application. The only online resources available were some mobile applications with very, very limited functionalities. And the JSesh application didn't have a portable version. But having the application stored online meant I could access to all its functionalities wherever I was. Even inside a tomb in Egypt with no internet connection at all.

So I started to look for other usages of my catalogue (yes, at that point in time, the Medu Netcher was still only an icon catalogue). The first one was, of course, the hability to write in hieroglyphics, so I had to deal with Manuel de Codage in a very inner 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 aggrupations 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 colleagues at my job: Edgard Massot, who 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 aggrupations, I decided to try it with the largest collection of relatively simple texts I could found: the names of kings and queens of Ancient Egypt. And after all the work it took, I found 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 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 consecuence of having it.

While entering all the royal names infornation 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 scene.

The future project (2024-...)

Now, in 2024, there's still a lot to do in 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 seems not much more has been done. But this long journey since those first manually drawn icons in Illustrator let 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'll 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