IN SHORT

''Start fresh with us,'' said the ad for E.J.'s Variety Store in Dover, N.H., forgiving $5,000 to $10,000 in debts owed by some 1,200 customers. Soon a White House aide was on the line, and owner Ernest T.J. Peters was being praised far beyond Dover. He said his gesture was less generosity than survival, trying to bring customers back in despite the recession.

But there is more than one way to survive.

It is news when a man says, ''I mean to do business by forgiveness.''

''On the other side of the screen it all seems so easy,'' says a character who finds himself inside the circuits of a computer in the movie ''Tron.'' It does make a person tapping away at a word processor or zapping away at a video game stop and think.

A complicated ''program'' provides the ease for the user. What if the program turns against its maker, as ''Tron'' imagines?

Just who's in charge around here?

It's something that can pass through a user's mind in hopes of blaming the machine for oversights or undersights. But, as Shakespeare almost said, dear Brutus, the fault is not in our microchips but in ourselves.

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