What do you do when you get a bunch of files like this from a zipfile?
I’ve blurred the messed-up file names because I’m not convinced it’s impossible to reconstruct the Chinese names of people from them and I’d rather err towards being paranoid about privacy. Except for the one file name whose author’s identity I’m OK with disclosing.
Back story: I have been tasked with collecting everybody’s Chinese assignments for this semester. I didn’t even do that part yet (I really should); first the girl who handled last semester’s assignments had to pass on the files she collected to me, and I unzipped the attachment to reveal these file names.
Well, I thought, no big deal, I understand Unicode (somewhat), I’ll just do something like decode them as latin1 and re-encode them as UTF-8, right? Or maybe Big5? In fact, maybe
python-ftfy will just automagically fix it for me; I’ve been waiting for a chance to use that, like the dozens of other things on my GitHub star list…
ftfy did nothing to the text. Also, UTF-8 was not high on my list because the filenames strongly suggested a double-byte encoding. By eyeballing the filenames and comparing them to the organized naming scheme of some other files that had, thankfully, survived the .zip intact, I noted that every Chinese character had replaced with two characters, while underscores had survived unscathed. It was a simple substitution cipher with a lot of crib text available. So that rules out the most common UTF-8, but it gives me a lot of information, so this can’t be hard, right?
One of the files that I knew belonged to me came out as such, according to Python’s
codecs.decode(_, 'utf_8') we get:
Attempt at UTF-8 rendition:
That’s really weird; those codepoints are kinda large, and there’s a literal
i at the start, and it doesn’t look at all like the two-characters-for-one pattern we noticed from staring at the plaintext. Oh, they’re using combining characters. How do we fix that?
Fumble, mumble, search. Oh, I want
Attempt at UTF-8 rendition:
Although the byte sequences are totally different, they look the same, which is the point. *holds up fist* This… is… UNICODE!!!
Anyway, the code points in the normalized version make more sense. Except for that conspicuous
∂, of course. Indeed, although it looks promising, if we now try e.g.
codecs.encode(_, 'windows-1252') we get,
UnicodeEncodeError: 'charmap' codec can't encode character u'\u2202' in position 5: character maps to
One can get around this by passing a third argument to
encode to make it ignore or replace the invalid parts, but the result of the first couple of codepoints, after further pseudomagical decoding and encoding, is still nonsense. Alas.
I continued to try passing the filenames in and out of
codecs.decode with various combinations of
windows-1252, to no avail.
Then I did other stuff. Homework, college forms, writing a bilingual graduation song, talking to other dragons about 1994 video games, and did I mention I started taking driving lessons now? Yeah. That sort of thing.
Around that last thing, I asked the previous caretaker and learned that the computer she collected these files had a Japanese locale. So I added
euc_jp to the mix, but still nothing.
I later tried unzipping it with
unzip from the command-line — the results were even worse — as well as unzipping it from a Windows computer — even worse than the command line.
So the problem remained, until…
The resolution is very anticlimactic; it took me half a week to think of getting at the files programmatically straight from the zip archive, instead of unzipping first. Python spat out half the file names from the zip file as
unicode and the other half as
str. From there it was easy guessing.
There were still three file names that failed, but they were easy to fix manually.
I’m not sure why I eventually decided to blog about this anymore, honestly. Especially compared to my 12 other drafts. Oops.