Dilemmas of IT

A recent incident prompted me to ponder what kind of due diligence that IT department of the law school or any school should perform in recommending solutions to faculty computing needs. One faculty member wanted to use equations in Word. It is part of the Word, and we showed the faculty member how to enter and edit the equations.

But soon after that, disaster hit. After the equations were embedded into the document and a few days of work later, the document after saved, could not be opened by Word, with the terrifying error message: the content of the document can not be opened due to: /word/document.xml line 2 column: 0 errors.

So what is going on? It turned out that the document.xml file has a bug. A search in Google will show that this problem occurred before. Some site even provided solutions. However, the errors in the xml document vary. In our case, it definitely is the equation bug, but no ready solution could be found, unless you can go into the document.xml file and find line 2 and column 0 to decipher the problem.

My detective side kicked in. I found that you can rename a Word document into a zip file. This sounds quite familiar, as I know that epub format for ebooks is also a zipped format. I renamed the file docs into zip file and gleefully clicked past the warning messages about format changes, and I had now a zipped file. Then I extracted the zip file into a folder of its own and now I see I have a Word folder among a lot of other unzipped files. In the Word folder, I found the document.xml file. I was happy because finally I could get to the root of the problem.

I used Dreamweaver to open the document.xml file, but to my surprise, line 2 of the document.xml is a long uninterrupted blob of words, and no column could be found. After looking for a while, I gave up. Though I felt that I was close to finding the problem, I had to give up standing at the very gate of solutions, simply because I could not find the culprit among the mess of codes.

I am left with the question: should I have done this kind of investigation before recommending to our faculty member the use of equations in Word document? I believe the answer from most IT department is no. When we use a software program, we are depending on the software program to work as it is supposed to work. However, on the other hand, we all know that computer programs contain bugs. And when the bugs spring, it will wreck our faculty members’ research and some of them work under tight deadline. It is a dilemma which defies solution, at least to me.

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