Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Synthetic diamonds that fool the experts, L.A. on foot, a website for the philosophical, and more.


Party central

This Saturday, join Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, host Jimmy Smits, and a cast of Muppets in Washington for PBS's 29th annual "A Capitol Fourth." The event boasts the nation's most spectacular fireworks display and offers musical talent to suit all ages, including Natasha Bedingfield. The National Symphony Orchestra will be on hand to set the tone, while Kermit and crew can be expected to lead a national singalong when it comes to the patriotic tunes. Yankee Doodle Dandy, indeed.

Synthetics you'll love

If a few pioneers in the art of fooling Mother Nature have their way, diamonds could soon be everyone's best friend – and not just for bling. Cheaper diamonds can now mean a revolution in electronics because diamonds are more versatile than silicon. Tune in June 30 at 9 p.m. to PBS's "Nova scienceNow" to learn more about the art of the synthetic diamond – and about the challenges of reproducing the real thing.

L.A. sans automobile

When it comes to examples of iconic modern architecture, Los Angeles is a world-class destination, with Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall attracting a steady stream of international visitors. And Art Deco lovers have long savored the hotels and monuments from that glittery era. "Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture" (W.W. Norton, $22.95) is not the only architectural guide to the city, but it outshines its competition. Author Judith Paine McBrien and architect-illustrator John F. DeSalvo combine breezily concise prose sketches and charming line drawings, concentrating on walking tours, making this tiny guide a primer for car-free architectural sightseeing.

An Indian Columbo

He may have a mustache that could impress Hercule Poirot (as well as the Super Sleuth Federation of Detectives Award for 1999), but Vish Puri, director of Most Private Investigators Ltd., prefers Columbo's approach to sleuthing. The Delhi-based gumshoe's third rule of detection is "Make all suspects believe you are a fool." (Rule No. 1? Eat a good breakfast.) In his debut outing in Tarquin Hall's new novel, "The Case of the Missing Servant," Puri has to clear a lawyer accused of doing away with his maid. The only clue Puri has is the girl's first name: Mary. Great fun, and full of musings on modern India.

For the philosopher in you

If you like wrestling with ideas, Philosophy Bites will keep you thinking long after its 15-minute podcast is over. Every two weeks, anchors David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton seek out philosophical thinkers, many of them renowned professors, and ask penetrating questions about things such as the nature of time, what shouldn't be sold, enhancement, and more. Well worth a listen at

Calling all cloud spotters

As meteorologists debate classifying a new variety of cloud (the first since 1951), The Cloud Appreciation Society ( offers everything the unabashedly cloud-enamored might enjoy – including Cloud of the Month Club photos, breaking cloud news, and fellowship on a cloudy day.

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