Modern Day Herms & Mapping

Matt Miller
Sep 8, 2017 · 3 min read
Wizardz — Fort Greene 2010

In 2010 I would see the same tag/character repeated throughout my Fort Greene neighborhood. I would change up my route to pass by as many as possible, keeping a mental map of their locations. Something about their anthropomorphic simplicity made the three eyed wizards endearing. I’m sure they had their own meaning to whoever created them but for me they became visual waypoints while walking.

They kind of felt like modern day herms, strange statuary used in Ancient Greek and Roman cultures to denote boundaries and crossings. While I did not think of the tags as principally denoting boundaries there was a certain amount of auspiciousness I began ascribing to them. In my mind of course you would want to pass by the “wizardz” on your way to Atlantic Terminal, superstition is a slippery slope. Although I did stop short of leaving offerings and alms at their sites, as they did with ancient herms. Eventually they were all painted over and I had to find some other bit of city minutiae to mythologize.

Little Guys — Cambridge 2017

While in Cambridge this summer I started seeing the repetition of the another character while I was walking around. Again, simple anthropomorphic figures which were repeated all around Cambridge and Somerville. They reminded me of the wizards and I found myself passing by them more and more. They became waypoints while walking between the Trader Joe’s and my apartment.

I wanted to map them, not as a means to share with someone for directions. I think a tagged dumpster in the middle of a Cambridge parking lot is pretty high on a list of ephemeral landmarks. But to create a little artifact for myself, documenting where a mental space connected to physical geography.

There are probably 101 ways of doing this but I settled on a process using my iPhone and an App and developed a little tool to generate maps with embedded images from the exported data, for example here is the result of me mapping the Little Guys of Cambridge: https://thisismattmiller.github.io/map-cambridge-little-guys/

https://thisismattmiller.github.io/map-cambridge-little-guys/

I used an iOS App called PointPlot ($0.99), which is pretty nice but lacks a lot of documentation. It allows you create new maps, and add surveys (which consist of points). You can then export out GeoJSON and other formats. But what I liked about it is that it also allows you to take an picture associated with a point on a survey. While the lat/long is often stored in the EXIF metadata of your photos, this app stores the image along with the geo data keeping everything organized.

You can export these maps as a “rime” file, which I never heard of, but is basically a binary plist with the geo data and images base64 encoded. These are not stored as high-res images by any means, but good enough to embed on a map.

I wrote a little tool that takes the rime file and builds a Leaflet based web map display. This lets me quickly export any maps I make and publish them to something like Github Pages. There are a few system requirements but you can quickly go from building a map on your phone to a published web map. I documented how to in this readme: https://github.com/thisismattmiller/rime-to-map

I found the process of mapping kind of meditative, processing the space around you is enjoyable and building your own personal maps feels somehow empowering.

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