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Inspired by recent watching of Shrek 2 and by Lord of The Rings:

enter image description here

When talking about magical Orbs or Mirrors, we have mostly in mind above picture. Skilful mage operates hard to obtain device. But what if Shrek 2 approach would be in place?

enter image description here

I got blown away with the idea of having some magical "entertainment" device. So lets postulate several things:

  • We are in generic fantasy settings, with magic
  • Magical mirrors are easy to make, easy to obtain and easy to operate (commands given by natural language speech)
  • Any magical mirror can "connect" to any other magical mirror.
  • Any owner of magical mirror can "set up" their device to: "Accept all connections / Accept known connections only / Ask about any connection" and this setting can be changed any time
  • To connect to another mirror, you have to be able to uniquely identify such mirror, and
  • Each mirror has unique identifier

Now, the last two give me troubles. I need to come up with good identifier system which could be believably used in fantasy setup by "turkey plucker" (commoner with really low IQ).

Yes, I could steal IP protocol from our world, but it looks too much tech and it assumes that you can count to at least 255.

So what would be good addressing system to allow me easily use the mirrors? Such system should be able to hold at least million addresses, preferably one billion unique addresses (magic mirrors are very common and one person can have more than one mirror)

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Why do you think there were only seven palantirs in Middle Earth? They foolishly (doubtless due to Sauron's evil influence on Numenor) decided to use a three-bit addressing protocol, and they had to reserve one address for the network address. – Mike Scott Jan 7 at 8:24
I suppose a Switchboard Operator is out of the question? "No, no, no - don't put me on hold!" – Scott Downey Jan 7 at 9:54
Why do you need an addressing system? You could just have a "magical" 'address resolution' system. Cast a spell to (physically) locate the nearest device to the person you want to contact. Cast spell to connect your device to the device at a specific location. – Aron Jan 7 at 10:57
A common way would be to be able to think about it without ambiguity, either by remembering it or it's owner or by knowing it exists "I want to connect to Bob's mirror" / "I want to connect to that mirror that broadcasts the A team". – njzk2 Jan 7 at 16:15
@PavelJanicek Fine. Have the mirror have a very particular set of skills, skills it has acquired over a very long and complicated enchantment. If you think of contacting someone, the mirror will find him, and the mirror will call him. – Aron Jan 8 at 2:23

15 Answers 15

up vote 17 down vote accepted

A mirror could have an "address" that is composed by the following items:

  • The name of the manufacturer

  • An unique name the manufacturer gave to the specific mirror.

Both are engraved to the mirror, so you don't have to have a stellar memory (unless you can't read; then you have to remember it, or find someone who can read it for you). The engraving is not just for information; it's magical and actually allows to address the mirror.

So if you want to connect to a specific mirror, you must know its name (for private mirrors the owner will give it to you, for public entertainment mirrors, the name will be advertised). You then could say for example to your own mirror:

Connect me to Merlin's Happy Giant!

to connect to the mirror made by Merlin, which Merlin called "Happy Giant". Merlin happens to like calling his mirrors "Happy Giant", "Tired Dwarf" and so on, while Gandalf prefers names like "Carpenter" or "Stonemason". But the actual name doesn't matter, as long as it is unique.

Interesting effects may occur if a manufacturer of magical mirrors gets forgetful and gives the same name to two mirrors.

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+1 great idea. And the last sentence can be solved by magical thinking, so you can bode the name for a mirror... – Pavel Janicek Jan 7 at 8:23
Perhaps you could call them Magical Access Control addresses... – Mike Scott Jan 7 at 8:30
I'd love to see what names they came up with once they'd sold a few thousand units. Connect me to Gandalf's ThunderSpleen at once! – Joe Bloggs Jan 7 at 16:19
@Mindwin: Another alternative for illiterate users would be to have a visual depiction of the mirror's name -- an engraved picture of a happy giant, tired dwarf, etc. – Wingman4l7 Jan 7 at 18:14
You could have the users choose a name as well. There could be a "setup wizard" >< that you contact/use/setup when purchasing, which binds the mirror to whatever alias you like. "I'm sorry, that [username] is taken." – DoubleDouble Jan 8 at 15:43

Given that these mirrors are, y'know, magic:

Why not have them ask questions rather than blindly follow content? If idiot Bob strolls up to a mirror and grumbles 'ahwannacahnekttamahfrendJoesmehrornaokthx' then the mirror should be capable of reading the intent of Bob'd statement. In this case: 'Kindly connect me to my friend Joe's mirror'.

In this case the mirror can ask a series of questions to further refine Bob's request. 'Where does Joe live?' might be met with 'elivsduwntrode', which the mirror can infer to mean all other magical mirrors on the same street as Bob's house. Then Bob's mirror can message the other mirrors it finds on the street asking the question 'Tell me about your owner'. At this point Bob's mirror has all the information it needs to be able to pinpoint exactly which mirror Bob wants to connect to.

If further clarification is needed, for example if Joe has multiple mirrors or Bob has multiple friends called Joe, then the mirror should be able to ask Bob other questions based on the information returned, and thus further refine the search parameters.

Once the mirror has pinned down which 'Joe's' mirror (or mirrors) are, every further request from Bob can be quickly actioned. If Bob says 'ahwannatalktaJoe' then Bob's mirror can ask Joe's mirror if Joe is currently in view.

This then shifts the onus of the magical preparation back to the mirror-maker and makes the mirrors much easier to use. Experienced mirror makers will be able to make mirrors that are better at asking the right questions (those mirrors that can reduce the potential set of mirrors fastest) and learn their user's meanings and preferences quickly. Novice or bad mirror makers will make mirrors that start with the question 'Does Joe have blond hair?' and so take longer to connect.

In terms of the magical back-end of the mirror... erm. Magic? Each mirror doesn't have to remember an address for any other mirror, merely the set of questions it asked and where it found the answers. If it runs through the same path of questions: it gets the same mirror. If it can't find the same mirror it can move one question up the chain and ask it again, enabling it to find either the same mirror or an appropriate mirror pretty quickly.

Plus you get to give your mirrors upper class British accents and call them all Jeeves.

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Do the mirrors have built-in telemirror-books? If Bill wants to talk to Jeb he will probably not say "l want to talk to the person called Jeb K., who lives down the street on the right side seen from this place, and has a blue painted grandfather-clock visible from his mirror (unlike the other Jeb)" Bill much rather wants to say "Call Jeb, my friend". The mirror would look if there is a Jeb in the mirror-book and call him. If the mirror Bill tried is currently not available he can still play the question-answer-game to find Jeb. – J_F_B_M Jan 7 at 14:35
Depends upon how good the manufacturer of the mirrors is, doesn't it? A cheapjack hand-mirror might not have enough capacity for an up-to date reference book, whereas a top of the range wall mirror can not only do that, but also access the Glassware Exchange Network that does nothing but track basic information about the owners of mirrors near them. The reference books would simply contain lists of questions that the mirrors would need to follow in order to pin down a specific book, just like phone books contain numbers that uniquely identify phones. – Joe Bloggs Jan 7 at 14:40
Seems reasonable, \\main-st\farmer-pickle\. Farmer Pickle can either expose only one mirror at a time (think ports) or he could expose several (classical music station on port 81, rock on 82). – Josiah Jan 18 at 22:55

Instead of addressing the actual mirrors, why not address the people that can be seen by them. The mirror in the King's study has no address when the room is empty, but at other times, can be accessed by anyone, simply by supplying the query...

"Let me see the King!"

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How would you solve the "one person has more than one mirror" thing? Especially the king will definitely have more than just one magical mirror... – Pavel Janicek Jan 7 at 8:18
When you want to see the King, you are connected to the mirror that is nearest to the King. An user should be also able to ask any public mirror what is happening at his own home. (If he did not allow it others should not be able to watch his home.) This seems to be obvious if the ease of use is possible and you want it. – BartekChom Jan 7 at 9:13
@BartekChom Isn't there something of a privacy risk in having the magic mirror network track the exact locations of everyone at all times, so that they always know which is the closest mirror? What happens if hackers breach the database? – Mike Scott Jan 7 at 9:55
That sounds like the most "fantasy" solution to me. All the other answers are clearly engineering solutions more than magic. This approach is the only one I find inline with a fantasy setting, – xLeitix Jan 7 at 11:49
@MikeScott: Of course one can say so. The mirrors see very much. They should not reveal it to unauthorised people, but if somebody made them do it, he could spy almost everybody. – BartekChom Jan 7 at 12:16

A magical addressing system can have a magical resolution method -- so why not make it like magical traveling/tunneling/jumping/folding rules in other fiction?

To connect the user of one mirror holds the image of the other (or its location, or its bonded owner, or a special glyph unique to it (maybe they are branded like cows), or its color, or its flavor, or whatever) in their mind and...


ATDS=bonded_symbol ->

(Yes, in my imaginary world mirrors and palantirs speak analog modem.)

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Look at my horse, my horse is amazing, give it a lick so you can tele-mirror it later. – J_F_B_M Jan 7 at 14:37
@J_F_B_M HAHAHA! Just made my evening. I imagine this would add a really bizarre aspect to erotic video chat... – zxq9 Jan 7 at 15:09
I like this pattern a lot because it gets rid of the pesky concept of having to uniquely identify each mirror by a phrase. Oddly enough, the idea of connecting to one's mirror really change the meaning of the "remove all echo cancelation" tones. It'd be interesting to have a vampire's mirror that's programmed to provide no reflections, so that the vampire doesn't feel alone (until the tones come across the line and remove the 'reflection cancelation' hardware from the circuit) – Cort Ammon Jan 8 at 1:00
If the mirror's having trouble pin-pointing the exact person based on the mental image, it'll display several near-matching images on its surface, from which the user can choose. In this world, people are gonna become masters of visual memorization. – Nahshon paz Jan 21 at 7:16

How about borrowing the idea used in Stargate? Each mirror would have a unique 6 rune long description for example.

This could be combined with other ideas, like a rune area code or manufacturer code. The rune selector could be read aloud or it could be an embedded thing in the mirror or a separate control rod/stone/gadget. Who will find the 7th rune that allows physical transport/timetravel/remote spells through the mirror?

Announcement mirrors (3 rune long addresses) can only send data, allowing many mirrors to connect to it (tv). Master Multicast mirrors have the power to force all other mirrors to connect to it (royal announcements). Handheld mirrors allow only viewing, liquid crystal smartmirrors allow 2-way discussision... So many possibilites love this idea.

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Did you see Benubird's answer by any chance? – Joe Bloggs Jan 8 at 10:42
@JoeBloggs no, actually I didn't. I like it a lot though. I think there are games where you combine various syllables to create spells and inventing new spells was a matter of learning new words and potential combinations. – Nenotlep Jan 8 at 15:35
BenuBird's 'proc-la-rush-ta-on-nas' example is ripped directly from the Stargate franchise. :D – Joe Bloggs Jan 8 at 17:59

When creating a magical mirror, each mirror is engraved with a string of magical runes. If spoken aloud, these runes are a part of the magic spell which needs to be chanted to connect to that mirror.

If a mirror is made with a code-word which is already taken by a different mirror, it shatters. Either during production or at first use.

If you would like to watch my full tutorial series on magic mirror enchanting, just chant Jutubo Totcommo Shashtutorio Mirrorus Enchantus.

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It's a magical world, so incantations and spells rule. Each mirror is identified by three words, so you can say 'Mirror, Mirror on the wall, connect me to beans, sugar, and mice!'

With a basic vocabulary of 1000 words you get a billion combinations.

When a naming spell is conducted on a mirror, it checks if the name already exists by trying to connect to a mirror with that name. If the name exists on the network then the new name is rejected.

Mirrors that have been connected with really good names are worth a lot of money. You can find out who owns a name by saying, for example, 'Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of all?', and see who has the mirror named 'the fairest of all'.

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"Hello, this is beans, sugar and rats. No sorry, not beans, sugar and mice. You got the wrong number" – Digital Trauma Jan 7 at 17:18
Reminds me of this comic about easy to remember but hard to crack passwords. – DoWhileNot Jan 8 at 23:32

For a completely different approach, how about making the mirror alive to some extent? For example, the mirror grows hair, feathers, leaves or berries, or one can squeeze a drop of liquid out of it, or one can whittle off a piece of it and it will grow back. Anyway, the idea is, once the hair/feather/leaf/berry/liquid/shaving is removed, it can be physically taken to any other mirror to establish a magical bond.

No naming required, and any turkey plucker can operate it with ease.

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So you need the biomass of the mirror to connect, each time you want to connect. For instance if I want to connect to another mirror I need biomass from that one, and to connect back to the first one I need biomass of the first one again. – Theraot Jan 7 at 23:30
@Theraot, only if that's how you want it to work. I imagined the connection being permanent unless the mirror owner wished to disconnect at some point. Think of how your phone remembers wifi networks. – Josh Jan 7 at 23:34
But if the mirror remembers a list of mirros, how do you tell it to which one to connect? – Theraot Jan 7 at 23:35
@Theraot, well, that's getting into UI when the question asked about the backend, but there are several ways it could work. For example, the user could provide a name when first connecting the mirrors, e.g. "Bob," "uncle Tony," or "Sam, son of James, a blacksmith in the Western Isles." Later, you just say "call Bob." Alternatively, the mirror could work like a smart phone and fill itself with icons of what's on the other side of each mirror and the user swipes and taps just like we do. – Josh Jan 7 at 23:46

There are two ways you could do it. celtschk has already provided an excellent answer for one of them, but there is another. First, put together an alphabet of phonetic sounds, eg. "proc", "la", "rush", etc. Then use that alphabet as your numbering system. That way each mirror gets a unique identifier, which is easy to pronounce.

"How do I contact you?"
"My mirror is proc-la-rush-ta-on-nas"
"Mirror! Connect to proclarushtaonas"

If you have 20 sounds in your alphabet, this gives you 79,792,266,297,612,001 different addresses that are 7 syllables long (the amount people can fit in short term memory). This is already a million times more addresses then there are phone numbers available on earth - enough for you? Even if you drop that down to 6 syllables and 15 sounds, that still gives you 470,184,984,576 different addresses, each of which is as easy to remember as someone's name.... "My mirror address is ab-rah-ham-lin-coln".

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It's a magic mirror. Should we not just be able to tell it to connect to Benubird's mirror, and it would, y'know, magically, figure out how to talk to it without having to remember an actual address in any alphabet? I don't see the need to have a real addressing system in place in a fantasy setting. – xLeitix Jan 7 at 11:51
Why would I want to phone home?? – Joe Bloggs Jan 7 at 12:02
What if you have more than one mirror? How does it know which one to connect to? What if you specifically want it to connect one particular mirror, irrespective of its location? What if the mirror is owned by a group, or in an office? – Benubird Jan 7 at 12:28
@Benubird Because its magic, of course! </hurrr> Seriously, though, the handwavium should come into play at some point, unless its a world where the "magic is technology" trope is in play. The OP didn't quite specify which way he wanted things, though. – zxq9 Jan 7 at 13:05

The more straightforward addressing systems have been thoroughly addressed in the other answers, but let me provide a few other ideas. The feasability of these ideas will depend on exactly how the magical system of the world in question operates.

Spirit bound into each mirror

This borrows rather heavily from the magical system of the Bartimaeus Sequence, but can work in other magic systems as well.

Have a spirit/imp/djinni with a basic level of intelligence bound into each mirror. When you want to connect to another mirror, simply request the person or place you are looking for. The spirit will leave the mirror and seek out another mirror appropriate to your request. The spirit then brings back a magical information stream to connect the two mirrors.

In the case of one person having multiple mirrors, you can leave it up to the spirit's judgement to choose the best one. Depending on how much freedom the spirit has, this could lead to some interesting technical difficulties (and brings a whole new meaning to the concept of 'computer gremlins').

How fast the spirit travels between mirrors is up to you, and can bring its own complications.

Physical Sympathetic Bond

When each mirror is made, a crystal (or other magically receptive object) is broken into many pieces. The largest piece is embedded into a mirror. The other pieces can then be distributed by the owner of the mirror; inserting one of these pieces into a receptacle on your own mirror will connect it to the first mirror.

This gives a concrete, unambiguous way of connecting to any mirror, and also provides a decent degree of security - someone will only be able to connect to your mirror if they have a shard of its crystal. If you need an especially secure line, only split the initial crystal into two pieces, that way only one other person will ever be able to connect.

However, this solution is not especially scalable - if there are hundreds or thousands of mirrors you want to connect to, it quickly becomes impractical.

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Steal a bit of plot from the "Kingkiller Chronicles" novels and use a type of sympathetic link. If I want to contact my sister I just think of her and say her name.

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Use physical addresses. Why not? You're dealing with a magical routing table after all. For local calls

Connect me with Roe Street - House 3 - Living room mirror

Or, if you prefer little endian addresses, which probably sound more natural anyway

Connect me to the 3rd bedroom mirror of Unit 5/3 in Evergreen Apartments on the Great North Road

For longer distance calls, just add higher level area names: Suburb, Region, State, Nation, Continent, etc.

Synonyms can be added easily, and blocking/accepting rules are area based. Anything else you need can probably be achieved by making address groups in your address book (obviously, everyone needs a list of regular contacts). Fuzzy resolution can be grounds for competition: Much like search engines in our world, those generating the most accurate results without much effort would be favored by busy business people. Of course, if you were desperate, you could always try exploring a hierarchical list. Of all the regions of a State, for example.

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Keep it limited to "earthy" concepts - no technical concepts at all.

To give it a fantasy feel, a mirror is inactive until it is bound to its owner.

This is done by dropping a bit of blood (i.e. "life force") into a special hold in the mirror.

Once bound, the mirror can be controlled by its owner within a certain radius.

To contact another person, one simply walks up to their mirror and asks it verbally (or perhaps mentally if they got the high IQ upgrade) to activate the other person's mirror.

Because the "network" is on the astral or spirit plane via the life force of blood given to the mirrors, we can just pretend that all of that routing stuff is taken care of there.

And, then, the mirror that is closest to the person being sought (and is bound to that person) then activates.

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The point in time when the mirror was created would be a unique identifier. Using it would fit with believing in the medieval concept of astrology.

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This isn't Internet, it's just videophone. To really call it Internet, you'd need some weird mirrors that, instead of reflecting light, reflect a psychic construct put there by some skilled mage. (yes, I'm aware Internet is the network, and videophones can work over the Internet, but if your network serves only this purpose, you're missing a whole lot of neat stuff)

You can ask some bard to think of stories in a very visual way (it's probably how they cast illusions spells, in their mind), and through some mind-reading magic, store these stories in a construct where anyone can go and ask for "the story about the Devil who Dares", etc.

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