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Alpha Four User Scores Track Meets on the HP Palmtop

Alpha Four User Scores Track Meets on the HP Palmtop

Before discovering the Palmtop, this user lugged laptops and even desktop computers to track meets and road races to enter and calculate results. Then using the Alpha Four relational database on the Palmtop along with the task-switching program Software Carousel, she designed the perfect portable scoring system.

By Louise Tolson

 Louise keeps Senior Games Racewalk scores by the roadside on her HP Palmtop using Alpha Four. Shown in the picture above are the race officials from the Florida Walkers Club. Standing from left to right are Mary King, David Stein and Bonnie Altenhein.

 I have been providing computerized scoring for various racewalking clubs, cross country teams, schools and track and field clubs since 1991, when my son, Edward, then 10, joined a local track club. The small club wasn't able to purchase the expensive computer program widely used by many of the clubs and organizations. So I developed a database which I call TrackStar, for scoring track and field meets.

To score a major meet, you need to be able to enter basic information (name, age, etc.) for hundreds of participants, as well as the events they compete in and their times or field marks (throw or jump distances). You then must be able to access this data to compute who finished in what place, for the different age and gender groups. Finally, you must print out the results in a timely fashion. The HP Palmtop and a light-weight portable printer provided the necessary hardware for the system I had in mind, but the Palmtop's built-in Database program was not sufficient for creating the application I wanted.

The Palmtop's program is a "flat-file" database. It cannot link to and access data in other databases, and it cannot do calculations on numerical data entered into its fields. In addition, each data file must include all the information for a particular application. This usually requires redundant information in multiple files. For example, many of our contestants are affiliated with a track club. With a flat-file database I would have to enter information about a specific track club over and over again, each time a person from that club entered a race.

Using the Alpha Four database program on the HP Palmtop

What I needed was a relational database program. Relational systems let you design databases that are more efficient. Typically, you design smaller data files and then establish links between them. There is no need to design database applications that store the same data in more than one file. I developed my TrackStar database with Alpha Four, a powerful relational database program that runs on the HP Palmtop. (See the sidebar for more on Alpha Four.)

My TrackStar database retrieves the athlete's name from the master data file, the description of the age-group from the "age-group description" data file, the full name of the athlete's club affiliation from the "club name" data file, etc.. and prints all the information on one report.

If, for example, the athlete is a member of the Beverly Track Stars team, we only need to enter the abbreviation BEV. The program accesses the "club name" data file and prints the full club name on the reports. We also generate reports for the USAT&F, the national governing body for road-races and track & field meets in this country. The USAT&F needs reports broken down in age categories. We enter the contestants age in the master file. The age data field is linked to the "age-group description" data file, with contains the USAT&F age categories. An athlete that is 9 or 10 years old is reported as a "Bantam."

Alpha Four is a DOS program that can be installed on the Palmtop or any DOS PC. It's probably easier to install it first on your desktop and then copy the necessary files to your Palmtop. If you have a card reader in you desktop PC, you can slip the Palmtop's PC memory card into the card reader, install Alpha Four to the memory card, and slip the memory card back in the Palmtop. If you intend to run Alpha Four on the Palmtop, configure it for the Palmtop's monochrome display. When the installation program asks if you can see colors on your screen, answer "No," even if you are installing it first on a desktop with a color display.

Alpha Four requires that the FILES= statement in the CONFIG .SYS file be set to at least 40 (i.e., FILES=40). For very large sets with many indexes it should be set to 99.

You can create, modify and run your Alpha Four databases applications on a desktop computer or the Palmtop with a complete version of Alpha Four. Alpha Software Corporation also sells a "run-time" version of Alpha Four that you can distribute with your custom database application. This will let users run the database and enter, modify, or delete data, and print reports. They will not be able to modify the structure of the database.

Alpha Four requires most of the system RAM memory to run. Normally you have to exit System Manager completely and run Alpha Four from the DOS prompt. I needed to be able to access the built-in applications and a communications program while running Alpha Four. To accomplish this I used the popular Palmtop task switching program Software Carousel. (See the sidebar on this page for more on Software Carousel.) With Software Carousel loaded into memory first, I can run Alpha Four, the built-in applications, and the communications program I mentioned. It downloads the athletes running times directly from the timer used at the finish line into the TrackStar program. Down- loading the times directly saves time and eliminates typing errors.

Creating a new file in Alpha Four

Creating a new file in Alpha Four is similar to creating a new file in the built-in HP Palmtop database. The database file consists of a collection of items. Each item is called a record. In the master file of the TrackStar database, there is an item (a record) for each athlete. For each item or record in a file, there are different descriptive details which are common to all the records. Each of these details is called a field. For example, in the TrackStar master file, each athlete has a record and the details about each athlete (their name, address, gender, birthday, club affiliation, race number, etc.) are called fields. You design a new file by defining the fields that it will consist of. You define each field by giving it a name and choosing a type and size for it.


  1. 1. Start Alpha Four version 2 by typing A4 then pressing (ENTER) at the DOS prompt.
  2. 2. From the main menu, press D or move the hi-lite bar over Database/Set design and press (ENTER).
  3. 3. From the Database/Set design menu, press C or move the hi-lite bar over Create a new database and press (ENTER).
  4. 4. Enter a name for the new file, such as TRACK. The name is limited to 8 characters, and the file extension is automatically set to DBF, which is the DBMS standard.
  5. 5. Enter a description for the file, such as, Track and Field Master File.
  6. 6. Press (F10) to continue.
  7. 7. Enter a field name, such as, FIRSTNAME. You are limited to 10 characters.
  8. 8. Enter the type and length for the field.
  9. 9. After you have entered all of the fields, press (F10) to create the file.



Once the database has been created, you can use the Alpha Four main menu to select and view a record, enter changes, print reports, sort, index, update and delete your records. Various form views and browse views can be created so that the data may be viewed and accessed in different ways (see screens below).

 Example of a "form view" of a long jump record. A form view allows you to see one record on the screen.

Example of a browse view of a 5k Race Walk. A browse view enables you to see multiple records on the screen at the same time.

 Alpha Four can also create many different reports and mailing labels. The reports can contain computations, sub-totals, grand totals, page numbers, print date, print time, etc. With the TrackStar application, a race director can print a label for each pre-registered competitor. The labels are attached to the athletes race (bib) number so that the numbers can be easily handed out before the race. Then at the completion of a race, results can be printed in the form of a master report. Individual results can also be printed on labels or on 3" X 5" postcards. A label can be attached to a trophy, medal or ribbon. The postcards can be given to the racers as a souvenir. Whatever printed form is needed, it can be created with Alpha Four.


Alpha Four lets you design your own database "Applications" to provide customized data management solutions for particular tasks. The "Application" is based on the Alpha Four database program. You design your own data records and build your own menus and sub-menus that replace the standard Alpha Four menus. For example, TrackStar has a selection that reads "Print the results of a race," rather than the Alpha Four command "Print." You can make your application as user friendly as you want. You can also protect your data with the use of passwords.

Alpha Four Specifications

Software Carousel a part of my TrackStar system

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