Magic mirror that is without
Magic mirror that is within

— Gaelic rhyme

I was watching a television commercial the other night and there was
this girl on the commercial using a laptop computer. On the screen there
appeared to be what looked like a mirror. So I thought, hey, they
actually have a software now where you can call up a mirror on the
screen of your computer and look at your own face and stuff?

So today I went in search of such. As it turns out, the only thing I could
find was something called the Makeup Mirror that you can download off
the Cover Girl Makeup site. But as it turns out, this isn't a mirror at all,
it's a program that lets you look at various Cover Girl makeup colors.

And then I got to thinking about it. A mirror on a screen? How exactly
would that work? It really seemed impossible.

A normal, modern day mirror of the type that we have in the bathroom
or hallway is basically a pane of flat glass that has been given a rear
coating of metal — usually a combination of tin, silver, and aluminum.
To be honest, I wasn't able to find out how this works exactly. It has
to do with reflectivity, but such concepts go beyond my feeble brain.
What is clear with today's mirrors though is that somehow the combination
of the glass surface with the metal backing produces the reflection.

But if you take a piece of glass and put black construction paper
behind it, it doesn't become a mirror. Colored surfaces do reflect
light (black cloth reflects less light than white cloth, which is why
white clothing is cooler in the summer). But there seems to be a
difference between that reflectivity and the type of reflectivity that
operates with metals. You can see your face reflected in a silver teapot.
You can't see your face reflected in a pane of glass (the glass of your
computer monitor) and a silver background.

Here's an example.

Not much reflectivity in that, of course. That's because it is the color
silver (RGB 191, 191, 191) represented by pixels on the screen, not
the actual silver metal.

So it seems that there could be no computer software that brings up a
mirror that you could use to put on your makeup or comb you hair. You'll
just have to use a little mirror that you keep in your bag. Or perhaps
resort to a true magic mirror — better be damn careful with that one.

But there is one other possibility. Computers are a new technology. So
maybe we have to look at new means to make mirrors. Like cameras, for
example. For laptops that have webcams mounted on them, it might be
possible to create a quickly accessible program that takes the image
from the webcam (i.e., your face) and just feeds it back to you onto the
screen of your computer. And in fact there would also be the possibility
of using this method to eliminate the old glass mirror bugaboo — that
you are always looking at a reverse image of yourself — by flipping
the image horizontally. And I would suggest creating the software so that
it puts a nice little attractive mirror-type frame around the image —
take your choice of a variety of frames, of course.

Here is something quite similar to what I am talking about, though this
one seems needlessly complicated with the facing glass and ring of lights
features. It seems to me that the developers of this software weren't
quite able to leave the past behind. It is also far too large to take
with you on the go. Hell, you might as well use an old-fashioned glass
mirror as that thing.

Well, so much for that. Looking into all of this I discovered that certain
animals seem to be able to comprehend mirror images and some don't.
Here's a list from Wikipedia of those that do:

  • Asian elephants
  • Bonobos
  • Common chimpanzees
  • Dolphins
  • Magpies
  • Orangutans
  • Pigs
  • Llamas
  • Humans

They don't say anything about dogs. But I do know that I've found my
dogs Baron and Sasha occasionally looking at the glass door at the
bottom of my television cabinet. I can't think of what they'd be looking
at if not the reflection, especially Sasha, who actually will bark
looking at it. That's hardly formal research, but I thought I would
throw that in.