We never said the computer industry was sane, sober, rational or logical. It should come as no surprise, then, that we expect the current economic problems facing the nation to lead to better, more productive automation.

That's because we expect many more folks to go slower than in the past, buying less on impulse and more on careful evaluation. And that's how you make the smartest buys in or out of recessions.But don't sit back and let progress pass you by. If your firm is thinking of putting zero dollars into automation in 1991, think again. At this point, practically every business of any size can push down the cost of production by modernizing old equipment or automating in the first place.

Take auto and auto parts sellers. A VARBUSINESS magazine survey found nearly 100 percent of car showrooms and two-thirds of auto parts dealers computerized. But almost four out of five are using obsolete software on old, slow minis and mainframes.

Take the banks. They, too, were early automators. Then they compounded obsolescence by commissioning new software for the old, hard-to-program, hard-to-use minis and mainframes. At this point, they've got seven-headed Hydras on their hands - monsters for which the solution to one problem creates two new problems.

Want a case in point? We asked why our bank deposit receipts suddenly showed no deposit date. The answer: `They haven't figured out yet how to make our new software put it in.' Take all the schools that jumped right into putting a computer in every classroom. They're still teaching students to program in obsolete BASIC on obsolete Apple IIs and Commodore 64s. Even giving lessons in programming to new computer users is an obsolete idea and a waste of class time.

In all areas, whether business, government or home use, the recession dollars you spend wisely on automation are likely to reap handsome profit.

The economy will make some changes in what machines you buy. First, we see most shoppers walking a wide path around the most powerful IBM compatible machines, those based on the Intel i486 chip.

In most cases, that's good, because there's almost no software for sale that makes good use of the chip's power. (One big exception is the SCO UNIX operating system and programs that run on it.) But we see much the same fate for i386 computers, and that's not so good. Given a choice between that and the slower, much cheaper i386sx, don't select the computer with the sx. Enough software will be written over the next year or two that uses i386 power, folks who gamble on this chip will get lots more productivity for their dollars.

We see a lot of i286 machines being sold this year. That's false economy. Those i286-based computers are likely to become obsolete way ahead of their time, because programmers working on new programs are avoiding the chip due to its serious memory-handling limitations.

Computers with i386sx processors are priced so little above these AT-compatibles, even recession-pinched buyers should spend the extra to get the newer chip.

We expect to see many more buyers taking chances on Brand X clones in 1991. That's okay. Our surveys of column and newsletter readers show that users are having great success with almost all the lesser known, locally designed, and mail-order-only IBM compatibles except forthe Packard Bell.

We know some perfectly satisfied Packard Bell owners. But we've also heard from a relatively large number of unsatisfied users.

Tandy, the Radio Shack folks, are likely to see less of a sales drop in 1991 than other computer makers. That's good. Tandy offers something for every microcomputer user from large networks down to the homeowner. In general, we've grown comfortable with the way they cut corners to save a few bucks. They make up for it with Radio Shacks' first-rate service departments.

Ironically, we expect to see more interest in buying Macs this year than last year, because of Apple's great success in making unsophisticates think they're cheap. Our advice is to look at all your options and cost them out very carefully.

Fewer computer owners will be upgrading to networks this year.

That's too bad. Networks really are time- and work-savers and, finally, the cost is affordable for nearly everyone.

Fewer people will buy Windows than ought to, not so much because of the price of the program. They'll balk at the cost of adding on more computer memory, without which Windows just won't work.

That's a mistake. You can add lots of memory by do-it-yourselfing. It's a lot cheaper than shop prices, and it's fast and easy nowadays. Learn to take off the five screws that hold your PCs together. Joining the ranks of the computer do-it-yourselfers is a great way to beat the recession.

We'll give you lots of guidance in 1991 on how to do-it-yourself on PCs. (If you missed the first part, on how to take apart a computer, send us a stamped self-addressed number ten envelope for your free copy. You also may want to send for our recent column on bargain basement networks.) We're also launching a series on how to raise productivity without buying any new computers, with specific steps to take and products to know about. In 1991, your biggest profits may well come from boosting productivity.