We hear stories around here that would be funny if they weren't so wild. For instance, did we ever tell you about the CPA who was training her client's new secretary?

Every month, the client had phoned and sent her, via modem, that month's computerized accounting records. With his computer's modem connected to his phone line, the client just put the floppy disk with the right file in the disk slot and commanded the modem to send the file.On its own, the file went into his phone in electronic pulses and came out at the CPA's end. Her computer converted it into the accounting file he'd sent.

The CPA explained all this to the client's secretary. Finally, she seemed ready to manage the data transfer. That month, the CPA told her (instead of the boss), `Send me the disk with this month's report file.' Sure, the secretary replied into the phone. She'd get it ready at once.

Soon the CPA heard ringing. But instead of the modem answering, the fax machine did.

The fax whirred. The secretary had done just what the CPA told her. There, neatly printed, was a perfect image of the client's floppy disk. Back to lesson one!

Then there's the one (honest, it's true) about the tax return processor who wanted to be more efficient at tax time. He was using 12 kinds of tax forms for clients' returns. So he ordered 12 printers.

He threaded each printer with continuous-feed computer paper that was preprinted with a different IRS form. He adjusted a $200 switch that attached all 12 printers to his computer. For 1040A, he clicked the switch to A, for 1040EZ to E, and so on. He knocked out the returns as fast as lightning.

Near the end of the day, he paused to get them ready for mailing - and spent most of that night shuffling and collating printouts.

Next morning he called us for help. We told him about the brands of tax preparation software that print out correct IRS-ready forms and fill-in their figures all in one pass.

Anybody want to buy 12 printers used just one day? Then there's the size of this year's federal election fund. We expect it to be small. Why? We examined a bunch of the popular 1040 tax preparation programs sold over the counter to anybody with seventy bucks and a computer. More than a million people used them to prepare taxes this year.

You know the line on the IRS forms that asks if you'd like to contribute $1 to the federal election fund? Almost every program we tested defaults to NO. (A default, in computer jargon, is the answer the program suggests.) The lone program that starts with YES is Andrew Tobias TaxCut.

Talk used to be cheap. No longer. A programmer we know keeps a computerized answering gadget attached to his phone. He came home one Sunday night to find a 35-minute message waiting. Anticipation was high. He figured it must be something big.

Guess again. A direct-marketing company had put his number in a list given to their dial-and-deliver-a-pitch software. The company had been fair: Every couple of minutes, the pitch suggested, `If you don't want to hear more, touch any button on your touch-tone phone.' Our friend's computerized answerer was as dumb as the pitching computer. It ignored the suggestion.

The caller gave up only after it asked for a credit card number and the answering machine refused to type one in. Keep that in mind next time you consider computerized marketing.