Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Dog show pooch-gazing, comedian Carlin's timeless wit, England's green and manicured land, and more.

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Ruff competition

As the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City's Madison Square Garden gets ready to debut on USA Network Feb. 9-10 at 8 p.m., CNBC offers an hour of preshow pooch-peeping and historical information on the club and its activities. Tune in Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. for a taste of what to expect and double your canine enjoyment.

Garden gazing

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

The English Garden by the editors of Phaidon Press offers a breath of fresh air through paintings, engravings, and photographs of 100 iconic gardens from the past 500 years. Chronologically organized, this collection cleverly juxtaposes vibrant images of conventional, classically balanced gardens with quirky botanical experiments. The budget-priced coffee-table book ($24.95) offers brief commentaries on each garden and its creator, a glossary, and a directory of gardens open to the public for readers hungry for England's green.

Skip the presses

Would-be novelists used to have only a handful of routes to publication: an agent, a well-placed short story, or a visit to the local vanity press. These days, thousands of writers are visiting Smashwords.com instead. The site offers a simple publication platform for stories, poems, and novels. And Smashwords recently signed a deal with the makers of Stanza, the e-book application for the iPhone. Your manuscript could rocket from a dusty shelf to touch screens across the country within minutes. Now that's instant gratification.

The spies have it

The National Security Agency is far less well-known than the CIA, yet it is three times bigger and probably knows more about you and your neighbors than any other agency in Washington. Tune in to see just how far national spying has come since 9/11 in this PBS NOVA special, The Spy Factory, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. If the state-of-the-art government snooping makes you uncomfortable, maybe that's good.

counterculture comedian

George Carlin was an icon of 20th-century comedy, a wordsmith who challenged us to think more deeply about why we say what we say and think what we think. In a PBS special, George Carlin: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize, Feb. 4 at 9 p.m., a parade of comic luminaries salute his legend and explain why he sparked both outrage and admiration. Carlin was a man of his time, but his humor was for all time.

Rookie snack

Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, there's a new chip in town. Kettle Brand's Sweet Onion potato chips are flavored with spring onions and just the right amount of garlic and salt. You don't even need dip. Hey, anything that speeds up the snacking process kicks an extra point right through the uprights for us. Sweet!

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