Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program:
We listen to music
by several bluegrass award nominees …
And answer three listener questions about the United
But first, we tell about a million dollar software
Netflix is the world’s largest online movie rental
service. It started in nineteen ninety-eight. It now has ten million paying members in the United States. This week it named the winners of a million
dollar competition to improve its system for suggesting movies to its
members. Jim Tedder tells about the
company and the unusual competition.
was a simple idea that took off like a wildfire. A person pays a monthly fee to become a
member. Members can order a certain number of movies from the Netflix Web site.
The DVDs are sent and returned through the mail very
quickly. Netflix members do not have to go to the video store to get movies or
to return them. And they can keep their movies for as long as they want. But, they cannot order new ones until they
return the ones they have. Members can also watch some movies and television
shows directly on their computers or televisions.
Netflix Web site has almost any movie or television series members could want
to see. If they have trouble choosing, the Web site has a built-in suggestion
system. Members can note how much they
liked a movie they just watched. Netflix then suggests other movies based on
those ratings. It does so by comparing
the movies the member has rated with all the movies on the site.
several years ago, Netflix officials decided they were not satisfied with the
system for suggesting movies. So they decided on an unusual way to improve the
system. They announced a prize of one
million dollars to a team who could design computer software that did a better
job of predicting which movies members would like.
That was in October of two thousand six. More
than forty thousand teams from almost one hundred ninety countries
On September twenty-first, a team called BellKor’s
Pragmatic Chaos was named the winner of the Netflix Prize. The seven team members are from Austria,
Canada, Israel and the United States. They include computer engineers,
statisticians and machine-learning experts. At one point in the competition the
team members had been opponents, but they joined forces to increase their
chances of winning.
Netflix founder Reed Hastings praised the winners and
competitors. He said the contest was as
exciting as a movie. And, minutes after
awarding the prize, Netflix announced a second one million dollar competition
to improve the system even more.
This week we answer three listener questions. Maggie
Chen in Taiwan wants to know about fraternities in the United States.
Fraternities and sororities are social organizations for undergraduate college
students. The words are based on the Latin words for brother and sister.
In general, fraternities are for men, while sororities
are for women. These groups are known as Greek letter societies or as being
part of the Greek system. This is
because most fraternities and sororities are named after a series of Greek
letters, such as Alpha Delta Pi or Sigma Phi. Some of these groups date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. Each group has a set of traditions about how new people become
members of a fraternity or sorority live together in a large house on campus.
But they are also part of a national network of members. Different groups have
different goals. These include community service, academic excellence or --
second question comes from Somalia. Abdiaziz wants to know about the term
“G.I.” There are several answers to this question. The abbreviation is most
commonly used to mean an American soldier. This began around World War Two. But
before this time, G.I. was an unofficial military term for describing army
supplies made out of galvanized iron. This term was soon used to describe army
supplies in general that were government issue.
question is from Brazil. Romulo Veloso wants to know about the imaginary man
known as “Uncle Sam.” The name is used to represent the federal government of
the United States. Uncle Sam is pictured as a serious old man with white hair
who is dressed in America’s colors of red, white and blue.
most common answer historians give is that the name came from Samuel Wilson. He
supplied meat to the American Army during the War of Eighteen Twelve. The
meat came in containers with “U.S.” written on them, which was short for the
United States. Mister Wilson’s workers said the letters really meant their
employer, “Uncle Sam.”
imaginary Uncle Sam began to appear in cartoons to represent the government.
Images of Uncle Sam were also used on signs during World Wars One and Two to
persuade Americans to join the Army.
week, the International Bluegrass Music Association will hold its twentieth
yearly awards ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The
event on October first will honor some of the biggest names in bluegrass music.
Shirley Griffith plays music from some of this year’s nominees.
was the song “Hillbilly Goddess” by Alecia Nugent. This Louisiana
native is a nominee for Female Vocalist of the Year. She has been playing music
since she was a little girl. Her songs combine the sounds of bluegrass and
Tyminski is a singer and guitarist with Alison Krauss and her
Union Station band. But he recently put together his own group, the Dan
Tyminski Band, and recorded his own album, “Wheels.”
The album has received nine International
Bluegrass Music Award nominations — not bad for a side project. Tyminski and
his album are nominated for awards including Album of the Year, Entertainer of
the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. Here is the song “Wheels.”
and writer Steve Martin is another nominee who is taking a break from his main
jobs to make music. His album of banjo music, “The Crow,” has received six
International Bluegrass Music Award nominations. Here Martin plays “Late for
leave you with a song by Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass. “Don’t Throw
Mama’s Flowers Away” is nominated for Song of the Year.
I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Caty
Weaver and Dana Demange, who was also the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our
programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on our programs.
Do you have a question about people, places
or things in America? You can send it to
firstname.lastname@example.org and we may answer it on this show. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC,
VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.