To the Editor:
I read the items on databases in your last Newsletter and sympathised with the travails of the authors concerned - thankfully, I've never encountered a database allowing 'repeated fields,' which sounds like a guarantee for conversion disaster!
Having confronted the problems of dealing with 'alphameric numbers,' as you did ("Data Base Design: It's Never As Easy As It Looks") , I thought it might be worthwhile adding a note for readers about another way to resolve this, one that could in some circumstances be easier. This is to leave the principal field (50+, etc) unaltered - better for input and much easier to manipulate in report processing, etc. - but to incorporate another field which contains the number alone (e.g 50). This needn't be printed out but could be used for sorting and perhaps as a key field. This method can also be easier for processing. In many cases, the new field can be generated automatically, by an 'alphameric' to 'numerical' conversion from the principal field.
A similar device that I used when working on lists of medieval names with bizarre spellings was to assign a number in 10's or 20's to the preliminary sorted list. Then, when I wanted to transfer (say) Wotone (360) to follow Wootton (280), all that was needed was to alter the key number from 360 to 285.
Nat Alcock - Department of Chemistry, University of Warwick, Coventry, England
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